If the first weekend of 2003 is any indication, this will be a banner year for partisan punditry.

Political divisions were front and center on economic and foreign policy issues, helped along by the mounting number of candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination.

An expected economic stimulus plan from President Bush that relies on tax cuts was the lead topic, with Democrats claiming it favors the rich and unveiling a new argument: Republicans are the ones engaging in "class warfare."

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Meet the Press, used this talking point, and the best Republican response came from Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., on Fox, who noted that 37 percent of Americans don’t pay income tax, so naturally tax cuts are aimed at those who pay income taxes.

Democrats who are calling for a payroll tax holiday were partially joined by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., appearing on Face the Nation. Santorum argued that a payroll tax holiday "decoupled" the historic pact between FDR and the American people on Social Security.

It was an ironic spectacle, Republicans appearing to defend Social Security against tax cutting raids by Democrats.

The best commentary of the week came as pundits assessed the Democratic presidential field and considered the North Korea and Iraq situations.

Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who declared for president early in the week, got favorable reviews, especially from conservatives. Bob Novak of the Chicago Sun-Times lampooned Edwards’ appeal to "regular folks," but most pundits saw what David Brooks of The Weekly Standard observed on The News Hour:

"He has the magic. When you watch him campaign, somebody comes up to him and he is six inches from their face and he lets on the beam. He's got it the way you can't teach it. He's got it in the way Clinton has it."

Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., was discounted by some for his lack of charisma, but William Kristol of The Weekly Standard, on Fox, called him the most "underrated" candidate in the field. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, on The News Hour, praised Gephardt’s "incredible discipline."

David Broder of the Washington Post, Robin Wright of the Los Angeles Times, William Safire of the New York Times, and Novak discussed North Korea and Iraq on Meet the Press in terms of President Bush’s "Axis of Evil" speech. Broder said the speech showed the danger of "speech writers writing policy." Novak said, "They wish they’d never said it." Safire called the 37,000 U.S. troops in Korea a "reverse deterrent" and called for them to be withdrawn. Broder was extremely pessimistic about the after-effects of an Iraq invasion.

Parade of Dwarfs

The burgeoning number of Democratic candidates for president led some pundits to compare the field to 1988, when the group was called "The Seven Dwarfs." Host Bob Schieffer promised that Face the Nation would "get as many candidates on as possible" to "discuss the issues." He railed against the focus on how much money candidates have raised versus the attention paid to candidate views.

Worst New Word of the Year

Fahreed Zakaria of Newsweek, on This Week, warned Democrats against the Nancy "Pelosization" of their party.

Surprise Criticism

Mark Shields took on the Army on the The News Hour, in the context of President Bush’s Commander in Chief performance:

"We have an army right now that by any standard is undermanned, we have an army that has not met its quotas, we have an army taking hundreds of those with felony arrests, where one out of three is not completing his enlistment as opposed to one out of ten under the draft. These are questions of leadership, these are questions of judgment which, quite frankly, are still open and I think open to debate."

Gloomy Assessment of the Week

New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman, on This Week:

"We are turning into Argentina."

Al Gore Eye-Rolling Award

Paul Krugman, debating former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich on This Week.

Whispering Campaign

Tony Snow, host of Fox News Sunday, revealed that Democratic operatives working for other candidates were calling and saying "nasty things" about Senator John Edwards.

George Will Exposed

ABC reporter Michele Martin to the Washington Post’s George Will, on This Week, after he suggested that Al Sharpton might win some Democratic primaries:

"I know why you like Al Sharpton. You can use him to beat the Democrats and play racial politics."


US News & World Report’s Gloria Borger is leaving Face the Nation to co-host a new CNBC offering, "Capital Report."

Quip of the Week

Helped by interviewer Margaret Carlson of Time, retiring Sen. Fred Thompson, now a star on NBC's Law and Order, joked on Capital Gang:

"I had to go to Hollywood to get anybody to listen to my political views."

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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