Sunday, January 26, 2003

Pundits Pass on Preview

President Bush gives his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, but pundits largely passed on a preview of his remarks.

It was hard to blame them. Only Chief of Staff Andrew Card was trotted out to produce a well-spun peek at the President’s proposals. Super Bowl weekend spinning cannot be a popular assignment.

Meet the Press host Tim Russert roughed Card up on Iraq, the President’s position in the polls, and on questions from left field. His queries regarding affirmative action at military academies and alleged efforts by the administration to trim Title IX regulations regarding women’s sports surprised Card and did not appear to have been included in his briefing book.

Card fared a little better in avoiding dangerous shoals on Fox News Sunday and Face the Nation. He suggested that the administration would push an old argument many thought was discredited: that there was a “strong nexus between Saddam Hussein and terrorists, including al Qaeda.”

Making the Democratic case against the Administration were Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn, on Meet the Press and Sen. Tom Daschle, D-SD, on Face the Nation.

Daschle said the Democrats’ economic plan, as contrasted with the Administration's, follows the prescription recommended by “mainstream economists.” It offers “immediacy, fiscal responsibility, is broad-based, and helps the states.” He said the UN Inspectors in Iraq should get more time, but hinted vaguely at a deadline in the future.

As for the President’s rumored plan to provide prescription drugs for seniors, Daschle tried out this sound byte as a characterization: “Trading the doctors they choose for the medicine they need.”

Dodd has not yet decided to be a presidential candidate, he told Russert, and “might very well” support his junior colleague, Sen. Joe Lieberman, if Dodd decides not to run.

In the absence of compelling guests, the pundits made thoughtful, even passionate, observations and analysis about global and domestic issues.

Shields’ State of the Union

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields gave his assessment of the country on The News Hour:

I think there's enormous uncertainty in the country … [in] 2002, the president and his party prospered because it was all about terrorism. Now it's a country that's uncertain in the economy, it's uncertain about Iraq, it's uncertain about North Korea. We have been told the United States is absolutely relatively the most powerful nation right now in the history of human kind, and yet we see ourselves paralyzed by North Korea. We can't move. We have to take any military option off the table. And so what is that absolute power? What are its limits?

Passionate Pundit

David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, also on The News Hour, was surprisingly passionate in criticizing the President’s approach to making the case against Saddam Hussein and responsding to Mark Shields’ defense of anti-war protestors:

You've got 100,000 people marching in the streets and they are, in effect, marching to preserve a fascist regime. I know that's not what they want. They want to prevent war, which is a legitimate thing to do. But they are never asked why are you preserving a fascist regime, why don't you want the tide of democracy, which is to spread through Latin America and Central America, to spread to the Arab part of the world - that's the idealistic case the Bush administration has made a little but they haven't made strongly enough.

I just want somebody to say to those people and I wanted to go down there and say here's a regime that has professional rape teams in their military where they rape women and send the videotapes to the fathers. Here's a regime that imprisons mothers and babies in the next cell and forces them to watch their babies starve to death. You know, what is the defense? Maybe we don't want to take out this regime, but is that the moral high ground? What is your defense for preserving that regime?

Another Kind of Passion

Tony Snow, host of Fox, responded to a viewer’s letter saying he was “full of s***” by saying, “Please, with all due respect, don’t be an idiot.”

Piling on Sandbags

David Brooks and Mark Shields, on The News Hour, and Bill Kristol of The Weekely Standard, on Fox, said Secretary of State Colin Powell was “sandbagged” by the French this past week. Asked by Tony Snow on Fox if Powell had been “sandbagged,” Richard Perle,head of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, called it “French maneuvering.”

Powell and Cheney, Together at Last?

Both Kate O’Beirne of National Review, on Capital Gang, and Bill Kristol on Fox used almost identical language to describe a suddenly more hawkish sounding Colin Powell: “Colin Powell is now where Dick Cheney was last August, inspections won't work, we cannot disarm Saddam Hussein through inspections.”

