David Gergen is my homeboy. I’ve never actually met Mr. Gergen, the former White House adviser who currently spends about 23 hours of every day talking politics on CNN. But I’ve been watching him wax wise since the Reagan administration. While many of his colleagues have grown cranky, tired or irrelevant, Mr. Gergen just seems to get smarter and sharper.
During the current election cycle, Mr. Gergen has demonstrated repeatedly that he possesses something you’d think would be a prerequisite for the punditocracy: A brain that’s not lodged firmly in his posterior. While others around him shout and scream, pandering to the cable news guest bookers who value conflict over common sense, the gentlemanly Mr. Gergen offers reasoned commentary backed up by bipartisan knowledge gleaned from decades of service to both Republican and Democratic administrations. He is a shill only for the truth.
I am not alone in my admiration for the G Unit. Earlier this month, comedian Jessi Klein declared her unbridled love (and lust) for Mr. Gergen in a post on Tina Brown’s surprisingly solid new Web site the Daily Beast. Unlike Ms. Klein, I don’t get all hot and bothered by the Gerg. I do, however, get a warm and fuzzy feeling whenever he appears on camera, since I know I’m about to get a dose of thoughtful, well-articulated wisdom.
Such insight is a rarity, as anyone as addicted to political TV as I am knows. So many members of TV’s chattering class resemble Gov. Sarah Palin: empty suits (in designer suits) who simply regurgitate their respective party’s talking points. No wonder that last week on “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart bemoaned cable’s inexhaustible supply of folks with little more than “a face and a functioning mouth,” people who make audience members scratch their heads and wonder, as Mr. Stewart put it, “Who the *! is that guy?”
There are also plenty of well-known commentators who regularly demonstrate their ability to spout nonsense. Bill Kristol, one of the New York Times’ token conservative columnists, has often seemed to be auditioning for the role of chief White House spokesman in a potential McCain administration. Fox News Channel’s Michelle Malkin is one of the many leading ladies of the GOP pundit class who exist only to offer up shocking statements rather than nuanced analysis.
And yet, despite the rising population of morons on TV, the medium is not wanting for voices worth listening to. As I’ve grown increasingly addicted to coverage of “The Amazing Race,” I’ve become quite attached to more than a few of the small screen’s political motormouths.
With all due respect to CNN, which boldly declares itself home to the best political team in television, I’ve put together my own dream lineup of political prognosticators. These are folks who make politics interesting, who bring passion to the great American tradition of political debate.
My Elite Eight for ’08:
Pat Buchanan: Sure, he’s loud. I disagree with most of what he believes. That said, Mr. Buchanan always speaks from a place of genuine conviction. He’s a passionate advocate for his brand of Reagan-era conservatism, and he manages to be entertaining even when spouting borderline offensive blather.
Donna Brazile: Ms. Brazile blends no-nonsense insights with years of real-world political experience and just a touch of Southern sassiness. Her knowledge of the inner workings of the Democratic Party was invaluable during the never-ending primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Anderson Cooper once asked Ms. Brazile if she would be his “boo.” Sign me up, too.
James Carville: He’s the liberal Pat Buchanan, a Washington pro who doesn’t feel as if he’s from Washington. During the Democratic primaries, Mr. Carville never hid his loyalty to Hillary Clinton, and yet he was willing to acknowledge when Barack Obama’s team made a good play. Plus, with Dan Rather in exile at HDNet, Mr. Carville is now the most reliable source on TV for colorful, clever Southern-fried words of wisdom. A close second: Mr. Carville’s fellow Clintonista, Paul Begala.
Arianna Huffington: OK, so I admit it’s hard not to think of Eva Gabor when Ms. Huffington is on TV. (“Daaarling, you simply cannot vote for John McCain!”) But Ms. Huffington has emerged as one of the most convincing voices of the New Left, those MoveOn/ DailyKos-loving liberals who are tired of having their asses kicked by the right-wingers who understand politics ain’t for wimps.
Rachel Maddow: How good is Ms. Maddow? So good that, midway through the election cycle, MSNBC decided she needed to have her own show. She’s now graduated from the pundit class to Anchorsville, although Keith Olbermann still makes use of her skills as an analyst. Ms. Maddow’s gift is that she’s easily the smartest woman in cable news, and yet she never comes off as an elitist. She’s just Rachel from the block.
Chuck Todd: He’s David Gergen with facial hair (and without the White House staff experience). Mr. Todd is technically more a reporter than a talking head, but he makes enough appearances on MSNBC’s “Hardball” and “Countdown” to qualify as a gabmeister. He’s brilliant at both, offering Washington wisdom without the arrogance evident in so many of his peers. The comparisons to the late Tim Russert are not without merit.
Jeffrey Toobin: The former O.J. Simpson analyst turns out to be a more than competent political talking head. What Mr. Toobin lacks in political experience, he more than makes up for in candor. He’s often brutally blunt in assessing a situation, yet rarely comes off as a blowhard.
George Will: The rare commentator who still limits most of his appearances to broadcast television, Mr. Will is the very epitome of the Georgetown cocktail party elite against which John McCain has railed of late. All the more reason to like Mr. Will, whose intellectual integrity and love of history set him apart from the nattering nincompoops with whom he shares the pundit label. Plus, Mr. Will manages to rock a bow tie like nobody’s business. That’s got to count for something.