Pundit Central

No Sex Please, We’re Pundits

No Sex Please, We’re Pundits

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The collapse of the tobacco deal (Issue 1), rumblings of Social Security reform (Issue 2), and an end to Ireland’s “troubles” (Issue 3) push Tailgate to the fringe of the marquee.

Who derailed the tobacco deal? It was “gold rush, mob psychology” among greedy politicians, argues Paul Gigot (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer). Senate legislators were so entranced by pots of money that they lost their heads and neglected to offer the tobacco firms something in return (Gigot; Evan Thomas, Inside Washington). Gigot also accuses prominent Dems–like Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif.,–of derailing the bill in hopes of creating a campaign issue with which to truncheon the Republicans.

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Steve Roberts reports that the tobacco agreement is being marketed as a protect-the-kids bill (PBS’s Washington Week in Review). This strikes Charles Krauthammer (Inside Washington) as disgustingly hypocritical, because the original deal–accepted by the tobacco CEOs–contains the same underage smoking preventive measures as the Senate’s. That is, avarice–not a desire to protect children–is firmly in the driver’s seat.

But the tobacco firms are political untouchables, the commentariat agrees. Tobacco CEOs can’t even buy congressional friends–an unprecedented spectacle that astounds Cokie Roberts (ABC’s This Week). Perhaps Congress can unilaterally implement the derailed provisions, hope a few (Nina Totenberg and Jack Germond, Inside Washington; Al Hunt, CNN’s Capital Gang). Thomas disagrees, arguing that the Supreme Court will ixnay cigarette advertising restrictions on First Amendment grounds.

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Tony Blankley (CNN’s Late Edition), joined by Robert Novak (Capital Gang), dubs the hounding and vilification of legal business enterprises an “ugly moment.” Krauthammer and Bill Kristol (This Week) are virtually alone in worrying about the distributional consequences of a sin tax (Kristol endorses middle-class tax cuts as offsets).

The commentariat marvels that politicians are willing to discuss Issue 2, Social Security reforms, at all. (On four of the six shows considering Social Security, a panel member mentions that the issue was formerly the “third rail of American politics.”) Clinton is broaching the issue, says Susan Page (Late Edition), because he wants history to remember him as something other than the prez who coupled with Monica Lewinsky.

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The public is wary of Republicans who want to monkey about with Social Security, warns Mark Shields (NewsHour). Only Democrats can safely approach the issue–it is like “Richard Nixon going to China,” he says. If the stock market crashes, the calls for privatization will simmer down, say Shields, Steve Roberts, and George Stephanopoulos (This Week). Everyone praises Bill Clinton for his role in Issue 3–the breakthrough agreement in Ireland. Even Clinton-hater Kristol respects Clinton’s accomplishment, gleefully suggesting that after Clinton is hounded out of office for witness tampering and obstruction of justice, President Al Gore should name him a peripatetic negotiator. But George Mitchell, the former Senate majority leader who mediated the negotiations, receives greater acclaim: “The Nobel Peace Prize committee can take a vacation,” says Hunt. “It goes this year to George Mitchell.” Success in Ireland just proves that the World’s Only Superpower must intervene more frequently, say Kristol, Steve Roberts, and George Will (This Week). A few pundits stress potential pitfalls along the road to peace. The “leverage of the ruthless is considerable,” says Will.

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The commentariat has nothing new to say about Issue 4, the president’s ongoing legal battles. Everyone wonders what Starr will do. Everyone wonders how Congress will react.

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The Commentariat Would Like a Nonsmoking Table, Please: Most polls agree that a quarter of the American adult population smokes regularly. It’s interesting to note that of the 21 pundits who held forth on tobacco legislation this weekend, only Jack Germond professes to currently being a smoker. Germond is happy to shell out an extra sawbuck per pack if only it’ll keep kids from getting hooked.

DoubleDribble Results Are In! Steve Roberts medals in singles competition for shoehorning his opinion that presidential diplomacy is “indispensable” in the New World Order into both Washington Week in Review and Late Edition. Never one for complacency, he teams up with his wife, Cokie Roberts of This Week, for the doubles competition: The pair repeat the prediction that even privatization-friendly Dems will cynically whack GOP candidates who dare to support privatizing Social Security.

Legacy, Legacy, Who’s Got the Legacy? With the sex scandal on hold, pundits are back to business as usual. Which means it’s time to dust off the L-word and commence guessing: What will Clinton’s legacy be? Could it be peace in Ireland? wonders Margaret Carlson (Capital Gang). How about Social Security reform? asks Gigot.

Bruce Gottlieb

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