Pundit Central

Midterms and the Single Girl

Midterms and the Single Girl

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Monica Lewinsky’s decision to retain new legal help is Issue 1. The Supreme Court’s rejection of Kenneth Starr’s fast-track request is Issue 2, and upcoming midterm elections–Issue 3–spur the opinion mafia to wonder how the ongoing scandal will react with congressional races. The post-mortem on California primaries and ballot initiatives straggles in as Issue 4.

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The biggest development of the week, according to George Stephanopoulos (ABC’s This Week) and Kate O’Beirne (CNN’s Capital Gang), is Monica’s revamped legal team. Her new representatives are “famous for cutting deals,” reports Gordon Peterson (Inside Washington). Dumping Ginsburg is a pretty sure sign that Monica is eager to negotiate with Starr again, agrees almost everyone. This, warns O’Beirne, could spell “real trouble” for the president.

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The White House is so spooked by the prospect of Lewinsky cooperating, believes Jane Mayer (Washington Week in Review), that it is beginning a quiet smear campaign against her. She is not a very credible witness as it is, observes Capital Gang guest Rep. Bob Matsui, D-Calif: The tapes contain inconsistencies, and her affidavit contradicts the tapes on which she anyway admits, “I’ll lie any time in order to get ahead.”

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The Supremes’ unwillingness to give Starr an expedited hearing–Issue 2–is generally taken as a small to medium White House victory. It will delay Starr’s investigation still further, note all the pundits, though O’Beirne wonders whether Lewinsky’s cooperation may eliminate Starr’s need to quiz Clinton aides. Juan Williams (Fox News Sunday) lobs out the idea that Starr is pursuing Bruce Lindsey so doggedly because Lindsey knows who authored the infamous talking points given to Linda Tripp.

Will this hiccup lead Starr to offer Congress a preliminary report? Most likely, think Mark Shields and Paul Gigot (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer). Definitely, predicts Bill Kristol (ABC’s This Week).

Will scandal shape the upcoming congressional races? It’s “a Bill Clinton problem, not yet a Democratic Party problem,” says Jack Germond (Inside Washington). But really, who cares! All the commentariat wants to know is: How will the races shape the scandal? Incumbents are wary about rocking the boat with scandal hearings.

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The Republican Party leadership wants Starr to deliver nothing until after the elections (Shields; George Will, This Week; Gwen Ifill, NBC’s Meet The Press; Tony Blankley, CNN’s Late Edition; and David Bloom, Meet the Press). In fact, Orrin Hatch’s comments on the shows this week should be construed as signals from the GOP to Starr asking him to withhold a report, charges Bloom. But after the election, says Blankley, there is a “99.99 percent” chance that a Republican Congress will pursue any case Starr can deliver.

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The California primaries and ballot initiatives demonstrate that 1) California voters are content with the status quo (career politicians won big) and 2) it doesn’t take money to win elections anymore (millionaire political neophytes lost big). It just shows that all incumbents who aren’t under house arrest will win, quips Gigot (the only incumbent to lose was a representative under house arrest).

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The vote on Proposition 227 is evidence of the public will, says Gigot–the people reject screwy ideas such as bilingual education. It shows only that California’s own bilingual education system is unpopular, dissents Clarence Page (The McLaughlin Group), and says nothing about other states’ programs. The defeat of Proposition 226–labor unions can still make political contributions without member approval–contradicts the idea that money doesn’t matter in California, argue Cokie Roberts (This Week) and Robert Novak (Capital Gang).

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They would have fired him several weeks ago: The entire pundit establishment is, of course, pleased that William Ginsburg will no longer haunt Washington offices and sound stages. Careful what you wish for, Mayer cautions her fellow pundits: You’ll miss his clownish antics when he’s gone.

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Omnia vincit amor (unless you work for the Weekly Standard): Brit Hume (Fox News Sunday) speculates on why Lewinsky might not cooperate: She still has a hopeless crush on the president. Though she was crazy for the man until recently, thinks David Frum (The McLaughlin Group and the Weekly Standard), she now understands that Clinton will never abandon the first lady. Accordingly, she is willing to turn on her formerly beloved.

California girls, er, women: Shields (NewsHour) cites the astounding fact that until this week a male candidate had not won a Democratic primary for governor or senator in California since 1986! David Broder (Meet the Press) trots out the equally astounding fact that this is the first California gubernatorial race between two white males in 20 years!

Not that there’s anything wrong with lawyers; some of my best friends are lawyers: Lapsed lawyer Stuart Taylor (Inside Washington) on cover-ups and obstruction of justice: “Lawyers do things every day that would strike the average American as a cover-up.”

Bruce Gottlieb

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