Sunday, September 29, 2002

Pundits Ponder Partisanship

Partisan bickering over Iraq was at fever pitch last week and the Sunday pundits reacted in varied ways.

Punditwatch’s NBC affiliate reacted by pre-empting Meet the Press for Ryder Cup Coverage, perhaps sending a subliminal message about multi-lateralism.

ABC’s This Week had the most controversial coverage. Host George Stephanopolous interviewed Congressmen Jim McDermott, D-Wash, and David Bonoir, D-Mich, live from Baghdad. A seemingly incredulous Stephanopolous heard McDermott claim that the President was misleading the world and that he should take the Iraqis’ word at face value.

Bonoir brushed aside questions about Saddam Hussein’s past behavior. “We could go back and play the blame game. I wish you would focus on what’s happened to the people of Iraq—the children.”

During This Week’s roundtable, George Will called the McDermott-Bonoir comments, “The most disgraceful appearance in my lifetime.” ABC’s Michele Martin just shook her head, noting, “This is why the Democrats are having such a hard time.”

Face the Nation interviewed Democrats who oppose action against Iraq in varying degrees. Presidential hopeful, Governor Howard Dean of Vermont, endured the toughest questioning by host Bob Scheiffer. Dean claimed the President hadn’t made the case, but then conceded that the President didn’t have to “prove” his case.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, told Schieffer that calls to his office were running 9-1 against taking action against Iraq. “There’s no imminent threat. We should avoid doing anything preemptive.”

On Fox News Sunday, Senators John Breaux, D-La, and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb, made nice after the partisan words of President Bush and the emotional response by Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-SD. Breaux suggested adapting a technique that worked with his grandchildren: a Senate “time-out.”

Hip President

Juan Williams of NPR, appearing on Fox, said the House and Senate were looking to make significant changes to the Iraq resolution. “I don’t think the President is down with all that.”

Kudos for Kennedy

Two conservative commentators went out of their way to praise Senator Ted Kennedy’s, D-Mass, speech opposing the administration on Iraq. On The News Hour, David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, said:

To me the most important speech was Kennedy's. I think it was the first time a major Democratic politician gave a very good, a very professional speech against the president's policies.

Fox News Sunday host Tony Snow called it a “civil and principled speech, a grown-up example for partisans on both sides."

Two Words for Gore

Pundits did not have much to say about Al Gore’s speech on Iraq, although George Will called it “moral infantilism.”

Stuck in the Democratic Craw

On Fox, The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol discounted the President’s homeland security comments as the real target of Daschle and the Democrats’ wrath. He claimed that a much earlier comment by the President about not wanting to run for re-election with a vote letting the UN determine American security had rankled them. That remark showed the Democrats that the President was, “Shooting with real bullets.”

Too Late Now

I think the Democrats made a tactical blunder. They would have done better if they’d stayed mum [on Iraq] until after the election. –NPR’s Mara Liasson, on Fox

Shields Airs Ad

Over the strenuous objection of the Chicago-Sun Times’ Bob Novak, who claimed it was a blatant political ad, host Mark Shields made this comment on Capital Gang:

I just hope during that Senate debate that senators will address the fact and the reality that there's exactly one child of a United States senator, Sergeant Brooks Johnson of the Army Airborne, son of Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who is in the military -- But they're voting to send other people's children... to combat. I hope that they think about it and reflect upon it.

Never Mind

On Friday I called politicians in about a half- dozen states and looked at all the survey data. There is nothing to suggest that there's been any movement to Republicans or to Democrats in the last 10 days, any change at all. And you talk to people out there, I think they still think that most voters are mainly interested in economic security. –Al Hunt, WSJ, on Capital Gang

The Heat's on The Torch

The campaign of embattled Senator Robert Torricelli, D-NJ, was analyzed on Capital Gang by Nicholas Acocella of the online publication Politifax:

He's got to go out to what I call the NPR liberals, the people who are offended by his alleged behavior. He's got to win them back to the Democratic Party and make sure that they vote. If he does that, he's got a fighting chance.

