Pundit Central

The Blame Game

War in the Balkans is back in the Issue 1 slot. The massacre at Columbine checks in at Issue 2.

Bob Novak (CNN’s Capital Gang) continues to depict NATO’s air war as a “disaster” and Michael Duffy (PBS’s Washington Week in Review) reports that the overall military picture for the alliance is “not…great.” But this week most pundits back away from their usual complaints about NATO air strikes and instead criticize two recent entrants into the Balkans political fray: Jesse Jackson and House Republicans.

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Jackson first: Pundits are pleased that the three American soldiers are coming home; and a few Sunday savants–Novak, George Stephanopoulos, and Sam Donaldson (ABC’s This Week)–hail the Reverend for securing the release of the POWs. But the bulk of the commentariat accuses Jackson of meeting with a vicious war criminal. Steve Roberts (CNN’s Late Edition), Bill Kristol, and George Will (This Week) call the meeting a foolish move that has only helped Milosevic soften his image as a ethnic cleansing brute. Kristol says that Jackson likes to meet with evil dictators and Will wonders how a great nation can get so worked up over three POWs.

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The opinion mafia reserves its most biting remarks for Republican House members, who earlier this week voted down a resolution supporting NATO’s air war. Al Hunt and Margaret Carlson (CNN’s Capital Gang) depict Republicans as crass political opportunists eager to advance their narrow political agenda. Paul Gigot (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) denounces GOP doves for failing to offer a constructive alternative to Clinton’s no-win military strategy. Will thinks Congress has disgraced itself, and Mark Shields (NewsHour) complains that this is impeachment all over again.

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On the other big-pundit issue–the Littleton killings–the commentariat has several theories about why kids kill kids. Not all pundits blame the massacre on the entertainment industry: Steve Roberts argues that part of the problem is parents not spending enough time at home, while Kristol is one of a few pundits who blame the violence on America’s secular culture. Yet most of the self-styled psychologists, surgeon generals, and policy experts fault a national culture that encourages youth violence and permits easy access to firearms. Stephanopoulos suggests that we prevent kids from buying violent video games, while Dave Grossman (NBC’s Meet the Press), a retired military officer, says that Doom and other such games are vicious wares that instruct children in the art of killing.

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Pundits have a better idea of what to do about handguns: Restrict them. But a few contrarians warn that new gun laws are unlikely to save many lives: Paula Dwyer (Washington Week in Review), for one, does not put much stock in Clinton’s anti-crime package, and Susan Page (Late Edition) is humble enough to admit that neither she nor anyone else seems to know exactly what causes kids to go on killing sprees. Bob Schieffer (CBS’s Face the Nation), finally, is pleased this week because instead of talking about bad kids like Eric Harris, he gets to discuss good ones the American POWs, who he says are heroes.

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A Handgun in Every Trench Coat: Last week George Will suggested that school uniforms may help prevent school violence. This week he expands on his anti-crime package, predicting that a ban on handguns will result in more crimes: Citizens won’t be able to defend themselves. NRA President Charlton Heston (This Week) offers another reason for keeping guns in America: Dictators, he reminds viewers, always come to power by confiscating people’s guns. It’ll be like the O.K. Corral, quips Cokie Roberts (This Week).

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Can’t Live With Him, Can’t Live Without Him: When Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House, pundits had a field day attacking the conservative firebrand for any number of political offenses. But now pundits seem almost wistful for the good old days of Gingrich. It’s too bad, says Susan Page, that Gingrich is no longer in the House. He would have backed Clinton on the Balkans: He’s a real internationalist! laments Page.

I’ll Take My Stand: Pundits are fond of attacking Clinton for holding few convictions, for saying one thing and then doing another–for trying, in effect, to have things both ways. Al Hunt says he’s delighted for the families of the American POWs but regrets to say that the mission that freed the soldiers was “ill-advised” and “foolish.”

–Matthew Dallek

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