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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
13 Feb 2016
Make America Great Again -- at Torture!

The undisputed front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination who, like every other remaining … Read More.

6 Feb 2016
Cracking the Code of Campaign-Speak

"Do you ever get the feeling," asked humorist Robert Orben, "that the only reason we have elections is to … Read More.

30 Jan 2016
Is There Only One True Progressive?

Mark Shields is off this week. The following is a column by Joe Conason. In our polarized politics, the … Read More.

Campaign 2012 Deficits -- Humility and Humor


After watching the first two 2012 presidential debates, I only wish that President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney could have personally observed New York City's 1969 election.

That year, the city's handsome, charismatic mayor, John V. Lindsay, after a disappointing first term that had begun with unrealistically high expectations, made a TV commercial crafted by his political advisor David Garth, which was nothing less than a mea culpa. Standing in shirtsleeves on the porch of Gracie Mansion and looking directly into the camera, the mayor acknowledged his failures:

"I guessed wrong on the weather before the city's biggest snowfall last winter. And that was a mistake. But I put 6,000 more cops on the streets, and that was no mistake. The school strike went on too long, and we all made some mistakes. But I brought 225,000 more jobs to this town. And that was no mistake. ... And we did not have a Detroit, Watts or Newark (all paralyzed by race riots). And those were no mistakes. The things that go wrong are what make this the second toughest job in America. But the things that go right are what make me want it." After publicly eating humble pie, Mayor Lindsay won re-election.

Which brings us to the 2012 presidential campaign, where I have yet to detect so much as a smidgen, let alone an iota, of humility on the part of either the Democratic or the Republican nominee. After the blunder of the Bay of Pigs in 1961, President John F. Kennedy told the press and the people that while "victory has a thousand fathers ... failure is an orphan," and that he was personally responsible for the failure. Kennedy's favorable ratings rocketed to 83 percent, the highest level of his administration, prompting JFK to muse, "The worse you do, the better they like you."

To listen to the 2012 standard-bearers is to hear two exceptional individuals who, publicly at least, are total strangers to self-doubt.

The first one who straightforwardly admits to having made a policy mistake or failure in judgment could well sew up this election.

Also absent from both candidates is any sign of spontaneous humor. Self-deprecating humor is evidence of emotional intelligence. Criticized for his own more abbreviated hours in the Oval Office, following the dawn-to-midnight work schedule of Jimmy Carter, his White House predecessor, Ronald Reagan could publicly kid himself: "It's true hard work never killed anybody, but I figured, why take the chance?"

Don't tell me the Gipper was just delivering a scripted line. He was comfortable and convincing poking fun at himself. There were no comedy writers around when, campaigning for the White House, he was asked by a reporter to autograph a promo photo of Reagan and one of his co-stars, Bonzo the chimpanzee. He inscribed, "I'm the one with the watch."

Both Romney and Obama could learn from George W. Bush, who, even though most observers believed he lost all three presidential debates to Sen. John F. Kerry, still won re-election and a majority of the popular vote in 2004. Pollster Peter D. Hart sagely explained that outcome: "Voters preferred I Like over IQ."

One of the reasons they liked Bush was that he could laugh at his own perceived foibles. Addressing his penchant for mispronunciations and occasionally mangled syntax, Bush offered to a press dinner: "You know what Garrison Keillor said the other day? He said that George Bush's lips are where words go to die." I have yet to hear an authentic self-deprecating line from either 2012 nominee. That includes both men's unmemorable routines at this year's Al Smith memorial dinner.

Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama: Instead of more PowerPoint presentations, rehearsed lines of attack and hubris, how about showing us, if you have any, some genuine humility and humor? Voters would cheer, believe me.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at




