Pundit Central

Clownin’ With the Commentariat

Clownin’ With the Commentariat

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Issue 1 is Maryland’s prosecution of Linda Tripp on wiretapping charges. Issue 2 is whether Congress will actually pass a health insurance reform bill. Issue 3 is the related question of whether this particular session is a do-nothing Congress. Mostly, though, the opinion mafia decides to spend time trading bons mots. With relative stillness this week from the White House, the Hill, Kenneth Starr’s office, and the world of international diplomacy (excepting Ireland, unfortunately), the commentariat must clown about to keep the crowd’s attention. From the standpoint of wit, rather than substance, it is a good week.

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Most pundits agree that the Maryland prosecutor’s timing–he began his wiretapping prosecution just as Tripp began her testimony for Starr–is highly suspect. Steve Roberts (CNN’s Late Edition) and Margaret Carlson (CNN’s Capital Gang) think it poetic that Tripp is caught up in a politically motivated, Mickey Mouse charge, since Starr is using her against Monica Lewinsky in the same way. Sam Donaldson (ABC’s This Week) and Susan Page (Late Edition) note that the main issue is still the president’s behavior.

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Amajority of the commentariat thinks that HMO reform strikes a chord with voters in a way that tobacco and campaign finance reform did not. The big dispute between Democrats and Republicans will likely be over whether patients can sue their HMO, predicts Gloria Borger (PBS’s Washington Week in Review). A bill will surely be passed–and soon–predicts Page.

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Congress has recently been accused of doing nothing of importance recently. This is true, say Michael Bechloss (NBC’s Meet the Press), Bill Kristol (This Week), and Mark Shields (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer). The reason is that people are generally quite content, say Kristol and Doyle McManus (Washington Week in Review)–incumbents don’t want to rock the boat.

I Work in Politics; COBOL Programming Is Just My Hobby: The surest proof that political talk shows lack fodder this weekend is John McLaughlin dedicating the first 10 minutes of his program to the year 2000 bug. Can someone please tell Pundit Central why exactly the political pundits of The McLaughlin Group feel comfortable holding forth on a supremely technical arcanum? Worse still, Y2K threatens to become the preferred Big Think Question for TV talk shows over the next 18 months, as modeled by Sam Donaldson (This Week). Interrupting IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti’s thoughtful discussion of IRS legislative reform, Donaldson bursts out with: “Are you ready for the year 2000? Are the codes in your computers all changed now?”

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While We’re on the Subject of Y2K: The biggest howler of the week belongs to Pat Buchanan (The McLaughlin Group), who suggests that the Y2K bug might have a silver lining because it puts computer programmers to work. A majority of economists believes that during a severe depression–which certainly doesn’t describe America right now–it’s important to pay people to do make-work (digging ditches or restoring hiking trails will also do). But Pundit Central doubts you could find a single economist who would classify a slew of COBOL programmers fixing antiquated mainframe systems as either a consumable good or service. Of course any sane person recognizes the importance of paying computer experts to fix oncoming problems (just as it is important that plumbers fix antiquated pipes), but the use of their time is a cost, not a benefit.

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Wait and See? But Won’t the Producers Be Angry? Said Ken Bode (Washington Week in Review): “We’re going to skip [this week on WWIR] the possibility of Monica Lewinsky testifying at Linda Tripp’s trial and–blah, blah, blah–for this week, and I think our viewers probably will be happy to hear that we are going to skip it. We’ll see if it happens.”

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Good Point:This Week’s round table signs off by predicting the outcome of Sunday’s World Cup final. Only Donaldson was right (France won), but Kristol admits he picked Brazil just because the French would be insufferable if they won.

But Which Lady Republican? Mark Shields (Capital Gang) reports: “One lady Republican said to me this week, ‘If Ken Starr and Rudy Giuliani switch places, the murder rate in New York City would triple and Bill Clinton would be indicted.’ ” On NewsHour he relates another borrowed quip (from Morris Udall): “When Democrats form a firing squad, they form a circle.”

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Margaret Carlson Admits to Beating Drug-Addicted Wife! In a discussion on the effectiveness of anti-drug ads, Carlson (Capital Gang) says, “I have not used any drugs since I saw that frying pan ad.” (Later during the show she proposes to pay Robert Novak $1 per minute to keep his yap shut. Both Al Hunt and Shields chip in. But can these three compete with CNN’s deep pockets?)

McGrory Chimes in: Mary McGrory (Meet the Press) on a Time journalist who once covered the president and recently gave an interview discussing a shared but unconsummated moment with him–”[Journalists] are supposed to talk about news, not things that didn’t happen. I mean we have enough with completed passes, we don’t need to go into incomplete passes.”

Bruce Gottlieb

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