Saturday, December 29, 2001

No TV Punditwatch Sunday, Dec 30

Will Vehrs

Sorry, but I won't be able to watch the pundits this weekend ... no Sunday afternoon Punditwatch. I'll try to write it the old-fashioned way--with transcripts--on Monday. Back to the regular schedule on Wednesday.

Happy New Year to all! Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 26, 2001


Print Punditwatch

Will Vehrs

With blog boss Tony Adragna (Mr. Christmas) grabbing all the pundit Christmas columns for his holiday round-up, Punditwatch was left with ... well, a little bit of everything. The pundits defied categorization this past week, their topics ranging from Ali to zoology. Ok, it wasn't quite zoology, but William Safire did find the "good side of identification technology" in an otherwise relentlessly negative argument against it for humans:

A device is now available to help pet owners find lost animals. It's a little chip implanted under the skin in the back of the neck; any animal shelter can quickly scan lost dogs or cats and pick up the address of the worried owner.

Paul Krugman, perhaps finally frustrated that he was unable to persuade Enron executives to give themselves up to military tribunals, ended his streak of columns about the bankrupt symbol of exess at five. The streak breaking column returned to another familiar theme--Bush Bashing:

One thing that G. W.'s childhood friends told me repeatedly was that he has to win, he absolutely has to win and if he thinks he's going to lose, he will change the rules or extend the play. Or if it really is bad he'll take his bat and ball and go home."

The question the American people ought to ask is why the Bush administration, given the deadlock in Congress, didn't push for a minimalist package — rebate checks for those who didn't get them last summer, plus extended unemployment benefits, and a temporary investment tax credit. This would have disappointed Democrats who also wanted medical coverage for the unemployed, but it would surely have passed, and it would have been better than no deal at all.

It therefore would not have counted as a personal win for Mr. Bush. And so he took his bat and ball and went home

The pundit world being what it is, a Bush Boosting column is hard to find, but Punditwatch found Dick Morris again going against the grain:

IT'S easy to say that one approves of the job President Bush has done in fighting the war on terror. But lest we gloss over the true brilliance of his conduct in this dangerous and difficult period, pause for a moment to consider each decision he has made, and understand how correct they've all proven to be. Declaring war on terror Identifying nations - not just terrorists - as culprits. Resisting immediate retaliation. Decision to use the Northern Alliance as a proxy force. The willingness to accept casualties. Refusing to be rushed. Minimizing the anthrax scare.

The conflict in the Middle East was still punditworthy, but Johnny Taliban was largely out. Tom Daschle was hot; global warming was not.

Our Kind of Guy Bob Novak describes CIA Director George Tenant as "feisty (though not profane)." As a Congressional investigation looms,

The CIA gets high marks from the often-critical old boys' network of intelligence agents for being prepared for Afghanistan. If its agents on the ground have been arrogant with indigenous Afghan fighters, the fact is that they were on the ground immediately. The CIA's paramilitary forces that were abandoned in the post-Vietnam War hysteria had been quietly rebuilt. Tenet will not apologize to his interrogators but will take pride.

Any investigation that does not explore the failings of the FBI, the Border Patrol and the Federal Aviation Administration will fall short. Even today, with a war declared against terrorism, between 300,000 and 400,000 foreign nationals are ''out of status'' (their whereabouts and identity unknown to the U.S. government). FBI Director Robert Mueller is trying to modernize his famous agency, which on Sept. 11 had no computer system to centralize intelligence and had to ask the CIA for help. In that climate, George Tenet plans to stand up to his congressional inquisitors

Safire Satire The old Nixonite invokes every winter metaphor and holiday song lyric as he writes lightheartedly of anti-global warming advocates:

At holiday time, I, too, miss the white winter of yesteryear. I long for the return of its happily benumbed fingers and merrily slush-spattered trousers. But count me not among those creating a climate of opinion resigned to the terror of permanent abnormality. Soon enough there'll be a change in the weather, and a change in us.

Back the Pak From a Backpacker Nicolas Kristof is a Pakistaner Backer:

But however hypocritical it may be to bolster one government that harbors terrorists while overthrowing another, there is no good alternative. The Bush administration is exactly right to be simultaneously supporting Gen. Pervez Musharraf and twisting his arm to fight terrorism, for he may be Pakistan's last hope to rescue his country.

When I first traveled around Pakistan as a student backpacker two decades ago, I sneaked into closed tribal areas and visited a village that was a center for heroin and gun-running. One gunsmith tried to sell me a pen that could not only write but also shoot a .22 bullet out the end. Not even a Palm Pilot can do that, and it was only $7! This incredibly nifty gadget enthralled me as a symbol of Pakistani ingenuity — and it's also apt because Pakistan has squandered its considerable potential and excelled far more at things destructive than constructive

The Greatest Ambivalence Richard Cohen ponders the former heavyweight champion:

He is easy to admire, tough to like.

Or maybe it is the other way around. I don't know. I do know that something about Muhammad Ali transcends my objections to his politics or beliefs

Luxury Seating at KFC, Democratic Dunkin Colbert I. King had the pundit world to himself last Saturday and he provided a provocative critique of US companies operating in Saudi Arabia, courtesy of a US official who served there:

"One of the (still) untold stories, however, is the cooperation of U.S. and other Western companies in enforcing sexual apartheid in Saudi Arabia. McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and other U.S. firms, for instance, maintain strictly segregated eating zones in their restaurants. The men's sections are typically lavish, comfortable and up to Western standards, whereas the women's or families' sections are often run-down, neglected and, in the case of Starbucks, have no seats. Worse, these firms will bar entrance to Western women who show up without their husbands. My wife and other [U.S. government affiliated] women were regularly forbidden entrance to the local McDonald's unless there was a man with them."

He said the only exception to their humiliation was Dunkin' Donuts, "which had an open seating area in which men and women freely ate at adjoining tables just as in the West

Forgotten Man David Broder found low profile Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham supporting one of Broder's pet projects, aid to Russia for protecting nuclear material:

In sum, the path has been opened to greater progress in the new year on securing Russian nuclear materials and decreasing the chances that terrorists will be able to obtain the ingredients for suitcase nuclear bombs or other weapons of mass destruction.

. . . the final appropriations bill of 2001 contained virtually all the money that proponents had been seeking in vain all year to safeguard the atomic materials loosely stored and casually guarded at Russian sites. As readers of previous columns on this subject know, the green-eyeshade people in President Bush's OMB had inexplicably decided earlier this year that this was a place to save money, despite the fact that Bush had heartily endorsed the program during the campaign and since taking office.

Abraham has become a real advocate of the Nunn-Lugar program and said in an interview he is committed to "expanding and accelerating" it in coming months and years

Go Back to Your Bunker, Dick George Will, on Lynn Cheney: "no disprespect to Dick, but she is the really indispensible Cheney . . . . "

Close Your Eyes "... imagine Jakarta with snow and ice and you've got today's Moscow." Tom Friedman

Reassessing Recess Bob Novak reports that

Contrary to Capitol Hill's conventional wisdom, there is strong sentiment in the White House for the president to use the congressional recess to immediately put in office nominees whose confirmations have been stalled in the Senate.

Republicans were highly critical of President Bill Clinton's recess appointments, especially Bill Lann Lee as assistant attorney general for Civil Rights. Daschle is pondering parliamentary obstacles to Bush's taking that course. Nevertheless, a recess appointment is a better than even prospect for Bush

The Nutcracker Mark Shields tirelessly flogged his theory that Tom Daschle was the reincarnation of former Democratic Majority Leader George Mitchell on The News Hour and Capital Gang. His nemesis, Bob Novak, has bought in:

The model for Daschle as majority leader has been George Mitchell, who inflicted serious damage on the first President Bush a decade ago. But there is a difference. Daschle, the iron fist in the velvet glove, is George Mitchell with a smile.

