After weeks of an overwhelming obsession with the Middle East, weekend pundits ventured into other areas.
The American Cardinals, back from their meeting with the Pope, replaced Arafat, Sharon, and President Bush as targets of pundit ire. No one was satisfied with the results of the Vatican meeting or the communiqué that followed.
"Those Catholics looking for a miracle did not get one, " said Margaret Carlson of Time on Capital Gang. "They didn't really address the cover-up. There were crimes and a cover-up and that would have meant direct responsibility falling on the heads of Cardinal Egan and Cardinal Law. No one wanted to do that."
Bob Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of The Weekly Standard all used the word "disappointed," with Brooks adding that the communiqué was "legal pettifoggery...a dud of a response."
Face the Nation’s Bob Schieffer used his parting commentary to lecture the Cardinals: "Why are they making this so complicated? It must be stopped. A few sentences will suffice."
The Catholic Church did itself no favors by putting Cardinal Francis George of Chicago on Meet the Press. George was defensive and curt under host Tim Russert’s questioning, demonstrating either a lack of preparation or inexperience. While he did slightly better on Face the Nation, he showed none of the warmth of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, appearing on Fox News Sunday. He also did not use disciplined talking points like Notre Dame’s Father Richard O’Brien or Father Richard Neuhaus of the Institute on Religion and Public Life, both of whom followed him on Meet the Press.
Neuhaus said the Catholic Church had to be aware of "homophobia and homophobia phobia."
The pundits universally hailed departing presidential aide Karen Hughes. Michael Duffy of Time magazine, speaking on Washington Week in Review, said she was the most influential aide since Michael Deaver in the Reagan administration.
Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal was effusive on Capital Gang: "Karen Hughes not only was the most influential woman who ever served as a White House aide to the president but she was that rare commodity, someone whose only agenda was the president's."
The pundits doubt Hughes will be as powerful working part-time from Texas. "It's hard to have the same influence without the proximity," according to This Week’s Cokie Roberts. Her colleague, Sam Donaldson, predicts Hughes will return to the White House as soon as Bush gets into trouble.
When the pundits discussed the Middle East, the messages were mixed. Of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s visit to Crawford, Texas, Margaret Carlson said of President Bush, "He needed to do more than form a personal bond, he needed to get some concessions from the Saudis and he seemed to get nothing."
The Fox News Sunday panel, Brit Hume, Mara Liasson and Juan Williams, were surprisingly upbeat, however. Each saw a glimmer of opportunity to end the stalemate.
Williams’ assessment: "With the visit of Abdullah, there is a possible peace plan and the key to it is the actions of the Arab states and their ability to put pressure on Arafat."
Viewpoints on Saudi Arabia
"I have come to the belief that the Saudis desperately want good relations with the United States; they really do believe that peace cannot be made in the Middle East without the involvement of themselves." — Brit Hume
"To take advice from them [the Saudis] on foreign policy doesn’t make much sense." — Cokie Roberts
"[Saudi Arabia] is a freak of geology, a tribe with a flag." — George Will, on This Week
Maybe They Were Having a Sale
Al Hunt was "appalled" at the closing press conference by the Cardinals in Rome:
"He [Cardinal Law] and Cardinal Egan didn't even show up at that press conference. They said they had another appointment — last minute shopping at the Vatican gift shop? I mean it was really, really outrageous."
How to Tell the Difference
"Republicans like women individually. Democrats only like them as a group." — Margaret Carlson
But Could He Be Confirmed?
Last week, George Will, asked if Secretary of State Colin Powell should be fired, said "not yet." Perhaps Will is angling for the job:
"I don't think some Republicans will be satisfied until George Will is Secretary of State." — Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, on This Week.
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.