As a 29 year old, Bob Shrum worked on Democratic frontrunner Senator Ed Muskie’s 1972 Presidential primary campaign – later being enlisted by the nominee Senator George McGovern. Shrum served as senior advisor to Al Gore during his 2000 Presidential campaign and Senator John Kerry’s 2004 White House effort, and wryly observes that he failed to win the Presidency for any of his candidates in over three decades of trying.
Bob Shrum is also a highly regarded speech-writer, having worked on State of the Union addresses for Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy’s memorable speeches at the 1980 and 2008 Democratic National Conventions.
The 1972 Democratic nominating contest was the first under a series of reforms ordered by the 1968 Democratic National Convention to give much greater weight to the primaries and caucuses and take the selection of the candidate out of the hands of party officials in “smoke-filled rooms”. As well as opening up the process to ordinary voters, it also gave the media a crucial role as the conduit between candidate and citizen. Paid advertising, free news coverage and importantly, grassroots campaigning and organising, particularly in smaller states, became the new way to win the Presidential nomination – a lesson not lost on David Plouffe and David Axelrod who plotted Barack Obama’s successful 2008 campaign along similar lines.
This interview was conducted in New York City on “Super Tuesday” February 5th, 2008, as Senator Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton traded victories in one of the closest and most protracted Democratic primary contests in history – it was the first Presidential campaign Shrum had sat out since 1972. Meanwhile, Republican John McCain was all-but sealing his nomination victory over chief rivals Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.
John Barron: Bob Shrum can we start by talking about the 1972 primary season and the way the changes made after 1968 affected the nominating process and how that impacted the campaign.
Bob Shrum: Well in 1968 there was a widespread perception that the party bosses had ignored the will of the primary delegates and primary voters and gone off and nominated (Vice President) Hubert Humphrey no matter what people wanted. Now the irony of that is, I think, that if Robert Kennedy had not been killed (after winning the 1968 California primary) Mayor (Richard) Daley (of Chicago) and a number of the other political bosses would have moved toward him – they couldn’t abide (liberal Minnesota Senator) Eugene McCarthy – and they might have had an anti-war nominee, in fact I think they would have nominated Kennedy and you wouldn’t have changed the system. But the rebellion against the system afterwards, the sense that the voice of the people had been completely stifled in the process was very powerful. It’s why Humphrey – Humphrey was at one point 27% behind (Richard) Nixon (in the 1968 Presidential contest) although he came back and almost won at the end.
John Barron: So it was as a result of that super-heated year that those changes came about...
Bob Shrum: Yeah. Big events in history have big consequences. Actually sometimes little events like Bush managing to steal the election in Florida in 2000 have big consequences, but certainly 1968 was a year when there was such a profound sense of anger afterwards and it wasn’t just focussed on the notion that people’s votes were denied or their will was denied; it was focussed on the notion that they had been told ‘go into the system, if you want to end the war go into the system’ – so they went into the system and voted, they overthrew an incumbent president (Lyndon Johnson) they got Robert Kennedy into the race, Gene McCarthy was already in the race, and they felt that somehow... Hubert Humphrey didn’t enter a SINGLE PRIMARY in 1968 because he knew if he entered a single primary he’d lose it.
John Barron: So 1972 comes around and you’re – in the initial stages – working for Senator Muskie who is being seen as “the establishment candidate”.
Bob Shrum: He was. He had an appeal to people on both sides of the spectrum inside the Democratic Party. I had a conversation with a friend of mine when I said I was going to go and work for him who said no, you should go to work for McGovern. And I said ‘Oh this is getting too complicated!’ But Muskie by having one foot in each camp was almost paralysed. So for example if he gave a speech criticising the war (in Vietnam) a blast of anger would issue forth from the LBJ ranch in Texas (home of former President Johnson). So we wouldn’t talk about the war for a while. He (Muskie) was a very, very talented man, a great legislator who I think had no real guiding purpose or defining sense of mission in that campaign and so fell apart.
