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Pundit triumverate opines freely at Ham Hall

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The panel at Ham Hall.
Photo: Aaron Mayes

UNLV’s Barrick Lecture Series is one of the best free events in Las Vegas, and last night’s program at a near-capacity Ham Hall was easily worth the ticket price. A triumvirate of pundits – Washington Post columnist and frequent cable news show analyst E.J. Dionne, syndicated columnist and former Rep. J.C. Watts, and CNN political expert Gloria Borger -- filled 90 minutes with commentary in a program that was ostensibly to discuss the first 100 days of the Barack Obama administration.

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Gloria Borger and E.J. Dionne take part in some serious punditry.

That timeframe, or, rather “metric” in political commentary vernacular was swiftly tossed aside as the panel decided 100 days was too restrictive a time period to assess the challenges Obama faces entering office. The moderator, Sun political columnist Jon Ralston, kept the crew on task (though keeping Watts, who rambles verbally like he scrambled while playing QB for the Oklahoma Sooners was often a struggle. Meanwhile, Dionne was sharp as always – I’ve never seen him stumped or rattled by a question – and Borger counterbalanced the right-leaning Watts and lefty Dionne. The program might have been a lot more entertaining with Ralston moderating a debate between Watts and Dionne.

In any case, the highlights:

Best Pander To The Audience: From Watts, who led off the his comments with, “I’d like to congratulate the Runnin’ Rebels on their big win over BYU.” Ralston leapt on the comment: “We can see J.C. hasn’t lost his ability to pander to a crowd.”

Best Invocation Of The Term “Political Capital”: From Watts, “The coalition (Obama) has built gives him the kind of political capital that will last far more than 100 days.”

Firm Grasp Of The Obvious Award: To Bolger, who said, “I truly believe that Obama wants to solve problems, and by the way, we’re not used to solving problems in Washington.” I guess that’s why we have all these problems, no?

Turn-Of Phrase Award: To Dionne, who in a Washington Post column posted yesterday under the headline, “Old, True and Radical,” wrote, “President Barack Obama intends to use conservative values for progressive ends. He will cast extreme individualism as an infantile approach to politics that must be supplanted by a more adult sense of personal and collective responsibility. He will honor government’s role in our democracy and not degrade it. He wants America to lead the world, but as much by example as by force. And in trying to do all these things, he will confuse a lot of people.” As Dionne said, “The point of the column was that Obama had a radical approach to governing, but for the first time in about two years I was invited to be on Fox News (laughter). They interpreted the term ‘radical’ differently than I intended. I think they thought I was going to talk about Bill Ayers or something.”

Best New Buzz Word: “Communitarian.” Dionne noted that Obama’s economic philosophy adheres to communal duty, saying: “He’s going after two kinds of extreme individualism that have been part of our politics for a long time. There’s the ‘60s-type individualism that says, ‘If you feel good, do it,’ and there is the economic individualism that says, ‘Make as much as you can and don’t worry about what happens to the community.’ If you listen to that (inauguration) speech, he goes after both kinds of individualism. It’s a lot easier to talk about freedom’s gifts than freedom’s responsibilities. It’s a lot easier to talk about rights than to talk about duties, and that speech was full of talk about obligations. So I think he is taking what I see is a bit of a communitarian turn … when talking about individualism in this country.”

Best Statistic: From Borger, who cited a new poll saying that 58 percent of people who voted for John McCain view Obama positively.

Best Unexpected Applause Line: From Dionne, who said of government oversight: “When you like regulation, it’s called rules and supervision. When you don’t like it, it’s called regulation.” The crowd laughed and applauded, and a somewhat startled Dionne said, “Thank you.”

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Jon Ralston and J.C. Watts.

Best Inevitable Reference To Watts’ Playing Career: Ralston used a football metaphor while saying to Watts that, “When you throw two complete passes, everybody loves you, but when you throw two incompletions, everyone is booing you.” Watts, who commanded the Sooners’ famed wishbone offense, responded, “I never passed.”

Microsoft Misspeak Award: To Bolger, who twice inadvertently referred to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as “Bill Gates.”

Best Question: After noting the many references Obama made in his inaugural address that were clearly critical of the Bush administration, Ralston asked, “Do you think Bush knew he was talking about him?

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