TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

04/07/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

So, most people, when they imagine time travel, think about the rich opportunities that a trip back to the past affords - a chance to hobnob with those who came before us, witness history, perhaps even change it. Not me. If I had access to a flux capacitor right now, I'd be DeLoreaning my sweet ass three weeks into the future, to the day of the Pennsylvania primary, because the waiting! Well...it would seem to be the second hardest part. The hardest part of watching the news, of course, is watching the case for travelling back in time - to correct the mistakes/tragedies of the past - namely, Iraq, unravel. We'll see how much attention Iraq gets alongside the Tales of Political Process presently. As always, you are invited to leave comments, send emails, and hope for the best.

Fox News Sunday

So, Fox leads with Iraq and Muqtada al Sadr. Jack Reed and Lindsay Graham will battle each other with their bad ties and burgeoning jowls. Wallace wants to know if the events in Iraq indicate a strong or a fragile Iraqi Government is in place. Graham says this proves that Maliki is finally serious about taking on the Shiite militias in the South. Reed says that this is an example of the fragile internal politics.

Sadr has apparently wants the clampdown to end and for amnesty to be given for a new ceasefire. Essentially, he wants his position strengthened. "This could spin out of control," says Reed. The Iraqi government has said that they welcome al Sadr's offer. Graham insists that we've made security gains in spite of all the recent...you know--killing. Kurdish separatists have been contained! (By Turkey.) But Graham ignores a brutal reckoning on the horizon if the Kurds don't get their way on Kirkuk.

"I don't know how much power Sadr has," Graham says. Really, Lindsay? Let me put it this way: Sadr has the power - as he's proven this week - to demonstrate that all your claims that "the Surge is working" are ignorant illusions! That's some power, right there!

Reed says that Iraq is, point blank, out of control and we must disengage and hand responsibility to Iraq. Graham says, that the "strategy of Levin, Reed, Clinton and Obama would lead to chaos in Iraq right now...we do not have chaos in Iraq right now, what we have is political reconciliation" and economic gains. That were still fighting militias is a good thing. Chris Wallace says, "Let me move this forward." No Chris, let's go upside Graham's head with a question like, "Really, Lindsay? Really? This doesn't look like chaos to you?"

I can't believe Graham is holding out hopes that events will help "change Sadr's behavior." The only lesson Sadr's learning is that he's got enormous leverage politically and militarily.

Wallace does ask Graham if the spread of violence undermines his campaign. Graham says McCain has been fine, and seems to think that driving al Qaeda - by which he means the silly season version of al Qaeda that's in Iraq - out of Anbar was a major accomplishment. Reed basically says that violence is up, and if it remains up, no one will be able to stand behind the "surge" politically.

Graham is a dolt: "The central government is fighting Iranian backed militias." Another way of saying that: "The Iranian-backed central government is fighting Iranian backed militias." He harshes on the Democratic plan for withdrawal. As if there was one! If only.

Now it's time to talk Superdelegrate Solutions with Solutioneer Phil Bredesen! Bredesen is dressed like he just got in from working in the field or something. He wants the superdels to get their decision on the record by June. What about Clinton's desire to stay in the race through the convention? Bredesen says he can understand where she's coming from, but "there's a party here...I think we have an obligation to bring closure to this thing and not let it tear us apart." He thinks people find his solution reasonable. I like his idea a lot, myself! Only why wait until June? Let's get it on right now?

Bredesen says superdelegates need to take a "longer view" of the process, but not be governed by polls - even polls that show one candidate having more success over McCain than another. He thinks Hillary is allowed to stay in the race. "We need closure that's fair," he says. Have the Clinton's gone over the line in attacking Obama? Bredesen says no, but that there is a need for healing.

Wallace asks Bredesen about Joe Klein's idea that this whole thing could end with Al Gore as President. Look: Joe Klein is crazy and horribly uninformed when he says that. I still remember the night Gore finally called off the dogs and decided to stop fighting for a recount in Florida. Within hours, photos surfaced that showed Gore partying his ass off with supporters. He was sweaty, shirt unbuttoned...kinda looked like he might have dropped a tab of Ecstacy...I don't know. All I know is you don't party like that unless you just received the best news of your life, and for Gore, I think the best news of his life was that he wouldn't have to be President after all.

Since then, he's let himself go a little, grown a beard, followed his passions. He's built a strong and bipartisan coalition behind environmental causes because he's no longer subject to the mean-minded political calculus of Capitol Hill. He's won an Oscar, a Nobel, he parties with rock stars, he wields enormous influence, he receives a metric ton of praise, and he's done some real good. By any measure, Gore is living the best possible life he can. Does anyone really think the man wants to manage the Iraq War? Solve the housing crisis? You would have to be crazy to think that.

