POLITICS
06/23/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Good morning everybody, and welcome to your Sunday Morning Liveblog.

So. Let's deal with the elephant in the room, shall we?

Last Friday, my wife called me in the afternoon and told me that Tim Russert had died. The news was sudden and shocking and very saddening. And right from that moment I began thinking about how I was going to address the matter today. And right after that moment I began thinking about how it was a stupid thing to worry about, because who could possibly give a crap about what I had to say. And then I thought yeah, but, I'll have to do it anyway. And then I struggled with how to navigate between saying something tasteful and comforting and the very real pointed criticisms I had of the man. And then I caught myself using the word "struggle" to describe myself and felt horrible because I wasn't doing any real struggling. And then I realized I'd been kvetching over this for a good period of time and thought to myself, "Jeez. How self-involved are you going to allow yourself to get?"

So, I've decided that, for my part and from me, no one needs to hear anything discouraging or deflating about Tim Russert, the newsman because - if I could go against conventional wisdom, here - the fact that Tim Russert was a newsman is the least important thing happening right now. The fact that he hosted a show or worked for a news bureau or interviewed a politcian is just a thin sliver of his life, and the least important one.

Russert is said to be a very decent man and a very good friend to many, and this was evidenced by how hard it was for his NBC colleagues to keep it together on the air last Friday. He obviously really loved his job. This love rubbed off on a lot of people who currently work at NBC News. It also seems like he threw his heart into his work with such joy, that there may be a few people walking the earth today who saw him and realized that they, too, should love their work that much as well, but the news business was killing them, so they aren't working at NBC, or for the press - but they are doing what they are doing with Russertian-level of fulfillment and enthusiasm, and in that way, he was a great model, worthy of emulation, to everybody.

Russert loved football, a lot, and loved the Buffalo Bills in particular. I bet that Bills fans came up to him all the time, trading stories and memories, hoping to connect with the team's number one fan, get an autograph or a handshake or a story. And when those fans embellished theie stories or got a statistic wrong, Russert probably stowed his famous "gotcha" tenacity, because a guy who loves a team that have lost four Superbowls knows that while some things are true, some things should be true, even if they are not. And that brotherhood was probably just as fun and as meaningful to Russert as any of the "important" and "professional" affiliations he had.

Like every son, he probably strove to please his dad, and like every dad, he probably worried that the values and lessons and tips that he passed along to his own kid might not be enough to keep him from harm. Like every husband, he probably derived about 85% of his own happiness just from the fact that his wife was happy most days, and like every lover, he probably had a touch, or a look, or some kind words that he'd use to try to make everything okay on those evenings when his wife was less than happy.

And so, when all of these people got the same news that I got from my wife on Friday, it's likely that a great rush of air fled from their lungs at that moment, flying vainly to that empty space where a life used to be, where a friend or a hero or a son or a dad or a lover once was, only this time, that breath never came back. And that's terribly sad. And we extend our condolences and our best thoughts to all the people, known and unknown, who are even today, utterly asphyxiated by this loss.

Please feel free to send emails or leave comments today.

Fox News Sunday

And now, let's continue the work of pulling the Huffington Post closer to the "scurrilous" end of the Vanity Fair blogopticon. Today, Chris Wallace has a roundtable on gas, how to reduce the price of gas. The roundtable participants immediately seize Wallace and place him into some sort of machine to exploit his gaseousness, the pump prices fall immediately back to $1,75 a gallon, the end.

Actually, no. The panel jumps into the task of how quickly we can start drilling in ANWR. Senator Byron Dorgan is against it, for many reasons. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison thinks that the Democrats have largely blocked the DRILLMANIA she'd unleash upon the land, but acknowledges that McCain is against ANWR, too. Chris Wallace says that the refuge is the size of South Carolina, and the prospective area of drilling is just the size of National Airport (though looking at the map, it sure makes National Airport look large). Just for fun, I'd rather we drill up either of those other places.

Wallace brings up the windfall profits tax, and asks, "How does the government decide what a reasonable profit is?" Dorgan says that it depends on what the petrol companies use their profits on. Then he says a bunch of talking points designed to sound less like outright Marxism. Hutchison counters by saying we need to use "creativity" to drive up supply of gas. Hey, let's put on a play! And bomb Iran maybe! "If we bring up supply, we'll bring down the price." Meanwhile, outside the room, Demand bangs on the door, saying, "You could adjust me, too, if you wanted!"

Red Cavaney, who's worked in both paper AND plastics, making him an expert on toting groceries, says we can expand our refining efforts. And he's right! All we need to do is find that group of Americans who enjoy saying, "What? You say you've got some toxic, stanky stuff you need to do in somebody's back yard? Well...y'all come right on over! Stick it between the nuke waste dump and the methadone clinic!"

