Weekend pundits turned from the mechanics of invading Iraq to the role it will play in domestic politics.
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With 45 days until the mid-term elections, they wondered if Iraq would continue to crowd out domestic issues for the Democrats and they speculated on the fate of a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force.
Most pundits and their guests agreed that the president would get approval to use force against Iraq.
"Democrats are on the defensive to such an extent they can’t afford to oppose the president," according to NPR’s Juan Williams, appearing on Fox News Sunday. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., also on Fox, called the resolution "too broad" and said there "need to be changes," but conceded that it would likely pass before the November elections.
Tim Russert held the first of his Senate debates on Meet the Press, hosting incumbent Sen. Wayne Allard R-Colo., and his challenger, Democrat Tom Strickland. In answer to Russert’s first question, both men said they would vote for a resolution authorizing force against Iraq.
Should Iraq dominate the fall elections? Hawkish pundits thought so: "We may be about to go to war, lose lives. And the fact that Tom Daschle wants to change the subject to prescription drug benefits for his political benefit is just running around Capitol Hill looking for some sand to stick your head in," said David Brooks of The Weekly Standard on The News Hour.
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Brooks’ partner, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, had a different view on why many Republicans want the focus to remain on Iraq. "Is there anybody in the White House who is unaware of the fact that there are six weeks remaining in a campaign in which no Republican can run on Bush's record domestically?" he said.
On Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer and sidekick Gloria Borger, joined by the Washington Post’s Dan Balz, reported that voters were not solidly behind the president on Iraq, despite the polls. "My sense is there are reservations," said Balz.
On This Week, Democratic strategist Bill Carrick maintained that voters were talking about "their agenda," not Iraq. Republican strategist Bill McInturff said voters were looking for "stability."
The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol may have had the best line about the political implications of Iraq. "This administration might like a regime change in the U.S. Senate as well as Iraq," he said on Fox.
Pundit Book Club
Tim Russert plugged Sen. John McCain’s new book, Worth the Fighting For, after a pro forma interview where the Arizona senator supported action against Iraq. On This Week, host George Stephanopolous interviewed former CIA staffer Kenneth Pollack, author of The Threatening Storm, a book urging action against Saddam Hussein.
Allard v. Strickland
It’s no wonder that the Colorado Senate race is neck and neck. Punditwatch calls this Meet the Press debate a draw on substance, with Strickland getting the nod on image.
Russert marred an even-handed performance as moderator by ending with his insufferably predictable mention of the Buffalo Bills and display of a Bills jersey. Strickland loses points for not knowing the jersey schtick was coming; Allard loses points for knowing it was coming and playing along by bringing a Denver Bronco jersey.
Stop the Presses
Long-time Fox antagonists Brit Hume and Juan Williams surprised viewers by agreeing on something: Israel’s actions against Yasser Arafat’s compound are making the almost irrelevant Palestinian leader a sympathetic figure again.
Commenting on Capital Gang, columnist Margaret Carlson found sexual politics in the gubernatorial race in Massachusetts: "The first thing he [GOP candidate Mitt Romney] does is send out Kelly Healy his lieutenant governor, to go after [Democratic candidate] Shannon O'Brien so he can have the skirt-to-skirt thing. He's hiding behind Kelly Healy's skirts."
National Review’s Kate O’Beirne, on Capital Gang, was skeptical of hearings about intelligence failures prior to Sept. 11: "May I point out the exact same people who are complaining in hindsight that the dots weren't connected are the people complaining about the Justice Department's detention. Guess what? They are keeping dots, those same dots, behind bars."
Listen to Prostitutes and the Terrorists Win
Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal, on Capital Gang, had this explanation for the Sept. 11 intelligence failures: "The problem is back then that John Ashcroft had more FBI agents eavesdropping on prostitutes in New Orleans than he did looking for Al Qaeda."
George’s Big Scoop
George Stephanopolous promised last week that his closing commentary on This Week, called "The Briefing Book," would look at upcoming news. Other pundits merely mentioned that Al Gore will give a speech addressing Iraq on Monday. Stephanopolous, however, claimed to have an exclusive excerpt from the speech. Gore will "tweak" President Bush on his preemption doctrine, according to Stephanopolous. This is an unexpected, shocking revelation….
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.