It was "Ladies Night" on Meet the Press this weekend.
Host Tim Russert conducted an "exclusive" interview with newly elected Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. He followed by moderating a lively debate between Louisiana special election Senate candidates Suzanne Terrell, a Republican, and Sen. Mary Landrieu , the Democratic incumbent.
Competition was weak: Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge appeared on both Fox News Sunday and This Week, trying to calm fears about recent terror warnings and worries that an intrusive domestic spy operation is being contemplated.
Three senators appeared on Face the Nation to participate in a meandering discussion of various national security issues. New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer appeared on This Week to discuss the latest corporate scandal, "stock tips for nursery school admission."
On Meet the Press, most of the questions Pelosi was asked related to Iraq and national security. There was little evidence of a "San Francisco liberal" in Pelosi’s answers. "I don’t trust Saddam Hussein for one second," she asserted. Pelosi mentioned being a woman once, but noted her Italian-American heritage twice.
On Fox News Sunday, NPR’s Mara Liasson said, "It remains to be seen if Nancy Pelosi becomes the face of the Democrats." Based on the positions she took on Meet the Press, Pelosi becoming the face of Democrats might not be the bonanza Republicans hope it will be.
Pity poor Mary Landrieu and Suzanne Terrell. They came to Meet the Press expecting the inevitable Tim Russert Buffalo Bills ploy and they were ready. Russert, however, cut off the debate and went to commercial just as Terrell appeared to be pulling out a New Orleans Saints jersey for presentation. When Russert came back, he had the jersey and an LSU Tigers cap, presumably from Landrieu, but neither candidate was on camera to yuck it up with the obsessive sports fan.
In the debate, Russert repeatedly put both candidates on the defensive, causing Landrieu to move closer to President Bush on Iraq and the war on terror while making Terrell separate herself from Bush on steel tariffs and potential Mexican sugar imports. Terrell insisted she represented "Louisiana values" while Landrieu boasted of her place on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The two candidates cautiously decried a possible deal between Republican Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster and President Bush that would grant a waiver from Federal education standards if Foster would endorse Terrell. On This Week, host George Stephanopolous reported that presidential advisor Karl Rove and Foster engaged in a shouting match over this gambit.
After relying on negative charges against each candidate to frame his questions, Russert surprised by asking the two for a pledge that they would not run negative ads.
Who won? Terrell started shakily, but seemed to find her voice as the debate progressed. Landrieu seemed on the defensive more often, yet never lost her cool. A slight edge goes to Landrieu on command of the issues. Terrell, less experienced with national issues, was not blown out, however, so she probably did not hurt herself with her performance. Both were equally strong at complaining that the other was interrupting.
Passionate Pundits of the Week
Juan Williams of NPR and Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal exchanged heated words on Fox. Williams charged that defeated Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., and other Democrats were bitter at attacks on the senator’s patriotism during the campaign. Gigot called those charges an "urban legend."
The Book On Blix
The chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, got mixed reviews:
George Will of the Washington Post, on This Week : "He’s a combination of Mr. Magoo and Inspector Clouseau and that won’t do."
Newsweek’s Fahreed Zakaria, also on This Week: "Prepare to be surprised by Blix."
Asked if he could "fill Strom Thurmond’s wingtips," 47-year-old Senator-elect Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., put himself in the place of the 99 year old Republican legend:
"Well, it'll be tough. Here's what awaits me. My successor will be born next year, my wife will be born in two years, in 23 years I'd have my first child. I doubt if I can follow that formula."
Quip of the Week, Runner-Up
When syndicated columnist Mark Shields suggested on The News Hour that the president was now having the "honeymoon" he missed in 2001, The Weekly Standard’s David Brooks cracked:
"The interesting thing is like a lot of men on their honeymoons, Bush is kind of in a hurry."
Quip of the Week
Brooks, again on The News Hour, wins with this assessment:
"Nancy Pelosi is the best fund-raiser in the house. She raised more money than anybody, any other Democrat in the House. I sometimes think she has squatter rights in Barbra Streisand's wallet, she spends so much time there."
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.