As for Torricelli’s GOP opponent making ethics charges stick to Torricelli, Acocella noted:

Doug Forrester's the ideal candidate to do this because he's a blank slate. I mean, he's a businessman, he was a deputy treasurer, an assistant treasurer in, in, in the state government. But he has no real political track record on which to hang anything.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Iraq and Making Way for Politics

With 45 days until the mid-term elections but Iraq still dominating the headlines, pundits were in a box for the Sunday shows. Ever resourceful, the pundits used Iraq and the proposed congressional resolution authorizing force to transition into a discussion of the fall political landscape.

Most pundits and their guests agreed that the president would get approval to use force against Iraq. “Democrats are on the defensive to such an extent they can’t afford to oppose the president,” according to Juan Williams on Fox News Sunday. Senator Carl Levin (D, MI), appearing on Fox, called the resolution “too broad” and said there “needs to be changes,” but even he conceded that it would likely pass before the November elections.

Tim Russert held the first of his Senate Debates on Meet the Press, hosting incumbent Wayne Allard (R, CO) and his challenger, Democrat Tom Strickland. In answer to Russert’s first question, both men said they would vote for a resolution authorizing force against Iraq.

Would Iraq dominate the fall elections? Hawkish pundits thought so.” Iraq what is we should be talking about. Tom Daschle and Democrats should not be trying to change the subject. They should frankly have a more substantive view on the subject,” said David Brooks on The News Hour.

Brooks’ partner, Mark Shields, had a different view on why many Republicans wanted to talk about Iraq:

Is there anybody in the White House who is unaware of the fact that there are six weeks remaining in a campaign in which no Republican can run on Bush's record domestically?

Two million jobs lost, $4.5 trillion gone from the stock market, shenanigans in the CEO's that is just a shock to the country, you know, two million people had jobs to go to when Bush was President, sworn in, don't have jobs to go to Monday morning. No, they can't. But they can run on George Bush as commander in chief is a far more popular figure than a steward of the economy

On Face the Nation, hosts Bob Schieffer and Gloria Borger, joined by the Washington Post’s Dan Balz, reported that voters were not solidly behind the president on Iraq. “My sense is there are reservations,” said Balz. On This Week, Democratic strategist Bill Carrick maintained that voters were talking about “their agenda,” not Iraq. Republican strategist Bill McInturff said voters were looking for “stability.”

Bill Kristol may have had the best line about the political implications of Iraq: “This administration might like a regime change in the US Senate as well as Iraq.”

Pundit Book Club

Tim Russert plugged Senator John McCain’s new book, “Worth the Fighting For,” after a pro forma interview. George Stephanopolous interviewed former CIA staffer Kenneth Pollack, author of “The Threatening Storm,” a book urging action against Saddam Hussein.

Allard v. Strickland

It’s no wonder this Colorado Senate race is neck and neck. Punditwatch calls this Meet the Press debate a draw on substance, with Strickland getting the nod on appearance.

Russert marred an even-handed performance as moderator by ending with his insufferably predictable mention of the Buffalo Bills and display of a Bills jersey. Strickland loses points for not knowing that was coming; Allard loses points for knowing it was coming and playing along by bringing a Denver Bronco jersey.


Kenneth Pollack quoted a former CIA boss's rule: “We will not predict what Saddam will not do.”

Stop the Presses

Long-time Fox antagonists Brit Hume and Juan Williams surprised by agreeing on something: Israel’s actions against Yasser Arafat’s compound are making the almost irrelevant figure a sympathetic figure again.

Chick Politics

Commenting on the gubernatorial race in Massachusetts for Capital Gang, Margaret Carlson saw sexual politics:

The first thing he [GOP candidate Mitt Romney] does is send out Kelly Healy his lieutenant governor, to go after [Democratic candidate] Shannon O'Brien so he can have the skirt-to-skirt thing. He's hiding behind Kelly Healy's skirts.

