Thursday, February 28, 2002

Update 8:00 PM Thursday


Predictable Pundits
Joseph Britt
Tony, what exactly does need to be done in the Philippines? If the Abu Sayyaf terror gang is strongly tied in with al Qaeda and is training terrorists for future attack elsewhere in the islands or in neighboring Malaysia, then we ought to go get them. However, this is more than the Bush administration has said so far, and I don't think supplying law enforcement for corrupt and ineffectual governments like Manila's really ought to be our top priority right now. We are in the position of simply trusting that the administration knows what it is doing, which after September 11 is not a comfortable position to be in.

Should President Bush veto a campaign finance bill he thinks is unconstitutional? Well, that's what I would do in his place, and since I don't think the campaign finance bill is unconstitutional I have no problem with him signing it. Problem solved! Seriously, the section of the bill most often challenged on constitutional grounds is the one imposing restrictions on phony issue ads that are held not to be phony because they do not include any of the so-called "magic words" (vote for, vote against) used in Buckley v. Valeo to distinguish campaign ads that may be regulated from genuine issue ads that may not be. Campaigns' use of radio and television has changed a lot since Buckley, and when challenges to McCain-Feingold bill come before the Supreme Court that whole decision will probably be revisited. I don't think anyone can honestly be certain what will result from that. It's even possible the Court may disagree with me!

Will, that Krugman fellow you say I haven't mentioned I am still not mentioning, except this one time. People make sense to me who do what they are good at. Reading Krugman write about politics is like watching a horse on skates: clumsy, excessively concerned with his own position, and capable of movement in one direction only. Now, I think that's bad, but the people who run The New York Times seem to prefer predictable columnists. (Safire is an exception. I wonder whether the present Times management would have hired him.) Krugman, as about 10,000 other people have already observed, would do more good writing about economics once or twice a month.

You've probably gathered that I do not like predictable columnists . Outside the NYT, Michael Kelly is certainly one, which is a pity because he writes so well. Ditto for Michael Kinsley. The Wall Street Journal appears to prize Pravda-like predictability. No one with access to the online edition of the Jerusalem Post really needs to spend time on Charles Krauthammer's column most weeks.

Of course one can be predictable and boring and still be right. And, Will, you know better than I that the world of pundits today includes some very stimulating writers. To me the best ones are those who started as reporters and never got tired of it. The least interesting are the ones who use their columns mostly to express their alienation: from "the liberals," the "Left," the "religious right," and so forth. I'm sure you and Tony have your own views on what makes a good pundit. What are they?

Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Update 9:00 PM


A Punditwatch Conversation
Joseph Britt
Thanks for the invitation, Will.

I was sorry to see the major pundits ignore my favorite news story of the week, the Barclay's Capital $62,700 Wine Blowout, though I saw some comment elsewhere suggesting it was a kind of last gasp of 1990's-style capitalist self-indulgent etc. etc. I fully expect the Wall Street Journal to do an Op-Ed next week linking this scandal to Bill Clinton. But to me there was something odd about this story about five investment bankers ordering a celebratory dinner in a London restaurant and running up a Lexus-sized tab just for the wine (the restaurant's management, no fools they, comped the food). The Wine Spectator (who else?) confirms my suspicions -- the investment bankers got ripped off. Typical restaurant mark-up for wines is about 100% over the retail price. In luxury restaurants it's more, but not over 500% (!), which is what the money experts from Barclay's Capital paid. They could have gone to a wine auction and gotten the same wine for around $12,000, suggesting that what they really ended up getting fired for was incompetence.

Hunt and Broder are right about the House surrender to the broadcasters. The networks and especially the local broadcasters do give up something in the final campaign finance reform bill -- without the parties buying attack ads with soft money, the cost of air time for the candidate's own ads should be less than it would otherwise. But, because the House deleted the "best customer" provision, broadcasters will still be able to make use of public airways to charge a premium for political speech. Funny how George Will has nothing to say about that!

The really offensive thing, though, is that the broadcast pundits you cover have nothing to say about a provision that directly impacts on their employers' bottom lines. I wonder whether Russert and Donaldson get actual instructions to steer clear of subjects like this, or are simply savvy enough to know when self-censorship is called for.

If network pundits are practicing self-censorship on this issue they would not be the only ones. Did you wonder about the frantic tone of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's statements against Shays-Meehan, or if this one piece of legislation really represented "Armageddon" for the Republican Party? One explanation, of course, is that Hastert and the House Republican leadership are champions of the First Amendment. Dick Morris, writing in The Hill, has another:

"... why is the GOP so worried about the impact of campaign finance reform?

Because its consultants have sold it a bill of goods. They have all figured out that their 15 percent commissions on their candidate media buys will be larger the more a candidate spends. So, like choice real estate, they bid up the price of races in swing districts and states. Ever inventive in ways to spend money, they have convinced their party leaders of the importance of soft money. But it isn’t true.

I have no difficulty believing Dennis Hastert accepts at face value everything his political consultants tell him. I wonder about other senior Republicans on the Hill, though. They know the GOP has had campaign finance rules pretty much the way they have wanted them for years, and also know that the Republicans have lost ground in Congress in every election since 1994. If Florida had had its election law and voting machinery in order in 2000, the GOP would have lost the Presidential race, too. It looks to this guy sitting in Wisconsin as if raising all this money is more important to the GOP's consultants than the Party they work for. Maybe Republicans in House know better, or maybe they just really enjoy fundraising receptions.

I don't have a lot to add about Daniel Pearl. I can understand journalists, especially Jewish ones, feeling special pain over this sad story. I did note that Pearl's wife, in an interview on CNN, mentioned the ten Americans who died in a helicopter accident while on an anti-terrorist mission in the Philippines shortly before her husband's murder was announced. I regret that this is something no print pundit saw fit to do.

Cheers to the End of an Era, Joe!
Will Vehrs
Joe, I know the Wall Street Journal has made some pretty tenuous connections regarding Clinton, but I think they'll steer clear of implicating him in "Winegate." I suspect that quiet little dinner was a variation on the "last gasp blow-out" theme. I imagine the lead executive raising his glass in a bitter toast: "To Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and Andy Fastow, the bastards." I hope these guys know more about deriviatives than they do about wine prices.

You raise some interesting points about the seamy side of the campaign finance reform debate--the broadcasters' sweetheart deal and the disingenuous arguments of the consultants. Of course, whenever one looks at the seamy side of politics, Dick Morris pops up, but thankfully he's exposing the seamy these days, not practicing it. I hear you taking shots at Hastert and the Republicans for being in thrall to the consultants, but isn't the Hastert "Armaggedon" rhetoric more a sop to the NRA and other Republican-leaning groups? They oppose campaign finance reform vehemently--always have--and Republicans going "wobbly" in opposition might have to pay the biggest price in politics these days--a primary opponent. Let's say campaign finance reform passes and is signed by President Bush, taking effect after November 6th. Will the 2002 elections be the soft money equivalent of the Barclay's wine bash?

The crash of the helicopter in the Phillipines got very little attention, with or without its unfortunate convergence with Daniel Pearl's death. Only Nicholas Kristof has written much about the Phillipine operation and he's very critical. Have you taken a position?

I'm interested in your early handicapping of the Democratic presidential hopeful field. It's way too early, but if George Will can do it, you can, too.

Handicapping With the Hunch-O-Meter In Reserve
Joseph Britt
Will, I'll take your last question first. What does a Democrat need to do in order to get the 2004 Presidential nomination?

Before tackling this, let's address the obvious. No Democrat can win against a Republican President with approval numbers where Bush's are now, and no Democrat can drive those numbers down himself. Something independent of the campaign will have to do that, and whatever that something is -- a prolonged recession, a natural or terrorist disaster badly handled by the administration, a Bush decision not to seek reelection -- will become the focus of the campaign. So, all we can do is look at strategies for capturing the nomination.

I see three models. First, the Mondale Model: assemble funding and endorsements from a plurality of Democratic constituency groups and key your public statements to what these groups want. Second, the Carter/Clinton model: adopt a campaign tone somewhat more moderate than other Democratic candidates do, and depend heavily on the appeal of novelty to primary voters looking for a new face. Third, the Stevenson Model: count on the Party's gratitude for services performed in the past.

The only candidate to adopt the Stevenson Model would be Al Gore; I doubt gratitude is the first word most Democrats think of in connection with his name, so let's forget about that. That leaves the Mondale and Carter/Clinton Models, both of which I can see being used. Assembling support from established interest groups is probably easiest to do for a candidate based in Washington; it's much easier to run as a "fresh face" if you have your own base independent of the interest groups, which Governors do and Senators, typically, don't.

This theorizing doesn't really answer your question, Will, does it? Kerry, Edwards, Davis (really? If he's reelected this fall in California, yes), Lieberman, Gephardt, Daschle -- who knows? They look like so many peas in a pod to me and most other people outside the Beltway, and that is the single biggest problem each of them have. It's not just that they are very close on most major issues. They also use very nearly identical language -- pedestrian, forgettable language at that -- while giving the impression that they have chosen their words very carefully not to offend anyone who might agree with them on anything. People looking for a reason to choose one of these men over the others will have to look pretty hard.

Want two names who may wind up in the 2004 mix? Gov. Roy Barnes of Georgia and Gov. Paul Patton of Kentucky (Patton will be an ex-Governor in 2004). These are products of my personal hunch-o-meter, nothing else; Patton will be 65 this year and Barnes won't admit to Presidential ambitions before he is reelected this fall. If no one else steps forward as a fresh face independent of the Washington interest groups, either of these men would do well.

Have I taken a position on the Philippines? I'm for them! Seriously, I admire Kristof for being one of the few pundits to go out and do some reporting. His NYT columns have stimulated one of the concerns I have about the war on terrorism -- that while the administration is figuring out what to do about hard cases like Iraq, Pakistan and so forth it will go forward in less urgent theaters just to maintain momentum. This could lead to trouble. Did you notice, by the way, the vast gap in the quality of Kristof's commentary on the Philippines and on North Korea? The one place he visited himself; on the other he's just repeating what he's heard other people say.

