May 5, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss Al Gore's attacks of George W. Bush over Social Security and an ad tying Bush to the NRA.
MARGARET WARNER: Finally tonight, our end-of- the-week political analysis with Shields and Gigot: syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
|Gore attacks Bush on Social Security|
you all and Jim last week talked about Gore being on the attack, and he
was at it again this week, Paul. And one of the new targets was Social
Security. He said Bush had a secret plan to privatize Social Security.
One of my favorite lines, "He wants to risk your retirement savings
in the game of stock market roulette." Why so tough now, why on Social
PAUL GIGOT: Well, in fact he called up the Washington Post, Dan Balz, the reporter, after not having done interviews for weeks, called him up to say I want to be interviewed on this subject. So he clearly thinks it's a winner.
Well, he thinks, like most Democrats since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, that they can beat Republicans and this Republican, George Bush, on the issue of Social Security, and especially this time because George W. Bush is doing something, says he's going to do something, said it in that interview with Jim, that Republicans haven't done in a long, long time, and that is go on the offense on Social Security and say I as a Republican can do better than this Democrat in fixing it, because I can work with Democrats to fix it and I'm willing to do what Democrats and liberals don't want to do, which is give at least a portion of the payroll tax, invest it in stocks, bonds, and allow even average workers to get the benefit of compound interest that well-to-do people have had for years.
And Gore thinks, wait a minute, I can hit them on the change argument, I can say it risky, so you have a real debate being joined here.
MARGARET WARNER: It really is from Gore the traditional Democratic message, isn't it, the same old song about they want to ruin Social Security?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it is, and I think Margaret, this is a case where there's a disconnect between the elites in Washington, including many of us in the press, and the general public. It is the single -- Social Security -- is the single post popular program ever created by the government of the United States, alone, by itself. Now you're hear people say young people don't expect to get paid and all the rest of it.
MARGARET WARNER: And that is true -
MARK SHIELDS: No, it is the single most popular. Young people have confidence in it. This is a Peter Hart survey. They think they're going to get it. They think they're going to be paid off, they're afraid of people tampering with it. And this in my judgment is a mistake for George Bush. It's a mistake for George Bush. Maybe Al Gore overreacted, I don't know, time will tell on that. But it's a mistake for Bush for a simple reason, and that is he has left open raising the retirement age. He refuses to rule that out. And I have to say for people like you and Paul and me, who have jobs we love, and enjoy, that's not a threat. But for somebody who's carrying trays at a diner, for somebody who is a night porter in an airport, the idea of extending the retirement age is not an opportunity to continue to be creative and fun and enjoyable.
And I really think in this case this is one where George Bush opened himself up, and I think he's been essentially sure footed, exceptionally sure footed since March 7th since he sewed up the nomination, and I think when he starts talking about a plan, undeveloped principles, but not quite defined yet, I think it's an area he doesn't have to go to politically.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, his campaign says he's going to lay out details in a speech next week, in fact it was supposed to be Monday, but I think he's going to Cardinal O'Connor's funeral. So he obviously doesn't think it a risk.
PAUL GIGOT: No. That's why it's so interesting. I mean, both sides think they have an advantage, Bush thinks he has an advantage. He's not going to lay out precise details, and he would be foolish to - but he's going to lay out some principles. One of the reasons he's going to say the retirement age is on the table, he's not saying I want to raise it, he's saying I want to leave it open, because he doesn't want to be boxed in, in fashioning a solution. He wants to keep some things on the table. Just about everybody who is responsible on this subject says you have to keep that open, that might be part of the, that has to be --at least you have to think bit as part of the solution. It's something they did in 1983 when Greenspan and Moynihan came up with their bipartisan solution on Social Security at that time. But Bush thinks he may have an advantage here because of the demographics. You have a lot of the New Deal seniors who are dying, and the people, the post war seniors who are now dominating, are people who are familiar with the stock market, they probably have big, you know, they have stocks, they know it. You have younger people who have seen the stock market boom. They may be willing to take a little bit more risk, and particularly we're not talking about an idea that is going to privatize the system completely. We're talking about a portion of it. It's going to be a fascinating debate to watch.
MARGARET WARNER: And there are some centrist Democrats who are actually critical of Gore.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday Pat Moynihan said he considered privatization a scare word. And he was implicitly critical.
MARK SHIELDS: I mean, Pat Moynihan has been on this issue long before George W. Bush was. He introduced the idea five years ago, it went nowhere. Bob Kerrey, the Senator from Nebraska, has as well and the two of them and John McCain. This is a good move tactically for Bush because he identifies with bipartisanship, people are tired of gridlock in Washington, he can say I've got these leading Democrats with me; this is not a narrow plan. I submit that when one starts characterizing the other side of an argument as everyone who's "responsible," I'd say, I think it's being out of touch. I really return to that essential element, I think George Bush ought to be aware of it, it is the most popular, you don't fool around -
MARGARET WARNER: You know what's going to be the most fun is that since the two of you disagree, we'll get to find out who's right.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
MARGARET WARNER: All rights. Let's turn to -
PAUL GIGOT: Can I make one other point?
MARGARET WARNER: Sure.
PAUL GIGOT: It's also a question of leadership for Bush. Bush has taken on something that he's supposed to be kissing the cobra. I mean, it doesn't get you a lot of points usually. And he's basically stepping up and saying I want to take this on, and he may get points, especially against Gore who's saying don't do anything, status quote. There are risks to doing nothing as much as there are risks to doing something.
|Bush tied to NRA|
WARNER: There's another issue that Gore opened up an attack on this week
and it was guns. And the Handgun Control Inc., A private anti-gun group,
released both a video and an ad of the video of a speech given by an NRA
vice president, urging his supporters to help elect Bush. We don't have
the video, but we do have the ad that has some of the video. Let's watch.
