Pundit Central

Dan Burton’s “Political Malpractice”

Dan Burton’s “Political Malpractice”

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The pundits inflate Rep. Dan Burton’s anti-Clintonism to Issue 1. Previously, protestations that Clinton was getting a bum rap were aimed at Kenneth Starr, right-wing money, or Newt Gingrich. But the friction between Burton and, well, just about everybody is now discussed as a Very Serious Issue. Gingrich’s continued offensive against the president is Issue 2, and U.S. pressure on Israel is Issue 3.

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Everyone agrees that further revelations about the Hubbell tapes, coupled with Burton’s admission that he’s out to get the “scumbag” president, have tainted Burton’s investigation. “This is the week Dan Burton imploded,” announces Paul Gigot (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer). What’s more, absent Burton’s stupidity, the Hubbell tapes would have been a slam-dunk GOP victory, leading Gigot to charge Burton with “political malpractice.”

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The commentariat enjoys swapping stories about the extent of Burton’s lunacy. Al Hunt (CNN’s Capital Gang) hears that Burton’s aides wear latex gloves while opening mail, for prophylaxis against left-wingers sending condoms to his office. According to Mark Shields (NewsHour), GOP leaders have always known Burton is a genuine nutter–remember that stunt with the rifle and the watermelon?–and therefore the blame must rest on Gingrich’s shoulders. The GOP needs to shut Burton up and make the magisterial Henry Hyde, R-Ill., the face of the GOP investigation, advises David Gergen (The McLaughlin Group). Robert Novak (Capital Gang) reveals that Burton was nearly sent packing by a panicked Gingrich, who was placated when Burton fired David Bossie, a top aide.

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The conventional explanation for the newly aggressive Gingrich–he has publicly supported Burton and advises GOP colleagues to speak of Clinton’s “crimes” rather than of charges–is that he is shoring up support in his political base, the extreme right wing. This may be sound politics, argues George Will (ABC’s This Week), because midterm elections are often decided by political bases. So are presidential primaries, notes Mara Liasson (Fox News Sunday). On the other hand, according to Juan Williams (Fox News Sunday), “Newt Gingrich is the best fund-raiser the Democrats have ever had.”

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Has Newt tainted himself, à la Burton? Almost certainly, answers liberal Shields. He undoubtedly treads on “delicate political territory,” euphemizes the conservative Gigot.

Bibi Netanyahu’s unwillingness to attend Monday’s Washington, D.C., negotiations leads some to blame the White House negotiators and others to blame Israeli stubbornness. However, most discussion of the issue centers around Hillary Clinton’s publicly revealed support for a Palestinian state. Gigot accuses her of “practicing foreign policy without a license.” Bill Kristol (This Week) spins the most elaborate explanation: The United States has lost support in the Middle East after the recent Iraq standoff, and the first lady’s intentional gaffe is an unofficial way of placating Arab leaders at the expense of Israel.

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P.S.–I Won’t Be Attending Your Funeral, Either: During a rambling discussion of oncology and longevity on This Week, Kristol shares the happy fact that his wife has a centenarian grandmother and a great-grandmother who lived past 100 too. “Having [good] genes is still the way to go!” grins Kristol. “We’ll enjoy meeting her second husband,” mutters Cokie Roberts.

Spin Doctor, Heal Thyself: On Meet the Press (NBC), one former Bush aide jeers that “[Clinton is] trying to do a job in Israel–too bad his wife doesn’t agree with him.” An unremarkable snipe coming from a noted anti-Clintonite, except that this particular snipe comes from Mary Matalin, who spent a quarter-hour this Sunday sneering at every point offered by her fellow panelist and husband, James Carville. Sample sneer: After admitting that her hubby’s strategizing may have kept Clinton from being ridden out of D.C. on a rail, Matalin predicts that “Someday, in the history book, you [Carville] will look back and rue the day that you helped wage this war the way you have.”

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Speak Into the Ear Horn, Boy! Burton, on the ropes after a particularly tough Tony Snow (Fox News Sunday) question, retreats with the most transparent wiggle of the weekend. “Beg your pardon?” asks Burton, cupping his ear. Again the question is asked, again Burton feigns deafness: “I … I … I’m sorry. I can’t hear you.” An amused Snow lobs Burton a few softballs–What do you think about China? Who does your transcribing?–which cures Burton’s temporary deafness.

Wiggle No. 2: The second most transparent wiggle of the weekend belongs to Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., who appears to defend his request that Attorney General Reno investigate collusion between the Democratic Party’s two favorite bogeymen: Dan Burton and Kenneth Starr. Does Conyers have any evidence that could provide cause for investigation, wonders Brit Hume (Fox News Sunday). Well, no, that’s actually what Reno is supposed to investigate.

Bruce Gottlieb

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