Wallace says, "Well, we'll see what happens with your plan, though, chances are, nothing will come of it." What a jerk! Bredesen looks momentarily astounded to be so belittled!

HA! Chris Blakely writes:

Perhaps the most damning evidence that the Iranians are behind all that is bad in Iraq is that for the first time I can remember, Lindsay did not talk about strolling in an open-air Iraqi market and buying some Persian rugs for his mother.

Let's face it, there is no Iraqi barometer more accurate than the Iraqi, Open-Air-Persian-Rug-O-Meter. When a hard-working Senator like Senator Graham is not able to bring home a rug for Mom ( * "I bought five rugs for five bucks") while on his latest Congressional junket, you know things are truly bad.

OMG! Slate totally needs to build this widget. Of course, when Iran finishes annexing Iraq, the Persian rug market will expand dramatically. Jim Cramer will be bellowing: "MORAL HAZARD STOCK OF THE WEEK!! Persian Rugs!"

Just think of the household items McCain could bring home if he was allowed to refight Vietnam!

Panel time, with Brit Hume, Jill Zuckman, Bill Kristol and Juan Williams. Hillary Clinton is telling you she is not going! She won't be bullied by big boys! What do they think? Will her posturing backfire? Yes, says Hume, but then he makes a good case for her to stay in the race. Huh? Zuckman says Clinton needs to cram it where discussions of her staying in the race are concerned. Just stay on the campaign trail and let the process work, she advises.

Wallace asks if supporter migration to McCain means doom for Democrats. Kristol says no, not yet. I say if turnout remains high on the Dem side, and low on the GOP side, then not ever. Kristol says that Clinton should stay in PAST the convention. Which, if you are a fan of total destruction, sounds like a good idea. Williams says that the sniping and negativity "depresses enthusiasm." And you're just noticing this now?

Wallace brings up Clinton's trip to Bosnia and Obama's Reverend Wright - which is more damaging? Hume says that both are damaging - but calls Bosnia "utter mendacity" and Obama's got Wright "around his neck" and may have to carry him. "Politicians exaggerate all...the...time!" says Williams, and you just want to pick him up and squeeze him and say, "You're so CUTE! Yes you ARE! Yes you ARE!"

Back to McCain and Iraq and the Surge. Kristol says it's damaging if things get worse and Sadr prevails. Williams reminds that the benchmarks have not been met - but the GOP cares not for your benchmarks and timetables! Hume seems to think that Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqis are running the operation against the militias, which is ADORABLE! But it's totally the U.S. on the hook, as usual. Also, more elections! More blue fingerpaint! THAT CRAP SOLVES EVERYTHING.

But what about the important politics of this? How is the Iraq war influencing campaign ads? This is what thousands have given their lives for - a riveting discussion of McCain's commercials.

How is there footage of McCain's captivity, anyway?

"McCain has shown real courage" backing the Surge, Kristol says, officially dialing down the standard for courage to its lowest level in decades. Williams then GOES OFF: McCain can't say things are going well in Iraq, Hume is wrong when he says that the Iraqis are running the counteroffensive, Maliki isn't effective, benchmarks aren't being met, we're losing money, McCain's bailing out Wall Street and leaving average Americans to twist in the wind, and he sucks and sucks, forever and ever. Hume doesn't respond directly to Williams, but the barrage was sufficient to force a concession that the "odds favor the election of a Democrat." That was about as tenacious as I've ever seen Williams.

The Chris Matthews Show

One of my emailers is about to get happy! It's the Chris Matthews show! Taped in the suite in Hell in which I shall spend my afterlife! Except I won't be spending it with Cynthia Tucker (who looks happier to be here today than she was the last time I saw her), Tom Brokaw (!), Andrea Mitchell and Eugene Robinson.

So, MLK was murdered forty years ago. And today, political candidates use his memory to pander to supporters. It was ever so. Matthews wants Brokaw to get deep: Brokaw obliges by saying that both Clinton and Obama are products of King's legacy. Matthews wonders why no alliance between the poor on all races? Tucker says that there's an underlying message to Obama that's close, but that it's the youth and the college educated that have allied themselves with African-Americans, so it's not a "poor-people's movement."

Chris Matthews says his kids are too old to have "playmates," but that some people's playmates and teachers are black, and it's totally neato keen. Matthews never had a black classmate.

