Political columnist Mark Shields amused and enlightened an audience of several hundred Toledo-area residents last night with tales of foibles and fumbles from the campaign trail and a dose of reality from Washington.
His appearance at the Great Hall in the Stranahan Theater on Heatherdowns Boulevard was the latest in the Authors! Authors! lecture series sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.
In what amounted to a light-hearted recap of the last 40 years of American politics, Mr. Shields said Americans have had a tendency to keep “looking for qualities in the new fella that disappointed us in the one before,” and stumbled from problem to problem because of it.
In 1976, he said President Carter of Georgia was elected to the first full term in the post-Watergate era because he was an outsider with no connection with or experience in the federal government in Washington.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected because of his optimism, and because he wasn't Jimmy Carter.
A self-identified liberal, Mr. Shields said he had “to confess to great disappointment in Bill Clinton. He was as smart as anyone I have ever covered ... and he basically squandered it.” And he laid part of the blame for Al Gore's loss to George W. Bush in the 2000 election at the feet of Mr. Clinton.
“George W. Bush represented a chance for the Republicans to win. It was a change in leadership election, not a change in direction. He basically said `I can do it better [than Mr. Gore], and you're not going to be embarrassed.'”
He said he was most perplexed and amused by the candidacy of wealthy publisher Steve Forbes, who went after “a long-overlooked demographic: the angry affluent. Their slogan: `We're rich as hell and we're not going to take it anymore!' ”
He said when Mr. Gore, Bill Bradley, and other candidates were confessing during last year's presidential race to secret vices, such as smoking marijuana in their youth, all Mr. Forbes could cop to was that “once he ordered the house chablis.”
Mr. Shields is one of the longest-serving columnists in Washington, telling the Toledo crowd he has worked there so long he “can remember when the Oval Office was used to raise money and the Lincoln bedroom was used for sex.”
Closing with a serious note, the writer said the last 40 years of American politics have been defined by what leaders were against. In the aftermath of the end of the Cold War, successful politicians must decide what they are for.
Mr. Shields is a columnist for the Washington Post and author of On the Campaign Trail - a book that documented the 1984 race for president. He also works as a political analyst for CNN's Capitol Gang and for PBS' The Newshour.