However, the affable Daschle faces obstacles never encountered by the dour Mitchell. He is a majority leader without a majority because conservative Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, the 51st Democratic vote, can slip away on any roll call. Unlike Mitchell, Daschle confronts a House under Republican discipline. Finally, George W. Bush has become a tougher nut to crack than his father.

Listen to Your Mother In still another Novak political observation,

Last week, I cornered a senior adviser to Bush who usually does not talk to reporters and received this White House assessment of Daschle: ''He has been as partisan as he could be ever since he became majority leader, both before and after Sept. 11. No change. But his image is sweetly reasonable. Even my own mother tells me what a nice man Mr. Daschle seems.''

Bob Crachit's Ten Cents Paul Krugman attacks the myth of US generosity:

Right now, the United States is the Scrooge of the Western world — the least generous rich nation on the planet. One of the tables in that W.H.O. report shows the share of G.N.P. given in foreign aid by advanced countries; the United States ranks dead last, well behind far poorer countries such as Portugal and Greece. The sums proposed by the W.H.O. would double our foreign aid budget, not because those sums are large, but because we start from so low a base — about a dime a day for each U.S. citizen.

Provincial Hick It's the holiday season and NIcholas Kristof is in a forgiving mood:

Mullah Muhammad Omar, the one-eyed peasant who led the Taliban, was a thug, and the Bush administration deserves credit for evicting him from power. But Mullah Omar is not a war criminal nor even the most odious of Afghan warlords, and we should let him fade into obscurity.

Just about every Afghan I spoke to in Kabul mocked him as a hick and a dictator, but also wanted to move on.

He is so discredited that he is no rallying figure, no threat to anyone. The talk in Kabul is that he may have escaped Kandahar by the humiliating tactic of shaving his beard and donning a burka. It's a delicious image, and like all rumors it becomes true if we just repeat it enough.

Shoe Bomber Fall-Out Tom Friedman ponders the future with C-4 in sneakers, perhaps after reading Jeff Jarvis:

. . . if the terrorists are just going to keep using technology to become better and better, how do we protect against that, while maintaining an open society — without stripping everyone naked? I mean, what good is it to have a free and open America when someone can easily get on an airplane in Paris and bring a bomb over in the heel of his shoe or plot a suicide attack on the World Trade Center from a cave in Kandahar and then pop over and carry it out?

Best Slogan Friedman's airline venture will market itself with the slogan, "Naked Air — where the only thing you wear is a seat belt."

Sunday, December 23, 2001


TV Punditwatch

Will Vehrs

Pundits, consistently proven wrong or incompetent in discussing the War on Terrorism, welcomed back the familiar, comfortable turf of partisan battles in Congress this weekend. The failure of a stimulus package is issue one, with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s role the central theme. While the bill is almost universally derided (“a terrible bill”—Al Hunt), the pundits battle over who will win the “blame game” (Margaret Carlson) or do the best job of “fingerpointing” (Tony Snow). Daschle is alternately seen as a clever politician playing for future advantage in suburban Democratic strongholds (David Brooks) or a horrible ghost of George Mitchell, spooking Republicans (Mark Shields, advancing this Dickensonian Christmas tie-in on both The News Hour and Capital Gang). Mara Liasson predicts some “relief” portions of the ill-fated bill might pass early in 2002.

When you’re on top of the pundit heap, you can afford to separate from the herd. Tim Russert conducted a somber retrospective, assessment, and spiritual examination of September 11th on Meet the Press. His three guests—First Lady Laura Bush, Mayor and Time Person of the Year Rudolph Guiliani, and Washington, D.C. Archbishop Cardinal Theodore McCarrick—seemed an almost perfect panel in tone and depth of personal insight. The Cardinal, gently complaining once that he got all the hard questions, talked movingly of the mystery of evil, seeing it as sign of love from God, giving us “freedom of will.” He also said that God never interferes and that is why we can have saints and great acts of courage, like those of firefighters, police, and airline passengers. Mayor Guiliani told Russert, “The bigger the challenge, the better New Yorkers are.”

The pundits didn’t forsake Afghanistan completely—Fox brought in Foreign Correspondent Steve Harrigen to face questions from the panel. He thinks Bin Laden is in Pakistan and Mullah Omar is in Kandahar; Karzi also has a difficult task ahead, but is brave, bright, and experienced. Face the Nation was able to ask Senators Shelby and Biden about the airline “shoe bomber,” but without extracting much information. This Week interviewed Kwame James, a 6’8” passenger who helped subdue the powerful potential terrorist, estimated to be 6’4” and 220 lbs. “He spoke perfect English,” said James, who also indicated that it was the injection by a doctor that did the most to keep the powerful criminal in check until the plane could land.

Memo of the Year Obscure GOP pollster Frank Luntz is suddenly elevated to superstar Svengali on the basis of his memo advising the “personalization” of attacks on Daschle to discredit Democrats, a la the successful Democratic use of Newt Gingrich to tar Republicans. Mark Shields calls this effort “a fool’s errand.” Senator Rich Santorum of Pennsylvania seems to be overly influenced by the memo, calling Daschle a “rabid dog.”

The Education of Johnny Jihadi Kate O’Bierne hoots that Frank Lindh, John Walker’s father, is treating his son’s experience as “a junior year abroad that hit a snag.” Bob Novak says, “whether I'll relish execution of this nerd I'm not quite sure.”

Bash of the Week “I think Attorney General John Ashcroft would like to extend the death penalty to being born in Marin County. Margaret Carlson

Disputed Voting Fox’s panel votes 3-1 against Guiliani as “Person of the Year,” with Mara Liasson in the minority. “Bin Laden or Bush, Time chickened out,” sniffed Morton Kondracke. This Week voted 2-1 against bin Laden, with Stephanopolous on the short end.

History Lesson Discussing the “Person of the Year,” George Will says that if Martin Luther King hadn’t been “Man of the Year” in 1963, it would have been Lee Harvey Oswald.

Restraining Rudy Asked about meeting Osama Bin Laden: “I can’t say what I’d do to Bin Laden with the Cardinal here.”

Unthinkable Concept Cardinal McCarrick, on Bin Laden: “Charismatic …what good he could have done …I hope I would be able to forgive him … if you didn’t find it hard to forgive, it wouldn’t be a virtue.”

Keep Us in Suspense “Bin Laden being captured now might deflate the country.” George Will

Describing Daschle David Brooks says the Democratic Leader “Looks like Bambi, bites like Jaws.” According to Linda Douglas, Daschle is “hard to demonize.”

Light Metal Al Hunt, distraught over Enron, thundered “I'd like to know why the Democrats are so timid. I wonder why Joe Lieberman hasn't stepped up to this. Why doesn't Joe Lieberman have the metal to say, wait a minute, there are a bunch of people who've lost their whole life savings because they were lied to by a company that engaged in blue smoke and mirrors.”

Psychic FOB Network George Stephanopolous describes Clinton’s effort to settle on a strategy to burnish his legacy as a “séance.” Vindicated The Capital Gang is regaled by Al Hunt’s interview with venerable political humorist Mark Russell, conducted at The Monocle restaurant, bar, and hob-nob spot. As Al Gore once said, “It’s time for him to go.” Here’s a sample ditty from the man one Gang member calls “an American genius”:

The grand inquisitor Ashcroft rose from a humble defeat./ As a Senator he lost to a dead man, then he bounced right back on his feet.
Now he's our attorney general, but it saddens me to report/ he's rounded up the usual swarthy suspects to be tried in a kangaroo court.

Tie that kangaroo down now. Tie that kangaroo down./ As he hippity-hops around the Constitution, tie that kangaroo down.

Please. If you want political humor, check out Uthant. Its motto? “Just like Mark Russell. But funny.”

Merry Christmas, Punditwatchers everywhere ….

Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Thanks to Instapundit

Punditwatch is now ad-free thanks to the generosity of Glenn Reynolds, the incomparable Instapundit. I want to thank Glenn not just for this financial contribution, but also for his long-standing support and encouragement of my venture. Glenn's restless intellect is a continuous inspiration to me.



