Jim Lehrer sits down with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot for a two-pronged discussion; first, the Morris sex scandal, and then, a preview of the Chicago convention's main event: President Clinton's acceptance speech. What to expect.
JIM LEHRER: Now some words of analysis now from Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, ďWall Street JournalĒ columnist Paul Gigot. A serious hit for the President, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: A serious hit, Jim, in a couple of respects. Susan Page was absolutely right. What ought to have been the most triumphant day of Bill Clintonís presidency, the acceptance of the unanimous nomination by his party for a second term, with a lead, his parade has been rained on, and this is a story that competes with it, diverts attention, energy, and beyond that, I think itís a reminder just as I was thinking of four years ago as Bill Clinton was getting ready to give his acceptance speech, he was blessed with another unexpected event that that time was good news.
It was Ross Perot pulling out, and he went ahead 20 points in the polls. But I think what it does is it reminds people--thereís been a widely held perception that the White House, the President have matured and stabilized. But I think this reminds people of other friends, associates of the President, have been the subject of scandal, even conviction, whether itís Jim and Susan McDougal, Web Hubbell, or Jim Guy Tucker, the former governor of Arkansas, so I think it is a problem.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Paul, what do you think?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: The problem raises questions about political judgment and political sincerity. The judgment is about who a President, any President, any candidate, surrounds himself with, and while you canít be responsible for everyone, it does, as Mark pointed out, remind voters of--that this particular President has had a string of unfortunate resignations and problems with key advisers.
You know, the White House counsel, theyíve had an awful lot of them, Web Hubbell, some of the Arkansas people, that sort of thing. But I think the bigger opening for Republicans here, which they will try to find some way to exploit, is the question of political sincerity. If you are the architect of a family values message, if you have remade this President, as Morris has helped to do, into what essentially is a cultural conservative, talking about family values, urging him to--the President to sign a welfare bill, all of that language which has been so effective for the President, then you have to ask the question if he is now in the trouble he is, was it all sincere. Did he mean it? Can you believe him?
JIM LEHRER: Mark, what is the word within the, the political world, the non-partisan professional political world about Dick Morris? Was he, in fact, a, a legitimate genius at this kind of thing, whether he was working for a Republican or whether he was working for a Democrat, he just knew how to do it? Did he deserve that title?
MR. SHIELDS: Youíll get, youíll get varying opinions, Jim. Within the political community, itself, he was widely reviled.
JIM LEHRER: Reviled?
MR. SHIELDS: Reviled. There was great distrust of his numbers, whether in fact his polls are real or whatever, but he had an unerring instinct for a relationship with a constituency of one, whether that one was Sen. Jesse Helms, the most conservative member of the Senate and for whom he worked, Sen. Trent Lott, the Republican leader, or Bill Clinton, uh, for whom he worked. He showed a remarkable flexibility, uh, ideologically. Most people in politics work for just one side. They donít--they donít jump back--
JIM LEHRER: That is seen--has been perceived at least--that shows how terrific he was, that he was so good everybody wanted him--wanted him to work for.
MR. SHIELDS: I think what he did, I think even his critics would have to acknowledge that he played great political defense. He took the vulnerabilities of President Bill Clinton, particularly those on crime and welfare, and he shored them up, I mean, to the point where Bill Clinton is even, in every measurement public opinion couldnít be better on the subject, thatís not been the case with Democrats against Republicans over the past generation, but I think if thereís been a soft spot in the Morris strategy, itís been apparent in the sense that thereís no offensive strategy. Itís almost been a nuke the differences between the two partiesí strategy, and the vision thing I donít think has been part of his plan.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, on the streets where you walk, what have you heard about Dick Morris before today, and his, his level of competence?
MR. GIGOT: Well, I agree with Mark heís widely reviled, but thatís true of most political consultants in the business who donít like each other.
JIM LEHRER: And most of them--go ahead--Iím not going to answer the question.
MR. SHIELDS: I think most professionals have a respect for each other, and, if not an affection.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
MR. GIGOT: I think he did something else for the President. I mean, after 1994, Bill Clinton, the election pasting he took, he was adrift. He lost confidence in his own judgment to some extent and in the judgment of his advisers, a lot of whom were veterans of Democratic politics only, and of Capitol Hill politics, in particular. Remember, a lot of people thought, and I think the President came to believe, that he had made his own agenda and his own presidency subservient to the Democrats on Capitol Hill. Morris kind of brought him out into a bigger new you. He said--he had been out working for Republicans, seeing the way other themes work, seeing the way the country responded, and he tried to incorporate those into the Presidentís message.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
MR. GIGOT: I think itís worked beautifully. I do agree, though, with Mark that it--thereís a certain ideological ruthlessness to it. Itís, itís weíll pick one from column A, one from column B, what does it all add up to?
JIM LEHRER: Got you. All right. Now some preview words on tonight's centerpiece. Paul, the President is going to make a very important speech tonight. What is--what should be the mission of that speech?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, itís not as important as a speech for him as it is--as it was in San Diego for Bob Dole, because as an incumbent President youíre so much better known. Umm, you have a record. On--that being said, itís still important for this President because he has a chance to say why he wants to be President for four more years and what he wants to do in those four years. So far, this Presidentís defined himself by who heís against, who his enemies are, as Al Gore said last night. I think voters would like to have a more affirmative reason to vote for him, and he has the chance to provide that tonight.
JIM LEHRER: Does he have to say something new? I mean, for instance, David just referred to there have been advanced leaks about this, this jobs program, et cetera. I mean, is that what he needs to talk about, some new vision, new program, or what?
MR. GIGOT: He certainly gets some headlines and some attention if he offers something new and big, but I think more, more than that is the way he stitches it together and offers some compelling view when he says, you know, they named the train the 21st Century Express. Well, what is it about the 21st century, and what is it--what is it that--how do you stitch all this together? George Bush did that beautifully in 1988 when he talked about the, the concentric circles of community and how he viewed himself, bridging out from the family to the country. If Bill Clinton can do something like that tonight, that will be very effective for him.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, what do you think the mission should be?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think the mission, Jim, in addition to what Paul says, is threefold. First of all, Americans, the most optimistic people on the face of the earth, a majority of whom now believe that their childrenís lives will not be as rich and full as our own have been. All right. Bill Clinton has to give some sense of direction as to what heís going to do about that, and it was to improve, the very thing that Alex Kotlowitz was talking with David Gergen about not only for the under-class, for the middle class, for working class Americans, a sense of what--where he wants to leave the nation and what heís going to do about that.
Secondly, he has to convey I think what Sen. Bill Bradley once called--America needs a great ambition. We are a people right now without a great ambition. For 50 years, our ambition was defined through the Cold War, through World War II, fighting fascism, totalitarianism, and third, I think he must convince people that he has true core principles on which heís willing to fight and lose and even lose his presidency, if necessary. And I think thatís, to me, what his principal task is tonight.
JIM LEHRER: Well, thank you all very much. And as they say in journalism, weíll see what happens. All right. See you all later.