Last point: the NRA packs a wallop at election time because of its large membership. That membership cares about guns, gun rights, and gun regs. Other interest groups with large memberships are similarly if not always so intensely focused. It is the leadership of these organizations, mostly based in Washington, who care about campaign finance. They want to be Players in the Party, and throwing campaign money around is what Players in the Party do. To answer your question, Will, I think Speaker Hastert sincerely believes that campaign finance reform will be a catastrophe for the Republicans. His political consultants have told him so. After it becomes law they will find ways to live with it, and his position will change.

Bob Keller wrote: "...a slab of pork fat on buttered bread is considered the ideal accompaniment to a jolt of vodka." Yikes. I would have thought it was the other way around. A truly revolutionary idea for Russia: green salad! I mean that in the most culturally sensitive and respectful way. No implication that Russian complaining over Olympic rules and referees had anything to do with the Russian diet was intended, at all. I mean it.

Long Shots and Longer Shots
Will Vehrs
It's a good thing for Democrats that they don't have to choose a nominee until 2004. At this stage, none of them probably strikes fear in the heart of the White House. Bill Clinton won the nomination in 1992 because some of the biggest names declined to run against a seemingly strong President Bush 41. I don't think very many of these hopefuls will make that mistake. Who can raise enough money to be competitive in some key front-loaded primary states will probably be critical Gore, Lieberman, Daschle, Gephardt, Edwards, Davis, and Kerry/Kerrey all would seem to have strong fund-raising capability. It's hard to imagine any of them having a large edge right now--it's a classic beauty pagent situation. Watch for Gore, if he runs, to try to do something early to set his "old self" aside and set himself apart from the others.

Governor Patton has appeared on NPR several times. He strikes me as solid and competent, but unexciting. Governor Barnes, if he is of the Zell Miller school, would seem to have a Southern Strategy option. I've heard that Governor Howard Dean of Vermont is thinking of running. Dean is a doctor, I believe, and we perennially think health care will be the cutting edge issue, giving a doctor a supposed advantage. He's liberal and from the Northeast, so he might have a shot in the early going. My decrepit hunch-o-meter says that Democrats might look for a face even fresher than Senator Edwards--perhaps someone from the private sector. Only Robert Rubin comes to mind, but the Mark Warner story here in Virginia has some appeal--the Democratic businessman, "fiscally conservative" but socially liberal, coming in like a white knight to clean up a Republican "mess."

If I were betting on a doctor, it might be Senator Bill Frist as Bush's running mate in 2004.

One last question on campaign finance reform. Our friend Tony thinks President Bush should veto campaign finance reform if he believes it "unconstitutional." Profile in courage or height of stupidity if he did?

You haven't mentioned Paul Krugman. Have you been following his travails, or what his detractors hope are his travails? Of all the pundits I cover, he strikes me as the most arrogant and predictable.

Great Minds Think Alike - Even For Different Reasons
Tony Adragna
My POTW is the same as your's, Will! I laughed uncotrolably at Michael Kelly's latest. That's about all the column was good for.

Look, there have been some people who have been critical of Bush for no other reason that they despise Bush. But, Kelly's rant against Carter is just as bad. I think Carter's criticism was valid, and the only way that Kelly can attack it is by launching an ad hominem attack in the first intance, then linking the comments to similarly held opinions expressed by the people above.

Yes, ad hominem, - he called Carter "incompetent"! Carter may have been ineffective, but that had nothing to do with incompetence. Everybody points to Carter's "failure" in the Hostage Crisis - what would they have had him do? Should he have done what Reagan did . At least Carter did try -- ineffectively -- to rescue the hostages in Iran, Mr. Reagan merely contributed to the functioning of a "hostage bazzar."

In fact, Carter wasn't even totally ineffective in foreign policy. What about Carter's success at something that no other president has been able to do - broker a lasting peace between an Arab nation and Israel.

As for giving "succor to 'the hard-liners'", there's a valid case to be made. The hard liners that I'm concerned about vis a vis this administration's policy are the hard-liners amongst our allies. Look at the pass that Putin and China are getting in their struggles against "terrorism."

Oh, but it's just too easy to right [I mean "write" - so my bias shows through a Freudian slip] off any criticism of Mr. Bush as "nattering" (I was slightly disappointed that "nabob" and "negativity" didn't appear in the same head...)

Joe, I'm not sure that I agree with you about the Philiipines. Some may see the campaign in that theatre as "less urgent", but my experience in the PI informs an opinion that action is long overdue. We haven't been able to act up til now because of domestic political considerations (in the PI and here), and diplomatic considerations (between DC and Manila). Now that conditions are permissive -- despite grumblings in the Filipino legislature -- it would be a real failure to not do what needs to be done there. .

Adragna in '04


Print Punditwatch
Will Vehrs
Several print pundits joined their TV colleagues in discussing the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, but each sought a different angle. Richard Cohen was the most outraged:

It could be that Daniel Pearl would have been killed no matter what. It could be that it was enough that he was American. But it was not his nationality that seemed to matter to his captors; it was his religion. Anti-Semitic kidnappers killed Pearl. Cowardly governments enabled it to happen.

Nicholas Kristof looked at what Pearl's death said to foreign correspondents:

Will Danny Pearl's death change anything? Will it make reporters more careful?

I hope so, but I doubt it.

The reality is that war is a riveting story. It is the route to front-page articles, to Pulitzer Prizes, to promotions. It's terrifying, grueling, traumatic, exhilarating.

Danny Pearl's death should teach us something about our own vulnerability, about the primacy of life over work, about the need to take a deep breath before allowing competitive instincts to direct us down a dirt track toward an uncertain story on the other side of a checkpoint manned by drunken soldiers. Sometimes journalistic bravado impels us to take risks we shouldn't; sometimes groups of journalists squeeze into a car and do things together that no one person would dare singly. This is a moment to reconsider those instincts, and restrain them.

Jim Hoagland tackled the Pakistan angle:

The lawlessness of Karachi that helped cost Pearl his life is the result of a decades-long, losing struggle by the country's tiny, highly sophisticated and essentially secular upper class to run a country founded as an Islamic state. The impoverished and uneducated populace is virtually invisible to its leaders as they sit in the palaces of the remote, sterile capital of Islamabad.

Daniel Pearl died in a journalist's search for truth, in the best tradition of his profession. But the political uses of his murder implicate all Americans in his fate. Washington is pouring billions of dollars in aid and debt relief into a very shaky society, which has grown embittered over repeatedly seeing aid money disappear before it ever gets to the villages and ghettos. The U.S. assumption is that Musharraf wants to and can stabilize the collapsing system he inherited. This abduction-murder and its bungled investigation are more signs of how tenuous those assumptions -- and Musharraf's grip -- really are.

Finally, Maureen Dowd, castigating the "Hollywodization of the Military" (Dan Rather's term for Pentagon cooperation on moviemaking), saw Daniel Pearl as proof that the Pentagon should grant reporters more access to US military operations:

The Pentagon said one reason it couldn't give more access was because it was too dangerous. But reporters like Danny Pearl are more than willing to assume that risk. More journalists have been killed in Afghanistan than American soldiers have in hostile fire.

Campaign Finance Reform isn't even to President Bush's desk and pundits are already suggesting it needs more work. Al Hunt laid it out most succinctly:

Critics of campaign finance reform legislation are right: Some big money will find loopholes; the new regulations will barely dent the huge cost of campaigns and the changes will do little to help underfunded challengers.

So even before the proposed law clears Congress and is signed by a reluctant president, let’s start addressing those issues. The two priorities should be radically overhauling the discredited Federal Election Commission and getting more resources to challengers in a non-competitive system—the best vehicle is cheaper television time.

David Broder was critical of one aspect of Shays-Meehan and it fit with Hunt's suggestion:

While proclaiming their devotion to the noble cause of curbing special interest influence on government, a huge majority of members gave one of the most powerful lobbies in town -- the broadcasting industry -- a multimillion-dollar benefit to its bottom-line profits.

They did so by stripping from the Shays-Meehan bill a Senate-passed provision that would have put teeth into the requirement that broadcasters sell ad time to federal candidates at a rate no higher than they charge their best customers.

The vote of 327-101 to delete that provision was the payoff for a year-long lobbying effort by TV station owners to kill that part of the bill before it went to the White House.

Broder quotes Paul Taylor, head of the Alliance for Better Campaigns, saying to the broadcast industry that it is time they "stop[s] viewing the fundamental act of democracy as a cash cow."

George Will sees Shays-Meehan as a harbinger of Arizona’s “coercive” campaign reform laws, laws that provide for public funding of campaigns:

The more candid, or less circumspect, reformers acknowledge that their goal is complete public financing of campaigns, a system in which government will control the amounts of money used (and the times, places and manners of using it) to debate the composition of the government. Reformers will demand this when, in a few years, they declare it scandalous that their ban on soft money contributions to the parties has -- by the predictable hydraulics of political money flows -- diverted money to independent groups, some of them created for the purpose of receiving it.

Then reformers will advocate measures foreshadowed by Arizona's, including government as a monopolist of money for political advocacy, and coerced contributions to the pool of money the government disburses. They will advocate this in, perhaps, 2004, declaring it urgent to correct the scandalous consequences of what they did in 2002.

Pundit of the Week honors go to Michael Kelly for this morning's hilarious take down of Jimmy Carter's remarks on the "Axis of Evil."

In the opinion of the man who presided over 400-plus days of "America Held Hostage," George W. Bush's description of Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an "axis of evil" was "overly simplistic and counterproductive." Added the man who was once attacked by a rabbit, "I think it will take years before we can repair the damage done by that statement."

Former President Carter wasn't the only one skewered by Kelly:

"The reviews are in, and they are bad," recently declared Mark Lilla, who is a professor of something called social thought (presumably, there are professors of antisocial thought too, but no one knows who they are since they won't answer the phone). "President Bush's characterization of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an 'axis of evil' has been met by our allies' puzzled annoyance and by massive rallies in Iran that only strengthened hard-line elements there."

This is a fair summation of the fools' position, and it is almost entirely wrong.

