Wednesday, November 28, 2001


Print Punditwatch

Will Vehrs

There's nothing quite like an intramural fracas among conservatives. Chosen as "Pundit of the Week" last Wednesday for his broadside against Military Tribunals, William Safire took some harassing fire from fellow conservative George Will. Speaking of tribunals, Will wrote:

In these, evidentiary and procedural rules would be less favorable to defendants than in the criminal justice system, and there would be no appeal to the judicial system for trials held abroad for alien terrorists. Hence some professional hysterics, such as New York Times editorialists, have reacted with the theatricality of antebellum southern belles suffering the vapors over a breach of etiquette.

Safire responded with pointed, self-depracating bite, taking down some liberals,too:

We in the tiny minority of editorialists on left and right who dare to point out such constitutional, moral and practical antiterrorist considerations are derided as "professional hysterics" akin to "antebellum Southern belles suffering the vapors." Buncha weepy sissies, we are. (Frankly, Scarlett, I don't give a damn - I've always been pro-bellum.)

The possibility of being accused, however, of showing insufficient outrage at those suspected of a connection to terrorists shuts up most politicians. And a need to display patriotic fervor turns Bush's liberal critics into exemplars of evenhandedism. Careers can be wrecked by taking an unpopular stand.

The New Republic Online, with an earlier deadline than Punditwatch, was able to delight much earlier in this exchange of conservative broadsides.

The other big pundit news was the New York Times "Weekend Alliance" attack on Attorney General John Ashcroft. All four weekend columnists--Frank Rich, Anthony Lewis, Maureen Down, and Paul Krugman--took on Ashcroft, one way or another.

RFK Was a Friend of Mine, and You're No RFK Frank Rich and Anthony Lewis took the naming of the Justice Building after Robert F. Kennedy as an excuse to blast Ashcroft. Instapundit previously dissected some of Rich's hysterics; here's more:

Mr. Ashcroft likens himself to Robert Kennedy, who also at times warped constitutional protections in ravenous pursuit of criminality. But among the many differences between the men is the fact that Kennedy actually busted criminals. If another 30 days and 5,000 interviews pass with no breakthroughs, who knows what grandiose new plot Mr. Ashcroft will devise, and at what civic price, to make himself look like Dick Tracy. At a time when most Americans feel confident that the war on terrorism is going as well, if not better, than could be expected, his every ineffectual and extralegal move waves an anomalous but still chilling white flag of defeat.

Lewis is starry-eyed over RFK:

This week President Bush renamed the Justice Department building for Robert F. Kennedy. It was a gracious ceremony, but there was an implicit suggestion that because of his toughness on crime Mr. Kennedy would have supported the Bush military tribunals. To the contrary, Robert Kennedy's years as attorney general were marked by his growing understanding that, if this country is true to itself, there can be no shortcuts to justice.

Maybe Ashcroft's term will be marked by "growing understanding."

Cromwell or Palmer? Maureen Dowd, is more ambivalent than her three colleagues (could she be the administration mouthpiece, as Instapundit theorizes?):

With supreme ambivalence, we are embarking on the Ashcroft era in American justice. The Economist writes that the attorney general's assault on evil has "a Cromwellian feel," noting dryly: "England's Lord Protector also disapproved of drinking, dancing and smoking."
The evangelical barbershop singer, whose nomination was opposed by every liberal special interest, has now become the big man in town.
It's weird what tricks fate plays. The great hope of the Christian right who was toppled by a dead man and his widow has re-emerged as a colossus bestriding the country.

No ambivalence for Paul Krugman, last of the four Ashcroft basing weekend NYT gang:

Indeed, current events bear an almost eerie resemblance to the period just after World War I. John Ashcroft is re-enacting the Palmer raids, which swept up thousands of immigrants suspected of radicalism; the vast majority turned out to be innocent of any wrongdoing, and some turned out to be U.S. citizens.

Krugman goes on to link Ashcroft to the latter day Ponzi schemes of Enron and the modern Teapot Dome of Alaska drilling.

Is Bush-Bashing Back? Pundits have been cautious in their criticism of President Bush, preferring to blast surrogates like Ashcroft, Thompson, or Ridge. Richard Cohen breaks ranks this week:

the new procedures would be less troubling if we had a president who had shown himself to be commendably suspicious of police power and who appreciated that civil liberties do not favor the guilty but protect the innocent. The record shows, however, that he is not the type, that he is tenaciously incurious and jaw-droppingly gullible in his approach to criminal justice matters. Unlike some Texas defense lawyers, our defender is not asleep. He's merely indifferent.

But Is She a Congenital Liar? David Broder, arguing for more funding of Soviet nuclear security programs, accuses Condolezza Rice of ... well, you decide:

Those who watched NBC's "Meet the Press" Nov. 18 heard national security adviser Condoleezza Rice say that President Bush has been "very supportive of the Nunn-Lugar program." She said, "The funding was not cut. . . . All the way back in the campaign, the president talked about perhaps even increasing funding for programs of this kind." Rice said Bush has asked for as "much money as is actually needed."
Perhaps the usually well-informed security adviser was misinformed, but what she said was wrong

Islamic Nuances Several pundits have begun to express skepticism about all the positive things said about the Islamic faith, stopping short, of course, of endorsing Rev. Franklin Graham's indictment. Peter Beinart makes this observation:

The truth is that Islamism is like communism: Because it strips people of their basic right to be left alone, it will engender resentment once it gains power. Islamists rarely win elections, and they never win reelection. And if they cling to power anyway, America should help overthrow them--secure in the knowledge that the people of the Muslim world, like the people of Eastern Europe before them, would want nothing less.

Charles Krauthammer talks tough:

We never declared war on Islam. It was Islamic fanatics who, killing 4,000 Americans in the name of God, declared war on us. Why, then, are we the ones required to continually demonstrate our religious tolerance and respect for others? Shouldn't that be the responsibility of the Islamic world, of those in whose name this crime was perpetrated?

