08/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Good morning and welcome back to your Sunday Morning liveblog. I say welcome back because last Sunday, the liveblog had to be cancelled because I was on the Second Worst Flight Back From Austin. I say "Second Worst" because there was another flight, that went through Dallas/Fort Worth, that was apparently even more awful than mine. Of course, that sort of makes MY flight the worst, because since then, all the Netroots Nation people who flew back on the worst flight have bonded and made T-Shirts about it and sort of make me feel left out and stuff.

Anyway, the liveblog is back and not going anywhere. I mean, I'm technically going to be on vacation the next two Sundays, but that won't stop the liveblog from happening, don't worry. But what an awful Sunday to return to: wake up to Fox, and then, that ABC panel...if my schedule is right, I'm going to wish there were some hounds of hell around for balance. I'm not even looking forward to the hour of Meet The Press from Obama. A whole hour! Really? Must we?

Oh, well. Must endure. Please feel free to write a comment or send in an email. Ana Marie Cox and I have been answering your questions in vlog form, lately, so feel free to ask one of those, too. Gonna set up my TiVo. And steel myself for...


All right, so Barack Obama went all over the world doing the things that remained on John McCain's bucket list, which made McCain mad. And so McCain went to a fudge haus and talked about the Dalai Lama. Has that summed up this last horrible week in politics? (The week in sports, by the way? Obama apparently 8-10 3PG.)

John Thune and Claire McCaskill will play Battle of the Surrogates. Thune is on the Veep Shortlist? Really? Anyway, McCaskill says that McCain's "rather lose a war" comment was "over the top, and frankly, McCain knows it's over the top." She points out that everyone in the world but John McCain supports the 16-month withdrawal. Thune responds by saying that conditions on the ground in Iraq are of paramount importance. Al-Maliki and the Iraqis and their sovereign government apparently HOVER or something. Why they don't get to be "conditions on the ground."

Wallace plays the Idiot Game with McCaskill: "Don't We All Have To Praise The Surge?" McCaskill talks strategy over tactic, she talks Anbar Awakening. Ultimately, she loses the game, saying the Surge helped. This allows Thune to say "incredible gains" have been made, that Obama refuses to acknowledge. Those "incredible gains?" They've dialed back conditions to 2004, which were pretty awful.

Wallace then springs McCain's own timetable remark. where McCain refined his position. Thune goes back to conditions on the ground...conditions on the ground...conditions on the ground. Let me POINT THIS OUT. Two weeks ago, the media began a campaign, along with McCain, to paint Obama as a flip-flopper on Iraq withdrawal. Two weeks later, it is MCCAIN who has flip-flopped on Iraq. Don't expect anyone in the press to hold themselves accountable for any of this, though they surely should!

McCaskill gets shown that new McCain "Obama hates the soldiers" ad. McCaskill's answer is pretty good: she points out the substantive things he's done for the soldiers, that, had he gone, the right would have had an ad out criticizing him for going, and that the ad was "beneath John McCain." Which it was! I feel like in this election, you really don't want to be the first candidate to play the tired old "X hates the troops" card.

Thune responds by saying that Obama had never been abroad, and hasn't had a hearing on Afghanistan in his subcommittee. Funny coming from the guy repping John "In Absentia" McCain. He says that John McCain has sacrificed enough so that he's allowed to use wounded troops however he likes. It's very clear that someone else is going to the grocery store for him, since this week, he acted like he'd never set foot in one.

Neither Thune nor McCaskill admit to having had to "turn over papers" for Vice Presidential vetting.

Okay. And now a "different perspective" on Obama's tour. From Karl Rove! Oh, I expect a different perspective now!

Rove says "we don't know" whether or not he's shored up all of his "commander in chief" problems. Basically, everything was positive to Rove except that there were the following bads: 1) won't admit how awesome the surge was, 2) too loved by Europeans, 3) hits too many three-pointers, and 4) there might be some fake-ass way to make it look like Maliki thinks differently than he does.

Everytime you hear Rove call Obama "arrogant," by the way? There is a word he'd rather use. Think: title of Dick Gregory's autobiography.