Wallace is doubtful that Congress is going to do anything about this, and he's right, especially since Dorgan says that the Saudis will maybe bring the prices down and Hutchison says that maybe if the government acts, we can stop speculators.

McCain advisor Karl Rove is on the show now, and he's got new versions of his magic maps. Unfortch for McCain, Obama has expanded his leads across the blasted Rovescape, a fact that Rove acknowedges. Rove calls the situation "volatile." So volatile that McCain has never gotten above 46% in any national poll!

How does Obama walk the tightrope between keeping a clean campaign and the fact that every single person with experience in Washington who wants to help him is tainted by, uhm, well...taint? Rove says it'll be hard, and it's best to be a part of a party that just doesn't care about how tainted things get. Think of McCain as one big taint, and then the lesser taints seem great by comparison.

Rove gets into the Veepstakes, and who McCain should choose. Rove has Romney, Lieberman, Crist, and Pawlenty on his shortlist. He favors Romney, despite the fact that even Rove finds him to be a giant Fraudbot. Rove evaluates Biden, Sebellius, Webb and Hagel on Obama's side. To Rove, a "left-field choice" is, strictly defined, a reach to the other party for the Vice President. I think that's a very narrow way to define a "left-field" choice. I also thinks that Obama needs a "left-field" or a "game-changing" vice-presidential pick way, WAY less than McCain does.

Rove then discusses McCain's plan to bore and terrify America with a billion Town-Hall debates, in the style of Lincoln and Douglas, in which the two candidates will wear stovepipe hats and old-timey clothes, and pretend to be candidates from another era, like they do at Colonial Williamsburg. "I say, brave Negro opponent," McCain will say, "Looks at these amazing daguerrotype machines these oddly dressed people have brought with them! Tell me, are you from Narnia?"

Rove refers to McCain as "the challenger," which is amazing considering that McCain is repping the incumbent party.

Panel time, and Brit Hume is totally upset with the SCOTUS' decision to uphold the Constitution. Basically, his opinion is, "What's the point of building so many bases outside of the United States if we weren't going to be able to make up crazy laws to govern them." Hume says that the decision, in this regard, was based on reasoning that was "flimsy" - like the cases we have against these detainees.

Bill Kristol, of course, has to choke back tears, and he says this will create chaos! Kristol asks, basically: "Does this mean judges have to have evidentiary hearings? And trials? With rules or something? THAT'S MADNESS! The government should have the right to sort of SUSPECT some crap about people, and expect the court to uphold these specious suspicions."

Juan Williams then makes an impassioned and terrific speech about the basic right to a fair trial, and Bill Kristol and Brit Hume basically look at him as if he were saying, "PEANUT BUTTER MARTIANS HAVE LANDED ON MY NIPPLES." Hume says that we have made generous accomodations for these captives, and that if you are going to have your freedom arbitrarily and indefinitely deprived, you could do a lot worse that Gitmo. It is like the Sandals Resort of permanent imprisonment.

Anyway, it's comforting to note that if I were to seize Brit Hume and lock him in my basement, he'd be fine with that, so long as I left a nice chocolate on his pillow. Oh. I guess I'd have to give him a pillow, too. Extraordinary rendition is hard!

Then the panel gets into tax policy. Kristol believes that the Center For Tax Policy analysis shows that Obama is "on net a tax raiser" which sort of elides over precisely who taxes would get raised upon. Liasson says McCain will need to make the pro-growth case for his tax plan, failing to mention that his tax plan are mirror images of his would-be predecessor's - which were hardly drivers of growth. Williams and Hume get into a spat, with Hume denying that McCain's plan favors the rich, even though, as a member of the elite, he's more or less counting on that being true. Hume seems to blame our economic woes on students graduating from school in the summertime...huh? What? What's he talking about? I'll have to revisit that part of this show later.

And everyone has nice things to say about Tim Russert.

Face The Nation

Chip Reid is filling in for Bob Schieffer today. Reid used to work under Russert, and offers Russert's family his condolences.

Then, it's on to talking to Bobby Jindal, who has fought Satan in the trenches of th awkward college dating scene. Oh, I know, I know...but that whole Bobby Jindal/exorcism thing is just never going to get old! I mean, who really cares about all the reforms he's bringing to Louisiana when you can hear about his magic Jesus hands.

Reid says Jindal is the Republican Obama, in that he's probably the Republican most likely to have a racist, stuffed monkey toy made in his image. Jindal passes on the compliment,, and insists that race will not be an issue in the campaign. The Republican Party, Jindal says, "lost its way." It got captured by Washington...infused with Washington's wasteful spirit...and now John McCain is going to go to the White House and purge the party of this malevolent force, and get thrown down the stairs near Georgetown University...OKAY I'LL STOP NOW.

