Many pundits suspect that any event that makes the world look like a dangerous place might help the hawkish Bush team at election time. NBC was not going to allow that impression to sink in, if you were watching Thursday morning's edition of Today.
David Gregory insisted that despite "partisan finger-pointing," it would be a Republican liability, another growing question mark:
Gregory: "North Korea's apparent test of a nuclear weapon has led to partisan finger-pointing. Did the President, distracted by Iraq and bent on regime change in North Korea, fail to prevent its nuclear rise?"
Sen. Jack Reed: "I think they've been tied up in intramural debate between the regime change advocates and those who want to engage."
Gregory: "The President said it's North Korea that has repeatedly broken its promises to disarm."
Bush: "Its the intransigence of the North Korean leader that speaks volumes about the process. It is his unwillingness to choose a way forward for his country."
Gregory: "Again the President dismissed calls for the U.S. to negotiate directly. A failing, he said, of the Clinton years."
Bush: "I appreciate the efforts of previous administrations. It just didn't work."
Gregory: "Wendy Sherman helped the Clinton White House negotiate an eight-year nuclear freeze with North Korea."
Wendy Sherman: "During the Clinton administration, for all eight years, no new plutonium was produced. No new nuclear weapons were produced and no nuclear test took place."
Gregory: "Still, the President said he's not about to change policies, insisting the best strategy now is six party talks with China and South Korea in the lead pressuring the North. Even with everything that's happened this week the President insists that he still will not tolerate a nuclear North Korea. But given this test it appears increasingly likely that his hand has been weakened to do much about it, Meredith. All of this becoming a larger issue, a larger question mark for this administration and for the Republican Party down the stretch of this midterm campaign."
Meredith Vieira then turned to Tim Russert for more North Korea spin. Russert was glum, saying there wasn't much you could do without starving the North Korean people. "They're already starving," Vieira added.
Russert found: "It is a really lose-lose situation at this point and we don't see any good path out."
Vieira: "So do you think the North Koreans see all of this as hollow threats then?"
Russert: "So far they have."
Russert: "Through two administrations. And what happens now? If the world unites and says, 'you must do this,' if in fact the Chinese stand by us, step-by-step, we may have a small chance of getting them, the North Koreans to back down. But no one's very optimistic."
Vieira: "Meanwhile here in the United States we're also playing the blame game, the two parties. The, the Republicans have accused the Democrats, they said that Bill Clinton was soft on North Korea. It was all carrot and no stick. And the Democrats have countered that the Republicans have squandered the ability to stop North Korea because the President has been so, sort of involved with the war in Iraq. So do you think that blame game, first of all, plays with the voting public and could it really hurt the GOP because they're strategy's always been, 'we are tough,' in terms of security?"
Russert found a wash: "Well it plays to both bases. The fact is both presidents said North Korea will not be allowed to have nuclear weapons and they are going to have nuclear weapons, it appears. And so they, both, were wrong. The Clinton people will say the slowed down the growth of the North Korea nuclear arsenal considerably, they threw sand in, in the grinds, if you will, and the Bush people will say, no but the North Koreans lied to the Clinton people. All that's true. The fact is there's enough blame to go around for both administrations. Nobody, Democrat or Republican, liberals or conservatives know how to stop North Korea."