Wallace busts out the two polls that seem to favor McCain, leading Rove to wonder why Obama can't crack 50% in the national polls. I'd wonder why McCain can't crack 43%, like he used to, but unfortunately, I don't get to decide what fake-ass, artificial standards the media is using this week. Clearly, though, leading in the polls is bad, leading in fundraising is bad, supporting a bunch of drilling plans that won't actually work is good.

Rove basically presents Obama's energy plan as all of the good things that McCain supports with none of the stupid things. Not that Rove captures it quite like that. I guess if I wanted to capture Rove's commentary on the McCain energy policy it would be: MCCAIN MAGICAL ENERGY PONY! NEIGH! NEEEIIIIIGH!

Rove picks Romney as McCain's vice-president, because he even harms America in his imagination.

Panel time! Brit Hume doesn't understand why Obama would speak to Germany. Because a lot of people, apparently, think it's better for the American president to be hated in Europe. "Explain this to me," asks Hume. Liasson thinks that he proved his case abroad, but still subscribes to the "Obama should be winning by more" school.

Of course, when you add Nader and Barr into the polling mix, Obama's lead doubles to about thirteen points, and that sort of tastes like blowout to me! So maybe Obama really IS winning by the amount that the press has deemed HE MUST BE WINNING BY FOR THE WINNING TO COUNT, but first, the press will have to admit that the people who are running are running.

Anyway, typing that made me miss whatever Kristol had to say, but it sounded like MCCAIN LOVES SURGE AND SURGE IS GOOD MORE SURGE.

My wife is telling our houseguests: "I don't know how John McLaughlin is still alive. Wasn't he an old man when we were kids?"

Mara Liasson says that Maliki gave Obama a gift by hewing closely to Obama's withdrawal plan, but she still thinks that Obama is squishy.

I'd rather talk about Kristol though, who disputes the contention that Maliki's embrace of Obama disadvantages McCain. He says that this is bad for Democrats because it takes away their best critcism of McCain - that he is a warmonger that wants to stay in Iraq for 100 years. I'd like to point out that if Bush withdrew the troops RIGHT NOW, he'd be taking away the chance to criticize McCain - but that doesn't stop most Democrats from wanting to end the war. It's ironic that here Kristol is, using the troops and the was as props in the campaign, unable to conceive of why anyone wouldn't want to do the same. To Kristol, good things are bad politics. I just think good things are good things.

Don't hope for a brighter future!

Now the panel takes up the Vice Presidential race, which ought to put everything else they do and say into perspective, considering how much time they all devote to this useless discussion. Even Hume admits that the timing of the announcement is mostly useless. He doesn't seem to understand that all these idiotic discussions basically are an attempt to get out in front of the timing, making it doubly mostly useless. My wife is explaining TiVo to our guests, and it's a much more informative discussion.

Kristol thinks the Obama camp will pick in the next seven-ten days and favors Tim Kaine, and will make an announcement at 11am on August 4th or something. Easton disagrees, I guess? Hume says Romney and Pawlenty would be good choices for VP for McCain. Liasson agrees. Kristol manages to talk about Sarah Palin without all the lecherous leers he gave off the last time he talked about her. Maybe it's because he's also got to talk about Tom "Bonerkiller" Ridge. Or maybe it's because he's saving his best leers for Nina Easton. You'll note, surely, that Fox News Sunday didn't deploy all those two-shots of Kristol, because Juan Williams wasn't on, and there was no need to have Kristol stare at anyone in an attempt to undermine them.

Anyway, that's over. But the dread keeps coming!


McCain headlines This Week, along with the worst Panel Ever Assembled.

The conversation apparently ranged from the economy to gay adoption. I think the gays should adopt the economy!

Anyway, GS asks about McCain using the word "timetable" but McCain is now a CONDITION ON THE GROUND ZOMBIE. If Obama had his way, Iran would have influence over Iraq. AND IRAN DOES HAVE INFLUENCE OVER IRAQ THANK YOU SURGE. Then McCain says the word timetable and conditions and ground and mixes them up into a bunch of sentences. It's like he's playing boggle!

"I like yesterday!" McCain says, "That's a good timetable!" (No it's not! It takes time to quarantine equipment at the very least! Not all timetables, are, in fact, good ones.)