Tom Friedman sums up his last few weeks of columns and the lessons from his Mid-East travels, ending up close to Beinart:

We're not fighting to eradicate "terrorism." Terrorism is just a tool. We'refighting to defeat an ideology: religious totalitarianism. World War III is a battle against religious totalitarianism, a view of the world that my faith must reign supreme and can be affirmed and held passionately only if all others are negated. That's bin Ladenism. religious totalitarianism can't be fought by armies alone. It has to be fought in schools, mosques, churches and synagogues, and can be defeated only with the help of imams, rabbis and priests.
What is different about Islam is that while there have been a few attempts at such a reformation, none have flowered or found the support of a Muslim state. We patronize Islam, and mislead ourselves, by repeating the mantra that Islam is a faith with no serious problems accepting the secular West, modernity and pluralism, and the only problem is a few bin Ladens. Although there is a deep moral impulse in Islam for justice, charity and compassion, Islam has not developed a dominant religious philosophy that allows equal
recognition of alternative faith communities. Bin Laden reflects the most extreme version of that exclusivity, and he hit us in the face with it on 9/11.

How Many Shopping Days Until Primaries? If you're anxious to get on with politics as usual, David Broder has good news:

Under the new calendar, already unanimously approved by the DNC rules and bylaws committee and due to be ratified by the full DNC in January, the Iowa caucuses are scheduled for Jan. 19, 2004, and the New Hampshire primary for Jan. 27.
By moving each of them almost a week closer to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's than they were last year, the Democrats will force most of the campaigning in those states into the summer of 2003 and the pre-holiday autumn season

Nita, We Hardly Knew Ye In a bit of "background sniping," Robert Novak reports some Congressional campaign disgruntlement:

The victory by an untested Republican on Tuesday in Arkansas marked the third time this year that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had not adequately funded a winnable special House election, in the opinion of Democratic strategists.

That marked this year's third such failure by the committee under the chairmanship of Rep. Nita Lowey of New York

Novak was hailed by his former employee, John Fund, and took a nice roasting for his 70th birthday.

Ladies, Punditwatch Once Went to Fire School! Maureen Dowd gives us the lowdown on the latest romantic trends:

In three decades, feminism has done a back flip. Once men in uniform were the oppressors. Now they're trophy mates. Once cops were pigs. Now they're foxes. Once firemen were the guys you brought home if you couldn't snag a doctor. Now they're the most sizzling accessory.
Women looking for "knights in shining helmets" say they are now turned off by effete investment bankers and dot-commers in blue button- down shirts, khakis and designer glasses.

Finally, Pundit Truth William Safire predicts some White House personnel shuffling, then reveals how he got there--and how he always gets there:

Let me break all the rules of punditry and reveal the single source for this stunning report of musical chairs: It's my thumb, on which I suck while I stare at the wall and dream up this stuff.
Here is the trick in the political prognostication dodge: Take what you know to be true and then play fast and loose with the possible.

It all makes sense now!

Sunday, November 25, 2001


TV Punditwach

Will Vehrs

The pundits appeared locked into long-standing discussions of Afghanistan, domestic security, and economic stimulus when, suddenly, Meet the Press surprised everyone by leading with a segment on the successful cloning of a human embryo. Jumping on a US News & World Report cover story just out, Tim Russert grabbed Dr. Michael West, President of Advanced Cell Technology, as a guest. West defended his company’s breakthrough, carefully calling it “only cellular life,” not “human life.” He carefully differentiated “therapeutic cloning” from “reproductive cloning.” The former is more closely related to stem cell research (and is apparently even more promising for curing disease because of no rejection problem), while the latter is the feared ethical quagmire. Russert peppered West with tough questions on politics and ethics, while guest NBC Science Correspondence Robert Bazell was more balanced. The author of the US News story, Joannie Fischer, was also a guest, but she appeared to be little more than a West cheerleader. Russert also brought his originally scheduled Military Tribunal debate team, Senators Leahy and Shelby, into the discussion. Both seemed to be against cloning (“very troubling”), especially reproductive, although both expect it to happen in the reasonably near future. They do not believe the Senate will or should act against cloning immediately.

This Week managed to slip the cloning debate into their “roundtable,” using an article from Scientific American instead of the US News story. Elsewhere, it was more of the aforementioned predictable subjects, or variations thereof, with the usual suspects trotted out. This Week hyped their discussion by calling the issue “the imperial Presidency,” but George Will dismissed that notion by reciting a litany of legislation where “the emperor (Bush) got rolled.” Sam Donaldson, restless but still relentless, was back on This Week; Bob Schieffer was away from Face the Nation, capably replaced by Gloria Borger. Ms. Borger had to be nimble; her Northern Alliance guest cancelled, then was able to make a quick appearance, prematurely ending a Military Tribunal discussion.

FNT=Face the Nation MTP=Meet the Press Fox=Fox News Sunday CG=Capital Gang
NH=The News Hour TW=This Week

All You Need to Know Tom Friedman on FTN explained the spectacle of surrendering Taliban being embraced by the Northern Alliance this way: “There are Taliban and then there are Taliban.” Pashtun Taliban appear to be okay—it’s the foreign Taliban that are a problem.

Ex-CIA Director Employment Act Former CIA Directors Robert Gates (FTN) and James Woolsey (TW) find their old jobs are just the ticket for talk show gigs. Woolsey had an excellent debate with Professor Shilby Telhami of the University of Maryland.

Moderation is a Virtue Conservatives Fred Barnes (Fox) and George Will (W) see Bush’s wartime actions as “moderate” compared to Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt. Juan Williams (Fox) says it’s a “slippery, netherworld, scary to me.”

Different Strokes FTN invites a law professor (David Cole, Georgetown) and an ex-deputy AG (George Terwilliger) to debate Military Tribunals. MTP goes with charismatically challenged Senators Leahy and Shelby.

I'm Dreaming of a White House Christmas The decision to keep the White House closed to the public for Christmas is blasted on the Capital Gang. Novak: "Ridiculous." Hunt: "A travesty." Carlson: "Going too far."

What’s Next? The pundits are looking beyond Afghanistan. Where? Cokie Roberts (TW) mentions Colombia. Fred Barnes (Fox) and David Brooks (NH) say Iraq, but Brooks quips that there’s still time to “snatch quagmire from the jaws of victory” in Afghanistan. Juan Williams (Fox) makes the case for Yemen. Ceci Connally (Fox) suggests the Phillipines.