Capital Gang members Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times and Al Hunt disagreed. “Colin Powell has been playing the diplomatic bureaucratic game his whole life. He knows if he wants to be a player, he has to salute the commander in chief, said Novak, while Hunt praised the Secretary: “I think for all the shots that the Cheney people have taken at Colin Powell, that was the genius of U.N. Res. 1441. You don't have to go back a second time.”

Question of the Week

Tony Snow, on Fox, to Andrew Card: “Isn’t time running out for saying ‘time is running out?’”

The Easy Place

Bill Kristol, on Fox, said Masachusetts Democratic presidential aspirant Sen. John Kerry’s use of the term “rush to war” was, among other things, “offensive,” “ludicrous,” and a “slander.” Mara Liasson of NPR, also on Fox, said it was an “easy place to be for Democrats who don’t have to make the decision.”


Richard Perle, described in many circles as a “mega-hawk,” was asked on Fox about reports that the Administration might use tactical nuclear weapons against Iraq. “There is not a target in Iraq that can’t be handled by conventional weapons,” he assured host Tony Snow.

Badda Boom Line of the Week

Kate O’Beirne dropped this quip on Capital Gang and waited in vain for a laugh: “Did I miss the chorus of protest against France's unilateralism this week when they decided to just go it -- their own way?”


The trend of using the term “brother” has spread from Meet the Press to Capital Gang. After Bob Novak sketched out the difficulty Al Sharpton would cause for Democrats, Al Hunt exclaimed:

I just can't wait, in the months ahead, to see Brother Al and Brother Bob marching down the aisle together chanting for gay and lesbian rights. Bob Novak for reparations!

Credit Where Credit is Due

NPR’s Juan Williams called attention on Fox to the New York Post’s headline “Axis of Weasels” to describe the French and Germans, denying the blogosphere credit for this creative wordsmithing.

Super Bowl Prediction Redux

Last year Capital Gang guest Steve Sabol, of NFL films, famously predicted that New England had “no chance” in the Super Bowl. The gang brought him back this year to “bust” on him and to get his prediction for today’s game: the Bucs, “because defense wins championships.”

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Michigan Debate Leads Peace Marches

President Bush’s position on the University of Michigan affirmative action case and weekend demonstrations against war in Iraq topped the pundit agenda.

Discussions about Iraq and the peace marches with Secretary of State Colin Powell on Face the Nation and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice on Meet the Press were almost routine preliminaries before affirmative action questions.

Secretary Powell did not dispute that he favored the University of Michigan’s position, but he made his disagreement with the President sound as if it was merely a technicality. “We have a common desire to see our universities as diverse places. How best to achieve that is a challenge.” Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer did not ask a follow-up.

Dr. Rice took several questions from host Tim Russert on the Michigan case. She said a Washington Post story about her decisive role in the President’s decision was “not accurate.” She said the President was “exactly in the right place.” Rice indicated that she had problems with Michigan’s policy, hinting that it revolved around the 20 point preference on a 150 point scale. She urged policies that “look at the total person.”

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn, the latest to announce his candidacy for the Democratic nomination, declared the President’s position on the Michigan case to be “wrong, deceptive, divisive, and unnecessary,” but had to fend off tough questioning from Russert on Meet the Press about his past position. Lieberman was forced into contortions when shown statements he had made in the past. He may regret having said at the outset of the interview, “I never changed a single position,” referring to his positions as a vice-presidential candidate in 2000.

Wade Henderson, of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said on Face the Nation that President Bush was “trying to have it both ways” on diversity and that calling Michigan’s policy a quota was “inflammatory.” On the same program, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the administration brief to the Supreme Court “ingenious.” Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal, on Capital Gang, called it "disingenuous."