Ed Muskie famously became emotional while addressing a crowd from the back of a truck in front of the offices of the Manchester Union Leader newspaper before the New Hampshire primary. The paper had published a series of negative stories including one that implied Muskie’s wife was known to swear and drink excessively. As he berated the paper’s editor in the driving snow, Muskie’s voice broke and national reporters including the esteemed David Broder of The Washington Post wrote that he shed tears – decades later Broder would admit he still has doubts about whether he was seeing Muskie’s tears or melting snow.
John Barron: The media perception (of Muskie) was that after performing well, but not as well as had been expected (in the 1972 Iowa Caucus) ... then came the incident in New Hampshire...
Bob Shrum: I think Muskie already was in deep trouble in New Hampshire before he cried – he always insisted that he didn’t cry, that it was snow getting in his eyes, but certainly his voice choked up. McGovern (his chief rival for the nomination) was out there saying ‘I’m against the war, if you want to end the Vietnam War vote for me’ – he had a sense of mission. Muskie didn’t convey that sense of mission to people and I think Muskie was already haemorrhaging support in New Hampshire. By the way, Senator McGovern, who I worked for later, actually never concedes that I worked for Muskie. And he’ll tell me stories, now ‘remember when we were in New Hampshire?’ and I will say ‘I wasn’t there then, I hadn’t arrived yet’ and he would looks so unhappy I don’t say it anymore.
It was Senator George McGovern of South Dakota who headed the commission that redesigned the nominating contest after the uproar at the 1968 Chicago convention where delegates were greeted with barbed wire and National Guardsmen, anti-war protests turned to riots and fist-fights erupted on the floor of the convention itself.
John Barron: To what extent would you say Senator McGovern benefitted from the understanding he had of the new system – the one that he had helped to create after ’68 to then go through that (nomination) process himself?
Bob Shrum: I think every campaign knew that you were going to have to go out and win this nomination in the primaries. I think Senator McGovern realised that the pile of establishment endorsements that Muskie was getting didn’t matter in the end, it was what voters were going to do. But I think everybody had a basic understanding of the system.
John Barron: When it came to the actual nomination and it McGovern’s but there was still resistance to his candidacy – what does that say about the influence, the weight of party bosses compared to the ordinary voters?
Bob Shrum: Well there were a lot of people involved in the ‘Anybody But McGovern’ movement – the A-B-M movement – there were a lot of old-line party people who were utterly resistant to him – they thought he was too radical. But you know I think back to his radicalism now, and his radicalism consisted of; let’s end the war in Vietnam, let’s protect a woman’s right to choose (whether to terminate a pregnancy) let’s provide some sort of amnesty for people who avoided service in the Vietnam war – which of course happened four years later – and let’s reform and simplify the tax system and lower rates and close loopholes – which (President Ronald) Reagan did in 1986 and 1986. So in some sense although he lost 49 of the 50 states, and that was partially because of the complete disaster over the Vice Presidential choice, he laid out an agenda that actually had some impact in America over the next few years.
John Barron: But that (McGovern’s agenda) was turned into amnesty, acid and abortion”...
Bob Shrum: Yeah, I was unaware that he had ever said anything in favour of acid (laughs) – Bob Novak wrote a column in which he quoted someone, and it’s now come out that, or at least Bob Novak says that his source for that quote was Tom Eagleton. It was an anonymously sourced quote. The Senator from Missouri who McGovern later picked as his Vice President, it then came out that he had had electric shock treatments for a nervous disorder, he had not told McGovern about it and he had to leave the Democratic ticket. And at that point – I don’t think McGovern could ever have won the election – and in fact I don’t think any Democrat could have won that year – but he could have lost by ten or twelve points and carried 12 states and been viable in the future, but instead he lost in an historic landslide.
John Barron: Is it only in retrospect that you say McGovern or no democrat could have won in ’72, or was there a sense at the time that this was a long shot, we may as well give it a go but it’s not likely?
