The politics of a falling Dow dominated the weekend pundit shows.
There were no new corporate scandals reported this past week, so SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt and corporate CEOs were off the hook as punching bags. Pundits turned instead to the political blame game for the Dow’s slide and speculated about its possible effect on the November elections.
Homeland security was a distant second on the pundit radar, with soon-to-be expelled Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio, providing enough comic relief so that Janet Reno’s dance party was ignored.
David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, on The News Hour, spoke most bluntly about what was behind the pundit focus on the Dow:
"Richard Gephardt privately predicted the Democrats could pick up 30 to 40 seats, which would be a Democratic landslide in the fall and suddenly that doesn't look implausible. I don't think it's because of Halliburton and Harken and the corporate scandals. I think it's the Dow. There's a wave of anxiety going across the country."
PBS’s Mara Liasson, on Fox News Sunday, outlined the political strategy:
"One thing the Democrats are counting on is that people are now beginning to draw a straight line between the condition of the stock market and the economy."
Her PBS colleague on Fox, Juan Williams, put the strategy into a sound byte: "It’s time for the politicians and President Bush to stop supporting the big business guys and look out for Main Street."
Numerous market analysts were trotted out to assess future prospects, but optimism was scarce. "It’s always darkest before the dawn … a bottom is very close," said a hopeful Richard Grasso, president of the New York Stock Exchange, on Meet the Press.
"We are looking at 8-10 percent [more] possibly down ... we may just have to live with this," was the cheery judgement of Allen Sinai of Decision Economics, Inc, appearing on Face the Nation.
Neil Cavuto of Fox looked at past history for a bright spot: "When we’ve had sell-offs of this magnitude, the market comes back."
Efforts to address the problem were not particularly popular. Cavuto blamed Congress: "There is a fear that Washington’s overdoing it. I think that’s the reason for the big sell-off."
"Politicians should keep their hands off the technical details, including accounting," cautioned Abby Joseph Cohen of Goldman Sachs, appearing on Face the Nation.
Fox’s Brit Hume spoke for many conservative analysts: "You have this picture of Congress riding to the scene of a house that’s been burned down and deciding when to install smoke detectors."
Most pundits agreed that the homeland security bill would become law very quickly, if only to remove it as a distraction for the fall political campaign. Asked about the impact of the governmental reorganization that he called "like rearranging a bowl of spaghetti," David Brooks said it could be a "fiasco."
On Capital Gang, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Bob Novak and Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal bemoaned the dearth of "colorful" characters like James Traficant in the House, but National Journal’s Kate O’Bierne would have none of it:
"I prefer my congressmen boring to being crooks and liars, which is what we've, of course, known Jim Traficant to be. It's not like he's any great wit. He engages in bathroom humor and people all seem to think that that's endlessly witty. I don't think he'll be missed..."
Mark Shields got off the Quip of the Week, saying of Traficant: "He looks like an eggbeater did his hair."
Presidential hopeful Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., avoided tough questions on Face the Nation by filibustering with a lengthy talking point-laden reply, leaving exasperated host Bob Schieffer to scold, "If we could hold those answers to be a little more concise, please."
Exchange of the Week
Tim Russert and Sen. Dick Armey, R-Texas, got into testy exchanges over the political implications of the Dow’s fall. When Russert showed Armey a New York Times article on fall election prospects, Armey growled, "The New York Times writes their stories for the Democratic Party."
Russert and Armey used music to kiss and make-up after their volatile give and take. They discussed a "Jimmy Buffett for President" sticker on Armey’s truck and the song the retiring Congressman picked to sum up his career: "Old Five and Dimers Like Me" by Billy Joe Shaver.
Not a Trusting Soul
Neil Cavuto on Fox: "I don’t buy [stock market] technicians. I more trust chicken entrails and reading tea leaves than these guys."
Vermont Gov. Howard Dean underwent the "Russert Pre-Presidential Primary" on Meet the Press. A pro-gun, pro-choice, pro-gay rights Democrat, Dean came across as thoughtful, if a bit self-righteous. He called for an aggressive "nation building" foreign policy and claimed that he could provide universal health care, better roads and better education for the price of the Bush tax cut.
Gordon Gekko’s Favorite Pundit
"When the chairman of the Federal Reserve… and a conservative president like George Bush attack infectious greed, the climate of greed — greed is what makes the American system and the capitalist system work.
"And sometimes you have some bumps in the road. But don't start with that Marxist propaganda about capitalist greed." —Bob Novak, Capital Gang, reprising the spirit of Michael Douglas’ "Wall Street" character
Will Vehrs is an economic developer in Richmond, Va. Unable to obsess on golf, fishing or a weed-free lawn, he chose to stalk the weekend talk show pundits and their syndicated print brethren. His "Punditwatch" column appears in Tony Adragna's Quasipundit.