After a week of feverish partisan charges and countercharges accusing the other side of politicizing the Iraq issue, Sunday pundits were prepared for conciliation and the crowning of winners and losers.
Then two Democratic Congressmen re-ignited the debate with supportive words for Iraq, possibly squandering any advantage their party had gained from criticism of President Bush.
On ABC’s This Week, host George Stephanopolous interviewed Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and David Bonoir, D-Mich., live from Baghdad. It was obvious from Stephanopolous’ incredulous tone that he could not believe what the two were saying or his good fortune to stumble upon such an explosive story.
Both Baghdad visitors support allowing Hans Blix and his U.N. weapons inspectors to enter Iraq without any preconditions.
"The president is pushing, he’s raising the bar," claimed McDermott. "You have to take the Iraqis on their face value. They did not drive the inspectors out. We took them out."
"The Iraqis we talked to have said they will welcome the inspectors," said Bonior.
Bonoir brushed aside Stephanopolous’ questions about Saddam Hussein’s past behavior. "We could go back and play the blame game. I wish you would focus on what’s happened to the people of Iraq -- the children." He went on to claim, "The only nuclear piece we’ve seen is an incredible increase in leukemia," attributing it to the uranium in U.S. bombs.
During This Week’s roundtable, columnist George Will expressed outrage at the McDermott and Bonoir comments. "In what I consider the most disgraceful performance abroad by an American official in my lifetime, Mr. McDermott said we should take Saddam Hussein at his word and not take the president at his word."
ABC reporter Michele Martin, also at the roundtable, shook her head, noting, "This helps explain why the Democrats are having such a hard time finding a principled place to stand as a group. Every time they seem to locate a moral center, someone drags them to a place that is untenable for the rest of the country."
On Face the Nation, Bob Schieffer asked tough questions of Democratic presidential hopeful Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont. Dean claimed the president hadn’t made the case, but paradoxically conceded that the president didn’t have to "prove" his case.
On Fox News Sunday, Sens. John Breaux, D-La., and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., made nice after the partisan bickering of the past week. Breaux suggested, "Both sides need to lower the rhetoric. I said, like my daughter sometimes puts our three grandchildren in a time-out period. It's time to put the Senate in a time-out period as far as name-calling and questioning whether who's loyal and who's not."
After McDermott and Bonior’s comments, time-outs might not work for anybody.
Juan Williams of NPR, appearing on Fox, said the House and Senate might make significant changes to the Iraq resolution. "I don’t think the president is down with all that."
Kudos for Kennedy
Two conservative commentators went out of their way to praise the speech made by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass, opposing the administration on Iraq. On The News Hour, David Brooks of The Weekly Standard said:
"To me the most important speech was Kennedy's. I think it was the first time a major Democratic politician gave a very good, a very professional speech against the president's policies."
Fox News Sunday host Tony Snow called it a "civil and principled speech, a grown-up example for partisans on both sides."
Shields Airs Ad
Over the strenuous objection of the Chicago-Sun Times’ Bob Novak, who claimed it was a blatant political ad, host Mark Shields made this comment on Capital Gang:
"I just hope during that Senate debate that senators will address the fact and the reality that there's exactly one child of a United States senator, Sergeant Brooks Johnson of the Army Airborne, son of Tim Johnson of South Dakota, who is in the military -- But they're voting to send other people's children... to combat. I hope that they think about it and reflect upon it."
Will the Torch Keep Burning?
Nicholas Acocella of the online publication Politifax analyzed the campaign of embattled Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., on Capital Gang:
"He's got to go out to what I call the NPR liberals, the people who are offended by his alleged behavior. He's got to win them back to the Democratic Party and make sure that they vote. If he does that, he's got a fighting chance."
As for Torricelli’s GOP opponent making ethics charges stick to Torricelli, Acocella noted:
"Doug Forrester's the ideal candidate to do this because he's a blank slate. I mean, he's a businessman, he was a deputy treasurer, an assistant treasurer in the state government. But he has no real political track record on which to hang anything."
Punditwatch will take October off to pursue a theatrical opportunity. He will return on Nov. 4.
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.