Bob Shrum: There were points at which Muskie lead Nixon in the polling. McGovern went into the (Democratic nominating) convention I think six or eight points behind Nixon, therefore competitive. But if you look at the fundamental lay of the land; in the end as Nixon was drawing down troops in Vietnam and announcing peace was at hand, and putting in place wage and price controls – a very un-Republican thing to do – it would have been very difficult I think for any Democrat to win that (1972) election.
John Barron: Being an early and formative campaign for you, what did you take away from 1972?
Bob Shrum: Well, I guess I took two things away; it was painful to lose 49 states but all things considered I didn’t think getting to the White House would have been worth the price of going to jail (as did members of Nixon’s staff) so i would rather have been on McGovern’s staff than on the Nixon side. I also think there was an important lesson about primaries in that campaign. Primary voters actually want to hear what you think, they want you to take a stand, they don’t want you to be too careful, too calculating, too triangulating – that’s what happened to Muskie and I think that’s been true ever since.
John Barron: Does that sort of campaigning suit a particular kind of candidate?
Bob Shrum: No, I actually think that Presidential candidates who have beliefs and are willing to state their beliefs do better than presidential candidates who don’t and I would apply that to both the left and the right. I mean one of Ronald Reagan’s great strengths was that he knew what he believed, he went out there and said what he believed – he shaded it a little bit here and there when he had to but he was pretty resistant to it. And I think that’s when you do your best. I think John Kerry’s worst moment (in 2004) and probably may have cost him the election was at this place in West Virginia where there were a lot of Vets (Veterans) in the audience and they asked him why he had voted against the $87-billion supplemental appropriation for the war in Iraq, and instead of just saying, as was his normal answer;”look I wanted to pay for it by raising taxes for people at the top and I wanted to put some conditions on it so we could the President accountable” – he said “I voted for the $87-billion before I voted against it.” And the Republicans INSTANTLY had the piece of film they needed to make the ‘flip-flop’ argument.
John Barron: When looking at Kerry in 2004 and McGovern in ’72 – Senator McGovern says he saw a lot of similarities in the way he presented by the other side, and the way Senator Kerry was. You had a war hero in both instances who in both instances was turned into a liberal peacenik.
Bob Shrum: Well this has happened over and over and it’s not just Liberal peacenik – it’s a very interesting sidelight to American politics. I mean John McCain who was a genuine war hero in Vietnam and who went through incredible pain and agony in that Prisoner of War camp for years and years was somehow turned into an unpatriotic person by the Bush Campaign in South Carolina in 2000. It’s the politics of fear and smear and you have to fight back against it. Kerry would have been on the air immediately with ads had we not agreed to take federal funding which meant we had the same amount of money for 13 weeks of the campaign that Bush had for eight weeks so we said “we wont go on the air in August”- we should have gone on the air anyway. But if we hadn’t taken that federal funding, and I think we could have raised a huge amount of money off the internet – so does Senator Kerry, he believes we should not have taken federal funding – we would have been on the air right away. The biggest difference of course, and history like Superbowls is often a matter of inches, is that if you change a very few votes in Ohio then John Kerry is President of the United States. George McGovern (however) lost in a massive landslide.
John Barron: In both instances though it seems there was a moment of disbelief – how can you say that black is white, that here is someone with an admirable military record ...
Bob Shrum: There were veterans of the Vietnam War who resented very much that John Kerry – war hero or not, Bronze Star, Silver Star (medals) or not – had come home and been one of the most eloquent leaders to end the war. Now, they couldn’t attack him for that so they had to go back and lie about his record in the service. And that’s what they did. Now on Election Day (2004) if you look at the exit polls, the substantial majority believed that John Kerry was capable of being Commander-in-Chief, but what really happened, what the Swift Boats really did was slow us down in August, disrupted out campaign and we really didn’t get back on track until the first debate. (on September 30th 2004)
John Barron: So do you see these things like a game plan and at the end of each quarter you reassess where you are and what you have to do next...?