The Case for Edwards George Will continues his on-again, off-again tour of Presidential hopefuls and Senate candidates with a look at Senator John Edwards (D, NC). What's Edwards' appeal? Will imagines him answering:

I am from a crucial region, my potential rivals for the nomination are unintimidating, and by January 2004 I will have spent as many years in elective office -- five -- as George W. Bush had spent by January 2000.

Will has some skepticism:

If Democrats fail, for a fourth consecutive time, to recapture the House, their frustration might make them more willing to look at a very fresh face in 2004. But his performance concerning Pickering suggests that although his face is fresh, his philosophy is a stale orthodoxy.

Bob Novak discussed a leading fund-raiser, Dickie Scruggs, who has deserted Edwards over his attacked on judicial nominee Charles Pickering. The desertion was welcomed by Edwards' advisors as strengthening him with African-Americans and the liberal wing.

From the Phillipines to the Korean Peninsula Ending his long attack on US intervention in the Phillipines, Nicholas Kristof turns to US policy toward North Korea:

And all this talk about evil has obscured a dangerous reality: We're speeding toward a train wreck on the Korean peninsula. It may come as soon as this fall and risk an exceptionally bloody war.

The only practical measure I can see is to press ahead on engagement with North Korea. That helped tame another Asian Communist regime, beginning in 1972 when an earlier Republican president showed the courage to initiate a real, high-level dialogue with China.

Right now, our approach of isolating North Korea simply provides Kim Jong Il with a foreign scapegoat — bolstering a noxious regime and increasing the risk of a catastrophic war. And ultimately that is far more risky than loose talk about evil axes.

Friedman Redux Tom Friedman now has a PBS "News Hour" gig after each of his foreign trips. Just back from Saudi Arabia, he discussed his talks with average Saudis. Or perhaps he was just reading the column he had in the can for two days later:

(Don't be fooled by the veils; it was the women here who got most in my face.) ... I was told the hijackers were actually educated in America. I was told they were sent by Mossad or the C.I.A. I was told in one session that the Jews control the U.S. government and that was the real problem, a statement that prompted me to walk out. I was told the hijackers were responding to Arab anger over blind U.S. support for Israel's brutality to Palestinians. If that was the case, I asked, why did Osama bin Laden say that what motivated him was a desire to drive the U.S. out of Arabia and topple the corrupt Saudi ruling family? I got no good answers.

Friedman's Long Metaphor Friedman today posits that there are two schools of thought on the Saudi future:

The Soviet school argues that Saudi Arabia is an Islamic version of the Soviet Union: an absolute monarchy that is, like the Soviet Union, ultimately unreformable.

The China school, by contrast, begins with the assumption that Saudi Arabia is a country that makes no sense on paper but in real life has a lot more cushions and ballast, which enable it, like China, to pursue two seemingly contradictory policies at once. In China it's Communism and capitalism, and in Saudi Arabia it's Wahhabism and rapid modernization.

Which school will win out? Friedman punts and says to ask him in five years.

Safire on Friedman Friedman's earlier column heralding a Saudi peace plan is dissected by William Safire:

Saudis now spread this oil slick to ingratiate themselves with Bush people.

Saudi posturing serves three purposes: (1) to counter U.S. repugnance at financial support of hate-America mosques that resulted in the Sept. 11 attacks by 15 Saudis, (2) to pretend that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is the source of the Arab world's discontents, a pretense also adopted by Osama bin Laden, and (3) to prepare the ground for a denial of our Saudi bases to support an attack on Saddam Hussein's germ factories.

The New Bush David Broder, covering the National Governors' Conference (and finding a fixation on terrorism, instead of domestic issues), talks to one of the Governors:

Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles, a Yale fraternity brother of Bush's, was asked if Bush seemed different now. "He's still got his sense of humor and he can poke fun at himself," Knowles said, "but he's totally preoccupied by the war."

Maureen Dowd's Fantastic Leap Dowd, ever alert to the Battle of the Sexes, tackles the problem of "alpha females."

Professional alpha women are an endangered species. Over and over, you see alpha males, who would otherwise be plotting to crush one another, forming alliances to crush the uppity alpha woman in their midst.

The corporate culture is still reeking of testosterone. Just look at Enron, where executives ditched wives for secretaries, like one dubbed "Va Voom." As Marie Brenner writes in the new Vanity Fair, one vice president openly displayed a "hottie board" to rank the sexual allure of Enron women.

From this observation, Dowd makes a truly gargantuan leap:

The manly men of the Bush administration have their own axis-of-evil "hottie board" to rank the nuclear threat of world dictators.

Could it be that alpha men do not want to share their alpha zone with alpha women?

Could it be that they don't want women to challenge them, question them or, heaven forbid, outmaneuver them?

Could it be that they prefer the less competitive and more appreciative company of beta, gamma and va- voom girls?

Please run that by me again, Ms. Dowd--are Iraqi, Iranian,or North Korean alpha women challenging manly Bush men?

Cohen's Crazy Guy Richard Cohen tries to explain his feelings about Andrea Yates by remembering an old acquaintance:

A guy I once met got out of the Army by throwing himself off the back of the parade ground bleachers, risking a broken back, a broken neck or even death. In such a way did he think he fooled the Army into thinking he was crazy. I confess he fooled me, too.

Krugman's Kurrent Kontroversy Paul Krugman appears to be a marked man. He wrote:

The Bush administration didn't want to give those famous $300 rebate checks; its original plan would have pumped hardly any money into the economy last year. Under prodding from Democrats the plan was changed to incorporate immediate cash outlays. But those outlays were included only grudgingly, and with a catch: they really weren't rebates. Instead, they were merely advances on future tax cuts.

What that means is that most taxpayers, when they reach line 47 of their 1040's, will discover that they owe $300 more in taxes than they expected. In other words, the one piece of the Bush tax cut that probably did help the economy last year is about to be snatched away. The direct monetary impact will be significant; the psychological impact, as taxpayers realize that they've been misled, may be even greater.

Numerous voices rose up to challenge Krugman, led by Andrew Sullivan. As is typical with Krugman, he was defiant and unapologetic:

My Feb. 22 column mentioned "line 47" in this year's 1040. What I said was correct, but has been subject to misinterpretation, most of it innocent, some of it deliberate. Let me say it another way: Most people think that they received both a rebate and a tax cut. But the rebate was only an advance on the tax cut; it must be counted against the refund you would otherwise receive. Hundreds of thousands of early filers have already gotten this wrong. The effect is to give many people a rude shock, which is not what this economy needs.

Russian Cuisine Bob Keller looked at the health of the Russian economy--and Russians--through the prism of the growing number of McDonald franchises.

Drop into a McDonald's here, and you find Russians who scarcely existed a dozen years ago — Russians with decent clothes and healthy teeth ...

Whether this represents an improvement in culinary or nutritional standards in Russia is another conversation, although those who want to argue the evils of cholesterol should know you're talking about a country where a slab of pork fat on buttered bread is considered the ideal accompaniment to a jolt of vodka.

Sunday, February 24, 2002


TV Punditwatch
Will Vehrs
There was only one unifying theme of the TV pundits this weekend--outrage at the murder of Daniel Pearl and an outpouring of respect for him. Paul Gigot and Al Hunt, colleagues of Pearl at the Wall Street Journal, praised him, with Hunt saying "He was really an exceptionally good reporter. [He showed] great courage in Pakistan. And personally, he brought sunshine in the lives of so many people he touched. And he's going to be missed very much, but he leaves a very, very special, a very special legacy." Gigot announced that the WSJ had set up a trust fund of $100,000 for his unborn child and that his parents had set up a memorial fund for his favorite charities. Bob Schieffer's closing on Face the Nation was probably the most heartfelt and moving of all the Pearl tributes, however.

Otherwise, the pundits ranged over a wide variety of issues with none taking the spotlight as campaign finance reform did last week. The GAO's lawsuit was hot, as was the "Pentagon Disinformation Department" story. Vouchers. cloning, judicial nominations, and the Boston pedophilia scandal got air time, but President Bush's trip to the Far East was only lightly covered. Winner of the Oddball Segment of the Week was Fox News Sunday's discussion of Pat Robertson's umpteenth controversial utterance on the 700 Club, again on the subject of Islam. "Mark this off as distortion," said Juan Williams, who proceeded to find certain aspects of Robertson's remarks not without merit.

Guest of the Week was Donald Rumsfeld, appearing in the lead segment of Meet the Press and for the entirety of Face the Nation. Bob Schieffer fared better than Tim Russert in avoiding being lectured by the Secretary of Defense. When Russert read Rumsfeld a New York Times editorial on the "disinformation" story, "Rummy" noted icily, "It's not clear to me that what you read is true. You read it like it's true." Rumsfeld had to correct Russert on the initials of the Pakistani Intelligence Agency, the ISI. Later, he told Russert, "It would be a mistake for you to draw inferences from what I said." Asked where Osama Bin Laden might be, Rumsfeld said "If you don't know where he is, you don't know where he is. If he's alive, he's very busy hiding. He's having a dickens of a time." Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Richard Myers, was the Rumsfeld alternative on FNS and This Week. Sam Donaldson pressed Myers on when the US would find Bin Laden, but Myers maintained the larger mission of fighting terrorism was more important.

Pundit of the Week was David Brooks. He was witty on the subject of campaign finance reform and expressed the pro-administration spin on the GAO suit most eloquently:

We have always assumed when a bill goes up to Congress from the Administration, the question is is that bill, is that piece of legislation good for the country? But now, under the logic of the GAO, the question becomes was it conceived in immaculate conception? Did the aides in the White House have impure thoughts or did they meet with impure people while they were drafting this piece of legislation? And that is like Cotton Mather taking over the government looking for impurities in the drafting of legislation.

It seems to me the fundamental question -- and the lawyers will settle that -- for the rest of us, the fundamental question is who cares? Who cares what they met with? The piece of legislation Cheney came up with and the Administration came up with is out there. The principle should be is the legislation good legislation -- not who did they meet with or what did they eat or talk about.

Prim Tom Oliphant, paired with Brooks on The News Hour while Mark Shields travelled to San Francisco, noted tartly, "No administration has ever made the assertion that the Bush Administration is about to make. I can't overemphasize the fact that the president's position is a unique one." No pundit saw the case as a political positive for the administration. Mara Liasson sees the GAO suit as "a pretty classic confrontation of two branches of government." She sees it taking up to two years to resolve.

