AWOL O’Neill Surrenders to PunditsThere was something surreal about Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s three appearances (Meet the Press, Fox News Sunday, and Face the Nation) on the Sunday talk shows. O’Neill, long ago written off by the pundits as an Administration non-entity, was brought in to respond to criticism that he has been, well, a non-entity during the recent corporate scandals and stock market collapse.
The Treasury Secretary defended himself from charges that he had been AWOL, touring former Soviet Republics, when he should have been at the domestic economic helm. He was doing important "national security work" on those trips.
O’Neill’s twin appearances on MTP and Fox validated everyone who sees bias, one way or another, on the part of networks. On MTP, host Tim Russert showed examples of O’Neill stock market pronouncements that have proven terribly wrong. On Fox, guest host Brit Hume showed examples of O’Neill prescience on economic growth. Russert focused relentlessly on calls for O’Neill’s resignation; Hume pursued a variety of economic condition questions.
Through it all, O’Neill stressed that the “fundamentals” were sound and that he was going to keep working on the “fundamentals,” not serving as a “horse whisperer” for the stock market. He also attempted to tie the dramatic rescue of those Pennsylvania coal miners, reported on all the Sunday shows, with those “sound fundamentals.”
Former speechwriter, now New York Times columnist William Safire was critical of the expression “the economy is fundamentally sound,” as used by O’Neill and President Bush. Appearing on MTP after O’Neill and reacting to comparisons of Bush with Herbert Hoover, Safire said, “If I was writing speeches for President Bush, I would say ‘the economy is fundamentally noisy.’”
Lawrence Lindsey mopped up for the Administration on economic matters, appearing on This Week and using the same formulation of “sound fundamentals.”
The best non-economic segment of the weekend was on Fox, with the panel discussing a Sunday New York Times editorial that called on Colin Powell to “throw a tantrum or two” to get his way on Administration foreign policy. “The whole idea that Colin Powell would throw a tantrum, that is so ludicrous, so outrageous,” scoffed Morton Kondracke of Roll Call. The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol also called it ludicrous, but went further:
There is something offensive and condescending about it. Colin Powell knows what he’s doing. If he wants to resign, he can do it. Colin Powell needs advice from a bunch of people sitting on West 43rd Street? Colin Powell is not a New York Times liberal.
Kristol claimed that any Powell resignation would be a two-day story, with Condi Rice nominated to replace him and confirmed almost immediately. The rest of the Fox panel disputed the length of the “hubbub” that would ensue from Colin Powell leaving.
I’ve been expecting the President to come out with a speech with the words “the era of big business is over.’ --E. J. Dionne, Jr., Washington Post columnist, on NPR
Lay Off the Sheep, Mark
Last week, Mark Shields accused SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt with having the strength of a “sedated sheep.” This week, he accused the Democrats of having the “combativeness of sedated sheep.”
Quip of the Week
Tim Russert asked William Safire, NYT columnist and former Nixon speechwriter, if the Nixon White House ever feared that Watergate would affect the 1972 election.
No, that election was in the bag, to use the wrong phrase.
Reactions to the Corporate Governance Bill
Al Hunt: This is a good bill. It won't be a panacea, but it's a good start.
Bob Novak: This bill is a dog. This bill is a clinker. I just hope that the economy is strong enough to withstand it.
Kate O’Bierne: We know that this bill's going to have unintended consequences. And those of us who are not at all sure the remedy is further regulation think instead what Congress might have risked doing here is criminalizing risk-taking, which is not good for corporate growth.
Bill Kristol: If you’re an incumbent, Republican or Democrat, you can feel pretty good about what you can go to the voters with.
Dinner With Al
Bob Schieffer, on FTN, asked Senator Joe Lieberman about his recent dinner with Al Gore. Lieberman gave a cagey response when asked about Gore’s intentions for 2002: “The former vice-president is undecided. The sooner he decides, the happier I’ll be.”
Introduction of the Week
Susan Stamberg, NPR: Time to visit with our gurus of gravitas, [E. J. Dionne and David Brooks].
David Brooks: I thought we were ‘poseurs of gravitas.’
The House of Representatives will change hands. The Senate will change hands. –William Safire
Lamar [Alexander] by a nose in the Senate [primary] race. In the gubernatorial race, Van Hillary probably will win fairly comfortably in the Republican primary. The former mayor of Nashville, Phil Bettison, will probably win fairly even more comfortably in the Democratic primary. Bob Clement by a nose, or just a whisker, maybe [in November].
-- Tom Humphrey, Knoxville News Sentinel, talking about Tennessee politics on Capital Gang
Unasked Question of the Week
Tim Russert showed Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill a quote critical of the administration from former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, and Fox’s Brit Hume mentioned Bob Rubin during his O’Neill interview. Both missed an opportunity to ask O’Neill if Rubin should testify before the Senate. Bob Novak probably wouldn’t have been surprised, having said the day before, on Capital Gang,
Congress is rough on corporate executives these days, especially Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, who chairs the Senate investigation. But one executive is exempt, Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton's revered secretary of the Treasury, who now heads Citigroup's executive committee. Citigroup was Enron's largest creditor, and it's accused by Senator Levin's own investigators of helping to hide Enron debt.
Besides that, Mr. Rubin telephoned the Treasury seeking intervention to support Enron's credit rating. But Robert Rubin is a Democratic icon, and Senator Levin will not call him before his committee.
O’Neill did get a slight dig in at Rubin, claiming on MTP that Rubin’s remarks were made in Singapore, where Citigroup was losing $50 million.
Harken and Halliburton Aren’t the Democratic Hope
David Brooks, who last week said a loss of 30-40 Republican seats in November was “not implausible,” was critical of the Democrats using the personal "scandals" of Bush and Cheney as a strategy:
Having watched the Republicans try to get the country to hate Bill Clinton, I can tell you, it ain't going to work. The American people are not going to hate Dick Cheney; they're not going to hate George Bush. It seems to me the vulnerability the Republicans have, and I'm a pessimist about Republicans fortunes, is they do not have the answer to the question, which people are going to start to ask in November, which is what are you going to do to make me feel secure? I don't think it's the scandals.
The Rehab Continues
Historian and plagiarist Doris Kearns-Goodwin got a rare media booking from old pal Tim Russert on Meet the Press. When will PBS relent?