Bob Shrum: Anyone who tells you they have a game plan that they carry out from the paper to the end of the campaign is not telling you the truth, or else is describing a losing campaign. Because things change, events change – this is not one-dimensional chess and you’ve got to respond to that. So you’ve got to have a basic theory, you’ve got to know what you are going to do, you want to know how you hope this all unfolds but you have to be able to adapt.
In the fall of 2003 when John Kerry was completely written-off by the political establishment and everyone assumed Howard Dean was going to be the nominee or maybe Dick Gephardt was going to be the nominee, and there was a lot of presume in the Kerry campaign for us to run a lot of negative television ads against Dean, I was absolutely convinced that that was wrong – my theory then was on January first (and things we a little later then) on January first people would wake up in Iowa and say ‘now’s the time to get serious’ and the question they were going to ask was who could be plausibly Presidential, who was going to beat Bush’ and Kerry would have to be there to be the answer to that question. And that’s what happened. If we had gotten into some kind of mud-trench warfare with Howard Dean then I think John Edwards would have been the nominee for President. They were resistant to him (Edwards) in 2004 ‘cos they liked him but thought he really wasn’t there yet.
John Barron: But it no doubt helped your campaign that Dick Gephardt did engage in a negative campaign with Dean.
Bob Shrum: Oh yes, I always thought – and you talk about game-plans – you couldn’t know this for sure, but you could suspect that if we didn’t do it [attack Dean] then Gephardt, for example, would go off and attack Dean and Dean would attack Gephardt right back. But what really happened in Iowa [in 2004] was that people asked ‘who, if I look at this field, could be President? And who do I think other people might see as President?’ because they wanted to beat Bush.
John Barron: How do you get that across to people?
Bob Shrum: Well we had a great benefit which was that Senator [Teddy] Kennedy came to Iowa at the beginning of January and he made the argument explicitly as he introduced Kerry – ‘ if you want to beat Bush...’ but then Kerry would get up, lay out a plan on healthcare, on foreign policy and the economy and sound like he could be President, look like he could be President. And then of course we had this incredible moment about Vietnam where he [Kerry] had been in his Swift Boat and someone had fallen out of their boat and was trapped in the river and was being shot at and he [Kerry] turned around, got wounded in the process, and saved the guy’s life. But we couldn’t find the guy [Jim Rassman] and so it was one of his crew mates who did the ad and said ‘ he saved our lives’ but in the meantime Douglas Brinkley – the Pulitzer Prize winning historian – had written a book about Kerry which had just been published and a retired LA County Sheriff walked into a book store in Oregon, found the book, looked for his name in the index, found it – he was the guy Kerry had rescued – and he called our headquarters in Washington (and thank heavens he got a sensible person) because he said ‘ I’m in the book and I’d like to help’.
So we had him fly to Iowa, we gave Kerry almost no notice – and he walked out on stage and it was a really powerful moment in the final days in the lead up to the [Iowa] caucuses.
John Barron: people said that that, and establishing who John Kerry was like under fire, got him the nomination – but did taking that sort of biographical, historical approach also invite the Swift-boating [the negative campaign ads from the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth]?
Bob Shrum: You know the problem with this is – as I said earlier – it’s a game of inches – you know, you change a few votes in Ohio and everybody says ‘why did the Bush people ever get dumb enough to let their friends go off and do the Swift-Boating?’ And I have a certain sense of resignation and detachment about this now, because there’s nothing you can do about it now. But the notion that we weren’t going to tell people who John Kerry was, that we weren’t going to say that this guy had defended the country, fought in a war and been a war hero was ludicrous. If you look at the campaign now [February 2008] Barack Obama is talking about his years being an organizer in Chicago to being a civil rights lawyer trying to help people in trouble rather than going to a big law firm and making a lot of money; Hillary Clinton talking about her 35 years of service; Mitt Romney talking about his expertise in business – although I don’t think that’s going to happen. So obviously you do this, you tell people your story and it’s a powerful story and it was a powerful story for John (sic) Kennedy [Kerry] – but afterwards if you don’t win, and even if you miss by just a little wee bit – and you know Al Gore in 2000, when I believe he actually won the election, took a huge amount of criticism.
