Russert Watch: Meet the Press Running on Fumes

If you thought President Bush's second term was running out of gas, you should have watched Meet the Press today. This, my friends, is what running out of gas looks like.

First up, a "debate" about Harriet Miers. And who did Meet the Press select to frame the debate about our possible next Supreme Court Justice? We were treated to viewpoints from, on one side, the Southern Baptist Convention's Richard Land, and on the other, Pat Buchanan.

Yes, the two disagree, thereby, I suppose, fulfilling Meet the Press's obligation to journalism by presenting an antiphonal debate. The problem is, Harriet Miers, if confirmed, will be a Supreme Court justice for everyone, not just for the far end of the right-wing spectrum. This is not some intramural squabble about a staff vacancy on the right; we all have to live under the law as Miers will, potentially, decide it.

For the record, Land's "prediction" is that there will be at most a one percentage point "disagreement rate" between Miers and Roberts after her first term. Where did he get that assurance? From God? From the Holy Ghost? From Karl Rove? (a.k.a. the new Holy Trinity.) It's unclear, because Tim couldn't be bothered to ask.

Next up, though, was where you got to see the pure, unadulterated Meet the Press conventional wisdom -- without even any pretense of substantive conversation -- in all its horrible glory.

It came during the roundtable, which featured David Broder, Kate O'Beirne, E.J. Dionne, and Ron Brownstein. Small matters like the war and Plamegate each got one very brief mention (without, for the second week in a row, Tim bringing up his own role in the latter).

So what did they talk about for twenty minutes? Judging by Tim's questions, the biggest issue facing our country right now -- a country currently at war (with 21 American soldiers dead in the first ten days of this month), a country about to undergo an unprecedented rebuilding effort, a country with historic levels of debt, a country with an administration that's imploding from its own hubris, incompetence, and cronyism -- is what "the fallout" will be on the 2006 election with special reference to the turnout on the right.

All other issues were deemed important only in terms of how they may impact the midterm election -- over a year away. The roundtable consensus was summed up by Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps: "second terms tend to go downhill." So there you have it. When you're part of the world-weary permanent Washington media establishment, you see administrations come and go -- like the circus. They come to town, they leave town. And the roundtable stays and utters its conventional wisdom on it all -- including what Broder again called the "classic second-term unraveling" and what it all -- especially the latest polls -- means for the 2006 election.

But, given that we're such a long way away from November 2006, and that such prognosticating is such a waste of time right now, my proposal is that Meet the Press simply go on hiatus until next summer, when such analysis will at least seem less irrelevant. And I'm not just saying this because I want to go back to sleeping in on Sunday morning.

After all, today even Tim couldn't stand to listen to himself for a full hour and seemed to be just trying to run out the clock again. So it didn't come as a complete surprise when he devoted the last segment to something involving a clip from a Meet the Press show in 1970 about Truman appointing his friend Tom Clark to the Supreme Court.

I like the hiatus idea, but until it catches on, why not truncate the show and fill the last half hour with something like, say, puppies running around? People would actually enjoy it, and it would be just as meaningful for our political discourse as what it would be replacing.