Tucker says Obama is "black" because people follow him around in stores so that he doesn't shoplift hope!

Brokaw talks about an article about Michelle Obama that he found very complicated and nuanced that carried the silly headline "Michelle Obama: Is She Black Enough." Yes, Tom, frequently, people other than the author write the hed. It's okay. You real the article in question anyway, right? Good.

Andrea Mitchell takes up the Wright controversy and says the Obama may have a looming need to mend fences with the Jewish community. Hence, hanging around with Bloomberg.

What's the biggest deal about having an African-American president, Matthews asks, leg tingling. Tucker says it would indicate a change. Uhm...really? You think? Mitchell says just having a black nominee makes all the difference in the world, but she never gets to finish her thought because Brokaw interrupts her to imagine an Obama presidency and how awesome its would be. That was cold, Brokaw! Mitchell fights to finish her point, which is that it would be just as meaningful for women if there was a woman president. Hell, it would be wonderful for women if Tom Brokaw would just let a lady finish her thought!

Meanwhile, we're going to get into the "dorm fights" of the sixties. Were those exciting? I remember my roommate nearly getting the crap beat out of him because he sleepwalked (sleptwalk?) into my suitemate's room and urinated in his backpack. That was, to me, a heck of a dorm fight! But there didn't seem to be many political implications. Of course, that was a different time: pre-Gulf War, the Berlin Wall was falling, the Clinton era was on the horizon and all of us were filled with positivity, and, apparently, urine.

Chris asks Tucker if Clinton and Bush were the best the Boomers had to offer the country. Tucker says we shouldn't be so reductive...but I'm perfectly happy to say yes. Can McCain answer the age question? Robinson says age is a negative, but to hit him there, Clinton or Obama would have to touch at experience - his strongest asset.

Tell Chris Something He Doesn't Know! Tucker says that the investigation into the Bush Justice Department has "new life" because of Don Seigelman. Brokaw says that if Clinton's negatives continue to grow it could overwhelm her ability to raise money, and that could end her race. Mitchell thinks Bloomberg would be happy to run as Obama's Veep, and if he were on the ticket, it would go a long way to assuaging "nervous Jews," which some might say is another way of saying "all Jews." [Rimshot.] Robinson says that the U.S. is worried that they'll lose the ability to operate counter-terror efforts in Pakistan.

Finally, are there any signs that Clinton might drop out? Tucker says she'll be with us until the "last dog dies." Really, Cynthia? Why do dogs have to die? That was the saddest part of I Am Legend! You're from Atlanta! Hasn't Michael Vick put you guys off dog-death metaphors? Brokaw says she'll stay in: "Would Obama supporters say otherwise if the situation were reversed?" Mitchell says she's in it. Robinson says it's going to Puerto Rico.

FOOM! On to the next.

Meet The Press

General Michael Hayden from the C.I.A. is on today, and immediately he suggests that everything going to the s@#thouse in Iraq this week is actually indicative of a "very decisive act" al Maliki to get "personally involved." Uhm...should we have had to wait for al Maliki to get "personally involved?" Iraq has decided to maybe have a government that controls parts of the country! They know it's crazy but it just might work! Not for a hundred years, though, so please, send money and American ladies, keep birthing soldiers! KTHXBAI!

Argh. At last, an "Iraqi leader" "stepped up." Of course, U.S. troops still had to lead the way...though Hayden's doing a good job pretending this wasn't the case.

Hayden says that there had long been an "equillibrium" between the rival forces in Iraq that kept things quiet, "But I don't think anyone thought it was an acceptable, long-term solution." OH NO? John McCain did! He hoped it would be long-term enough, anyway.

At one point, Hayden said that the Iraqi government was incapable and wasn't going to reverse itself. Naturally, Hayden has a different take now, "I saids 'in the short term.'" And then he launches into some sort of metaphor about how running downhill is easier. So...what? Fight Iraq from the top of a steep incline?

Could al Maliki have been as successful in Basra without U.S. air support? Hayden says, we'll see! Which is another way of sayinf "Aww, HELL no."

Is the violence a setback? Hayden goes revisionist on us:

This was something we all knew we had to go through. This was inevitable. This had to be resolved. You just can't have the second major city in the country - economically the most important city in the country - beyond the control of the government...we knew we couldn't get to where we had to be...for a modern, democratic Iraqi state without going through this.