Afterwards people come up with retrospective explanation; one of my favourites is President Clinton told us during the campaign in early September  that Kerry should kind of stay away from the national security issues and really emphasise health care and the economy. And then after the campaign he announced to the press that Kerry’s mistake was that he hadn’t spent enough time on national security. What’s the old John Kennedy line? ‘Victory has a thousand fathers, defeat is an orphan?’
John Barron: In the issue of negative campaigning, do you see it as one of many tools in your kit bag in a campaign and that at certain points it is valid and justified and effective?
Bob Shrum: Well it’s obviously sometimes very effective. I think it’s valid if it’s relevant and relatively accurate – and what I mean by relatively accurate is that in 30 seconds you are not going to describe all of the nuances and complexities ofyour opposition’s positions. I do not for example think that there is anything wrong with saying – if it’s true – that your opponent is against the minimum wage – I think people are entitled to that information. I think that the personal smears, distortions and lies; the notion that you can go out there and say anything and get away with it because of the way the laws operate in this country in political advertising, there’s basically no censorship if you are a candidate. Stations can turn down ads from groups but they can’t turn down candidate ads – but it can be very effective.
John Barron: Is there a line you would cross – say a ‘Willie Horton’? (For more on the 1988 Bush-Quayle ‘Willie Horton’ attack ads see Campaign Tapes interview with Mike Dukakis.)
Bob Shrum: Oh I wouldn’t, oh I mean I would have never done a Willie Horton ad. I find the whole notion of doing ads that appeal to homophobia or sexism disgusting, and I wouldn’t lie in an ad. I mean I don’t make them anymore (Shrum retired after the 2004 Kerry defeat) but I think you have to have some respect for the truth. By the way, I think voters are catching on to this. I could be wrong, and we are taping this on Super Tuesday but I think John McCain is going to do very well tonight and Mitt Romney is running ads all over the country and all these right-wing radio talkshow hosts are blasting McCain, asserting that he’s not a conservative, that he’s a traitor that he’s really Ted Kennedy – well he’s not really Ted Kennedy; he and Ted Kennedy have worked together on some healthcare issues, like the Patients’ Bill of Rights and controlling the price of prescription drugs. And I think voters are smarter than that and I think they’ll reject that and I think McCain’s going to win the primaries (which he did).
John Barron: Can we backtrack a little to the way in which the media’s role emerged from the opening up of the primary process to the popular vote – did you anticipate and were you surprised by the impact of the media’s role evolved?
Bob Shrum: You know it’s funny, I think the media is often behind the curve. The media was certainly behind the curve in the early stages of the Bradley-Gore (2000 Democratic Primary) race; they thought that somehow Bradley was going to present this great challenge to Gore and in the end Gore became the only non-incumbent ever to win every primary and every caucus. The media was behind the curve in the Kerry (2004 primary) race; I mean five days before Iowa you could still read that Kerry was through [finished], Dean was surging and maybe Gephardt would catch up with him. So in that sense I don’t know the media gets it right, I know there is a conventional wisdom, the media had learned and there is an attempt to hedge what they are saying and that tends to produce a kind of conventional wisdom.
John Barron: Does that mean the media can surprise itself as the fact unfurl and overcompensate?
Bob Shrum: Well I think the media certainly over-compensated this year after Obama won in Iowa and basically crowned Obama before the New Hampshire primary – and the polls were wrong. So then in reaction to the New Hampshire primary Hillary Clinton went back to being inevitable, and then came the South Carolina primary where instead of losing by five or six percentage points she lost by 27 or 28% and the media went back to more of a middle ground. But look reporters are human beings, they are trying their best to figure it out – there is a herd mentality and a lot of the polling – public polling – is less-expensively done, less carefully done and often less accurate.
