Yasser Arafat’s cloudy future and the political impact of WorldCom and other business scandals led the weekend talk shows.
Vouchers and the Pledge of Allegiance flap were distant also-rans.
Pundits were universal in their condemnation of Arafat, but fixated on the question of what happens if Arafat is "elected." Secretary of State Colin Powell, appearing on Fox and Face the Nation, and Condoleezza Rice, the lead guest on Meet the Press, essentially shrugged their shoulders.
Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer picked up a New York Times story reporting that Vice President Cheney had championed writing off Arafat, allowing the Middle East to be taken off the table as an issue before the Congressional election.
Powell denied politics was ever mentioned, but guest Tom Friedman, the New York Times’ foreign affairs correspondent, later noted that no one had to mention the political ramifications at that level.
Friedman was the star of the Arafat discussions, appearing in a Meet the Press film clip critical of Bush, as well as being interviewed in his Face the Nation segment. He largely agreed with the thrust of Bush’s speech, but noted that the administration was "good at giving speeches, not good at diplomacy. He argued that Bush did not require enough of Israel. He suggested that significant pullbacks from settlements on the West Bank should have been demanded.
"Will the business scandals hurt Bush?" was the major question for the pundits as they discussed WorldCom and other companies under siege for questionable and/or illegal actions. There was a definite liberal/conservative split.
Columnist Mark Shields, on The News Hour, said, almost hopefully, "I think it's the biggest issue; it's probably the greatest vulnerability that George Bush has."
Weekly Standard editor David Brooks countered on the same show, "It has not led to a decline in Bush's popularity ratings; it has not led to a decline in the Republican Party's popularity ratings. You have got a perfect storm of events, no storm."
Then he tweaked liberals: "If there were liberals still left in this country, they would be out with their pitchforks in front of the mansions on behalf of the little people, against the corporate interests."
Time columnist Margaret Carlson, on Capital Gang, compared WorldCom’s accounting to armed robbery: "They might as well put on ski masks and hold guns and go into a convenience store."
Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal, also on Capital Gang, was not optimistic that President Bush would do much about the problem:
"I think that George Bush is about as committed to taking on corporate wrongdoing as Bill Clinton was to the government abstinence program.
"There's nothing in his background or his record to indicate that he really believes it. For the last year and a half they have given corporate interests almost anything they wanted. They've tried to deregulate, they've put …so many foxes in so many hen houses, starting with Harvey Pitt, you can't count them all."
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Bob Novak was philosophical on Capital Gang. "When you have a vibrant economy, as we had in the last few years, you're going to have some excesses. You just—you have to take that with the capitalist system."
Fox added Neil Cavuto, managing editor for business news, to the panel the network had assembled to discuss the business scandals. Cavuto predicted that more corporate wrongdoing would be revealed as the accounting firm taking over Arthur Andersen's clients publicizes the findings, "Just to cover its own legal butt."
NPR correspondent and Fox panelist Mara Lisasson agreed with one Cavuto observation: "The biggest threat Wall Street sees is re-regulation."
Kinder, Gentler Cheney
Tim Russert: During those ‘heady’ few hours on Saturday when Vice President Cheney was in charge, did he push you around?
Condoleezza Rice: No, I was at the gym.
Asked by Bob Schieffer about the opposition to Bush’s foreign policy, Tom Friedman laughed off the Democrats and identified those countering Bush’s strategy as "John McCain, Colin Powell, and Tony Blair."
Shields Does Carlin
There are seven words you will not hear this year, "Now is the time to privatize Social Security." — Mark Shields, Capital Gang, on the impact of corporate scandals.
"Every stupid decision creates a counter reaction of equal stupidity." — David Brooks, The News Hour, commenting on the Ninth District’s Pledge ruling and the ensuing furor.
Worse Than Inner City Schools
"American voters just don't want to have their tax dollars go for schools that are run by Louis Farrakhan or some disciple of Bob Jones." — Al Hunt, Capital Gang, discussing the Supreme Court’s voucher case.
Candid Comment of the Week
"I feel ambivalent about vouchers. I know that's a mortal sin on television." — Margaret Carlson, on Capital Gang.
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.