Sunday, February 23, 2003

Anti-War Leaders Make Their Case

The conventional wisdom among most pundits is that Bush hasn’t made “the case” for a war against Iraq. The Sunday shows demonstrated that the anti-war forces don’t make a particularly compelling case, either.

When the questioning gets tough, “peace” advocates change the subject. Someone else in the world is as bad as Saddam, a war will cost too much, or a war will spawn new terrorist attacks.

The Hollywood anti-war faction got plenty of face time: Comedienne Janeane Garofolo appeared on Fox News Sunday, while actress Susan Sarandon and actor Mike Farrell were paired off against the National Review’s Rich Lowry on Face the Nation. Garofolo, asked if there was such a thing as a “just war,” replied, “That’s a tough one,” refusing to concede even WWII. Sarandon and Farrell argued simply, “Sanctions work, war doesn’t.”

Non-Hollywood anti-war Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, ran into a buzz saw on Meet the Press. Host Tim Russert’s first question put Kucinich on the defensive: he voted in October 1998 for the Iraq Liberation Act, a measure calling for regime change in Iraq. Wasn’t that what President Bush is trying to do? The Congressman claimed weakly that he was voting to “continue to use sanctions.”

Russert paired Kucinich against Administration Defense Policy Board Chairman Richard Perle. Perle managed to keep the pressure on Kucinich, charging that he was advocating a “policy of paralysis, unwilling to put teeth in the legislation he signed.” Perle also called Kucinich’s charge that the war was about oil “a lie, an out and out lie.” For his part, when asked about the missiles Chief Inspector Hans Blix has asked Iraq to destroy, Kucinich said the US should not go to war over “mere non-compliance.”

On Face the Nation, Time’s Joe Klein called Kucinich a “buffoon,” putting him in the same category as Al Sharpton and Carol Mosley-Braun.

In a newworthy development, the White House appeared to be ratcheting up the campaign to get judicial nominee Miguel Estrada confirmed. White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales made a rare appearance on Sunday, appearing on Fox News Sunday. Asked about the possible political fallout from opposition to Estrada, Gonzales’ message was cautious, but unmistakeable: “If the Hispanic community thinks Miguel Estrada is being treated differently, it will have political repercussions.” Gonzales noted questions Clinton appointees refused to answer, arguing they were similar to questions Estrada would not answer.

Newly declared Presidential candidate Richard Gephardt, D-MO, made his 39th appearance on Meet the Press. Claiming “I am the epitome of the American dream,” he declared President Bush “out of touch with the reality of what’s going on with working families.” Russert was fairly gentle on the former Minority Leader, not following up on the contradiction of Gephardt advocating fuel cell powered cars while voting against increased fuel efficiency standards.

Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal is Pundit of the Week for his sharp tongue on Capital Gang, beating out Joe Klein, a pundit who deserves more airtime.

Gephardt Boomlet

Pundits were suddenly bullish on a Gephardt candidacy, even though Joe Klein declared, “Listening to him speak is like walking up the down escalator.”

Ceci Connolly, Washington Post, on Fox: “Gephardt isn’t quite as boring or predictable as maybe people were indicating a few weeks ago.”

David Brooks, The Weekly Standard, on The News Hour: “I was impressed as he presented himself. He said I'm a Washington insider; I'm an experienced guy. A lot of these candidates go down to the Dean and Deluca in Georgetown and buy some hay seed to put in their hair so they could pretend they're just off the farm.”

Mark Shields, syndicated columnist, on The News Hour: “He is a guy who has been a political leader in the legislature and in the Congress and as an executive. He ran for president. Very few people inspire that kind of trust in their colleagues. Once they run for president, they're discarded as congressional leaders. He wasn't. And he has great, great affection and loyalty on the part of the staff -- something not to be underestimated.”

Al Hunt on Capital Gang: “Dick Gephardt is one of the three or four candidates who really has a real shot to be the nominee. He's got some strengths, he's been around before, talented staff, a deep knowledge of issues. His problem is that he appears like yesterday.”

Retort of the Week

On Capital Gang, after Bob Novak of the Chicago Sun Times expressed agreement with President Bush’s assertion that he would not use anti-war demonstrations as a “focus group,” Al Hunt replied tartly, “I guess you can only use focus groups if it's homeland security with this administration.”