Best Question Mark Shields asks, “Has any candidate ever come out in support of ‘politics as usual?’”

Our Friends, The Northern Alliance “Thugs.” (Robert Novak, CG) “The dregs.” (Al Hunt, CG)

Pakistani Shuttle? The US ambassador denies that Pakistan has airlifted Taliban out of Afghanistan, but Alabama Senator Richard Shelby (MTP) is skeptical. “We have looked the other way on a lot of things with General Musharraf.”

The Queen’s a Babe Al Hunt (CG) interviewed Queen Noor of Jordan. Kate O’Bierne noted how attractive the Queen looked, and how much younger than her 50 years she appeared. This observation relieved Punditwatch from making a gratuitous “babe” comment on his own. Most noteworthy comment from the Queen was her support for an expanded role for women in the Middle East, but not tied to any military action on their behalf.

Does George Will read Punditwatch? George Will (TW) used his closing segment to blast the Montgomery County, Maryland, second hand neighborhood smoke ordinance. Careful readers know that Quasipundit was all over this issue earlier in the week. If Montgomery County Executive David Duncan, a QuasiTony favorite, signs the bill, Will says he will forever remembered as “Mullah Omar Duncan.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2001


Print Punditwatch
Will Vehrs
William Safire is the unanimous choice for “Pundit of Week.” Seldom does a pundit both get to an issue first and set the terms of debate from that moment forward. Safire’s scathing attack on the Military Tribunal order by President Bush was the old Nixonite at his most contrarian, civil libertarian best. Richard Cohen and Richard Reeves also railed against tribunals, but neither could come close to the effect of Safire’s pugnacious piece.

To show that it’s tough to put two eye-openers out in a row, Safire’s next column was a fulsome ode to Condoleezza Rice (“the hardliners’ heartthrob”) and the notion of taking on Iraq. Michael Barone covered the Iraq situation more thoroughly in two consecutive columns.

Reeves’ Other Rant Richard Reeves, still basking in the glow of positive reviews for his Nixon book, wasn’t just trashing Tribunals. He took Bush’s Presidential Papers order to task:

With a stroke of the pen on Nov. 1, President Bush stabbed history in the back and blocked Americans' right to know how presidents (and vice presidents) have made decisions. Executive Order 13223 ended more than 30 years of increasing openness in government.

Liberals Lash Out Old style liberals who never reconciled themselves to the Welfare Reform Act are watching the recession-like economy closely. At long last, their prophecies of doom might be realized. Strains of that were on display with E. J. Dionne, Jr. :

And yes, you have to wonder if members of Congress who are proposing to stimulate the economy through large tax cuts for the wealthy and big companies have spent much time with day laborers or laid-off hotel workers. If they saw what Parke [Veronica Parke, head of a charitable food bank] sees every day, maybe they'd reconsider where scarce resources should go during a recession.

Bob Herbert also broached the subject:

We will soon be hearing about the terrible difficulties jobless men and women will encounter when, after tumbling out of the labor market, they look around for a helping hand that is not there.
Seldom in the last half-century has the U.S. been so poorly prepared to assist individuals and families struggling with the effects of a recession. Example: the unemployment insurance system, which was established to ease the pain of temporary joblessness, covers less than 40 percent of the people who are out of work. Example: the food stamp program, which was supposed to slam the door on hunger in the world's greatest nation (and which once served 90 percent of eligible families), now serves just 60 percent of the poverty- stricken folks who qualify for help.

Need a Dose of Clinton Bashing to Get You Through the Holiday? Dick Morris obliges, then the toe-sucking triangulator writes music for the centrist soul:

This is simply not the right time for either party to push its pet agenda. Each must reach out and embrace part of the others' priorities in order to get a package passed quickly. Partisan fighting and sniping will be such a massive turnoff for all voters that the underlying issues will never get a fair hearing in this environment.

The Palm Beach People’s Choice Remember when Pat Buchanan was a respected pundit, not a buffoonish political side show? He’s back, laboring in pundit obscurity:

Will the president lead the War Party in a military campaign to destroy Iraq, Hamas and Hezbollah? Or will he, after his victory in the Hindu Kush, lead the Peace Party? That is the question of the hour.

Hello? Hello? There's a message here: It's democracy, stupid! Tom Friedman gets both a quiz and the answer from his source:

"I'll give you a quiz question: Which is the only large Muslim community to enjoy sustained democracy for the last 50 years? The Muslims of India," remarked M. J. Akbar, the Muslim editor of Asian Age, a national Indian English-language daily funded by non-Muslim Indians. "I am not going to exaggerate Muslim good fortune in India. There are tensions, economic discrimination and provocations, like the destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya. But the fact is, the Indian Constitution is secular and provides a real opportunity for the economic advancement of any community that can offer talent. That's why a growing Muslim middle class here is moving up and, generally, doesn't manifest the strands of deep anger you find in many non-democratic Muslim states."

Friedman uses the Indian example to buttress his contention that the Arab states, with US help, must pursue democracy.

Not So Fast, Tom! Michael Kelly quotes Friedman and throws some cold water on the US imposing democracy:

Let's concede that democracy is, in the long run, necessary for the establishment of free, tolerant and neighborly states. But three questions remain: Are we generally capable of overthrowing undemocratic Islamic regimes (there are a lot of them) and replacing them with free and moderate democracies? What would happen if we tried? If we succeeded?
By and large, we are not capable of overthrowing such regimes, most of which are much more entrenched than the Taliban. If we tried, we would probably get a jihad for real. If we succeeded, we would get a world of unintended consequences -- where, to give one example, the unfree and undemocratic regime of Saudi Arabia is replaced by a regime that greatly resembles the Taliban.

No Gigot Daniel Henninger has replaced Paul Gigot on the Friday op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal. He’s a different kind of pundit than Gigot. He took on the Red Cross and the donation diversion scandal:

It’s a good thing that people are asking what happened to their money. Because once they figure this one out, they’ll also know what happened to other important American institutions that don’t do what they’re supposed to very well anymore, such as big-city public schools or the FBI and CIA. These institutions discovered that they had become answerable, all the time, constantly, to a never-ending movement which believes that any identified difficulty, problem, or unfairness in life can be fixed by a rule, procedure or law.

