November 5 , 1999
Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and syndicate columnist Mark Shields assess George W. Bush's pop quiz, Senator John McCain's fuse and the Democrats' race.
JIM LEHRER: And now to a look at the week of politics with syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
|I'll take foreign leaders for $1000...|
JIM LEHRER: Paul, first, on presidential politics, how do you read the impact of the now-famous George W. Bush interview last night on foreign affairs? He was asked to name four leaders - the leaders of Chechnya, Pakistan, India, and Taiwan - he could name only one. Is it a big deal?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, probably in the question itself, no. I mean, the questions were kind of ankle biting really. I mean, you can argue that a Texas governor who knows who the president of Chechnya is probably isn't paying enough attention to Texas, but there is a problem because they fit into a kind of a growing stereotype among the media, certainly, and that is fanned by his opponents, that maybe he's not up to the job, that maybe he's gotten things too easily, maybe he's not as experienced enough, particularly on foreign affairs and particularly when you contrast him with John McCain - that's the kind of contrast that he wants - the McCain people want to make with George W. Bush, is what about experience and biography - just as Al Gore would want to do that later.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read the - what do they call it - the Jeopardy question last night, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, a sense of relief that I wasn't asked.
JIM LEHRER: Well, you join millions with that one.
MARK SHIELDS: And, secondly -
JIM LEHRER: Including those of us who talk about those stories every night.
MARK SHIELDS: No, that's right. That's right. Secondly, I think, Paul is on to something. There's a "gotcha" quality to it - ho, ho, ho. I think if anybody comes out - you know journalism comes out with another black eye where it least needs it - but I think that the fact that Governor Bush skipped the first two candidate appearances up in New Hampshire, with the other candidates, which I didn't understand, because there's very low risk with the six or seven candidates on the floor, and the same stage, that has - that has given his opponents - Paul's right - the opportunity to plant the seeds of doubt. And this just kind of goes along with that. And I think what it does is it raises the bar and raises the stakes the 2nd of December. People will be looking at - that's the apparent -
JIM LEHRER: In Iowa.
MARK SHIELDS: In New Hampshire.
JIM LEHRER: In New Hampshire?
MARK SHIELDS: And that's when people will be looking at, I think, George W. Bush more than any of the other candidates.
|Sen. McCain's temper|
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. All right. Now, the other Republican who had something to do with this week, Mark, was John McCain, and had to do with whether or not he had a hot temper or not. How important is that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, John McCain took - well, it's obviously important - temperament is important in a President. Disposition is important in a President. And what these primaries are really all about are what is somebody like, what is he really like, what is this fellah made of? Is he the kind of guy we can trust? And what John McCain has tried to do is to turn it to his own advantage and say sure. I've got a temper. I've got passion. I care deeply. And these are the things I'm passionate about; these are the things that make me angry. I don't know if it's going to work for him. I don't think it didn't helped John McCain - I know it didn't at all -- to suggest that George W. Bush's campaign was behind the "New York Times" story. I mean that did sound a little bit... a few echoes of Richard M. Nixon and who's planting stories against me?
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. Paul, what do you think --
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think the temper per se is going to be a problem for John McCain or for any candidate unless me blows up in which case it was probably because the seed has been planted.
JIM LEHRER: But he would almost have to blow up on camera, is that what you mean?
PAUL GIGOT: Or in a debate or something in front of an interview with you or somebody else. But the thing that's interesting to me about this is -- notice how this debate about these people is all about character and biography. It's not about substance. Nobody in this campaign of the leading candidates is really debating much about policy so far. In this campaign, biography seems to be destiny. And if I were George W. Bush, I would not want to have a fight over biography and character with John McCain. I think that's John McCain's strength.
JIM LEHRER: Move on to something else.
PAUL GIGOT: Move on to the issues where he has some problems with the Republican base on taxes and campaign finance reform and I think you're going to see that from Bush because they had this yellow rose garden strategy of Texas which is - you know -- stay above the fray; we don't need to engage; we don't need to debate. They found out that that's a liability and now they're going to start to engage and I think you'll see that more.
JIM LEHRER: In summary - sure, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Just one quick thing.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
MARK SHIELDS: I think -- one of the Bush people I talked to today was really relieved that when George W. Bush was given that test last night, that he didn't explode at the reporter because there was a certain "gotcha" ambush quality to it. And I think that is real -- and I think Paul was referring to Herodotus who said character is destiny.
JIM LEHRER: Was that right, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Only Roman philosophers, not Greek.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Look, finally on to Republicans before we move on. By taking all these things we've just been talking about - plus anything else you want to add to it, has this week resulted in any kind of change or major development, major movement, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Continuation of the McCain charge in New Hampshire -- and the -- a change of strategy by the Bush campaign to engage now and to get him into debates earlier. At first they weren't going to debate until January. Now they're going to do it a couple of times in December. You're seeing him on the road more, you're seeing him in New Hampshire. You're seeing him begin to talk to reporters -- give the sense that he doesn't think this is an inherited proposition he's got to fight for.
