Transcription – Walter Shapiro Interview

Q:              You’ve got a quotation from Kerry in your book, the publication of which precedes the famous, “I voted for the war –”

SHAPIRO:   Yes, oh yeah.

Q:              “– against it.”  The quote is, I’m the only person running for president who has fought in a war, and actually fought against the war I volunteered to fight in, because I found it wrong.  I mean, that — structurally, that seems to me the same kind of —

SHAPIRO:   That is the same —

Q:              — statement.

SHAPIRO:   — yes.  I mean, they’re —

Q:              Which he hadn’t made yet, at the time you wrote this book.

SHAPIRO:   Which he hadn’t made yet.  No.  (laughter) And — because, again, the book came out — the real edition — there was an afterword written for the Democratic Convention, but the book itself closed — was published in the first couple of [00:49:00] days of November of 2003.  The thing about Kerry — and despite the fact that he chose John Edwards as his running mate, I was always fascinated by the fact that they both — and this is my extrapolation from lots of conversation fragments with both of them — that each of them represented to the other the exact worst thing about American politics.  John Kerry, who came to the Senate in 1980, and was — ’82, forgive me — and was seen as almost a parody of ambition.  Before there was Chuck Schumer, it was never get between John Kerry and a TV camera.

Kerry always prided himself on the fact that he waited — even though he might have run in ’92, [00:50:00] he might have run in 2000.  He waited 22 years after he arrived in the Senate to run for president.  And that was — it was honoring the traditions of the Senate.  It was not — he was playing against type, for all my purported ambition,  I am a man who understands that you just don’t show up and start running for president.  Unlike John Edwards, who arrives in the Senate in 1998, and is already on Gore’s Vice Presidential shortlist in 1999, and was unequivocally running for the presidency, from the moment he arrived in the United States Senate.

For Edwards — and remember, this is the Edwards pre-Rielle Hunter, pre-scandal.  John Edwards did see himself as the son of a millworker.  A self-made man, who went to, as I recall, North Carolina State, and [00:51:00] like so many presidential candidates before him, majored in textiles.  (laughter) And for him, John Kerry related on the [Forbes?] side, way back to New England aristocracy, and on his father’s side, a couple of generations of State Department officials.  The man who went to Yale, Skull and Bones, the — that John Kerry represented every way in which American politics is a rigged game, where people who are well-born, and go to Yale, and are at the right clubs get to run the country.  So I’ve always found — and both of these critiques were right, on a certain level.  But I always found that tension to be fascinating.

Q:              Before we leave the period of your book, is there anything else you have to say about John — I’m sorry, I was about to make the Tom Harkin mistake — about Howard Dean and his campaign?

SHAPIRO:   Well, just the fact that, to some extent, there was a mismatch between what Howard Dean became, and Howard Dean himself.  That Joe Trippi was a great master, who is, by the way, Dean’s second campaign manager.  Rick Ritter was the first.  That in Trippi’s mind, it became something that — the campaign represented something that Howard Dean really wasn’t.  That Howard Dean was really not an avatar of [00:53:00] a radical change in the Democratic Party.  He was a very smart guy, who got bored with being Vermont governor.  It couldn’t run forever.  Didn’t want to go to the foundation world.  Didn’t want to go to Wall Street.  And really liked the idea of public service.  Thought the fact that he was a doctor, that he would understand healthcare reform was a big selling point.  And that he was a balanced-budget Democrat.  But it also had an instinctive, non-interventionist feeling about politics.

But the idea that Howard Dean was this sort of embodiment of a new politics, just was a mismatch between the candidate, and the perception.  I mean, this happened before.  Eugene McCarthy in 1968 was really — while he had the courage to challenge Lyndon Johnson, there was so much else that was [00:54:00] put onto McCarthy wasn’t there.  And in the case of the Dean campaign — and this gets into the problem with insurgency.  First of all, there was a real tension between Howard Dean’s original loyalist — particularly his chief aide, Kate O’Connor, and all of the new people who came into the campaign in 2003, who did not have a pre-existing relationship with Dean.

