Gerson, Shields join Lehrer for political wrap, ‘NewsHour’ style



Rabab Al-Sharif | Staff Writer

Jim Lehrer will moderate a conversation between nationally syndicated columnists Michael Gerson and Mark Shields at 10:45 a.m. Friday in the Amphitheater, closing Week Two’s morning lecture series, “The Lehrer Report: What Informed Voters Need to Know.”

Gerson, whose columns appear twice weekly in The Washington Post, writes a right-leaning column on issues that include politics, global health, development, religion and foreign policy.

Gerson is the author of Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America’s Ideals (And Why They Deserve to Fail If They Don’t) and co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era.

He was a top aide to President George W. Bush, a senior editor at U.S. News and World Report and a speechwriter for Bob Dole during the 1996 presidential campaign.

Shields, who has worked in Washington during the administrations of nine U.S. presidents, started writing his left-leaning column, now distributed nationally by Creators Syndicate, in 1979. In 1968, he worked for Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. He also held leadership positions in three other presidential campaigns and wrote a book about the 1984 presidential campaign, On the Campaign Trail.

This is Shields’ first visit to Chautauqua, and he said it’s one of the few places about which he has heard nothing but good things.

“The skeptic in me says no place could be that great,” Shields said, “but everybody I’ve talked to just raves and praises, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Shields said he expects thoughtful, insightful questions from the nation’s premiere interviewer, Jim Lehrer. He said he expects to talk about the landscape of 2012, where we are, how we got here, where we may be going and who will be leading us.

Shields said he is sure that he and Michael Gerson will be expected to make fools of themselves by making predictions, but he is not too worried about that.

“As someone who predicted that ‘President Dukakis’ would not seek a second term,” Shields said, “I’ve had enough egg on my face in the past that I’m not threatened by that prospect.”

He said he hopes that the conversation will be interesting, stimulating and rewarding for the attendees.

“Most everyone who I’ve spoken to who’s been there in the past, they just rave about the audience and its level of engagement and interest,” he said. “It’s both a challenge and a little bit of an inspiration.”

Shields and Gerson have come through a Lehrer-MacNeil tradition and value system, so the “food fight” approach to debate is unacceptable and intolerable, Shields said. The object is to listen to the other side, to pay attention and to be respectful.

“It’s a conversation, not a polemic,” he said.

He said he hopes voters will be better informed after hearing a conversation with opposing viewpoints and that they will remember a very important point.

“The question we have to ask in 2012 is not ‘Am I better off than I was four years ago?’ but the question has to be ‘Are we better off?’ ” he said. “Are the strong among us more just? Are the weak among us more secure?”

Shields said that if there is one fault in contemporary American politics it that the nation is stuck in a “me generation.”

“I think — at least I hope — we can move beyond that to the ‘we generation’ and a recognition that all of us are in this together,” he said. “As somebody said, ‘We may have come at different times in different ships, but today we’re all in the same boat.’ ”