Print Punditwatch

Will Vehrs

It’s still too early for “Year in Review” columns, so the pundits were largely waxing philosophical this past week. They attempted to sketch broad foreign and domestic themes tied to the events of September 11th, or if they were Paul Krugman, tried to tie anything and everything to Enron. Krugman, seeking to become the DiMaggio of pundits, saw his streak run to five and counting. He launched a takedown of Alan Greenspan via Enron in #4 and cutely blasted “Chicken or Enron” management fads in #5. Will he run out of Enron material? Stay tuned.

Those who didn’t see Enron as a metaphor for the age tackled political persuasions in the aftermath of the WTC attack (George Will hit the big three, Richard Cohen disavowed blaming liberalism, and Michael Kelly urged liberals to get even tougher) or, unilateralism versus multilateralism (Mary McGrory, Charles Krauthammer, and E.J. Dionne, Jr.).

Anthony Lewis of the New York Times retired after 32 years, sure to be replaced by an equally shrill voice opposed to Bush in the short term and all things Republican over the long haul. But there was an Eisenhower warning echo to his farewell:

I am an optimist about America. But how can I maintain that optimism after Vietnam, after the murder of so many who fought for civil rights, after the Red scare and after the abusive tactics planned by government today? I can because we have regretted our mistakes in the past, relearning every time that no ruler can be trusted with arbitrary power. And I believe we will again.

The most important office in a democracy, Justice Louis Brandeis said, is the office of citizen

Sadly, no major colleagues commented on the prickly civil libertarian’s departure.

Five Things Chris Mathews, now more well-known as the overbearing host of Hardball, originally was known as a pretty good columnist. He scored with his assessment of America after Spetember 11th:

1. People now value service more than celebrity. 2. People value authenticity more than slickness. 3. People value executives over legislators. 4. People value community more than ethnic intramurals. 5. Patriotism is more important than politics.

What we'd forgotten was that the 20% of American life that we argue about — tax rates, trade policy, social programs — is outweighed by the 80% that unites us — democracy, freedom, human rights, the right to pursue happiness.

Literary Allusions William Safire quoted Yeats; Jim Hoagland ascribed lofty literary nobility to Koffi Annan:

"In the 21st century I believe the mission of the United Nations will be defined by a new, more profound, awareness of the sanctity and dignity of every human life, regardless of race or religion," the Ghanaian diplomat told his audience. "This will require us to look beyond the framework of states, and beneath the surface of nations or communities. We must focus, as never before, on improving the conditions of the individual men and women who give the state or nation its richness and character."

In time I think the effect of Annan's words will be analogous to that of the words spoken by William Faulkner in accepting the 1949 Nobel Prize for literature

Sometimes a Great Notion Daniel Henninger returns to an earlier proposal to honor the victims of the WTC disaster:
On Sept. 28 I noted here that trucks and barges were hauling the rubble, the remains, of more than 3,000 souls to a famous New York landfill called Fresh Kills, and I proposed that this plot of land be made into a national cemetery, like Arlington or Normandy.

New York's Municipal Art Society convened a jury that by this weekend will pick three finalists to landscape for multiple use the whole 2,200 acres of Fresh Kills. All the designers added plans for a memorial on the mound where the remains are now. That mound is known simply as 1/9.

1/9 is a striking place--225-feet high, it looks across the harbor at the hole that is lower Manhattan. None of Fresh Kills' architects proposed a cemetery at 1/9, but I am doing so again today, drawing attention to details and precedents most people aren't aware of.

If You Bomb It, They Will Come Nicholas Kristof sees Afghanistan as a potential economic juggernaut:

. . . many Afghans are born entrepreneurs. I heard about several men who set out dozens of lanterns in a field during the American bombing of Kabul. They hoped the Americans would mistake the lights for a Taliban site and bomb it, allowing them to collect high-grade metal from the bomb to sell as scrap in Pakistan.

Don't try this at home.

Porkwatch Robert Novak praises Senator John’s McCain’s “Pork Patrol.”

Tucked into the defense appropriations bill, McCain's aides discovered an immense helping of corporate pork. Without a hearing and unrequested by the Pentagon, a $30 billion sweetheart deal enriches the economically distressed Boeing Co. under the guise of fighting the war against terrorism.
The Air Force would lease 100 of Boeing's 767 airliners and return them 10 years later to the airplane manufacturer, with the U.S. taxpayer paying for conversion to military tankers and reconversion back to civilian airliners. Sen. Phil Gramm, McCain's sidekick in pork-busting, was awed: "I do not think, in the 22 years I have been here, I have ever seen anything to equal this."

Musical Chairs and Libby Lite Novak speculates that Donald Evans will replace Andrew Card as Bush’s Chief of Staff and Mel Martinez will take over from embattled Norm Mineta at Transportation. He also foresees trouble for Elizabeth Dole:

The poor performance by Cathy Keating, Oklahoma's first lady, in Tuesday's special congressional election is viewed inside Elizabeth Dole's Senate campaign in North Carolina as a warning. The wife of Gov. Frank Keating recorded only 31 percent in the Republican primary, and she dropped out of the race, ending the need for a GOP runoff in the heavily Republican Tulsa district. GOP campaign strategists complain that Mrs. Keating called for a woman in Oklahoma's congressional delegation but said little about issues. The no-content complaint also is made about Mrs. Dole. Though the polls give her overwhelming leads against any Senate opponent, GOP insiders worry about the next 11 months unless she starts talking issues.

Don’t Mess With Condi Colbert King summarizes a breathtaking attack on Condoleezza Rice by an Arabic doctor:

. . . an error-filled diatribe, the gist of which is: American women are humiliated more than Afghan women.

Tahboub cited an unidentified documentary on Jordanian television that supposedly reported that "most young American women are raped at university."

Citing abortions in the United States, Tahboub hailed clinic bombers as "Americans with a conscience" for trying to blow up buildings and kill doctors

Tahboub described a decadent America where "everyone eats in front of the television . . . [and] when Mickey Mouse comes on, the children throw their food on the floor."

When American men aren't damaging themselves with television, declared Tahboub, they spend their time engaging in sexual harassment in the workplace; even "generals in the military, during their hours of rest from bombing Iraq and Afghanistan." That is, when Western men and their "hungry eyes" aren't humiliating women by staging fashion shows and beauty pageants .
. .

Leading Indicator According to George Will, since September 11th there has "reportedly been a slump in sales of Confederate flags."

Krauthammer Thunder Don’t get Krauthammer started on “nation building.”

What the critics cannot seem to understand is that the conservative critique of nation-building for the past 10 years has been about nation-building in places of strategic irrelevance. No sane person opposes nation-building in places that count. The debate is about nation-building in places that don't.

. . . no American peacekeeping troops.

Why? Because the American military is the world's premier fighting force, and ought to husband its resources for just that. Anybody can peacekeep; no one can do what we did in Afghanistan. Many nations can do police work; only we can drop thousand-pound bombs with the precision of a medieval archer.

Peacekeeping is a job for others. The Canadians invented it in the late 1950s and have completely reorganized their armed forces for that role.

Damning With Faint Praise Bill Keller of the New York Times slips a sliver of praise into this anti-Ashcroft diatribe:

John Ashcroft may talk like an ayatollah, but this week he acted like an attorney general. He dispatched the first indicted suspect in the 9/11 attacks not to a secret military tribunal but to one of those civilian courts he seems to regard as criminal-coddling, secret-spilling, procedure-clogged terrorist pulpits.

Legislators of the Week David Broder and E. J. Dionne, Jr. praise the leaders who made the election reform bill and education bill possible: Ohio Republicans, John Boehner and Bob Ney and Democrats George Miller of California and Steny Hoyer of Maryland.

Best Lines of the Week: Richard Cohen:

We survived the Reagan years. Look it up.

Maureen Dowd, on Bin Laden:

He can tape, but he can’t hide.

