March 14th, 2008
03:15 PM ET

David Gergen: Focus, candidates, focus

David Gergen
David Gergen is a political contributor for Anderson Cooper 360°.

Rarely have I seen in any presidential race stretching back more than 30 years as much of a disconnect between the world of the candidates and the rest of the world that we see right now.  Every day, on television and in the newspapers, the news is about Democrats squabbling – whether about race or gender or about some off-the-wall comment by a supporter.

Meanwhile, in what appears to be a different universe, the U.S. dollar is sinking like a stone, the price of gas has cracked $4 a gallon at some pumps, homeowners are going under, and star financial institutions like Bear Stears have their backs to the wall.

Would the candidates please do us – and themselves – a big favor: Would they turn attentions away from the bickering and tell us in more depth and with more attention to the rapid economic deterioration what they would do?

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have each proposed plans for the mortgage crisis but the problems now stretch far wider and deeper than their plans cover.  John McCain keeps telling us that lower taxes and less regulation would do the trick – when it is obvious that the problems are much more complicated (just ask Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke).

The Democrats have a pause in the action now before the Pennsylvania primary.  It will be tempting for them to keep on doing what they have been doing – barnstorming from one campaign event to the next.  But they owe us something more now: Some serious talk about what their presidencies would hold and how they would govern.

John McCain, to his credit, wants to see for himself what is happening in Iraq, elsewhere in the Middle East and in Europe.  He is wise to don the role of statesman while the Democrats diminish each other through their in-fighting.

But even as he looks upon the broader international horizon, he, too, owes us a much clearer, more sophisticated picture of what he would do to save the economy back home.  If he were President, after all, he would have to address both at once.  This would be a good time to start.

It may sometimes feel like good fun and games to have all this adolescent squabbling, but the day is coming when we will need a strong, mature adult sworn in as our next President.

– David Gergen, CNN Sr. Political Analyst


Filed under: Barack Obama • David Gergen • Economy • Hillary Clinton • Raw Politics
soundoff (147 Responses)
  1. karen

    David I agree with most of these peoples comments it is the media that keeps fanning the flames so the campaigns must answer at whatever costs. Look what happened to Obama when he didn't fight back before Texas and Ohio he got slammed. Both parties need to stop trying to dig up dirt on their personal lives, their friendships, their religions those are private matters and the media needs to stop reporting on them. I understand they are public people running for the highest office but let them run on the issues.

    I think voters should know what they plan to do while in office, how they are going to get the dollar back up, jobs, gas, the housing crises as well as how the US is now being viewed by the rest of the world.

    I am a Obama supporter he might not have the experience as John McCain but he brings a freshness and optimism back to the voters and sometimes that is better than experience. With Clinton and McCain they are so embedded in the way politics is now I don't think they can learn any other way. The saying goes you cannot teach old dogs new tricks and I feel with Obama because he isn't so ingrained in the old style politics he can.

    Please all media do not report on any more negatives on any candidate so they can stop bickering back and forth and let the voters hear what they need to hear to make a logical choice in the Primary as well as the General Election.

    March 14, 2008 at 5:22 pm |
  2. Kevin Bodine - Seattle WA

    Mr. Gergen,

    I respect you too much to believe that you have any faith in these candidates breaking with decades (centuries) of political tradition.

    You know all too well that what matters most is nearly always overshadowed by what sells that day.

    March 14, 2008 at 5:12 pm |
  3. Nadine Jennings

    To whom it may concern:
    I am sick and tired of CNN reporters bad mouthing the Clinton campaign. Do you thrive on slinging mud? Out of the three candidates. Hillary is the only one smart enough to be president, even though she is not a profit, minister, or movie star. If we were all as impressed with Obama as he is the world would be in good shape.

    March 14, 2008 at 5:10 pm |
  4. Carol

    David, your level headed, impartial insight is amazing. You'd get my vote!

    March 14, 2008 at 5:08 pm |
  5. Nancy

    I think that the media has hightlighted the squabling among the candidates.

    Frankly, I am tired of it.

    We are in some of the worst economic times in history and a bad war and all the media is reporting on is who said what to whom when.

