Issues Overwhelm Pundits

So many issues, so little time.

The weekend pundit shows covered a wide range of issues that normally might consume an entire program:

Iraq’s declaration to the United Nations, which Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., called a "12,000 page, 100 pound lie" on Fox News Sunday.

The Friday resignation/firing of Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and economic advisor Larry Lindsey that This Week host George Stephanopolous called "Black Friday."

The victory of Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in the Louisiana run-off that Fox’s Brit Hume called a "significant win for Democrats."

Finally, there was Al Gore’s long-awaited return to Sunday television in an interview on This Week.

On Iraq, pundits differed only on whether the documents would temporarily derail Bush administration plans or would actually work to their advantage, allowing the U.S. military more time to prepare. Pundits from The Weekly Standard, David Brooks on The News Hour and Bill Kristol on Fox, reported that bases in Turkey would be approved by Jan. 15 so that engineering work could begin, meaning an attack could be launched in February.

The departure of O’Neill and Lindsey was variously seen as the failure to sell a flawed message or the flawed selling of a good message. Speculation on successors focused on Stephen Friedman of Goldman Sachs as Lindsey’s replacement. Friedman’s former colleague, Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., on Fox, called him "capable," "intellectually disciplined," and "a pragmatist more than an ideologue."

While some criticized losing Republican Louisiana Senate candidate Suzanne Terrell, most credited Sen. Mary Landrieu with running a smart campaign on local issues and turning out the African-American vote. Fox host Tony Snow even issued a mea culpa for pundits who had predicted a Terrell win: "The oracles were wrong. A lot of the chin-pulling prognosticators never set foot in Louisiana."

Al Gore’s interview with George Stephanopolous on This Week was really two interviews. In the first, a discussion of Iraq, Gore kept Stephanopolous off-balance with tortured hedging and hairsplitting, while sprinkling his answers with criticism of the administration.

In the second phase of the interview, on domestic issues, Gore became animated and expansive. He promised a tax plan and a healthcare plan to be revealed in January, even as he maintained he had not yet decided to run. His "single payer" healthcare plan is really a single "mechanism" that will squeeze out middlemen and waste. Gore would roll back planned upper bracket tax cuts, but he did not join wholeheartedly in the Democratic call for a payroll tax cut or holiday. He cautioned that Social Security should not be jeopardized.

O’Neill Remembered

David Brooks on The News Hour: "He really was sort of the monk at the bachelor party."

William Safire of the New York Times on Meet the Press: "I’m going to miss somebody who’s blunt and speaks his mind. That was the rap: he wasn’t a ‘smoothie.’"

Bob Novak, Chicago Sun-Times, on Meet the Press: "He was a disaster. He was a lousy administrator."

George Will, Washington Post, on This Week: "[He and Lindsey] didn’t play well together."

Fahreed Zakaria of Newsweek on This Week: "[O’Neill and Lindsey] were smart doctors with no bedside manner."

ABC’s Michele Martin on This Week: "I’m still looking for a metaphor."

Louisiana Double Whammy

Bill Kristol said that losing to Landrieu was one thing, but that Republicans were "spooked" by the loss of a Louisiana GOP House seat in the same special election. Kristol suggested that announcing the economic team shake-up might better have been made on Monday, after the election.

Not a Lott of Defense

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., was roundly criticized for his praise of Strom Thurmond’s 1948 Dixiecrat Presidential campaign. It was host Mark Shields’ "Outrage of the Week" on Capital Gang. David Broder of the Washington Post, on Meet the Press, said it wasn’t the first time Lott had expressed such sentiments and political writer Joe Klein, also on Meet the Press, called the comments "outrageous." Only Bob Novak defended Lott, saying he had "winged it" at a birthday party.

The Louisiana Senate race and the Lott comments led to a Meet the Press discussion of race in politics. Broder said, "Race remains a factor in our national life and it’s decisive in the South."

Pre-Emptive Quip

Speculating with Mark Shields on The News Hour as to who might replace Paul O’Neill as Secretary of the Treasury, David Brooks commented:

"They are looking for somebody who agrees with the president and they are looking for somebody with political experience which I think rules out Charles Schwab. Ken Lay is available -- but I had to make that joke before Mark did."

The Bush Economy

Mara Liasson of NPR, on Fox, noted that "Bush owns the economy now." Al Hunt of The Wall Street Journal, on Capital Gang, said the Bush economy is "bad dog food."

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.

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