Labor Day weekend traditionally marks the start of the fall election campaign. Pundits honored convention with a parade of politicos handicapping congressional races.
But a cast of hawks and a bevy of doves swelled the parade route, each eager to influence the debate on Iraq. In a rising tide over the past three weeks, almost every current or former foreign policy official has given a speech or written an op-ed, providing either grist for the pundits and/or a guest appearance for themselves.
When the pundit parade finally ended, the contest between hawks and doves appeared to be as much a toss-up as the race between Democrats and Republicans for control of Congress.
On Meet the Press, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger wondered why, if the case against Iraq was so strong, it had not swayed our NATO allies. Senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., argued that we didn’t have time to "calibrate" the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
On Fox, former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke urged the Bush Administration to go to the U.N. because, "The road to Baghdad goes through the Security Council." Former Secretary of State Gen. Alexander Haig, one of the past week’s op-ed writers, also favored going to the U.N., but only to tell them the US would enforce past resolutions.
Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brezinzski, still another op-ed writer, warned on This Week of losing focus in the War on Terror by going into Iraq. On the same program, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said he agreed with former Secretary of State James Baker that the U.S. should, "run the diplomatic track."
A BBC interview of Secretary of State Colin Powell, where the secretary seemed to disagree with a Vice President Cheney by favoring weapons inspectors over a pre-emptive strike, was seized upon by the pundits as evidence of a huge split.
"It’s almost civil warfare in the administration," claimed ABC’s Claire Shipman on This Week.
The appearance of warring factions led to the Quip of the Week from the Washington Post’s George Will, on This Week: "Peacekeeping forces ought to be sent into the administration."
Surveying their chances in the fall elections, party leaders eschewed the usual braggadocio. Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe, on Face the Nation, predicted modest gains, including "at least six house seats." It will take a change of six seats to throw control of the House to Democrats. Democratic Congressional Campaign Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., appearing on Meet the Press, demurred on predicting gains, saying cautiously, "Each race is run locally. The president doesn’t have coattails."
Meet the Press host Tim Russert and Face the Nation guest host John Roberts were tough on their Democratic guests, badgering them on their reluctance to call for a freeze on the president’s tax cuts. Russert seemed incredulous that Lowey’s response to the tax issue was to urge an "economic summit" and Roberts got McAuliffe to concede that rescinding a tax cut was not feasible politically.
To his credit, Russert also tried to rough up Republican Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., hanging the albatross of privatizing social security around the neck of his candidates. Davis gamely pointed to assorted Democrats who had occasionally favored the privatization concept in the past.
Show Me the Money
Asked if his international business interests had influenced his stance on Iraq, Lawrence Eagleburger replied, "What business interests? I’m broke."
Good-naturedly accused of "chickening out of the Senate" by Eagleburger, retiring Sen. Thompson imparted some philosophy: "Politics should be an interruption of your career, not your career."
Picks and Pans
Make Peter Beinart, editor of The New Republic, a regular on This Week’s roundtable. He’s balanced and incisive. Find somebody, anybody, besides tongue-tied syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin as David Brooks’ fill-in on The News Hour.
Next Week on Punditwatch
Brace yourselves for next week’s Sept. 11 one-year anniversary shows. Face the Nation will go to one hour and have the reclusive Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., as a guest. This Week will feature First Lady Laura Bush.
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.