Pundit Central

China Pattern

China Pattern


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The weekend belongs to Bill Clinton. Issue 1: Allegations that Chinese and corporate campaign donations to Clinton and the Democrats compromised U.S. security. Issue 2: The court’s rejection of Clinton’s executive privilege claim for Secret Service guards. The crumbling tobacco deal places a distant third.

“It’s serious,” says Mark Shields (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) of the prima facie evidence of a Chinese- and corporate-quid for an American satellite-technology transfer quo. The commentariat agrees. “What was the national security damage?” asks Paul Gigot (NewsHour). The pundits chew on the question, but nobody can connect the dots of satellite waivers, know-how leaks, and campaign donations, says Margaret Carlson (CNN’s Capital Gang).

Only Pat Buchanan (The McLaughlin Group) and William Safire (NBC’s Meet the Press) discern a distinct pattern of play-for-pay. Safire expresses “no doubt” that the Chinese influenced U.S. policy with their money. (“Am I glad we’re off the sex topic,” Safire adds.) Bill Kristol (ABC’s This Week) finds watershed significance in the fact that Hill Democrats deserted Clinton in the vote on future satellite waivers. The China connection is “driving a wedge” between Democrats and Clinton, Kristol says, and the Hill vote foreshadows future defections from Team Clinton.

Tempering the hard line are Susan Page and Steve Roberts (CNN’s Late Edition), who say corporate soft money–not foreign money–is the real problem. Doris Kearns Goodwin (Meet the Press) further puddles the issue, insisting the “whole system has become corrupted.” Other pundits downplay the accusations of treason and malfeasance, noting that Republican presidents were the first to enlist Chinese assistance in launching U.S. satellites (Doyle McManus, PBS’s Washington Week in Review; Eleanor Clift, The McLaughlin Group).

Clinton’s trip to China and scheduled visit to Tiananmen Square draws fire from Tony Blankley (Late Edition) and Chris Matthews (The McLaughlin Group), who calls it Bill’s “Bitburg.” George Stephanopoulos finds the symbolism of Clinton’s Tiananmen visit “shameful.” But George Will speculates that Clinton could turn the visit into a big moment if he uses the occasion to denounce the massacre.

Liberal Al Hunt (Capital Gang) frames the weekend’s dull center, imploring Janet Reno to get to the bottom of Chinagate by appointing an independent counsel to investigate campaign-finance violations.

The court’s rejection of the executive privilege claim for Clinton’s Secret Service guard–Issue 2–is interpreted as a huge victory for bruised Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. Starr is batting “10 for 10” against presidential legal challenges, note Tim Russert (Meet the Press) and Fred Barnes (Fox News Sunday), proving that he’s “not a rogue prosecutor” (Susan Page, Late Edition). “The judge was downright scornful of the White House,” adds Barnes.

The executive privilege ruling is a big so-what for Safire and Juan Williams (Fox News Sunday). Clinton doesn’t really mind losing individual court cases as long as losing buys him time. His “delaying” strategy is to run the clock down until the November elections, then win Congress back with just 12 new seats and shut down the Hill investigations with his new majority.

The tobacco settlement–Issue 3–is dead for now, says Gwen Ifill (Washington Week in Review). “The Senate just isn’t in a barter mood, which is what [legislation] requires,” Ifill says.

Sorry, It Was Never in My Mouth: “The Monica Lewinsky case, per se, has left a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths,” says pundit-in-training Ruth Conniff of the Progressive (Fox News Sunday).

Mark Shields Loves Late Edition: Punditry’s leading exponent of redundancy, Mark Shields, plows new ground on NewsHour. Ordinarily, he recycles sound bites from his Friday NewsHour gig on Saturday’s Capital Gang. This week, Shields expresses amazement at the White House spin machine’s “cautious, almost slow” response to the Chinagate accusations. This precise sentiment was voiced last week by Tucker Carlson on Late Edition.

Jack Shafer