Dowd apparently was so taken with this Ali reference that she made him the subject of today’s column.

Sunday, December 16, 2001


TV Punditwatch

Will Vehrs

There is near-universal agreement among the pundits on the two top subjects of the week, the Bin Laden tape and the retirement of House GOP Majority Leader Dick Armey. David Brooks spoke early for all pundits when he quoted Leon Weiseltier of The New Republic, himself speaking for all pundits: the Bin Laden tape was the “mother of all smoking guns.” Margaret Carlson wanted Bin Laden tortured after she viewed the tape; Bob Schieffer was strangely “comforted” that Bin Laden, like all criminals, had to “brag,” helping bring about their downfall. Reaction to the Armey retirement was a cursory nod at his career, then naked glee at having House GOP Whip Tom DeLay replace him. Again, David Brooks had the first shot at framing this pundit feast:

Democrats love the fact they'll have Tom DeLay to beat up for the next however many years. And Republicans like the fact because although when Tom DeLay's name is mentioned in Washington, you're supposed to hide the women and children because he is such a monster.

He is in fact the best legislator alive on the planet. He delivers vote after vote for the Bush Administration for the Republicans. He holds the Republicans together. He has been a devastatingly effective whip. Not the most attractive guy in the world but incredibly effective, incredibly good at his job.

Brooks’ assessment held, with Al Hunt calling him “one tough hombre,” but a politician who was “ethically challenged.”

The most asked question of the week was “Where is Bin Laden?” No official, from General Tommy Franks though Condi Rice to Colin Powell, had an answer, but Bob Novak and Mara Liasson noted how America has strongly personalized the war on terrorism with Bin Laden. Britt Hume believes it will be a “psychological blow” if Bin Laden escapes. Powell and Rice were asked pointed questions by Tim Russert and Bob Scheiffer, respectively, about Saudi Arabia and its ties to radical Islam. Both continued to maintain that the Saudis are cooperating. “They have been forthcoming, “ said Rice.

Best Two on One Juan Williams challenged Senator Joseph Lieberman on his apparent disagreement with Senator Ted Kennedy on Military Tribunals. Britt Hume then asked Lieberman why he was straying from the whole Democratic attack on tribunals. Lieberman weakly replied that Democrats complaining about tribunals were concerned only about due process.

Stumble of the Week Speaking of Dick Armey’s early days in Congress, where he was reputed to have led a spartan life, Bob Novak said, “He lived in the men’s room.” Capital Gang colleagues gently corrected him—he lived in his office.

Clinton on O’Reilly Al Hunt interviewed the suddenly high profile Senator Hillary Clinton. He asked her about criticism she’s received from Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. “I feel sorry for him, “ said the New York Senator. After the interview, Hunt said he had been wrong in predicting Senator Clinton would not do well in the Senate. Bob Novak was “impressed by her rehabilitation,” reminding the Gang of her lying, arrogance, and contempt for Congress.

Funny Questions Tim Russert showed a snippet of the Bin Laden tape to Secretary of State Colin Powell, then asked, “Why is this man laughing?” Later, referring to the obsequious Saudi on the tape with Bin Laden, “How did somebody with no legs get from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan?”

Mark Shields Moments Mark Shields does double pundit duty, appearing on Friday’s News Hour with Brooks and hosting Capital Gang on Saturday. On Friday, Brooks ranted about the evils of Congressional redistricting. Shields accused him of trying “to take the politics out of politics.” On both nights, Shields reminded viewers that Armey was the only Majority Leader ever to be passed over twice for the speakership. According to Shields, it was because he lied about his role in the coup against Newt Gingrich.

They Shoot Dark Horses, Don’t They? Bob Novak, surveying the field for someone to replace Dick Armey, said “There is no dark horse to challenge DeLay. Republicans shoot their dark horses.”

Oh, the Humanity “Taxes have been cut as much as humanly possible, or inhumanely cut.” --Margaret Carlson

The King Last week Punditwatch declared Tim Russert “King” of the talking heads for luring VP Cheney and Senator Clinton to his tenth anniversary show. He’s really the king because he’s just gotten a new contract through December 31, 2012. Russert draws 4 million viewers a week and raised NBC’s Meet the Press income from $800,000 per year in 1991 to $50 million in 2000.

Best New Face Robin Wright of the LA Times, appearing on Face the Nation. A noted Middle East correspondent, she stressed the importance of the “end game” in Afghanistan, contrasting it with the end game in the Gulf War. She saw Bin Laden as “naïve and petty” on the tape and says Hamas is unfortunately part of the “mainstream” now in the Arab world.

30 Years of the ABM Treaty Colin Powell noted that since the ABM Treaty has been ratified, the US has gone from 2,000 nuclear weapons to over 12,000. He defended the administration from charges of unilateralism (“not fair”), saying the US had to defend its own interests. George Will agreed, natch.

India v. Pakistan and the Beatles Colin Powell says the situation is “tense,” but he praised Pakistani President Mushareff’s actions in the wake of the attack on India’s Parliament. According to Powell, the two countries need to “come together.”

The Dog Ate His Paperwork Senator Daschle told Sam Donaldson that the reason Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has not been not been voted upon as Solicitor for the Labor Department, is lack of proper “paperwork..”

Sex This Week George Will did a piece on Donald Rumsfeld, a "sex symbol" according to no less an authority than Larry King. Will says "Rummy" is "George Clooney in government." In a somewhat pointed reference, he observed of Rumsfeld, "It's as if he's been speaking English all his life." Now to Will, that's sexy ....

Tall Testing David Brooks on testing requirements of the just passed Education Bill: “One of the most positive things on the tests is you can have what's called value-added, which measures school by school, student by student, not how tall they are but how much they grew in that year under Mrs. Tweedy …. “

Did You Have to Ask? Asked repeatedly how he felt about Tom DeLay, including whether he even speaks to him, Minority Leader Gephardt finally allowed that he was a “strong adversary.” Now avunclular retiree Armey compared DeLay to Democrat whip Bonoir—the whip has to be a “tough guy.” (or tough gal? The new Democratic whip is Nancy Pelosi) Pressed on Gary Condit, Gephardt said “We’ll support who wins for the primary.” Asked if he’ll run for President, Gephardt told Russert to ask again in 2012, when Russert’s contract expires.

SNL Update Saturday Night Live was mentioned for the third week in a row, this time by Cokie Roberts, who noted an SNL parody of the Bin Laden tape. We should treat Bin Laden as a “pathetic loser.”

Definition of Bipartisanship Helped by Mark Shields, Bob Novak defined bipartisanship as “buy my partisanship.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2001


Print Punditwatch

Will Vehrs

As the Punditwatch week ended this morning, our print heroes, having tired of Ashcroft and Arafat bashing, were all over the map. Maureen Dowd was linking Harry Potter to the possible revival of Latin. George Will saw in bombing suspect Sarah Olson the seeds that produced the Reagan Revolution. Michael Kelly took on Hanukah and Christmas, analyzing the battle between clear light people and colored light people along the way. Michael Kinsley, no stranger to tackling a tree when the forest is on fire, sarcastically praised the genius of Ari Fleischer. Kinsley made news when he announced, after eight years of denial, that he suffers from Parkinson's Disease.

There was other pundit news, too. Last week Punditwatch reported on the dramatic change of days among the New York Times stable of pundits; Jack Shafer in Slate reported that the names of the columns had been deleted—no more William Safire “Essay,” just William Safire. Howard Kurtz produced a glowing profile of Tom Friedman, including the requisite quotes from important people:

"I just think he's too important to ignore," says Richard Gross, the [Baltimore] Sun's op-ed editor. "If he doesn't win a Pulitzer, I'll be very surprised."

"Tom is smart, knowledgeable, pithy and conversational all at once," says "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert. "Nobody understands the world the way he does. When he comes to the table, he brings this enormous wealth not only of reporting and anecdotes, but of his own life experience. He's constantly ahead of the curve."

