Update 9:00 PM
A Punditwatch Conversation
Thanks for the invitation, Will.
I was sorry to see the major pundits ignore my favorite news story of the week, the Barclay's Capital $62,700 Wine Blowout, though I saw some comment elsewhere suggesting it was a kind of last gasp of 1990's-style capitalist self-indulgent etc. etc. I fully expect the Wall Street Journal
to do an Op-Ed next week linking this scandal to Bill Clinton. But to me there was something odd about this story about five investment bankers ordering a celebratory dinner in a London restaurant and running up a Lexus-sized tab just for the wine (the restaurant's management, no fools they, comped the food). The Wine Spectator
(who else?) confirms my suspicions -- the investment bankers got ripped off. Typical restaurant mark-up for wines is about 100% over the retail price. In luxury restaurants it's more, but not over 500% (!), which is what the money experts from Barclay's Capital paid. They could have gone to a wine auction and gotten the same wine for around $12,000, suggesting that what they really ended up getting fired for was incompetence.
Hunt and Broder are right about the House surrender to the broadcasters. The networks and especially the local broadcasters do give up something in the final campaign finance reform bill -- without the parties buying attack ads with soft money, the cost of air time for the candidate's own ads should be less than it would otherwise. But, because the House deleted the "best customer" provision, broadcasters will still be able to make use of public airways to charge a premium for political speech. Funny how George Will has nothing to say about that!
The really offensive thing, though, is that the broadcast pundits you cover have nothing to say about a provision that directly impacts on their employers' bottom lines. I wonder whether Russert and Donaldson get actual instructions to steer clear of subjects like this, or are simply savvy enough to know when self-censorship is called for.
If network pundits are practicing self-censorship on this issue they would not be the only ones. Did you wonder about the frantic tone of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's statements against Shays-Meehan, or if this one piece of legislation really represented "Armageddon" for the Republican Party? One explanation, of course, is that Hastert and the House Republican leadership are champions of the First Amendment. Dick Morris
, writing in The Hill
, has another:
"... why is the GOP so worried about the impact of campaign finance reform?
Because its consultants have sold it a bill of goods. They have all figured out that their 15 percent commissions on their candidate media buys will be larger the more a candidate spends. So, like choice real estate, they bid up the price of races in swing districts and states. Ever inventive in ways to spend money, they have convinced their party leaders of the importance of soft money. But it isn’t true.
I have no difficulty believing Dennis Hastert accepts at face value everything his political consultants tell him. I wonder about other senior Republicans on the Hill, though. They know the GOP has had campaign finance rules pretty much the way they have wanted them for years, and also know that the Republicans have lost ground in Congress in every election since 1994. If Florida had had its election law and voting machinery in order in 2000, the GOP would have lost the Presidential race, too. It looks to this guy sitting in Wisconsin as if raising all this money is more important to the GOP's consultants than the Party they work for. Maybe Republicans in House know better, or maybe they just really enjoy fundraising receptions.
I don't have a lot to add about Daniel Pearl. I can understand journalists, especially Jewish ones, feeling special pain over this sad story. I did note that Pearl's wife, in an interview on CNN, mentioned the ten Americans who died in a helicopter accident while on an anti-terrorist mission in the Philippines shortly before her husband's murder was announced. I regret that this is something no print pundit saw fit to do.
Cheers to the End of an Era, Joe!
Joe, I know the Wall Street Journal
has made some pretty tenuous connections regarding Clinton, but I think they'll steer clear of implicating him in "Winegate." I suspect that quiet little dinner was a variation on the "last gasp blow-out" theme. I imagine the lead executive raising his glass in a bitter toast: "To Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and Andy Fastow, the bastards." I hope these guys know more about deriviatives than they do about wine prices.
You raise some interesting points about the seamy side of the campaign finance reform debate--the broadcasters' sweetheart deal and the disingenuous arguments of the consultants. Of course, whenever one looks at the seamy side of politics, Dick Morris pops up, but thankfully he's exposing the seamy these days, not practicing it. I hear you taking shots at Hastert and the Republicans for being in thrall to the consultants, but isn't the Hastert "Armaggedon" rhetoric more a sop to the NRA and other Republican-leaning groups? They oppose campaign finance reform vehemently--always have--and Republicans going "wobbly" in opposition might have to pay the biggest price in politics these days--a primary opponent. Let's say campaign finance reform passes and is signed by President Bush, taking effect after November 6th. Will the 2002 elections be the soft money equivalent of the Barclay's wine bash?