I don't know why McCain insists that the Surge get credit for stopping sectarian violence! The sectarian cleansing that occurred throughout Baghdad did that. I also don't know why the Surge was required for solving the "Oil For Food" scandal!

Stephanopoulos questions McCain on his "lose a war" campaign, saying "I can't believe you think that." He also seems to think that if the president opposes a military decision, it "stands in contravention" to the generals. But the generals job is to ask the President, "How high?" when he orders them to jump.

Now McCain is saying that the Surge was a "break on Iranian influence" and a "break on al Qaeda." It was neither, of course. The Iranians call many shots within Iraq now. They negotiate cease-fires. They have friendly ties with the government. They will get a government, in any event, in any election, that will be a strategic partner. And, clearly, the Surge hasn't been a break on al Qaeda. In fact, it's been a central tactic in Bush's overall strategy of appeasing al Qaeda.

McCain then yells about how there would have been "a seismic event" if the Pentagon had told him he couldn't visit the troops in the hospital. OH BUT I THOUGHT YOU DON'T 'CONTRAVENE" THE MILITARY, SENATOR!

Now John McCain is in favor of a) more government salaries! And b) more private sector executives working for the government for a dollar a year. None of that makes sense to me!

McCain then goes on an extended rant about how he won't cut enough from the budget and call it suffcient, won't give enough relief to the middle class and call it a benefit, won't stop drilling for oil and call it ending our dependence on oil, and economists suck. WHY WON'T YOU VISIT ECONOMISTS IN THE HOSPITAL?

He says he will "shame" oil companies, and not visit them in the hospital, either.

Oh, yes. Social Security? He's in favor of sitting at a table. AND EVERYTHING MUST BE ON THE TABLE! Chafing dishes! Lazy susans! Centerpieces! CANDELABRA! IT WILL BE A BIG TABLE, AND WILL REQUIRE ALL THE OLD GROWTH FORESTS TO DIE.

OMG. The McCain ranch is overrun by slow-witted dogs!

McCain is losing his bearings! He wants to toss Russia out of the G8, which is SURE TO MAKE THEM SORRY FOR THEIR WAYS. It's hilarious to hear him talk about the path the Putin has taken Russia down. He started down that path eight or so years ago, and it was painfully obvious to everyone, and now here comes McCain riding in after it's too late to warn us! Yippee!


To clarify: McCain has never used the phrase "scramble the jets." Which isn't to say he hasn't left some jets scrambled, on the ground, after terrible crashes, stemming from incompetence.

And now Panel Time. Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, Matthew Dowd, and George Will.

Will sums up the trip, "be careful what you wish for," but jumps on Obama for "underperforming his party" in the polls. Now, Will is being optimistic, here, suggesting that a Reagan-style dam break is in the offing, but again, there are polls that say one thing and polls that take into consideration all of the candidates that say another. Roberts says the trip was a success. Donaldson says Obama still has work to do at home. (Oh, DUH.) Matt Dowd is making the most sense when he says that most of all, we need a break from the campaign.

Will says now McCain has to shift from "Obama doesn't understand Iraq" to "Iraq doesn't understand Iraq." Again, Dowd makes sense: McCain put down a bet with his Iraq stance. And that is exactly right. EXACTLY RIGHT. He put his chips on the Surge, and on Conditions on the Ground. He's lost that bet. He's quite literally in the Denial stage over that loss - out there, pretending that conditions on the ground are something other than they are: an Iraq that's more or less united in the occupation ending. It's been trending that way for a long time, but the press cannot tamp down those perceptions now that Maliki has aligned himself with Obama.

Charles Krauthammer, at the very least, recently put the "we must stay in Iraq forever" plan in terms that were honest: it's an imperial move that will allow us to seize oil and project dominant military force in the region. Of course, that's a losing idea, for a lot of different reasons: it will ramp up terrorism, for one, and the United States can neither afford to pay for empire, nor can they convince enough Americans to do what is necessary to build an empire: quit their jobs and go abroad.

During the composition of those thoughts, the panel talked about the economy. Sure it was fitting. I return to Sam Donaldson comparing Obama to Caesar. Really. I don't know why I don't just go and stick my head in the toilet.

Apparently "real Americans" live in a Schnitzel House in Ohio, that depends on presidential candidates visiting for the economy to work.

