Pundit Central

Bucks, Butts, and Books

Bucks, Butts, and Books

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Politicking on campaign finance, tobacco, and education are Issues 1 through 3. The sex scandal plays as background music, coming in as Issue 4. Paula Jones’ appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner–where the pundits spent Saturday evening–is Issue 5.

The Republicans’ bumbling on campaign finance reform shows they’re a party that “could screw up a one-car funeral” (Robert Novak, CNN’s Capital Gang). First, GOP leaders squashed the bill in the most underhanded way possible, and now they’re trying to take credit for reviving it. Cynical in the extreme, says Charles Krauthammer (Inside Washington).

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Al Hunt (Capital Gang) senses growing pressure to change campaign finance rules; Mark Shields (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) thinks this issue can decide elections, maybe winning the Democrats a congressional majority. Paul Gigot (NewsHour) worries that eliminating soft money will induce self-interested money-men to fund their own commercials, thereby permitting private donors to set the agendas in congressional races.

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Is the McCain tobacco bill a tax on the middle class or protection for kids? The commentariat agrees the public’s eventual answer to this question will determine the bill’s fate. The early line on what that answer will be: Two-thirds of voters see the McCain deal as a tax, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll cited by many pundits.

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ARepublican proposal allowing parents to spend tax-free dollars on private elementary and secondary schools is important because education is Public Issue No. 1 (Shields; George Will and Cokie Roberts, ABC’s This Week). The GOP may erase its historical weakness on education with this issue, suggests Gigot. But this particular proposal is a stinker, says Margaret Carlson (Capital Gang), because it offers parents a mere token of tax relief ($37 per year).

Ken Starr’s decision to demand Flytrap testimony from Secret Service agents draws fire from some in the commentariat. The fact that George Bush took Clinton’s side (against Secret Service testimony) convinces a number of pundits that Clinton’s stance is no White House stonewall. How about letting a judge decide the question case by case, suggests Evan Thomas (Inside Washington). Do we really want the president to have a publicly funded Praetorian Guard? wonders Krauthammer.

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Susan McDougal’s defiant appearance in leg irons moves some pundits to sympathy. It moves Krauthammer to wonder, “Who the hell does she think she is [not to testify because] she doesn’t like her prosecutor?”

Paula Jones’ decision to accept Insight magazine’s invitation to President Clinton’s speech at the swanky White House Correspondents’ Dinner makes Stuart Taylor (NBC’s Meet the Press) scratch his head. Given her claim that she cannot stand to see Clinton on television–a fortiori in the flesh–does she really want to give the president’s lawyers “a stick to beat her with?” Taylor asks. Her appearance is a needless affront to the president and the presidency, say Carlson and Jack Germond (Inside Washington). Tony Blankley (CNN’s Late Edition) sat next to her at dinner and reports she “carried herself like a lady,” in contrast to certain vulgar attendees who booed her and made classist snipes about her appearance.

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Rep. Dan Burton’s on-the-record contention that Clinton is a “scumbag”–helpfully defined as a slang term for a soiled rubber by Fox News Sunday’s Juan Williams–is universally derided as crude. He should have had the sense to call the president names in private, says the smart set. The president is lucky to have such dumb enemies, opine Krauthammer and Mara Liasson (Fox News Sunday).

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It is never wise practice to call the president names in public, even if you’re not a member of Congress, continues Krauthammer. He once called the president a louse, and the phone didn’t stop ringing for a week. (Related story: Pundit Central once called the president “Schmucko” and got bushels of harsh mail, some from his own mother and aunt. The fact that “Schmucko” was Monica Lewinsky’s phrase placated no one.)

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Product Placement:McLaughlin Group panelists appeared discomforted by the, um, timbre of John McLaughlin’s opening segment on Viagra, the newly released sexual wonder drug. The discussion began bawdily enough, with Fred Barnes characterizing the $10 pill as “the greatest thing for trophy wives since joint banking accounts … [but] bad for gigolos.” Other panelists agreed that mo’ better coitus can only be a good thing. All were amused by McLaughlin’s suggestion that refurbished libidos and the promise of better sex will drive people to get toned and fit. Faces froze into uncomfortable smiles, however, when McLaughlin went on to cite studies that claim frequent ejaculation leads to healthy prostates. McLaughlin totally lost the group with his argument that dispensing Viagra will encourage more sexual exertion, ergo better health. No one but McLaughlin seemed convinced that Congress will subsidize Viagra for the needy, either.

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Whoops! I’m Not Saying She’s Guilty, Though: Sen. Orrin Hatch, appearing on Meet the Press, predicted the first lady will not be indicted. (George Stephanopoulos and Sam Donaldson of This Week concur.) Hatch does, however, let slip his belief that “her fingerprints are on almost everything from Whitewater up to now.”

Wasn’t That in “Federalist” No. 10?Meet the Press’ Elizabeth Drew said she has talked to Gingrich confidants who claim the speaker is seriously interested in impeaching President Clinton, then nailing President Gore for pardoning Clinton. Who, asks clever interviewer Tim Russert, is next in line for the Oval Office? Why, the speaker of the House, of course!

Bruce Gottlieb

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