One of my all-time favorite political columns came several years ago from the pen of Creators Syndicate columnist Mark Shields.
“After 60 years of hanging out with candidates and elections, I’ve learned that political campaigns don’t build character. But campaigns – and especially losing campaigns – reveal character,” Shields wrote in this column. “Let me give you some examples.”
He continued thus:
After President George HW Bush was denied a second term by young Democratic Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, Bush left the following handwritten note on inauguration day, January 20, 1993, for his successor :
“When I walked into this office earlier, I felt the same sense of wonder and awe I felt four years ago. I know you will feel it too.
“I wish you much happiness here. I have never felt the loneliness that some presidents have described.
“There will be very difficult times, made even more difficult by criticism that you may not consider fair. I’m not very good at giving advice; but don’t let criticism discourage you or steer you off course.
“You will be our president when you read this note. I wish you good. I wish good luck to your family.
“Your success is now our country’s success. I am hard on you.
“Good luck. – George.”
That, dear readers, is class.
After losing in a landslide to President Ronald Reagan, Democratic candidate Walter “Fritz” Mondale said these words: “Although I would have preferred to win, tonight we rejoice in our democracy. We rejoice in the freedom of a wonderful people and we accept their verdict. To classify.
There’s no denying that Shields knew a lot about political campaigning.
He had worked for many years in his youth on numerous campaigns – the best known being Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 run for the White House. After leaving politics in the late 1970s, Shields wrote editorials for The Washington Post and a syndicated political column that we published weekly for many years until Shields stopped writing, probably for health reasons. As a journalist, Shields covered 12 presidential campaigns and attended 24 national party conventions.
Despite his liberal leanings – apparent in large part because of his Democratic candidate affiliations – I found Shields’ analyzes of political situations often very fair and balanced, which in my book makes him a very respectable writer.
However, our newspaper counted him among our “liberal” columnists. Regular readers here will know that we strive to publish two syndicated columns most of the time – one generally left-wing and one generally right-wing – in hopes of giving our readers a taste of both sides of various issues.
And even in this world where politics is so divisive, Shields somehow found a way to dwell on the positives, focusing on the best in people. More often than not, I came out of his columns with different perspectives – and a smile.
Most readers of opinion pages know that this is not always the case.
Shields’ resume was extensive and impressive. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame and served in the US Marine Corps. Eventually, he taught American politics and the press at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. He was also a Fellow of the Harvard Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. For decades, he provided weekly political analysis and commentary for “News Hour” on PBS, where he shared his vision of American politics and his wit on “PBS News Hour.”
Shields died June 18 at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. of kidney failure at the age of 85. Undeniably, news consumers lost one of the biggest that day.
His PBS NewsHour colleague, David Brooks, had this to say: “We’ve had thousands of disagreements over the years, but never a second of acrimony. Mark exudes a generosity of spirit that enhances all who come into his light.
PBS NewsHour chief correspondent Amna Nawaz tweeted: “Truly one of a kind. Mark’s intellect, mind and heart were second to none. I left every conversation I had with him more intelligent and smiling.
And that, dear readers, is class.