Pundit Central

It’s Starr Time

It’s Starr Time

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Issue 1–the unexpected dismissal of Paula Jones’ lawsuit–cleaves the commentariat along ideological lines. Left-leaning pundits join the president in breaking out Cohibas and bongos, while right-leaners maintain that “it ain’t over till Ken Starr sings” (Bill Kristol, ABC’s This Week). Issue 2 is Congress’ work on the people’s business, which receives relatively little attention.

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Jones’ fall has damaged Starr, maintain most liberals and centrists. Post-Paula, Starr will find the political world a harsher place, predict Jack Germond and Evan Thomas (Inside Washington), Steve Roberts (CNN’s Late Edition), and David Gergen (The McLaughlin Group). Starr must deliver a “blockbuster” wad of evidence to make a splash, says Mark Shields (CNN’s Capital Gang). With the Jones matter resolved, the public and the pols will lean on Starr to finish his work pdq, say Thomas, Shields, Eleanor Clift (The McLaughlin Group), and Juan Williams (Fox News Sunday).

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But Starr operates in a legal world, maintain the conservatives, where facts are facts and polls matter little, if at all–the federal case will stand or fall based upon the evidence Starr uncovers. In a legal sense, the Jones proceeding is an apple to Starr’s orange, claims Charles Krauthammer (Inside Washington). Most pundits point out–sometimes ominously, sometimes dismissively–that no one has seen Starr’s cards: They may show “Lizzie Borden in drag” (Shields, PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer). Three conservatives proclaim their confidence that Starr holds enough to undo Clinton’s presidency (Robert Novak, Capital Gang; Fred Barnes and John McLaughlin, The McLaughlin Group). Stuart Taylor wrote as much this week in the National Journal and appears on This Week to reprise the point. Taylor’s article is referred to in reverential tones all weekend.

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The Jones dismissal directs the scandal’s focus away from sex and toward allegations of a cover-up, many pundits note. That is bad news for the president, says Krauthammer. No, it isn’t, says Clift, who doesn’t think Americans are overly upset by sex-related cover-ups.

The suggestion that Starr may indict Monica Lewinsky and name Clinton an unindicted co-conspirator is a sure public relations disaster (Clift; George Stephanopoulos, This Week; and Susan Page, Late Edition). But George Will (This Week) calls such a trial an excellent chance to play the heretofore-sealed tapes in public.

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How should Clinton play his hand? Hold a press conference to answer all Lewinsky questions tomorrow, thereby ending the circus immediately, advises Stephanopoulos. He also admits a “zero percent chance” of this happening. The public isn’t calling for a Lewinsky explanation, reports Page, and therefore won’t get one. Don’t rock the boat, agrees Mara Liasson (Fox News Sunday).

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The Republicans on the Hill–Issue 2–draw fire from all sides. The transportation bill is porky, the squashing of the campaign finance bill was a dastardly use of procedural rules, the tobacco settlement may go through, but only because everyone wants to get their paws on the proceeds. The Republican leaders wish the impeachment hearings would just go away, particularly because the lunatic fringe of the party is howling for Clinton’s blood, which will play poorly for the cameras.

Mom, Can Grandpa Say That on TV? Presidential historian Stephen Ambrose begins his NewsHour appearance by inveighing against evening newscasts too smutty to watch with his 12-year-old granddaughter. Ambrose–in the very next sentence!--goes on to discuss his theory that “God created man with a penis and a brain and gave them only enough blood to run one at a time. And that’s why we used to have dormitories that separated the boys and the girls, and we had chaperones at the dances.”

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Novak’s Blaxsploitation: Last week, Capital Gangster Robert Novak contended that black Americans’ post-bellum achievements represent the slave trade’s oft-overlooked silver lining. This week, he apologizes for offending viewers, pronounces slavery an “unmitigated evil,” and claims to have meant only that “our society was enriched by African-Americans.” Here is Novak’s original quotation from Capital Gang:

He brought along this whole plane full of African-Americans, and some of our really fine citizens are African-Americans in government, in business, in athletics, in show business. You know how they got here? They were all slaves, weren’t they? So it’s kind of a problem. We wouldn’t have this enrichment of our society if it wasn’t for slavery.

And here’s an almost identical Novak comment on the March 27 edition of CNN’s Crossfire:

The president makes these amends for slavery and then he says how wonderful the AfricanAmericans who accompanied him are. If it hadn’t been for slavery, they wouldn’t even be in America, would they? That’s kind of a problem, isn’t it?

Novak’s own apology is, no doubt, unrelated to a letter-writing campaign to his employer–the Chicago Sun-Times–mounted by the black community.

Bruce Gottlieb

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