Cokie Roberts: Obama winning Virginia is nothing special! Obama needs a boring white guy! So, look for the Obama/Sam Donaldson ticket. Donaldson will visit all the ethnic fooderies of rural America: schnitzel hauses, slaw huts, pierogie tents, pasta barns, strudel outhouses, and latke yurts.

Powerful summation of FOX NEWS SUNDAY from Chris Blakely:

You have to love how FOX keeps going to Karl "Yoda" Rove for his insights on the election. Kudos to FOX for landing the top talent! After all, Rove did so well in his last foray -- the 2006 midterm elections. Karl's speaking fee is $40,000 a pop. How much is Karl's FOX News stipend? With all the money this guy is making, Rove should be able to hire some top notch counsel and answer those Congressional subpoenas in his spare time!

The panel was exceptionally weak this week. For me, it is not a Sunday morning unless we see the candid glimpses of Brit's frowns when Juan offers a contrary perspective. And, for me, it is not time to wake up unless I hear Hume utter, "Juan, Juan, Juan!"

Yes. Is that why Rove was being beamed to FNS from his undisclosed location? To keep DEM REVENUERS FROM FINDIN' HIM?

And I'm hearing the following previews from viewers on MEET THE PRESS. "Strange hositility" from Brokaw. And in Minnesota, apparently you all with DirectTV didn't have any sound today?

A commenter asks if I have to do anything special after watching Fox News, like advanced endurance training. The answer is no, but it's funny...I find that on Sundays, after getting done with my day, I have the powerful need to get out of my house, off the computer, really, out of my neighborhood for a little while. It's like I need to get away from the fumes of horse manure, and learn to trust my teevee again.

Anyway, there's a lot of talk about the Obama hour, so we might as well skip ahead.


By the way, Jack Reed and Chuck Hagel were on FACE THE NATION. I didn't watch it precisely because I thought the discussion might be too agreeable! And interesting! And valuable. Will watch on computer.

Anyway, once again, Meet The Press is on the move, this time, in London. Look at all the cranes!

Brokaw takes "us through the itinerary" of Obama's trip overseas. He misidentifies the Victory Tower with the Brandenberg Gate. He asks Obama, "When you get home" what will you say you learned and how will you flip-flop on the issues? Obama says that he learned that he doesn't have to change his foreign policy strategy! Huh! Just like I said he would! He says he's happy to see violence down, and thinks the troops are great, and credits the Sunni Awakening for the outcome.

BUT YOU OPPOSED THE SURGE, Brokaw says, warning that he's brought that pair of monkey cymbals to bang on. "We're not talking about angels on the head of a pin," says Brokaw, clearly talking about angels on the head of a pin. Obama says there's no way of projecting an outcome from a decision never made, and anyway, the Surge didn't lead to the changes in opinion that led to the Sunni Awakening.

Right now, the media game is this: Admitting that American troops, in any number, can have any effect at all, means McCain and Bush are right and need to be re-elected forever.

Obama does what he should have done with Katie Couric - differentiate the tactic of the Surge from the overall foreign policy framework that has governed our life in the Middle East. He's right to do so! We shouldn't have to play this game that a single sliver of military tactics redeems the entire enterprise. After all, the tactics deployed at the outset of the war, were clearly as effective as the later Surge. The Surge hasn't prevented the rise of Iran, hasn't blunted the work of al Qaeda, hasn't made the world safer, precisely because the overall policy isn't built to do any of those things.

Then he says, "We can have a whole range of arguments" on the topic. WISH HE WOULDN'T THOUGH! He should just keep making the BEST argument, which could be, "Imagine shrewd tactics being made inside a strategy that actually makes sense!" The problem Obama needs to own from that Couric interview was his strange and Talmudic response, involving the economy. Gotta get to the heart of the matter and avoid those sorts of answers. Then again, I suppose that Obama's been having to give those sorts of triangulated, strangulatled answers lately! After all: FISA. Maybe he's just so used to those sorts of responses, he's forgotten about simplicity.

Brokaw doesn't seem to understand what the Anbar Awakening is, believing it to have been Surge-enabled. That sure is unfortunate! Especially considering that he wants to talk about "the reality in Iraq."