Mark’s Questions Get No Respect

Mark Shields asked a lot of questions on The News Hour:

These are crucial questions that are not being asked. Once again we're going to war with those at peril divorced from those at policy. who is going to pay for it? This is an administration Jack Kennedy said pay any price, bear any burden. This is an administration that won't even ask Jack Welsh or Donald Trump to forgo their tax cut for the war.

I mean, what are we going to do afterwards? Who is going to be with us? Are we going to be the first western Christian pro-Israeli occupying force, military occupying force of an Arab nation in that region

Asked by host Jim Lehrer what he thought of those questions, David Brooks replied: “I'd say they're all irrelevant.”

Exchange of the Week

It happened on Capital Gang, during a discussion of the Congressional hearing on intelligence failures before 9-11:

Kate O’Beirne: And may I point out the exact same people who are complaining in hindsight that the dots weren't connected are the people complaining about the Justice Department's detention. Guess what? They are keeping dots, those same dots, behind bars.

And one last thing, what if we had -- intelligence had worked beautifully, and they reported to the president that al Qaeda plans a deadly attack in America. If the president wanted to move preemptively, the exact same people would say -- be saying, as they are about Iraq now, Why now? We need more proof. It's not in the American tradition

Margaret Carlson: No. Iraq is so different...

Al HUNT: The problem is back then that John Ashcroft had more FBI agents eavesdropping on prostitutes in New Orleans than he did looking for al Qaeda.

George’s Connections

George Stephanopolous promised last week that his closing commentary on This Week, called the “Briefing Book,” would look at upcoming news. As reported on other pundit shows, Al Gore will be giving a foreign policy speech addressing Iraq on Monday. Stephanopolous, however, claimed to have an exclusive excerpt from the speech. Incredibly, it “tweaks” President Bush on pre-emption. Who'd have guessed?

Old Timer

When Gloria Borger noted on Face the Nation that a Tom Daschle attack on the Bush Administration’s economic performance was buried in the back pages of most newspapers, Bob Schieffer commented, “As we used to say, back there with the girdle ads.”

Monday, September 16, 2002

Punditwatch Follow-Up: Howard Kurtz and TNR

Once again, Punditwatch submitted questions to Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post and CNN when he was live on Media Backtalk:

Midlothian, Va.: Howard, what's your quick review of George Stephanopolous' debut as sole host of "This Week?" I thought it was pretty pedestrian and he seemed less sure-footed than when he was working with Sam and Cokie. Media Notes: ABC's New Voice of Moderation (Post, Sept. 16, 2002)

Howard Kurtz: Stephanopoulos was very smooth and well prepared and asked good questions. But as I write this morning, the show was kind of flat, including the roundtable segment that used to bristle with disagreements between Sam Donaldson and George Will. I think Stephanopoulos was trying so hard not to offer any hint of an opinion that he was sort of colorless. But that was only one week; he'll undoubtedly grow into the role.

A couple of readers starting attacking Kurtz for calling Stephanopolous "moderate," so it was Punditwatch to the rescue!

Richmond, Va.: Howard, I write "Punditwatch" for and I thought your review of Stephanopolous's debut was more than fair. It takes a lot of observation before a charge of bias can be lodged and I think GS earns a clean slate as he starts compiling a record in his new role on This Week.

Howard Kurtz: Appreciate the comment. Stephanopoulos is well aware that critics will pounce on any hint of pro-Democratic sentiment. I don't think he can just wipe out his past history as a Clintonite, but it's impossible to say that he wasn't fair to both sides, at least yesterday.

Nothing wrong with a little self-promotion, right?

Fairfax, Va.: "This Week" announced a new gimmick where a person beyond the beltway gets to ask a question of guests being interviewed. A lady in Kentucky asked Condoleezza Rice something yesterday, but I noticed nobody got to ask Tom Daschle anything. Do you think this kind of thing will work, or does it risk looking trivial when the questioners make speeches or aren't allowed to follow-up?

