Pundit Central

The Not So Secret Service

The Not So Secret Service


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The opinion mafia has eyes for only one issue this weekend: Secret Service testimony. Well, actually they take a moment to discuss the politics of homosexuality too.

No one disputes the legal finding–affirmed by 11 judges and justices–that Secret Service agents cannot refuse to testify before a grand jury. As to the safety of current and future presidents, however, the commentariat is evenly split. Mark Shields (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer), Eleanor Clift, Jay Carney, and Pat Buchanan (The McLaughlin Group) all argue that presidents are imperiled. William Safire (NBC’s Meet the Press), Lawrence Kudlow, John McLaughlin (The McLaughlin Group), and Brit Hume (Fox News Sunday) accept the appeals court’s argument that the Secret Service will not be hampered. Hume suggests the inability to “engage in felonious conduct” in front of agents should not cramp any president’s style. Buchanan and Clift agree–for once–in their prediction that Congress will legislate some form of protection for agents from a compulsion to testify.

And what will the agents have to say? The commentariat cleaves roughly along ideological lines. Safire, Buchanan, Robert Novak (CNN’s Capital Gang), Sam Donaldson (ABC’s This Week), Neil Lewis, and John Harris (PBS’s Washington Week in Review) think the White House’s spirited effort to keep the Secret Service agents away from the grand jury proves that agents will give damaging testimony. Bill Kristol (This Week) thinks the agents might testify that Clinton met with Monica Lewinsky Dec. 28–timing that not only contradicts Clinton’s sworn testimony (that he never met with Lewinsky after Christmas) but suggests they met to discuss legal strategies. Liberals predict the agents’ testimony will prove unimportant. Clift argues that Kenneth Starr already has the Secret Service agents’ logs–their testimony will only be corroborative. Margaret Carlson (Capital Gang) claims sources close to Starr’s office say the agents have nothing damning to relate. Al Hunt (Capital Gang) is sure the agents saw no crimes. It looks like Starr is just on a fishing expedition–he has no solid reason to question the agents–charges Shields.

A number of opinion mafiosi suspect that–since Tripp testified and the Secret Service agents are testifying–we are in the “endgame” of the Clinton-Starr battle. A typical comment is Cokie Roberts’ (This Week): “I think we’re now talking about the endgame. We’re going to get this testimony, get Monica Lewinsky either with immunity or without immunity, and then go to Capitol Hill.” (Question for Roberts: What about Bruce Lindsey?) Pundit Central cautions readers to beware of pundits bearing predictions (especially the prediction that Lewinsky’s testimony is imminent). For example, one month ago Michael Duffy (Washington Week in Review) predicted Lewinsky would testify in “the next couple of weeks” and Tucker Carlson (The McLaughlin Group) said she would testify “very soon.” Three weeks ago Novak (Capital Gang) announced, “this thing is coming to a head,” while David Gergen (The McLaughlin Group) guessed that Lewinsky would testify in two or three weeks.

Recent newspaper advertisements suggesting that homosexuality is a curable disorder are distasteful to most voters, agree almost all the commentariat. Conventional wisdom is that the conservatives who funded the campaign intend to mobilize conservative voters and to raise money for conservative candidates. Kristol notes that the ads are correct in one sense: A small number of people have indeed practiced then left the homosexual lifestyle. Tony Blankley (CNN’s Late Edition) diagnoses this as an instance of the rule that divisive social debate conducted in the political arena will, at some point or another, become ugly. Buchanan (The McLaughlin Group) thinks religion can, in fact, allow many people to resist their homosexual urges.

Render Unto the Representative What Is the Representative’s: On Capital Gang, the discussion turns to Republicans, homosexuality, and the Bible, whereupon host Mark Shields prods guest Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., for his opinion on the moral status of gays. Livingston responds that the Bible and politics should not mix but affirms that the Bible 1) is very old; 2) has been “effective throughout the inception of mankind”; 3) is variously interpreted; and 4) presents a road map to a successful life in America. (Livingston does not seem to notice the obvious conflict between Points 3 and 4, nor the factual difficulties raised by Point 2.) Shields is dumbstruck by Livingston’s slippery deftness but gets off this quip: “I have no idea whose side you’re on or whom you’re defending but I know you just endorsed the New Testament.”

Meta-Meta:Late Edition features a video clip of Susan Page, Blankley, and Steve Roberts giving their thoughts on the Lewinsky scandal just after it had sprung (six months ago, in case you’re counting). Then the three were asked to comment on these past thoughts (none found any errors, of course). As far as Pundit Central knows, this is the first instance of talking heads elevating their own comments to the status of newsworthy chat fodder. This makes Pundit Central quite anxious, since reviewing the commentariat is his job.

But Then Who’s Watching for the English? Steve Roberts (Late Edition), during a discussion of the politics of homosexuality, tells Blankley, “You know and I know that there are letters going out right now by candidates all over the country saying, ‘The gays are coming, the gays are coming. Raise money.’ ” Blankley replies, “And there are fund-raisers going out in other parts of the country to raise money: ‘The conservatives are coming, the conservatives are coming.’ “

Bruce Gottlieb