August 18, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot reflect on this week's Democratic convention and the political road ahead for both Bush and Gore.
JIM LEHRER: Now some final words of analysis this Friday from Shields and Gigot here in Los Angeles, where, as you know, they have been all convention week; that's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, how does the speech look to you almost, not quite, 24 hours later?
|An effective speech?|
PAUL GIGOT: I think it helped Gore some, particularly in terms of his personal presentation and delivery. The condescension, the "I'm the smartest guy in the room - I'm going to tell you what to do" that you often see attached to Gore addresses was gone. I mean, he looked presidential. He got through it well. He presented himself well. And I think that's reflected in some of the personal favorable ratings that came up. I think it did help him that way. I think the substance is where they were making the bigger gamble. And I think we don't know yet what will happen, and that's a substance -- that was a decision to really run as a kind of new age populist and hit all these issues and try to, you know, the wealthy, the powerful, and I don't know if that's going to work in times when really we're all pretty good. We're all feeling pretty good. His message seems to be the country is rich as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.
JIM LEHRER: You see that message?
MARK SHIELDS: No, I don't see that message, Jim. I think Al Gore helped himself enormously.
JIM LEHRER: You must admit that's a really good line that your colleague, Gigot, gave.
MARK SHIELDS: It is, you know, and one shouldn't use a line like that on Friday afternoon after a long week. He could have used it Wednesday. Now back to... two things happened at this convention. One is that they made the decision, the Democrats did, not to go negative on George W. Bush. And an overnight survey done by Bob Teeter, the Republican - Peter Hart, the Democrat -- two of the pollsters for the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, found that George Bush's favorable rating was the same, identical. I mean I think there was one point changed after the convention that hadn't been before the convention.
JIM LEHRER: You mean this convention?
MARK SHIELDS: This convention. The difference was Al Gore rose. Al Gore all year long has had a personal favorable rating... this is personal favorable about even. I mean it went from 50 to 33 favorable. It helped him enormously. It helped him in a couple of other places.
JIM LEHRER: Wait a minute. Do you think a poll like that really means a lot?
MARK SHIELDS: No, I don't. Do I think it's permanent? No, I don't. I talked to Peter Hart about it. He said look, this is one day. There is no way of looking at those numbers and not suggesting that he helped himself. I mean he helped himself with independents - he helped himself with Democrats.
JIM LEHRER: And you agree with that.
PAUL GIGOT: I do and I think that Mark is absolutely right about the decision that was made. They felt - they obviously decided that they couldn't go on the attack and Gore couldn't carry an attack, which I think they still have to make. But they couldn't do it unless Gore had built himself up first.
JIM LEHRER: First, I see.
MARK SHIELDS: And I think both of us last night thought the speech was a little bit State of the Unionish in the Clinton era of a laundry list of initiatives -- and yet on best ideas of the future, an area where George Bush had a big lead over Al Gore, I mean, consistently, Al Gore for the first time last night went ahead of George Bush. Now, I mean, is this written in stone? No. But I mean in other words he improved the perception, not simply the favorable numbers, but there was a perception that he was more trustworthy, a perception that he had better ideas for the future than did George Bush. And I think in that sense you have to say the speech did help -- that our initial reaction may have been too harsh.
|Policy issues: details or generalities|
JIM LEHRER: Paul, you heard what Kathleen Hall Jamieson just said about -- if the Democrats are going to win, if Gore is going to win, he has to stay where he was last night on the details. I will do this. He will do that. Do you agree with that?
PAUL GIGOT: He does have do some product differentiation. I don't think the voters are going to care about the details frankly. I mean he's got to flesh out George W. Bush somehow a little bit more. But he does have to carve out... reclaim some of the issues that have been traditional Democratic winners that George Bush has made gain on: Education in particular, Social Security in particular, and health care. If he can do that, and make this election about the Democratic approach to these, then he can win. But getting mired in the details per se, I mean, I think Bush can muck around in that, too. Gore has to got to say my plan is more credible and here's why.
JIM LEHRER: But not... But don't go beyond that, you know, don't put a chart up is what you're saying.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think people are going to fall asleep.
JIM LEHRER: Where do you come down on the details argument?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, Jim, you know, one person's details is another person's generalities. I mean, I think you make the case and you can make the case on specific points; for example, on Wednesday night, Senator Lieberman, the Vice President, I disagreed with the panel's description of him as going negative on George Bush. I mean, I thought he didn't lay a glove on George Bush. And he said, it was sort of a vague indictment that Texas has one of the worst air pollution situations in the country. You don't say that. I mean what you say is that, you know, Texas has more children living without medical care than all of the NATO countries. I mean you do it that way and...
JIM LEHRER: That's the way to attack, right?
