When the going gets tough for the Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney gets going to the Sunday talk shows.
Cheney spent the whole hour with Tim Russert on Meet the Press and did a shorter interview with Tony Snow on Fox News Sunday. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, the administration’s other cool and loyal voice, mopped up on Face the Nation, This Week, and CNN’s Late Edition.
After a week that NPR’s Mara Liasson, appearing on Fox, called "ferocious," Cheney’s commandeering of Meet the Press was a masterstroke. He guaranteed that no other voices would be heard on America’s top-rated show and that he could calmly and authoritatively conduct damage control, spin, and changing the subject operations.
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., appeared on Fox after Cheney and sounded much different than the firebrand of earlier in the week. Brit Hume of Fox noticed the softening of rhetoric on both sides.
"It sounded as if they had decided to call a truce," Hume said.
Morton Kondracke of Roll Call, also on Fox, concurred, saying "We’re back in patriotism mode."
That mode may have resulted from the new terrorist threat alerts issued by the administration. CBS White House correspondent John Roberts, substituting for Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, was gutsy enough to ask Condoleezza Rice if the latest alerts would have been issued if not for the controversy.
"We don’t play games with this," replied Rice.
Pundit of the Week
Where other pundits lapsed into tired Clinton/Bush double standard arguments, David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, appearing on The News Hour, pointed to the administration’s fateful decision to circle the wagons after Sept. 11 and not seek reform as the mistake making the current controversy possible:
"The fact that the president was briefed on Aug. 6 was a prime example. They could have said, listen, this system is broken. We got these vague reports that we didn't know what to do with, but we should have gotten better reports. We should have connected the dots a lot better and we are going to clean house here. But they decided not to do it. The reason I think they decided not to do it is sort of team loyalty."
Brooks also had the best quips of the week. Regarding the Bush Sept. 11 photo being used as a GOP fundraiser, he said dryly, "I wish he had been on the phone telling George Tenet he's fired."
Regarding the now infamous Aug. 6 presidential daily briefing, Brooks said, "If you take a look at the documents that actually made it to the Oval Office, you could take Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot and you wouldn't be able to figure out what was going to happen on Sept. 11."
"After Sept. 11, there was a rush, an absolute chorus of conservative politicians and pundits who pointed their finger immediately at Bill Clinton — that it was Bill Clinton's fault. There were no hearings; there was no evidence; there was no testimony. There was a rush to judgment. I didn't hear President Bush say that's unfair." — Mark Shields, on The News Hour
"The Bush administration...did more in eight months — they even had military plan, plus the freezing assets, more in eight months to go against bin Laden than the Clinton administration had done in eight years." National Review’s Kate O’Bierne, on Capital Gang
"For the most part, the White House has not lied. There have been some misimpressions." –George Stephanopolous, on This Week
Shields Defines Patriotism
"It's patriotism, I guess, when Don Rumsfeld goes on Rush Limbaugh, who's accused the Democrats of everything from ringworm to declining Sunday school attendance." — Mark Shields, on The News Hour
Exchange of the Week
Once again, the Capital Gang takes top honors for this analysis of President Carter after his visit to Cuba:
"He's an embarrassment." — Bob Novak, Chicago Sun-Times
"He is a great statesman." — Mark Shields
"Calling an ex-president an embarrassment, that's an embarrassment." Margaret Carlson, Time
"Well, except when he embarrasses himself..." — Kate O’Bierne
Most of the mail this week was in response to last week’s letter from David Townsend. Townsend, like This Week’s Cokie Roberts, opposed armed pilots on commercial flights.
Bob Miller of Pace, Fla., wrote:
Who are the most trusted people in our country who carry guns? The military (not cops or federal marshals.) What job did most airline pilots hold before their current job? By gosh, they were in — the military!
Chris Brooke of Marietta, Ga., wrote:
These are not ditch-diggers we're talking about here. These are airline pilots. They go through extensive crisis-management training. They are used to having the power of life-and-death at their hands. They are trained to handle emergency situations that would cause ordinary people to curl up into a fetal position and cry "Mama."
Laura Bell of Baton Rouge, La., wrote:
Tell Cokie Roberts that most pilots have a lot more than "a little day or two of training" in the use of firearms and certainly are capable of handling a situation that may arise on the airplane. That is what's wrong with these news people, they are all too willing to "spout off" their opinion even when they know not of which they speak.
Sandra Stanbery wrote:
There seems to be a preference among passengers regarding armed and unarmed pilots. So, when making a reservation, should airlines now ask: "Will that be an aisle or window seat, with or without armed pilots?"
Robert Calvert of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College wrote:
I refuse to fly on any commercial aircraft that does NOT have an armed pilot.
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.