Consumers of news just lost one of the greats

One of my favorite political columns of all time came several years ago from the pen of Creators Syndicate columnist Mark Shields.

“After 60 years of hanging around candidates and elections, I have learned that political campaigns do not build character. But campaigns — and especially losing campaigns — do reveal character,” Shields wrote in that column. “Let me give you a couple of examples.”

He continued like this:

After President George H.W. Bush was denied a second term by the young Democratic governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, Bush left the following handwritten note on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, 1993, for his successor:

“Dear Bill,

“When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

“I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

“There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

“You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

“Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

“Good luck. — George.”

That, dear readers, is class.

After he lost in a landslide to President Ronald Reagan, the Democratic nominee Walter “Fritz” Mondale spoke these words: “Although I would have rather won, tonight we rejoice in our democracy. We rejoice in the freedom of a wonderful people, and we accept their verdict.” Class.

There can be no denying that Shields knew much about political campaigns.

He had worked for many years in his younger days on many 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, presumably for health reasons. As a journalist, Shields covered 12 presidential campaigns and attended 24 national party conventions.

Despite his liberal leanings — apparent largely because of his Democratic candidate affiliations — I found Shields’ analyses of political situations often very fair and balanced, which, in my book, makes a writer very worthy of respect.

Still, our newspaper counted him as one of our “liberal” columnists. Regular readers here know that we try hard to publish two syndicated columns most days — one generally left-leaning and one generally right-leaning — hoping to give our readers a taste of both sides of varying issues.

And even in this world where politics is so divisive, somehow Shields found a way to dwell on the positives, focusing on the best in people. Most frequently, I would come away from his columns with different perspectives — and a smile.

Most opinion page readers know that isn’t always the case.

Shields’ resume was extensive and impressive. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame and served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Eventually, he taught U.S. politics and the press at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. He also was a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics at Harvard Kennedy School. For decades he provided weekly political analysis and commentary for “NewsHour” on PBS, where he shared his insight into American politics and wit on “PBS NewsHour.”

Shields died June 18 at his Chevy Chase, Maryland, home, from kidney failure at age 85. Undeniably, consumers of news lost one of the great ones that day.

His PBS NewsHour Colleague David Brooks said this: “We’ve had thousands of disagreements over the years, but never a second of acrimony. Mark radiates a generosity of spirit that improves all who come within his light.”

PBS NewsHour Chief Correspondent Amna Nawaz tweeted this: “Truly one of a kind. Mark’s intellect, wit, and heart were unmatched. I left every single conversation I ever had with him smarter and smiling.”

And that, dear readers, is class.



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