SHIELDS & GIGOT
AUGUST 23, 1996
This week in Washington politics involved major moves on health-care, tobacco, and welfare reform. The NewsHour's political experts, Mark Shields and Paul Gigot, take the spin out of these issues and the between the conventions campaigning by Bob Dole and Ross Perot.
A RealAudio version of this discussion with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot is available.
Browse NewsHour coverage of related topics:
August 21, 1996:
President Clinton signs the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act into law.
August 1, 1996:
The NewsHour's historians put the latest welfare bill in perspective by exploring two fundamentally different views of the federal government's role.
July 31, 1996:
On the day the House passed a controversial welfare reform bill, members of Congress debate the pros and cons of the legislation.
Check out this Online Forum on the political importance of the tobacco industry
July 5, 1996:
The NewsHour's political pundits discuss Bob Dole's defense of the tobacco lobby on the "Today Show".
May 16, 1996:
The NewsHour talks to experts about how to limit teen smoking.
Check out past discussions with NewsHour regulars Mark Shields and Paul Gigot.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, our Friday night political analysis by Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. They are both in Chicago tonight. Paul, four big White House announcements this week. Today it was tobacco. Elizabeth Dole said it was an election year gimmick. What do you think, sir?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, itís a pretty good gimmick. Uh, it is, umm, uh, the President has struck here a theme that is--most people seem to agree with. He had a harder time when he looked for a corporate villain early in the administration, insurance companies didnít work very well, when they were talking about health insurance; the drug companies didnít work. But thereís not a love lost out there from the--on the tobacco companies. And in--they sense an issue here where they can play national politics, as opposed to regional politics. And thereís no question this is going to help perhaps some of the Republicans in some of the tobacco growing areas, Sen. Jesse Helms, for example, of, of North Carolina, uh, and Mitch McConnell, incumbent of Kentucky, but as far national politics goes, itís probably a pretty good issue for the President to contrast with Bob Doleís use of the drug issue which he has been trying to use against the President.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Mark, you agree, few political down sides to this one?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I donít think thereís any political down side to it, Jim, other than to be a Democrat running for reelection in North Carolina or running for election. Harvey Gant, the former mayor of Charlotte, challenging Jesse Helms in North Carolina, all of a sudden Jesse Helms becomes the tribune of the little tobacco farmer, the guy whoís going to stand up against the oppressive federal government. And in that sense, itís a problem.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Yesterday was welfare reform, Mark, and thatís a slightly different issue, is it not, for the President? He--well, you give your analysis, sir.
MR. SHIELDS: My analysis, Jim, is that that President helped himself politically by all measurements, all earthly indicia, and helped the Republican Congress.
JIM LEHRER: Iím sorry, all earthly what?
MR. SHIELDS: All earthly indicia, all indicators--
JIM LEHRER: Got you.
MR. SHIELDS: --that we have as opposed to celestial, and we do indulge--Paul and I go into celestial occasionally, but no, by every measurement, he certainly helped himself. And thatís a big plus for Bill Clinton. He, in a strange way, yesterdayís ceremony, which was not very celebratory, it wasnít the usual roman candles and all the rest of it--there was almost a sense of explanation and defense and rationalization.
JIM LEHRER: And the Democratic leadership was not there with him.
MR. SHIELDS: The Democratic leadership was not there, but, Jim, in a strange way, it was, it was testimony to the fact that the Republicans had won the Congress in November of 1994, and the left of the Democratic Party since that time has been essentially toothless and docile, and tired. It raised no challenge to Bill Clinton. He was the first President--the last Democratic President not to be challenged for renomination was Franklin Delano Roosevelt during World War II. Every other Democratic President has been challenged--
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
MR. SHIELDS: --within his own party, and because he was free to move--heís the last has been running to the middle, and that was an example of his running to the middle and taking, attempting to take welfare off as a Ď96 issue working for the Republicans.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, how do you read it?
MR. GIGOT: This is a fascinating case of Sherlock Holmesí phrase of the dog that didnít bark. I mean, here you had a President who essentially repudiated 60 years of Democratic social policy. Uh, the Democratic Party, if it has been about nothing else since Roosevelt, itís been about federal action on behalf of poor people, the federal government, activist federal government on behalf of the poor. And itís repudiated and nothing happens. And we got a couple of press releases from the left wing, but nobody really reacts. And I think itís a testimony to a couple of things: one, if this had happened in 1980, I think the, the liberal wing of the party would have gone after Jimmy Carter. But itís a testimony to how much weaker they are within the party and within the country really, and second, to how much Democrats of all stripes fear Newt Gingrich more than they mistrust Bill Clinton. I mean, Newt Gingrich is the great mobilizing force for this party right now. Itís the great unifying force. Itís the only unifying force. And I think thatís--that helps explain the welfare thing.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Paul, there were two others: minimum wage and the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill, health insurance. They were the other two that the President signed this week. And there heís--heís right with the Republican Congress and also with the Democrats in Congress as well, is he not?
MR. GIGOT: Uh, he is. I mean, those--both of those passed with large majorities in both--from--in both Houses--Democrats and Republicans--where welfare divided the Democrats down the middle. The Democrats can reasonably sign on to both of these. I think the more interesting one, though, is welfare--I mean, is the health care because in a way, Bill Clinton is lucky that his original health care plan, the big, gargantuan one, didnít pass a couple of years ago, because if it had, it was so widespread, and it had so much change, he would have had an awful lot of people mad about it, even if other people--he would have had real mobilized opposition. Uh, right now, heís been able to--because that failed, heís able to pass this incremental reform, which is widely popular, targets a couple of sources of middle class insecurity, and heís willing to get credit for it--heís able to get credit for it and still say, I, uh, I fulfilled one of my campaign pledges.
