September 22, 2000
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the oil reserves and the week in politics.
JIM LEHRER: Shields and Gigot. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, what do you make of the decision today to release the oil from the strategic reserve -- politics or good government?
MARK SHIELDS: Oh, Jim, it's always good government in the middle of a presidential campaign. I don't pretend to be a policy maven on oil. But I think that what we're seeing in part, as Richard Medley said in Ray's segment, that the need for government to do something was there. And in 1992, you recall, George Bush Sr., inaction at the time of the economic downturn, was translated to indifference on the part of the American people. And they chose Bill Clinton that year as someone who understood, or seemed to understand, and gauged what they were going through. I think the failure to do anything would have been... had a political downside to it that would have been serious. I think the vice president recognized, by calling this for, that inconsistency with which he is charged because he had an opposite position last February, is a lot less of a political risk than his inaction.
JIM LEHRER: How do you see it, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: Gives a whole new meaning to the word strategic. Little did we know, usually strategic reserve, the last time it was released was during the Gulf War. Now it's aimed at reducing the gas prices of swing voters in Pennsylvania and New England and Michigan. It's wholly and completely political, Jim, no question about it. I think Mark is right.
JIM LEHRER: Why is there no question about it?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, because it was set up to deal with supply problems, not to deal with fluctuations in price. And this is... Al Gore on Thursday says I want to do this. And on Friday miraculously, the whole United States government says, this is a terrific idea. We're going to do it. I mean it doesn't...
JIM LEHRER: Do you think it was cooked?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure I do.
JIM LEHRER: In other words they said you go out and call for it, and give me two days and I'll do it?
|Government mobilized to help Gore|
PAUL GIGOT: To me this suggests - it's an illustration of how the whole government has been mobilized by the president of the United States to help elect Al Gore. There is no question about it. I mean, he's... he wants to help him. Gore knows this is a problem, as Mark suggests, and they have to be seen to be doing something. And just last week the Treasury Secretary of the United States Lawrence Summers wrote in a memo that my newspaper reported that it was a misguided idea. This week he says it's a prudent idea. This is either a man who really wants to be carried over in the Gore administration, or he got the word from somebody in the White House this is something you want to do. It's transparently political.
MARK SHIELDS: At the risk of dissenting from Paul's enthusiastic indictment here, I think, Jim, Secretary Richardson in his interview with you made the case, I mean this is more than price -- we're talking about a world that uses 75 million barrels a day according to the secretary and is producing 73 million barrels a day. So it's not some manufactured crisis. And there is a political side to George Bush. I mean there's a little bit of the spider and the fly here.
JIM LEHRER: The spider and the fly. Take us through that, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: I think in the sense, Jim, that George W. Bush is hobbled on this issue -- he is politically hobbled because of the fact that he, throughout most of his public life and professional life, earned his livelihood in the oil business. And Dick Cheney has been in the oil business for ten years and Dick Cheney is on record, the vice presidential nominee, calling for price increases, why price increases would be good. So I think that at a political tactical level it's to the advantage of Al Gore to engage in a debate with George W. Bush on this issue.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see the politics that way, that Gore helped himself with this or that the politics smell so bad it could boomerang or is it too early to say?
PAUL GIGOT: If prices go down between now and November, it may help him. It may actually, the people will see tangible results. But there is a risk that it seems so transparent to people, so pandering, that it reminds people of Elian Gonzalez, where it was... where Gore went out and changed his position or adapted it for political gain. I think that's the danger for him. I disagree with Mark on the politics for Bush. Yeah, Bush has that oil background, there is no question about it. I think he should engage on this issue anyway unapologetically. He hasn't been in control for the last eight years. This energy policy is this administration's doing. You can make an indictment of it. Al Gore also has the problem of having been in support of gas tax increase in 1993. He can make that an issue. And Al Gore has family ties to Occidental Petroleum. So I would try to make the case... I would try to make the case that... for change, based on this.
JIM LEHRER: You brought pain to Mark's face when you said....
|Gas production is up|
MARK SHIELDS: I just point out to Paul that in 1992, the last year of the Republican administration, oil and gas drilling in this country in production was at the lowest point since 1942. I mean it wasn't some golden era that ended when Bill Clinton... it's now up --it's up in the Gulf of Mexico. It's... gas production is up dramatically in this country and exploration. And I would point out the only solution that Governor Bush and the Republicans have, basically, is let's drill in Alaska. And that immediately causes them politically -- if you really want to be candid about this and not political, the only solutions that have been offered over the past 20 years in this country are the ones offered by Vice President Gore. They've been rejected by an American people that want to drive vehicles, SUVs, that basically are gas guzzlers; they've been rejected by people who aren't interested in conservation. But I mean, Al Gore, if anything, his credentials are longer and stronger in this area than anybody who has run for president in my lifetime.