High Tech Pundit Asked if campaign finance reform would pass, Brooks quipped, "Using George Bush technology, I've looked into the soul of the opponents of reform and they're beaten men. They just want to go home, take a nap. They have been lopped upside."

Deadly Tape Juan Williams, on the videotape of Daniel Pearl's murder: "I hope that tape never sees air."

Priestly Problems Capital Gang interviewed Boston Globe reporter Brian McGrory on the Boston Diocese scandal. McGrory does not believe Cardinal Law will resign. George Stephanopolous on This Week interviewed two academics on the scandal, concentrating on whether the celibacy of priests played a role in pedophilia. One, Mary Ann Glendon, dismissed it, while Professor Thomas Groome said it was an open question. Groome thought the ideas of married priests and female priests should be considered.

Balanced Reporter? Brian McGrory had different reactions to different Capital Gang questions. Asked a tough question by Bob Novak about beloved Cardinal Cushing's possible involvement,

No, Bob, I think you're reading too much into it.

Responding to less a question than a speech by Mark Shields,

Well, Mark, typically you cut right to the point.

The Separation of Religion and Media Capital Gang's "Newsmaker Interview" has a strange category for introducing the newsmaker: his or her religion. The religious affliation of this week's newsmaker, vouchers for sectarian schools defender Clint Bolick? "Non-believer."

Voucher Juggernaut Almost all pundits who were asked appeared to favor the Cleveland voucher program that was being considered by the Supreme Court and all felt the Court would approve it. Margaret Carlson covered both of the major trends in pundit thought on the issue:

You don't have to be in hock to the teachers' unions to be concerned about what happens to public schools if vouchers become widespread. But what happened here is it's not the government's supporting religion. By default, these children ended up in parochial schools, which we should all be proud for having a place for them to go in the meantime, while you hope that the public schools get better. The suburban schools would not take these children with their $2,200 vouchers. And shame on them for it.

Russert Bias? Those who suspect a liberal bias might want to carefully check this week's Meet the Press transcript. Tim Russert interviewed Senators Sam Brownback (R, KA) and Dianne Feinstein (D, CA) on the nomination of Charles Pickering to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Russert interupted Brownback's defense of Pickering with tough questions several times, while allowing Feinstein to speak without interruption. Instead of questioning her as he did Brownback, Russert read her a Washington Post editorial and allowed her to respond. A 10-9 committee vote against Pickering seems likely; what happens after that is unclear. The two Senators also represented the different Senate views on cloning.

Bush's Trip: Axis of EvilPalooza Most pundits viewed Bush's Asian trip through the lens of "Axis of Evil."

I think now we can say that the very felicitous phrase of the axis of evil was probably a mistake. And he could've said the same thing without getting our allies over the world upset. --Bob Novak

He backed off the axis of evil, not in so many words ... --Margaret Carlson

There are some simplistic people, especially in European capitals, who think you can't have moral clarity and tactical subtlety at the same time. And I think Bush just demonstrated you can. --David Brooks

In his suitcase or his briefcase when he traveled, axis of evil was not to be there, not to be mentioned. --Tom Oliphant

Was the trip a success?

I'm not sure it was a success, we were talking about the weapons technology and its proliferation. There was supposed to be a deal. The deal didn't come through. --Mark Shields

Bush comes back empty-handed All areas of disagreement remain areas of disagreement as a result of the trip. --Margaret Carlson

I think it accomplished a lot. In the first place, it made it clear that the United States is not about to attack North Korea or Iran or Iraq. --Bob Novak

Gore Watch"You can't understate his potential in 2004" --Paul Gigot

Rhetorical Question of the Week "Would you let your daughter be in a room with Mike Tyson?" --Cokie Roberts

Wednesday, February 20, 2002


Print Punditwatch
Will Vehrs
Three columns stood out this past week. One was a timely look at a Supeme Court case to be argued today; the two others were fresh looks at Enron.

George Will sees the Cleveland school voucher case that will be argued before the court today in stark terms: "greater implications for equality of opportunity than any it has heard in the 48 years since Brown v. Board of Education."

Will reviews the two conditions the court has previously laid out on related cases: "'true private choice'" -- what Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Stephen Breyer have called a choice 'wholly dependent on the student's private decision,'" and "'neutrality, no incentive to choose religious schools. He then attempts to demolish arguments that the conditions are violated in this case.

The anti-choice coalition attacks Cleveland's program by substituting a misleading statistic for the court's carefully crafted principle. The coalition says the program must be unconstitutional because so many parents have chosen inner-city religious schools.

But of course most have. They have severely restricted options because suburban public schools refuse to receive poor inner-city scholarship children. So the suburban schools have created the statistic that opponents of school choice say renders the program unconstitutional.

Were the court to accept this perverse argument, it would be permitting a third-party veto over a program perfectly neutral regarding religion.

Will finds an analogy to help the Cleveland parents fighting to retain vouchers:

The anti-choice coalition's position is that because some schools -- those in the suburbs -- reject poor inner-city children, no school should be permitted to participate in the program. However, the court has held that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, when public schools fail to provide appropriate education, children can choose to receive it, at public expense, from private schools.

Children in Cleveland, and millions elsewhere, are being disabled -- their opportunities as restricted as they would be by some physical or mental disabilities -- by the anti-choice coalition's campaign to turn the Constitution into a barricade to prevent poor children from escaping from the public school plantation.

Charles Krauthammer, who had studiously avoided discussing Enron, finally ended his silence. His thoughts proved worth the wait. He noted that while Enron was "one of the great capitalist train wrecks," it also demonstrated the "remarkable self-correcting capacity of the same free market." His example:

When the causes of Enron's collapse became clear -- the use of outside partnerships to hide debt, the phony financial reporting that allowed Enron to appear far more profitable than it was -- any company similarly situated was savaged by the market.

The downside, however, is that capitalism does not deal in justice. Enron was disciplined by the market, but "insiders" got away with millions while "real people" were left "shirtless." For the shirtless, Krauthammer offers this:

Two cheers, then, for politics and the law: for the publicity-hungry congressmen who perform the salutary, if ghoulish, function of hanging out to dry for public humiliation capitalism's newest devotees of the Fifth Amendment; and for the prosecutors who will likely try to put some of the malefactors behind bars.

These are useful functions, and they go beyond justice to deterrence. They will make future (and current) executives think twice about pulling an Enron. Nonetheless, when it comes to macro regulation, the politicians, for all their huffing and puffing, will be just following the market -- at considerable delay. Legislation will merely codify the message that the market has already pronounced and brutally enforced: Act like Enron and you're in big trouble.

The third top column of the week belonged to E. J. Dionne, Jr. Dionne, like Krauthammer, looked at capitalism in the wake of Enron, but with a far grander sweep. He quoted an analysis of the pre-Progressive era from historian Richard Hofstadter's The American Political Tradition and found it surprisingly apt for the present day. Dionne believes we are possibly at the beginning of a new Progressive Era. Instead of "trust-busting," there will moves to increase transparency by a new political coalition:

For a very long time, we've assumed that the fundamental conflict in capitalism is between the owners and the workers. Enron proves that the real conflict is between insiders and outsiders. The losers in the Enron case are both stockholders and workers. This suggests a new form of politics both inside corporations and in the country as a whole.

"It used to be said that because so many people had 401(k)s, you couldn't do class politics anymore," said David Dreyer, a former Treasury Department official and Democratic activist. "Now, with Enron, because so many people have 401(k)s, you can do class politics."

There is a new recognition on the part of those who own stock:

The old assumptions were: (1) All the benefits heaped on top management would benefit stockholders, and (2) pushing CEOs to do whatever it took to produce profits in the next quarter would benefit shareholders and employees in the long run.

After Enron, it can never again be taken for granted that big benefits for people at the top of companies are consistently in the interest of shareholders. And Enron's manic efforts to hide losses to keep pushing up stock prices could not have been more harmful to the interests of everyone except the insiders. Paradoxically, the pressure to move stock prices up fast can be bad for shareholders, especially those who are in for the long haul.

This week, at least, it was possible to read about Enron in a fresh way. Other pundit vignettes for the week follow.

Pun Fun William Safire examined the most likely successor to Chinese Premier Jiang--Hu Jintao. Safire called him a "Chinese Putin:sharp memory, agile loyalties, openly secretive." Safire dropped a series of puns along the way, notably what he called America's "sweet and sour" policy. Safire credited that to China expert Winston Lord.

Tough Review Richard Cohen reviewed Al Gore's speech to the Council on Foreign Relations. He called it "a crushing disappointment ... We waited all these months for him to speak and then, when he did, he didn't have much to say."

Desperate Men Seek Desperate Solutions E. J. Dionne, Jr. took on the opponents of campaign finance reform in their last gasp battle to stop Shays-Meehan: one of the finest legislative shows put on in years, the enemies of campaign reform proved they would say and do absolutely anything to keep the big money flowing -- even if it meant abandoning their own arguments and ideals.

For as long as anyone can remember, these legislators insisted that the paladins of reform -- Sens. John McCain and Russ Feingold, Reps. Chris Shays and Marty Meehan -- were too zealous in their struggle to restrict the flow of political cash. Now, in the desperate final moments, the reforming four were being accused of selling out, of embracing halfway measures, of moving with an unbecoming sluggishness.

Krugman Snidelights of the Week Paul Krugman's had two top-shelf snide asides this week.

On Bush's environmental initiative: It's not worth trying to analyze the specifics of this proposal, such as why tax credits should be the tool of choice. (Oh, I forgot — tax cuts are the answer to all problems.)

On the GOP resisting extension of jobless benefits: "So what's next? Support tax cuts or we'll break your legs?"

Great Minds Think Alike It's hard to know what to make of Tom Friedman's Sunday column.

Earlier this month, I wrote a column suggesting that the 22 members of the Arab League, at their summit in Beirut on March 27 and 28, make a simple, clear-cut proposal to Israel to break the Israeli-Palestinian impasse: In return for a total withdrawal by Israel to the June 4, 1967, lines, and the establishment of a Palestinian state, the 22 members of the Arab League would offer Israel full diplomatic relations, normalized trade and security guarantees. Full withdrawal, in accord with U.N. Resolution 242, for full peace between Israel and the entire Arab world.

