Jim Lehrer talks to NewsHour regulars Mark Shields and Paul Gigot about the opening night at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
JIM LEHRER: Now some final words about this convention, the convention of 1996. And it comes from our regular analysis team of Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, "Wall Street Journal" columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, what do the Democrats have to do at this convention?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Jim, at San Diego, the Republicans made the case repeatedly I think with some effect that the Democrats were the defenders of the status quo and the party of the status quo. Here in Chicago, Bill Clinton, I think, has to do three things, his party has to do three things. First, they must establish and in perspective the administration’s record, what they’ve done, and second, lay down what the stakes are involved in this election, where Bill Clinton wants to lead the country. But third and probably most important I think politically for him, he must recapture that sense of energy and purpose that he left New York with in 1992, and recapture the future, that this is an election about tomorrow, rather than yesterday, and lay out where he wants to lead both his party and his nation.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, what would you add or subtract?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t subtract from that, but what strikes me so far just in talking to the delegates and people here is the extent to which this convention is a convention of one. We’re in the United Center, which is the home of the Chicago Bulls, and this reminds me a little bit about--
JIM LEHRER: Which is a professional basketball team.
PAUL GIGOT: Basketball team. It reminds me a bit--
JIM LEHRER: On which Michael Jordan plays.
PAUL GIGOT: Jordan plays. And I’m going to use some Jordan analogies.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, sorry.
PAUL GIGOT: Because he played--when he played with the Bulls several years ago, they used to call him Michael Jordan and the Jordanaires, he was the only guy--you gave him the ball at the end of the game and said, go in.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
PAUL GIGOT: The Democrats here kind of say, Bill Clinton, we’re going to give you the ball and you go in. This is a party that is submerging all of its problems and all of its differences to get Clinton to win. Their only goal here--
JIM LEHRER: And we’ve heard that throughout this evening already, the panel that Margaret had, et cetera, in Kwame’s piece. Yeah, sure.
PAUL GIGOT: The main goal here, forget about the Congress, forget about, you know, fighting out battles, we’re going to get Bill Clinton to victory, and that’s our main goal.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. You agree with that?
MARK SHIELDS: I don’t argue with that. It’s not unlike what the Republicans did in 1972 and there was no mention of the Republican congressional ticket. Richard Nixon’s reelection was what mattered. Ronald Reagan won a lonely landslide in 1984, winning 49 states, carrying 377 of the 435 congressional districts. That’s where the emphasis, that’s where the focus was. That’s what happens I think when a party is a minority party and concentrates on the presidency. We now have two minority parties.
PAUL GIGOT: Two minority parties.
MARK SHIELDS: Neither party--I mean we have a party--one party claims affects of 1/3 of the nation, the other party claims a little less than 1/3, Democrats--it depends on which survey you look at--Democrats a little more than 1/3, Republicans a little less than 1/3. As recently as 1980, Jim, Democrats had a two to one edge in party--people saying I’m a Democrat rather than a Republican--that’s changed over the last 16 years.
JIM LEHRER: You know, Paul, there’s--as you all have just said, you know, there has to be vision of the future and all that sort of stuff but every Democratic speaker thus far outside the hall the vice president--Newt Gingrich’s name comes up about every third sentence. That is actually a key part of this strategy as well, is it not, mentioning Gingrich?
PAUL GIGOT: You’d think he was running, not Bob Dole. No, Newt Gingrich--this is a party that’s united on defense. Uh, it is united against somebody--Newt Gingrich. He united this party behind Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton really hasn’t. And if Bill Clinton is reelected, he owes an awful lot to Newt Gingrich because he’s given--he prevented him from, I think, from having a challenge in the primaries. Now he’s given him this united convention and going into an election year.
MARK SHIELDS: Ronald Reagan was the Teflon Republican; Newt Gingrich is the Velcro Republican. I mean, everything sticks to him. And I mean, he is. He is the--Democrats were sure, Jim, they had never--maybe not win the White House regularly, and they certainly didn’t, but they’d never lose control of the Congress, and in 1994, it was a shock to the entire nervous and physical system of the Democratic body politic when they lost the House of Representatives. And from that point forward, not losing again has rested on Bill Clinton and in part unified the Democratic Party, and they’ve been unified by Newt Gingrich’s rise in Congress.
JIM LEHRER: And once--if in fact Clinton gets reelected, do you think the unity goes away?
MARK SHIELDS: I think--I think--
JIM LEHRER: In the Democratic Party?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the Democratic Party will be a less unified party if they win control of the Congress, and I think you have to understand this, the day--if Bill Clinton is reelected, just as happened to Ronald Reagan before him, because of the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, one of the singularly bad ideas of our time, it limits a President to two terms, it means very simply that Bill Clinton is a lame duck the day after the election, he’ll never again appear on another ballot, the race to succeed him begins that Wednesday.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. All right. And we have plenty more time to talk about this tonight and this week. Thank you all very much.