Henninger decries what he calls the “bureaucratization” of life.

There was a lot more, too--David Broder, the good governik columnist, hoping for campaign finance reform; Richard Cohen, ambivalent about RFK; Molly Ivins, discovering prejudice against Arab-Americans; Paul Krugman, indicting Bush for shortchanging New York City; and, of course, Maureen Dowd, Bush Basher or Bushie Secret Weapon? Punditwatch just hates having to exercise editorial judgement ....

Sunday, November 18, 2001

Not Much Crow Served at Pundit Table
Will Vehrs
The weekend TV pundits didn’t waste a lot of time soberly assessing why they completely failed over the past month to see the stunning military successes of the past week, although Tom Oliphant says on The News Hour that there’s “gobs of crow to be eaten.” The new threat is Afghan tribal bickering over who will govern the war-torn country. Never mind that some of those same pundits were criticizing the Administration a few weeks ago for worrying more about post-Taliban Afghanistan than battlefield operations. Top officials—Rice, Wolfowitz, and Powell—make non-gloating appearances. Other major issues are Putin’s US visit, Military Tribunals and airport security.

Mark Shields was away this week—Tom Oliphant rose to the occasion as a witty replacement on The News Hour, but Al Hunt was so-so moderating the Capital Gang. Sam Donaldson was absent from This Week and the rapidly improving George Stephanopolous ably took over. Sam, take a few extra weeks at your ranch.

Best Guest Author Ahmed Rashid appears on Meet the Press and his amazingly prescient observations made about Afghanistan back in August of 2000—the resentment of al Qaeda Arabs and hatred of Taliban rule by the Afghan people—are prominently featured. Rashid is optimistic about the future of the country and sees and “peoples movement” advocating peace among the factions. He believes bin Laden is still in Southern Afghanistan.

Best Debate Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr on Fox have a surprisingly civil discussion of the Military Tribunal issue. Dershowitz tries to drag Starr into a “Crossfire” style debate, but the former Solicitor General doesn’t bite. Dershowitz hangs his hat on the “worst case” scenario—family man, long-time US resident arrested in the middle of the night, tried by a “kangaroo court” and shot at dawn; Starr sees the Tribunal as a “tool” and notes that the President might have to pay a “terrible political price” if he uses the tool unwisely. Runner-up: Richard Perle and James Steinberg on This Week. Perle attacks the Clinton Administration with vengence.

What About It, Sy? Mara Liasson on Fox notes Bob Woodward’s Washington Post column where it is claimed that the CIA has been on the ground in Afghanistan off and on since 1997. On the one hand, that seems to contradict Seymour Hersh’s recent New Yorker critique of the CIA, but on the other, why couldn’t these operatives have gotten wind of the September 11th plot?

Liasson Lines Putin is “very cagey.” Hmm … how about very “KGB?” She wonders what the reaction would have been if then First Lady Hillary Clinton had delivered the President’s Saturday radio address. Cokie Roberts on This Week asks the same Hillary question.

Pure Pith Fox’s Fred Barnes sees “total vindication” for the Administration’s war strategy.

Tactical Revolution Paul Wolfowitz on Face the Nation reads a letter from a Special Forces soldier describing his experiences with Northern Alliance cavalry. Bob Schieffer and Wolfowitz then yuck it up about fighting on horseback—everyone thought the Gatling Gun had made cavalry obsolete, but no one ever envisioned cavalry with close air support capability.

Oh, Yeah? Tom Friedman says that he has seen the future of Afghan government and it “doesn’t look like Congress.” Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Generals Gephardt and Scheiffer Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation endorses Minority Leader Gephardt’s suggestion for what National Guard soldiers ought to be doing at airports: rooting through suitcases to comply with the new requirements of the Airport Security Bill.

War Imitates Football Tim Russert’s signature sports chatter was aimed at Condi Rice this week. Was she sticking with her pick of the Broncos going to the Super Bowl now that they’re 5-4? “It’s a long season,” said Rice. A national security briefing for Russert is riding on Condi’s pick of the week: Browns by 7 over the Ravens.

Defending the Boss David Brooks notes on The News Hour that Vice-President Cheney was attacking his Weekly Standard boss, Bill Kristol, when Cheney criticized those in the press who bad-mouthed the Administration’s strategy. Brooks argues that Kristol’s suggestions led to a switch in strategies, such as using B-52’s after October 30th.

Es tu, Kate? Usually it’s Hunt and Carlson ganging up on Bob Novak when the Capital Gang meets. Kate O’Bierne joins up this week:

Bob was one of the many people thinking weeks ago that our engagement in Afghanistan looked like a Vietnam quagmire. It didn't look much like one then, and it sure doesn't look much like one now.

In a stunning reversal, Margaret Carlson rises to defend Novak, smilingly noted by guest Senator Lieberman.

Can’t Spin This On airport security, there’s not much positive said about the GOP. Novak: “Republicans capitulated, regrettably.” Oliphant: “A cave-in. The House position was untenable.” Brooks: “Dick Armey, as usual, framed the issue in the least attractive light.”

You Have the Right to a Daisy Cutter David Brooks sees a contradiction between those who want to drop a bomb on Bin Laden’s head but read him his Miranda rights if he’s captured.

The Issue That Wasn’t There Only Al Hunt, in his parting “Outrage of the Week” on Capital Gang, mentions the Florida recount story. He bemoans that the story has been eclipsed by the war and slams the Supreme Court.

Surprise Issue of the Week This Week covers the Jonathan Franzen-Oprah dust-up. George Will credits Oprah doing for adult reading what J. K. Rowling has done for children. Franzen’s characters criticize the US culture as “philistine,” but that “philistine” culture has made him rich.

Classic Congress After Brooks and Oliphant dissected the convoluted politics of the Airport Security Bill, they turned to Congressional disagreements on an economic stimulus package. “The Airport Security Bill debate looks like Plato talking to Socrates by comparison,” said Brooks.

