Bob Schieffer Has Answers

Veteran CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante brings a top political expert into the Smoke-Filled Room each week to answer your questions. He's invited his friend and colleague, Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer into a special convention edition of the Smoke-Filled Room to answer your questions.

Plante: Bob, of all the conventions you've covered, Alex wants to know, which one stands out in your mind and why?

Schieffer: I guess I’d have to say the Democrat convention in 1968 in Chicago for the simple reason that my daughter Susan, was born exactly nine months to the day after it.

Plante: Mary S. wants to know what you think will be the issue in this campaign?

Schieffer: Bill, Presidential campaigns are different than any other kind of political contests. I think in the end, people settle on a President they would be most comfortable with in a time of crisis. You don’t find that in the race for county commissioner or city councilman or even Congress. But the Presidency is different and in the end people generally want the person they feel could best handle a crisis.

Plante: Does that mean the one who is most comfortable in his own skin?

Schieffer: I think that has something to do with it. I think the Presidency and race for the Presidency, how people are perceived, do they appear relaxed, do they appear confident – I think that sometimes has as much to do with it as their positions on the issues.

Plante: “Even though there is no real drama left in the conventions, the party’s say they’re necessary to let the American people get to “know” their candidates. But it appears that Americans aren’t watching and therefore getting to “know” them.” Notes D.J.M. He asks, “Do you think the intense media attention is still warranted?”

Schieffer: I don’t think you can make the case that we need to do gavel-to-gavel coverage anymore. I tell people as an example, that we don’t cover Congress gavel-to-gavel. I go up to Capitol Hill everyday and if anything important or significant happens, I do a story that night on the CBS Evening News. We have to keep an eye on them, but these are not places where the business that used to get taken care of, happens any more. That happens early on. We found out who the nominees for both parities were going to be back in early March. These days, the conventions are kind of a showcase to introduce the candidate to the voters and to remind them that they’re about to have a campaign. I look on them now as akin to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics – a lot of pageantry - we get an idea of what’s ahead, but nothing’s really decided here. I think now, Bill, the defining moments of the campaigns are he debates, not the conventions.

Plante: We have a viewer named Leo who wants to know if there are any juicy, back-room deal making going on at this convention at all?

Schieffer: Oh there may be some deals about trying to get tickets for some parties somewhere, but as far as any political business I would have to say the answer is no.

Plante: Another website visitor, Ritchie writes that he thinks the scripted convention is nothing but an attempt to disguise the real policies and values of the Republican Party. He wants to know, “What do you think – is it all rhetoric or has the Republican Party really changed?”

Schieffer: I think George Bush wants to change the Republican Party. He wants it to reach out; he wants to make it a friendlier party. The Republicans learned a great lesson in ’92 when you had all that hard line rhetoric from people like Pat Buchanan and Marilyn Quayle. It didn’t work. I think George Bush, of all people, learned something from that. And I think they’re making every effort not to see a repeat of that kind of thing.

Now we did see last night, on the opening night, probably more black people on the stage than there were out in the audience. I don’t think that out of the 2000 plus delegates the Republicans sent here, I think probably 80 of those people are black. If you had been judging the Republican Party from what you saw on the stage, you got an entirely different picture. But, to give them credit, I think they are trying to make their party more diverse. Even people like John McCain will tell you yesterday’s program was not really representative of the party today. But I think they are trying to open it up, so I give them credit for that.

Where there's smoke, is there fire? Sound off on the Campaign 2000 bulletin board!

Plante: Another viewer asks how come they’e not giving people running for Congress, particularly in the tight races, a national, primetime platform? They’ve done it before, but not this time.

Schieffer: And that’s a very good question, because it’s exactly right. This is a convention to nominate and showcase George Bush for President. And everybody else has been asked to sort of step aside. You’re not going to see very many people in the Congress, because the Bush people believe they’re a reminder of the partisan bickering that’s going on right now in Congress. So you’re not going to see even the elected officials from Congress. This is a convention that’s been taken over by the Bush people; they’re trying to elect their candidate and there’s not going to be much help for the other folks.

Plante: Any guesses on who Al Gore will pick as his running mate?

Schieffer: Your guess is as good as mine. I’m told he went on vacation with about five names in his pocket; the two Kerrys - Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Senator Bob Kerry of Nebraska, maybe Bob Graham of Florida, perhaps George Mitchell, the former Senate Majority Leader from Maine, maybe another name or two that doesn’t immediately come to my mind. I think it’ll be somebody along that line. The people I talk to tell me that Gore truly has not made up his mind yet.

About Bill Plante
Bill Plante is a three-time Emmy Award winner who joined the CBS News Washington Bureau in 1976. He has been covering national elections since 1968. In 1984, he was part of a CBS News team that captured an Emmy for coverage of Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign. Plante is one of the most knowledgeable and respected political correspondents in Washington. (He'll do just about anything, including bungee jumping, to get a good story.)