Fast-forward to Friedman dining with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Addul Aziz al-Saud.

After I laid out this idea, the crown prince looked at me with mock astonishment and said, "Have you broken into my desk? I have drafted a speech along those lines.The speech is written, and it is in my desk."

Punditwatch has no problem believing any of this. Thanks to Saudi-watcher Charles Johnson for reinforcing my skepticism here.

Question of the Week Maureen Dowd surveyed the landscape after a cat was cloned and asked, "What if originality happened and we missed it?"

Phillipines Pay-Pal Nicholas Kristof continued his shrill criticism of the US role in the Phillipines, but he did have one light-hearted moment:

...the Abu Sayyaf fighters may slip away by boat to the nearby Sulu islands. Military officers acknowledge that they have no way to stop Abu Sayyaf boats, which are faster than Philippine Navy vessels. (Indeed, I visited a navy boat and afterward was tempted to reach into my pocket and lend the crew $10 to buy oars.)

Disciplined Disinformation Gerald Seib notes that President Bush, famously undisciplined for most of his early adult life, today runs the most disciplined White House in recent memory ... devoid of leaks ... flow of information tightly controlled ...message discipline." Maureen Dowd, though, rails at the White House for its plan to spread disinformation:

Karen Hughes and Karl Rove keep a childproof cap on even the most anodyne information.

But let's look on the sunny side. At least the Bush administration is trying to disseminate information, even if it's fictional. Usually it's trying to suppress information, even if it's consequential.

Ken Lay, Victim? Richard Cohen says the verbal mugging administered to Ken Lay by Senator's Fritz Hollings' committee "transformed him from orgre to victim in about one hour."

Snaps for Senators Colbert King's buddies at Darrell's Barber Shop watched Senator Robert Byrd and Treasury Secretary O'Neill argue over who grew up poorand they weren't impressed. "Man, that was some weak stuff," Fishbone declared. "Wish I had been there. I would have laid something on both those ol' dudes"

King's buddies proceded to do just that:

"We used to wave around a Popsicle stick and call it air-conditioning."

"When somebody came in our house and lit a cigarette, my daddy shouted 'Clap your hands, stomp your feet, praise the Lord, we have heat.' "

"I was so poor that once my arithmetic teacher in grade school asked, 'If I had $2 in one pocket and $3 in another pocket, what would I have?' I told her, 'Someone else's pants!' "

"I was so poor that in my neighborhood, the rainbow was black and white."

There's lots more snaps, too. If only Byrd and O'Neill had needed haircuts.

Sunday, February 17, 2002


TV Punditwatch
Will Vehrs
The issue of the week was campaign finance reform and the "Pundit of the Week" was David Broder. He didn't even appear on any of the talk shows, but his Friday Washington Post column defined much of the weekend debate. Every program except This Week mentioned Broder and his thesis that campaign finance reform would help President Bush in 2004, though few pundits fully agreed. (George Will made the Broder argument on TW without attribution.) The talking heads also got a "two-fer" this week, tying the on-going Enron story to campaign finance reform.

The News Hour and Capital Gang both led with campaign finance reform, but the higher-minded Sunday shows all led with a brief foreign policy review. Meet the Press had Colin Powell, Face the Nation and This Week had Condi Rice, while Fox News Sunday got Paul Wolfowitz. The major issues were the potential of a war with Iraq and the implications of "axis of evil" on the President's Far East trip. No imminent action on Iraq was forecast and great pains were taken to clarify the status of North Korea. MTP's Tim Russert waited until the end to ask Powell about his controversial condom remarks. When Russert noted that they had been called "reckless and irresponsible," Powell shot back, "Any other statement is reckless and irresponsible." Powell said he and his wife were supporters of abstinence programs and that his use of "conservative ideas" in his MTV remarks was "not a political statement, it was a cultural statement ... small 'c.'" Rice was asked about Powell's comments and hewed the administration line that Powell and his wife were abstinance supporters first and foremost.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R, KY) was the guest of choice to discuss campaign finance reform, appearing on FNS and FTN. He was coy about his plans for a filibuster--he might not try to kill the bill, but amend it or send it to conference. His talking points were praise for the increase in hard money limits and mentioning that "special interests" wrote some of the Shays-Meehan legislation. Senator John McCain (R, AZ), appearing on MTP, discounted filibusters and delaying actions: "We will prevail over time." Most pundits believe campaign finance reform will become a reality. "It will be signed into law by the President," predicted Bill Kristol on FNS, while Ceci Connally on the same program looked ahead: "Both sides are preparing for a court battle."

The week's Enron hearings did little to change the pundit split on whether the Houston giant's collapse was a financial story (Bob Novak, CG) or a political story (Al Hunt, CG, Juan Williams, FNS). Sherron Watkins' testimony prompted CG's Margaret Carlson to (gasp!) join with Bob Novak:

Bob and I agree on something. You're so right about Sherron Watkins. She didn't blow that whistle loud enough for anyone who wasn't on the take to hear it. So I don't know, there's going to be no movie made about her. And she kept a paper trail. She showed some moral indignation to her colleagues, but did nothing to help the people who were going to lose money.

Bill Kristol quoted a Republican operative saying, "If we're talking about Enron this much in October, it will hurt us." Juan Williams challenged the "it's just process" spin with "It's not process if some lady in Houston loses her pension."

Only This Week was bold enough to tackle the most pressing issue of the week for all of America: The Olympic figure skating scandal. One would think ABC had Olympic telecast rights! Author/reporter/analyst Christine Brennan appeared with top-notch scoops. Poor Ottavio Cinquanta, President of the International Skating Union, appeared to answer Brennan's reporting, but his difficulty with English was painful to watch. It didn't help that he appeared shaken by what Brennan knew.

Brooks and Shields on Broder

"I don't want to disagree with the 'Dean.'" --David Brooks

"I think David Broder is the 'Dean' and I'll be appropriately deferential." --Mark Shields

Russert Agonistes It's blatantly obvious that rough and tumble politics is the passion of MTP's Tim Russert. His whole tone and body language began to change when he finally ended foreign policy questions and asked Powell about the more politically charged condom issue. It continued as he interviewed John McCain and culminated with his "favorite" guest, Democratic strategist and performer James Carville.

Two Pairings MTP paired Carville with GOP consultant Ed Gillespie. Gillespie quietly watched Carville rant against Republicans, perhaps because when host Tim Russert showed a GOP "attack ad," it appeared mild in comparison. Only Carville's wife, Mary Matalin, seems willing to really mix it up with the "Ragin' Cajun." TW paired Democrat consultant Paul Begala and Republican consultant Alex Castallanos with George Stephanopolous moderating. Castallanos was all too willing to go for the throat with Begala. MTP concentrated on campaign finance reform; TW asked the question: were the Republicans using the war for political advantage? Castellanos' view: "I think you're accusing a political party of being partisan. You're breaking a lot of news."

Wait a While Was declaring an "axis of evil" a mistake? "Instant analysis is not a good thing." --Condi Rice

Drop North Korea From the Axis "It's a mistake to include them. Terrorism is becoming a classification that doesn't classify." --George Will

What Is Campaign Finance Reform? " It's not a whole loaf, but it's a good half loaf. It's not a crust of bread. And it will make a difference." --Margaret Carlson

Will Campaign Finance Reform Change Things? David Brooks is doubtful. "I had dinner with a big fundraiser. He was a picture of sanguininity, of being extremely sanguine. Guy had it all figured out ... you're damning a river, there will be other rivers."

Incumbent Protection? Who voted for campaign finance reform? "The people who voted for it are endangered incumbents." --Cokie Roberts

A New Celebrity Last week Fox News Sunday and This Week showed "the man in yellow tie" making exasperated faces during ex-Enron CEO's Jeffrey Skilling Congressional testimony. FNS viewer George Schmidt was credited with identifying him as Kyle Pope, a former Arthur Andersen employee from Texas. Pope was interviewed on FNS and claimed he's been asked to reprise his act at other hearings. TW didn't follow up on their piece, although George Will did a segment on Bush's blue tie fashion leadership.

The Good Old Days Mark Shields, as always recycling his NH comments on CG, thinks campaign finance reform will bring back the best years of his political life: "1976, 1980, 1984, we had the three cleanest presidential campaigns of my lifetime, in terms of campaign spending. "

Ambiguity President Bush's role in the campaign finance debate was explained by David Brooks: "He forthrightly declared he would sign any law that was good and improved things but not laws that would not improve things."

The Unkindest Cut It's one thing for Bob Novak to call a fellow pundit a demagogue, but he went for the jugular when Al Hunt raised the Enron-FERC issue: "We've been all through this before. And if you do some reporting, Al ....

Vin's Contribution to Elevating the Tone Former GOP Congressman Vin Webber was CG's guest. His big contribution to the Enron discussion? "And now, it's like talking about bringing strippers into Enron headquarters. We've even sex in this story."

Wednesday, February 13, 2002


Print Punditwatch
Will Vehrs

Highlights of the week in syndicated punditry, categorized for your convenience:


The "axis of evil" is the top issue, with Nicholas Kristof reporting critically from the Phillipines and Charles Krauthammer continuing to hammer the PLO.

Stick to Iraq Jim Hoagland begs to differ from our allies:

The immediate post-Afghanistan focus must be kept on Baghdad and the threat to global stability the regime there poses. Russia, France and other countries seemed tempted to make the Iraq issue one of American hegemony in world politics rather than of Hussein's brutality and treachery. That would be a dangerously misguided approach.

The Bush administration can reduce the temptation by doing a better job in explaining both at home and abroad how the huge defense spending increases it seeks for this year and the future will underpin America's traditional alliances -- rather than hollow them out.

The Case for Craziness Tom Freidman likes the crazy aspect of Bush foreign policy:

So what do I think? I think these critics are right that the countries Mr. Bush identified as an axis of evil really are not an "axis," and we shouldn't drive them together. And the critics are right that each of these countries poses a different kind of threat and requires a different, nuanced response. And the critics are right that America can't fight everywhere alone. And the critics are right that America needs to launch a serious effort to end Israeli-Palestinian violence, because it's undermining any hope of U.S.-Arab cooperation.