Jindal is a big anti-evolution crazy-face who thinks that when a public school teaches facts and stuff, this is the government, stepping in, imposing political correctness on students. Jindal says that schools should teach all the sciences! And get all the facts! Even those that aren't, actually facts! American health care consumers, for instance, should have a wealth of choices. Doctors who are trained in Western medicine, for example. Also: Doctors who use leeches, or trephination. Doctors who waggle prayer rugs over gaping wounds. Doctors who chant and dance hoedowns in the face of massive internal trauma! YAY BOBBY JINDAL AND HIS MAGICAL SCIENCES!

Newt Gingrich, naturally, thinks this guy would make a great President. For crying in a bucket! Reid agrees that Jindal compliments McCain in that he brings youth and inexperience to the ticket.

But, Gingrich says, the country won't reject Obama on inexperience. They'll to it because of things like Wright and Ayers, and that this will be a principled decision on the part of the American people. Also, there's a great education vs. labor issue on the horizon that'll really help to trip Obama up! Yeehaw!

Then he calls the recent SCOTUS decision was worse than Dred Scott and "could cost us a city." He calls district judges "random" and "nutcake." The man is absolutely HYSTERICAL.

Jim VandeHei joins Reid and the result is a bland recitation of conventional wisdom. None of it was worth recapping. Seriously. Reid seemed to want to provoke an intense conversation, but VandeHei is one of DC's most pronounced political Cliff Noters. So the conversation goes nowhere.

Meet The Press

Today, it appears that MTP will largely be spending the hour paying tribute to Russert. Here are the highlights:

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: "What these recordings will show people years from now, are not just the questions he asked, not even the answer he got, but which people were able to acknowledge errors, which people ruffled under his questions...you'll get the temperament of these people. They're going to come alive."

[WATCH.]

JAMES CARVILLE: "I think the biggest insult for him was that someone would come on here [who] wasn't prepared for the show...If you came prepared, it was going to be a good interview...It was a hard show...but very fair."

MARY MATALIN: "You weren't a candidate until you came on this show."

GWEN IFILL: "Everybody would come to work on Monday morning having decided...the plate had been reset for politics, every week based on what had happened on Meet The Press."

And now, a montage of people who desperately wanted to be president telling Russert that it was the last thing in the world they wanted to do.

MIKE BARNICLE: "As Luke Russert told me yesterday, this program was Tim's second son. He loved this program. He loved it as a vehicle...it will just never ever be the same, although I will hear his laugh, forever."

TOM BROKAW: "He knew not just where the bodies were buried, he knew where the earmarks were buried, he knew where the votes had been taken, and if some candidate thought he could wander off to East Bicycle Falls, Kentucky and say something, and get away with it, he'd be held accountable."

GOODWIN: "What Tim did was to make that transition to the world of relationship talking. That's what so much television is now, talking. Think about it. No razzle-dazzle in this show, what it had was people sitting around a table, and talking....as they might have 200 years ago, but with civility in a polarized country."

GOODWIN: "Everything he had, he loved."

BETSY FISCHER: "He did not want the primary season to end."

Well, I'm not going to hold that against him!

Probably the smartest decision made in setting up this discussion? None of these people is going to vying for Russert's job. That's all going on in other rooms. It's probably not very pretty in those rooms.

MATALIN: "He loved his friends and he took care of them, unlike most of this town..."

BROKAW, on Russert's propensity to pull for his favorite teams: "He was beyond shameless..."

GOODWIN: "At one point, when he asked me, 'What are you going to do after Lincoln?' I said...what can I do anything after Lincoln, I certainly can't go back to Millard Fillmore. He said, 'Now wait! Millard Fillmore came from Buffalo!'"

BROKAW: "Away from this setting, he had no greater calling and no greater pride than fulfilling his obligation to Maureen as her husband and also as a son and as a father. He shared that well beyond his relationship with Big Russ and Luke, Tim's son, his pride and joy. So, in memory of Tim, Happy Father's Day."

And a happy Father's Day to all of you! See you next week.

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[Friday afternoon.]

MY WIFE: It's a big loss. Not everyone is asked to be a media critic. Some of us have to choose between sitting on the couch while the show is on or leaving the room. I could watch Tim Russert because there was a conversation. Nobody yelled. People were cordial. No one called Michelle Obama someone's "baby mama." So many of these shows...I just cannot stand watching. I just cannot stand the people who appear on them. Who's going to take his place?

ME: I don't know. It could be Chris Matthews.

MY WIFE: You see? It's a big loss.