Slam of the Week

Al Hunt again, on the Governor of Texas: “I know Rick Perry of Texas is a lightweight.”

Whose Line Is It, Anyway?

Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer was fulsome in his praise of the excitement presidential candidate Howard Dean created at the recent DNC meeting when he said, “I am here representing the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.” The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, on Fox, wondered why Dean didn’t give proper credit: “That’s Wellstone’s line,” referring to the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn. Joe Klein reported that Dean “blew those people away” with his speech.

Kucinich’s Flip

Pundits were harsh on Dennis Kucinich’s change of heart on abortion, moving from a pro-life to pro-chance stance:

David Brooks, The News Hour: “The strange thing about him is he had a 95 percent pro-life voting record until last week where he had a conversion and now he's decided he is pro-choice. If you're going to sell out, you might as well sell out when you have a plausible chance of winning.

Al Hunt, Capital Gang: Kucinich's transformation this week was breathtaking. The Ohio Democrat, pro-life his entire congressional career, upon declaring his presidential candidacy, suddenly decided he was pro- choice, a more popular posture with Democratic voters. Congressman Kucinich says his candidacy, his presidential candidacy, is based on his principles against a war in Iraq. I wonder if those principles also could be vulnerable to public opinion.

Tim Russert asked Kucinich on Meet the Press why he “turned on a dime.” Kucinich claimed “years of thinking” had gone into his decision. “The position I’m taking now is an expansion, not a reversal,” he explained.

Quip of the Week

Retiring British Ambassador to the United States Sir Christopher Meyer revealed to Capital Gang that Donald Rumsfeld pulled him in after he was tossed from his raft on a Colorado River whitewater trip. The National Review’s Kate O’Beirne quipped, “I found myself wondering what Don Rumsfeld would have done had he been whitewater rafting with the French ambassador.”

Punditwatch Gets Help

This Week was pre-empted again by Punditwatch’s ABC affiliate. Reader Dave Schipani reports that Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. made a telling comment: Bush's Iraq policy is "unilateral, or
semi-unilateral." Apparently, only the French and the Germans make a policy "multi-lateral."

American Culture Conquers the UN

Juan Williams of NPR, on Fox, drew an analogy between American culture and countries taking sides in the potential coming conflict with Iraq: “It’s like the show ‘Joe Millionaire,’ where at the end you got to make a choice. You gotta pick one side or the other. What are they going to do ultimately? They’re going to go with the United States.”

Those Were the Days

Tony Snow of Fox had fun showing a film clip of presidential candidate and former Sen. Carol Mosley-Braun being unable to remember her college major, but promising to “check.” While acknowledging that memories from college might be “foggy,” Snow and all members of the Fox panel remembered their majors.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Sunday Guests Battle Snow, Questions

Neither snow, nor sleet nor freezing rain could stop Administration officials from their appointed rounds on the Sunday pundit shows.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge braved the elements to answer anti-war marches, UN recalcitrance, and runs on duct tape.

After last week’s bravura performance by Secretary of State Colin Powell, Rice was forced to address the series of setbacks that have followed. She stuck gamely to her talking points. The UN’s break with the US was part of the “ins and outs of diplomacy. The UN needs to keep the pressure on Saddam Hussein and the Security Council’s behavior last week “plays into the hands of Saddam Hussein.” The way to avoid war is “immediate Iraqi compliance” and the way to peace is let Saddam know that the Security Council “will stand united.”

Meet the Press host Tim Russert asked Rice the question on everyone’s mind: “What up with the French?” She was careful not to criticize France, but pointedly noted, “You cannot get around the language of UN Resolution 1441.”

Secretary Ridge, appearing on Face the Nation, did not have the luxury of shifting the focus away from Administration policy and toward a difficult ally. Pundits skewered the duct tape and plastic suggestions that emanated from his office. “Homeland security is sad,” was syndicated columnist Mark Shields’ take on The News Hour. His colleague, David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, said, “The duct tape thing is a fiasco.” On Capital Gang, Time’s Margaret Carlson, quipped, “If you looked at the lines at Home Depot, you would say the terrorists have won, because people were certainly altering their lives to follow Tom Ridge's advice, which he said was the result of focus groups.”

