OCTOBER 11, 1996
Negative ads, the bipartisan flaunting of campaign finance laws and why the Republicans aren't bringing up the character issue in the presidential race. These are the topics covered this week by political experts Mark Shields and Paul Gigot.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
Browse NewsHour coverage of the presidential and vice presidential debates
Sept. 13, 1996
Shields & Gigot consider the latest commercials aired by the presidential campaigns.
Aug. 30, 1996
Shields & Gigot debate the need for campaign finance reform
April 15, 1996
The Supreme Court considers a case to limit "soft money" contributions.
Browse segments of Shields and Gigot
MARGARET WARNER: Itís Friday, and that means political analysis with syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Welcome back.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Thank you, Margaret.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, why do you think weíre seeing all these ads, these kinds of ads now?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, essentially, Margaret, in 1996, we have a remarkably passive electorate. The electorate by every measure is less involved than it was in 1992. Attendance, audience for the campaigns, debates, convention, all of it are down. Network coverage is down 40 percent. So we get the way to reach, if youíre a candidate, if youíre Bob Dole or Bill Clintonís campaign, the way to reach is through paid advertising, is buying time on "Seinfeld" or the Big League playoffs or Monday Night Football or something where you can reach large numbers of voters.
MARGARET WARNER: And why do you think, Paul, weíre seeing--is this usual to have such a disconnect between what the candidates are saying on the stump and what weíre seeing in the ads, I mean, stuff like condoms in the schools, gays in the military. You never hear Dole and Kemp talking about that on the stump.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Some disconnect is, is pretty routine, particularly when the campaigns were targeting voter blocks, specific voter groups, blacks, or Christian conservatives, something like that. I think the great under-reported story of this campaign, one of the--I think after the election a lot of people will write about it--is the great success of the Democratic ad campaign at the presidential and congressional level. Itís been going on for a year, and itís been a sort of a two-track strategy. The President stands up and says, I want a clean campaign, I love Bob Dole, heís a wonderful man, I honor his service, and in every swing market in the United States, the Democrats are really hitting him with Medicare, Dole-Gingrich. Theyíve been linking him sort of dark, grainy, black and white, and it has been very, very effective. I think it may be, in fact, that it has poisoned the well for Dole, so that his credibility on taxes and some other things are, are--have suffered. These Republican ads are not nearly as effective, and theyíre late. Theyíre coming late, and itís hard to make up for those images that have been planted already.
MARGARET WARNER: Now all this--what is this Common Cause complaint about, Mark? This week, Common Cause was talking just about these ad campaigns and said, it was the most egregious violation of campaign spending laws in all of history since Watergate, both parties asking for an independent counsel. What is that all about?
MARK SHIELDS: Common Cause was stating the obvious and spreading the ugly truth. Both parties have violated the letter and the spirit of the election law. When you as the nominee of your party, Democrat or Republican, accept matching public funds, you sign a guarantee, you sign a pledge note, a promissory that you will not--this is all the money that will be spent in your behalf, all right, thatís, thatís it. And in the past, there have been, there have been some minor violations of small expenditures. This year itís gotten big. The Democrats have spent $34 million out of the Democratic National Committee in an effort, a television effort that was largely coordinated certainly with the Presidentís campaign. The Republicans, because they have had less money, because Bob Dole went all the way through the nominating season, spent $14 million. I mean, they have flouted the law, flouted it, and both sides have, and itís outrageous and itís indefensible. Right now, the only enforcement, Margaret, is that seven years after the fact you get an audit, and they assess your 1988 campaign, a fine of $100,000, itís buried back in the truss ads of the newspaper. Nobody reads it, itís not a factor in the campaign. It is not--it is no longer salient to our politics, but it is wrong, and, you know, whether it goes anywhere or not, Common Cause has raised an absolutely legitimate issue in my mind.
PAUL GIGOT: Disagree. Common Cause is the arsonist who reports his own fire to the police. I mean, Common Cause created this campaign finance system, and when you try to put campaign spending limits on people who are competing for power, and then you say $65 billion or whatever it is, and theyíre shocked, shocked--
MARGARET WARNER: Itís $70 million, but it is a lot.
PAUL GIGOT: Million. Sorry. Shocked, shocked to find that both sides want to win and they want--they actually want to spend a lot of money, so theyíll exploit loopholes and there are loopholes within these laws, Mark. The system that was designed by Common Cause and some of their intellectual allies, and thatís what comes of spending limits. Whatís--you canít limit political speech like that.