    Shame on you the media. What happened to responsible reporting.

    All of the major news avenues have turned to tabloid reporting. Where are the Cronkites, Lippmans, Brinkleys and Huntleys?

    Yes, we need to know the character of each candidate, but we need to know their plans when they take office more.

    But, I forgot, presenting the real facts and news don't sell.

    March 14, 2008 at 5:08 pm |
  6. Rani McBride

    The media is feeding this.

    March 14, 2008 at 5:08 pm |
  7. Lana

    David, this bit with Jeremiah Wright has absolutely NOTHING to do with "bickering", as you call it. Senator Clinton did not bring this out–FOX News did. Further, this association with Jeremiah Wright goes right to the core of who Obama is. "Spiritual adviser." "Sounding block."

    No, Mr. Gergen. This is FAR beyond bickering. This is scary.

    March 14, 2008 at 5:05 pm |
  8. Louie, Chapin, SC

    I agree. Gender, race and all this sqaubbling is not the issue. Maybe it is because neither Clinton or Obama have secured the parties nomination. I want to here what they are going to do with our failing economy now that it has taken a turn for the worse since they first decided to run.

    I have been voting for almost 40 years now and I keep hearing the same old thing. We need to do this or we need to do that. Let's here more detail about how they will do it. Everyone knows the country has problems what I want to hear is how do they plan to fix it.


    March 14, 2008 at 5:04 pm |
  9. Ania

    I so agree with David and I respect him and am always very interesed in hearing what he has to say. As a democrat who likes both Democratic candidates, I am ashamed at how this has evolved. There are a number of factors. There is no way on God's green earth that the Clintons don't care about African Americans, that is just absurd. Just as the black community has been champions for Pres. Clinton, the Clintons have been champions for them. We have to be honest and report that Sen. Clinton really started all of this negative energy when she started losing. Her campaign didn't seem to have confidence in her experience and the fact that many people do like and trust her. Obama tried to take the high road, and was told he wasn't tough enough. I think it's time that the DNC stepped in and said, you are killing this for us! Focus on the issues, and let the chips fall where they may. Set a date and whoever has the most delegates at the end wins. Case closed, leave the negative attacks for the Republicans. With friends like them who needs enemies.

    March 14, 2008 at 5:04 pm |
  10. Dale

    Mr Gergen and Mr. Cooper, why do you guys sound like you are sitting in Obhamas boardroom and advising him what to do to bring Hillary down. It's time that you all profesional guys act in a professional manner and not be bias to one candidate.

    March 14, 2008 at 5:03 pm |
  11. eva

    Of course, this is not about the Clinton's bashing subject only about the Obama's ideology, so who has a right to question it. He is the media's "golden boy". Let' s pass it. Next!!!!

    March 14, 2008 at 5:02 pm |
  12. Anthony

    It's plan and simple for this independent: Hillary gets the nomination, I will be voting for McCain. Barak Obama gets it, he will get my vote.

    I believe there are many independents who think the same way.

    March 14, 2008 at 5:00 pm |
  13. RosaCA

    Are you kidding David? Last trip for McCain was a photo op when he had a security group and bought a couple of rugs. Those little trips to Iraq are so bogus. Real life is the 12 soldiers who died in two days recently.

    March 14, 2008 at 5:00 pm |
  14. Rick

    I believe the problem is not about the candidates not focusing on the issues. In fact, they have been talking about the issues, including economy, in more details than ever. The major problem is how little the media, including CNN, are talking about the issues. You can actually find the candidates' plans on those issues on thier websites. They are quite in details. But, I have never seen any news coverage, spending more than one hour, dissecting their plans in depth.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:59 pm |
  15. James

    With all the important issue's like steroid use in baseball and our polarized can't pass a bill without lobbyist paying out some money democratic process. I guess theres not enough time for our crippled leadership to address and fix the real issues important to American's like the housing market, gas prices and runaway inflation. From time to time our Democratic process has to be renewed by the blood of patriots. I guess we just haven't spilled enough for the rest of America to stand up for what we all hold dear and shake the filthy bloodsuckers out of our leadership.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:59 pm |
  16. Mark

    Finally, the voice of reason... and yes, the candidates do need to focus on issues, not superficial elements and responding to those speaking supposedly on their behalf.

