Jewish World Review Jan. 6, 2003 / 3 Shevat, 5763

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http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | If the first weekend of 2003 is any indication, this will be a banner year for partisan punditry.

Divisions between Democrats and Republicans were front and center on economic and foreign policy issues, helped along by the mounting number of candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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 taxpayers.

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.

Senator John McCain, R-AZ, appearing on Face the Nation favored allowing Japan to become a nuclear power in response to North Korea's nuclear program. Former Vermont Governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean, after the requisite expression of admiration for Senator McCain, disagreed.

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, Political Strategist

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. -NY 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

JWR's 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.

Transitions

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 of the LA Times predicted in 2001 that Saddam Hussein would remain in place while he predicted Hussein would be gone, William Safire of the NY Times suggested a "double or nothing" bet with Wright for 2003. She wouldn't take it, agreeing that Hussein would be gone this year.

Worst New Word of the Year

Democrats must avoid the "Nancy Pelosization" of the party, according to Fahreed Zakaria of Newsweek, on This Week.

Quip of the Week

Helped by interviewer Margaret Carlson of Time, retiring 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."

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PunditWatch is written by JWR contributor Will Vehrs. Comment by clicking here.

12/30/02: Peripatetic Powell pacifies pundits
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12/16/02: Lott jury and flogging post
12/09/02: Issues overwhelm pundits
12/02/02: Real news and pundit news
11/25/02: In a muddle, Saudis rise to the top

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© 2002, Will Vehrs