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September 18, 2006
Political Insider to Benefits Pros: Fall Elections Should Bring Change

By Chris Ceplenski, Senior Editor

The man referred to by The Wall Street Journal as the "wittiest journalist in America " says that a serious change may be about to occur in Washington, D.C.

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Delivering a keynote address at 19th Annual Benefits Management Conference and Expo in Chicago, Illinois, today, syndicated columnist and political analyst Mark Shields analyzed the upcoming 2006 Congressional mid-term elections using the history of American politics as a backdrop.

Shields, of PBS's "The News Hour With Jim Lehrer," lived up to the title bestowed upon him by the Journal by beginning his presentation with a number of jokes.

Shields then took a more serious tone, as he used several examples to illustrate how over the past 70-plus years, the political party that comes to represent optimism, confidence, and practicality to the majority of Americans is the one that has succeeded in becoming the majority party. Shields then applied this premise to 2006 as a way to predict what may happen in the mid-term elections.

Shields said that the American people will be "bombarded with numbers" as the 2006 elections near, but that there are only 3 numbers that they really need to pay attention to.

The first is the percentage of people who believe the country is headed in the right direction. The second is the percentages of people who give the President a favorable or unfavorable job rating. The third is the percentages of people who believe Congress is doing a good or bad job, respectively.

In 2000, Americans believed by a margin of 2 to 1 that the country was headed in the right direction. Today, however, he says that polls show that 2 out of 3 Americans believe that their children's lives/futures won't be as bright as their own. Shields says this is the first time the majority of Americans have reported feeling this way about the future.

To Shields, this is a sign that changes could be coming to currently Republican-controlled Congress. Americans are not feeling optimistic and confident. This is due in part, he says, by the war in Iraq , which Shields calls an "enormous liability and albatross," to the majority party, as unpopular wars always have been historically, Shields says. It also stems from the government's reaction following Katrina. A defining event during the Bush administration, Katrina illustrated that "government still matters, competence still matters, and incompetence comes with a price," Shields says.

President Bush's job approval ratings have been below 40 percent in some polls for some time now, Shields says. In fact, all three of these numbers are worse now for Republicans than they were in 1994 for Democrats, who had held control of both the White House and the Congress during the first two years of Bill Clinton's presidency, he says.

Shields says that one perceived weakness of the Democratic party is that they don't have a plan--most people couldn't say that they understand what the Democratic plan is. However, he says, the upcoming elections may challenge the political adage that "You can't beat anybody with nobody." In other words, Shields believes most Americans, even if they don't know exactly what they will get if Democrats regain control of Washington, simply feel that any alternative is better than the current status quo. To put it another way, Shields coining the upcoming vote as a "Mae West election" quoting the brassy American actress who once said: "Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before."

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