Pundit Central

Bomb Bay, India

Bomb Bay, India

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India’s nuclear tests are Issue 1. Johnny Chung’s confession that he deposited Chinese military funds into Democratic Party coffers takes Issue 2. Scrapping in the distance for Issue 3 status are Microsoft’s antitrust problems, the Indonesia unrest, and the Israel-Palestine peace talks.

The commentariat polishes its worry beads over the Indian bomb tests. (See “The Week/The Spin” for more on the framing of the South Asian nuclear issue.) Eleanor Clift (The McLaughlin Group) calls the explosions “a giant finger to the U.S.” But U.S. sanctions, which are required by law, won’t sway India from its path or stem nuclear proliferation. Clinton has “a lot of sticks but no carrots,” says Mara Liasson (PBS’s Washington Week in Review). All agree that the G-8 nations’ refusal to back the sanctions weakens the U.S. position.

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At midweek, Capitol Hill blamed the U.S. intelligence establishment for failing to predict the blasts, but by the weekend the pundits agree that India’s intention to light up a few nukes was obvious. The BJP, India’s ruling party, is merely making good on its recent campaign promise to test the devices (Margaret Carlson, CNN’s Capital Gang; Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., ABC’s This Week).

Sympathy for India abounds on the shows. Michael Barone (The McLaughlin Group) defends India’s right to test its weapons, citing the United States’ “de facto military alliance” with China, India’s biggest regional foe. Fellow Groupies Mort Zuckerman and Jay Carney decry U.S. neglect of India as justification for the tests. “It’s kind of hard to blame [the Indians],” says Bill Kristol (This Week). The way out? Let India join the nuclear club by signing and honoring the test-ban treaty (Susan Page, CNN’s Late Edition; Moynihan). The world powers gave France this out after it ruffled feathers with its South Pacific nuclear tests earlier in the decade.

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Kristol draws just short of calling the United States “a helpless, pitiful giant” as he extracts this moral from India’s tests: “The signal has gone out that the U.S. is not serious” about policing rogue nations. He also compares the tests to similar intransigence on the part of Iraq and China. “I don’t think you can keep this genie in the bottle,” says Robert Novak (Capital Gang). The consensus is that too many nations–North Korea, Pakistan, and China, among others–have advanced weapons technology for the United States to police the beat effectively. “We can’t stop Russia from supplying Iran!” gripes Zuckerman.

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Issue 2–the report that the Chinese military contributed to the Democratic Party through Johnny Chung–redeems Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. When Thompson announced at the beginning of last summer’s Senate hearings that he would prove a Chinese effort to subvert the American electoral process, he was characterized as an overreaching conspiracist. Now he’s considered a prophet (Tucker Carlson, Late Edition; Sam Donaldson, This Week). The conspicuous absence of Clinton spinners playing “defense” on the weekend shows adds substance to the Chung report, says Tucker Carlson.

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William Bennett (NBC’s Meet the Press) contributes the overstatement of the weekend when he fuses the Chinese money story with the Indian tests: “Did the [Democrats’] frantic pursuit of money lead to the endangerment of the world through nuclear weapons?”

Rockin’ Jay Carney: Responding to a question about Frank Sinatra’s impact on popular culture, Jay Carney announces that Guided by Voices, the Dayton, Ohio, riff-rockers, are his favorite band.

Double Dribble: Habitual double dribbler Mark Shields sins again. He declares on both PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer and Capital Gang that the Clinton administration got away with berating India because the nation–unlike China, Greece, and Israel–has no lobby in Washington.

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For Pundit Completists Only: David Brock profiles Meet the Press host Tim Russert and surveys the competitive world of the pundit shows in this week’s New York magazine.

Snow Blind: On Fox News Sunday Tony Snow inserts his foot in his mouth while questioning Democratic Party loyalist Frank Mankiewicz about the Clinton administration’s scandals. When Mankiewicz insists that there is no proof of scandals, Snow responds, “So convictions of Cabinet members don’t rise to the level of scandals?” What convictions? asks Mankiewicz. Former Secretary of Agriculture Michael Espy has only been indicted. Gibbering, Snow prudently changes the subject.

Jack Shafer

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