    The American public does deserve, however, transparency, integrity and full disclosure as well. This includes, release of Hillary's tax returns, Bill's White House papers, Sen Clinton's New York earmarks, and Mr. Obama's explanation of the Resco real estate transaction.

    All's fair in love, war and politics.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm |
  17. Melanie


    I agree to a point. The policies and programs of all the presidential candidates are of vital interest to me. I am also deeply interested in their character. Some of the back and forth between Clinton and Obama is political name-calling but some it reveals character flaws that helps me see the type of person each candidate is.

    I am absolutely horrified at the sermons of Obama's pastor. While I do not always agree with positions of my church, I would immediately leave a congregation where a pastor make such hateful statements from the pulpit. Obama has been a member of this church for many years and is reported to be close to this pastor. This information aobut Obama is extremely concerning to me and makes me wonder, what else to we not know about this man.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm |
  18. chill

    Ditto, although the media figure into the problem as well. Whether we're talking about the news or the political advertising, it's all presented in sound bites that in no way deal with the complexities of the very serious issues we face. There really needs to be a forum for a detailed and serious discussion of just what the problems are and why they are difficult. I'm not talking detailed solution papers because, frankly, Congress will deal with that level of detail. What I'm looking for are detail explanations of all sides of a problem that shows me that the candidate actually understands the issue and has the courage to admit that the "other side" has legitimate concerns. And, can they provide the leadership to make difficult and often painful choices.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm |
  19. Bruce Winn

    David raises some very good points. I could not tell you what any of the remaining cadidates would do to make America better and stonger. I would hate to think Hope is all we have left.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm |
  20. Eric

    Amen. Finally some maturity and rationality. If the candidates would stop focusing the importance of the personal attacks, sexism and racism games perhaps the people would be able to make a solid reasoned decisionon who do vote for. It is time to pull the Democratic Party campaign out of the gutter. The whole world is watching.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:57 pm |
  21. Sara

    Hear, hear! It would be so nice to have a government that would stop worrying about the rest of the world and actually take care of stuff at home. Maybe if our government would stop poking it's nose in other government's business so much people would stop hating and blaming us for all their problems.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:57 pm |
  22. Jannette

    Thank God for your statement! I hope someone bring your comments to both of these candidates attention. Especially in the Clinton camp. They are stiring up bad feelings between people in this country, at a time when we need to be united as a Country. Talk about trickle down affect... it is affecting us regular citizens from different backgrounds who have been getting along until this mud throwing started. It appears to me that the Clinton’s so bent on getting into the White House at all costs.


    March 14, 2008 at 4:57 pm |
  23. Mary, Vancouver, B.C

    David: You are right, the squabling does not do anyone any good But you have been very positive about Barak's so called "inspirational speeches" – give me a break Mr. Gergen – when did you call on Barak to tell us exactly what he will do – he is EMPTY, and you are praising him as inspirational. Hillary has been giving us her vision and plans, and you said, she is squabling. Be fair.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:56 pm |
  24. Ed

    Out with Granny Dobbs! In with David Gergen!!!

    Finally, someone who can present a case clearly, logically and dispassionately without resorting to disingenuous, outraged hissy-fits.

    In addition to enjoying the delivery, I agree completely with the ideas presented in this opinion.

    Thank you, David!

    March 14, 2008 at 4:56 pm |
  25. Lawyer2B

    When Hillary Clinton only wanted to discuss the details of her plans to fix the economy and end the war in Iraq, the media was all over her for being boring and allowed Obama to use the media to race-bait in South Carolina.

    Now the media is calling for an end of something they started? All the press had to do, in all honesty was not to publicize these exchanges as much as they do.

    It takes two to tango. Let the candidates stay on the issues and watch Hillary win this thing easily.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:56 pm |
  26. sherry

    While I wholeheartedly agree with the above comment, I must point out that the media perpetuates this petty squabbling. I think the candidates would prefer to talk about the issues at hand, but only get airtime when they get caught putting their foot into their mouth, and then the camera rolls watching them squirm. This is not journalism, just an attempt to sell news in terms of viewership, clicks and airtime.

