Transcription – Walter Shapiro Interview

Q:              You, unlike most reporters, unlike maybe all reporters, ran for office.

SHAPIRO:   Well there’s one other exception, Chris Matthews.

Q:              Of course, that’s right.  But we’re talking to Walter Shapiro now.  And were there things that you experienced as a candidate back in – [01:51:00]

SHAPIRO:   Nineteen seventy-two.

Q:              — 1972, challenging, as I recall, the Democratic incumbent.

SHAPIRO:   Oh no, it was a winnable seat in Michigan.  I was a 25-year-old University of Michigan student, and I was running against the floor leader of the state house, who had gerrymandered the district to his specifications.  And I was running against, with no money, I was running against the UAW in Michigan.  At its high point.

Q:              Well, the question is, were there things that you experienced as a candidate that gave you a certain depth of field when you looked at these presidential candidates?  Or is that just chasing a rabbit down a hole?

SHAPIRO:   No it’s not, because I’ve thought about it a lot.  That on a certain level, I like politicians more than I think most of my colleagues do.  There are exceptions to that, you know, there’s the standard [01:52:00] “the only way a reporter should look at a politician is down.”  But, I think they’re flawed people like all of us.  There are some grotesque charlatans.  There’s some people who have charlatan qualities but also have sincere qualities.  And I still think that was John Edwards.  No one is a saintly figure, the way Obama was portrayed by too many people who should have known better in 2007 and 2008.  Nor is anyone as villainous as George W. Bush was portrayed by too many reporters during the last four or five years of his presidency.  So, there is a moment which — but there’s one other thing I carried away from it, which is just at the other end of it.  [01:53:00] The danger of being a politician is that every single human encounter becomes transactional.  If you say good morning to someone on the street and they recognize you, that’s a vote.  If you have a long talk with someone about their sick cat, that’s a potential donation.  So it is — the fact is that if you are a big-time political figure, there are no events in your life that cannot be cached in one way or another.  And that, I think, [01:55:00] does very bad things to your head, for one, to use a ’60s phrase.

But I’ve never — this is a thought that I played around with, I’ve never fully developed, but there are very few callings, other than perhaps selling insurance, [01:54:00] even that, where there’s no private, there’s no public, everything can be used if you choose to use it as a way, you know, the conversations with a wealthy person, it’s never your friend, it’s donor maintenance.  So that’s the opposite thing, that they’re, you know, one of the interesting things, and I had not thought it through, is whether we are — the way of seeking the presidency is not changing, because suddenly, losing is much more of a financial gain than it used to be.  I started to talk about how Lieberman partially lost the Democratic nomination in 2006 before, [01:55:00] because he ran.  In the case of Chris Dodd, he clearly had to pull out of his reelection campaign in 2010 because he had been so embarrassed and had moved the family to — but again, we are living in a world where Chris Dodd is now the head of the Motion Picture Academy of the world and making — the number is in Mark Liebovich’s book [This Town], maybe a million and a half a year.  You know, the fact is that for so many people who bomb out as Republican candidates for president, the next thing they know, they have their own show, a la Mike Huckabee on Fox News.  We have Sarah Palin, financial juggernaut, is certainly greater than Sarah Palin, governing juggernaut.  And therefore, there’s that whole question of whether [01:56:00] the rules on running have changed, that we maybe, when it comes to running for president, if you can stay out of sex scandals, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.