Best commentary of the week about diversity, affirmative action, and the Michigan case came on The News Hour. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields also charged that the President was “trying to have it both ways” and The Weekly Standard’s David Brooks noted the contrast between the President’s speech and the legal brief:

The Wednesday speech - it was like the Henry IV speech for conservatives - we happy few. And then the Friday brief comes out and it was a clarion call with a kazoo.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appeared on both Fox News Sunday and This Week. Thankfully, he was not asked about the Michigan case. His major talking point was that UN inspectors are not seeking a “smoking gun,” but rather the compliance that other nations, such as South Africa and the Ukraine, demonstrated when they were subject to inspection. On Fox, The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol saw Rumsfeld making news by declaring that while the US would not invade North Korea, the military option, i.e., a pre-emptive strike on nuclear facilities, was not “off the table.”

Ceci Connally of the Washington Post, also on Fox, disputed the effectiveness of a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, warning it would be “dirty,” with extensive contamination.

Hearing Footsteps?

Tim Russert hyped the Rice and Lieberman appearances on Meet the Press as “exclusive” and “first” more energetically than usual. Could he be hearing footsteps from This Week? George Stephanopolous, host of This Week, has begun top Russert in attracting top Democrats to his show. A rare Sunday appearance by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass, and a short chat with potential presidential candidate, former Sen. Gary Hart, D-CO, were This Week’s latest exclusives.

Fox’s Exclusive

The Chinese Ambassador to the United States, Yang Jiechi, appeared on Fox News Sunday with less than dramatic news. China favors peace and stability, a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, and letting UN weapons inspectors continue their work.

Go Joe/No-Go Joe

Members of the Capital Gang were split on Sen. Joe Lieberman’s candidacy:

He's a soccer mom's dream. He's got the family values, compromise is not a bad thing among independents. And he's just an appealing guy. –Time’s Margaret Carlson

He's a religiously active, religiously serious man, and that's very appealing. –Kate O’Beirne, National Review

One problem is the calendar. The first two tests are Iowa and New Hampshire. Those are not strong states for Joe Lieberman. And I don't think someone can get the nomination who loses both of those. –Al Hunt, Wall Street Journal

I've had a lot of Democrats tell me that what they really can't stand about him is Holy Joe, that he's religious, that he talks about God, that he talks about faith. That tells a lot about some of these Democrats, but it also is a problem for him. –Bob Novak, Chicago Sun-Times

For his part, Bob Schieffer, on Face the Nation, said Lieberman had a "Golden Retriever kind of face."

“Thank You, Brother”

When Joe Lieberman concluded his Meet the Press interview with those words, a smiling Tim Russert responded:

That’s the same thing Al Sharpton said. I’m bringing Jewish and black Americans together.

Web Sightings

Tim Russert showed Condi Rice a web site urging her to run for President. She brushed him aside. "I've never run for anything. I don't think I'd be a very effective candidate." George Stephanopolous showed Gary Hart his web site by way of asking if he is a candidate. Not yet was the answer.

The Case Against Michigan’s Plan

First of all, if you are the son of an African American surgeon, you get a 20-point advantage over the daughter of a Filipino video store manager; that's not fair.

It's also so race obsessed.If you happen to be one of the three prized racial groups in this or preferred racial groups, you get this 20-point advantage to get admission. But the essay part of your application is only one point.

So what it says is that race is 20 times more important than expressing ideas clearly. That's out of whack. To me that's wrong
. –David Brooks, on The News Hour

The Case for Michigan’s Plan

What Michigan has is preferences. They do -- there's no question that you get a racial preference. You get 20 points. You get 80 points for a 4.0 GPA, four times as much as you get for that. You get points too if you have special skills, like you're an athlete. You get points if you're geographically diverse. There are all kinds of things you can get.

Michigan decides they -- everybody does better if you have a more diverse student body
. –Al Hunt on Capital Gang

Pundit Preference

I assume I got a 20-point preference to get on this panel, otherwise there'd be a man sitting here. –Margaret Carlson, Capital Gang

Countering Novak

Secretary Powell, Condi Rice,and Secretary Rumsfeld were all asked about the possibility that other nations or an internal uprising might topple Saddam Hussein. All expressed cautious potential support for such a move, disputing Bob Novak on Capital Gang:

But the last thing that the hawks inside the administration, and their friends outside the administration, want is a coup d'etat that would replace Saddam Hussein. They want a war as a manifestation of U.S. power in the world and as a sign that the United States is capable of changing the balance of power and the political map of the Middle East.

