Transcription – Walter Shapiro Interview

Q:              Well can you give — I’m trying to, it’s a fascinating observation, deeply fascinating, but I wonder, can you think of ways in which suffering these personal transitions, crises, whatever we want to call them, affected these individuals?  That they were different because of the death of a parent, or dealing with the looming health crises of a parent.

SHAPIRO:   I’m trying, I’m just doing a couple of — and this is all speculation.  I think the complexity of Bill Clinton is such that I’m not even going– even though I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Bill Clinton and covering him since 1992, I’m not sure I have an answer there.  But the same [01:45:00] with Kerry.  I always had a sense about Kerry, and this may be because of seeing him up close during the last years of his mother’s life and afterwards, is that John Kerry was one of the rare people in American public life who is a slight depressive.  That, you know, I’m not trying to do, I’m not trying to “have couch, will travel,” I’m not trying to practice psychotherapy without a license, and I mean depressive not in a clinical sense, but in sort of the way a novelist might call somebody a depressive.  But I always thought that there was a certain mournful air to Kerry that I’ve seen.  No one would have called John Kerry the happy warrior.  Which is of course the great phrase that Franklin Delano Roosevelt called Al Smith. [01:46:00]  And I don’t think John Kerry could ever campaign on what Hubert Humphrey called the politics of joy.  So in that sense, yes, I — it maybe deepens you, it maybe gives you more empathy.  It maybe makes you realize that ambition is not the be all and the end all of everything.  I think certainly in thinking about Hillary, and as we’re talking now, I have no idea whether she’s going to run in 2016 or not.  The fact that her mother died the last couple of years, another transition that was rarely mentioned in all of the hundreds of profiles of Hillary Clinton.  May be a small factor of having people realize there’s more to life than just sort of naked ambition.  But again, it’s – [01:47:00] these are human beings, and you get some access, and going back to the lesson of my being deceived by John Edwards, there is a danger of thinking that you know someone based on some access.

Let me give you a perfect example. I first got to know John McCain when he was national chairman for Phil Gramm for President in the ’95, 1996 — 1995, and a colleague said, “You ought to call McCain.  Unlike most of these people, he’s really involved with the Gramm campaign and he will talk to you about it.”  So during this period, well I was a USA Today columnist, I got in the habit of having one or two lunches or breakfasts in the Senate dining room with McCain a year. [01:48:00] You know, I was probably one of 150 reporters he had similar relationships with.  But because McCain also had the self-confidence to do these events without aides, I probably, at the point at which John McCain became the Republican nominee in 2008, I probably spent more time alone with John McCain than anyone in American political life who had ever received a presidential nomination.  And probably even more than Howard Dean, who I spent an awful lot of time with.  And how John McCain behaved as a political candidate, from the moment he got the nomination, through Sarah Palin, through the debates, through the loss of 2008, to being the hyper-conservative as he’s running, worried about Senate reelection in 2010, [01:49:00] I have nev — it was a person I never recognized — and the point here is — and I’d also seen McCain on — during the whole New Hampshire, South Carolina, I was on his bus in 2000, where he set new records for access to the press.  Where he would do five- and six-hour rolling press conferences.  And I always thought that if McCain had won the South Carolina primary in 2000, he would have won the 2000 Republican nomination rather than Bush, and the whole model of how you react to the press would have been totally etched.  Because politics is, more than anything, a copycat profession.  And if a candidate had prospered by being that in public, that open, that we might have set a whole different model of how you run for president.

So what doing all of this has taught me [01:50:00]  is a certain degree of humility.  A certain degree that they’re both people, but as a reporter, there’s a level at which you’re never going to know them.  And all of your theories, oh yeah, yeah, I was just — had lunch with McCain last week, I’ve got him all figured out — do not create the person who would pick Sarah Palin as a running mate.

Q:              You know, something along this line of sort of empathy, and this may be a dry well, but you — your —

SHAPIRO:   Empathy with me, yes, a dry well.  (laughter)