But USA Today has a heap ton of SURGE LOGIC to throw at Obama. Did the sun come out today in Iraq? SURGE DID IT. MUST CREDIT SURGE FOR EVERYTHING! Understand that the entirety of the foreign policy debate has retreated to a requirement that people admit the "Surge" worked. No one even wants to ask if the "Iraq War" worked, anymore!

But how does Obama respond to the two or three instances of polling in which he isn't favored? "Does that surprise you?" No, Obama says, and goes on to suggest that maybe different polling answers would yield different results.

Obama edges up to what I think would be a good answer on the whole "Riskier candidate" poll. Risk can, in some ways be seen as a positive, because big positive changes only come about because someone's willing to risk something to get them. "This is a big leap for people...it's not surprising." All true, but he'd be better off boldly characterizing risk as a positive.

Brokaw says that independent observers believe that the Germans are not doing their share of the fighting. My, how times have changed! Used to be that we were all pretty comfortable with a Germany that showed up for a fight slightly undermanned. "More troops?" scoffs Angela Merkel, "Why, it's almost as if you want there to be some kind of blitz! That's a term I learned from your marvelous National Football League!"

"Part of the reason I wanted to speak in Germany was to remind them of the alliance," that we've had with them militarily. He goes on to note that the War in Iraq, and its vast unpopularity, which is a predictable outcome of its vast stupidity, has depressed a desire among Europeans to participate in further U.S. excursions, until such time as the stupidity that undergirds them is excised.

Next up, Pakistan. Brokaw finds making financial assistance conditional upon the Pakistanis willingness to perform substantive counter-terror operations within their own borders to be "tepid." I honestly believe he was told to say that. What on earth is "tepid" about it. There are no such conditions now, and so, there is no effort to perform counter-terror ops. The only thing to do is add a little stick to the carrot-fest that Bush has got going with our partners-in-(doing nothing in particular about)-peace.

Obama basically says that it's hardly tepid, which leads Brokaw to take Pakistan's side, "They say they are doing the best they can!" Has Brokaw raised a child before? I would have had it easy in the Brokaw household! Why aren't my grades better? Why isn't my work done? Why hasn't the lawn been mowed? "Gee, Pop! I'm doing the best I can!" Sadly, my father supported the notion that even giving me a MOMENT OF PEACE was conditioned upon me actually doing things he wanted. I'd say that the tactic was very successful, and hardly tepid.

Obama aint having it. Everyone knows where the terrorist training camps are, and if Pakistan won't end them, he will. Appeaser!

Brokaw spits some gibberish. But what if a lot of people in Pakistan support the terrorists? What then? Wouldn't it be foolish to attack an al Qaeda camp unilaterally? YES. BEST TO KEEP ON ATTACKING PLACES WITH NO AL QAEDA CAMPS UNILATERALLY. That'll learn 'em!

Brokaw then seems to accuse Obama as being too pro-Israeli. I'm sure that he had a question card filled out like a Mad Lib, and if he had spent too much time in Palestine, he would have accused Obama as the opposite.

Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks didn't like Obama's Berlin speech. And Brooks was an early fan! You know, even if I never cast a vote for the man, I officially absolve Obama of the need to ever please David Brooks. Brooks is a sad and blinkered trendoid who blows with the wind, and he loved him some Obama when Obama was fighting Clinton. Now he loves him some McCain. No surprises. And no need to win over his favor.

Still, Obama says Brooks is one of his favorite conservatives. Probably because he's not a particularly effective one!

A commenter writes:

This is a sincere observation, since I'll most likely be voting for Obama, no way will I vote McCain - but I really wish that Obama would work on his stammer. This is an observation that I made the night he responded to Bush's surge speech, and it's not improving over time. Someone needs to teach him to insert a word or something while he's thinking on his feet and eliminate the use of the uh's and ah's. He appears tentative.

I could not agree more! I need to work on mine too! I used to teach Public Speaking (it was one of those things that MFA candidates at VCU did to earn a little extra money) and I was always fascinated by how saying nothing was not just infinitely preferable to saying "Uhm" or "Err," it actually makes the audience trust a speaker's intelligence MORE. Staring into the middle distance, and taking the pause to find the right word actually grabs the audiences attention, gets them leaning in and listening, and makes them feel like the speaker geniunely gives a damn. And what's really going on is that the speaker has blanked.