OH, REALLY? This is something "we all knew we had to go through?" I seem to remember the banner reading:


...and not:

"MISSION ACCOMPLISHED*....(*mind you, there will be some inevitable deadly violence that will persist for years and years and years that will need to be resolved to that a future Iraq government can control even the second most important city and that all of this will have to be endured for a modern and democratic state to take root in a place that's known little of modernity and nothing of democracy, but we have to accept this if we are going to get to where we want to be. Just wanted to fully apprise you, American people, and we understand that maybe those of you who don't like it will want to vote for somebody else but we just believe this is too important to be glib about since it will be your money and your childrens' lives that buys us the opportunity to endure hardship along the way to this probably impossible and at the very least implausible outcome. Okay? Thanks, America. We in the Bush administration, as always, prefer to be completely upfront with you."

Hayden won't confirm an uptick of military activity in Pakistan, but stresses the importance of the Pakistian/Afghanistan border area, saying that it is a "clear and present danger" to ths U.S., that Osama bin Laden is there, and that the next attack will stem from there. GOOD THING WERE UP TO OUR GULLET IN IRAQ, THEN.

Hayden says it's clear to us that al Qaeda has established a safe haven in Pakistan and are training again...even training "non-Western" operatives. GOOD THING WE GAVE UP THE PURSUIT OF AL QAEDA to fight in Iraq, then!

"We have not had a better partner in the war against terrorism that the government of Pakistan," Hayden says. That's a lot like saying that you haven't had a better barber than Sweeney Todd.

Hayden won't call bin Laden a "figurehead" - not enough weight. Rather, he's an "iconic figure." So there you have it, Osama bin Laden is the Stephen Malkmus of global jihad!

Hayden says no one's forestalling the killing/capturing of bin Laden and the like for the sake of continuing to monitor the group.

Doe Hayden believe that waterboarding is torture? "What's more important is what the Department of Justice believed." He says that the CIA hasn't waterboarded in five years, but that the CIA won't be hemmed in by what the Field Manual says. "We cloud the debate when we throw the word 'torture' out there casually."

Anyway, all this BS Hayden is talking is apparently justified by something some scrawled on the wall of the CIA building.

I wish someone would ask why getting a warrant for wiretaps is so onerous. FISA allows you to start a tap and wait fifteen days before you seek a warrant! Were innocent people targeted with wiretaps? "Intelligence isn't about guilt or innocence."

HAYDEN: "The public discourse about the CIA and CIA activities has become incredibly costly. Activities of the agency have been subject to some unfair...unbalanced criticisms, even though the activities have been deemed lawful and are based on decisions coming out of the Department of Justice is to have a CIA officer - when I tell him to go and do something in the shadows - and point out that it is perfectly lawful...I do not need that officer handicapping what he thinks the next set of election results might be."

Well, now we have to pretend that a debate over the Clinton campaign between Peter Beinhart and David Brooks has as much weight in the world as Hayden and the CIA.

Brooks says that Clinton needs to wind her campaign down, run a Huckabee style candidacy through North Carolina and then bounce. "They're not going to go after each other on policy issues...it's about race and gender...they're going to fixate on these things and it's going to make the party look bad."

True, but what will also get fixated on is process: What are your opinions about Florida and Michigan? How should superdelegates vote? What do you think about these polls? About the electoral map? About the states you've won? About this demographic breakdown? I fear for this upcoming debate: it could be ALL questions like this!

Brooks attributes the fighting between Obama and Clinton as to why independents are gathering in McCain's direction. I think the long race has something to do with that, but not the fighting. If the Democrats can resolve their nominee, they'll be able to make their case to independent voters.

Peter Beinart is feeling me. He feels that the rough road is toughening up the candidates, getting more voters into the process and invested. He thinks the Wright scandal emerged at the right time for Obama, and he'll benefit from having dealt with it early.

Of course, Beinart makes the critical point: if Clinton keeps winning, why should she drop out? And even if she decides for some reason, right now, that the nomination is impossible, why not go to Pennsylvania, win big and go out on top? The fact of the matter is that she's likely to win more than just Penna.

Brooks reiterates that we could have three more months of this...and we've only been through three months of this. And that's chilling. Brooks thinks the worst-case scenario is Clinton going in strong to the convention with no chance of winning.

Clinton is working hard at winning though! Russert notes her cuddling up to Richard Mellon Scaife and the American Spectator - who'd have thought she'd reach out the the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy?

Russert spits a whole bunch of polls at the two men. Beinart feels that Clinton would be a damaged candidate in the general. Brooks says the GOP still wants to run against her, and McCain's approvals are increasing.

Man, Russert sure led with the stronger segment. It's hard to listen to Beinart and Brooks talk on such low-stakes matters after Hayden's revealing, often troubling remarks.

