Pundit Central

Sunday Morning With God and Joe

Issue 1 is George W. Bush’s negative campaign ad and Al Gore’s continued strength in the polls. Issue 2 is the propriety of Joe Lieberman’s religious rhetoric on the campaign trail.

All the Sunday shows refer to a new Newsweek poll  placing Gore 10 points ahead of Bush. Most pundits call this lead exaggerated, but several note that Gore is pulling ahead in swing states. Bill Kristol (NBC’s Meet the Press) remarks that Bush is down three points in Michigan–this despite the seven-point lead of Michigan’s one-term GOP senator, Spencer Abraham, who is running for re-election. Susan Page (CNN’s Late Edition) says that Gore now has a confortable lead in Pennsylvania–a state with a GOP governor and two GOP senators.

What accounts for Gore’s continued surge? Several pundits point to the Lieberman pick, and Derek McGinty (ABC’s This Week) argues that Gore’s convention speech removed Bill Clinton’s shadow. Liberals, such as David Broder (MTP) and Margaret Carlson (CNN’s Capital Gang), say that Gore has transformed the campaign into one about issues, where Democrats have the advantage. Conservatives retort that Bush can win on issues, too: Kristol points out that more Americans agree with Bush than with Gore on partial-birth abortion, and Kate O’Beirne (CG) thinks that Bush should be able to take the lead on education and prescription drugs.

A few pundits, such as Margaret Carlson and Michel Martin ( Washington Week in Review), think Bush was wrong to sling mud in a new attack ad (in which an off-screen announcer mocks Gore’s public faux pas, like claiming to have fostered the Internet’s development). But most liberal and conservative commentators–such as Broder, Bob Novak (CG), Tom Oliphant (PBS’s NewsHour With Jim Lehrer), and Paul Gigot (NH)–think the ad was not wrong, just ineffective–a juvenile slam at Gore’s character. Instead, they say, Bush should have deconstructed Gore’s policy rhetoric. (Kristol, however, thinks that the character issue can work for Bush as long as he links it to specific conduct and focuses on Clinton rather than Gore.) McGinty and Susan Page (LE) think the cheap sarcasm in the spot reflects the panic of the Bush campaign. (Slate’s William Saletan and Jacob Weisberg dissect Bush’s ad here.)

Several shows chat about the Anti-Defamation League’s charge that Joe Lieberman’s religious rhetoric is un-American. Pundits fall into three camps: 1) Ultimately we should judge Lieberman on the political positions he takes; when he explains the religious motivation behind his politics, he is being honest, not anti-democratic. (These include Gigot; Oliphant; Martin; Margaret Carlson; Al Hunt, CG; and Bruce Morton, LE.) 2) Discussing religion in general is OK, but equating morality with religious belief defames nonbelievers. (McGinty; Steve Roberts, WWIR; and Douglas Brinkley, CBS’s Face the Nation.) 3) Discussing religion in public is great, but Lieberman is a hypocrite for taking anti-religious positions on gay rights, abortion, etc. (O’Beirne; George F. Will, TW; and Jerry Falwell, FTN.) (To read Slate’s Bruce Gottlieb on why Lieberman’s God-talk is insulting and wrong, click here; to read an “Assessment” of historian Douglas Brinkley, click here; to read Culturebox on what Jews think about abortion, click here.)

Whose Conflict of Interest?

Several programs note that Dick Cheney gave up $3.7 million in Halliburton stock options to prevent a conflict of interest if elected vice president. Cheney did this after weeks of media criticism, and the punditocracy seems to think him stupid for having tried to keep the options despite Washington’s disapproval. But wait–why couldn’t Cheney keep his options until after the election, then discard them if he is in fact elected? For that matter, why couldn’t Cheney keep the options and rig them so that he would have no interest in Halliburton’s stock price (as Cheney had intended on doing)? Because, the media insists, Cheney has to avoid the “appearance of impropriety.” (Never mind the reality.) But on MTP, Tim Russert brings up a genuine conflict of interest–on the Democratic ticket: Joe Lieberman’s plan to run simultaneously for the vice presidency and for re-election to his Connecticut Senate seat. As Russert notes, if Lieberman is elected VP, Connecticut’s Republican governor will appoint Lieberman’s replacement. With control of the Senate up for grabs, Lieberman’s strategy clearly puts his own interest in political power above his party’s. When Russert asks the Democrats’ overseer of Senate races, New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli, about this contradiction, Torricelli wags, “This is proof that these shows always run one question too long.” Russert notes that Lieberman has until Oct. 27 to pull out of the Senate race and asks Torricelli if he should. Toricelli answers tactly, “From my perspective, yes.”

Last Words

Our kids are not really being overcome by piety. [Religion in politics] is not the major problem in American life right now.
–Bill Bennett (FTN)
[The presidency] is a bully pulpit, but certainly it’s not a pulpit.
–Abe Foxman, ADL president (FTN)