AD SPOKESMAN: George Bush says if you want to know what he'll do as president, take a look at his record.
SPOKESPERSON: As Governor of Texas Bush signed a law that allows carrying concealed hand guns for the first time in 125 years.
SPOKESMAN: And he signed the law that allows carrying those concealed hand guns in churches, nursing homes, even amusement parks.
SPOKESPERSON: No wonder the NRA says:
SPOKESMAN: If we win, we'll have a President where we work out of their office.
SPOKESPERSON: Tell Governor Bush, the White House is our house.
SPOKESMAN: And it shouldn't belong to the NRA.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Gore jumped right on this, saying that Bush would invite the gun lobbyists into the Oval Office - out of the lobby into his office. Is this a potent issue for Gore?
MARK SHIELDS: It's an issue for Al Gore. He didn't handle it well, in my judgment. He said Charlton Heston would be surgeon general, or something of the sort. Cain Robinson, the Republican chairman, Iowa, an NRA guy -- the key that people want a president, they want a president who is compassionate and caring but they also want one who is tough and can be ruthless and especially in dealing with special interests. I don't care if they're a Democrat -- Jack Kennedy saying to U.S. Steel you're not going to raise the prices of steel or whatever. This is a case, second in a row, where George Bush has failed to show spine and failed to show toughness, in my judgment. First was Ralph Reed on his campaign staff, Christian Coalition executive director, being paid by George W. Bush to be his political advisor, also on Microsoft's payroll -- being paid to lobby George Bush. Now, I can't imagine Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan tolerating such a situation; you're gone! George Bush said well, we didn't know, we were surprised by it.
This, you just say let's get one thing straight, nobody, the only people that have access to the Oval Office are the American people, and anybody who thinks otherwise - I'm telling you -- can go straight to hell. And he didn't! He took sort of a mealy mouthed, I'm my own man... I don't think it was strong enough and that's a problem if it becomes a pattern. And two in a row in the space of less than a month is not encouraging.
PAUL GIGOT: I agree with Mark on the NRA. I think what that guy said is a typical, a lot of these lobbyists do this.
MARGARET WARNER: And we should point out this is a private meeting, they probably don't know there was a camera there.
PAUL GIGOT: Sure, but he's saying I'm a powerful guy, he's got influence, and he's also trying to rally people to the cause and say, to support Bush. But Bush, when that comes out, he should say, look, I'm not bought by anybody. And in fact, because he said that, that guy is not going to get into the Oval Office, and anybody who talks like that is not going to get in the Oval Office. I agree, that would have been a demonstration, particularly because Bush has on occasion disagreed with the NRA on some of their positions. So he ought to at least have the courage rhetorically to stand up to that.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think Bush is going to have to look for a moment now to distance himself from the gun lobby?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, somebody said the other day we have two Republican Parties divided by the issues of abortion and gun control. I mean, there's no question that the two parties see gun control as a lot different. Republicans see it - and you talk to Republican strategists and managers ---- they see this as a winning issue for them. And the Democrats see it as the way back into the suburbs, especially with women voters. It breaks by gender, it breaks by region, it breaks by party, who is for gun control. But I think Bush cannot, especially with the concealed weapons hanging over him, first Texas governor, 125 years to sign it at the behest, importuning of the NRA, in Texas, with Texas legalizing carrying a concealed weapon, I think he has to at some point establish his bona fides and independence. Paul said Social Security is an example; that's an example where he's certainly breaking with the orthodoxy. I'm saying where he has to stand up to a powerful interest, and I'd say the same thing for Al Gore, and tell them no.
PAUL GIGOT: The issue in this case, this episode is more a leadership issue. On the gun issue, it's fascinating, there was a CNN/USA Today poll that came out I think a week ago that showed that Bush actually was leading Gore when it came to the issue of credibility on the gun issue, 43 to 37. And I think that that shows that the politics of gun control is not as clear as some of the Washington elites think it is in terms -- a lot of us in Washington have thought and the press corps certainly thinks that this is something that always helps the gun control people. It always doesn't. It didn't in 1994, it doesn't in rural areas; it doesn't where there's a history of gun ownership and sportsmanship. Intensity on the gun control issue has always been with the gun owners. The gun control concern in the suburbs is a little more general, diffuse. There are a lot of issues that suburbanites vote on. Some gun owners vote only on guns.
|The race for the suburban vote|
And the new Wall Street Journal poll showed Bush doing very well
among suburbanites, ahead of Gore 15 points.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: And ahead of him with independents too by a small margin. How do you explain that?
MARK SHIELDS: The Gore argument is that a year ago Bush was 18 points ahead, now he's 5 points ahead. I don't think there's any question, when you look at the internals, that is who is voting for whom in this race, that the news is good for George Bush and not good for Al Gore; he's behind among women, he's only running even because of his support among African-American women. He's running behind among white woman, he's running behind among ticket splitters and independents. And this is at a day when unemployment went to 3.9 percent.
MARGARET WARNER: But does it suggest that Bush's moves to the center are working?
MARK SHIELDS: I think people are dying for, this is an election where people want both continuity and change, and If Bush can assure people that he will continue the prosperity and at the same time be change, but non- threatening change, he's in a formidable position.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it there. Thank you both.