Howard Kurtz: I think it's an interesting idea, but that the out of town questioner shouldn't have to wait until the end of a long interview to ask a single question. That made it kind of awkward.

Brandermill, Va.: Suddenly Sen. Hillary Clinton is appearing on Sunday talk shows. Do you see any significance to this new, higher profile?

Howard Kurtz: I don't suppose recent press reports that she's strongly considering running for president in 2008 have anything to do with it. Actually, a number of her recent interviews were related to the 9/11 anniversary, and she's an obvious candidate because of her role as a New York senator. (At the same time, I haven't seen Chuck Schumer on the tube much lately.)

* * * * *

The New Republic was in the news on Sunday: George Stephanopolous pointed to its criticism of Democrats on Iraq in a question aimed at Tom Daschle. In TNR Online's Sunday Spin (subscription required) by Jonathan Cohn, the criticism essentially continued. I offer extended excerpts because of the subscription requirement:

Tim Russert [asked] about a different sort of timing: "Why has this issue [Iraq] been focused on so dramatically just 60 days before the midterm elections? Why not 6 months ago? Why not 6 months from now?" Russert didn't say so explicitly, but the implication was obvious: Was the Bush administration pushing Congress for a war vote for political, rather than security, reasons?

A lot of Democrats have been asking the same thing lately. And Powell's answer--"it has no relationship to any midterm election coming up"--wasn't terribly convincing. A few months seems unlikely to make much difference in Saddam's ability to acquire or use weapons of mass destruction. Likewise, the idea that the administration has suddenly stumbled across new information about Saddam's threat to the U.S. seems pretty far-fetched. No, there's one reason and one reason only to push for a vote now: politics. The administration knows that it will be harder for Democrats to vote against the president with an election so close at hand and the memories of 9/11 still so fresh.

But is playing politics with the war in this manner really so awful? Not necessarily. If the only reason Bush were pushing a war vote was that he wanted to move domestic issues off the agenda, as many Democrats allege, that'd indeed be reprehensible. And, given what we know about this administration, it's safe to assume at least some White House hands (that means you, Karl Rove) are thinking precisely along those lines.

But this much seems clear, too: At least some of the administration's hawks want a vote now because (a) they truly believe it's the right thing to do, and (b) they think it increases the likelihood of getting Congress to back a strong resolution. And, certainly, there's nothing whatsoever wrong with this sort of political gamemanship. If you're an elected official and you believe in a cause, shouldn't you do whatever you can to pressure your would-be opponents into supporting you? And isn't lobbying for votes at favorable times a time-honored way of doing that?

Sunday Spin has been consistently critical of the Bush Administration, but the fervor of this turnaround surprised me. The conclusion, referring to Condoleezza Rice's comments, was pretty strong, too:

By raising the specter of 9/11 when talking about Iraq, even though the links between Iraq and the World Trade Center attacks are tenuous at best, Rice is being very savvy. But, hey, that's how democracy works. (Think of it this way: Did anybody ask the Democrats to delay votes on corporate accountability measures until after the election, so that opponents would feel free to vote their consciences?)

If Democrats don't like the fact that political currents favor the Republican position (and, keep in mind, we don't really know how the politics of the war really play out anyway), then they need to do a better job of defending their stance--to the extent they have one--or accept the fact that they'll lose votes for it. Otherwise, administration officials like Rice and Powell will continue to frame the debate in Washington. And now that they're finally making the same arguments, they just might win.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

Scowcroft's New Tune

“I think the president is pursuing a brilliant bit of diplomacy.”

With those words on Meet the Press, Brent Scowcroft, who arguably ignited the debate over Iraq back in August, made the essential pundit point of the weekend. President Bush’s speech to the United Nations totally changed the political landscape. Internationally, the focus is now on the United Nations, not the United States. Domestically, the Democrats appear to have been maneuvered into supporting a quick resolution of support for the president in order to take Iraq off the table for the fall elections.

Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, making the rounds of the Sunday shows, seemed more energized and confident than they have in months. “All of us are solidly behind what was in that speech.,” Powell told Tim Russert. There were no questions about Powell resigning or disarray among the president’s advisors.

Senator John Kerry (D, MA), appearing on Face the Nation, tried to make the best of the new landscape. He claimed the president’s speech was a “Victory for those of us who have argued for a multi-lateralist approach.”

Senator Tom Daschle (D,SD), Senator Hillary Clinton (D,NY) and Senator Bob Graham (D, FL) also made Sunday appearances. All but Graham got off easy with relatively gentle questions about their ambivalence on Iraq and all but Graham got to use a clever talking point that segued from Iraq to domestic economic and health care issues. Fox’s Brit Hume badgered Graham, at one point rolling his eyes, shaking his head, and saying in exasperation, “Go ahead [don’t answer my question.]”

The ballyhooed debut of George Stephanopolous as sole host of This Week was inauspicious, although an illuminating roundtable tried to salvage it. The Stephanopolous format features new, but uninspiring graphics and a couple of “gimmicks.” At the conclusion of an interview with Condoleezza Rice, Stephanopolous announced that the show would bring in “new voices” and he introduced a woman from Kentucky who asked Rice a question. He did not bring in a “new voice” to ask Senator Daschle a question.

At the end of the show Stephanopolous announced that he would usually do a commentary about the things he thought would be news in the coming week. Instead of doing that for his debut, he paid tribute to show founder David Brinkley and the two commentators who were fired to make way for him, Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson.

Guests for This Week will be posted online the Friday before the show airs and Stepanopolous invited viewers to write him with comments, questions, and suggestions:

Discussion of the Week

This Week’s roundtable of Michele Martin, George Will, and Fareed Zakaria was outstanding. Martin pointed out the Democratic opposition to military action against Iraq coalescing around the idea of it being a “distraction” from the war on terror. “It’s morally persuasive and politically effective.” Zakaria said memorably, “The war train has left the station. You can get it in six weeks or six months.” Will went literary: “A specter is haunting the United Nations.”

Stanley Kubrick Said That

“Great countries act like gangsters, small ones like prostitutes, somebody once said that.” --David Brooks, News Hour.

Clever Move

Bill Kristol, on Fox News Sunday, saw the move to Qatar by the US Forces Central Command as worrisome to the Saudis. “They don’t want to be left behind.” He believes they will give the US flyover rights for military action against Iraq.

War on Terrorism Outrages

Bob Novak criticized the response to the Florida joke turned terrorist incident on his portion of Capital Gang’s “Outrage of the Week.” “So this is what Code Orange looks like.” Margaret Carlson ridiculed Senator Patrick Leahy’s suggestion that West Nile virus was a terrorist action. “Does he think there are mosquito training camps in Afghanistan? A supply of teeny-tiny night vision goggles for the little buggers?”

The Company He Keeps

“When I go to lunch, it’s with super hawks. When I go to dinner, it’s with super hawks. I take a shower, it’s only super hawks there in the shower.” –David Brooks

History’s Solution for Florida

Noting that early American candidates offered voters alcoholic spirits, producing elected officials like Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, George Will had a suggestion to fix Florida’s voting problems: “More whiskey and fewer gadgets.”

Sunday, September 08, 2002

Pundits Look Forward, Look Back

Surprisingly, the weekend pundit shows did not overindulge in sentimentality over the upcoming anniversary of 9/11. They essentially combined the major issue of the day—Iraq—with a state of the nation look at America one year after the terrorist attack.

The big administration guns were out in force: Vice-President Dick Cheney for the full hour on Meet the Press; Secretary of State Colin Powell for half of Fox News Sunday; Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for the first half hour of a special one hour Face the Nation; and First Lady Laura Bush and Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers on This Week. For the first time, Cheney, Powell and Rumsfeld sounded as if they were reading off the same sheet of music, giving the distinct impression that President Bush’s speech to the United Nations on 9/12 would end all internal arguments.

