Pundit Central

Bill Bombs

Bill Bombs

Bill Clinton’s public vivisection continues, as the commentariat tears into his Iraq policy with both hands. Paul Gigot (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) notes that congressional support waned after the president made his case, as Capitol Hill realized that the administration’s “ends and means don’t coincide.” Congress smells “a [president] who doesn’t believe in his own policy,” adds Gigot. ” ‘Contain Saddam’ is not a ringing bumper sticker,” scoffs Steve Roberts (CNN’s Late Edition).

Just as there was no consensus on how to pronounce Kofi Annan’s name, there was no consensus on how to regard the U.N. secretary-general’s 11th-hour diplomatic mission. (The commentariat did their gabbing before Annan delivered his deal.) A sunny George Stephanopoulos (ABC’s This Week With Sam and Cokie) announces, “I guess I’m a dove this morning,” hoping that American diplomacy backed by bomber squadrons will cow Saddam into accepting Annan’s terms. Bill Kristol (This Week), who’s been dressed for combat for months, retorts that if the White House wants to hand the reins of U.S. foreign policy to Annan, then we ought to anoint him secretary of state. Kate O’Beirne (CNN’s Capital Gang) and Pat Buchanan (The McLaughlin Group) think that Clinton wants Annan to negotiate a “fig leaf,” permitting the United States to bow out of war while retaining some shred of credibility. Thomas Friedman (CBS’s Face the Nation and PBS’s Washington Week in Review) argues the reverse: Clinton fears that Annan will come back with an imperfect offer that, for political reasons, the United States cannot refuse.

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The live Columbus, Ohio, town meeting (which became a town beating) sent the pundits scurrying for thesauri to find synonyms for “fiasco” and “disaster.” Many connect the Ohio miscue to Issue 2, the president’s Lewinsky troubles. Preoccupation with the scandal led a harried and nervous president to send his deputies into a sausage grinder, say Gloria Borger (Face the Nation) and Fred Barnes (McLaughlin Group). A reluctance to appear in public forums for fear of drawing Lewinsky questions compromises Clinton as commander in chief, says Gigot on Fox News Sunday–Clinton “can’t compartmentalize these things the way he wants to.” Juan Williams (Fox News Sunday) reports that Saddam has subtitled Wag the Dog in Arabic and is blanketing Middle Eastern airwaves with its broadcast.

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Will Clinton invoke executive privilege to veil conversations about the alleged hanky-panky with Monica? “A political nonstarter,” states Al Hunt (Capital Gang). “Richard Nixon did for executive privilege what the Boston Strangler did for door-to-door salesmen,” quips Mark Shields (Capital Gang). The Nixon parallels continue on NBC’s Meet the Press, where Joe diGenova faces off with Clinton spinner Lanny Davis, demanding that the president confess to having hired private dicks to investigate private citizens (including himself and his law-partner wife).

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The pundits offer varied interpretations of Mike McCurry’s interview with the Chicago Tribune, though all agree that he is too competent to have misspoken (and all claim to be his friend). Robert Novak (Capital Gang) reports the consensus view that McCurry, like Vernon Jordan, is distancing himself from Clinton. Others suggest that the remarks must be interpreted as the first steps toward a bawdy version of “I didn’t inhale.” No one cared to speculate whether Clinton would ultimately admit to necking, heavy petting or, mon Dieu, frottage (a k a dry humping, a k a outercourse).

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Spurred by the recent governors’ conference held in Washington, D.C., the pundits confer Issue 3 status on the state budgets. Republican governors are acting like New Democrats, shelling out for costly early-childhood and education programs. Why? Because that’s what people like.

Fish Cheer:Late Edition twice rolls footage of the Columbus protesters silencing a distressed Madeleine Albright with the refrain, “1-2-3-4, we don’t want your racist war.” But even an amateur lip reader could discern that one chanting activist was not using the word “racist” but another two-syllable word, which begins with an “f.”

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Stutter Step:McLaughlin Group host John McLaughlin is reduced to near incoherence this week, apparently the victim of a balky TelePrompTer. Returning from a commercial, McLaughlin turns to the camera and pauses. With falling expression he stutters, “Uh … The question is … uh … the following … What is the question? … Uh … The question is … Uh …” Finally McLaughlin turns to a smiling Robin Wright and spits out, “Uh … What about all this?” McLaughlin redeems himself later with the observation that, in a recent appearance, playful Iraqi minister Tariq Aziz chose a beret just like the one Monica wears in the infamous video where Schmucko gives her the big hug.

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Singing for His Supper: Why does Lewinsky attorney William Ginsburg still rate invitations to the Sunday shows? This week, he recycles the same suit and bow tie and evasions on Face the Nation and Meet the Press. He chiefly concerns himself with abusing archenemy Kenneth Starr, though Tim Russert chastens him by reading back a series of quotations that document how, not too long ago, the lawyer was a professed member of the Ken Starr Fan Club. Ginsburg attempts to build sympathy for his client, though he refuses to discuss his client’s account of events, specifics of her proffer, her legal strategy, her future plans, her definition of a sexual relationship, or anything else of interest. Why does he bother to appear? Perhaps to plead for a Lewinsky defense fund, which, as prime recipient, Ginsburg did in the most shameless manner imaginable.

Bruce Gottlieb

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