It was President Bush's birthday weekend, but his staff got the gift. No member of the administration appeared on the Sunday talk shows to defend the boss.
With no administration voice, pundits explored Democratic efforts to get traction against the president on business scandals, unrest in Afghanistan, and a possible preemptive strike against Iraq. There were two notable firework displays.
On NBC's Meet the Press, moderated by capable Tim Russert stand-in Andrea Mitchell, Arthur Leavitt, former chairman of the Securities & Exchange Commission, and Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., exchanged bitter words over whether corporate scandals were due to Congressional obstruction or lax SEC enforcement during the Clinton years.
In an appearance as a guest on ABC's This Week, CNN's Lou Dobbs was a one-man fireworks show, cutting loose with blasts at all involved in the string of corporate scandals.
Interviewed by Cokie Roberts, he denounced "partisan prattle," noting that "we're hearing more about political advantage than corporate responsibility."
"Both sides are culpable," Dobbs announced, and he mourned the "six trillion dollars" that investors have lost. Of the disgraced corporate chieftains, he spoke for almost all pundits when he said, "These are not bad apples, these are crooks."
Dobbs came out strongly for the Democrats' corporate responsibility legislation sponsored by Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md. Sarbanes also appeared on This Week and gave a presentation on the corrective measures in his legislation that was remarkably lucid and free of partisanship.
For the partisan point of view, one needed Gloria Borger of U.S. News and World Report, interviewing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., on Face the Nation. Borger's softball questions could have been written by the Democratic National Committee.
Daschle refused to say whether Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, should recuse himself because of his ties to Enron and he recommended that President Bush let the SEC release the file on his controversial Harken Energy stock sales. He criticized SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt, but stopped just short of calling for his resignation. Daschle capped the interview by charging that the Bush administration was more political than the Clinton administration and that the tone in Washington was worse than ever.
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., back from a Mideast trip, appeared on Meet the Press. Both warned that the situation in Afghanistan was unstable.
"It may be that we need to be more of a participant," said Graham.
"I fear we may see this government and our efforts unwind. We cannot allow this to go down," Hagel warned.
As to preemptive action against Iraq, most pundits agreed with NPR's Juan Williams on the Fox News Channel: "The administration has yet to make the case." With the exception of the Chicago Sun-Times' Bob Novak on Capital Gang, most felt the case could be made.
Military analyst and former general Thomas McInerney treated the Fox panel to an overview of Iraq invasion scenarios. Rather than discuss the scenarios, they debated the possible reasons behind the leak, to the New York Times, of an invasion plan involving a huge number of troops.
According to Fox's Brit Hume, it was a "classic Washington leak designed to kill it as an option."
Easy Answer on Capital Gang
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields: "Why did J. C. Watts really quit?"
Time’s Margaret Carlson: "Two words: Tom DeLay."
Pundit Recycling Award
Pundits frequently recycle material from their writings of the previous week, but George Will took it to an extreme on This Week. He read his Washington Post tribute to Ted Williams almost verbatim.
Compassionate Conservatives on Prescription Drugs
Bob Novak, Capital Gang: "The problem is that all this whining by senior citizens because they want to go out to Wendy's and they want to go out to the dog track, and if they saved their money and bought some drugs, most of them can afford it."
Kate O'Bierne, National Review, on Capital Gang: "Two thirds of the elderly, of course, do have prescription drug coverage. And the typical senior citizen spends $800 a year. A small minority have trouble paying for drugs, and now if they have to choose between buying drugs and food, it'd be a lot cheaper to provide food for them."
Worst Guest of the Week
Cokie Roberts of This Week had interviews with the best guest of the week, Lou Dobbs, and the worst, John Dillon, CEO of International Paper.
Appearing in a golf shirt against the backdrop of an upstate New York lake, Dillon was in favor of everything and nothing all at once. Roberts could not get a straight answer from him. Even Dobbs noted Dillon's lack of passion and specificity.
Armed Pilot Debate Returns
Margaret Carlson: "Two drunk America West pilots were stopped just before taking off last week, not because the flight attendants noticed they were smashed, but because an alert security guard had. Let's hope they're grounded for life. But let's also ground the FAA for not earlier revoking the license of pilot Thomas Coit, who'd already had two drinking-related arrests."
Mark Shields: "Those drunk pilots really hurt the case for guns in the cockpit."
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.