No one from the administration broke any new ground. Powell appear to reconcile the opposing views by saying, “Regime change is the surest way to insure [Iraq is] disarmed.”

To his credit, Tim Russert moved away from Iraq and terrorism when he used the last few minutes of his interview to ask Cheney about Halliburton and his future as Bush’s running mate in 2004. Cheney referred Russert to the Halliburton web site and insisted he was expecting to run again.

Tony Snow asked Powell about rumors he would resign. Powell dismissed that speculation and criticized the media for such coverage.

Face the Nation was the most focused on 9/11. Before Rumsfeld’s appearance, host Bob Schieffer was shown in a hard hat touring the Pentagon reconstruction. The second half of the show was broadcast from New York and ground zero.

Double Sentimentality

Today was the last broadcast of This Week as hosted by Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. George Will, in his commentary, paid tribute to them by placing them in the same class as show founder David Brinkley. Both Sam and Cokie appeared genuinely moved by Will’s words and they ended the show praising each other. The George Stephanopolous era begins next week.

The Op-Ed That Wasn’t

Much was made of an op-ed Donald Rumsfeld submitted the Washington Post then withdrew. Ask by Schieffer if he’d been “muzzled,” the Defense Secretary declared, “I’m not muzzleable.” He claimed that the op-ed will probably appear later.

Powell to Scott Ritter

Shown remarks former inspector Scott Ritter made to the Iraqi Congress, Secretary Powell asked, “We have facts, not speculation. If Scott is right, why are they saying ‘no’ to inspectors?”

Advice from Jim Lehrer

The News Hour host was asked on Capital Gang about the debate over Iraq:

Well, I think everybody should always remember that wars are fought by real people, eyeball to eyeball, and that they bleed and they scream and they die, and as long as everybody who's making the decisions remembers that, then we're going to be always OK.

9/11 Sound Byte of the Week

Pundits were not particularly eloquent when asked the question they knew was coming—what did 9/11 mean? Juan Williams of PBS, on Fox, had perhaps the best and most heartfelt response, concluding with:

People are still clamoring to get into this country. What is means to be an American is more valuable than ever to the American people.

Runner-up was Mark Shields on The News Hour:

First of all we learned just how vulnerable we are to attack. And we're vulnerable for the right reasons. We're vulnerable because we are an open society, because we do welcome strangers and newcomers.

Where are the Democrats?

This exchange on Fox was instructive:

Brit Hume: We are dealing with a Democratic Party which at its core is more distrustful of US power than it is with the threat from Saddam Hussein. That’s a harsh statement, but I think it’s a fair one.

Mara Liasson: I think there’s an assumption here that isn’t proven yet, which is that if the discussion is about Iraq it helps Bush and the Republicans and hurts the Democrats. A lot of these Democrats who voted no for the first Persian Gulf War weren’t hurt by it.

Juan Williams: The Democrats should never be ashamed to say that they are standing up and advocating peace and looking for ways to have a peaceful resolution of this issue.

The Carving Clintons

Commenting on Andrew Cuomo’s withdrawal from the New York gubernatorial primary, Margaret Carlson, on Capital Gang, said,

The Cuomo race teaches me two things. One is, you know, Cuomo is a smart guy, and he can give a good speech. But likable trumps smart lots of times in these big races, and, you know, he just wasn't likable. And the other thing is, is that the Clintons will stab you in the back.

Pollsters, Doctors

David Brooks, back on the News Hour, explained why he thought support for a pre-emptive strike on Iraq had declined recently:

Remember there were 70 or 80 percent for deposing Saddam six months ago now it's down 50 or 60 percent depending on the poll. To me it is like you go to the doctor and the doctor says we're going to have to take that out some day, some organ in your body and you say okay, we'll do it someday, and then you go to the doctor one day and he says it's coming out today, get on the gurney and suddenly you're going, whoa!