4 Comments | Post Comment
Sir;... I think it is important to realize that only idiots and bad men want the job of President of the United States... The office ages people, and kills some...What sane person would sell his soul and so much of his life for mere office... I do this, and fart around, exercise, and read... It is kind of like being in heaven with the advantage of still being alive... I cannot imagine the hell of a 24/7 job with everyone wanting everything and too many pigs for the teats...You can get up and look at the news and say: all is quiet, and let's have toast and tea and consider the future; and by nightfall be shell shocked and muddy and hungry with nothing but tums to eat...
I think Mr. Romoney is a little of both: Idiot and bad man... It seems like the smallest of sins, to bear false witness; but it is the worst of sins because by that means people are deprived of what they most need in life: The truth!!! Mr. Obama is realistic enough to know that people don't want the truth, and that the truth they guess is the truth they wish were not the truth at all... Mr. Romoney wants to push that lean toward unreality into an ass over teacups fall into illusion as is his sole hope of election... If he can convince enough of the people that the solution to the problem is more of the cause of the problem, he is home free... The problem is that the republicans have injured so many people with their ideology and policy, and with the personalities of some of their presidents and politicians who have been programed, but otherwise dim witted -that they will only barely and with the greatest good fortune find enough people off center enough to elect them...
This is it... Even if they are elected now, the demographics are changing so quickly that short of changing voter elegibility they will not hold the presidency again in our life times... Even when you serve your masters who pay your way to the polls, you still have to serve enough of humanity to get elected, and the republicans have skaaroood us all...They have their Gullibles, and true believers; dead end republicans... They do not own our future unless we allow them to end our national bond, and bring us into civil war... I think we are close... We are not there yet...
I would like to say that there is a place for respect, and that our culture of disrespect and incivility which is my own, -would be out of place for Mr. Obama to deny with self depricating humor... I am a serious guy; but I never demanded respect, and in retrospect was raised without respect and never demanded it until absolutely needed...
I am not warm and fuzzy, fun or engaging, and never had a nickname in my life until one of the local clowns called me Sweenus the P___ __, and you can guess the rest... Some times people would just call me by the last part, and I answered...
I don't suppose if I had ever had any self respect that I would have done what I did for a living, associated with such roughnecks and rummies, or taken such abuse to see my family with food on our table...I thought it was preferable to have people laugh at me to my face than to abuse me behind my back as some snakes do...I took my life seriously, and my work seriously, but I never took my self seriously other than seeing my job as my means of self expression... It was the medium, and I was the message...
If I were Mr. Obama I would play it as he is playing it... When people are kicking you all you can stand why hand them a boot??? He has been maligned as much as Lincoln ever was, and with as little good cause... Why the republicans insist upon having the presidency, and in doing all within their power to tear down the office when they are out of it is a mystery...It is not just the other party that is taking their hit, but the whole of government, and it is that same government that has given republicans special treatment as a class from the beginning on this country...
The rich used to pay for their share of government, and now they want all without paying their share... For this they abuse Mr. Obama and call him unfit for office, not even a citizen which is about what they have said of blacks from the beginning, too... Why should Mr. Obama concede any of the honor of the office they are trying to tear down with him in it??? As much as is possible he should conduct himself with respect for the people and demand respect for the office as though it were and is yet, an office of honor...
Comment: #1
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Oct 19, 2012 8:17 AM
Sir;... You give too little credit to what people are, and too much credit to who the candidates are... The edge Mr Bush had over Mr. Kerry was the inability of people, especially men, to admit their mistake and correct it... All the time we were calling Mr. Bush a monkey and an idiot we were only making monkeys and idiots of ourselves because we more entrenched those who elected him in the first place... You have to be careful insulting those who vote for a man in the process of insulting the man they voted for... If they are wrong and were wrong -they will have to figure that out on their own... You have to present your man as the better man, and I doubt that the republicans have come anywhere near the top of that hurdle....
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Fri Oct 19, 2012 8:27 AM
A powerful closing for the president to use in the final debate: “The economy is growing, but at a slow rate. Am I encouraged? Yes. Am is satisfied with the pace? Absolutely not. Therefore and again, economic growth and Middle Class prosperity will continue to be my focus. And let me say this to the five percent—” Now THE PRESIDENT LOOKS DIRECTLY at Governor Romney— “and to the one percent, you high income folks. You want to increase your bottom line? You want to increase your company's income? I bet much of that income comes from consumers. And you know as well as I who they are. They are our Middle Class citizens. So get on board. Support my policies. Even you, Governor Romney. This way you prosper. This way all Americans prosper.”
Comment: #3
Posted by: burnscolepub
Sun Oct 21, 2012 2:27 PM
Re: burnscolepub. What Romney is saying, or perhaps trying to say, is that he does not support incompetence. Policies and intent are one thing, but execution is another. That is where Obama has failed. Miserably, when it comes to injecting Keynesian stimulus theory into reality, which is supposedly what he has been standing for.

However, nothing in Romney's campaign has trumpeted competence either. He seems to get tangled up in some basic political miscalculation just about every week. What a choice.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Masako
Sun Oct 21, 2012 7:35 PM
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