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

Pundits Not Shaving Their Beards--Doom Lurks Behind Afghan Success

Will Vehrs

The pundits this past week (Wed-Th) were too busy examining India, Pakistan, New York City, New Jersey, and Virginia to predict the stunning breakthrough by the Northern Alliance. Of course, most of them had long ago written off the Alliance. A few covered their tracks with veiled criticism of them or vague hints of future problems caused by the sudden rout of the Taliban. Maureen Dowd: “We give the Northern Alliance an air force and they embarrass us with savage force.” Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal: “Even at this hour of success, though, it’s worth bearing in mind a more troubling long term problem . . . a veritable incubator of more Osamas ….” Michael Kelly satirizes those wringing their hands over success in Afghanistan.

Only a few pundits saw noteworthy trends in last Tuesday’s elections. George Will found a “churning” of American society.

Having experienced the unthinkable, Americans may have begun thinking more decisively and expansively than they otherwise might have. If so, 2002 may reward those who are not risk-averse, and may punish those who do not have ideas for the further churning of America.

E. J. Dionne, Jr. also looks to 2002:

The worry for Republicans in their two state losses is not simply that their traditional attack on Democrats as tax-raisers didn't work. In both cases, the Republican candidates were successfully branded as right-wing ideologues. Their insistence on low taxes translated as meaning they would do little about problems voters genuinely cared about -- education and, especially in Virginia, transportation. Congressional Republicans take note: This could happen to you, too.

I Like Mike Al Hunt in the Wall Street Journal confesses that he is a “social friend” of newly elected New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “He is very smart, very competitive, secure enough to surround himself with able people, and imbued with impeccable integrity and stellar values, “ says Hunt. Can sainthood be far behind? Hunt sees problems ahead for Bloomberg: with President Bush because Bloomberg is close to McCain, and with Governor Pataki, because the governor and mayor always clash. Oh, and Giuliani will be back in 2005 to run again.

It’s Easy Beating Green The flip side of Hunt fawning over Bloomberg is Bob Herbert of the New York Times kicking the carcass of defeated mayoral candidate Mark Green. Speaking of Green’s missteps in an effort to unite with Fernando Ferrer, Herbert writes:

It seems always to be like that with Mr. Green. He infuriates people. He has a level of arrogance that is breathtaking, even for a politician. And his empathy gauge is almost always on empty.

Mr. Green's biggest problem was not that he made mistakes, but that he never learned from his mistakes. Almost from the beginning he seemed to take it for granted that he would be elected mayor. He seemed mesmerized by the polls, which almost always showed him winning.

Some Like it Succinct: Speaking of carcass kicking, Bob Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times knocks it through the uprights: “Republicans this year sought their old designation as the stupid party.” Novak denounces varying levels of GOP “fratricide” in NJ and VA.

Ethnic Cleansing White liberals are toast in New York City, according to Dick Morris:

In the future, the Democratic Party will only be able to win when it nominates minority candidates. Whites will not be able to win both the primary and the general elections. If New York moves to nonpartisan elections, the white liberal may be able to come back. If not, his day is over.

Check Sunday’s Punditwatch for a similar point made by David Brooks.

Weekend Warriors The Nation magazine has assailed the Washington Post’s columnists for war mongering, but they appear pleased with the New York Times weekend line-up. Three of the four major Saturday-Sunday pundits blasted the Bush Administration, with only Maureen Dowd straying (she covered Michael Bloomberg).

Frank Rich:

Mr. Mineta is so overmatched by events that he makes Tommy Thompson look like Patton.

On Thursday John Ashcroft, who may be abridging more civil liberties while nabbing fewer criminals than any law enforcement official in American history, proudly announced that we have "emerged victorious in the opening battle in the war against terrorism." Thus he can turn his attention to hunting down doctors trying to ease the agony of the terminally ill in Oregon.

Like politicians' assertions that terrorism at home can be deflected by cheap fixes and oratorical optimism, disingenuous official claims of our allies' strengths and our enemies' weaknesses will come back to haunt the administration if all does not go smoothly. Already a Newsweek poll shows that only 56 percent of the country believes "the war in Afghanistan is going as well as American officials say."

Anthony Lewis:

During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt publicly put aside his domestic objectives for the sake of the war. Dr. New Deal, he said, had to give way to Dr. Win-the-War. It is time for President Bush to curb his zealots and focus us all on the struggle against terrorism.

Paul Krugman:

It is now clear that, at least as far as domestic policy is concerned, the administration views terrorism as another useful crisis.
Why does the administration's favored bill offer so little stimulus? Because that's not its purpose: it's really designed to lock in permanent tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, using the Sept. 11 attacks as an excuse.
Ten months into the Bush administration, we've all gotten used to this. But politics, while never completely clean, didn't used to be this cynical. We used to see bills like the Democratic stimulus package: mostly serving their ostensible purpose, with the special-interest add-ons a distinctly secondary feature. It's something new to see crises — especially a crisis as shocking as the terrorist attack — consistently addressed with legislation that does almost nothing to address the actual problem, and is almost entirely aimed at advancing a pre-existing agenda.

Krugman takes another whack today.

But I’m Not Niggling Over This! Richard Cohen wants to limit the word “war.”

The danger is that we will lose our focus. The word "war" has become such a cliche -- war on cancer, drugs, poverty or, in the moral equivalency once promulgated by Jimmy Carter, energy profligacy -- that we don't recognize the real thing when it comes along. The attempt to get bin Laden and his Taliban protectors is a war. It is not a metaphor. It involves killing, and when you are riddled with bullets, you are not metaphorically dead, you are dead in actual fact.

All this talk about a war virtually without limits does more than muddle our message abroad. It also enables critics here at home to nibble at, and niggle over, the real war. This impetus to make the present situation the rough equivalent of World War II has already led the Bush administration to embark on a clutch of programs lacking only the Andrews Sisters for chirpy accompaniment.

So I Hear Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post has some insightful comments about the US relationship with Pakistan, occasioned by the upcoming visit of Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. There is concern that Pakistan’s cooperation with the US is just enough to advance their objectives: maintaining nukes, non-interference in Kashmir, and a pliable Afghan government. Hoagland reports that

Vajpayee will not engage Bush directly on Pakistan's current role, I am told. He will instead probe whether this White House seems ready to repeat one of the fundamental mistakes of the Cold War, which was to convert tactical relationships with dictators into ideological, strategic alliances.

