By Avery Aoueille
In an enlightening and comedic speech to a Loyola University Chicago audience Tuesday evening, political commentator and columnist Mark Shields shed light on the presidential elections, tackled some controversial political issues, and offered a glimpse at the future of American politics.
Shields, who is known for his political commentary on the PBS’ award-winning “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” and for the 17 years he worked on CNN’s political show “Capital Gang,” used his experiences in the political arena to address the nation’s current state of affairs—more specifically, the upcoming 2012 presidential elections and the jobless economic recovery. Shields also discussed the war in Iraq and the distinct nature of American politics in comparison with those of other nations.
With a journalism career beginning with the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 and subsequently covering 11 presidential elections, Shields summarized his belief in politics as “nothing more and nothing less than the peaceful resolution of conflict among legitimate competing interests.”
After explaining the political process as the only method to solving our nation’s problems, Shields put the challenges of a public figure into perspective.
“Running for office is the bold act of somebody who’s seeking and risking public rejection, which most of us go to great lengths to avoid,” he said.
Despite Shield’s comedic approach to politics, he spoke seriously about the nature of American politics.
“American politics are different from those of any other place on the planet on the basis that we only have two political parties,” Shields said.
According to Shields, Americans have two main characteristics.
“The first is almost a national sense of optimism… coupled with that optimism that makes American politics is a fierce practicality, a pragmatism.” Shields said. “Americans are only interested in results. We believe what is right works.”
Shields also stated that there is one major difference between the two political parties.
“Republicans fall in line. Democrats fall in love,” said Shields, who went on to demonstrate how this difference has affected elections in the past and explains that difficulty that the Republicans are facing in the 2012 presidential election.
“Republican nominees have a problem right now. There is no natural succession or hierarchy going into this race. There is no real natural leader,” Shields said.
Shields threw in a comedic twist to his commentary on the psyche of a political party or candidate when it loses an election, calling John Kerry “a stiff…and too French,” which caused chuckles from the audience.
“I liked the amount of humor he used,” said Sabrina Wottreng, 18, a freshman majoring business. “He didn’t use too many big political words, he kept it every understandable, which I appreciated.”
In a more serious tone, Shields expressed his reasoning in firmly disagreeing with George W. Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq. He recalls asking every senator who voted for the war in Iraq one question. “I asked them whether they had ever had a child enlisted in the ranks of the United States Military,” Shields said.
The result: only one person, Tim Johnson, a Democrat from South Dakota, had a child enlisted in the military, according to Shields.
Shields acknowledges a divide between those that hold the power and those that make the sacrifice.
“All of a sudden, all the sacrifice, all the pain of this war, has been born on less than 1 percent of Americans in the United States,” he said.
“An army does not fight a war. A country fights a war,” Shields said. “If a country isn’t willing to fight that war, it should never send an army.”
The majority of audience members were pleased with the topics covered by Shields.
The spokesperson from the Loyola University Chicago College Democrats, the student organization sponsoring the event, thought the event was very successful.
“I was pleased with the variety of topics that were covered,” said Kara Kwiatkowski, 20, a junior at Loyola majoring in biology. “We wanted to get the community involved and we were really happy with the turnout.”
However, another member of the Loyola College Democrats wished Shields would have discussed the histories of parties other than just the Republicans and Democrats.
“The one thing I would have really liked to see was an explanation of where the Tea Party came from,” said Emily Caminiti, 19, a freshman psychology major. “But other than that I thought it was excellent.”