That's what's so marvelous about learning to speak in public - you learn that all those moments that filled you with the greatest of fear are actually the points where you can really reach a crowd.

Another commenter asks:

What are you doing that allows you to concentrate on what is being said by the talking heads, interpret the idiocy, memorialize your observations, and then go on?

TiVo helps! In fact, I'd be interested in developing a sponsor relationship with TiVo. But when I cannot pause the screen, as today I did with This Week, sometimes I miss important things as I struggle to catch up. Here's something I missed that another commenter caught: McCain flip-flopping in affirmative action.

Commenters to this liveblog perform just as valuable a service to it as I do!

Meanwhile, back to London. This conversation isn't really the hostile sandbagging I was anticipating. Just mildly numbing in places.

Obama, instead, sandbags Brokaw on the Veep issue because he said that next time he'd talk about it it would to announce the person. But then he goes on! Saying that he'll pick someone who has integrity, and who is free to tell him "no," is complimentary, has their own knowledge base, and can "really do some work." Flip-flopper! You said you wouldn't talk about it.

Also: Hillary is not NOT on the shortlist. And Bill Clinton is not NOT being asked to stay out of sight. There are plenty of benighted towns for Clinton to huddle in and say things about Obama.

Finally, he gets the conversation changed to the economy, which is going to be the campaign's apparent concentration over the next week, beginning on Monday. Good idea! Especially now that everyone's on board with Iraq withdrawal.

Brokaw wants to know why the people who didn't make terrible decisions in the housing market should have to bail out those who did? Good question! Obama says, "They shouldn't." Of course, he still plans to benefit some of them - the in-over-their-heads types, not the speculators. And he's not eager to add $5 trillion of bad Fannie/Freddie mortgages to the government balance sheet. That's wise! How soon can we get Medicaid and Medicare looking nice on a ledger, too?

Now Brokaw sounds like he's evangelizing for energy independence and the unseen benefits of high-gas prices. Look for Brokaw to get called out on this by conservatives for being too softball.

Obama basically says that if they'd done some of the things he'd suggested in the energy sector way back when, we wouldn't be in the mess we find ourselves today. Contrast that with his repeated statement that "no one can know" whether or not Iraq wouldn't have been better off if his advice had been followed on THAT regard. Obviously, there's a world of difference, but if I were McCain, i'd make something of Obama's selective soothsaying.

Anyway, Obama has a lot of great ideas, but he's not willing to trun the whole matter into some sort of gameshow like McCain is: "Who Wants To Build America A Magic Battery?"

Brokaw and Obama get racial. Obama says there have been profound changes to the country.

He then goes on to say that he'll be giving his nomination speech on the 40th Anniversary of the "I Have A Dream" Speech. Which means that I am not just going to have to have a ticket to Denver...I'm going to need a time machine so I can go back to the year 2003 to hear it. Better call the DNC!

Obama says that it's the aftermath of the Golden Era of Racism that we're still dealing with, and couples government solutions to his larger message of self-reliance to the black community.

Will Obama agree to doing a lot of town hall meetings? I wish Obama would just say, "Look, I have an entire country I've pledged to travel around and campaign in, hewing to McCain's schedule and logistics would just put me at a real disadvantage. So, no, I'm not going to do it. This is to his benefit by the way: haven't you noticed that many of the boneheaded things he's said have been said at town hall meetings?"

Also, I like to think that Obama has boldly taken the position to not add to the things I have to liveblog, and for that, I thank him.

Anyhoo, that brings us to the end of another Sunday. Next Sunday, I'll be on vacation, but I'll still be liveblogging. And later this week, Ana Marie Cox and I will be shooting another vlog, so if you'd like to ask us a question, please feel free to send an email. I'll leave this by suggesting you reading this article, penned by our awesome intern Bolu Adeyeye, whose time with us came to an end last Friday. But she'll be missed! Because she was great! And I expect the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to give her full faith and credit for her internship with us, which she spent excellently and ably serving the Huffington Post. Everyone should hire her upon graduation! Including us!

Have a great week!

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