Hoagland goes wide this morning, examining the whole of Bush’s foreign policy. Tom Friedman, Hoagland’s counterpart at the New York Times, quotes his source by name:

America is fighting Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and Pakistan is fighting India through Afghanistan," says the Pakistani analyst Husain Haqqani. "The whole reason Pakistan first supported the Taliban in Afghanistan was to gain strategic depth against India, with which it has fought three wars. And the main reason Pakistan is getting involved with the U.S. now is to guarantee that it has more influence in a post-Taliban Afghanistan than India and is paid by the U.S. in ways that will strengthen Pakistan against India."

This Ain’t Boston Public Friedman depresses with this account of a Pakistani School:

On the way into Peshawar I stopped to visit the Darul Uloom Haqqania, the biggest madrasa, or Islamic school, in Pakistan, with 2,800 live-in students — all studying the Koran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad with the hope of becoming mullahs, or spiritual leaders. I was allowed to sit in on a class with young boys, who sat on the floor, practicing their rote learning of the Koran from holy texts perched on wooden holders. This was the core of their studies. Most will never be exposed to critical thinking or modern subjects.

I asked one of the students, an Afghan refugee, Rahim Kunduz, age 12, what his reaction was to the Sept. 11 attacks, and he said: "Most likely the attack came from Americans inside America. I am pleased that America has had to face pain, because the rest of the world has tasted its pain." And his view of Americans generally? "They are unbelievers and do not like to befriend Muslims and they want to dominate the world with their power."

Betting on the Come George Will highlights an interesting case involving a male inmate’s right to provide a sample for artificial insemination from prison. Will quotes dissenting judge Barry Silverman from the 9th Circuit:

… the Constitution's proscription of "cruel and unusual punishments" protects prisoners from measures such as forced sterilization. However, that hardly establishes "a constitutional right to procreate from prison via FedEx.

More fascinating is the fact that this unusual “right” doesn’t apply equally to women seeking to be inseminated while in prison. This case is headed to the Supremes where 9th Circuit decisons go to be overturned.

Molly Get Yer Gun Molly Ivins sprays buckshot over a motley, if not diverse, group. David Dewhurst, Texas Land Commissioner, is a dumb-ass, while Trade Negotiator Robert Zoellick, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Dick Armey, and Tom DeLay are just plain bad.

Punditwatch Special: The Ann Coulter Watch Is the only pundit to lose her job over intemperate remarks after 9-11 chastened? Punditwatch lets you be the judge!

Only liberals still associate the words "government employee" with "efficiency" and "competence."

Without constant reminders of the material bounty produced by the glorious Soviet Union, people, by which I mean "liberals," will list toward socialist solutions time and again.

Even the lily-livered Europeans, usually cited warmly by the left for their progressive views on adultery, have abandoned the idea of government bureaucrats running security at airports.

There’s Always 10% Who Don’t Get the Word I only learned today that Ben Wattenberg has written his last column. He was a great Democrat in the Scoop Jackson tradition and did pioneering work with demography to explain political trends.

Sunday, November 11, 2001

Afghan Politics Trumps US Election Returns
Will Vehrs
In a simpler time for the pundits, oh, say,before September 11th, the NY, NY, and VA off-year elections would have been a bonanza for political spin doctors. They would dominate the bookings on the Sunday talk shows, using the pundits' questions as mere starting points for their administration of last rites to the opposition party, its candidates, and its ideas. What a difference two months makes. The Sunday shows barely mentioned last Tuesday and the guests weren't political chieftans like McAuliffe and Gilmore, but heavyweights like Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleeza Rice, not to mention Pakistani President Perez Musharraf. The subject of choice was the war on Afghanistan and the opportunities and dangers of the Northern Alliance's Mazar-e-Sharif advance.

An administration offensive on the airways to match that of the Northern Alliance on the Afghan ground was in full view. Secretary of State Colin Powell led off on Meet the Press by expressing continued support for Tim Russert's previous guest, General Musharraf, and by downplaying any rift between State and Defense over the idea of restraining the Northern Alliance to just short of Kabul. The administration is "knitted up" on this issue, according to Powell. Rumsfeld appeared on Fox News Sunday and Face the Nation to repeat the "long, dirty business" mantra on the war, but to also support the political aspects of holding the Northern Alliance in check. Condoleeza Rice made it a tri-fecta on This Week. Brit Hume of Fox ventured that he believes the administration is "close to a diplomatic agreement" on post-Taliban rule. That certainly would explain the messages and the particular messengers.

When the pundits did get a chance to comment on Tuesday's voting, they generally found that there were no real trends evident in a landscape altered by September 11th. Governor-elect Mark Warner of Virginia was credited with runing a brilliant campaign by several pundits and Mayor Rudy Giuliani's endorsement of Michael Bloomberg was seen as pivotal in that race. Depending on what side of the aisle the pundit hailed from, splits in the other party were fascinating potential harbingers for 2002.

He's Not a Pol from the Pakistani District! If I had to pick one pundit/journalist to conduct a tough interview of a US politician, it would probably be Tim Russert. To interview a foreigner leader, however--I think I could find several who'd be better. Russert's time-honored tactic of throwing newspaper quotes on the screen and asking the interviewee to comment on them just didn't seem to create the right tone for the Musharraf questioning. Russert stumbles a lot when reading, too. The first question he asked--"How has your life changed?"--seemed a little trivial. To Russert's credit, he did ask Musharraf about elections. Provincial elections will be held, but Musharraf isn't going to put himself on the ballot. He's "nurturing" Democracy. Musharraf stood by his threat to jail former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto if she returns to Pakistan.

Inside Pakistan The Capital Gang interviewed Robert Oakley, former Ambassador to Pakistan. He offered excellent insight, noting that the Army is highly respected, while local government there is seen as corrupt. Pakistan is ethnic and tribal, more so than Americans understand. Quiet dealings are needed on Kashmir--that's an emotional issue in Pakistan and more threatening than the mullahs agitating on Afghanistan.

