President Bush’s proposal for a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security was a bonanza for the weekend pundits.
Throw in juicy quotes from an Esquire interview with the plan’s architect and defender-in-chief, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and the pundits were flush with the tools of their trade: angles, plots and sub-texts.
The President’s plan was variously seen as a diversionary tactic, a part of the administration’s secrecy fetish, a complete reversal of previously held positions, a costly bureaucratic shuffle, or a name-dropping opportunity.
Announcing the plan on the same day as whistle-blower Coleen Rowley’s congressional testimony was seen by some as an effort to divert attention from possibly explosive revelations, but Brit Hume, on Fox, saw that as unnecessary:
"It [the Rowley appearance] was a love-fest. The Bush administration might have been worried about this and was trying to upstage it with the announcement of the new office of the new Department of Homeland Security. They didn’t have anything to worry about. The president did get the bang out of this he hoped for."
Was the secrecy in preparing the announcement an advantage or disadvantage to the plan? "Secrecy is the way this president likes to operate," said PBS’s Mara Liasson on Fox.
"I think that the secrecy that they did, as they like to do, in putting it out, it leaves a lot of unanswered questions," was the judgment of Bob Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times, on Capital Gang,
David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, on The News Hour, saw a "cabal" in the White House masterminding the plan. "The way they did it undermined Cabinet government."
Brit Hume saw it differently: "In this town, if you don’t want the plan carved up in advance, you have to present it this way. "
Wasn’t the plan a reversal of long-held administration positions? As Card and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge made the rounds, pundits relentlessly pointed to past words of disdain for a cabinet-level position for homeland security.
Ridge and Card clung to their talking points, denying that this was a change of course.
Some pundits saw the plan as essentially a bureaucratic shuffle, leaving out the FBI and CIA. "You have to be skeptical," said the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot on Fox. "You don’t change the bureaucracy by changing the furniture."
Bob Novak raised the FBI issue: "It seems to me it's an awful big government department, which I'm not exactly enamored of. But the question I really wonder about is the problem place, the FBI, and how much it's really going to affect the FBI."
Few pundits thought the new cabinet department would be revenue neutral. "I think Arthur Andersen is going to have to do the accounting if this isn't going to cost any more money or take any more people, this moving, " cracked Margaret Carlson of Time, on Capital Gang.
"Who's going to head this? What type of people will run it?" asked Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal on Capital Gang. Pundits also speculated on Tom Ridge’s future, as well as the tantalizing possibility of Rudy Guliani taking the reins.
In short, the pundits found a slice of heaven this weekend with a multi-faceted story that should have "legs" for many more weeks.
Week of the Week
I thought Bob Mueller probably had as good a week as anybody. I thought this is an FBI head who stood up, as close as anybody in this whole administration, took responsibility — said, you know, missed signals and all the rest of it. He commended a whistle blower. I don't know the last time that's happened in Washington where a department head who is being embarrassed by testimony of one of his agents stands up and salutes. — Syndicated Columnist Mark Shields, The News Hour
"Let’s make Coleen Rowley FBI Director." —Paul Gigot, on Fox
"Let's make her Mueller's deputy." —Margaret Carlson, on Capital Gang
"Her career is going to go into atrophy right now." —Bob Novak, on Capital Gang
Literary Allusion of the Week
"He is like a character in a Saul Bellow novel. He has got this neurotic interior monologue going on in his life, and to me they make him a lot more interesting." —David Brooks, speaking of Andy Card’s Esquire comments on The News Hour
This Week invited Patricia Williams of The Nation and Michael Dyson of the Chicago Sun-Times to join George Will and Cokie Roberts in their roundtable. Dyson railed against the "Ashcroft agenda" and Williams criticized the U.S. Patriot Act.
George Will seemed unimpressed with their arguments: "The problem of late has not been too much snooping in computers, but not enough snooping on one computer."
"Fingerprinting is fine. I like photography, too. I don’t believe it’s discriminatory." — NPR’s Juan Williams, on Fox
"Ethnic profiling has been vastly misunderstood." — Mara Liasson, on Fox
Most Underestimated Politician
Al Hunt paid tribute to government whistle blowing protector Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, on Capital Gang:
"I've been in Washington for 33 years, and I don't think I have ever underestimated a politician as much as I underestimated Chuck Grassley. Bob Novak and I went to dinner with him about 20 years ago. I don't think either one of us thought he was good — you know, a terribly impressive new senator. And boy, were we wrong, or I was wrong."
Requiem for a Heavyweight
After Lennox Lewis’ knockout of Mike Tyson, Paul Gigot, on Fox, gave the controversial fighter another eight count: "If it’s the end of his career, we can all be grateful."
No Punditwatching at the Beach
I’ll be on vacation for the next two weekends. Punditwatch will resume on July 1.
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.