JIM LEHRER: Your overview, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I think I would add to this, Jim, that independents can vote in either primary in New Hampshire. I was with Vice President Gore this week in New Hampshire and his people are cheering on John McCain. Why? Because they figure if the action is over there, the independents to whom Bill Bradley, Gore's challenger, has a great appeal in every poll, will go over to the Republican side and vote for John McCain. George W. Bush this week, in New Hampshire, was doing penance, public penance. He was going to little bitty towns. He was retailing, he was saying "I'm not too big. I'm here, asking for your vote." That was the message he was delivering
|The Democrats on the trail|
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Now to the Democrats, Mark. What is your summary view of what happened this week between Gore and Bradley?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it's fascinating. I was with Bradley today and Democrats, Jim, are painfully aware of what unanswered charges have meant in the past -- Michael Dukakis in 1988, his failure to respond to the charges that he was not patriotic and didn't care enough about the flag and all the rest really hurt him in the campaign.
JIM LEHRER: He says that himself.
MARK SHIELDS: He says that himself. And Bill Bradley's own supporters in New Hampshire said to me there was the one disappointment they had in that Dartmouth town meeting -- that he did not come out at Al Gore stronger after the Vice President charged that the Bradley health plan was going to eat up the entire surplus and leave no money to repair Social Security. Bradley's answer is this, Bradley's answer is: I am making an affirmative case for my candidacy and this is a different time from 1988. People want -- don't want that counterpunch, that back and forth -- I hit you, you hit me. And I have to say, Jim, after sitting in on half a dozen town meetings with all the candidates the line that gets the biggest applause is when any citizen stands up and says I want the bickering and this excessive cheap partisanship over. Maybe Bill Bradley is on to something.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. What do you think, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: I think we saw this week the continuation of Bradley setting the terms of debate of this race, both the agenda in determines of health care and gun control. He is setting an agenda. And the Vice President is being forced to respond and nit-pick and argue with. But it's Bradley's terms of debate. It's the kind of issues that Bradley wants to put on the table. I want to put big ideas, and I want to do it in a big way. And I think he's got the Vice President - he's got him answering him. So, he is setting the terms of the debate. The other thing is Bill Bradley hasn't had to deal with the distractions that Al Gore has about his campaign and the biggest story this week on Al Gore is the fact that he was paying $15,000 a month to Naomi Wolf, a feminist writer, to give him advice on how to be an alpha male as opposed to a beta male. That's not the message that the Vice President wants to leave in primary states and that's what he has had to do time and again. That, I think, distracts him from his main message.
JIM LEHRER: You think the Naomi Wolf thing is a negative for the Vice President, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it may not be -- I think it is a negative but it's certainly a plus for Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien... Those guys have ammunition for at least a week.
JIM LEHRER: As if they didn't already have enough.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, it's intriguing to me because two things: First of all, the charge that was made, I asked Bradley today if he wanted to comment on it and he said "not on your life." He doesn't want to comment.
JIM LEHRER: You mean, on the Wolf thing?
MARK SHIELDS: On the Naomi Wolf thing -- he didn't want to go anywhere near it. But I have to say this about Al Gore: I saw him in several different settings this week and we'd seen Al Gore sort of the wooden phlegmatic Al Gore that was only a heartbeat away from the vice presidency in the past; then we saw sort of the hyper Al Gore who was like John Kasich on speed - it seemed - you know, with all those hand motions. And I have to say -- this week I saw him, he was more comfortable with himself and with the crowd, and I think he had a more positive impact than I've ever seen. So, maybe he is finally hitting his stride in the midst of all this strife, but the Naomi Wolf thing was not helpful.
PAUL GIGOT: This is the problem the Vice President has. Will the real Vice President please stand up - you know -- which personality is it - a, b, or c? And the Naomi Wolf thing feeds into this because it's a question of authenticity. Would you really need advice from somebody - at fifteen grand a month -- on what kind of man to be?
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Yeah. Quickly, Paul, before we go -- Carol Moseley-Braun, the former Illinois Senator, her nomination to be ambassador to New Zealand was held up by Senator Helms. Today out of nowhere he drops the objection. She comes to a one-hour hearing. It's all love and whatever -- he isn't there. But now she is expected to be confirmed without a problem. What happened?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think the Republicans concluded that it wasn't worth the political heat -- that it's only one year, it's an ambassadorship - because there is only one year left in the administration. It's an ambassadorship to New Zealand not a heavy policy post. And I think they think that the White House set a trap for them. They knew that that would raise red flags with the-- her nomination would raise red flags with Jesse Helms. He would either then have to let her go and swallow hard, or object to her and they could come back and say, race; race was the problem. Play the race card and create a stir and Republicans said we don't want to do that. Let's get rid of it.
JIM LEHRER: Anything you want to add to that quickly, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: The Republicans didn't need Senator Helms being their fact, the party's face and voice on this issue and the objection he raised to Carol Moseley-Braun, you'll recall, was that she owed an apology to the nice little ladies of the Daughters of the Confederacy because she had opposed their copyright to the stars and bars on the floor of the Senate. I mean, that is not where the Republicans needed to have a debate on foreign policy or ambassadors.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.