The crash of the helicopter in the Phillipines got very little attention, with or without its unfortunate convergence with Daniel Pearl's death. Only Nicholas Kristof has written much about the Phillipine operation and he's very critical. Have you taken a position?
I'm interested in your early handicapping of the Democratic presidential hopeful field. It's way too early, but if George Will can do it, you can, too.
Handicapping With the Hunch-O-Meter In Reserve
Will, I'll take your last question first. What does a Democrat need to do in order to get the 2004 Presidential nomination?
Before tackling this, let's address the obvious. No Democrat can win against a Republican President with approval numbers where Bush's are now, and no Democrat can drive those numbers down himself. Something independent of the campaign will have to do that, and whatever that something is -- a prolonged recession, a natural or terrorist disaster badly handled by the administration, a Bush decision not to seek reelection -- will become the focus of the campaign. So, all we can do is look at strategies for capturing the nomination.
I see three models. First, the Mondale Model: assemble funding and endorsements from a plurality of Democratic constituency groups and key your public statements to what these groups want. Second, the Carter/Clinton model: adopt a campaign tone somewhat more moderate than other Democratic candidates do, and depend heavily on the appeal of novelty to primary voters looking for a new face. Third, the Stevenson Model: count on the Party's gratitude for services performed in the past.
The only candidate to adopt the Stevenson Model would be Al Gore; I doubt gratitude is the first word most Democrats think of in connection with his name, so let's forget about that. That leaves the Mondale and Carter/Clinton Models, both of which I can see being used. Assembling support from established interest groups is probably easiest to do for a candidate based in Washington; it's much easier to run as a "fresh face" if you have your own base independent of the interest groups, which Governors do and Senators, typically, don't.
This theorizing doesn't really answer your question, Will, does it? Kerry, Edwards, Davis (really? If he's reelected this fall in California, yes), Lieberman, Gephardt, Daschle -- who knows? They look like so many peas in a pod to me and most other people outside the Beltway, and that is the single biggest problem each of them have. It's not just that they are very close on most major issues. They also use very nearly identical language -- pedestrian, forgettable language at that -- while giving the impression that they have chosen their words very carefully not to offend anyone who might agree with them on anything. People looking for a reason to choose one of these men over the others will have to look pretty hard.
Want two names who may wind up in the 2004 mix? Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia and Gov. Paul Patton of Kentucky (Patton will be an ex-Governor in 2004). These are products of my personal hunch-o-meter, nothing else; Patton will be 65 this year and Barnes won't admit to Presidential ambitions before he is reelected this fall. If no one else steps forward as a fresh face independent of the Washington interest groups, either of these men would do well.
Have I taken a position on the Philippines? I'm for them!
Seriously, I admire Kristof for being one of the few pundits to go out and do some reporting. His NYT columns have stimulated one of the concerns I have about the war on terrorism -- that while the administration is figuring out what to do about hard cases like Iraq, Pakistan and so forth it will go forward in less urgent theaters just to maintain momentum. This could lead to trouble. Did you notice, by the way, the vast gap in the quality of Kristof's commentary on the Philippines and on North Korea? The one place he visited himself; on the other he's just repeating what he's heard other people say.
Last point: the NRA packs a wallop at election time because of its large membership. That membership cares about guns, gun rights, and gun regs. Other interest groups with large memberships are similarly if not always so intensely focused. It is the leadership of these organizations, mostly based in Washington, who care about campaign finance. They want to be Players in the Party, and throwing campaign money around is what Players in the Party do. To answer your question, Will, I think Speaker Hastert sincerely believes that campaign finance reform will be a catastrophe for the Republicans. His political consultants have told him so. After it becomes law they will find ways to live with it, and his position will change.