Quip of the Week

[The Sunday shows] are, like anchovies, an acquired taste. –George Will, This Week

Sunday, September 01, 2002

Two Debates for the Labor Day Kick-Off

Labor Day is traditionally the start of the fall election campaign and the pundits honored that hoary convention, but they also took the debate on Iraq to a new level.

The trickle of current and ex-officials jumping into the Iraq fray turned into a flood last week, as Vice President Cheney gave speeches, Secretary of State Colin Powell gave an interview to the BBC, and former luminaries Bob Dole, Alexander Haig, and Zbigniew Brezinzski had major newspaper op-eds to consider. The clamor for President Bush to bring order out of chaos is rising and pundits expect it to be settled by the end of September, if not before.

Viewed from the Labor Day starting line, the battle for control of Congress appears too close to call, adding importance to the Iraq issue and raising the possibility of an "October Surprise."

Meet the Press

Tim Russert was even more grave than usual in introducing his show: “There is a very important subject this morning. It’s called war.” He then moderated a thoughtful and respectful discussion on Iraq between Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and retiring Senator Fred Thompson (R, TN) Eagleburger’s talking point against moving against Iraq was “If we are so clear, why can’t we convince our NATO allies? The administration has provided no evidence whatsoever.” Thompson’s argument was, “We can’t afford to calibrate the moment he has weapons of mass destruction. We can’t afford to guess wrong.”

The follow-up segment was a point/counterpoint between Nita Lowey (D, NY) and Tom Davis (R, VA), chairpersons of their respective congressional campaign committees. Russert hammered Davis on privatizing social security, but he was tougher on Lowey regarding her reluctance to call for a freeze of the Bush tax cut. He was almost incredulous that Lowey’s answer to the tax issue was to hold an economic summit. Perhaps as a sign of just how close Congressional elections are, neither representative would go on record as predicting more than taking Congress (Lowey) or holding it (Davis).

MTP Notes: Eagleburger chided Thompson for leaving the Senate, saying he was “chickening out” … Thompson, leaving the Senate for television, said politics should be, “An interruption to a career, not your career.” … Russert shamelessly plugged NBC’s Law and Order by showing a clip of an upcoming episode with Thompson appearing as DA Arthur Branch …

Fox News Sunday

Former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke represented the dovish side of the Iraq debate, calling the Bush Administration’s debate a “Summer of public disarray.” He favors going to the Security Council for approval and criticized Vice-President Cheney’s “Back of the hand attitude to the Security Council and Congress.”

Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig made the hawk’s case. Sure, go to the Security Council, he argued, but just to tell them we’re going to enforce existing resolutions. “Lawyering all these details has become an art form,” he said, in a pointed reference to the coalition builders.

Perhaps because Fox televises major league baseball, they were the only Sunday program with a segment on the strike settlement.

FNS Notes: Haig observed that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s remarks on the BBC sounded like “Conscious ambiguity to shore up an ally” … He also said President Bush needs to be careful of the old gang, “Baker, Scowcroft, and a very wise daddy who’s not taking and he shouldn’t” … Bill Kristol sees the recent travels of Assistant Secretary of State Richard Armitage—he went to China—as related to achieving a Security Council consensus on Iraq … The panel extended a metaphor to its breaking point:

Fred Barnes: Secretary Powell is off the reservation.

Ceci Conally: I’m not certain what the reservation is. It depends on what reservation we’re talking about, the intervention reservation, the UN resolution reservation, the reservation with respect to Congress ….

Juan Williams: When we talk about a reservation, I think we’re talking about a reservation that exists on the far right, a group of yes men.

Bill Kristol: That’s a wonderful, high class reservation.

This Week

Critics of the hawkish line on Iraq led the show. Senator Chuck Hagel (R, NE) called on the President to come to Congress and to follow former Secretary of State Baker’s suggestion that the US “run the diplomatic track.” Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brezinzski, fresh from a NYT op-ed, urged concentrating on the war on terror. German Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger also urged a focus on the war against terror, instead of a war against Iraq. The editor of an Arabic newspaper in London made the case that Osama bin Laden was alive and recovered from a shoulder condition.