The critics are right on all these counts — but I'm still glad President Bush said what he said.

No, the axis-of-evil idea isn't thought through — but that's what I like about it. It says to these countries and their terrorist pals: "We know what you're cooking in your bathtubs. We don't know exactly what we're going to do about it, but if you think we are going to just sit back and take another dose from you, you're wrong. Meet Don Rumsfeld — he's even crazier than you are."

There is a lot about the Bush team's foreign policy I don't like, but their willingness to restore our deterrence, and to be as crazy as some of our enemies, is one thing they have right.

Wimping Out Charles Krauthammer reviews the post-Arafat alternatives and thinks the administration should, too:

How many moments of truth does a liar get?

... the awful outcome of the Oslo "peace process" finally becomes clear: not peace, not a demilitarized Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel, but an Iranian client-state -- a new member of the "axis of evil," well-armed, terrorist and violently anti-American -- planted in the heart of the Middle East, destabilizing not just Israel but Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. That the United States cannot tolerate.

The Bush administration has responded to this strategic threat by freezing out Arafat. But it is reluctant to cut him off completely. He is the devil they know. They are afraid that what follows will be worse.

For an administration that has courageously broken new ground in confronting strategic threats in the region, this is a rare lapse into passivity and complacency.

If No Quaqmire, How About a My Lai? Richard Cohen sees dark shadows in the reports of American troops mistreating Afghans:

We are conducting both our foreign policy and the war with a kind of swagger and, sometimes, with not much thought. Policies are announced and then more or less rescinded. After all the controversy over military tribunals, Lindh is being prosecuted in a civilian court. After effectively giving the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war the brushoff, the Bush administration said it would, after all, comply.

Some of what has been reported so far are allegations. But the accounts are credible, certainly worth investigating, and raise the specter of something much worse happening -- My Lai comes to mind -- if American soldiers are led to believe they can do pretty much what they want. Even in war there are distinctions. It is one thing to fight the enemy. It is quite another to fight like him.

First, the Arab "Street," Now, the Phillipine Slums Nicholas Kristof is sounding loud warnings about the upcoming US role in the Phillipines. Someday, some pundit will be rewarded with a quagmire he/she predicted.

But we've been had. This new deployment of troops isn't really about fighting international terrorism, as the Bush administration insists (and perhaps believes, which may be worse).

Anyone who comes here to the jungles of Basilan, home to the Abu Sayyaf movement that we're supposed to destroy, discovers pretty quickly that Abu Sayyaf isn't a militant Islamic terror group. It's simply a gang of about 60 brutal thugs.

Meanwhile, the American presence is inflaming the sensitivities of the Muslim minority in the Philippines. In Manila, I dropped by a Muslim slum and some residents were venomous as they condemned the arrival of the American troops.

The Philippines deserves American assistance, both in fighting poverty and in creating stability in the south. But President Bush should change the arrangement by keeping American troops off Basilan and sticking to training and intelligence-sharing — both of which the Philippines needs.

To go ahead with joint military exercises on Basilan would risk our most valuable possession in the war on terror — our integrity and values — by adding American firepower and troops to an operation that is brutally out of control.

Tough Interview Jim Hoagland runs into the journalist's nightmare: an interviewee who doesn't talk in sound bytes.

Toss a question at Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India's dignified-to-somnolent prime minister, and it hangs aloft for an eternity as he dismantles each dependent clause and inspects each adverb for danger or slight. Then Vajpayee begins an answer that will stretch across eons of pauses and epochs of vanilla, invariably leaving his interrogators guessing what he meant or even trying to remember what they had asked.

Hoagland recommends against the US mediating the India-Pakistan dispute at this time.

Putdown of the Week MIchael Kelly unloads on the French:

The chief points for the "axis of evil" doctrine may be seen in considering the chief points against it:

• It is "simplisme." It is simplistic, or simple-minded, as the French foreign minister, whose name is Petain or Maginot or something, sniffed last week. C'est vrai. It is indeed "simplisme" to pick fights with evil regimes just because those regimes want to kill you or enslave you or at least force you to knuckle under and collaborate in their evil, when one might choose the far safer and far more profitable path of shrugging one's shoulders in a fetchingly Gallic fashion and sending one's Jews off to the camps, as one's new masters in government request.


Uninhibited Mary McGrory tiptoes around a Democratic problem:

Hollings, in tones that blend a foghorn and tobacco auctioneer, gave voice to his feeling that the Bush administration is just about a wholly owned subsidiary of Enron, the Houston octopus.

With Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois wincing by his side, Hollings, who is perhaps the least inhibited member of the Senate, railed against "cash and carry government."

Fritz Hollings, bawling for a select committee and a special prosecutor, illustrates the problem. He, like so many Democrats, received Ken Lay's bounty. He tried to handle it in a blustering aside -- "I got $3,500 over 10 years, but our friend [Sen.] Kay Bailey Hutchison [also a member of the Commerce Committee] got $99,000. Heck, I'm chairman of the committee. That's not a contribution, that was an insult."

Democrats are grateful that Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota is chairman of the commerce subcommittee that does the actual hearings. He has a distinctly less antic approach....

Whitelipt & Trembling, Consultants on the Run William Safire takes a sweeping look:

Today, a parade of Enron and Andersen miscreants is being marched before publicity-hungry liberal solons. Most well-heeled witnesses are taking the Fifth for the cameras, with nary a civil libertarian to complain. Congress changes its rules when it comes to railing at capitalist greed.

To encourage independence, the Big Five should become the Not- So-Big Twenty.

Managers are becoming more careful to disclose lest they be vilified or jailed. Consultants in eyeshades at Whitelipt & Trembling are becoming assertive, as audit committees of boards are snapping awake. Financial analysts and writers, having been burned, are more skeptical and demanding. Bankers are rediscovering the fishy eye, and sadder but wiser investors are finding how sweet are the uses of diversity.

All this is happening now, all around us, in reaction to the predations of the wheeler-dealers and the apathy of the watchdogs and the underlying pop of the bubble economy. Government can strengthen some regulations, but we should beware a response of "if it's legal, it's right."

Posturing politicians do not make markets. Mysterious "market forces" do not make markets. People by their confidence make markets, and people learn painful lessons.


Bitter Democrats E. J. Dionne, Jr. samples the mood of Democrats:

Democrats see their own support for Bush's approach to terrorism being repaid by a brazen effort to strip the federal Treasury of resources for a generation and to create a permanent tilt in American politics toward the right.

When Democrats went off the record last week, they expressed frustrated amazement. Words like "outrageous" and "irresponsible" were common.

And it's worth remembering that the great Republican victory in the 1994 congressional elections came in part because Republicans in Congress -- from the most progressive to the most conservative -- tired of what they saw as the brazen, highhanded uses of power by the Democrats. Republicans were deeply and genuinely angry, and they transformed their anger into unity and triumph.

The president's domestic policies are now brewing exactly that kind of anger among Democrats.

The Safes and the Not Safes Bob Novak reported on a split at the Congressional Democrat retreat:

So carefully have the two parties crafted congressional districts to minimize contested elections that no more than 45 of the 211 incumbent Democrats need remotely fear a Republican challenger. At the retreat, these potentially endangered lawmakers appealed for caution when it comes to raising taxes.

The safe Democrats, in contrast, reacted favorably to a briefing by campaign consultant Bob Shrum calling on them to emphasize the alternative of government spending programs to President Bush's tax cuts. Correctly or not, Shrum was interpreted as supporting Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's call for a rollback of President Bush's tax cut.

Profile in Calculation George Will assessed Senator Joseph Liberman's predicament with Gore and his potential in 2004:

Lieberman has vowed that he will not seek the Democratic presidential nomination if Gore does. Recently Gore -- just a razor, a jacket and a necktie away from the presidential look -- dipped a toe back into politics with a Tennessee speech. Two days before, Lieberman, at ease in his Senate office, reiterated his vow, sort of: "That remains my position." However, the present-tense verb describes the present without proscribing future revision. And Lieberman, although grateful for Gore's selection of him as running mate, understands that Gore acted from calculation, not altruism.

He would be better situated than many Democratic presidential aspirants should President Bush attack Iraq. He was one of just 10 (out of 56) Democratic senators who voted to authorize the use of force in the Persian Gulf War, and no national Democrat is more ardent for removal of Iraq's regime.

A nation focused on Enron at home and the "axis of evil" abroad might fancy a scold who is a hawk.

California Crowd David Broder looked at the California GOP primary for Governor: candidates Richard Riordan, the front-runner, William Simon, Jr., and California Secretary of State Bill Jones all have problems:

Republicans are desperate to defeat Davis, but they must swallow hard to nominate a man who -- despite the inroads he might make in Davis's Los Angeles vote base -- has an activist Democratic wife and a campaign team that includes such longtime Democrats as McGovern-Carter pollster Patrick Caddell and Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich.

... with his tight-lipped smile and Dick Tracy demeanor, Simon is anything but a comfortable candidate.

... Jones committed political heresy in 2000, switching his support from George W. Bush to John McCain, and the president's many friends have shut down Jones's money, forcing him to pin his slim hopes on grass-roots support in his native Central Valley and a final-week shot of TV ads.

Rant of the Week Maureen Dowd loses it after Vice-President Cheney announces plans to travel without the press and raises it to cosmic foreign policy significance:

We are not allowed to know where Secret Agent Man sleeps. (Sometimes he'll entertain people at his residence, and then leave for his "secure, undisclosed location" at the same time his guests leave for unsecure, disclosed locations.) We are not allowed to know whom he talks to in the White House. We are not allowed to hear how he shapes our energy policy or our war plans. We may not even be allowed to cover his trip to the Middle East to prepare our allies for a campaign against Saddam.

Should we be countering the Axis of Evil with the Axis of No Access? Should our leaders leave a free press at home when they go to talk to regimes that do not countenance a free press?