Exchange of the Week, Serious Divison

Unprovoked, NPR’s Juan Williams tried to defend and explain the peace demonstrators’ use of the slogan, “No blood for oil” on Fox News Sunday. Brit Hume and Bill Kristol, seemingly shocked by what they saw as his naiveté, pointed out that the US was already getting Iraqi oil and could get all it wanted by lifting the sanctions.

Exchange of the Week, Humor Division

From The News Hour:

Mark Shields: Now with Gore out, it's pander bear city. The Democrats will be pandering to each constituency, all of them trying to get the McCain mantle and at the same time being the anti-McCain by just caressing all the erogenous zones for the body politic.

David Brooks: Yeah, but the Republican Party, we actually don't have erogenous zones.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Frist Debuts as Sunday Star

Newly elected Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-TN, split his debut as top-drawer Sunday guest with Meet the Press and Fox News Sunday.

The two shows dueled over whether their interview with Frist was an “exclusive” or the “first,” but feisty Fox News Sunday host Tony Snow showed side-by-side stills of Frist appearing on each show. Frist wore a red tie on one show and a blue tie on the other.

Frist’s interviews were as different as his ties. Meet the Press host Tim Russert grilled Frist with tough, pointed questions, while Snow was less confrontational, asking more open-ended questions. The Republican doctor was confident and self-assured on both shows when discussing the “big picture,” but Russert clearly made him uncomfortable with questions on specifics about affirmative action, the nomination of Judge Charles Pickering, and Republican Senators opposing the President’s economic plan.

Frist was most assured in supporting the President’s call for tax cuts and the elimination of taxes on dividends. Most pundits are skeptical of the President’s plan emerging unscathed by amendments. “I don’t see the numbers for passage,” was the verdict of NPR’s Juan Williams, on Fox.

Following Frist on Meet the Press was Democratic presidential contender Al Sharpton. Love him or loathe him, Sharpton does not “play by the rules” of the Sunday shows and provides an entertaining interview. Sharpton challenged Russert’s questions repeatedly and frequently turned the questions around as a challenge to Russert. He also referred to the Meet the Press host as “Brother Russert.”

Asked the rationale behind his candidacy, Sharpton said, “The world is one village. I, more than anyone, understand the village.”

"Most Improved Pundit Show" goes to Face the Nation. Dan Balz of the Washington Post replaced Gloria Borger as host Bob Schieffer’s sidekick. He asked tough questions and worked well with Time’s Joe Klein and Schieffer in a short pundit roundtable.

Klein was easily “Pundit of the Week.” He noted that psychology was the major factor in the President’s economic plan and he compared Bush’s strategy to President Clinton’s strategy in 1993. Clinton raised taxes to impress bond markets; Bush is trying to eliminate dividend taxes to impress the stock market. Klein found Clinton’s move fiscally responsible, while Bush’s is “fiscally irresponsible.”

“Democrats have their blood up,” according to Klein, and “Bush is attacking on all fronts.”

Punditwatch was unable to reveiw This Week. It was pre-empted in his area by a women’s basketball game between the University of Richmond and St. Bonaventure.

Competing Reviews of the President’s Plan

David Brooks, The Weekly Standard, on The News Hour:

Whether it's going to have any stimulative effect, I doubt it, but it is a good corporate reform. I think that's the best thing out there right now. If I could lapse into economic jargon, economic stimulus plans are stupid.

Al Hunt, Wall Street Journal, on Capital Gang:

It's crumbs for about 99 million, and then it's caviar for the very top. This is a bad proposal. , I'll tell you who else is incredibly enthusiastic about this is the Bush cabinet. You got to go back to Teapot Dome to find such a fleecing. This time it's legal. Bloomberg reported that George W. Bush himself, $44,000 tax break here. Dick Cheney, $327,000 tax break.