Ridge denied that the government had directly paid for “focus groups.” He claimed the Ad Council had used focus groups for routine research into an ad campaign the Department of Homeland Security would be running. He claimed that “people extrapolated” the suggestion to seal their homes with plastic and duct tape from a list of emergency materials to keep on hand.

An incredulous Bob Schieffer, host of Face the Nation, asked Ridge, “If you sealed off your house, wouldn’t you be asphysixiated?”

The terror alert status will remain in code orange because, as Ridge reported, “the same level of threat” remains. “We can’t always predict, but we can always be prepared,” was his best line of the interview.

The Straight Talk Express

Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, appeared on Face the Nation and fired off several zingers. He respected the world peace protestors right to protest as well as their right to be “unwise and foolish.” He said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich, had made a “reckless charge” about the CIA not cooperating with UN inspectors. Finally, after saying Germany and France were “rendering themselves irrelevant and making the Security Council irrelevant,” he said the French remind him of “an aging movie actress, still trying to dine out on her looks, but who doesn’t have the face for it.”

Defending Against Daschle

National Review’s Kate O’Beirne, on Capital Gang, tried to defend the Administration against criticism of its homeland security policies, especially the lack of funding for first responders that many pundits noted:

Tom Daschle's in such an enviable position. He'll be either accusing them of keeping Americans in the dark, or alarming Americans unnecessarily. And the Democrats are clearly laying the groundwork for the next attack. They want to be prepared to say, We told you you weren't doing enough.

They could add another $10 billion to first responders in the event of an attack, and the Democrats will say, It should have been 15, should have been 25, should have been 30.

It's really a terribly unfair, I think, attempt, with the administration grappling with this unprecedented challenge

But David Brooks, on The News Hour, said, “The Democrats are absolutely right to focus on this.”

Unsafe at Any Speed

Margaret Carlson, on Capital Gang: “I live by duct tape since my car is completely held together on the sun roof, and I can tell you it doesn't even keep out the rain, so I don't think it's going to keep out chemical or biological agents.”

One Great Pundit to Another

David Brooks, The News Hour: “Not to sound like Yogi Berra but I completely disagree with half of that.”

Inscrutable Estrada

Pundits were divided on Bush judicial nominee Miguel Estrada, but those opposing him largely used the reasoning of the Wall Street Journal’s Al Hunt. He said, on Capital Gang, “He's a guy who wouldn't even express the view of any Supreme Court decision. I mean, at least he could say Dred Scott was a bad, bad decision, it seems to me.”

Trent Lott Will Attend a Special Showing

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Bob Novak took up the cause of the Confederacy on Capital Gang and praised an unlikely public figure:

The assault on the Confederate flag has now spread to denigrating traditional Southern heroes, demanding that statues of Confederate leaders be torn down. An antidote to this outrageous political correctness is a new Ted Turner Pictures movie, "Gods and Generals." Its heroes are Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and lesser men and women of the South.

Yes, slavery was their sin, but the film shows them as God- fearing, Bible-reading, defending home and families from foreign invasion.

Congratulations to Ted Turner for his political incorrectness.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

Powell's Good Week, Saddam's Bad

“Two people had terrible weeks this week: Michael Jackson with his interview and Saddam Hussein,” was NPR’s Juan Williams summary on Fox News Sunday.

Thankfully, weekend pundits did not explore Michael Jackson’s difficulties. Instead, they concentrated on Saddam Hussein’s bad week, the result Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN. Mara Liasson, of NPR, spoke for most pundits when she called his performance “powerful and compelling” during the Fox panel.

There was almost no mention of last week’s big story: the loss of the Columbia.

Powell appeared on Meet the Press, Fox, and This Week. He stood firmly behind his Wednesday comments at the UN. He also threw cold water on reports of a French-German proposal for enhanced inspections, refused to discuss why the US did not “take out” a suspected al Qaeda camp in Northern Iraq, and defended the Administration’s team, including controversial remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

More interesting were the reactions of Democrats.

