Pearls From the Pundits

Given all the airtime devoted to the elections last night, you knew that the talking heads would sprinkle some gems among their punditry.

It ain’t easy filling all that airtime on election night. And if, by and large, our broadcast brethren avoided major blunders in their coverage of Decision 2006, they did deliver some insights — hey, we’re feeling generous — that are worth repeating.

Democrats Define Their Values

The question of the moment is what the Democrats will do with their newly won power in Congress. With that in mind, we were relieved to hear Howard Dean clarify the issue in a rant to Lou Dobbs on CNN about “dirty tricks” and “funny business” in the Maryland election: “Nobody likes dishonesty and corruption … we’ve seen that in our polling for about a year now.”

The Tide Is High

The metaphor du jour was a Democratic “wave,” which is benign enough as metaphors go. But what kind of wave, exactly? MSNBC tracked the wave’s progress:

Tucker Carlson, 8:43 p.m.: “It’s a wave, obviously.”

Chris Matthews, 9:25 p.m.: “Anne Northup (R-KY) has been on Hardball and she is a nice lady. This one went the other way. She is losing to John [Yarmuth], in what is a wave nationally.”

By 11 p.m., Matthews, sounding wistful, had upgraded the wave. “What I am seeing here anecdotally is a lot of Republicans we know are losing, a lot that have showed up on television, on Hardball, and who we have known and argued with over the years, and now they are going down in this tsunami … A lot of them are going down in this anti-Iraq tidal wave.”

An hour later, though, some talking heads had downgraded the wave to simply a “regional” tsunami, throwing the soggy GOP a rope. Chuck Todd had this: “This tsunami hit the shores of New England, and it’s sweeping people out left and right [mostly right]. But as it moves west, and as it moves south, you saw some people start to survive … I think that that has to give Republicans some glimmer of hope that maybe this is really just a regional problem.”

The Search for a Silver Lining

Indeed, there was no shortage of attempts to get that lifeline to crestfallen Republicans. Here’s William Bennett, (a.k.a. Bill the Virtuous), popping up on CNN to spin the spanking that Senator Rick Santorum received in Pennsylvania: “His career is not over.” Bennett then predicts a Santorum bid for the White House in ‘08.

On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough echoed the regional theme, suggesting that “If Rick Santorum had been from the Redneck Riviera or Tennessee or Texas, he would have won going away tonight … We are a nation divided by geography.” Maybe Scarborough hadn’t heard about Tom DeLay’s old seat going to the Democrats.

Grover Norquist told the BBC: “As a conservative, I’m less concerned about what happens this year than what happens in 2008.”

And this, from Fox News’ Brit Hume: “Another victory for the Democrats, but not for the cause of liberalism.”

Intellectual Honesty

Not surprisingly, there was precious little of this to go around amid all the platitudes offered up last night, but a couple of statements stood out. On MSNBC, outgoing Sen. Bill Frist was asked about the “racist” ads run in his home state of Tennessee against the Democratic candidate Harold Ford Jr., who is black. Frist said that in Tennessee “race is not an issue, despite the fact that you [questioner Chris Matthews] and other journalists have tried to inject it.”

Then there was this gem, on Fox, from Freddie “The Beetle” Barnes: “I don’t think there’s an ideological issue in this election at all.”

Firm Grasp of the Obvious

CNN’s legal expert Jeffrey Toobin, discussing the tight Senate race in Virginia, tells Lou Dobbs: “One thing about these recounts, it is almost always an advantage to go in ahead.”


We detected a tinge of glee in some of the coverage last night, but this exchange between Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos on ABC stood out:

GIBSON: And you would think that Don Sherwood (R-Pa), he’s got four terms in the House, you would think he’d be easy for re-election. But Don Sherwood ran into some problems and had to admit to his district that indeed he had an extramarital affair. He also was accused of — well, what was he accused of? Beating up the mistress, I guess.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think strangling her, he tried to strangle her, Charlie. [Chuckles.] It was not a good race for Don Sherwood.

Best Dan Rather Impersonation

This goes to Chris Matthews for his colorful — if syntactically flawed — search for meaning: “Is there anywhere you can find in this manure pile a pony for the Republicans?”

Best Ad Hominem Attack

CNN’s Paul Begala, who, in discussing how Missouri’s stem-cell initiative affected turnout, told Anderson Cooper that Rush Limbaugh is a “drug-addled windbag.”

Most Nuanced Dissection of a Race

CNN’s Bill Schneider, for this helpful distillation of the Virginia Senate contest: “Men voting for Allen, that’s football. Women voting for Webb, that’s Iraq.”

Voodoo Politics

Finally, we take note of Brian Kilmeade, on Fox & Friends this morning, for delivering the most original explanation for what happened, at least on one key race: “It didn’t help Sen. Santorum that his good buddy Joe Paterno [the Penn State football coach] has a broken leg and got hurt on Saturday. Maybe that was a precursor of what he’s experienced.”

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Brent Cunningham is CJR’s managing editor.