Today's Papers

Stating His Case

Yesterday’s All Clinton All the Time extravaganza leads all the majors. The New York Times and USA Today run banners focusing on President Clinton’s SOTU pitch to save Social Security by investing some of the budget surplus on its behalf in the stock market and also to use some of it to subsidize a new system of individual retirement accounts. The Washington Post doesn’t use a banner, but instead runs separate headlines over its Social Security lead and first-day-of-Clinton’s-defense impeachment off-lead. But the Los Angeles Times uses a banner that says it all: “Clinton Sets Out Vision; Defense Opens.” The defense, conducted by White House counsel Charles Ruff, even though basically foot-stomping, and punctuated by a too-exquisitely timed choke-up evocation by Ruff of his late father on Omaha Beach, gets good reviews.

As all the papers report, the Clinton address was eclectic, including not only the revelation that the federal government has decided to sue tobacco companies to recover cigarette-related health care costs, but also the intent to put 100,000 more teachers in classrooms and to boost defense spending. But the capstone of the speech, say the papers, was Clinton’s proposal to apply the next 15 years’ worth of budget surpluses to Social Security, Medicare and individual retirement accounts. There is much mention of Republican enthusiasm for tax cuts instead, but only the NYT flatly observes that Clinton never explained how he would pay for most of his new ideas, and that some stand little chance of passage.

The WP is good on the particular politics of Clinton’s Social Security proposals, saying that it is classically Clintonesque in that it preserves the program’s size but only by accepting something that was anathema to earlier Democrats–partial privatization.

The LAT focuses the most on the partisan response Clinton received, noting (along with the NYT) that impeachment trial judge Chief Justice Rehnquist didn’t show up, and that six House members and one senator, all Republicans, also stayed away.

The papers contain some interesting thoughts on how Clinton deployed the SOTU in the service of deflecting his impeachment predicament. First off, everybody notices that he didn’t mention the I-word at all. The NYT says that for a month the White House had been leaking various SOTU proposals but held back its Social Security plans and its new tobacco legal strategy to insure that the meat of Clinton’s program, rather than the mounting of his defense before Congress earlier in the day, would drive the coverage. Both the NYT and WP note that the amount of new and substantive policy in the speech was designed to portray a president who intends to stick around.

The LAT says that the speech was in its own way the ultimate impeachment defense: revealing Clinton to be a president focused on the issues people really care about, and hence might help him maintain the strong poll ratings that may be his ultimate lever with the senators sitting in judgment of him.

The LATfronts the International Monetary Fund’s publication of a report stating that the agency “badly misgauged” the Asian financial meltdown. The story is carried inside everywhere else. The report admits that the IMF was slow to see the extent of the banking overhaul required, but also notes that very few others saw things more clearly. But even though many have said that the IMF’s bailout regime of imposing higher interest rates and slashing government spending exacerbated the spin-out in South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia, the report says that its tight money approach was basically right. A Wall Street Journal editorial isn’t convinced, pointing out that just three months ago, the IMF led a $41.5 billion bailout of Brazil, now in deep crisis with a rapidly disintegrating currency.

The NYT, WP and WSJ run inside stories reporting that the federal government decided yesterday that embryonic stem cell research is not ruled out by the ban on federally funded embryo research, because the cells aren’t embryos. They don’t have the capacity to develop into a human being.

The WP fronts the news that for the second time in a week, burglars have broken into the Capitol Hill office of a polling firm working for the Israeli Labor Party leader, stealing sensitive campaign material. A campaign advisor is quoted as saying, “We hereby declare the demise of the coincidence theory.”

The Post’s Michael Kelly goes cutesy today, dedicating his column to the regular broadcasts of what he calls “National Tom Radio,” the daily pronouncements of his 2 ® year-old, in the process probably setting some kind of record for the number of occurrences of the word “mommy” in a Post op-ed piece. Such “domestic bliss” pieces are a sure sign of trouble. For two reasons: 1) When the writer stoops to cover his own family, you can bet he’s stuck for ideas; 2) Unless one’s family is terribly unusual, such efforts violate a great unspoken but true taboo: Other Peoples’ Kids Are Boring. For today at least, Kelly, once a world-class war correspondent, is just the guy sitting next to you in coach who just has to show you pictures of his kid.