But there was also the sense — and this is the problem with insurgent campaigns.  So many decisions were made on the fly.  So much was being done by too few people with too little sleep, that sometimes the decisions were less than impeccable.  A perfect example is the Sunday before the Iowa caucuses.  For reasons I do not understand, [00:55:00] the Dean people had been led to believe that they would get Jimmy Carter’s endorsement, if they went to Plains, Georgia.  Dean, the day before — I’m doing this from memory.  The day before the Iowa caucuses, flies — there is no direct flight between Des Moines and Plains, Georgia.  (laughter) And basically wastes 12 hours of campaigning to meet with Carter.  I think, maybe watch him teach Sunday school, and not get an endorsement.  You know, this is the sort of mistake that insurgent campaigns make.  I’m not saying that those 12 hours would have made a difference.  Because Dean did finish a bad third in Iowa.  But it would have amounted to something.

But so much of this, the idea of — [00:56:00] because they could do massive rallies in the summer of 2003; there were no benefits to getting 50,000 people in Seattle in 2003.  You’re a year before Seattle’s primary or caucus — I guess Washington State had a caucus, back then.  I don’t even think they had a system for collecting names from people at these rallies.  It was just sort of, having rallies for the sake of having rallies.  Because when suddenly the internet hit the spigot, and — all under the old system, all of these internet small contributions were matched one to one by the Federal Government–the Dean campaign had more money than it knew how to spend prudently.

This also led to lots of tensions within the Dean campaign, between Joe Trippi [00:57:00] and, as I said, the few original Dean people, like his aide, Kate O’Connor, who was a nice woman, but stretched beyond her capabilities by just wanting to be protective of Dean, and do everything herself, and not understanding the dimensions of the presidential campaign.

But there are some unfairnesses.  I have never — I thought the Dean scream — and, as I recall, Diane Sawyer, for the morning she was on, actually did the best exegesis of this about two or three weeks after the Iowa caucuses.  First of all, in the way everything has now become encapsulated, people say, “Oh, Dean lost the Iowa caucuses [00:58:00] because of the Dean scream.”  No, the Dean scream came after Howard Dean finished third in the Iowa caucuses, trying to rally his troops.  But as I recall, the problem was, the TV networks had just put in noise-cancelling microphones.  So even though the scene in the Dean rally site was raucous, and Dean was screaming partially to be heard, the noise-cancelling microphones pretty much got rid of the background noise, so it was like Howard Dean was screaming like a madman in a totally silent room.

Also, what nobody picked up on is one of the — as Dean ticks off all the states they were going to, with louder and louder voices, this is a variant of something he’d been doing in his stump speech for a year.  [00:59:00] All the countries that have national healthcare, and America doesn’t.  We’re going to Iowa, we’re going to Wisconsin, we’re going to fight in Washington State.  We’re going to Oregon.  They have healthcare in Paraguay, they have healthcare in Portugal.  It was adapting, if you will, a refrain that had worked for him in a different setting.

So that’s an aspect of Dean.  And the aspect that goes back to insurgent campaigns is, ultimately, you can’t do an entire presidential campaign with a lack of sleep.  That eventually — it undid McCain in 2000, where he — in the South Carolina primary, where, as I recall, he declared war against Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, which is not normally [01:00:00] the thing that you do if you’re going from New Hampshire, where you’ve just won by 20 points, into South Carolina, where Robertson and Falwell were, shall we say, perhaps a little more popular than, uh, the typical secular New Hampshire voter might lead you to think.

And it happened, to some extent, with Santorum, Rick Santorum, coming out of the miraculous win in the Iowa caucuses.  In 2012, I was there, when — flew to New Hampshire for his first event.  It was in a senior citizens’ retirement home that — and it was — Rick Santorum, instead of setting up a major rally, they had booked this in advance, because it was — they thought it was a safe crowd, they can get a couple hundred senior citizens, because it was a retirement home.  And [01:01:00] the day after Rick Santorum surprised the entire country, here he is in New Hampshire, taking as one of his first questions, a question on raising the social security retirement age.  And Santorum goes off on a very factual riff, as if he’s still the House member from the Pittsburgh area.  That includes this great thing: “Ronald Reagan was wrong.  We never should have raised the retirement age as part of the 1986…”  If there’s ever a sentence no Republican should say after they’ve just won the Iowa caucuses, it is not, “Ronald Reagan was wrong.”  (laughter)

But these are the mistakes that insurgent candidates make. And it is one of the reasons why, even when the insurgents can end up [01:02:00] having as much money, or more money than their rivals, as Dean did, in 2004, that ultimately don’t get the nomination.