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, while conceding on Meet the Press that Powell did a “brilliant job” at the UN, maintained there was too much of an “irrational exuberance” for conflict. She claimed that the battle against al Qaeda and resolving the “crisis” in North Korea was more pressing than Iraq, accusing the Administration of a “unidimensional foreign policy.” When host Tim Russert showed her bellicose comments she and President Clinton made against Iraq in 1998, Albright responded, “Things are different after 9-11.”

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich, on Fox, also sounded more bellicose in 1998 then he does now, as host Tony Snow and Brit Hume asked him to explain previous positions. Levin ducked the question. He called for the Administration to stop viewing the UN Security Council as a “stumbling block.” Even while conceding that inspections were unlikely to succeed absent a cooperative Iraqi government, Levin said they should continue because, “There’s a chance they’ll succeed.”

On This Week, host George Stephanopolous interviewed possible Democratic presidential “peace” candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, ahead of Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. Kucinich called for “Patience towards peace, not impatience towards war.” As he heads for Iowa to gauge support, he promised, “A fresh look at foreign policy. War itself should be archaic.”

Biden seemed unimpressed by the reported proposals of the French and Germans. He also seemed to be supportive of the Administration’s position, if only because the US was “in a box” by having troops ready to go. Without revealing anything, he said the Administration had a “defensible” rationale for not bombing the suspected terrorist camp in Northern Iraq, although he hinted that he might have come to a different conclusion. Asked by Stephanopolous if he was still thinking of running for President, Biden gave an emphatic “yes.” After Kucinich, it was not hard to understand why.

National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice spelled Powell on Face the Nation, where New York Times columnist Tom Friedman shared in the questioning with host Bob Scheiffer. Friedman, with a series of questions about what would come after war with Iraq, confirmed David Brooks’ comment on The News Hour. The editor of The Weekly Standard said Powell’s speech had shifted the debate away from “whether” to “how.”

One Less Thing to Analyze

Shown a poll that said almost three times as many Americans trusted Colin Powell with Iraq policy as President Bush, Powell told Tim Russert, “I don’t analyze polls.”

Old Europe Bashing

Tom Friedman, on Face the Nation: “France is increasing the likelihood of war.”

Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, on Fox: “I’m all in favor of gratuitous hits at France and Germany.”

Passionate Pundits

George Will of the Washington Post and Michel Martin of ABC clashed on This Week over Appeals Court nominee Miguel Estrada. Will urged the Democrats to filibuster Estrada: “Put it on Univsion.” When Martin claimed Estrada was a product of affirmative action, Will said sharply that he didn’t get 20 points, he got the highest rating from the American Bar Association.

Card Playing

There was a heated discussion about President Bush’s budget on Capital Gang:

Al Hunt, Wall Street Journal: “If, however, deficits become a symptom, which they are, of an inept and inequitable economic policy of this administration, caviar for the rich, crumbs for the working poor, and then when you point out that undeniable fact, you're accused of class warfare.”

Robert Novak, Chicago Sun-Times: “You know, Al, I'm glad you played the Karl Marx card.”

Space Futures

The Capital Gang devoted a segment to the Columbia disaster and the future of the space program. Highlights:

Robert Novak: “This is one government program that I like. I don't think we've spent enough money on it in the past. There's so many government programs that are wasteful, but this is, this has romance to it, it has, it has adventure. And it's not like sending a robot into space. And I believe that the mission to Mars is something to look forward to

Al Hunt: Neither Clinton nor Bush viewed the space program as anything but really a trophy. And I think we ought to have that debate, and then we can decide how much money we ought to spend. John Glenncan persuasively tell you of the advantages of, of, of everyone who's gone into space. But Bob, I hate to tell you this, but there's an awful lot of stuff in the future that robots can do.

Margaret Carlson, Time: I'm not sure there can be enough money to send people hurtling through space on a space shuttle that seems to have outlived its usefulness, even, you know, supporters of NASA will, will say that there are better ways to learn about space. And what you learn about from the space shuttle is by sending humans into space, is how to send other humans into space, not to learn that much more about, you know, conquering the heavens. So given, you know, the cutbacks that are, that are going on, the increase and the privatizing may not be enough to ever make the space shuttle as good as it needs to be.

Prince of Peace

Tony Snow, on Fox, revealed that Britain’s Prince Charles wears Arab robes and reportedly opposes war with Iraq. Snow called him a “Windsor Cat Stevens.”