Fresh Air Comes and Goes Last week comity came to The Capital Gang when E. J. Dionne replaced Al Hunt. Hunt was back this week and the tired old "class warfare" food fights between Hunt and Novak returned, too. Gwen Ifill provided this week's fresh air with her appearance on This Week. She's always evenhanded and fair.

More Putin! More Barbara Walters! As if Barbara Walters' interview with Putin hadn't gotten enough play, This Week recycled it with a segment. "Putin wants to be friends," according to Walters. Zbignew Brzezinski is brought in to splash a little cold water on the love fest, noting that it is "premature." Russia is moving toward the West--it has no choice--but the movement is a "spasmic process." While Putin has indicated he will ask Iraq to allow weapons inspectors to return, Brzezinski hopes that Putin will not visit Saddam Hussein when the Russian President makes his Middle East trip--it would legitimize Saddam. After the piece on Walters and Putin, ABC showed ads for Walters' next project--interviews with Julia Roberts and other Hollywood stars. Wonder if that will get a "Walters Redux" segment on the next This Week?

89%? Sure, But How Long Will It Last? This Week notes that President Bush's approval is at 89%, with support for the war effort at 90%, then runs a segment with Historian Alan Brinkley to question how long it will last. Trends from the Civil War, WWII, and Viet Nam are trotted out, but George Will and Cokie Roberts duel over the meaning of patriotic WWII posters.

Worst Interview Al Hunt interviews Dr. Margaret Hamburg, former Assistant HHS Secretary. He asks every pointed, anti-Administration spun question, e.g., "Aren't we all going to die from smallpox despite what they say?", but Dr. Hamburg answers each one with a quiet restatement of the source of the question. Hunt never follows up on any of her answers. Hamburg does indicate that thousands will die just from getting the vaccination for Smallpox.

Let's Get Ready to Dialog Michael Bloomberg tells Tim Russert that "dialoging" will be one of his most important duties as Mayor, this after he proactively met with Al Sharpton. Bloomberg also comes out in favor of non-partisan city elections.

Shields and Brooks, Pick of the Week If I had to recommend one pundit take on Tuesday's elections, it would be the exchange between Mark Shields and David Brooks on The News Hour. As much as I like Paul Gigot, I think David Brooks is a more engaging personality and he brings out the best in Mark Shields. Last week, these two had an "off week." They started slowly on Friday, but then got rolling, especially Brooks. On NY: Brooks said "NY Democrats are horrible at campaigning, but fantastic at recriminations. To see them poison the punch bowl is to be in presence of greatness. Mark Green has been losing elections since I was four years old. Every year the ball drops in Times Square and Mark Green loses an election. Some people would take the hint." Brooks sees the suburbs, especially rich suburbs, increasingly going Democratic. Shields was the first to note the power of Giuliani's endorsement and he saw the keys to victory in NJ and VA clearly: "McGreevy innoculated himself early on taxes. Warner de-demonized himself in areas of the state where Democrats had done poorly."

Race to Watch David Brooks extrapolates this scenario from the internecine warfare among Democrats in New York City: Andrew Cuomo will come under "incredible" pressure to withdraw from the NY Governor's race to allow Carl McCall, an African-American, to have the nomination. Punditwatch agrees!

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

Print Punditwatch: Are the Pundits Leading or Following?

Will Vehrs

Sometimes it's hard to tell if the major syndicated pundits are pontificating for sport or purpose. Readers like myself, out in the hinterlands, can't really know if a pundit is writing about something because they know it's going to happen or because they want it to happen. In the past few weeks, top columnists demanded an American PR campaign aimed at the Arab world and a more aggressive war effort. I would argue that both have come to pass in the last week, but whether the pundits really had anything to do with it is subject to question.

Looking for another chicken and egg situation this week, the best I could come up with is Robert Novak, perhaps the most prolific media pundit of all time. Novak's conservative provacateur TV image belies the fact that he's a hard-nosed reporter at heart. On Monday, Novak recounted a Congressional meeting with the President:

Lawmakers who heard the president's stern lecture on spending Wednesday were not as impressed as they would have been had he specifically threatened vetoes. So blatant an approach, he feels, is not in keeping with a nonpartisan role in waging the war against terrorism.

Lo and behold, today the President threatened to veto the antiterrorism package if it exceeded $40 billion. Who's whispering in who's ear?

Down and Dowdy New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd rode high during the Clinton administration, capturing its essence perfectly on the way to a Pulitzer. She's been adrift in the Bush administration, unable to find the right pitch between shrewish invective and oppressive ennui. On Sunday, after some obligatory Bush bashing, she found something positive as she urged Bush to convene a Council of Elders (ironic after her slams at retreads from Bush 41):

America's crisis has spurred the president to rise above the familiar, trying things that he was not good at before — news conferences, Congressional addresses, staying on top of his briefing books. He has reached inside himself and succeeded. What about reaching outside?

Today, Dowd edges toward enlisting with Instapundit's Bellicose Women Brigade, driven over the edge by the possibility that Bin Laden might have nukes:

So keep on bombing. Keep bribing feudal chieftains. Get the allies involved and let the Northern Alliance do what it can. But let's not kid ourselves.
Give war a chance. But if it does not work, let's cut the chitchat and go get the rat.

An Analogy We Can Use Gerald Seib in the Wall Street Journal explains why the war against terrorism is going slow and provides this handy yardstick:

The task [of US forces fighting the Taliban] is the equivalent of trying to bomb the National Guard Armory in Washington, by starting off in the middle of Kansas, while being sure to detour to avoid Missouri and Ilinois air space along the way and back."

There's more, too. I'm betting Seib got buttonholed by some heavy duty Pentagon brass.

You Gotta Have a Gimmick William Safire of the New York Times uses "gimmicks" (predictions, unanswered questions, playing devil's advocate) better than any other pundit. His Monday gimmick was to channel his old boss, Richard Nixon, for a Q&A. Nixon, answering the call of those who want to take on Iraq, provides a typical Nixonian strategy: let somebody else (Turkey) do the dirty work!