The McLaughlin Group

"How do you account for Obama's wondrous charm?"

Seriously? That's going to be the first question?

Sigh. Pat Buchanan, like everyone, wants to roll down a dewy hill in Obama's arms and laugh at his jokes. Eleanor Clift like his intellect and that the American people are ready to vote for him. Even Monica Crowley's got a little moony-swoony in her. THIS IS THE MOST SUBSTANTIVE QUESTION EVER. I do not AT ALL think that this is a waste of my time. McLaughlin asks: Is Obamamania like Beatlemania? Page wants him to "smile a little more." Clift says he needs to prove he's tough enough.

It's like they are reading Tiger Beat magazine!

Buchanan says that Obama's got a rough time ahead of him. Crowley says he needs to protect his brand and stay affable. I am impressed that Obama's charms are sufficient to tranquilize this normally combative show!

Buchanan: "We have moved into the television age." What? I thought we were moving OUT of the television age.

Is it a fad? Buchanan says yes. Clift and Crowley says no, because he makes their ovaries tingle. Page says no as well. Maybe Buchanan has just forgotten how to love! Everyone thinks the GOP will bloody Obama up but good. McLaughlin thinks it is a "resilient fad" - whatever that means.

I don't think the Clinton supporters who watched that are alone in having pulled muscles whilst rolling their eyes. Not only was that segment fawning, IT WAS BORING!

Commenter TimN recommends the HuffPo community who may have missed Hayden on Russert today to watch the interview somehow. He's exactly right - it was one of the better MTP segments I've seen. The segment reairs on MSNBC today at 6pm and 2am, and the transcript - with video highlights - can be found here.

Back to McLaughlin. Argh. Ralph Nader. People are pessimistic and cynical and the only prescription is NADER. Never mind the fact that he's been a guiding hand, effortlessly pushing the nation to new frontiers of cyncism while he encourages he tiny cadre of supporters to indulge themselves in an orgy of self-congratulations.

Why doesn't Nader run for office in a seat he can win? Clift doesn't think he has that option because he lives in Washington, DC. Actually, in DC, there is a seat tailor-made for Nader! The DC Council must keep one seat reserved for a non-Democrat. That seat's been occupied by a Republican, Carol Schwartz, for some time - but it needn't be occupied by a Republican. The Green Party has eyed it for a long time. I think Nader could easily win that seat.

There's just one thing: working on the DC Council is worse than the most grim and bloody tortures you can possibly imagine.

Pat Buchanan agrees with Nader than another party is needed, and that outsiders like Nader serve an important purpose. Monica Crowley says the system will never change, never never, not ever, and that we need to get over it. Then Clarence Page mentions the Canadian Parliament and everyone starts yelling. I swear: you never know what's going to touch them all off.

Did Nader drain votes away from Gore in 2000? Oh, let's take that up! Crowley says yes, but he's a "skunk at the garden party." Buchanan thinks that Nader could absorb disaffected Obama voters (should Obama not win the nomination). Clift thinks Nader poses a danger. Then, she and Buchanan fight briefly. Page suggests Ron Paul and Ross Perot should run.

Now they take up the issue of the English language. You can just imagine how freaky Buhcanan is going to get. McLaughlin apparently believes that the Celtic language has the same pronunciation as the basketball team from Boston. He also thinks that "Eskimo" is a language.

Buchanan, obviously, thinks that Mexicans will make us two nations. And they start yelling. We aren't doing this show in Spanish! The Irish people kept to themselves! Two languages! Bleaaaarrrggh. How are you going to TEACH the language? People should speak English in the U.S.! It helps one get ahead, and avoid being a second-class citizen. But there's not magic wand to wave that teaches people! The effort must be made and someone will have to pay for it. Or: you can allow for immersion to happen, but it won't happen overnight. Page at least acknowledges that the problem is self-correcting - the children of immigrants take to assimilating easier.

Predictions! Who wins the nomination? Buchanan says "Obama, probably." Clift says "John McCain" and everybody laughs because that's what passes for wit here. Crowley and Page say Obama. McLaughlin, who, answering the same question on the GOP side, once bellowed "WRONG! RRRRRRROMMMMMNEEEEYYY!" predicts Hillary, FTW.

All right. That's that for this week. Enjoy your afternoon. I am going to refrain from cheering on any NCAA teams from this space because i do not want to jinx them. Let's just say, some underdogs would be nice. Anyway: three weeks until the Pennsylvania primary. Good luck, everyone.

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