I try very hard each Sunday morning to watch ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." This is due to a combination of the time that it's on (9 am in New York), their Sunday Funnies segment that usually features outtakes from my all-time favorite television show "The Daily Show With John Stewart," and the fact that when David Brinkley hosted the show, it was actually pretty good. Don't get me wrong...I think George Stephanopoulos is bright and astute, but he lobs mostly softballs at his guests, and, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, he's no David Brinkley. There's one other reason I still stay tuned...I actually like George Will. George is a bit pompous of course, but he's a reasonable, honest and intelligent man, and he argues earnestly and skillfully. I find it pretty tough to find another conservative on television I can describe as such.
My nostalgia for the old crew and format was indulged today as Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts were brought back to sit on the round-table panel with the two Georges. They discussed a number of recent news events and developments, one of which brings me genuine optimism, and one of which has rather the opposite effect.
On the positive side is what seems to be an improving situation in Israel and the occupied territories. I honestly think the current initiative for peace is much more likely to fail than succeed, but it could just work out, and it would in any case be a mistake not acknowledge some genuine bravery and risk taking by both Abbas and, dare I say it, Sharon. My gut feeling is that Abbas genuinely believes violent struggle to be pragmatically ineffective, not to mention immoral. But beyond having his heart and brain in the right place, he seems pretty resourceful in his approach to influencing Hamas and Islamic Jihad to see likewise. The danger there is that truly winning their confidence may require that he unreasonably compromise his current stance. Time will tell. For Sharon's part, it does seem that age and opportunity have swayed him toward a general desire to be seen as the one to deliver a secure peace to Israelis. Time tends to moderate politicians, and Sharon's moderation was ironically pointed out by James Baker III, as he was interviewed by Stephanopoulos. I say "ironically" because Baker himself seems to have moderated quite a bit since his Reagan-Bush days, as he provides genuine insight without much vitriolic Republican rhetoric. Mind you, Baker is Senior Counselor with The Carlyle Group, so his conservative credentials are still well intact.
The negative development was Saturday's naming of Howard Dean as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Words cannot convey my anguish and utter disappointment in the choice of Dean to be the face of the party I affiliate myself with. With this choice in place, it's unclear to me whether the Democrats can ever transcend their role as the party of (seemingly perpetual) opposition. What frustrates me is that the Democrats seem to have fabricated a false dichotomy between choosing leaders that are too conservative and those like Dean who lay rhetorical claim to espousing the party's core liberal values. Certainly, Dems who fashion themselves essentially as imitation Republicans don't strike me as good choices (especially since people will prefer real Republicans every time). But candidates making passionate arguments for progressive causes, who do so pragmatically, and who sensibly and promptly respond to FUD and slander hurled at them by their opponents are the ones who ought to be in leadership positions in the party. The last guy the Democrats had in the White House was a pretty good example of that, and we need more like him (don't all flame me at once). They're definitely out there. Martin O'Malley, the Mayor of Baltimore, who I heard speak at my niece's graduation at Goucher College, strikes me as one such Democrat; he was a genuinely moving speaker who exhibited maturity, charisma, and passion. The FUD on O'Malley has already started, so the Republicans must think he's a rising star too! Hopefully, he'll respond appropritely and quickly, and provide a positive example for discouraged Democrats.