Nixon: Get out of that celebrity- terrorist Afghan mindset. With the world dazed and everything in flux, seize the moment. I'd make a deal with Ankara right now to move across Turkey's border and annex the northern third of Iraq. Most of it is in Kurdish hands already, in our no-flight zone — but the land to make part of Turkey is the oil field around Kirkuk that produces nearly half of Saddam Hussein's oil.
Q: Doesn't that mean war?
Nixon: Quick war, justified by Saddam's threat of germs and nukes and terrorist connections. We'd provide air cover and U.N. Security Council support in return for the Turks' setting up a friendly government in Baghdad. The freed Iraqis would start pumping their southern oil like mad and help us bust up OPEC for good.

The conservative hawks, beaten back on attacking Iraq by world opinion and a cautious US State Department, are probably the ones actually channeling through Safire.

Piggybacking on What's Left of the Left Punditwatch gets a "twofer" today. Michael Kelly takes a David Brooks idea and runs with it. He cleverly demonstrates how the war on terrorism can split the "dillentante left" (the academic and literary leftists) from the "responsible left." I think a new "New Democrat" is whispering in both Brooks' and Kelly's ear.

Reader Assignment Punditwatch is addicted to the big name pundits, but not hopelessly so--he'll read them all. Who are some of your favorite "second tier" pundits? Who are some local market pundits worth reading? Make your suggestions in the "Comments" section at the end of this article. Thanks--see you again Sunday with the TV pundit edition.

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

Punditwatch Notes
Will Vehrs
Thanks to all who dropped in for the maiden voyage of the good ship Punditwatch. Especially big "thank yous" go out to Tony Adragna, the father of Quasipundit, for offering me space and support, and to Glenn Reynolds, the peerless Instapundit, for his nice review and link to this site. Punditwatch is a shameless rip-off of a Michael Brus column, "Pundit Central," that used to appear in Slate. It was the first thing I looked for every Sunday night/Monday morning. When Brus gave it up, I was crushed. I'm happy to report that I got an email from Brus, now a Slate expatriate, giving Punditwatch the "Pundit Central R.I.P. Seal of Approval."

Because of the positive response to this blog, I'm going to start a Wednesday print pundit review. Like the Sunday TV edition, it will be a work in progress for a while. Comments are welcomed and encouraged--no one person can possibly highlight all that the "chattering classes" have to offer, whether it's pomposity, insight, grandstanding, or secret signals. If you've got access to one of those decoder rings, please contact me directly ....

Thanks again to pundit watchers everywhere ....

Sunday, November 04, 2001

Can the Jokes, General Myers!
Will Vehrs
A rising tide of criticism against US strategy in the war against Afghanistan crested after mid-week and was pretty much spent by the weekend pundit shows. While the war was still a hot topic, the questioning was restrained and the "chattering classes" preferred to clash over California Governor Gray Davis's bridge warning and airport security. Some observations and commentary:

Eviscerated Punch Line Tim Russert did a workmanlike job interviewing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Richard Myers. Things were going so well that Myers tried a joke, but double clutched and ended up looking foolish. When Russert asked about the now infamous "The Taliban has been eviscerated line" uttered by Admiral Stupplebean, Myers cracked that he didn't think Marines knew the meaning of "eviscerated." Realizing immediately that this good natured inter-service joke would probably be lost on the audience, he started mumbling that Air Force personnel probably didn't know the meaning of the word, either. Memo to Myers: no more jokes--stay boring and competent.

Gray Davis--Paul Revere or Shameless Politico? Pundits split over Gray Davis's judgement in issuing the bridge warning. Most gave him grudging credit and noted Bush's support for Davis was stronger than Tom Ridge's statement. The "Prince of Darkness," Bob Novak, hammered Davis for using the warning to raise his political profile. Hey, it could be both! Novak doesn't think much of heightened alerts of any kind, unless they keep you cowering in your home.

Most Improved Ensemble E. J. Dionne replaced Al Hunt on the Capital Gang this week and the whole dynamic of the show changed. Nobody seemed to want to misbehave in front of the Brookings Institute, a big change from the usual food fight. Of course, Dionne did have to play the class warfare card on the failure to test USPS workers early for anthrax.

Most Fawning Interview Margaret Carlson retires the award for her windswept homage to Senator Bill Frist. I like Frist--he should be the voice of the GOP right now--but he's allowed to get tough questions.

Who Scheduled This Matchup? Tony has already commented on the Meet the Press debate between Senator John Kerry (D, MA) and Representative Tom DeLay (R, TX). I'll go further--why put DeLay, lightning rod of the right, against the smooth Kerry? DeLay is the insider, "the Hammer." He shouldn't be let out to advocate GOP positions in polite company. Kerry got the better of the argument, but not on the merits. Kerry kept repeating "living wage," as if that was the key to the security issue. He mentioned some of the things about the job we've talked about right in Quasipundit country, but never answered--to my satisfaction--why just being a government employee magically made everything right. DeLay didn't have much an argument at all, other than the way other countries handle it. He sure didn't want to address all the Christmas tree ornaments added to the bill to "buy" support. This government employee thing is a trap for Bush. If he signs a government employee bill and the transition causes problems or doesn't work well, it will be his failure. Whatever you think of private contractors, they're doing the job now and it's probably easier to raise their level than throw them out for government employees who might have to start from scratch.

Double Skepticism Invalidated When I saw that George Stephanopoulos was going to interview General Tommy Franks on This Week, I groaned. Let a military correspondent do the interview! I figured it was a set-up to make Franks, who's been getting a lot of whispered criticism, look bad. Surprise--Stephanopoulos did well and Franks came off as thoughtful and on top of things. Franks made some news, too. He said halting the bombing during Ramadan was still a possibility, despite what Bush and Rumsfeld have said. That was probably a carefully planted comment for somebody's consumption ....

Best Line I'm paraphrasing, but Fareed Zakaria on This Week had the best line of the day during a discussion about the popular idea that we should be ramping up a PR campaign in the Muslim world: "We should worry less about the Arab street and more about the Afghan caves."

Welcome to Punditwatch, a new service from QuasiPundit. Will Vehrs will be publishing his insightful review of the pundits every Sunday, right here. Stay tuned.