John Barron: Do you try, when working in a campaign, to guide the herd, to be the cattle dog?
Bob Shrum: You try. First of all, low expectations can help you. I would have never run around in Iowa when I was riding in the bus with Kerry for the week and said ‘by the way we’re actually going to win Iowa’ – which I actually believed. Because it was benefitting us tremendously that people believed that we were not only not going to win but that we would come in third. So why would you want to undo those expectations? When it hurts you is, for example in the run-up to Iowa in the fall of 2003, it makes it very tough to raise money. What the press was writing was being read by potential contributors and they were saying ‘why should I give money?’ And John Kerry had to go out and wager half of his own personal fortune on the proposition that he could win the nomination, and in the process pay himself back at some point.
John Barron: What’s your view of the role Iowa and New Hampshire have come to play in the past 36 years – it seems that even with retail politics in those states it does help if you have a lot of money now...
Bob Shrum: Iowa’s gotten more and more expensive. In the federal financing law, which nobody in Australia could possibly be interested in, if you take federal money there are limits on what you can spend in Iowa, there are limits on what you can spend in New Hampshire. If you don’t take federal money there’s no limit. So Kerry and Dean for example (in 2004) didn’t take federal money – but the cost has grown exponentially from campaign to campaign.
I just don’t see any solution to it – although one of the things that’s interesting is though, is that Obama himself has no money, he raise thirty-two, thirty-five million dollars in January  and he raise most of that on the internet. So the internet is democratising campaigning even as campaigns are becoming more expensive.
John Barron: It seems at this stage at least the dynamic is that the money is sucked-in on the internet and spent on TV.
Bob Shrum: Oh I think a lot of it is being spent on organisation. I think TV is over-rated as a force in primaries. I mean you have to be there and let people know who you are, and certainly as you get past Iowa and New Hampshire there can be ads like that ad in Iowa that Kerry had – having one of his crewmen talking about Vietnam – or Gore had an ad in 2000 which was just him talking to people at a town meeting and it was just him and a very passionate ad that somehow refuted the stereotype of Gore and about what a president is about – the only person who can stand there and speak to people – and that ad broke through, but most ads don’t break through. Now there are some other classics; Dick Gephardt had an ad when we were doing his campaign in 1988 talking about how the Koreans wouldn’t let American K-cars be imported into Korea, and he said ‘when I am President I’m going to give them a simple choice; I’m going to ask them how many American’s do they think are going to pay $48,000 for one of the Hyundai’s? And that ad cracked through, but most ads don’t crack through; they are there, you have to do them, but there’s a lot of money being spent on organisation these days, a lot of money on robo-calls, a lot of money being spent on direct mail.
John Barron: We’ve seen a lot of people organising call centres, even in their homes with mobiles and laptops and numbers off websites - how important is all of that side of things, and the handing out of flyers at subway stations...
Bob Shrum: More important than we understand. The internet has not only democratised fundraising, not only has given people access to express their opinions, but its enabled them to go out and form groups, to go out and form groups of their own, and it’s made campaigns less sanforised and more spontaneous. But let me tell you, if you want to talk about what’s important in a campaign, you could take about 400 ads and they wouldn’t have the impact of the Kennedy endorsement of Senator Obama and Caroline Kennedy a couple of weeks ago. The rally at UCLA where you had Oprah Winfrey, Stevie Wonder showed up to sing, Caroline Kennedy, Michelle Obama and as a big surprise, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wife Maria Shriver – who is the first lady of California. That even cracks through in a way that no ad is ever going to crack through.
John Barron: How do those endorsements work – you go to a house party and there’s Elizabeth Edwards and someone from Desperate Housewives and they are both talking about John Edwards?
Bob Shrum: Celebrities can help and can make a difference, and some celebrities are different from others. It you look at the [Teddy] Kennedy endorsement [of Obama] polls show he’s at 43% [to influence voters] and nobody is close to him – Oprah Winfrey is next, and I think someone from Desperate Housewives may make more people come to a house party but it doesn’t necessarily make people vote for you.