Aren't we supposed to be influencing the Saudis and other Middle Eastern countries in the direction of honesty and transparency? Instead, the vice president emulates his Saudi friends — operating with high-handed secrecy, plotting with cronies to develop a petrostate, and restricting the press — just as he did during Desert Storm.


The Pundit Now Known as "Butthead" It's only February and William Safire, "mailing one in," already runs a reader commentary/correction column:

Last month I used as metaphor the dog that did not bark. Because the Conan Doyle story was titled "Silver Blaze," I assumed that that was the name of the curiously silent watchdog.

At last count, no fewer than 753 irate Holmes fans had risen to set me straight: "Safire, butthead," saluted one, "Silver Blaze was the name of the horsenapped racehorse, not the dog at the farm which [sic] didn't bark." Another: "The failure of Silver Blaze to bark can be attributed, primarily, to his being a horse. The dog, alas, goes unnamed."

A Pundit's Better Half? Paul Krugman wrote a convoluted column linking the Bush administration and its business policy to an IRS loophole and the Russian concept of "biznesmen." Where did he get that? He must have been talking about it at home:

My wife (who is also an economist) was more succinct: "This turns us into Russia."

Whose payroll is she on?

Sunday, February 10, 2002


TV Punditwatch

Will Vehrs

Apparently, there were a lot of Punditwatchers out there last week:

Meanwhile, with an average of 4.85 million viewers, NBC News' "Meet the Press With Tim Russert" led the pack in the Sunday morning public affairs derby by a large margin. Boosted by an exclusive interview with Defense Scretary Donald Rumsfeld, ABC's "This Week" averaged 3.88 million, its highest total viewership for the season. CBS' "Face the Nation" attracted 3.37 million, and Fox's "News Sunday" averaged 1.79 million. [From Drudge]

If they all came back this week, what did they find?

On Meet the Press, they saw two Senators, two Congressmen, and two basketball players. Who didn't belong? The Senators and Congressmen, of course. NBC is televising the NBA All-Star game and what red-blooded American hasn't been waiting for Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd to weigh in on 9/11 and the meaning of tattoos? To call this segment a shameless promo is to give it too much credit. Oh, by the way, Senators Graham(D, FL) and Shelby (R, AL) confirmed the worst from CIA Director Tenet's testimony and Congressmen Meehan (D, MA) and Blunt (R, MO) demonstrated the two parties' split on Campaign Finance Reform. Meehan repeated the tired ritual of giving long-suffering Buffalo Bills fan Russert a token from a winning team--this time, a New England Patriots cap. Will this inside sports stuff ever become passe?

This Week led with the Olympics, then moved on to Afghanistan and terrorism. Reporter John McWethy replaced George Stephanopolous in the roundtable discussion of terrorism. The second half of the show featured a discussion with New York Times reporters Kurt Eichenwald and Donna Henriques, whose story "Web of Details Did Enron In as Warnings Went Unheeded" adorned the front page. Cokie Roberts led the two through a damning chronological sequence of executive and Arthur Andersen actions during Enron's collapse.

Face the Nation featured Senator Fritz Hollings (D, SC,) spinning Enron conspiracy theories so fast that hosts Bob Scheiffer and Gloria Borger could barely keep up with correcting him. Congressmen Tauzin (R, LA) and Greenwood (R, PA) gave more balanced views on Enron. Both questioned Jeff Skilling's veracity and Tauzin believes the ex-CEO put himself in legal jeopardy with his testimony.

Fox talked with Senate Minority Leader Lott (R, MI) on the stimulus package failing and Senator Lieberman (D, CT) on Enron. They also interviewed Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Zarif, who sent mixed messages on Iran's status as a partner in the Axis of Evil. Host Tony Snow coined the term "Squalorgate" for the Byrd-O'Neill exchange over growing up poor. "It's always unseemly when politicians compete for sympathy over the lack of indoor plumbing," said panelist Mara Liasson.

On the unrated shows, Capital Gang was at its food-fight best. Bob Novak accused guest Kent Conrad (D, ND) of "McCarthyism" and host Mark Shields of "demogoguery," while Shields called Novak a "terrorist threat." Nothing new there. On The News Hour, Shields and Brooks disagreed on the cost of Jeff Skilling's suits (Shields said he wore a thousand dollar suit; Brooks said the sleeves alone were worth a thousand dollars, the rest was "forty five hundred, at least").

The pundits are united in believing that campaign finance reform will pass and most doubt that Congress will grant any Enron figures immunity.

Tenuous Connection of the Week Asked about his questionable charges that Mitch Daniels and Paul O'Neill had been on the Enron payroll, Senator Hollings said Mitch Daniels "worked" with Ken Lay when they were both members of Eli Lilly's Board of Directors. He had a "Skilling" moment and couldn't remember claiming that O'Neill worked for Enron. Here's what Bob Novak said about Hollings: " I'm going to say something I usually don't say. I think he looks like a fool and a liar. " Cokie Roberts did a spot-on impression of Hollings complete with Foghorn Leghorn inflection.

Critics are Raving About "Jeff Skilling" David Brooks:

If you are going to hold a show trial, at least win the show. But this guy, Jeff Skilling, walked all over these congressional people with a calm mastery. If only you knew is what you saw at that hearing, you would think Skilling was the professional and the congressmen were sort of petulant teenagers getting excited over nothing.

Kate O'Bierne:

If there's anything designed to elicit sympathy, deserved or not with Enron executives, it's the spectacle of members of Congress so grandstanding. And the kangaroo court they're running.

And to them wringing their hands so about corporate fraud and waste, when I don't think there's a single agency of the federal government for which they have oversight responsibilities, Congress, that can pass even an Arthur Andersen audit.

Critics Pan "Jeff Skilling" Al Hunt:

I think there are very few Americans who agree... that Mr. Skilling looked better than members of Congress. Mr. Skilling was a liar and a fool. He said he had not idea when he resigned in August that the company's going to go bankrupt.

If he had read the piece in "Fortune" magazine six months earlier that he tried to get killed, he would've known that his company was a deck of cards.

I also love the politicians who spend eight years wallowing in Whitewater, one of the great non-scandals of all times. Now they're shocked, they're just shocked by any kind of partisan shots here.

Mara Liasson: "Uncredible."

Inspired by Al Gore Cokie Robert compared Skilling's excuse of a power failure at a key meeting to the "ice tea defense."

The Man in the Yellow Tie Both Fox and This Week showed video of an eye-rolling man sitting behind Skilling; Fox asked for viewers to identify him and also noted the balding head of Mara Liasson's husband in the same picture.

Journalistic Detachment Award "Amen, brother Conrad ... this budget is about as credible as an Enron accounting statement." --Al Hunt, responding to Democratic Senator Kent Conrad.

David Brooks Explains All

Terence Smith: Explain to us, David, what a budget-- a President's budget is and what it isn't?

David Brooks: It's really long.

Lay Your Money on Lay "I bet he takes the Fifth." --Juan Williams

The Future of Grandstanding David Brooks, after reviewing the Byrd-O'Neill exchange on their youthful poverty:

50 years from now are we going to see Senators saying I grew up in a home without a T-1 line. We didn't have HBO, no Showtime. You know, am I ruining my kids' lives because we do have a bathroom - we have two bathrooms at home.

Another Shameless Plug "If you read my column, senator, you'd know ...." --Bob Novak

Rant of the Week Bob Novak was spitting and sputtering over Senator Byrd:

Senator Byrd, I think, is a living argument for term limits because he abused Secretary O'Neill. I'm not a great fan of Secretary O'Neill, but he's a decent, hardworking man. And no cabinet officer should have to undergo 15 minutes of abuse.

And the senators let that old man carry on that way. It is disgusting. I think the Republicans are reprehensible. And they didn't say cut that out because -- and I think the chairman of the committee should have said, "This is out of order to treat a secretary of the treasury that way."

Your Tax Dollars At Work George Will reviewed the budget for pork, but found "all the food groups." You are directed to The Popcorn Board, proud recipient of $208, 805.00 in Federal largesse. [Warning: click on the link and you may go into "Popcorn Hell," from which no "back" button can save you. --ed]

Wednesday, February 06, 2002


Print Punditwatch

Will Vehrs

President Bush’s State of the Union address was the overwhelming Topic A for the print pundits. Initial reaction was largely positive, but as the week wore on, second thoughts began to emerge.

Some praise was effusive:

George W. Bush delivered such a stunning State of the Union speech, during which he dazzled Congress with a mix of Julius Caesar and Billy Graham, that it left the opposition virtually speechless. (Mary McGrory)

It's not very often that a president articulates a new foreign policy for the United States. On Tuesday night, President Bush did just that. (Bill Kristol)

… this speech, unlike most State of the Union addresses, will be remembered. It was important. It redefined the war. That was the unmistakable message of this astonishingly bold address. This is not a president husbanding political capital. This is a president on a mission. We have not seen that in a very long time. (Charles Krauthammer)

There were a few doubters:

Bush no doubt rallied the nation behind a commitment not to walk away from the battlefield now. "Whatever it costs to defend our country," he said, "we will pay it."

But then, astonishingly, he refused to ask the country to pay it
. (E. J. Dionne, Jr.)

Just as the great Ludwig opened his famous Fifth Symphony…so did Bush open his address with a declaration so clear, so bold that for a moment it seemed the president had embarked on a speech that would become an instant classic. Alas, he wound up hitting the same note over and over again. (Richard Cohen)

Most interesting, however, were the pundits who downplayed the huge foreign policy implications of the speech because Enron wasn’t mentioned. If only Enron were lumped with North Korea, Iran, and Iraq!

