Jewish World Review Dec. 9, 2002 / 4 Teves, 5763


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Issues overwhelm pundits | So many issues, so little time. The weekend pundit shows covered a wide range of issues that normally might consume an entire program.

Iraq's declaration to the UN, which Senator Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn, called a "12,000 page, 100 pound lie" on Fox News Sunday.

The Friday resignation/firing of Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and Economic Advisor Larry Lindsey that This Week host George Stephanopolous called "Black Friday."

The victory of Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La, in the Louisiana run-off that Fox's Brit Hume called a "significant win for Democrats" and host Tim Russert used to spark a discussion of race on Meet the Press.

And then there was Al Gore's long-awaited return to Sunday television in an interview on This Week, plus tributes to the late ABC executive Roone Arledge.

On Iraq, pundits differed only on whether the documents would temporarily derail Bush Administration hardliners or would actually work to their advantage, allowing the US military more time to prepare. Pundits from The Weekly Standard, David Brooks on The News Hour and Bill Kristol on Fox, reported that bases in Turkey would be approved by January 15 so that engineering work could begin, meaning an attack could be launched in February.

George Will, on This Week, also mentioned February. "[Iraqis] think they're playing basketball without a shot clock. There is a shot clock. It's in February."

The departure of O'Neill and Lindsey was variously seen as the failure to sell a flawed message or the flawed selling of a good message. Speculation on successors focused on Stephen Friedman of Goldman Sachs as Lindsey's replacement. Friedman's former colleague, Senator Jon Corzine, D-NJ, on Fox, called him "capable," "intellectually disciplined," and "a pragmatist more than an ideologue."

While some criticized losing Republican Louisiana Senate candidate Suzanne Terrell, most credited Senator Mary Landrieu with running a smart campaign on local issues and turning out the African-American vote. Fox host Tony Snow even issued a mea culpa for pundits who had predicted a Terrell win: "The oracles were wrong. A lot of the chin-pulling prognosticators never set foot in Louisiana."

Al Gore's interview with George Stephanopolous on This Week was really two interviews. In the first, a discussion of Iraq, Gore kept Stephanopolous off-balance with tortured hedging and hairsplitting, while sprinkling his answers with criticism of the administration. Straight answers were hard to come by. Gore might or might not support military action to destroy weapons of mass destruction that he knows are there, depending on whether they are discovered.

In the second phase of the interview, on domestic issues, Gore became animated and expansive. He promised a tax plan and a healthcare plan to be revealed in January, even as he maintained he had not yet decided to run. His "single payer" healthcare plan is really a "single mechanism" that will squeeze out middlemen and waste. He denied such a plan a would increase taxes more often that he suggested it "might." Gore would roll back planned upper bracket tax cuts, but he did not join wholeheartedly in the Democratic call for a payroll tax cut or holdiday. He cautioned that Social Security should not be jeopordized, a possible criticism of fellow Democratic aspirant's plans.


"He really was sort of the monk at the bachelor party." -- David Brooks on The News Hour

" I'm going to miss somebody who's blunt and speaks his mind. That was the rap: he wasn't a 'smoothie.'" --William Safire on Meet the Press

"He was a disaster. He was a lousy administrator." --Bob Novak on Meet the Press

"[He and Lindsey] didn't play well together." --George Will on This Week

"[O'Neill and Lindsey] were smart doctors with no bedside manner." --Fahreed Zakaria on This Week

"I'm still looking for a metaphor." --Michele Martin on This Week


Bill Kristol said that losing to Landrieu was one thing, but that Republicans were "spooked" by the loss of a Louisiana GOP House seat in the same special election. Kristol suggested that announcing the economic team shake-up might better have been made on Monday, after the election.


Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss, was roundly criticized for his praise of Strom Thurmond's 1948 Dixiecrat Presidential campaign. It was host Mark Shields' "Outrage of the Week" on Capital Gang, David Broder of the Washington Post, on Meet the Press, said it wasn't the first time Lott had expressed such sentiments, and political writer Joe Klein, also on Meet the Press, called it "outrageous." Only Bob Novak defended Lott. It was a mistake, said Novak, but Lott had "winged it" at a birthday party.

The Louisiana Senate race and the Lott comments led to a Meet the Press discussion of race in politics. Broder said "Race remains a factor in our national life and it's decisive in the South."


Bill Kristol paid tribute to Roone Arledge by attributing the rise of Fox to Arledge's departure from day to day control of ABC in his later years. "Roone Arledge never would have let Brit Hume go to Fox," gushed Kristol.


Speculating on The News Hour as to who might replace Paul O'Neill as Secretary of the Treasury, David Brooks commented:

They are looking for somebody who agrees with the president and they are looking for somebody with political experience which I think rules out Charles Schwab. Ken Lay is available -- but I had to make that joke before Mark did.


Mara Liasson of NPR, on Fox, noted that "Bush owns the economy now." Al Hunt of The Wall Street Journal, on Capital Gang, said that economy is "bad dog food."

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

12/02/02: Real news and pundit news
11/25/02: In a muddle, Saudis rise to the top


© 2002, Will Vehrs