MARK SHIELDS: Paul, donít talk to me about speech being money. Money is not speech because if you start to say money is speech, what youíre saying is millionaires matter more, letís have a poll tax in the country. Donít blame Common Cause for this situation. It is not Common Causeís fault Common Cause responded, and so did the Congress of the United States in 1975, after Richard Nixon, after the revelations and the disclosures of people being shaken down, extortion, and illegal expenditures. Thatís what happened. Thatís what happened in this country. Maybe you werenít around then. I was, and I can tell you how corrupt it was, and I can tell you after that, Paul, we went through a system where, in fact, people did abide by it. Ronald Reagan did. Ronald Reagan didnít break the law. Ronald Reagan didnít push it past; he didnít have to. Now in 1996, itís being broken, and thatís bipartisan.
MARGARET WARNER: By both parties, by both parties.
MARK SHIELDS: Bipartisan.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Letís turn to the campaign, itself. Whatís the state of play inside the Dole-Kemp campaign now, Paul, on this question of how negative, how personal, how much the candidates should raise the issue of character?
PAUL GIGOT: As you--
MARGARET WARNER: Against Bill Clinton.
PAUL GIGOT: The state of play is as inconsistent, Iím sure, as itís always been. I mean, I donít think they know exactly what theyíre doing. Iím not sure Bob Dole knows exactly what heís going to do. I know that a lot of Republicans in and out of the Dole campaign wished that Jack Kemp in particular had taken the character question of Bill Clinton a lot more than he did. Thatís a traditional vice presidential role. Certainly, Jack Kemp doesnít like to do, but you sign on, probably you should do it, and particularly since in the later stages of the campaign I think this--the Dole campaign would like to drive two issues, taxes and trust. And trust gets right to the notion of presidential character and honesty, and itís very much a legitimate issue to bring up. But you have to show as a candidate and as a ticket that it matters to you. I mean, people, some of the people in the campaign say, wait, the voters say they donít like negative campaigning, but in fact, they like the information thatís provided, and they also have to know if youíre trying to say this matters, this campaign matters on the basis of trust, you have to show voters in a debate or somewhere else that it matters to you enough to bring it up and to bring it up in a civil, calm way, but take it right to the present.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think, though, these Republicans who are complaining, and I assume calling you up to complain, and other journalists, why do they think the character issue will work against Clinton when, in fact, the public already has doubts about his character and seems ready to vote for him anyway?
MARK SHIELDS: You go with what you have, Margaret. On the issues of the environment, the economy, Medicare, Bill Clinton enjoys a large decisive edge over Bob Dole in every measurement of public opinion. People give him a high job rating, so you look at it. Itís exactly the position, similar position that Fritz Mondale was in 1984. People asked about Ronald Reagan, who cares more about the elderly, Mondale, who cares more about ordinary people, Mondale, who cares more about working people, Mondale, who are you going to vote for, Reagan. I mean, and so the Mondale people kept emphasizing that Ronald Reagan was a cruel and indecisive fellah who wanted to start World War III. Going with Bill Clinton, the problem that they have is character matters a lot more the first time people are hiring a President. After that, performance sets in. Even six months after Richard Nixon was drummed out of office, okay, for heinous crimes, when the American people were asked what were the most important qualities they wanted in a President, the seventh on the list of eight was honesty. I mean, they want competent, they want leadership, they want strength, they want decisive, they want all of these things, they want compassion, and, uh, after we had a conservative mantra in this country now for 20 years saying everybody in Washington is an ethical eunuch and a moral leper. Theyíre not looking for--theyíre not expecting George Washington. So, I mean, to some degree theyíre hoisted on their own petard. The other fact is that Republican conservative hate radio--and I call it hate radio--has accused Bill Clinton of everything up to and including murdering Vince Foster, so whatever Bob Dole does, he can never reach that level of vitriol that they expect and really gets their own juices going, and I think itís unfair to Jack Kemp, I really do, asking Jack Kemp to be attack dog is wrong because that isnít Jack Kempís style, it isnít what he does. Itís like asking Tom Cruise to sing. Donít do it.
MARGARET WARNER: I guess he canít. But did what Jack Kemp say in the debate, Paul, about it was beneath Bob Dole to attack on character, does that now hamstring Bob Dole for Wednesday night?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure doesnít make it any easier, does it?
MARGARET WARNER: No.
PAUL GIGOT: And when youíre talking about attack dog, weíre not talking about calling him a, a--I donít know--
MARK SHIELDS: A womanizer?
PAUL GIGOT: Anything like that. Weíre talking about calling him--weíre talking about--this is a President who promises one thing and does another. This is a President who tried to nationalize the health care system and now says the era of big government is over. Bob Dole can look at Bill Clinton and say, how can you transform yourself like that? Thatís one big element of character as well, and thatís, thatís what Kemp should have done. I donít think itís something that is beyond his realm of capability.
MARK SHIELDS: Thatís absolutely legitimate. Thatís absolutely legitimate, to draw the issues of character based upon issues and positions and inconsistencies and contradictions, but I think the conservative criticism of Jack Kemp is that he didnít go after Bill Clinton firstly.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Weíre going to have to go out here. Thanks both.