“Adjective Inflation”

Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal, appearing on Fox, characterizing Senator Tom Daschle’s comment that the President’s economic development plan was “obscene.”

Youth Should Not Be Served

After a Capital Gang interview with Devin Nunes, R-CA, the youngest member of Congress, National Review’s Kate O’Beirne had a Mother’s reaction:

This nice 29-year-old explains he's been in elected office since he was 23. Now, as the mother of a 23-year-old, and I'd even like to think he's an above-average 23-year-old, that really makes me nervous.

Fairness Watch

Tim Russert’s description of Judge Charles Pickering’s role in a cross burning case was straight out of the Democratic talking points, ignoring the complete story (co-defendants with more involvement got lesser sentences) that several print pundits have uncovered. Senator Frist allowed the mischaracterization to stand. Even Juan Williams, on Fox, acknowledged that Pickering was addressing an inequity in sentencing, not being soft on racism. “Good law, bad politics,” is how Williams described the situation.

Another Player

Joe Klein suggested on Face the Nation that Al Sharpton might win the South Carolina presidential primary. Last week, on This Week, ABC’s Michele Martin accused George Will of “playing the race card” for suggesting the same scenario.

Maybe Candidates Shouldn’t Read

Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times attacked the reading choices of Senator John Edwards, D-NC, in his “Outrage of the Week” on Capital Gang:

Last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," George Stephanopoulos asked Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards to name his favorite book. His answer, "The Trial of Socrates" by the late radical journalist I.F. Stone. That's incredible! Did Senator Edwards know that Izzy Stone was a lifelong Soviet apologist? Did he know of evidence that Stone received secret payments from the Kremlin?

As for his Socrates book, the late anticommunist liberal Sidney Hook in his book review called Stone "a cultural Philistine."

What does this tell us about Johnny Edwards

Quip of the Week

Commenting on New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s meetings with the North Koreans, Time’s Margaret Carlson had this quip on Capital Gang:

I think we should all sleep better tonight knowing that peace is at hand between New Mexico and North Korea.

Bob Schieffer, on Face the Nation saw the negotiations with Richardson as a “good sign” because the North Koreans have always used “unofficial channels.”

Gloomy Assessment of the Week

Brit Hume, on Fox, commenting on the stand-off with North Korea:

This is what nuclear blackmail looks like it’s not a pretty sight.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

Partisan Politics Delights Pundits

If the first weekend of 2003 is any indication, this will be a banner year for partisan punditry.

Partisan political divisions were front and center on economic and foreign policy issues, helped along by the mounting number of candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. President Bush, always vulnerable on domestic issues is no longer immune to criticism on foreign policy and homeland security, so attacks are flowing fast and furious.

An expected economic stimulus plan from President Bush that relies n tax cuts was the lead topic, with Democrats claiming it favors the rich and unveiling a new argument: Republicans are the ones engaging in “class warfare.” Senator Harry Reid, D-NV, on Meet the Press, used this talking point, and the best Republican response came from Senator Rick Santorum, R-PA, on Fox, who noted that 37% of Americans don’t pay income tax, so naturally tax cuts are aimed at the remaining 63%.

Some Democrats countered with their call for a payroll tax holiday and were partially joined by Senator John McCain, R-AZ, appearing on Face the Nation. Santorum argued that a payroll tax holiday “decoupled” the historic pact between FDR and the American people on Social Security.

It was an ironic spectacle, Republicans appearing to defend social security against raids by Democrats.

The best pundit commentary of the week came as they assessed the Democratic presidential field and considered the North Korea and Iraq situations.