    I have noticed that during the last several debates, the media had outlined the topics “the public wants to hear”, then refused to give airtime to any other issues, hence all debates have resulted in the candidates having to answer the same questions over and over. Its as if the media want us to accept the pre-packaged answers the candidates make, then shift our attention to something that sells- “he said, she said” politics. Unfortunately, these petty quarrels are exactly what drive the masses to vote.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:56 pm |
  27. Chris Welch

    That's why I have always dis-liked the debates, very childish. I hate to see (mature?) adults putting each other down, extremely childish. And we are supposed to vote for one of these children? If they would all just focus on answering our questions without putting down the others, it would show better character.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:55 pm |
  28. Gary Peterson

    You are correct, David. But a question to you and your colleagues at CNN and other news outlets: Why do you consistently report and comment about the tripe, trivia, and off-the-wall statements? Can no one exercise any editorial control over the trash talk that is broadcast and printed around the world each day? Your broadcasts flash from one breathless reporter to the next, stumbling over themselves to be first on the beat of the inane. Why is it that every time television broadcasts a statement by McCain, Clinton, or Obama (or anyone else) there is no follow-up question by the reporters present that challenges them to go beyond their present, inadequate positions?

    March 14, 2008 at 4:55 pm |
  29. Mary H - St. Louis, MO

    Amen... David.. You are always spot on... Someone was saying they read an article today about the recession may be as worse since World War times.. Yikes... I saw the headline on CNN about people getting desparate and buring their homes.... Scary times..

    March 14, 2008 at 4:55 pm |
  30. Zola

    Dear David,
    I thought I was the only one thinking that way! I was excited at the beginning of this race, now , I am so tired of all those childish arguments those candidates have. I think we need to let them know that that's not the way they can lead a country, tlak about the issues and don't attack people on matters that are personal and have no relevant impact on how to serve this country.
    Have a good weekend!


    March 14, 2008 at 4:55 pm |
  31. Lynda, Missouri

    I agree with your commentary, except the Democrats problem is that they, unlike Mccain have not scored a nomination yet. Does that restrict them in any way? I don't know. But it is true that I've been longing for my choice, Barack Obama, to step up to the plate & start exhibiting "Presidential" leadership – type behavior. Yes, someone needs to take the high road here & go for it. I really hope that Obama will begin this soon.

    LS for Obama – Missouri

    March 14, 2008 at 4:54 pm |
  32. James D.

    I do think we should stay with the issues of the country and highlighting who the candidates are affiliated with are part of that and news that should not be avoided. We are backing off our support of Obama based on his affiliation with his racist preacher of twenty years. We would have never known if it were not exposed to the news, the news industry over the past years has become much more respectful and balanced and is needed to keep govt and it's ways on notice that "WE THE PEOPLE" are watching! We need to know where we are going and a candidates affiliations are important because it gives the American People/World a peak at their hidden values that they don't express in Public. I am white and tired of racism in our world, we do not need a candidate who commits to follow those who promote further discrimination. We need to help each other prosper regardless of race or wealth. Do we have a candidate who promises that?

    March 14, 2008 at 4:54 pm |
  33. John MacDaniel, Huntsville AL

    I concur that the presidential candidates should speak up and give us their thoughts about what they, as President, would do under the circumstances that grip the nation – BUT – and that is a very BIG 'BUT' – the way that Hillary is not going after her superior opponent concerning 'her' achievements during the presidency of her husband, when it is a mute point that she was not in on the 'inside' the oval office, leaves much room to be able to get the the point of what the opponent thinks. Someone needs to tell her to sit down and shut up, unless she can speak about real instances where she played a pivotal part in any of the conversations and actions taken in the oval office.

    Barack Obama needs to have a chance to get his thoughts out in front of the public (read 'voracious news hounds') without the constant criticism and bickering from his inferior opponent.