In his commentary, George Will railed against Harvard. Because they reluctantly agreed to allow military recruiters on campus, he called them, “Mercenary as well as moralistic.”

TW Notes: Peter Beinart, editor of TNR, was back for another roundtable appearance. Hopefully, he will become a regular … Beinart believes the administration “misjudged the timing” on the Iraq debate, thinking it could wait until nearer the election. “The doves have finally found their voice. They want inspections” … Claire Shipman says there is “Almost civil warfare in the administration” … Regarding the fall elections, she notes, “The pickings aren’t easy for Democrats this year” … Races to watch: Will picks the NJ Senate race, Donaldson the South Dakota Senate race, Shipman picks the Texas Senate race, and Beinart the Florida Governor’s race …. First Lady Laura Bush was hyped as next week’s guest on the 9/11 anniversary show.

Face the Nation

Substitute host John Roberts moderated a point/counterpoint between a remarkably subdued DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe and a matter of fact RNC Chairman Marc Racicot. McAuliffe was almost statesmanlike on Iraq, but ignored Roberts’ question about Democrats pushing for a freeze of the tax cut, then offered the excuse that Bush’s “over my dead body” attitude toward a freeze made the issue moot. Racicot charged that the Democratic-led Senate presented “no alternative” to Bush policies.

NYT foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman offered that President Bush was listening to Colin Powell, Tony Blair, and John McCain, the “loyal opposition.” He believes the President will get congressional support if he shows evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction—photos or lab samples. An operation against Saddam would go smoothly and the US would be welecomed, at least initially. After that, healing Iraq’s ethnic divisions would be difficult.

FTN Notes: McAuliffe predicts Democratic pick-ups of 4-7 governorships, 2-3 Senate seats, and “At least six house seats” … Racicot demurred on numerical predictions, reminding Roberts of the historical precedents for losing seats in an off-year election … A one hour “Special Edition” of Face the Nation will mark the upcoming one year anniversary of 9/11, with special guest Senator Hillary Clinton ….

Capital Gang

The Gang had a forgettable discussion of Iraq and an uninspired discussion of the baseball strike. Gang member Robert Novak’s Thursday column on FBI abuses in the Hatfill case and others produced the most spirited discussion:

Novak: It's the FBI at its worst, strong-arm tactics, why they trashed his apartment, his girlfriend's apartment. But I -- you know, as somebody who strongly supported John Ashcroft for attorney general, and I did, I'm very disappointed in him, and I'm very disappointed in his lack of interest in civil liberties in this war against terrorism.

And I believe that this calling somebody an individual or a person of interest in public is, is just absolutely reprehensible

Margaret Carlson: I wish I could come to the defense of the FBI so I could differ from Bob here. But in this case, it is impossible. It's not that they're heavy-handed, it's that they're ineptly heavy-handed in what they've done to this person, who, as John points out, had to tell them how to go about doing tests that, that might clear him.

Al Hunt: This is the most insensitive attorney general to, to basic American liberties. You got to go back to Mitch Palmer.

Kate O’Beirne: It seems to me that the treatment of Steven Hatfill, it -- to me it smacks of desperation on the part of the FBI, that they would so abuse their power by so abusing him, because they are desperate to make it appear this investigation of theirs is going someplace, when it appears it's really not going anywhere much.

A discussion of the Florida Democratic gubernatorial primary led to consensus that Bill McBride was closing fast on Janet Reno and would likely win, producing a competitive fall race between McBride and Governor Jeb Bush.

Margaret Carlson joined print NYT columnist Maureen Dowd in criticizing President Bush’s devotion to exercise and fitness.

The News Hour

Bring back Shields and Brooks! A stammering Michelle Malkin was painful to watch; it was hard to imagine her doing worse than she did last week, but she pulled it off. The cereberal Tom Oliphant, hard as he tried, could not carry Malkin and take over the discussion. His comparison of the Iraq situation with the Cuban Missile Crisis was beyond strained.