MARK SHIELDS: That's the way to do it. You say -- give a fact, lay it out, and that's the contrast. This is what Al Gore says, that every child in America will be covered by 2004-- and that's especially true for Texas. I think that's the way it has to be done. I think people do listen to that. I'll tell you last night, the fact that just jumped out at me, there is more computer in a palm pilot than there was in the spaceship that took Neil Armstrong to the moon. I mean, that was kind of a "golly." I mean, it was an interesting fact.
JIM LEHRER: Would that make you want to vote for Al Gore?
MARK SHIELDS: It made me stop and listen to him. I said, gee, I mean, what else is he going to say that I didn't know?
JIM LEHRER: All right. Picking up on another thing that Terry's panel talked about is personal attacks. Both sides have spent a lot of time telling everybody they are not going to do this, and they make the same distinctions, identical distinctions: We will attack the record. We will attack what he is going to do or hasn't done. Should that be taken with a grain of salt here in August?
PAUL GIGOT: Big blocks of salt. Sure they're not going to make personal attacks in the sense that who's your mother? That's not going to happen. But I think you're going to see both sides that are going to attack the specific issues. I mean the Bush campaign is running an ad about Al Gore's zinc mine near his family farm in Carthage, Tennessee, right now.
JIM LEHRER: Is that a personal attack?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think that is. It's a way to cast doubt on the credibility of him being a great environmentalist and carrying the issue too about Bush's Texas record. It's a public policy issue. He wants to stand for the environment. Well, wait a minute, what about this right here.
JIM LEHRER: Is that a cheap shot or is that fair?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it's certainly getting close to a personal attack. I mean but...
JIM LEHRER: Tad Devine told Margaret they're accusing him of being a polluter and that's a personal attack. You agree with Tad Devine?
MARK SHIELDS: I haven't seen the ad, Jim, I'll be honest with you. But I do think that the Bush people are at a disadvantage if it comes to that for a very simple reason. They stipulated at the Philadelphia convention... we can't forget this... that the economy is terrific. The economy is great. And their indictment on the economy is that Clinton-Gore have squandered this largesse, this blessing, this munificence. And so they can't very well pick at policies that have produced this economy. And so the argument is essentially going to be, I think, on Democratic turf. I think health, I think patients bill of rights and so forth. I those have historically-- Paul is right. George Bush has been brilliant in cutting down the angle and the advantage that Democrats have had historically on these issues. That is the challenge to Al Gore and to Joe Lieberman in this campaign, to reclaim what has historically and traditionally been in the eyes of most voters, Democratic turf, that the Democrats - or the party was better.
|81 days until election night|
JIM LEHRER: Let's go to some overview things now. They were talking about this earlier, too, that one of the Democratic themes for it to work for Al Gore, they have to get over the fact that this election matters. This is an important election. Is that an easy case to make, and are we looking at a campaign, as we sit here-- based on what we know now, only what we know now, the conventions are now over, what kind of campaign is this likely to be? Is it going to make that point, this is really an important election?
PAUL GIGOT: I think the public mood is such that it's going to be hard to really make this a burning election in the public's mind.
JIM LEHRER: Why?
PAUL GIGOT: Because the times are so good and politics seem so distant from most people, particularly in Washington. A lot of voters who aren't connected to the choices... the President will say two more Supreme Court nominees and "Roe V. Wade" is in trouble. And they'll say, boy, that sure seems like a long way off. That's not something that I'm really engaged with. The economy is 4.5 percent growth. Income growth is good. What are you going to do for me? And Bush and Gore, you know-- that's the challenge for both candidates. And I think that that problem is particularly strong problem for the Democrats because it means that the race is going to be focused more on character and more about Bill Clinton and the legacy of Clinton and a fresh start in Washington after Clinton. It's a style of politics and a style of partisanship versus bipartisanship where Bush is trying to make a big distinction with Gore.
JIM LEHRER: Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Every election, Jim, is about either change or continuity. 1996 it was continuity - it continued Bill Clinton in office - 1980 Ronald Reagan wins, change; '92 Bill Clinton wins, change. This election, the election of 2000 is about both continuity and change. American people want the economic times to continue. They don't want it tampered with but they do want -- Paul is right -- they want a change, and what has been the climate in Washington - the personal conduct - or even a public embarrassment, however you want to put it. Now, what Al Gore has to do in this campaign is say I represent continuity. I'm your best bet for it. And look, I am different. I mean, it's a tricky, tricky way to walk. And George Bush has to say, look he's obviously represents personal change and party change but he has to say I'm not going to jeopardize the continuity. That will be the fight. Whoever comes to embody both continuity and change will win this election. And it will be Bush's attempt to convince people that Gore is Bill Clinton in earth tones and it will be Gore's attempt to say that George Bush just isn't up to the job. Look at the record in Texas.
JIM LEHRER: Well, the good thing about it over these next 81 days, we will have the opportunity to talk to you all every Friday night and other major opportunities as this campaign continues.