President Bush gives his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, but pundits largely passed on a preview of his remarks.

It was hard to blame them. Only Chief of Staff Andrew Card was trotted out to produce well-rehearsed talking points. Super Bowl weekend is not when the stars come out for political talk shows.

Meet the Press host Tim Russert roughed Card up on Iraq, the president’s position in the polls, and with questions from left field. His queries regarding affirmative action at military academies and alleged efforts by the administration to trim Title IX regulations regarding women’s sports surprised Card and did not appear to have been included in his briefing book.

Card fared a little better in avoiding dangerous shoals on Fox News Sunday and Face the Nation. He suggested that the administration would push an old argument many thought was discredited: that there was a “strong nexus between Saddam Hussein and terrorists, including al Qaeda.”

Making the Democratic case against the administration were Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., on Meet the Press and Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., on Face the Nation. Both urged giving U.N. Inspectors more time.

Daschle said the Democrats’ economic plan, as contrasted with the Bush plan, follows the recommendations of “mainstream economists.” It offers “immediacy, fiscal responsibility, is broad-based, and helps the states.”

As for the president’s rumored plan to provide prescription drugs for seniors, Daschle tried out this sound byte as a characterization: “Trading the doctors they choose for the medicine they need.”

Dodd has not yet decided to be a presidential candidate, he told Russert, and “might very well” support his junior colleague, Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

Shields State of the Union

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields gave his assessment of the country on The News Hour:

“I think there's enormous uncertainty in the country … [in] 2002, the president and his party prospered because it was all about terrorism. Now it's a country that's uncertain in the economy, it's uncertain about Iraq, it's uncertain about North Korea. We have been told the United States is absolutely relatively the most powerful nation right now in the history of human kind, and yet we see ourselves paralyzed by North Korea. We can't move. We have to take any military option off the table. And so what is that absolute power? What are its limits?”

Passionate Pundit

David Brooks of The Weekly Standard, also on The News Hour, was surprisingly passionate in criticizing the president’s approach to making the case against Saddam Hussein and responding to Mark Shields’ defense of anti-war protestors:

“You've got 100,000 people marching in the streets and they are, in effect, marching to preserve a fascist regime. I know that's not what they want. They want to prevent war, which is a legitimate thing to do. But they are never asked why are you preserving a fascist regime, why don't you want the tide of democracy, which is to spread through Latin America and Central America, to spread to the Arab part of the world -- that's the idealistic case the Bush administration has made a little but they haven't made strongly enough.

"I wanted to go down there and say here's a regime that has professional rape teams in their military where they rape women and send the videotapes to the fathers. Here's a regime that imprisons mothers and babies in the next cell and forces them to watch their babies starve to death. You know, what is the defense? Maybe we don't want to take out this regime, but is that the moral high ground? What is your defense for preserving that regime?”

Piling on Sandbags

David Brooks and Mark Shields, on The News Hour, and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard, on Fox, said Secretary of State Colin Powell was “sandbagged” by the French this past week. Asked by Tony Snow on Fox if Powell had been “sandbagged,” Richard Perle of the Pentagon Defense Advisory Board called it “French maneuvering.”

Powell and Cheney, Together at Last?

Kate O’Beirne of National Review, on Capital Gang, and Bill Kristol on Fox used almost identical language to describe a suddenly more hawkish sounding Secretary of State:  “Colin Powell is now where Dick Cheney was last August, inspections won't work, we cannot disarm Saddam Hussein through inspections.”

On Capital Gang, Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times and Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal disagreed, with Hunt praising Powell: “I think for all the shots that the Cheney people have taken at Colin Powell, that was the genius of U.N. Res. 1441. You don't have to go back a second time.”

Question of the Week

Tony Snow, on Fox, to Andrew Card:“Isn’t time running out for saying ‘time is running out?’”

The Easy Place

Bill Kristol, on Fox, said Massachusetts’s Democratic presidential aspirant Sen. John Kerry’s use of the term “rush to war” was, among other things, “offensive,” “ludicrous,” and a “slander.” Mara Liasson of NPR, also on Fox, said it was an “easy place to be for Democrats who don’t have to make the decision.”

Whew

Richard Perle, described in many circles as a “mega-hawk,” was asked on Fox about reports that the administration might use tactical nuclear weapons against Iraq. “There is not a target in Iraq that can’t be handled by conventional weapons,” he assured host Tony Snow.

Redemption

Last year, Capital Gang guest Steve Sabol of NFL films famously predicted that New England had “no chance” in the Super Bowl. The gang brought him back this year to “bust” on him and to get his prediction for today’s game: the Bucs, “because defense wins championships.” Sabol is now 1-1.

Mail Bag

Kay Kleck of Odessa, Texas, wrote:

The solution is simple. Quit the quota system or have no one utilize the people that graduate from these colleges. I won't. I don't trust affirmative action graduates.

Sure, thousands of people arrived in Washington to support terrorism.

There are also thousands MORE who love this country and love freedom enough to be out protecting those bunch of ingrates!

Will Vehrs is an economic developer in Richmond, Va. who turned his lifelong obsession with pundit shows into this web log.  His "Punditwatch" column appears on Tony Adragna's Quasipundit; he recently began writing "Virginia Pundit Watch" for Bacon's Rebellion.

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