But Friedman turns down more television invitations than he accepts. "I don't want to be a talking head," he told Russert. "I don't want to be a sound bite."

A pundit writing about a pundit, quoting another pundit. It doesn’t get much better than that. Unless, of course, a pundit takes down the pundit who’s just been praised. Mickey Kaus looked at a Friedman column and sniffed,

Sorry, I don't get it! Take Friedman's most recent effort, "The Intifada Is Over." It's disconcertingly sloppy in at least two places.

When Friedman tells his readers something they don't want (or don't expect) to hear, without incoherence, then I'll agree he's on a hot streak. At the moment, among columnists, Fareed Zakaria is hot. Friedman is not.

Maybe Punditwatch can just start tracking the critiques the pundits offer to each other. Don’t miss Instapundit’s “Dropped Ball” awards for pundits everywhere.

Gimmicks of the Week William Safire, Dean of Gimmicks, writes his column as if he is Russian President Putin:

Ah, the war. The world now forgives me for wiping out our Chechens because all those Muslims are terrorists. And didn't I score yet another personal triumph by sending our people into Kabul just after it surrendered, ahead of the Americans and British? The Russian people, who saw our return on TV, now believe we finally won our war in Afghanistan, with a little U.S. help at the end.
But George had better not carry this antiterror business too far by attacking Primakov's friend in Baghdad. Iraq owes us $8 billion for our arms shipments, and we'll never get that money if Saddam is out of power. Currently he's paying us for new weapons out of his oil smuggling, and if he uses our SAM's to bring down American gunships, that's not my fault.

Tom Friedman’s gimmick is to write a memo to Saudi Arabia as if he were President Bush:

I want to be sensitive here. We can't tell you how to teach your children, but we can tell you that several thousand American children are without a parent today because they were hit by radical Islamists educated in your schools, who justified their mass murder in the name of Islam. We can't tell you how to teach your children, but we can tell you that in a wired world — in which tools for mass destruction are increasingly available to individuals — we need you to interpret Islam in ways that sanctify religious tolerance and the peaceful spread of your faith. If you can't do that then we will have a problem — then Saudi Arabia will become to our war on terrorism what the Soviet Union was to our war on Communism: the source of the money, ideology and people who are threatening us.

3 for 3 at Enron Field Paul Krugman churned out his second and third anti-Enron column in a row. He padded his Bush-bashing stats with this:

Enron management and the administration Enron did so much to put in power applied the same strategy: First, use cooked numbers to justify big giveaways at the top. Then, if things don't work out, let ordinary workers who trusted you pay the price. But Enron executives got caught; Mr. Bush believes that the events of Sept. 11 will let him off the hook.

Ashcroft Bashing Sampler Most of the pundits called Attorney General Ashcroft’s comments to the Senate outrageous, but they were no slouches in the rhetorical excess category themselves.

Molly Ivins:

Yep, if we had a Constitution largely rewritten by Ashcroft (as opposed to the one we're stuck with by such picayune minds as Madison, Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, etc.), we'd be a lot safer today.

In this fight for our cherished freedoms, those cherished freedoms should definitely be the first thing to go. Sieg heil, y'all.

Frank Rich:

But don't count me among those who quake that Mr. Ashcroft is shredding the Constitution. He does respect some rights, after all, like that of illegal immigrants and terrorists to buy guns in the U.S. without fear of government intrusion. And he just doesn't seem clever enough to undo the Bill of Rights, even with the president's backing. You have to have more command of the law than he does to subvert it.

. . . it hardly serves the country to look the other way when the Ashcroft-Ridge-Thompson-Mineta team proves as inept at home as the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Powell-Rice team has proved adept abroad. In the Afghan aftermath, the home front is just as likely to be the next theater of war as Somalia or Iraq. Giving a free pass to Mr. Ashcroft and the other slackers in the Bush administration isn't patriotism — it's complacency, which sometimes comes with a stiff price.

Dear Bob Worried about Ashcroft and civil liberties? Write to Bob Herbert!

I am getting mail from readers asking worriedly whether some of these new investigatory powers won't eventually be turned on non-terorists — for example, activists and others perceived to be troublemakers here at home. Those worries were only heightened when it was learned that Mr. Ashcroft was considering a plan to relax restrictions on the F.B.I.'s surveillance of domestic religious and political organizations.

The notion that Mr. Ashcroft was using a hard-right ideological compass to chart his antiterrorism course got a big boost when he displayed his extreme reluctance to investigate whether immigrants caught in the antiterror sweeps had purchased guns. This was clearly a case of ideology trumping security.

Clinton Bashing Nostalgia There was a brief eruption in the conservative pundit world of feel-good Clinton-bashing, just like in the good old days.

Jonah Goldberg:

The bad news for Bill is that he did very little right and a great deal wrong in the effort to combat and prevent terrorism; his repeated refusal to accept Sudan's offer to extradite Osama bin Laden to the United States is just the tip of what increasingly looks like an iceberg of cowardly half-measures and poll-driven foreign policies that eventually crashed into the World Trade Center.

Mona Charen:

We have witnessed, in the days since Sept. 11, new but unsurprising evidence of what a sociopath we had as our leader for eight years. And we have learned that his immaturity, shallowness, and thermonuclear self-centeredness had consequences for the nation that were tragic and very nearly catastrophic.

And, finally, the tsar of Clinton bashing, Robert Bartley:

Personally, I'm not about to sit still for lectures on the rule of law by the same tong that spent eight years defending Bill Clinton's depredations. Indeed, from all the fuss, you might think that Mr. Ashcroft ordered an armed raid on an American home to take bin Laden's side in a child custody dispute. Or had the FBI lay siege to a cabin and shoot the wife of someone it had entrapped on gun control charges. There is a reason the tribunals are opposed by libertarian conservatives.

I can't muster any sympathy whatever, though, for the pretensions on the left. They ask us to believe that it's an affront to the Constitutional order for a commander-in-chief to assert war-time powers to protect America from terrorists or establish a process for dealing with prisoners of war. But that it's OK, or at most a tut-tut, for a president to perjure himself before a U.S. judge to avoid purely personal embarrassment.

Breakfast in Kabul New NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof bemoans the fact that the US isn’t rushing diplomats into Afghanistan:

Washington has kept its officials out of Kabul because it is too risky, but Kabul is civilized as war zones go. As I write this, the neighbor across the street has a machine gun mounted on his balcony, but I just had breakfast of Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes bought in the local market.

Sensitive Man Award, Afghan Division After breakfast, Kristof does “man in the street” duty as he reports on the status of women in Kabul. He found this enlightened soul to comment on the new Afghan government formed in Bonn:

"It's good to have women ministers," said Wali Mohammed, a 29- year-old man standing among the bombed-out buildings of western Kabul. "Women should be allowed to vote," he added magnanimously, "and if a woman has no husband, she can decide for herself who to vote for."

Whither Rudy? Maureen Dowd interviews Mayor Guiliani.

Does the idea of being governor or president beckon?

"Would I want to be involved in elective or appointed office in the future?" he said. "Yeah, I would."

Sunday, December 09, 2001


TV Punditwatch

Will Vehrs

Tim Russert celebrated his ten year anniversary of hosting Meet the Press by grabbing two of the more elusive guests for Sunday talk: Vice President Dick Cheney and New York Senator Hillary Clinton. His two interviews demonstrated why he is the “King.” With Cheney, Russert sacrificed probing follow-up questions for a long series of well-prepared queries on a broad range of issues. For Senator Clinton, he gently led her through Democratic talking points with softball questions, then subtly switched to probes on the Clinton Administration’s anti-terrorism record and her disagreements with the Bush Administration on domestic policy. It was a masterful performance. Russert still has trouble reading the quotes he puts up on the monitor and had an uncharacteristic mix-up with his production team (he called for a new quote before he’d even read the one they’d posted), but on substance, he asked tough questions without raising his guests’ hackles. Clinton gave Russert a tribute from his hometown of Buffalo, NY, which not coincidentally is an area of strength for her. Perhaps it was as much this chance to score points with a home constituency as a desire to answer questions that brought her out of “hiding.”