JIM LEHRER: Let's go to quickly otherwise how has the week been for Al Gore?
PAUL GIGOT: It was not the best week for Al Gore. He didn't... I mean he's had his worst week in a while, frankly. The gas problem was one of it. He got caught in a little mix-up about saying that his mother paid more for her medicine than his ailing dog did. That turned out not to be true. And then I think he and Joe Lieberman didn't help themselves with this kind of backtracking some on their Hollywood indictment of last week. This week they went out to Hollywood, raised some money and Joe Lieberman said, we love you, your industry, you're terrific; we're just going to nudge you now and again. Bill Bennett, who is Joe Lieberman's partner in a lot of these efforts to shame Hollywood, said that's not what we were about, Senator Lieberman. We were not nudging. We were trying to shame them. It looks like this may not be as sincere an exercise as you said it was.
JIM LEHRER: Gore had a bad week?
MARK SHIELDS: Not a good week for Al Gore. I agree with Paul on the misstep --especially on the prescription drugs in particular. It kind of raised questions about is this guy somebody who will say things that aren't 100 percent -- a better week for George Bush. No subliminable rats; no open mic night with Adam Clymer; no self-inflicted glitches on the campaign, plus he did well in his Oprah appearance.
JIM LEHRER: Regis.
|Regis and Oprah|
MARK SHIELDS: On Regis as well. There was a time when Socrates and Plato were the one name people in a society... Now it's Regis. And he was appealing... there was a political strategy to it, Jim. Because those shows are watched by married women. And while George Bush is getting murdered with women voters - losing very badly with them -- among married women voters, as opposed to unmarried women where he's really getting wiped out by Al Gore, among them he is more than competitive. He has the lead. He so was talking to a constituency that was important.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that Bush did well by going on those programs?
PAUL GIGOT: Yes. And I agree with Mark about the political strategy, but there was also a media strategy there, which was the one thing about these shows is that they allow you as a candidate to speak without a media filter to voters. And the problem that Bush had, and this affected Gore during the summer, is that when you get behind in the presidential race, the media doesn't report what you said as much as why they think you said what you said. It's an attempt to close the gender gap, or to close the gap scrambling in the polls.
JIM LEHRER: In a step clearly taken to do the following, he said...
PAUL GIGOT: This allowed Bush to say, look, get my views out. This is what I think on social security, unmediated.
MARK SHIELDS: We - following that, we ought to get Al Gore on to explain the petroleum reserve because we've already had Paul say in a clear step that was a transparent and hypocritical... But I have to say...
PAUL GIGOT: That's my job, Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: I have to say this about the -
JIM LEHRER: Hurry because I want to get a couple of comments on Whitewater.
MARK SHIELDS: The appearance. This is not to be confused, going on Oprah and Regis with, you know, You Want to be a Millionaire. This wasn't lifeline calls. I mean, those are pretty softball questions you get on there. Tell me what you're most embarrassed about; and do you like mom? Those are not toughies.
|Whitewater investigation closed|
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. The Whitewater investigation closed this week. Are there any political ramifications to be sorted through?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think so, Jim. Ken Starr signaled to us a year ago that there were not going to be any indictments. Robert Ray confirmed it. I think in the sense the interesting news here is that the report... there's a report that Ray and the special counsel has to file. That will be out -- but it hasn't leaked. And I think that's to Robert Ray's credit because that would have all kinds of... I can tell you that a lot of Republicans
JIM LEHRER: Because he was careful even in an interview we did with him the other night. He wasn't giving him a clean -- anybody a clean bill of health. He said there was no crime committed.
PAUL GIGOT: Right. And it's not leaking and it could damage the first lady, for sure, if it did come out, maybe -- could. Republicans would certainly like to have it out. But it hasn't leaked. I think that's to Robert Ray's credit -- no question about it. And just of course not having any indictments helps the Clintons.
JIM LEHRER: But Ray still says it's still possible he may ask a grand jury to indict the president after he leaves office on matters related to Monica Lewinsky.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, Jim, he did say that. But I would say, to underline what Paul... the point that Paul made, and that is that there will be no political bombshell in this area for Al Gore or Hillary Clinton between now and November. And that has to be a major, major cause for relief among Democrats who are concerned about that.
JIM LEHRER: Sure, all right. Paul, Mark, thank you both very much.