Today's Papers

Yasser, Don’t Mean Maybe

The New York Times leads with the “end-of-the-real-millennium blizzard,” which yesterday provided New Yorkers with a white New Year’s Eve Eve, blanketing the East Coast with up to two feet of snow. The top nonweather story at the NYT is the precarious status of Clinton’s Middle East proposal, to which neither side has officially responded. The Washington Post tops its front with a Clinton retrospective and frames the divisive effect of Bush’s Cabinet picks for the lead national news story. Leading with a news analysis of California Gov. Gray Davis’ role in the California energy crisis, the Los Angeles Times explains how Davis was constrained by the deregulating that predated his time in office and rebuffed by the autonomous Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. With no clear course of action available, the “risk-averse” governor failed to take the initiative in the crisis and now looks bad for it.

The WP headline (“BUSH’S CHOICES DEFY TALK OF CONCILIATION”) suggests a level of hypocrisy the story can’t substantiate–it turns out that most of the “talk of conciliation” came from pundits and not Bush–and, in so doing, engages in the kind of analysis perhaps better suited to an editorial. Still, the WP makes a strong case that picks like John Ashcroft and Tommy Thompson have left conservatives (e.g., Jerry Falwell) tickled pink and Democrats feeling betrayed, thereby contradicting Bush’s vision of himself as “elected to serve not one party but one nation.” The article relies heavily on anonymous Bush advisers to explain the principled rationale behind the Cabinet’s conservative bent: Bush prefers a coherent platform to a fragmented approach. Later, the story confuses matters a bit by floating anew the possibility that Bush may place a Democrat in a senior advisery position such as UN ambassador and grant him/her Cabinet status. Interestingly, the WP subheadline removes the equivocal wording of yesterday’s similarly themed WP look at the Bush Cabinet (“diverse in background if not ideology”), today declaring  Bush’s “Cabinet is diverse but not politically.” But the NYT doesn’t seem to agree. The Bush administration “intends to submerge ideology in the name of efficiency” asserts the NYT article, which emphasizes the experience of a Bush Cabinet filled with “pragmatic conservatives” and more chief executives than any administration in history. The NYT goes on to assert that with a Cabinet of “nine home run hitters and no outfielders,” Bush must somehow find a way of adjudicating between advisers accustomed to having the final word.

Both the NYT and LAT front reports on the latest rhetoric spawned by Clinton’s plan for Middle East peace. Yesterday, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah political faction issued a statement demanding “total rejection of the American ideas, which are originally an Israeli plan for a settlement that aims to cancel our national rights based on international law.” None of the stories attempt to explain to what degree “Yasser Arafat’s Fatah political faction” speaks for Yasser Arafat or, indeed, for the Palestinians. The LAT emphasizes that despite widespread international support for the plan and the tentative acquiescence of Ehud Barak (whom the NYT claims might yet renege), Arafat remains under intense internal pressure to refuse, even if that leaves him sitting across a negotiating table from Barak’s hawkish political adversary, Ariel Sharon, who is heavily favored in the upcoming special election for prime minister. The NYT explains that the putative grievance for Palestinians centers on the millions of refugees who fled Israel since the nation declared its independence in 1948 and are attempting to invoke the “right of return” granted them by a UN resolution of the same year. A strongly worded WP editorial urges Arafat to accept Clinton’s plan, arguing that the proposal’s compromises acknowledge “objective realities” guaranteeing that “the deal will not get better with time.” Yesterday’s Fatah statement categorically rebuffed this logic in declaring “the continued intifada is the only way, the only method of achieving independence.”

“For 17 days, we will rule the world,” Maryland Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski kids the LAT, making reference to the small window between Jan. 3 and Jan. 20 in which the Senate will be split 50-50, with the deciding will cast by a soon-to-depart Al Gore.  The LAT reports that though Democrats won’t introduce anything too radical (they still lack the 60 votes needed to override a filibuster, after all), they may use the window to introduce Democratic-friendly bills in areas such as “campaign-finance reform, education reform, tax cuts, and health care coverage under medicare.” The story goes on to suggest that the Senate may early on cast off the cloak of bipartisanship as the two parties wrestle for procedural control of the evenly split chamber with little historical precedence to serve as referee.

According to the first of the WP’s five-part retrospective on the Clinton residency, no previous occupant of the White House has ever treated poll data with the “hypnotic intensity” of William Jefferson Clinton. Reeling from the 1994 midterm election debacle, President Clinton insisted that all major policy decisions take into account prevailing public sentiment. Tepid public support did not always doom an initiative–neither the bailout of Mexico nor intervention in the Balkans were aimed at the public’s erogenous zone–but, says the story, never before had public policy and opinion been so mechanistically intertwined. The point-man behind Clinton’s polling operation was survey researcher Mark J. Penn, who pored over data for the all-important “swing voters” and urged the president to tone down his populist rhetoric in favor of a centrist agenda. Penn offered the same counsel to the campaigns of both the first lady and vice president, but only the former took his advice.

Those with dashed New Year’s plans might take solace that their plight is shared by the beloved mascot of the Rose Bowl-bound Purdue Boilermakers. The WP reports that the untraditional mascot– a working 5-ton replica of a 19th-century locomotive known as “Boilermaker Special V”–was painstakingly driven from Indiana all the way to Pasadena only to be denied its place in the festivities. Unmoved by the pleas of Purdue faithful, a Rose Bowl spokesman played the role of trendy nightclub bouncer, barring access for reasons of fashion, appearance, and space economy: “It’s not covered in flowers so it can’t be in the Rose Parade. And it’s too big for the Rose Bowl.”