Cheney did not break much new ground in the Russert interview, although he carefully distanced himself from Attorney General Ashcroft’s controversial remarks before the Senate. “He [Ashcroft] has to answer for himself,” said Cheney. The VP described a “hysterical reaction” to the Military Tribunals order and confided that he has discussed the issue with columnist William Safire, leader of the pundits who oppose it. “He’s dead wrong on this.” Cheney defended tax cuts, said Tom Daschle was an “obstructionist,” insisted on a turnover of both Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, and said the US would play a “continuing role” in Afghanistan, not be an “occupying force.” He was tough on Arafat, echoing the administration’s line one week after the bombings in Jerusalem.

Senator Clinton parried any condemnation of Ashcroft’s words or actions, merely allowing that “people who disagree should be heard.” She thinks Military Tribunals are “absolutely appropriate” and said President Bush is “doing a great job in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan.” Asked about her remarks in Syracuse, NY, that the Clinton Administration should have done more on terrorism, she noted that September 11th “changed everything.” Pressed by Russert, she said criticism of her husband “isn’t fair” and pointed out that there was no support for measures such as curbs on money laundering and intelligence sharing during his term. Like Cheney, she was harsh in her judgement of Arafat. Unlike Cheney, she thinks Senator Daschle is a “great leader for our country.”

Russert’s first love is horse race politics, so he asked Cheney if he would be on the ticket in 2004. Short answer: “Yes.” He asked Senator Clinton in a jocular way if she wanted to run for President. She denied an interest in several ways while conspicuously not ruling it out.

Other talk shows still aired over the weekend, but none packed half the punch of Meet the Press. Bob Schieffer, while interviewing Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers on Face the Nation, thought he had the story of the year coming through his earpiece—Bin Laden captured by the British! It turned out to be a routine story that the British might not turn Bin Laden over to the US if they captured him and if he would be subject tot he death penalty. Capital Gang was reduced to interviewing historian Stephen Ambrose and writer David Halberstam. Senator Harry Reid (D, NV), was a popular guest, and he demonstrated the Democratic strategy: strong support for the war abroad, cautious support for the war on terrorism at home, and high-minded opposition to everything in the Republican domestic agenda. Everybody talked about John Walker, the young American who fought for the Taliban; almost all agreed that he committed treason, although all defer to the Justice Department. This Week covered the story most completely, with a short tape of his interrogation by the late Mike Spann and an apearance by a Newsweek reporter who had interviewed Walker.

Whipping Boy Mark Shields minces few words in describing House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R, CA): “a man if there were an Olympic event for abrasiveness would win the gold, the silver and the bronze all by himself.” Al Hunt sees him as “embarassing Republicans.”

Verdict on Ashcroft The pundits are not kind to Attorney General Ashcroft’s suggestions that opposition to his orders aides and abets the enemy, although George Will merely finds it “imprudent.” Bob Novak calls the comments “disreputable” and “outrageous.” George Stephanopolous says they were “absolutely outrageous.”

Diagnosis of Ashcroft David Brooks gets clinical with Ashcroft:

Let me talk a bit about the Ashcroft psychology because that's something that conservatives understand, it's hard for a lot of other people to understand. You come to Washington as a conservative, you feel a little alienated. You come as a Christian conservative, you feel more so because somehow you feel your values are under assault every day.

And what happens is you only deal with your intimates, you only deal with conservatives and you feel like the whole town is out to get you. And so you get this phenomenon that you see again and again in Republican administrations, have one or two high administration officials insulating themselves and developing this psychology that anything I do that liberals like is somehow a failure of my character. I think Ashcroft is falling into this very unfortunate pattern.

If I were privileged to be friends with John Ashcroft, I would say, 'You have got to understand that people will give you a chance if you only reach out with some sense of warmth, some sense of understanding of where they're coming from,'which he is not doing right now.

Another Capital Gang Food Fight Bob Novak almost became unhinged when Al Hunt accused him of reading Republican talking points. He said Hunt’s comment was “demented.”

SNL Staple For the second week in a row, Tim Russert rolled out an Saturday Night Live for one of his guests. This time it was their parody of VP Cheney in a cave. The Vice-President seemed less amused than Rumsfeld and Ashcroft last week. “I work hard,” was Cheney’s answer when Russert asked him about his low profile and mystery location.

A List George Will attacks grade inflation at Harvard, quoting Professor Harvey C. Mansfield, also known as “Harvey C Minus Mansfield.” Look for Will to write a print column on this subject soon.

Must See TV Responding to a report that Bin Laden has been captured on video gloating over September 11th, Cokie Roberts says she is “eager to see this tape.”

Surprise Question Russert asks Cheney if John Walker was a US agent. The question, going totally against all conventional wisdom, seems to throw Cheney. He says there is no evidence for it.

History Lesson on Treason George Will throws cold water on trying John Walker for treason. “Aaron Burr was acquitted of treason and he was raising an Army to oppose the US.”

Gut Reaction Sam Donaldson asked former Deputy Attorney General George Terwilliger what his “gut” told him would happen to Walker. “Some kind of prosecution” was the careful answer. Deputy Defense Secretary says it will be “difficult to look the other way” on Walker.

The 2/3ds Solution David Brooks criticized Senate Majority Leader Daschle on Friday night for demanding that two thirds of Democrats support any stimulus package. Mark Shields defended the tactic. Today, VP Cheney repeated Brooks’ criticism.

Kerblooey Noting that stimulus package negotiations had broken down, David Brooks noted that during a week when Afghan factions came together, US factions went “kerblooey.”

Lone Wolf Bob Novak is almost alone in supporting the PLO leader: “Arafat is telling the truth—Sharon wants him to fail.” Everyone is playing the “Israeli game of attacking Arafat.” Novak also sees the GOP one vote House win on presidential trade authority “a tremendous victory.”

Wednesday, December 05, 2001


Print Punditwatch

Will Vehrs

The pundits delight in setting the agenda. At this time last week, they had settled on two hawk v. dove battles: on to Iraq? and John Ashcroft, Saint or Sinner? Bombings in the Middle East over the weekend temporarily crushed the "juice" out of those two set pieces as pundits rushed to the latest in conventional wisdom--Arafat is Toast! Of course, a few pundits, with their columns already "in the can," stuck with the old issues. Typical of one too late to the Arafat roast was Jim Hoagland:

Phase Two of the terrorism war will focus on Sudan, Somalia, Yemen or any other weak state where Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network might try "to regenerate itself," says an official with knowledge of White House thinking. "First we have to resolve the problem of al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and then resolve the problem of al Qaeda elsewhere."

This analysis will confound both hawks and doves who have rushed into a premature debate over striking Iraq hard -- and next -- in the war on terrorism. Each camp for its own reasons wants to tie the hands of a president.

William Safire was first out of the box on Sunday with a viewpoint on the Israeli-PLO conflagration. He had an interview with Prime Minister Sharon and came to his own conclusion:

It strikes me that the only way to avert a full-scale war between Palestinians and Israelis — a war in which the terror coalition against Israel would suffer the fate of the Taliban in Afghanistan — is to await the outcome of the necessary civil war among Palestinians.

No nation or international group can be an honest broker between a democracy under attack and a terrorist coalition on the march. The time for such misguided U.S. "evenhandedness" is long past. The time for Palestinians to decide their own fate is now — antiterrorism and a peaceful state of their own, or terrorism and defeat.

Other pundit forays this past week included feuds, Enron, and just a smidgeon of political speculation.

Hawk Talk As usual, Charles Krauthammer is hawkish on America:

The Arab street has fallen silent not because the president hosted Muslim envoys for a White House Iftar dinner. Nor because American children convinced their Muslim pen pals of our goodwill toward Islam. But because the United States astonished the street with one of history's great shows of arms: destroying a regime 7,000 miles away, landlocked and far from American bases, solely with air power and a few soldiers on the ground -- and with but a single combat death (thus far).

