Pundit Central

Dear Africa, Sorry! Love, Bill

Dear Africa, Sorry! Love, Bill

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President Clinton’s apology-strewn tour of Africa is Issue 1: He’s sorry about slavery; he’s sorry about the Rwanda massacre. And the schoolyard murder in Jonesboro, Ark., Issue 2, bumps the president’s sex scandal to Issue 3.

Deborah Mathis, Jack Germond, Nina Totenberg (Inside Washington), and Brit Hume (Fox News Sunday) detect hollowness in Clinton’s teary expiation for international silence on Rwanda. The White House was aware of the genocide, says Hume, and there is no indication that it would act differently today. Perhaps the apology tour was Clinton’s way of manufacturing “moral parity” with the great Nelson Mandela, muses Hume.

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The right-wing pundits are incensed by the “most expansive and extensive groveling and pandering” ever exhibited by a U.S. president (Pat Buchanan, The McLaughlin Group). Noting that the Sudanese routinely sell children into slavery, Buchanan sees no need to offer apologies to “those people over there.” Robert Novak (CNN’s Capital Gang) is appalled at the “contrition mission,” finding Clinton’s slavery apologies logically flawed in light of the many prominent “African-Americans in government, in business, in athletics, in show business,” who would not be Americans without the slave trade. Capital Gangsters Margaret Carlson and Al Hunt–both appalled by Novak–are joined by E.J. Dionne (NBC’s Meet the Press) in arguing that, in fact, slavery is wrong, ergo it’s fine for a president to say so.

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A mudslide of pundits construes the Africa Tour as political homage to black voters in the United States, a cornerstone of Clinton’s electoral base. But that doesn’t open Clinton to charges of pandering, notes Mark Shields (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer), because politicians of all stripes–from Ronald Reagan to mayors of New York–routinely visit the Three I’s (Ireland, Israel, and Italy) to mollify supporters. If anything, say the pundits, Clinton is shrewd to solidify political support during these dark days.

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Beleaguered McLaughlin liberal Eleanor Clift–joined by Steve Roberts (CNN’s Late Edition), David Gergen, and Jay Carney (The McLaughlin Group)–stresses the tour’s salutary importance in improving U.S.-Africa trade connections. Clift predicts that in 50 years America will conduct a thriving trade with a prosperous Africa.

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The commentariat is saddened by Issue 2, the senseless killings of four children and their teacher by two angry youths. Germond and Tony Blankley (Late Edition) warn against drawing too many lessons from an isolated, senseless episode of evil, and Bill Kristol (ABC’s This Week) cautions all against compounding the crime by “committing sociology,” i.e., relieving the two child-shooters of moral responsibility for their evildoing. But most pundits shrug off this advice and blame the incident on 1) lax gun-control laws; 2) our violent, permissive popular culture; or 3) the popular choice: both.

Clinton’s sex scandal dips to Issue 3. Like Paula Jones’ lawyers, most pundits are outraged that the White House produced 16 Willey-related letters lickety-split in the wake of her 60 Minutes interview but released only two in response to an earlier subpoena. The commentariat repeats its long-held opinion that Clinton’s claim of executive privilege is bunk. Kristol opines that “it’s worth being a little bit outraged” by Clinton’s cynical tactics, but Paul Gigot (NewsHour) and Shields stress that the public does not share his outrage. Clinton elicits a Bronx cheer from several pundits for admitting no knowledge of whether or not his lawyers have invoked executive privilege (the president must sign all such claims).

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Most commentators are mystified by Issue 4, Yeltsin’s unexpected putsch. Clift suggests that he wanted to install a successor with all the “charisma of a tree stump.” Carney thinks Yeltsin was feeling ignored and did this partly as a publicity stunt. Several pundits think Yeltsin is crazy like a fox; others think he’s just crazy or possibly boozed out of his mind.

It’s OK, Leo Strauss Was a Devoted Gambler: Someone should slip Kenneth Starr a tape of this week’s This Week, where Kristol admits to being eliminated from the office NCAA pool. Pundit Central is shocked–shocked!–to learn there is gambling at the Weekly Standard.

Bruce Gottlieb

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