Pundit Central

Death and Taxes

Issue 1 is the funeral and legacy of John Kennedy Jr. Issue 2 is tax cuts. Other issues: various Gore campaign blunders and the Reform Party leadership convention (really just another excuse to interview Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura).

If JFK Jr.’s death was uncontroversial last week, it’s doubly so this week. Many pundits–Al Hunt (CNN’s Capitol Gang), Steve Roberts and Susan Page (CNN’s Late Edition), and Juan Williams (Fox News Sunday)–praise Senator Kennedy’s eulogy for his nephew and remark that Uncle Ted has finally emerged as a worthy family patriarch. Roberts says that although Teddy is often considered the lesser of the Kennedy brothers, he is actually a much better legislator than either John Sr. or Robert was. Mild criticisms come from Capitol Gang’s Robert Novak, who says Kennedy was a “celebrity, not a public figure,” and from Late Edition’s Tucker Carlson, who says media overkill has given the story a cynical edge. Most shows run more pictures of President Jack frolicking with John-John. A few pundits, such as Fox News Sunday’s Fred Barnes, make an issue of President Clinton’s assertion (later proven false) that he was the first president to invite JFK Jr. back to the White House.

The House passage of an over $700 billion tax cut takes up most of the pundits’ time. Almost all agree that it was a crucial victory for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (Bill Kristol, of ABC’s This Week, pronounces it the “end” of “the Gingrich era”). Nobody gives the House bill a chance of becoming law, but many–such as Mark Shields and Paul Gigot of PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer–think it marks the emergence of tax cuts as a major campaign issue. Both Shields and Gigot agree that tax cuts are less popular in an age of prosperity than they were in the early Reagan era, and Capitol Gang’s Al Hunt argues that the GOP plan gives too many breaks to the very wealthy.

On Capitol Gang, the Ways and Means Committee’s Bill Thomas, R-Cal., calls the GOP tax cut figure a negotiating position with which Clinton “will engage.” Later, on Fox News Sunday, a Clinton economic adviser, Gene Sperling, announces that Clinton will veto not only the current House bill but also a $500 billion compromise plan put forth by Senate Democrats–suggesting Clinton will not engage with the House. (Late Edition incorporates this news into its discussion of tax cuts.)

Discussion of the Reform Party focuses less on the party itself than on cult-of-personality Jesse Ventura. After professing he doesn’t have access to federal budget figures, Ventura tells Fox News Sunday and NBC’s Meet the Press that he thinks the GOP should cut $700 billion over five years, not ten. On Fox News Sunday he invites John McCain to run for president as a Reform Party candidate.

Many pundits pick on Gore’s canoeing misadventure in New Hampshire, in which local authorities dumped seven million gallons of water into a dried-out-riverbed for a Gore photo-op (unbenownst to the Gore campaign). His campaign has become “Murphy’s Law in motion” says This Week’s George Stephanopoulos.

Casting Stones. When Representative Bill Thomas tells Capitol Gang pundits that Republican apostate Michael Forbes, D-N.Y., switched parties just to get media attention, Mark Shields says, “Let’s not pretend that altruism is an operative principle in politics all of a sudden, Bill. You’re not a virgin.”

Tanned, Rested, and Ready? When Fox News Sunday’s Tony Snow asks Ventura whether he will run for president in 2004, Ventura replies that he might, “or I could be a beach bum … throw away my watch, just know that when the sun comes up you get up, when it’s straight overhead you eat lunch, and when it goes down you go to bed.”