The Taliban's collapse shattered two myths: Islamic invincibility and American weakness -- myths amplified over eight years by the Clinton administration's empty gestures and demonstrable impotence in the face of Islamic terror.

Richard Cohen is no slouch in the hawk department:

At the same time that the United States was waging war on a Muslim nation, the rest of the Muslim world did not rise up, take to the proverbial street and topple the authoritarian regimes of our dear friends and -- not that it matters any -- oil suppliers. Not a single one has been imperiled by mobs cursing Uncle Sam. In some countries, the inventory of unburned American flags must be a real drag on the economy.

Sept. 11 taught us what terrorists can do. Afghanistan taught us what we can do. In due course, Saddam Hussein must get our message: Uncle Sam Wants You.

Dove Talk The doves are muted. Robert Novak offers doves hope with a Cheney-Powell axis:

Iraq's fate may hinge on a tradeoff of international weapons inspectors returning to Iraq and sanctions ending. Such a deal would be a most unhappy outcome for influential forces in the administration and Congress. They do not want a defanged Saddam. They want him gone--dead or alive. ''Left alone,'' Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told me on CNN last weekend, ''he is a threat in the region.''

Secretary of State Colin Powell, protecting the surprisingly cohesive anti-terror coalition, wants a negotiated settlement. He would seem outflanked by Republican hawks who believe not going to Baghdad in 1991 was a dreadful blunder. But sources say Vice President Dick Cheney may be on Powell's side.

Wake Up, America! You're Being Menaced Anthony Lewis has been rescued from obscurity by his vigorous--some might say hysterical--opposition to John Ashcroft's policies in fighting terrorism. Talk radio host Don Imus suggested that someone needed to "hose Anthony Lewis down." Lewis knocked out three New York Times columns this week blasting Ashcroft. Most noteworthy was his discovery of a face to put on the administration crackdown, one Al-Najjar. And then Lewis contributed this analysis:

Attorney General John Ashcroft said last week that the administration's measures had been "carefully crafted to not only protect America but to respect the Constitution and the rights enshrined therein." Critics, he said, "have sought to condemn us with faulty facts or without facts at all."

To the contrary, Mr. Ashcroft and his colleagues have sought to conceal the menacing facts of the Bush order. They remind me of my old boss James Reston's quip, "Don't confuse us with the facts."

Bob Herbert , also of the NYT, is right behind Lewis:

The United States is not brutally disposing of suspected terrorists and people suspected of knowing them. But it is on an incredible witch hunt, fueled, as witch hunts always are, by incredible fear. The public is predisposed to give the government a free hand in its search for terrorists. Just do what you have to do.

But a criminal-justice club wielded without restraint is all but guaranteed to spread its own form of terror, bludgeoning the innocent right along with the guilty.

Maybe It's Not So Menacing Tom Friedman of the New York Times only gets one column to do it, but he cautiously defends Ashcroft:

So, yes, let us grill Mr. Ashcroft and President Bush every time they propose deviating from our legal norms. And let us certainly demand judicial oversight for their steps. But let's not debate all this in a vacuum. Let's not forget what was surely the smile on those hijackers' faces as they gunned the engines on our passenger planes to kill as many Americans as possible in the World Trade Center. Let's not forget what they would do had they had access to even bigger weapons. And let's not forget how long they lived among us and how little they absorbed — how they went to their deaths believing that American laws were only something to be eluded, American citizens only targets to be killed and American society only something to be destroyed.

I find myself with some sympathy for Mr. Ashcroft's moves. Listening to the debate, it is almost as if people think we're safe now: the Taliban have fallen, we've won and we can act as if it were Sept. 10 — with no regard to the unique enemy we're up against.

Michael Kelly goes after Ashcroft mega-critic Senator Leahy:

In mocking the Bush administration for citing precedents for its limited transgressions against civil liberties in war, Leahy seeks to point up the absurdity of the administration's claim to extraordinary recourses. He succeeds only in pointing up the irresponsibility of his own position.

For precedence is the point of the whole thing. Or, rather, lack of precedence. Any intellectually honest contemplation of the situation we are dealing with here must begin with the obvious: The United States has never faced a threat like this. It has faced graver threats, but never one of this nature -- and that unprecedented nature is such as to demand unprecedented curtailing of liberties.

Quick Takes on Arafat and the PLO From E. J. Dionne, Jr.:

"No one can control or change this revolution," Arafat declared to thunderous cheers on a sunny September day in 1983. "No one can control or change me."

Will those words become Arafat's epitaph?

After the weekend's wave of suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians, events are spinning out of Arafat's control. Arafat, who has spent his entire career escaping the boxes in which his opponents tried to trap him, may finally have no place to go.

From George Will:

There is this much truth in that idea: the Palestinian Authority lacks confidence in Israel's willingness to commit suicide, and Israel lacks confidence that the PA will stop insisting on suicide as part of a "peace" agreement.

Gotta Have a Gimmick Richard Cohen channels his late father to make the case against Enron. It's a gimmick, and in this case it appears that Cohen isn't entirely confident that his case will stand up, so he has his father's ghost say the words:

[Father] "And what does your president say, this George Bush? Nothing! Not a word about these poor workers. And what about the Treasury secretary, this O'Neill character? Nothing! No indignation. No anger. Roosevelt would have said something. Truman would have screamed bloody murder. Even Teddy Roosevelt -- did you know I once met him? -- would have blasted them for stealing from their own people. But Bush . . .? Don't get me started."

[Cohen] "Enron is in bankruptcy now. We call it Chapter 11. The creditors will be taken care of."

[Father] "You can go from chapter one to chapter 11 and not find anything for the workers. Chase Bank will get something and Barclays Bank will get something and the lawyers will make out like bandits, but the workers, I'm telling you, are going to get nothing. They lost their jobs, they lost their savings, and some lawyer is going to give his wife a nice Packard car and a rock for his tootsie."

Step Aside, Dad, I'll Handle This One Paul Krugman doesn't channel anybody to blast Enron and make a larger point about defined benefit plans vs. defined contribution plans:

But the sad fate of Enron's employees highlights the difference between theory and practice. As Gretchen Morgenson of The Times pointed out on Sunday, workers across the country have been cajoled or coerced into holding a high proportion of their retirement assets in their employers' own stock. The exploitive nature of this financial incest was emphasized by Enron's now-notorious "lockdown," in which — purely by coincidence, say executives — new rules forced employees to remain invested in the company's stock just as the firm began its death spiral. So much for freedom of choice.
And even when employees have real choices, one wonders whether they fully appreciate the risks. The shift away from old-fashioned pensions coincided with an enormous bull market; surely many workers who have never seen stock prices fall since they became investors underestimate the risk of capital losses.

One hopes that corporate collapses will not become commonplace. Still, it's highly likely that millions of American workers will have near- Enron experiences, learning to their dismay that big chunks of their retirement savings have evaporated. They will be left dependent on the one great defined-benefit program that remains: Social Security. That is, if it's still around.

The Few, the Proud, the CIA Robert Novak reports this CIA PR offensive after the combat death of agent Mike Spann:

Old CIA hands were shocked by the breaking of the old rule keeping secret the names of agents in order to protect their family and associates (in this case, undercover Pakistanis and Tajiks). The rule was violated, according to the insiders, because the CIA needs publicity after the massive intelligence failure of Sept. 11. The death of a heroic agent makes the agency look better.

A Little Politics David Broder interviewed newly elected Democratic House Whip Nancy Pelosi of California and made a positive observation about her strategy:

When I asked the new whip what she had in mind, she had a ready answer: "I will make the economy the central organizing principle of the office," she said. And for the next half hour, she turned almost every question into a disquisition on the "fundamental differences" between Republicans and Democrats on all of the traditional lunch-pail and kitchen-table topics that were highlighted in the campaign committee's fundraising letter.