Bob Keller wrote: "...a slab of pork fat on buttered bread is considered the ideal accompaniment to a jolt of vodka." Yikes. I would have thought it was the other way around. A truly revolutionary idea for Russia: green salad! I mean that in the most culturally sensitive and respectful way. No implication that Russian complaining over Olympic rules and referees had anything to do with the Russian diet was intended, at all. I mean it.
Long Shots and Longer Shots
It's a good thing for Democrats that they don't have to choose a nominee until 2004. At this stage, none of them probably strikes fear in the heart of the White House. Bill Clinton won the nomination in 1992 because some of the biggest names declined to run against a seemingly strong President Bush 41. I don't think very many of these hopefuls will make that mistake. Who can raise enough money to be competitive in some key front-loaded primary states will probably be critical Gore, Lieberman, Daschle, Gephardt, Edwards, Davis, and Kerry/Kerrey all would seem to have strong fund-raising capability. It's hard to imagine any of them having a large edge right now--it's a classic beauty pagent situation. Watch for Gore, if he runs, to try to do something early to set his "old self" aside and set himself apart from the others.
Governor Patton has appeared on NPR several times. He strikes me as solid and competent, but unexciting. Governor Barnes, if he is of the Zell Miller school, would seem to have a Southern Strategy option. I've heard that Governor Howard Dean of Vermont is thinking of running. Dean is a doctor, I believe, and we perennially think health care will be the
cutting edge issue, giving a doctor a supposed advantage. He's liberal and from the Northeast, so he might have a shot in the early going. My decrepit hunch-o-meter says that Democrats might look for a face even fresher than Senator Edwards--perhaps someone from the private sector. Only Robert Rubin comes to mind, but the Mark Warner story here in Virginia has some appeal--the Democratic businessman, "fiscally conservative" but socially liberal, coming in like a white knight to clean up a Republican "mess."
If I were betting on a doctor, it might be Senator Bill Frist as Bush's running mate in 2004.
One last question on campaign finance reform. Our friend Tony thinks President Bush should veto campaign finance reform if he believes it "unconstitutional." Profile in courage or height of stupidity if he did?
You haven't mentioned Paul Krugman. Have you been following his travails, or what his detractors hope are his travails? Of all the pundits I cover, he strikes me as the most arrogant and predictable.
Great Minds Think Alike - Even For Different Reasons
is the same as your's, Will! I laughed uncotrolably at Michael Kelly's latest
. That's about all the column was good for.
Look, there have been some people who have been critical of Bush for no other reason that they despise Bush. But, Kelly's rant against Carter is just as bad. I think Carter's criticism was valid, and the only way that Kelly can attack it is by launching an ad hominem
attack in the first intance, then linking the comments to similarly held opinions expressed by the people above.
Yes, ad hominem
, - he called Carter "incompetent"! Carter may have been ineffective, but that had nothing to do with incompetence. Everybody points to Carter's "failure" in the Hostage Crisis
- what would they have had him do? Should he have done what Reagan did
. At least Carter did try -- ineffectively -- to rescue the hostages in Iran, Mr. Reagan merely contributed to the functioning of a "hostage bazzar."
In fact, Carter wasn't even totally ineffective in foreign policy. What about Carter's success at something that no other president
has been able to do - broker a lasting peace between an Arab nation and Israel.
As for giving "succor to 'the hard-liners'", there's a valid case to be made. The hard liners that I'm concerned about vis a vis this administration's policy are the hard-liners amongst our allies
. Look at the pass that Putin and China are getting in their struggles against "terrorism."
Oh, but it's just too easy to right [I mean "write" - so my bias shows through a Freudian slip] off any criticism of Mr. Bush as "nattering" (I was slightly disappointed that "nabob" and "negativity" didn't appear in the same head...)
Joe, I'm not sure that I agree with you about the Philiipines. Some may see the campaign in that theatre as "less urgent", but my experience in the PI informs an opinion that action is long overdue
. We haven't been able to act up til now because of domestic political considerations (in the PI and here), and diplomatic considerations (between DC and Manila). Now that conditions are permissive -- despite grumblings in the Filipino legislature -- it would be a real failure
to not do what needs to be done there. .
Adragna in '04