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Russert Watch: The Unreal World

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Sharing the first segment of today's Meet the Press with Senator Lindsey Graham was Madeleine Albright. I actually like having guests with no power to do anything about the war in Iraq, or anything else for that matter, on the show. But if they are not going to use the freedom that comes with not being in power to say anything useful or original -- especially about this war -- why bother to book them?

It didn't seem to faze Tim that he had an unnecessary guest who as well as having no portfolio broke no new ground and brought no new insight into the debate. He went right into his flaccid "you said this in the past... you are saying something different now" gotcha thing.

Who cares whether former Secretary Albright's statements on the war are completely reconciled? Tim Russert, that's who. Indeed, why have Madeleine Albright -- "for the Democrats," as Russert put it when he introduced her -- when she's not even willing to go as far as Paul Wolfowitz?

"If you knew today that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction," Russert asked her, "would you vote to go to war?"

"I would have -- one, I was not a politician," Albright replied. "But I would have kept our attention on Afghanistan."

She may not be a politician, but she sure sounds like one -- incapable of uttering a clear, unambiguous "No, I would not vote to go to war if I knew today that Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction." More to the point for Russert Watchers, what's to be served by really nailing down where Albright stands on this question?

Well, at least when she said goodbye we found out where she stands on that other war -- the war on Christmas: "Merry Christmas and happy holidays." Now we know: she's in favor of both sides!

But it was in the second segment when the real unreality of the show hit you. This was the roundtable, which featured David Brooks, E.J. Dionne, and Mike Allen, who had reported a piece on the inner workings of the Bush administration for tomorrow's Time, walked us through the door of unreality:

ALLEN: You talk to Republicans at Christmas parties, they think [the president] still has the makings of Reagan. There's still great promise in this administration.... If you talk to his friends, the president has not changed. They talk about a sort of Zen-like quality that he has.... They thought they were going to have to buck him up for Christmas. He was fine. He was reading military history, taking comfort in what happened to other commanders in chief who were underestimated in their time.

Maybe the eggnog at those Christmas parties (note that these are not "holiday" parties) was spiked. With acid. Because I don't think even alcohol would lead you to still see "great promise in this administration" and a "Zen-like quality" in the president.

Then David Brooks took us a little deeper in his assessment of the president:

BROOKS: Yeah. He's ruled out, you know, being a Lincoln. You know, he's ruled out being a mediocre president. You know, he's either going to be a great president if Iraq works, or he'll be a terrible president if it fails.

Thanks, David. I'm pretty sure even his friends consuming large quantities of spiked eggnog at the Christmas parties had ruled out Lincoln. But it's nice to see David has such a low threshold for greatness and such a high threshold for failure in Iraq.

Help! Someone must be living in the real world, here, right? Surely E.J. will acknowledge that, you know, the physical laws of the universe haven't been suspended and we haven't entered some new reality. Think again:

DIONNE: I think that if things don't improve by the end of 2006, the pressure for withdrawal is going to become overwhelming.... And I think by the end of the year, if it's not substantially better -- by the end of next year -- that's where most Americans -- and I think a lot of people who are now still willing to give the president the benefit of a doubt, are going to be...

By the end of next year? If you look at the polls, it's pretty clear that the benefit of the doubt has already been withdrawn by the majority of Americans outside the Beltway. But this majority of Americans, who are no longer giving the president and this war the benefit of the doubt, was not represented on today's Meet the Press.

There was something new on the show, however: a promo about Meet the Press being webcast and podcast, complete with a clip of a woman listening to it while walking. There was no warning, however, about listening to it while jogging near moving traffic. Dangerous. Very dangerous. Though at least nodding off and getting hit by a truck might snap you back to reality.