Payback Time Tops Mideast as Issue

The expected pundit focus on the Middle East trips of Gen. Anthony Zinni and Vice President Dick Cheney never materialized this past weekend.

Instead, the pundits focused on the "payback" angles in the Judiciary Committee’s defeat of Appeals Court nominee Charles Pickering.

With little that was newsworthy flowing from the war-torn Middle East, the now perennial issue of going to war with Iraq was trotted out as the link between the Zinni and Cheney trips. In the best foreign policy segment of the weekend, Tom Friedman of the New York Times and William Kristol of The Weekly Standard, appearing on Meet the Press, agreed that the U.S. "could not do Iraq" while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continued. Both also predicted a U.S. troop presence in Israel to hold down the violence.

"I'd call it payback time," said syndicated columnist Mark Shields on The News Hour, of the Pickering defeat. He was referring to previous GOP treatment of Clinton nominees for the judiciary. Payback for the payback was expected and will likely be closely monitored by the pundits in the weeks ahead.

"I think the effect on the Senate is going to be damaging, " warned Cokie Roberts on This Week. "The only resource Republicans have is retaliation," said the Chicago Sun-TimesBob Novak on Capital Gang. Shields’ partner on The News Hour, The Weekly Standard’s David Brooks, was fuming over the Senate Judiciary Committee. He managed to link them with the Middle East, calling the committee "… a place filled with ancient hatreds and bitter rivalries. It's like Gaza Strip without the charm."

Adding to the machinations of payback was the refusal of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to testify before Congress. Tom Daschle said on Face the Nation that Ridge might get a subpoena, but Bob Novak said on Capital Gang he was merely being called to the Hill so Sen. Robert Byrd could "brow beat" him. Margaret Carlson of Time magazine, also on Capital Gang, thought Ridge should testify and she wasn’t happy with his new warning system, either:

"Tom Ridge is not staff. He's really — operates much more like a Cabinet officer, and then on top of it, he monkeyed with our color system. And you know, we — high alert was confusing enough to be on that all the time, now we are all currently in code yellow. So yellow is no longer mellow. It's now significant risk and no one is ever going to understand this. Color us all confused, he's going to be called to account."

Important, If True

Sergei Ivanov, Russian Defense Minister, appeared on Meet the Press and denied there was a single case of weapons grade material having been stolen or sold from the old Soviet Union inventory. "Weapons system plutonium is safe and secure," he assured MTP host Tim Russert.

Russert’s Fantasy Fulfilled

In a bizarre close to his interview with Ivanov, Russert showed a photo of the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy and asked the Russian, "Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" Ivanov, looking bewildered, said, "Yes." "I’ve always wanted to ask that question," explained Russert.

Prescient Pundit

"Oh, man, I would be just stunned if she ran." Mara Liasson of NPR, on Fox News Sunday, hours before Tipper Gore announced she would not run for the Senate from Tennessee.

She Had All the Qualifications

Juan Williams, also of NPR, following Liasson’s comment: "I would be delighted [if Tipper ran]. I was once on Oprah with her discussing rap music. She was a strong, sensible voice of moderation."

Advice for Al Gore

Tom Friedman responded on Meet the Press to Al Gore characterizing President Bush’s policy as "speak loudly and carry a small stick." "Don’t attack Bush from the right," he suggested.

INS Follies

"The INS has no idea who's here and who's getting in this very moment. More heads must roll." — Margaret Carlson

"We know they're going to win the bureaucratic bungle of the year award unless Ken Lay gets the Congressional Medal of Honor by accident." — David Brooks

Bob Novak, the Education Pundit

When Capital Gang guest and noted basketball writer John Feinstein suggested that college players be paid as an incentive to graduate, Novak sniffed:

"You know I wish that John and other people would get off this graduation business. In this last 30 years, I've known a lot of college basketball players, many of them didn't graduate, but they almost all of them, 98 percent of them have very good jobs."

Hume on Snow

Actor Alec Baldwin called Fox News "fascist," prompting a bemused Brit Hume to tell Fox News Sunday host Tony Snow, "When I look at you, I think of Benito Mussolini. El Dorke."

Mailbag Snafu

My email was not working the past two weeks, but it’s been fixed. You can fire away now.

Will Vehrs is an economic developer in Richmond, Va.  Unable to obsess on golf, fishing, or a weed-free lawn, he chose to stalk the weekend talk show pundits and their syndicated print brethren.   His "Punditwatch" column appears in Tony Adragna's Quasipundit.

Respond to the Writer