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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.

Debates Count More Than Running Mates


ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Republican National Convention is over (let's hear a loud shout-out for St. Paul!). All the 2008 presidential primaries and caucuses are history. Barely eight weeks remain before the nation's voters — in the civic sacrament of democracy we call a national election — will choose a new American leader.

Republican nominee John McCain's running-mate pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — along with the procedures McCain used to choose her — have already gotten wall-to-wall press coverage. But let us be blunt: Barring some genuine bombshell disclosure, both 2008 vice-presidential nominees will have minimal influence upon whom Americans will decide to be commander in chief for the next four years.

In the past 40 years, there have been just two elections when the vice-presidential candidates were manifestly superior to their opponents. The first was 1968, when the gifted Democratic senator from Maine, Edmund S. Muskie, was overwhelmingly — and rightly — preferred to Republican Richard M. Nixon's running mate, the mediocre and corrupt Maryland Gov. Spiro T. Agnew. The second was 20 years later, when Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas all but annihilated his overmatched Republican opponent, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle.

That was 1988, when Bentsen delivered the most memorable debate line in U.S. history, after Quayle had compared his own relatively thin resume to that of an earlier Democrat, John F. Kennedy: "I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." If the Bentsen-Quayle debate had been a professional prize fight, any responsible referee would have stepped in and stopped it right then and there.

The important thing to know is that despite the clear advantages to Muskie and Bentsen, the tickets on which they were running lost. In 1968, Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon.

In 1988, Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis lost 40 states to Republican George H.W. Bush.

Understand this about presidential elections and American voters: We base our voting decision on who will be president — Barack Obama or John McCain — and not whether Sarah Palin or Joe Biden will be vice president.

That presidential decision will rest in large part on the three presidential debates scheduled for Sept. 26, Oct. 7 and Oct. 15. John McCain's best — maybe his only — hope is to prevail clearly over Barack Obama in those debates. Obama, in the respected judgment of Democratic pollster Peter D. Hart, "cannot seal the deal with voters unless and until he proves in the debates that he is the guy they want in the White House."

These presidential debates are the closest thing American voters have to a joint job interview where both "applicants," the Democratic and Republican nominees, are simultaneously and publicly judged on qualities of intellect, character, likeability and grace under pressure.

We have one American politician to thank for the gift of these presidential debates — President Ronald Reagan. After the first presidential debate in 1960 between Democrat Jack Kennedy and Republican Richard Nixon, the Democratic president in 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson — with a big lead in the public opinion polls — refused to debate Republican Barry M. Goldwater. In 1968 and 1972, Republican Richard M. Nixon refused to risk his lead in the polls by debating.

That changed in 1976, when President Gerald R. Ford, trailing Democrat Jimmy Carter, did agree to debate. In 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter met his Republican challenger Ronald Reagan in a single debate. But it was Republican incumbent President Reagan in 1984, with a big lead over Democrat Walter Mondale, who would pressure all future front-running candidates to meet their trailing challengers in televised debates by going against Mondale. So when you sit down to look over Obama and McCain in open debate, thank the Gipper for making it all happen.

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




4 Comments | Post Comment
Mark Shields, you and David Brooks to me are the best of the news hour BUT beware of the balloons. Beware of the hype. They news hour is lost in the balloons. Now, about a man in his 70's not knowing how many houses he owns deserves a closer look, especially after nominating Governor Sara Palin for vice president, who in her own words describes herself as a pit bull with lipstick! Now the cry is foul play and she hides from the media. I have read her husband is a member of the steel workers union sounds great. Don't mention British Petroleum though that's a no no. The power of the vice president is no illusion, Right now V P Cheney and B P in Georgia are stoking the fire. He's not delivering balloons. The news hour won't accept my posts, denied as spam. I will tune in for Shields and Brooks and of course Ray even though he's out of the loop, hmmm i wonder why? So for me it's you two guys, Bills journal and NOW with David. Not supporting the cable monopoly leans my choices but what i have is solid. Believe me beware of the balloons. i'm a combat vet,Vietnam 67-68 and own 0 houses. thank you Democracy is two wolves and a lamb arguing over what's for lunch. Ben Franklin
Comment: #1
Posted by:
Sat Sep 6, 2008 12:01 PM
Sir; If history shows anything; it is that you can't judge the future by the past. This is a new election with the rightdiologues counting on Mr. Mccain dropping dead and having one of their own in the presidency. There is little chance the Mr. Obama's choice is going to hurt him. If a president's first presidential decisions is the choice of vice president, then Obama is way ahead on points. If you can't beat a dog in lipstick then you have more to worry about than pita. And that is just it, all over. If this Mrs. Palin has lost touch with the ability of words to say something literally ridiculous, and thinks of words only as weapons that can never misfire, then she is a boob and a poor pick. It just goes to show to what extent ideology is running the republican party. They can no longer think. Their thought consist in picking up popular ideas rather the dynamics of reason. I hope America can see what is being unloaded as a candidate on them. She might think she is a dog, but she is a cat woman, all claw and no have what it takes. And that voice! Save me. Thanks.... Sweeney
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Sep 7, 2008 6:48 PM
Re: Sir; I am glad I am not the only person in America to pick up on that completely stupid remark delievered by Mrs. Palin. My guess is that is was written by some flowery woman hater and that she read it because she is too stupid to catch what came out of her mouth. I am sure she does not mean it. My guess is that John Mccain does not mean half of what he said. My guess is that when they say America it is themselves they are talking about, and what they are not talking about is how to cut us into the power and the wealth of this country. Thanks a million. I hope you are not still hurting from Vietnam. War wrecks more people than it kills, and I know some people still trying to recover from that one. Thanks.... Sweeney
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Mon Sep 8, 2008 8:06 AM
Mark Shields, (PBS 9/12/08)
So you think Sarah Palin is at the peak of her popularity? If you do
(and I don't think you REALLY do), it would be consistent with your "punditry batting average", which I believeis is in the 0.150 to 0.200 range. You have been walking around with egg on your political face since, at least the 1994 GOP takeover of both houses of Congress.
They give you patsies like David Brooks, Paul Gigot for counter-point, which is a PBS, and liberal MO (repeated in the following hour with"WWIR").
Bill Bennett, Pat Buchanan, John O'Sullivan, Michelle Malkin, Rich Lowry, K.O'Bierne; any one of these are more in your weight class, not the featherweights you've been sparring with.
Sarah Palin will demonstrate the vitality of the Cultural Right, by carrying this ticket (and down ticket) to a big win this Nov. You will see voters turning out that you never heard from before, (legitimately I might add). Amish, Pentecostal, Adventists,
LDS, etc.
This is what terrifies the political castrati in both parties (ie, D.Brooks), and MSM.
BHO, and Biden will be lucky to win a dozen states, and Shields soils his shorts once more.

Peter Price
Comment: #4
Posted by: Peter Price
Sun Sep 14, 2008 6:28 PM
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