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Columbia Freezes Partisan Debates

A national tragedy freezes public debate on contentious issues. This phenomenon is due in large part to respect for the victims, but also an uncertainty about how a wounded public might react to early comments on sensitive subjects.

The Sunday shows largely jettisoned their planned political guests in favor of those who could try to help Americans understand the astronaut experience, consider early indications of what might have gone so horribly wrong, and speculate on what might become of the space program.

Gone were British Prime Minister Tony Blair, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-TX, Democratic presidential contender and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. In their place were NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe, former astronaut and Senator Bill Nelson, D-FL, and a host of grizzled journalists who have covered the space program.

O’Keefe, appearing on all four major programs, was a level, soothing presence. “We are not going to leave any stone unturned in the investigation,” he promised the nation and the families of the astronauts. He discounted terrorism as a cause, but did not rule it out. He seemed cool to a presidential commission investigating the accident and denied that budget cuts, age of the craft, or the use of “low bidders” denigrated pre-flight safety checks.

Surprisingly, usually genial Bob Schieffer of Face the Nation was the toughest and most skeptical questioner

“We don’t want to place blame, but should we have thought of aborting the mission?” Scheiffer asked, referring to the scraps of insulation that flew off the Columbia during take-off and hit the left wing. “How can you be sure it wasn’t terrorism?” he asked impatiently at another point.

Tim Russert on Meet the Press, Tony Snow on Fox, and George Stephanopolous on This Week were less aggressive than Schieffer and accomplished just as much. Stephanopolous was the only one to ask if sabotage was being considered as a cause. He also handled his show solo for two hours.

Sen. Nelson was asked on Fox if he had faith in O’Keefe. “At first, I didn’t,” he acknowledged, but then said he was confident the NASA Administrator was the right person for the job. “We can’t continue safety upgrades if NASA is starved,” Nelson declared, but he was quick to say that budget cuts were not a factor in this accident.

Speaking of the future of the space program, Nelson said, “The nation has to be led by the president. The will of the American people is that we explore space.”

On Meet the Press, NBC space consultant Jay Barbree, who has covered the space program for 45 years, said of NASA, “They’re a dedicated bunch. They’ll find out what happened and they’ll get back to flying.”

The only scheduled guests to maintain their Sunday spots were Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn, on Face the Nation and Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Mohammed Aldouri on Fox. Frist was only asked about issues related to the Columbia tragedy and he was cautious discussing both the future of the space program and the level of investigation that the Senate might initiate.

Aldouri was not the least bit conciliatory. He claimed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld knew Saddam Hussein better than he did and he thanked the New York Times for defending Iraq. Brit Hume called Aldouri’s responses “word salad.”


On Face the Nation, former astronaut Richard M. Mullane compared the insulation that fell off the Columbia and hit the wing to an empty styrofoam cooler flying off a pick-up truck and hitting a car at 70 mph. He did not think it would do much damage.

The Spirit of the 60's

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and Brit Hume all argued for the space program as a competitive enterprise. Aldrin warned that China was developing a space program and Hutchison said, “We cannot be in 2nd place. I want us to be pre-eminent.” Hume’s formulation was “We will be leaders, we will be the pioneers.”

Bush’s Speech

The Fox panel all agreed that President Bush’s speech to the nation struck the right tone, but would not have long-term political impact. Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard praised its “subtlety.”

Juan‘s Book

Fox panelist and NPR correspondent Juan Williams got a nice plug from host Tony Snow for his new book, “This Far by Faith.” Williams described his book as a contrast: " Where Jesse Ventura would say faith is for the weak, I would say faith is for the strong.”

Coalitions for Cash?

On The News Hour, taped before the Columbia disaster, this exchange about international support for war with Iraq:

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields: “It’s a coalition of the willing to make a deal.”

The Weekly Standard’s David Brooks: “I don’t think it’s a coalition of the bribed.”

Washington Humor

Juan Williams, discussing the Administration’s case against Iraq, said, “The joke is that the President showed some leg and Colin Powell is going to show some thigh.”

Change of Heart

David Brooks, after saying the President’s tax cut is “in trouble,” revealed that he is having second thoughts: “I’ve defended the tax cut, but I’ve fallen out of love with it.”