It was somber holiday weekend for pundits as events in Jerusalem and Ramallah dashed any Easter/Passover spirit of hope and renewal.
There were no appearances by administration officials and no soothing spin. No guests had new ideas for a cease-fire or offered any alternative to the escalating cycle of violence. "How can you talk peace when Israelis are dying in supermarkets, in cafes, walking down the street?" asked CNN reporter Andrea Koppel, appearing on Capital Gang.
Pundits from across the spectrum criticized President Bush’s policy, or lack of one.
On the left, syndicated columnist Mark Shields said on The News Hour, "I'd say if there were an identifiable United States policy, I would say it was in tatters." One day later, after Bush had spoken at his ranch, Shields railed on Capital Gang, "The fact of the matter is you saw a guy today who didn't understand much of what he was talking about. That's why we end up with a different policy at the UN than we have when the president speaks."
On the right, The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes criticized the President on Fox News Sunday: "There's such a hollowness to these pleas by President Bush. Asking Arafat to do more to stop terrorism--Arafat is cheerleading for terrorism."
Even conservative pundits who defended Bush—David Brooks of The Weekly Standard on The News Hour and Kate O’Bierne of National Review on Capital Gang—were applauding his tilt back toward the Israelis, the same shift that ABC reporter Terry Moran called "Hesitant, confused and contradictory," on This Week.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were bitterly denounced. According to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Bob Novak, on Capital Gang, "Sharon and his allies … they didn't like the Oslo Treaty. They want to destroy the Palestinian Authority. They don't want a Palestinian state. And they don't believe in land for peace."
Fox’s Brit Hume, recounting Arafat’s long history of duplicity, asked, "Isn’t it now palpable what he is and what he stands for?"
Of the weekend pundit shows, only Meet the Press avoided the Middle East, going instead with almost a full hour on another depressing topic: the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Host Tim Russert gathered this clarification from Father Donald Cozzens of the Diocese of Cleveland: only one-third of priests charged in the scandal are pedophiles. The rest are more properly classified as paedophiles, attracted to older, post-adolescent boys. Cozzens claims 30-50 percent of priests are homosexual. Father John McCloskey of the Catholic Information Center disagrees, putting the number at 2-4 percent.
Working the Jerusalem Precinct
Mark Shields hailed President Clinton’s mastery of the Middle East on Capital Gang, saying, "He knew every single neighborhood in Jerusalem, its composition, its political dimension, its ethnic mix." Kate O’Bierne deadpanned, "And where did Bill Clinton's knowledge of Jerusalem neighborhoods get us?"
Al Hunt’s Scorecard
The Wall Street Journal’s Al Hunt, on Capital Gang, surveyed the Bush line-up:
I'm not sure who's really involved in the setting of Middle East policy right now. I have great admiration for General Zinni, but he's not a policy maker. The right can't stand Richard Haas, who's over at the State Department with Colin Powell. I don't think Condoleezza Rice has any great Middle East expert there. I'm not sure there is a policy.
As always, Juan Williams of NPR checked the morning paper before joining the Fox News Sunday panel:
There are reports in the paper this morning that Israel goes in, takes over TV stations, starts showing pornography to embarrass the Palestinians, what kind of action is that?
No Wonder There Wasn’t A Ceremony
David Brooks thinks he knows how President Bush signed Campaign Finance Reform:
My theory is that they put a clothespin on his nose while he was asleep; they put the pen in his hand, and they sort of moved the paper under it so he wouldn't be morally tainted by signing the thing. He came across looking unprincipled and cynical because if he was for it, he should have signed it in the proper manner. If he was against it, he should have vetoed it.
Cary Bonner writes:
Will someone please tell Paul Gigot that Vice President Cheney's trip was not actually a plot twist in an episode of The West Wing which can be solved in 60 minutes (minus commercials, of course). Last time I checked, the sons of Isaac and Ishmael have been warring for thousands of years, and I'm not sure miracle working was on Cheney's itinerary.
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.