August 17, 2000
JIM LEHRER: Mark, how would you describe what Al Gore has riding on this speech tonight?
MARK SHIELDS: Everything, Jim. I don't think that's an over statement. The American people are enormously fair minded. They stop and take a look. Debates are another thing. They can see the candidate, they can suspend whatever judgments or prejudices. Three quick examples. 1976, the historians were talking about with Margaret, Kansas City, they took another look at jerry ford, who had been through a tough campaign with Ronald Reagan. They took a look at Ronald Reagan and came on the stage and prepared him for 1980. In 1988, George Bush the vice president emerged from the shadows. In 1992, Bill Clinton having gone through a tough campaign coming in the New York convention in third place in several polls behind George Bush and Ross Perot emerged from that convention in that speech with a united party and an excited party. So there is an awful lot riding on it for Al Gore tonight.
JIM LEHRER: Would you say everything, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think that his credibility as a messenger in particular between now and November. I guess that's another way of saying everything. He can't carry a message unless he does some rehabilitation of himself and his beliefs, particularly the best line of the Bush speech I thought on the Republican line, the most powerful line was "I am not running in borrowed clothes." That's by comparison Al Gore is and Al Gore has to say this is the real me, these are my real beliefs, and this is where I really will lead. But his credibility is the one thing tonight. If nothing -- if he does nothing else, it's establishing himself as a believable messenger.
JIM LEHRER: How does somebody do that? I mean, does he have to talk about -- the word is, not speaking with any kind of look at any kind of advance text, but the word is he is going to talk about himself, and he is going to talk about issues. That's your traditional speech. You are saying this has to be something even beyond that?
PAUL GIGOT: No, I think he can do it in a traditional way. I don't think he has to have a magic act. In fact, he should throw away the magic acts; he should throw away the poll tested clichés. He should sit back and try something new, some new language perhaps, something that gets to what he really believes. I mean, George Bush's father did it in 1988 when he called himself the "quiet man" with reserved strength, with strengths you haven't seen. It was a beautiful way of putting a whole different look on a man.
JIM LEHRER: But, Mark, if he does that, wouldn't that bring on a deluge of punditry saying, "oh, there he goes again, making himself up again, changing himself into something else?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think it's changing himself, Jim. He has three tasks tonight. He has to say this is who I am, make no mistake about it, this is who I am. From now on there is never any amplification, modification. This who I am, this is what I believe. Second, where do I want to take the country? Where do I wand want to lead this nation? That is, separate from Bill Clinton and directed to the future. The third thing he has to do, which is the toughest of all, in my judgment, because I think the convention has failed to do it thus far. He has a bigger task tonight than George W. Bush had in Philadelphia. George Bush had to make a good speech, present himself well, which he did do, but he had less to do. The Republicans had less to do in terms of uniting their party and all rest of it. Now Al Gore has to because Joe Lieberman didn't have to because he chose Joe Lieberman. Joe Lieberman is not an attack dog -- Al Gore has to make the contrast. He has to make the case against the Republicans. You ask him to do three difficult things in one big speech.
JIM LEHRER: Now, for instance, George W. Bush I think one of you said that if you didn't I'm sure you mentioned meant to that George W. Bush in Philadelphia spoke right over the delegates of that convention, right to the American people. Can Al Gore get away with that tonight? Does he have to talk to those folks down there too? Do you agree there are three things?
PAUL GIGOT: I think he has to speak to the American public. The delegates
are sold. I wouldn't worry about them. I think he has to speak to the
American public, which isn't sold, which has a kind of fixed
JIM LEHRER: Why not?
PAUL GIGOT: The messages have been so confused. They've been incoherent; they can't decide if they want to be close to Bill Clinton or if they want to push him off stage. They can't decide whether they want to be new Democrats or they want to be populists. Do they want to take credit for the boom and praise business or do they want to rail against big oil companies? There has been a lot of mixed messages. And I think that does complicate Gore's task.
JIM LEHRER: Complicated in saying forget the messages, it's me. Is that what he does?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it is. He obviously is the message and the messenger tonight. I think that there is a sense, Jim, when we pick a President, we pick somebody who we're going to be comfortable with for the next four years. In addition to being the leader and head of government, head of state, we want someone we're going to be comfortable with. In order for somebody to be comfortable with us, that person first has to be comfortable with himself and I would say, you know, the sort of centurion language or exaggerated gesture may be forgotten. It would be better to have a quiet speech, a speech at least sparing on the grand gestures or at least magnificent rhetoric.
JIM LEHRER: I reported in the beginning of the program that Bill Daley, chairman of the Gore campaign said he looked at the speech and said it would do this, this and this - and it was going to demonstrate that the Vice President is not boring and stiff. What do you make of something like that? Those are words that were in quotes.
PAUL GIGOT: I think it suggests their understanding of how big a problem they have right now in Al Gore's public perception. I mean, Ted Divine, one of the campaign advisors, was saying something similar. We want to reintroduce him to the American people. When you have to do that, it shows you understand you do have a messenger problem and you do have to establish him and his standing and his credibility.
JIM LEHRER: And, as Terry's piece demonstrated, that's one of the image problems Al Gore has. Every joke is always about how boring and stiff he allegedly is.
MARK SHIELDS: And an inspiration of the thousands of Americans that
suffer from Dutch Elm Disease. I just want to add one thing. Most great
speeches that we remember are on a single
PAUL GIGOT: I wouldn't worry so much about trying not to be boring and stiff. I would worry more about am I believable and do I project as a leader.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much. We'll talk to you later.