    The key to this transformation in the way the two candidates approach the issues that are becoming more unsurmountable each day is for the 'voracious news hounds' to focus on the problems, and then only respond the the answers that each of the candidates give – and not stand back and become a part of the bickering themselves. When the mike is turned off and the lights are cast on someone else for the answers, maybe – just maybe – the candidates will get the idea that answers are what the American people deserve to get – and not the bickering.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:54 pm |
  34. Jeffrey Uecker

    It is the news media that showed the Ferraro comments ad nauseum after they appeared in some obscure California newspaper. It is the news media that repeatedly shows Pastor Wright's inflammatory sermons when only the people in the church have seen them. Then the media, after running these stories day-after-day, complains that the candidates are not focused on the issues that concern Americans.

    What hypocrites!!

    Please start covering the news and stop trying to create it.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:54 pm |
  35. maxx Atlanta GA

    Mr. Gergen, I too agree, How do we let them know this? The media continues to report the mess, and hype it even more. I am ready to stop watching CNN for that very reason hype!!! If they are not on the issues don't report it.

    Example, the mess about Obamas Minister, what does what he preaches have to do with Obama, furthermore it was in 2001 and this is a country where we have freedom of speech, Obama cannot control what this man preaches, Martin Luther King was a preacher who preached about social issues, so what!! An educated person listens to everything thats how you learn. The most notorious terroist group of our time the KKK and they are still here preaching and participating in government...no one ever report that.

    The media has a responsibility to its audience also, dont report that nonsense.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:54 pm |
  36. tim gaskin

    Hillary has shown some strength in slowing Obama's momentum by attacking him and now he is pushing back.

    Hillary will do whatever it takes to win and she should. She if far more experience than Obama, however she lacks his charisma. Senior Dems see Obama as an once-in-a-lifetime force and a money machine that could churn dollars out for all kinds of campaigns. They've abandoned Hillary in favor of his good looks, fancy speeches and the green backs he’s proven to bring in.

    The Dem leadership needs to stick with its original horse and let Obama gain more experience in the Senate. He is too ambitious, as he was in Illinois, and he needs to produce as a Senator before he goes after the loftier title of President. His ambition is self-centered and borders on hubris.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:52 pm |
  37. Janet Vaughan

    absolutely! What everyone on the street is saying! And the media is not helping with dissecting every move and word that is said by the candidates

    March 14, 2008 at 4:52 pm |
  38. Charlene

    David Gergen is right. The problems this country faces are enormous. I haven't heard Barack or Hilary discuss the sinking dollar or the war in Iraq in depth lately. The debate has been reduced to bashing the other candidate, instead of offering America some "solutions" to restore consumer economic confidence and world respect.
    Forget race and gender and the personalities of the candidates; it appears while they search for new video and audio to disparage their opponents characters, the economy is going up in flames and the war in Iraq wages on. This is craziness and it doesn't look good for the Democrats or the country for the forseeable future.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:52 pm |
  39. Edgar

    Is that the change that Obama preaches!!!

    March 14, 2008 at 4:51 pm |
  40. jay doe

    Why should they talk about the issues?, all the young people who back obama like its some sort of fashion style dont care one bit about the issues. They hear a couple rap songs and now obama can do no wrong, so why should he talk about the issues and his plan, ESPECIALLY when he doesnt even know himself. Face it this whole election is media driven (as always) and is a popularity contest (as always)

    I simply cannot fathom the lack of interest to vote for clinton and perhaps get a spiritual "3rd term" of the bill clinton campaign given our economic and foreign policy crisis. you'd THINK a successful two term president who's number 1 priority to eliminate the federal debt would be a great asset to white house leadership, but no.... rap video 1 – rational logic 0

    game over

    March 14, 2008 at 4:51 pm |
  41. Bryan


    I agree that there is a disconnect right now between the Democrats and the American populace. Every time I hear Senator Obama speak I feel like a parrot. I keep repeating, "who", what", and "how", to his constant assertions of unity, hope, and change. Senator Clinton is pushing nothing more than thinly-veiled socialism, in her stump speeches. Senator McCain may have some work to pull the conservatives in, but at least he is actively giving details and strategy.