Senator John Edwards, D-NC, who declared for president early in the week, got favorable reviews, especially from conservatives who warily regard him as the next Bill Clinton. Bob Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times was dismayed at Edwards’ appeal to “regular folks” (Those who take Metamucil, perhaps? he joked), but most pundits saw what David Brooks of The Weekly Standard , saw:

He has the magic. When you watch him campaign, somebody comes up to him and he is six inches from their face and he lets on the beam. He's got it the way you can't teach it. He's got it in the way Clinton has it. . He is very smart -- doesn't have the experience, doesn't have the policy substance, doesn't have a great record after four years in the U.S. Senate. But he has the charisma.

Congressman Richard Gephardt, D-MO, was discounted by some for his lack of charisma, but William Kristol of The Weekly Standard called him the most “underrated” candidate on Fox and syndicated columnist Mark Shields, on The News Hour, praised his “incredible discipline.”

David Broder of the Washington Post, Robin Wright of the Los Angeles Times, William Safire of the New York Times, and Novak discussed North Korea and Iraq in terms of President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech on Meet the Press. Broder said the speech showed the danger of “speech writers writing policy.” Novak said, “They wish they’d never said it.” Safire called the 37,000 US troops in Korea a “reverse deterrent” and called for them to be withdrawn. Broder was extremely pessimistic about the after-effects of an Iraq invasion.

Parade of Dwarfs

The burgeoning number of Democratic candidates for president led some pundits to compare the field to 1988, when the group was called “The Seven Dwarfs.” Host Bob Schieffer promised that Face the Nation would “get as many candidates on as possible” to “discuss the issues.” He railed against the focus on how much money candidates have raised versus the attention paid to candidate views.

Al Franken, Setting the Democratic Agenda

Last week, comedian Al Franken appeared on This Week’s roundtable and joked that, because of the poor record of job creation by Bush 41 and 43, no American would have a job if a Bush had always been president. This week, several pundits, including Meet the Press host Tim Russert and syndicated columnist Mark Shields, mentioned that the US has been losing 69,000 jobs per month under the Bush Administration.

Surprise Criticism

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields took on the Army on the News Hour, in the context of President Bush’s Commander in Chief performance:

We have an army right now that by any standard is undermanned, we have an army that has not met its quotas, we have an army taking hundreds of those with felony arrests, where one out of three is not completing his enlistment as opposed to one out of ten under the draft. These are questions of leadership, these are questions of judgment which, quite frankly, are still open and I think open to debate.

ABC’s Michele Martin, on This Week, seemed to disagree, praising the fact that 70% of the enlisted ranks in the military had a high school diploma, 75% of them had some college, and 3% had a degree.

Gloomy Assessment of the Week

We are turning into Argentina. –New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, on This Week

Al Gore Eye-Rolling Award

Paul Krugman, debating Newt Gingrich on This Week. These two were entertaining, if not illuminating, and deserved more time.

Whispering Campaign

Tony Snow, host of Fox News Sunday, revealed that Democratic operatives working for other candidates were calling and saying “nasty things” about Senator John Edwards.

Don’t Ask Us

Pundits might enjoy the crowded Democratic field, but they’re not ready to make any predictions:

I wake up in the morning trying to invent scenarios to make a prediction of who's going to get the nomination and every day I come up with something new. –David Brooks, The News Hour

It’s impossible to say who’s the front runner. –PBS’ Mara Liasson, on Fox

George Will Exposed

I know why you like Al Sharpton. You can use him to beat the Democrats and play racial politics. --Michele Martin to George Will, on This Week, after he suggested that Sharpton might win some Democratic primaries.


US News & World Report’s Gloria Borger is leaving Face the Nation to co-host a new CNBC offering, “Capital Report.”

Gambling Pundit

Shown a Meet the Press clip where Robin Wright predicted in 2001 that Saddam Hussein would remain in place while he predicted Hussein would be gone, William Safire suggested a “double or nothing” bet with Wright for 2003. She wouldn’t take it, agreeing that Hussein would be gone this year.

Quip of the Week

Helped by interviewer Margaret Carlson of Time, retired Senator Fred Thompson, now a star on “Law and Order,” said on Capital Gang:

I had to go to Hollywood to get anybody to listen to my political views.