Mark Shields, a piercing analyst of America’s political virtues and failings, first as a Democratic campaign strategist and then as a television commentator who both delighted and rankled audiences for four decades with his bluntly liberal views and sharply honed wit, died on Saturday at his home in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 85.
His daughter, Amy Shields Doyle, said the cause was complications of kidney failure.
Politics loomed large for Mr. Shields even when he was a boy. In 1948, when he was 11, his parents roused him at 5 a.m. so he could glimpse President Harry S. Truman as he was passing through Weymouth, the Massachusetts town south of Boston where they lived. He recalled that “the first time I ever saw my mother cry was the night that Adlai Stevenson lost in 1952.”
A life immersed in politics began in earnest for him in the 1960s, not long after he had finished two years in the Marines. He started as a legislative assistant to Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin.
He then struck out on his own as a political consultant to Democratic candidates; his first campaign at the national level was Robert F. Kennedy’s ill-fated presidential race in 1968. Mr. Shields was in San Francisco when Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. “I’ll go to my grave believing Robert Kennedy would have been the best president of my lifetime,” he told The New York Times in 1993.
Of his roots, The New York Times notes:
Mark Stephen Shields was born in Weymouth on May 25, 1937, one of four children of William Shields, a paper salesman involved in local politics, and Mary (Fallon) Shields, who taught school until she married.
“In my Irish American Massachusetts family, you were born a Democrat and baptized a Catholic,” Mr. Shields wrote in 2009. “If your luck held out, you were also brought up to be a Boston Red Sox fan.”
He attended schools in Weymouth and then the University of Notre Dame, where he majored in philosophy and graduated in 1959. With military conscription looming, he chose in 1960 to enlist in the Marines, emerging in 1962 as a lance corporal. He learned a lot in those two years, he said, including concepts of leadership encapsulated in a Marine tradition of officers not being fed until their subordinates were.
“Would not our country be a more just and human place,” he wrote in 2010, “if the brass of Wall Street and Washington and executive suites believed that ‘officers eat last’?
A couple years ago, his friend and television counterpart, David Brooks, wrote this appreciation:
Mark’s father was the first Catholic to serve on their town’s school board. The first time he saw his mother cry was when Adlai Stevenson lost to Dwight Eisenhower. Mark went off to Notre Dame and then served in the Marine Corps, before working as a congressional aide.
…To this day Mark argues that politics is about looking for converts, not punishing heretics. You pass bills and win campaigns by bending to accommodate those whose votes can be gotten.
Mark instinctively identifies with the underdog. Every year he invites me to do an event with him with Catholic social workers. These are people who serve the poor and live among the poor. They have really inexpensive clothing and really radiant faces, and in their lives you see the embodiment of an entire moral system, Catholic social teaching, which has its service arm and, in Mark, its political and journalistic arm.
He comes from a generation that highly prized egalitarian manners: I’m no better than anyone else and nobody is better than me. Like Biden, condescension is foreign to his nature. As everybody at the “NewsHour” can attest, he treats everybody with equal kindness. He also comes from a generation in which military service was widespread, along with a sense of shared sacrifice.
… One story sticks in my mind. In 2004, the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees three games to none in the American League Championship Series. The Sox miraculously won the next four games and took the series. Mark went to a bunch of those games, including the final one at Yankee Stadium.
After that game Mark lingered in his seat. Memories flooded over him as sweet tears flowed — a lifetime of games with his mother and father, this magnificent victory they never got to see, the century of heartbreaks now overcome. Mark and the other Sox fans just sat there, refusing to leave, absorbing this new victorious feeling, a hint of justice in the universe.
I like to think that was God’s way of saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him …