    The bottom line here David, as you expressed in your post, is that America is facing real economic struggles that could potentially implode us. Obama is black (and that is an adavantge for black voters), Hillary is a woman (and that is an advantage for female voters), and John is old (an advantage for seinors who vote in high numbers).
    Now that is established let's talk about who is going to make the tough decisions to tighten the country's belt and get us on a path of fiscal responsibility again.

    Nashville, TN.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:51 pm |
  42. Mark


    March 14, 2008 at 4:51 pm |
  43. Peter Norback

    Even our founding fathers knew that "It's the squabbling, stupid" that wins elections. Jefferson and Adams went at each other so hard that it took 30 years before they made up. Plans are good but they are just plans. Implimentation is what really counts so we have to wait. In the meantime, we all have to listen to what matters most to the most,..."Whose got the best gatcha."

    March 14, 2008 at 4:50 pm |
  44. Cathy in Vermont

    David, I agree totally. The squabbling has taken front seat to the issues that American's are facing today. I really hope the nomination process for the democratic party will straighten itself out soon....right now things seem to be stuck in limbo...we need to move forward.

    As an aside, you offer constructive and truly unbiased perspectives!

    March 14, 2008 at 4:50 pm |
  45. Tarmara

    I think that we do need to get back to the issues. However, we are still, believe it or not trying to get to know the candidates. The information about Obama's minister has created a issue with his judgement. There are things that we need to know to be able to make an informed decision.

    You are right, both campaigns need to move away from race as much as possible but lets face it, Race and Gender will be part of this campaign due to the candidates running. We just need to focus it constructively.

    Tamara , Stone Mountain, GA

    March 14, 2008 at 4:50 pm |
  46. William Henderson

    Yes let's turn our attention from the fight on the deck of the Titanic. Unfortunately it'll never happen. I'm convinced the only thing that is keeping the ship from going under is this election year. I can't recall a major election season when the market or the economy was bouyed because neither party wanted it to effect their seats and standing. I feel bad for whoever gets the prize cause the bottom will drop so fast everyone will be scratching their heads wonderng what happened.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:48 pm |
  47. Kaitlin


    March 14, 2008 at 4:47 pm |
  48. Matt, Minneapolis, MN

    Let them keep squabbling, it will give McCain more ammo, and let some of the dirt on Obama get aired without him being blamed for it. I'm sick of everyone treating the dems as the answer. Higher taxes, higher gov't spending, and less inteligence than John McCain on foregin policy are not the answer.

    McCain at least admits he's not an economic guro while the others seem to think they have all the answers. We don't need Carter 2.0 in office(obama) we need a strong leader.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:47 pm |
  49. Steven

    Wouldn't it be positive if instead of using statements by members of the campaigns, narrowly interpreted and taken out of context, to attack each other that the two or even, gasp!, three candidates would sit down and discuss in detail what can be done to improve or solve the serious problems confronting us. Is it possible that one of them would be big enough to acknowledge the value of another's ideas or concede that in certain areas that one or the other may actually be better equipped to deal with a problem? No one candidate can be the best in all areas. What is the harm in admitting that? I am a political talk show junky but I resolve to turn off any show from here on in that is simply focused on the horse race or the attacks as opposed to the detailed solutions offered by the candidates.

    March 14, 2008 at 4:47 pm |
  50. Steve

    I hope both Barack and Hillary will get their campaigns back on track and stop bickering. The cheap shots their surrogages and they have taken at each other are diverting their attention from the real issues you've listed. I need a president with a reasonably-long attention span. Is there a candidate out there that has one?

    In regard to McCain's position that our current financial crises can be managed with lower taxes and less regulation, I would assume by "lower taxes" since he's Republican he's talking about lower taxes for the big corporations. Interesting concept that's never worked. I'm still waiting for the trickle down of the Reagan era to reach me. In regard to less regulation, isn't lack of regulation what got the real estate and mortgage industries into the fixes they are in right now?

    I'm getting very tired of whole bunch. Democratic candidates that can't stop focusing on name-calling. Republican cadidates that don't have a clue how real Americans struggle to survive financially on a daily basis.

    As a well-known comedian has said, "Oh GROW UP!"

    March 14, 2008 at 4:46 pm |
1 2 3