Political Week in Review: Novak Curse, 'War on Terror'

Conservative columnist Robert Novak, already under scrutiny for his role in outing a CIA operative, rocks a CNN show by using profane language and storming off a live show. Plus, the Bush administration tweaks its rhetoric to refer to the "global struggle against violent extremism." Madeleine Brand talks about these and other stories of the week in politics with NPR political editor Ken Rudin.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And now to politics. We're usually joined each Friday by NPR's Juan Williams, but pinch-hitting because Juan's on vacation is NPR political editor Ken Rudin.

Hi, Ken.

KEN RUDIN reporting:

Hi, Alex.

BRAND: Very funny. Earlier this week in Cincinnati, Ohio, a special election was held to fill the vacant congressional seat. This was a heavily Republican district and the Republican won, Jean Schmidt, but she narrowly defeated the Democrat, Paul Hackett. And the reason why that is significant is because he's an Iraq War veteran and an outspoken critic of President Bush's Iraq policy. And, Ken, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich weighed in on this. He called this race a wake-up call for Republicans, and should it be? Should it be a wake-up call?

RUDIN: Well, Madeleine, we do have a tendency to overanalyze these elections, but there are some things that Republicans should be nervous about, given the fact that President Bush won the district last year by 64 percent, given the fact that the previous incumbent, Republican Rob Portman, had routinely won the seat by 65 to 70 percent. The fact is also that the Republican Party in Ohio is in trouble. It's enmeshed in a serious financial scandal. The governor, Bob Taft, a Republican, is--his numbers are really poor. He's showing 19 percent in the polls. And also given the fact that the war is clearly unpopular. Ohio suffered some terrible, tragic losses in Iraq this week. Republicans should be nervous. Bush's numbers are down and the Republican Party, especially in Ohio, is floundering.

BRAND: OK. And let's turn to something that may be a little bit more than political theater. Yesterday, columnist Robert Novak was debating Democratic operative James Carville on CNN on "Inside Politics." Novak uttered a profanity and walked off the set. And here's some tape of what happened.

(Soundbite of "Inside Politics")

Mr. ROBERT NOVAK: Just let me finish what I'm going to say, James, please.

Mr. JAMES CARVILLE: Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow.

Mr. NOVAK: I know you hate to hear me, but you have to...

Mr. CARVILLE: He's got to show these right wingers that he's got backbone.

Mr. ED HENRY (Host, "Inside Politics"): He's upset about those photos...

Mr. CARVILLE: You know, ...(unintelligible) is watching, you show them you're tough.

Mr. NOVAK: Well, I think that's bull (censored). And I hate that. Just let it go.

Mr. HENRY: OK. James.

BRAND: OK. So then Novak got up, unclipped his microphone, walked off the set, and the moderator, Ed Henry, later explained that Novak had been told he was going to be asked about his role in revealing the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. Ken, did this have anything to do with the Valerie Plame case or was Novak just teed off at James Carville?

RUDIN: Well, it's hard to say. I mean, Carville and Novak have been going at it, sparring for years on "Crossfire." Robert Novak loves to spew and opine and talk about all the things he cares about, but what everybody really wants to talk about is his role in the Plame affair. The thing that got him angry yesterday was--actually they were talking about the Florida Senate race, but I get a sense that Novak is under a lot of strain. I don't know why they keep him on the air, but perhaps this latest obscenity will keep him off for quite some time.

BRAND: In fact, they said they are suspending him.

RUDIN: That's right.

BRAND: This week some interesting linguistic gymnastics at the White House. Last week the White House announced that the phrase `global war on terror' would be replaced with the phrase `global struggle against violent extremists,' and here's President Bush on Wednesday in Grapevine, Texas.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We've got a big task in Washington, DC, and that's to remember the stakes of the war on terror.

BRAND: So, Ken, he is sticking with that phrase, `war on terror,' so is that the way it's going to be? Is that the official phrase?

RUDIN: Well, it's certainly easier than saying `global struggle against violent extremists.' But, more importantly, a lot of it has to do with timing. For example, when they called it the 30 Years War, now how would they know that it was going to be 30 years? And yet they called it the 30 Years War. It just so happened the war was 30 years, so that was perfect timing. I don't think it really matters what this is called, but the point is the administration's on the defensive over alleged trumped-up intelligence, daily suicide bombings. Somehow the administration is going to have to come up with some kind of a slogan to make this war more palatable, but right now, with all the death and the mayhem, it's really hard to make that case.

BRAND: Boy, Ken, sounds like you're trying to brush up your credentials with the editors at The Nation magazine.

RUDIN: Madeleine, that was uncalled for. That's (censored). I can't believe you said that.

(Soundbite of something dropping, Ken walking off)

BRAND: Ken?

Well, (clears throat) that was NPR's Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor. And you can read his weekly column--maybe he's off writing it right now--politicaljunkie@npr.org. Thanks, Ken.

Don't you go away. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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