John Barron: Looking over the span of the elections you’ve been involved with [1972-2004] – broadly speaking the people who have run for the Presidency of the United States, who are they?
Bob Shrum: All kinds of people. I don’t think any of them weren’t ambitious, and who don’t have a very strong sense of self – some have a sense of purpose that goes beyond that and they tend to be the best candidates, whether they are Republicans or Democrats. Some are shy, and politics for them is an act of will – I think Al Gore is in many ways a sort of shy and self-contained person and he taught himself to be political. Some people are complete political naturals – Bill Clinton is a complete political natural, Ted Kennedy, Ronald Reagan... And some people run because I think they believe it is their time and their turn – and if they don’t have a larger purpose than that I think they get into trouble.
One thing that marks really good candidates out from the not-so-good is whether or not they are open to criticism internally. In the 1994 [mid-term] campaign when Senator [Teddy] Kennedy was standing for election [to the US Senate] against a guy named Mitt Romney and it was a tough campaign – and I said in front of a number of people ‘look you are just flat-out wrong and we need to fix this as quickly as possible’- and he [Kennedy] said okay, fine we’ll undo it, and I’ll call you right back, and he called right back and he said ‘you know I’d fire you, but my brother [JFK] always said that you had to have two or three S.O.B’s around you who were allowed to tell you what they think even if it makes you mad.’
I think that does distinguish really good people from really bad people in this process. That’s why Carville was really good with Clinton in 1992. And it’s very tough if someone is the President of the United States or a candidate for President of the United States or the nominee, you have to have a sense you don’t care if you get kicked out the door (although actually you know you are not going to get kicked out the door) but you have to have a sense that you can do it and if you don’t your candidate will get into trouble.
John Barron: Overall is the process a good one for selecting the best person to be President of the United States?
Bob Shrum: I am reminded of Winston Churchill’s line that democracy is the worst form of government ever invented except for all the others. If I could change the system in one way, and it won’t happen, it would be to have complete public funding and a level playing field – it’s not going to occur.
John Barron: Why is that?
Bob Shrum: The Republican Party is ideologically opposed to it and there are many Democrats who would be opposed to it. The television stations wouldn’t like it at all. My other suggestion would be; television stations have a licence to make a lot of money, so why not tell them that during political campaigns they have an obligation to donate a certain number of ratings points for free so a candidate in a general election don’t have to pay for ads. I think you would see the lobbyists and the people who have a lot of influence push very hard against that.
John Barron: When money is at such a premium in campaigns a lot of people will say there is a fundamental problem here because some of the money had strings attached; it buys access if this person is elected – what’s your view of that?
Bob Shrum: I think it’s absolutely true but it’s not just money it’s support. Look, do I think John McCain really ahs this deeply, passionate view that he wants to overturn Roe vs. Wade and overturn a woman’s right to choose? No. But he’s got to satisfy the religious right and he’s got to say he’s going to do it and then he’s going to probably, if he’s president, he’ll appoint judges who might try and do it. So it’s not just money it’s the whole game of interest groups that’s played. It’s one of the appeals that Obama has right now, which is rightly or wrongly he looks like a figure who could transcend that. The other thing that is reducing the power of some money is the alternative new sources of money through the internet where most of the people giving money through the internet want what they conceive of as good government, or an end to the war in Iraq or on the Republican side (although I disagree with them) want a human life amendment to the constitution and outlaw abortion. They are giving money because they believe in a cause.
John Barron: So that is giving influence back to regular people in a way...
Bob Shrum: Nobody intended it; I mean Bill Gates did this. Bill Gates and Al Gore - who didn’t invent the internet, never said he invented the internet, but DID introduce the legislation that took a technology that was in the Pentagon and allowed for its commercialisation, and that’s what lead to the internet.
John Barron: Bob Shrum, thank you.
Bob Shrum: Thank you.