JIM LEHRER: So, Mark, generally, a good week for the President, these four all taken--this kind of Monday it has to be this, Tuesday it was, Wednesday, then Thursday, and itís a big deal, huh?
MR. SHIELDS: No. I think it was a good week for the President, Jim. I donít think thereís any question about it, certainly on balance by anybodyís measure, and it has to be considered a good week. If the, if the welfare signing was an indication of the, the Presidentís being able to move because of the Republican domination of the Congress. Minimum wage was an indication of what had happened in the Republican Congress since they got elected. If anybody had predicted in November of Ď94, January of Ď95, that this Congress was going to produce an increase in the minimum wage, they would have been asked to head for the Menninger Clinic, and that was not the case. I mean, there were Republican leaders, including Dick Armey, who said it would be over their dead body, and the last time I checked, they were still kicking, screaming, and spitting.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Okay. Speaking of weeks, this was the first week of the Dole-Kemp campaign. How did--whatís your assessment of how well they did, Mark?
MR. SHIELDS: Uh, Jim, I thought they had--they had energy, they had a lot of sort of spirit. It--the numbers started to come back at them, Paulís paper, the ďWall Street JournalĒ/NBC Poll today showed it back at double digits, and itís a--I think after the, after the San Diego convention there was a sense of the Republican base vote firming up, but I thought--I think itís still a high energy ticket. I think itís still a very, you know, sort of--itís given Bob Dole sort of a vitality which his candidacy had lacked, I think, prior to the choice of Jack Kemp.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, speak to that, but also specifically to the, the--to Bob Doleís speech today to the Black Journalists Meeting in Nashville. Itís not very often that you hear a national politician admit he did something wrong, which was that he didnít speak to the NAACP a few weeks ago.
MR. GIGOT: Well, thatís right. He--and he linked that admission of a mistake to other Republican mistakes going back to being, really borrowing a Jack Kemp line, which is that the Republican Party was away without leave in some of the civil rights struggles of the, of the 50's and 60's. Umm, I think that was--I saw the speech, and I thought it was a terrific performance. I mean, he didnít back down on affirmative action, he made a real forthright case for his view on racial preferences. On the other hand, he said, look, weíre going to do something we donít usually do; weíre going to ask black Americans for their votes. And I thought it was a terrific performance, capping really a very good week of campaigning. You know, we talked to Republicans, and theyíre sort of knocking on wood, saying, believe it or not, Bob Dole seems to be running a good campaign after the doldrums of July, Kemp seems to have--he seems to have borrowed some of Kempís enthusiasm, and heís seemed to have given some of his restraint to Kemp. So theyíre balancing one out pretty well, and Bob Dole seems--heís campaigning as if he thinks he can win, which of course is the requirement before you can--before youíre able to--
JIM LEHRER: Before you actually do it.
MR. GIGOT: --you have to think you can, yeah.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Mark, this is also Ross Perotís first week out there. He got the--officially got the nomination of his Reform Party last Sunday. How does he look a week later?
MR. SHIELDS: Well, I mean, Ross Perot, Jim, Iím frankly surprised heís now in single digits, and, uh, I donít under--
JIM LEHRER: In the opinion polls.
MR. SHIELDS: Thatís right, in the opinion polls. I do not underestimate Ross Perot. This is a man who youíll recall took, took budget deficits in 1992 which were, you know, way down on everybodyís laundry list, and made it a centerpiece of not only the campaign of Ď92 but also put it right up there in peopleís minds and votersí concerns. So, uh, he has, he has great ability as a messenger. I think thereís a great opening for Ross Perot that is left to him by both the Republicans and the Democrats by, by Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, and the excesses we saw at San Diego, which will be more than replicated if not exceeded here in Chicago, with big fat cat parties and corporate sponsorships and all the rest of it, I think that the issue of campaign finance reform, of political reform, remains there if Ross Perot, and he certainly is--has shown an adroitness of picking up issues before--I think thatís his opening to, to be a player in this campaign of 1996, because I donít think either candidates can plausibly introduce that issue and raise it.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, your Perot thoughts.
MR. GIGOT: Unlike my friend, Mark, Iíve been underestimating Ross Perot for years, and this time I may finally be right. It seems to me that he is diminishing the third party movement that he helped create. He created this process. Thereís a real--there is a third party demand in this country, but Ross Perot has turned up--ended up making it more a vessel for his own ego and his own campaign or appear to be that than something bigger for a bigger cause. And I donít think heís helped himself, and the other thing, problem he has is that Bob Dole, by putting tax cuts on the table, by, by putting some issues like school choice and other things on the table, heís made this a difference in the race. You canít say that thereís no choice here between Dole and Clinton. There are real differences. And a guy like Perot sometimes tends to flourish when thereís--people can say, ah, thereís not a dimeís worth of difference. This time there is.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, look, weíre going to leave it there, and we will talk to you all next week. Weíll be out in Chicago with you, and we look forward to talking all week about the Democratic convention. Thank you both very much.
MR. SHIELDS: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: See you.