But can the Democrats really shift the focus from the war -- where President Bush enjoys broad public support -- to these domestic issues?

It is more than likely that the voters are moving in that direction. Last week the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies reported that, given four choices, 41 percent of those surveyed said the slowdown of the economy is their main concern, compared with 39 percent who chose the threat of terrorism on U.S. soil. The course of the overseas war on terrorism and the anthrax threat finished in single digits.

Bob Novak, linked just above, reported that a Zogby poll shows Sen. Bob Smith of NH losing to Rep. John E. Sununu by 20 points if the election were held today.

The Squeegee Men are Back! Bob Herbert says the bad old days might be coming back to New York City:

New York became more and more of an attraction in recent years because it was safer and the overall quality of life had improved. But now there are ominous signs, as the economy has deteriorated and the police have been diverted to terror-related tasks, that the bad old days are attempting to stage a comeback.

Michael Bloomberg will take over as mayor in a little more than a month. He'll have budget problems to wrestle with. And he'll have to fight for more help from Washington. And he'll have to develop a strategy to prevent a new explosion of crime.

The Kingfields and the McRobertsons Washington Post columnist Cobert I. King has been engaged in long running vendetta against TV Reverend and Money Maker Pat Robertson. Robertson replied to King in a letter to the editor; King fired back here. Along comes Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist A. Barton Hinkle into the feud, assisting King in his attempted take-down of Robertson for a nasty Liberia connection:

... he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone and all that. People say stupid things and most of us, were our every utterance broadcast to the wider world, probably would glow redder than Rudolph's nose.

But most of us have not gone into business with a brutal dictator who has given aid and comfort to Osama bin Laden. Robertson has.

The Washington Post's Colbert King has done yeoman work bird-dogging some of the details; others have unearthed more. The dictator is Charles Taylor, the ruler of Liberia. Robertson has an agreement with him concerning a Robertson-initiated venture named - with cruel irony - Freedom Gold Limited.

Maureen, All is Forgiven Today's Maureen Dowd harkens back to her glory days as a pitch-perfect satirist:

President Bush's veterans from the Ford administration started out as macho dinosaurs, threatening to spike the water with arsenic, drill at will, bring back coal mines and revive Star Wars and the cold war with a cocky my-way-or-the-highway attitude toward the world.

But after the terrorist attacks, the macho dinosaurs suddenly seemed like dependable protectors. All that free-floating testosterone found a worthy cause and suited the nation's bellicose mood.

Punditwatch Lives for This: From the New York Times:

Beginning on Sunday, Thomas L. Friedman's column will appear Sundays and Wednesdays. Paul Krugman's column will appear Tuesdays and Fridays, as will Nicholas D. Kristof's column, which begins later this month.

Kristof will be writing a "temporary" column on terrorism. Gail Collins is really shaking up the editorial page . . . .

Sunday, December 02, 2001


TV Punditwatch

Will Vehrs

The weekend pundits had it all planned: "Ok, the war is going well, but what about civil liberties? What about the economy? There's big trouble on the horizon, right?" With not much controversy about the war in Afghanistan, pundits needed to smoke some out.

The bombings in Jerusalem--and there were new ones to report after last night's triple mall bombing-- threw a monkey wrench in pundit plans. The Sunday shows opened with live reports from Israel on the carnage. It wasn't the best backdrop for criticism of Attorney General Ashcroft's measures against terrorism at home or changing the subject to the US economy. Biggest loser: Majority Leader Daschle, following Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's tour de force on Meet the Press. Daschle's low key, eminently reasonable souding persona suffers in comparision to Rumsfeld's aura, helped along by Tim Russert calling him "Secretary of War." Daschle did his best to maintain that persona, insisting the Democrats were "finding the balance" and highlighting areas where they had cooperated with the administration.

Rumsfeld defended tribunals ("It may be that we will need that option"), defended his efforts to modernize the military before September 11th ("we must transform this institution"), and, echoing others, criticized Arafat ("no credibility, not a strong leader--he has never delivered anything for the Palestinian people"). Although defending tribunals, he granted that there has been a "useful media discussion" of the issue and promised he would work hard to do the tribunals in a "measured, thoughtful way." Rumsfeld repeated that the war has entered a difficult phase: "We expect there will be casualties, we expect that troops will be captured." Finding al Qaida in caves will be "unpleasant and dirty." He pointedly deflected Russert's questions as to whether gas might be used against the caves, noting that flooding had been used against them.

Colin Powell appeared on Face the Nation. Perhaps it was the half hour format, perhaps it was the distressing events in the Middle East, but he was obviously frustrated, even getting curt on a question from Gloria Borger. He, too, criticized Arafat, saying the PLO leader faced a "moment of truth" and that he "must act." Powell saw the bombings as an attack against both Arafat and Israel and did not warn Israel against retaliating when given the chance. He denied being a "dove," and said Saddam Hussein should be "worried." Powell also reported that the Bonn negotiations were going well and that "There will be no deals cut for Mullah Omar."

Benjamin Netanyahu was all over the talk shows, helping to fuel the anti-Arafat spin on the Jerusalem bombings. Britt Hume subbed for Tony Snow on Fox and Paul Gigot replaced Hume in the roundtable discussion. Gigot called opposition to Ashcroft's policies "hysterical." Claire Shipman was in the rotating seat on This Week's roundtable. Punditwatch regrets that he was unable to watch Capital Gang or find a transcript before his blog deadline.

Osama 3, Somebody Else 1 George Will, Sam Donaldson, and Claire Shipman vote for Osama as Time's Man of the Year. Cokie Roberts votes "no."

Ashcroft Plays 3 on 1 This Week lets John Ashcroft defend himself, then bring three who oppose his measures to the table, including Bob Barr.

Saturday Night Live Pundit Helper Tim Russert delights Rumsfeld with clips of SNL's parody of him; Britt Hume shows John Ashcroft his parody. Both laugh and smile.

Speaking of Rumsfeld David Brooks on The News Hour says Rummy is having "the comeback Michael Jordon wished he had." Mark Shields calls him the Rudolph Guiliani of defense.

George Will on Arafat He's "irrelevant."

Claire Shipman to Bush The bombings in Israel are an enormous problem for you; don't focus on Iraq, focus on Afghanistan, but keep up your medium range strategy against Saddam; keep trying to tie the recession to September 11th so it looks unpatriotic to criticize.

Should the US be Using Iraqi Oil? "I'll give my advice to the President."--Rumsfeld

Britt Hume on the Al Sharpton Beat Hume quotes weekend remarks from Sharpton regarding African American support for the war on terrorism: "We don't owe American anything. America owes us." Reach out a little more, Mayor Bloomberg ....

What's Ashcroft's Problem? Shields and Brooks think Ashcroft's "starched" personality (Brooks' words) contribute to the criticism he's received; "he's not a winning or comanding or compelling figure" (Shields' words).

Easing Into It After the Honeymoon This Week, perhaps aware of the toll a wedding and honeymoon can take on a man, let George Stephanopolous cover the impact of the Beatles in the wake of George Harrison's death. George Will is "dubious" of the Fab Four epoch.

Cokie Credits Cokie Roberts on This Week credits George Will's derision last week for Montgomery County, Maryland, dropping its plan to ban second hand smoke in neighborhoods.

Sincerity Mara Liasson, on Fox, surveying Military Tribunals: "sincere criticism over a sincere policy." The Bush Administration should have consulted with Congress.

Shieffer's Coda Bob Schieffer's parting comment on Face the Nation is Tom Friedman redux. He quotes Pakistani kids to make the point Friedman has been hammering for weeks--we have to offer an alternative to ignorance.

Enron EffectsDavid Brooks: "A business failure. The administration won't lift a dime to help." Mark Shields: "Potentially political dynamite for Democrats."

Quote of the Week "In Europe they call it socialism, here we call it a stimulus package." --David Brooks