Issue 1 is the violence in the Middle East. Issue 2 is how the Middle East and the second presidential debate will affect the election.
Israeli, Palestinian, and Clinton administration diplomats take to the airwaves. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak appears on CNN's Late Edition. He looks defiant--a lot of thumb wagging--and accuses his international critics of hypocrisy. How, he asks, can people accuse him of bad faith for bringing Ariel Sharon into his government when the Palestinians don't even have a democracy? Palestinian diplomats on other programs are just as bellicose. Despite this, Barak says he will always leave the door cracked open for peace--even if the current Palestinian leader is incapable of signing on the dotted line.
The pundits increasingly blame Yasser Arafat for the violence. Eleanor Clift ( The McLaughlin Group) argues that it doesn't matter whether Arafat has control over the violence; even if he does, he's not doing anything about it, so he might as well not be in control. Mark Shields (CNN's Capital Gang) says that Arafat's inability to compromise derives from a victim complex, Brit Hume ( Fox News Sunday) says it derives from Arafat's aversion to political risk, and Mara Liasson (FNS) attributes it to the quick pace of President Clinton's negotiation schedule, which pushed the parties too far too fast in pursuit of Clinton's historical legacy. Clift argues that Arafat has decided not to become a Gorbachev--that is, not to become a peacemaker loved by the international community and hated by his countrymen.
None of the pundits--even the ones on TMG!--claim any knowledge of a link between the Palestinians and the terrorist attack on the destroyer U.S.S. Cole in Yemen. (FNS's Juan Williams, however, is certain that Osama Bin Laden is behind the bombing.) John McLaughlin speculates that President Clinton might use a cruise-missile attack on the terrorists as a poll-booster for Al Gore, but Michael Barone (TMG) argues that such a bombing would only remind voters of Clinton's dubious anti-terrorist attack on a Saudi [correction 10/23: Sudanese] bomb factory/pharmaceutical plant.
Most pundits agree that the Middle East chaos will not decisively help either Gore or George W. Bush. Historically, voters side with the incumbent party in times of international crisis, but if that crisis is prolonged (as it was with the Iran hostage-taking), they will defect. Also, the GOP traditionally wins on defense issues, and voters associate the current GOP ticket with the popular Gulf War.
The talking heads give Bush another debate victory. (Polls displayed on TMG indicate that the American people agree.) Bush proved he could hold his own on foreign-policy issues and did so right as the Middle East was exploding. Gore, overreacting to criticism of his pit-bull performance in the first debate (Howard Kurtz, CBS's Face the Nation), seemed "straightjacketed" (Williams and Liasson) in the second one. Robert George (ABC's This Week) concludes that the first debate brought back the issue of Gore's character while the second one helped mute the issue of Bush's cluelessness. However, many pundits argue that the media gave Bush a free ride on several issues--such as Texas' poor environmental and health-care record (as Gore argued), Bush's near-smirk when talking about the death penalty, and Bush's factual errors. Many pundits, like Linda Douglas (TW) and Al Hunt (CG), attribute this free ride to headline domination by foreign-policy issues. But Mark Shields (CG and PBS's NewsHour With Jim Lehrer) and Kurtz argue that the media have a double standard--Bush is assumed to be a well-intentioned fibber because he's dumb while Gore is assumed to be an evil liar because he's not. (To read Slate's Jacob Weisberg on the debate, click here; to read William Saletan, click here.)
Mississippi's Trent Lott--Now and Then
Well, as a matter of fact, I remember people belittling a governor of California, Ronald Reagan, who became a great president and led to, you know, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. I remember some people that were critical of Bill Clinton [as a candidate]. He was from what was described as a failed small Southern state--which I took umbrage of at the time--and I don't appreciate the attacks now occurring against [Bush and] Texas.
--Trent Lott ( Meet the Press, Oct. 15, 2000)
Well, first of all, I think Bill Clinton would be well-advised to stay out of the foreign-policy area. The sitting, incumbent president has tremendous experience in this area. ... [Clinton's] making a mistake by venturing into this area. ... Well, I'm saying that Bill Clinton is not a guy to be speaking up on foreign policy. He has no experience. He doesn't know the full details of what's going on, and for him to venture on out in that area, I say, let him come. ... Well, there's no question if you have been the governor of a small, insular state that does not have a lot of foreign--I mean, I'm not being political.
--Trent Lott (CNN's Crossfire, Aug. 7, 1992)
TIM RUSSERT (MTP): But could you not help unify the country if you stood up tomorrow at the "Million Family March" and said, "I regret suggesting that Jews control blacks and control black athletes and control black sports figures and black politicians"?