Issue one for the weekend pundits was the debate over how to investigate intelligence failures before the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Should an independent commission be appointed or should it be left to congressional intelligence committees? The pundits were sharply divided.
"I still see and detect a great hunger for a narrative of what happened last fall that we can all live with and learn from," said Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe, appearing on The News Hour.
"Why not have a commission with a Brezinski, a Schulz — people who can really be detached and come up with something important?" asked Al Hunt of The Wall Street Journal, on Capital Gang.
Brit Hume, appearing on Fox News Sunday, noted that a commission would take a long time to "ramp up." Bob Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times, on Capital Gang, declared: "Citizens' commissions don't have a good track record. I'd rather trust the intelligence committees."
Whatever side the pundits were on, they agreed that a commission wouldn't work without the president's support. That support does not seem to be there, although Oliphant parsed Bush's words: "It was interesting that he couched his opposition in process terms, 'handling of classified information.' If the support builds, all he has to say is the problems have been solved and we can proceed. He didn't say 'over my dead body.'"
The secretive nature of the Bush administration was seen as a complication for any investigation. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, on Capital Gang, charged the administration was "addicted to secrecy." David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, on The News Hour, warned, "There is a congealing sense that secretiveness is the flaw of the Bush administration."
Reforming the FBI seemed to be the most likely outcome of any investigation, but David Corn of The Nation, on Fox, wondered "whether this is an agency that can be reformed." He also expressed concern that an investigation would result in "cheap tricks that make it easier to spy on law-abiding citizens."
Segment of the Week
Tim Russert interviewed Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., on Meet the Press and battered him with well-prepared questions about weak spots in Democratic criticism of the administration's handling of intelligence. Daschle, however, was unfazed and stuck to his talking points.
Daschle claimed that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney asked him in January not to seek an outside commission because it would be a "diversion of resources" needed in the war on terror, a charge Cheney denies. When Russert asked him why he had waited 8 ½ months to call for an independent commission, Daschle cited concerns over resources.
Daschle avoided criticizing Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., for her remarks about Bush's foreknowledge of 9/11, even when told of Sen. Zell Miller's, D-Ga., remark that her comments were "loony." Pressed about the much-maligned farm bill, Daschle said, "I am amazed at the inaccurate reporting on the farm bill."
"Anybody in the news media who dares say one word critical of Israel comes under attack as anti-Semitic. I've experienced this for more than 30 years, and believe me, it does not help Israel one bit." — Bob Novak, on Capital Gang
Asked if he thought recent terror warnings were politically motivated, David Broder of The Washington Post, on Meet the Press, declared, "I have a hard time believing the administration would deliberately jerk the American people around."
Arming Pilots, Continued
Capital Gang had an illuminating segment on the administration's decision not to allow pilots to be armed. Al Hunt joined This Week's Cokie Roberts in the isolated position of not supporting guns for pilots: "I'm all for more marshals, for more safety, but I'll tell you something, as a nervous flyer, I don't want to have a shoot-out in cockpit corral."
Bob Novak, seeing that the Capital Gang panel was 4-1 in favor of arming pilots, explained the situation: "The mystery is why would the administration be against all of us, why would they side with the gun control nuts and Al Hunt? Why is the administration opposing this? I'll tell you why. Because the airlines are against it and the airlines have more influence with this administration than the airline pilots. The airlines are against it because of the liability."
National Review's Kate O'Beirne saw a counterintuitive "gender gap" issue: "Polls show that women actually support arming pilots at a higher rate than men, because they see it as a safety issue; they don't see it as a gun issue. This is a wonderful political opportunity for Democrats to make women feel safer, and appeal to men. They look so anti-gun in other contexts."
Not expecting Capital Gang to discuss arming pilots, I thought this might be the last spate of letters on the subject:
Dan Dickinson of Miami, Fla., wrote:
I believe officials persist in claiming pilots should not have guns because they do not want to acknowledge that guns would solve the problem. Guns must be viewed as the problem. The airliner can always be shot down, no?
Dan Schiappa wrote:
Don't arm the pilots, get rid of one of the useless flight attendants, which claim to be there for our safety anyway, and put an armed guard at the front of the plane, with full weaponry and Kevlar, the whole deal. If you wanted to make it very secure, use some security measure on the gun, in the event the bad guys tried to take the firearm away from the guard. Eliminate the use of the front toilet, even the first class passengers (which I routinely fly) can walk to the back of the plane to use the john. Let's quit dabbling in safety and just make it safe. I know I would feel very safe knowing an air marshal is definitely on board and armed to the teeth.
The controversy over charges that the Bush Administration had warnings before 9-11 drew some responses:
Bud Foster wrote:
Is it just me, or is there a modicum of truth that whenever the White House gets into trouble, they start screaming, "There's another terrorist attack coming!" The country soon forgets the administration’s ineptitude and it can go back to calling anyone who disagrees a "terrorist," or, worse yet, a "partisan Democrat."
Wayne Simpson of Stuart, Fla., wrote:
Regardless of what one might think about the controversy as to what the president knew and when he knew it I think it can be safely stated that (1) He knows his wife from an intern even at 2 AM in the morning. (2) This boy knows how to shut up the opposition even when the opposition doesn't know when to shut up. Oh, by the way Bush's numbers actually went up two points from the previous week. That's got to mean that the opposition's numbers went down after their "what did he know and when did he know it" attack.
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.