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Schieffer: ‘The American people don’t believe anything when a politician talks’

Bob Schieffer of CBS News on women in politics and the 2018 election

Three days after the 2018 midterm election, CBS News’ Bob Schieffer spoke at TCU in Fort Worth.
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Three days after the 2018 midterm election, CBS News’ Bob Schieffer spoke at TCU in Fort Worth.

Sixty years ago, Bob Schieffer’s Fort Worth radio job was to roam all over town at night reporting on car wrecks.

So the CBS News special contributor is perfectly qualified to report on the 2018 election.

Now 81, Schieffer was back home Friday for his annual visit to Fort Worth and the Schieffer College of Communication at TCU.

He didn’t have much time, but he gave Schieffer School students and donors a few quick thoughts on the midterms and the media:

On the midterms: “I said during the 2016 campaign so many times on television. ‘I’ve never seen anything like this,’ that it became a drinking game among our younger colleagues. … And I think this is kind of part two.

“[In 2016,] I remember when John Boehner called Ted Cruz ‘Lucifer in the flesh.’ And a devil-worshippers society put out a written press release saying, ‘No, he’s not one of us.’“

On the campaign: “This is the first campaign for anything I can remember where the economy was really good, and the president [Donald Trump] didn’t want to talk about it. … His [strategy] did not appear to be to broaden his support, but to motivate his core supporters. … He was about half right.”

On the president: “He does not have some of the powers that he thinks he has. I found it interesting the other day when he said he was going to repeal the 14th Amendment (citizenship as a birthright).

“… I heard a lot of people say that was probably a good idea on the 14th Amendment but that they were not so sure about the Second.”

On whether the election was about the president: “I think it was a referendum on how we see our nation — what do we think it is. What do we think it ought to stand for? … We’ve got two very different visions of what America is.”

On what we are: “We are still a very divided country. I would say the country is more divided than at any time since 1968.”

On the political divide: “What concerns me is reflexive partisanship, where if you find out somebody’s a Democrat, then you don’t have any time to listen to anything they have to say. And [same with] the other party.”

On whether Americans can trust any politicians: “I’m not sure we can. The American people don’t believe anything when a politician talks.”

On the divide inside the White House: “There are as many factions inside the White House now as there are up on Capitol Hill. And some of them just hate each other.”

On the hubbub from the White House: “President Martin Van Buren — not many people quote Martin Van Buren — said government should not be based on the excitement of the moment, but by sound and ‘sober second thought.’

“I think what’s missing today is sound and sober second thought.”

On the new women lawmakers at all levels: “It’s not just that we had a record number of women as candidates. It’s that they’re fighter pilots, women with military backgrounds, women who’ve been successful in business — these are going to be a lot of tough people in Congress.”

On the split Congress: “It’s going to be mostly gridlock now — it’s been mostly gridlock.

“I don’t think we elect people to go to Washington and shut down the government. I think we elect people to keep the government running.”

On campaign finance: “We’re spending too much money on these elections. The cottage industry around our elections has become more important to the participants than the elections themselves. We’re seeing these obscene amounts of money.

“Does anybody think that the quality of the candidates that the system is producing today is any better than the candidates that were picked back in the days of the smokefilled rooms?”

On the vanishing center: “As the Republican Party moved to the right, the Democratic Party moved to the left. And so you’ve got the people that are making the difference in the far end of the political parties. … I still believe most people are slightly to the right or slightly to the left.”

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In 2012, Bob Schieffer moderated the third presidential debate between Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. Win McNamee AP

On journalism and the White House banning CNN correspondent Jim Acosta: “I’m not worried about somebody getting kicked out of the White House. You know, I always point out that Woodward and Bernstein during Watergate never once set foot in the White House briefing room,” referring to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

On what does worry him: “When people start questioning the right of reporters to ask questions — when people say, ‘I’m not going to answer’ anything but favorable questions — you’re questioning the whole idea of the free press. We can’t have democracy if our citizens don’t have access to a free press.”

“Our job is to ask questions. And we keep asking questions until we get the truth. The politicians’ commission is to deliver a message. Our commission is to find out the truth, whatever that may be, and report it.”

On what’s next: “The problem for journalism right now is not the president. … The problem is the economics of journalism. We’ve lost 120 papers. … There are parts of the Midwest where there isn’t any [local] news.”

On who’ll be the Democratic Party nominee in 2020: “I don’t think anybody knows the real answer right now. I would say [former Vice President] Joe Biden is probably the strongest candidate the Democrats have.

“But you know, Joe Biden is almost as old as me.”

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