Meanwhile, the president's talk of escalating America's war against terrorism to include new foes, this time definable states like Iraq, stands in sharp contrast to his abandonment of a domestic battlefront. This is the war that many in Congress and the nation as a whole want to declare — the war on money politics and the big-contributor stranglehold on policy making that lets a rogue corporation like Enron rise to influence and power. (Kevin Phillips)

And then there is the Enron factor. It was striking that while Bush was ready to denounce by name the nations on his target list of terrorist states, he was squeamish about dealing explicitly with Enron and its auditor, Arthur Andersen. (David Broder)

Other reactions included a glum Bob Herbert (“The Democrats are faced with the simple fact that most Americans like their president, and are rooting for him.”), both a combative Bob Novak (“Bush did not accuse Senate Democrats of obstructionism. He certainly did not … attack Democrats for failing to confirm his federal judicial nominees.”) and a skeptical Bob Novak (“He … stepped into uncharted, hazardous territory as a war president fighting an ill-defined, possibly ill-prepared war against new enemies.”), and a triumphant Daniel Henninger (“George Bush's State of the Union, which, whatever else, was a rousing speech about war, soldiers and having it out with enemies. There isn't a single Democrat holding elective office now who would have spoken those lines.”) William Safire was ready after the speech with a plan of attack against Iraq. Michael Kelly looked forward:

The most telling words in Bush's State of the Union speech were not "axis of evil." They were these: "This campaign may not be finished on our watch, yet it must be and it will be waged on our watch." Those are the words of a man who sees himself as a wartime president in a war of historic proportions, and they were not spoken for effect.

Broder Advocates Plagiarism David Broder, happy with President Bush’s call for a Freedom Corps:

It also demonstrates how good ideas -- carefully nurtured for years by people in one party -- can be brought to fruition when shamelessly swiped by their political opponents.

National service was one of the bedrock ideas of the DLC.

It would have been gracious of Bush to acknowledge publicly the contribution of his onetime rival for the nomination; as it was, presidential adviser Karen Hughes gave McCain a heads-up on the proposal just a half-hour before the speech.

But none of that matters as much as Bush putting his prestige behind the idea.

Rich on the Rich Frank Rich blasted Linda Lay, Ken Lay, Terry McAuliffe, and Dick Cheney in a sizzling screed. He broke this story:

Linda Lay's "Today" performance was coached by a freelancing alum of Hill & Knowlton, the wonderful p.r. folks who have made Americans fall in love with such past clients as the Tobacco Institute, the Teamsters and the Church of Scientology.

His comments on McAuliffe should soothe those who have complained that only Republicans are getting tarred by shady corporate ethics:

Terry McAuliffe, the Democrats' chairman, has called Enron "simply outrageous" and declared that his "heart goes out to the employees and shareholders who were victimized by a web of greed and deceit." Now we learn that he parlayed a ground-floor $100,000 investment in the Bermuda-based, Beverly Hills-situated telecom company Global Crossing into $18 million and cashed out well before Global Crossing went belly-up this week, after having never turned a single yearly profit. We are to believe it is Mr. McAuliffe's business acumen that landed him on that ground floor in the first place, not the buddy network he cultivated as chief fund-raiser to his president, Bill Clinton. "If you don't like capitalism," said Mr. McAuliffe in defense of his windfall, "move to Cuba or China."

“George Bush is my Commander-in-Chief” Maureen Dowd was hot on Al Gore’s trail as he re-entered the public debate: “The rest of the country sees Bush in a more sanctified light now, but Al Gore does not. ‘He sits and listens to Bush and it drives him up the wall,’ one of his friends said.”

Factoid of the Week According to Tom Friedman, “If President Bush gets the defense budget increase he asked for in his State of the Union address, U.S. defense spending will equal the defense budgets of the next 15 highest countries — combined.”

Do You Believe in Miracles? The brave pundit E. J. Dionne, Jr. dared examine Super Bowl fallout: “But if the Patriots can win the Super Bowl, who knows what else is possible?”

Getting at the Truth William Safire, working the room:

(At the World Economic Forum, I asked the Iranian diplomat Mohammed Adeli about the Iran-to-Palestinian terror ship caught red-handed and the discussions about munitions overflights of Iraq: "complete fabrications," he fabricated.)

Girls Overrule Maureen Dowd notes that women have led the way on whistleblowing at Enron:

Before you know it, Enron will be Erined, as in Brockovich. Texas good ol' girl, fast-talking, salt-of-the-earth whistle-blower Sherron Watkins will be Renee Zellweger in a Shoshanna Lonstein bustier. The adorable and intrepid Fortune reporter Bethany McLean, the first journalist to sound an alarm about Enron's accounting practices, will be look-alike Alicia Silverstone. And Loretta Lynch, the tough California utilities czarina and Yale-trained litigator who questioned a year ago what Enron did that was of any value to consumers, will be look- nothing-alike Angelina Jolie, sporting power plant tattoos.

Only 10 years after Mattel put out Teen Talk Barbie whining "Math class is tough," we have women unearthing the Rosetta stone of this indecipherable scandal.

Pundit Travel Tip Nicholas Kristof’s toughest duty wasn’t in Afghanistan:

Uganda was one of the world's horror stories in the 1970's, and now (after a push by Tanzanian troops in 1979 to evict Idi Amin) it's among the stars of Africa. I have a special warmth for Uganda because I was on a small plane that crash- landed there five years ago; with its fire trucks and unflappable immigration officials, Uganda makes an outstanding country in which to crash.

Sunday, February 03, 2002


TV Punditwatch

Will Vehrs

President Bush's Tuesday State of the Union address was a convenient frame for every weekend talk show. Foreign policy was the leading issue, but Homeland Security, Enron, the budget, and domestic politics also figured into the pundit mix. The Super Bowl fit neatly into the Homeland Security discussions or just as a diversion.

Meet The Press featured three workmanlike interviews by Tim Russert. Tom Ridge, appearing more comfortable with his portfolio, talked Homeland Security. Senator Bryon Dorgan and Congressman Billy Tauzin discussed Enron and Ken Lay's appearance tomorrow. Best segment, however, was Russert's tough interview with Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi Intelligence Chief. The Saudi was smooth and unflappable. Equal rights for women? Saudi Arabia is a "young country." The US took many years to grant African-Americans their rights.

Fox News Sunday grabbed Condi Rice to talk about the President's "axis of evil" and Mitch Daniels to talk about budget. "We had tough talk from Condi," said Ceci Connally, after the interview. Daniels was asked about the mysterious missing minus signs in the printed budget document; he laughed it off, wishing the same could be done for his checkbook at home.

Face the Nation went the full half-hour with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Host Bob Schieffer must have watched Bob Novak's comment on Capital Gang the night before ("When you look at the administration, this was a big defeat for Secretary of State Powell, because this is not his style."), as he asked Powell if he supported the speech. Powell stated unequivocally that he had "signed off" on the draft and fully supported the "axis of evil" wording.

This Week Enron led off, as Linda Douglass reviewed the recently released internal Enron report. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appeared next, discussing the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, the "axis of evil," and his recent speech about terrorist threats. Rumsfeld confirmed that Iran had helped al Qaida and Taliban escape Afghanistan. Then it was back to Enron and speculation on how Ken Lay will testify. George Stephanopolous did a segment on past Congressional appearances with a parade of "greatest hits" by the likes of Ollie North, tobacco executives, and Clarence Thomas, among others. Best bet on Lay's strategy, according to Stephanopolous: a "Texas two-step." Most surprising strategy: Douglass says Jeff Skilling will be "defiant" when he appears later in the week.

Capital Gang discussed the State of the Union address on both foreign and domestic policy grounds with Democratic Congressman Barney Frank. Their third segment covered Enron. The second half hour of the show went light, talking Super Bowl with the President of NFL films and boxing/Mike Tyson with colorful boxing writer Bert Sugar.

On The News Hour, Shields and Brooks covered the President's speech in detail and then continued their long running discussion on Enron. The SOU in a nutshell:

Brooks: It's a brave message because the pollsters tell him to talk about domestic policy. People want to know about their pocketbooks but he said, "I'm a man with a mission."

Shields: I think he is striking out in a bold, new departure, but if the devil is in the details, the demons are really in these details.


Second Runner-up Mark Shields (using his best lines, as always, on both NH and CG):

There was no cost, no price. I mean you still have got to have tax cuts, we are still going to have prescription drugs, going to spend more on defense. Everything is going to be fine, and this was Churchill without the blood, sweat and the tears.

First Runner-Up Al Hunt, on CG:

What this administration proposes are lots of guns, lots of tax cuts for the very wealthy, and to cut back on job training and health care. In other words, they want to have guns, caviar and no margarine.

Sound Byte of the Week Barney Frank (D, MA) always giving good quote on CG:

What did we hear from Harvey Pitt? He came in and said well, he was going to bring a kinder and gentler approach to regulating accounting.

I think a kinder and gentler approach to regulating accounting than what we've had would violate the sodomy laws of most states.


#1 Politics in North Carolina CG mentioned Democratic ads targeting Elizabeth Dole's Enron connections; FNS showed film clips of the Dems' ad and the GOP response. After viewing them, Ceci Connally noted, "Nobody said politics was nice or fair."

#2 Al Gore Returns FNS showed a clip of Al Gore's most recent speech and the guffaws were almost audible: "The excitement is back." Brit Hume noted drily that Gore, still bearded and wearing an open shirt, finally admitted he had "met Bill Clinton." TW also showed clips and George Will noted that Gore had an advantage in pursuing the presidency: "He's unemployed."

#3 Strange Bedfellows of the Week CG showed a film clip of a North Korean newsman commenting on Bush's speech and Bob Novak followed up:

UNIDENTIFIED NORTH KOREAN: This is, in fact, little short of declaring war against North Korea. This statement made by Bush is stupid and it is improper for the president of a superpower to issue a judgment on the conduct of a state through sheer imagination.

BOB NOVAK: I hate to echo that unnamed Communist anchorman from Pyongyang, but that's what it sounded like.

The Gambler David Brooks, delineating the different approaches to 401K reform, tried to interest Mark Shields in some action: "I'll make you a bet. I think this Boxer-Corzine plan won't even get the majority of the Democrats." Shields wouldn't bite.

Tough Question, Sam Donaldson Style: Donaldson asked Rumsfeld why the US wouldn't negotiate for WSJ reporter Daniel Pearl since Ronald Reagan had "traded arms for hostages."

List of the Week Cokie Roberts reviewed who's representing who among Enron executives. Jeff Skilling, predicted to be "defiant," is being represented by the man who defended Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols.

Straight Talk of the Week From CG:

AL HUNT: In reality, do the Patriots have any shot?

STEVE SABOL (President of NFL Films): No.