At Cartoon Confab, Mark Shields Tweaks Pols

By: Dave Astor

Mark Shields, the political columnist and TV personality, gave a glass-half-full luncheon speech Friday at the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention.

For instance, Shields joked that fellow Creators Syndicate columnist Robert Novak couldn’t be with him at the AAEC meeting because “Friday is his day to get his rabies shot.”

But Shields, who appeared on CNN’S “Capital Gang” with the man who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame, hastened to add that he likes Novak.

Shield offered a similar partly positive spin on a negative topic when discussing the Bush administration and the current state of American politics.

“This is singularly the most incompetent administration across the board,” said Shields. “No one who has served in this administration has been enhanced by the experience.”

He also noted that, “for the first time, a plurality of Americans believe their children’s lives will not be as rich and full as their own lives.”

But Shields said Americans are an “optimistic” and “practical” people who will look for 2008 candidates possessing both qualities.

Of course, not every candidate has both qualities. Shields said Hillary Clinton attracts people who value practicality, while Barack Obama is appealing to voters who value optimism. The speaker called Obama “the most exciting political presence since Robert F. Kennedy.”

Looking back at the Democrats’ 2004 presidential candidate, Shields said he likes John Kerry but doesn’t feel the Senator had enough personality. “John Kerry is so unexciting his Secret Service name was John Kerry,” quipped the columnist.

Kerry, unlike many politicians and most children of politicians, served in the military. “Those in power today are totally divorced from those in peril,” said Shields, comparing this to the World War II period when all of President Roosevelt’s sons were in the armed forces. “War demands equality of sacrifice. This is the only war in history fought without a draft and with six tax cuts. We should be ashamed that all the burden and suffering are being borne by less than 1% of the country.”

Dick Cheney, who got five deferments to avoid serving in Vietnam, was the subject of a sarcastic gibe by Shields. “The beleaguered Bush administration was guilty for a lack of planning on Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War,” he said. “But when it comes to bird flu, the vice president has a solution — bomb the Canary Islands.”

Another Republican — presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani — has been known to wear women’s clothing during skits. “There are more pictures of him in a dress than Hillary Clinton,” deadpanned Shields.

The columnist also said that compared to people like Giuliani and Newt Gingrich, who have both been married three times and had public affairs with women, Bill Clinton “seems like a family-values guy.”

Mentioning Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for gays in the military, Shields said it can be summed up this way: “It’s OK if ‘Uncle Sam wants you.’ But if you want Uncle Sam, keep it to yourself.”

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