TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

10/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Greeting fellow Sunday Morning mourners! I am back from the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado and its epic long waits for nearly everything, happily ready to re-immerse myself into a GOP-Free DC. This happens only once every four years and is like Washington's Olympics. Of course, I heard the big news whilst making my connection in O'Hare that John McCain had gone with dark horse pick Sarah Palin for his Veep Choice. Wow. Yeah. O-kay. You know, you don't get a full appreciation for the dark horsiness of a dark horse candidate until they're up there, chomping darkly at the bit, but, man...I don't know. I thought a hell of a lot more of Palin until I found out that she talks like she's a character on The Hills or something! Wow. Part of me thinks that maybe some sort of terrible mistake has just been made! Anyway, no Mitt Romney! That's...good...right? Right?

Oh, boy. Leave comments, send emails, arrange transport to nearest emergency facility.


This Week comes to us today from St. Paul, while McCain and Palin are off to the Gulf Coast to politicize tragedy and get in the way of emergency responders. And Cindy McCain is giving the talk on why they picked Palin? Really? It's a little off-putting, given McCain's history, to hear her call Palin "a perfect match." Washington is a "quagmire of a mess" right now. I agree! McCain had a big hand in it. He was a bit of a quagmire of a mess in his approach to the G.I. Bill.

OH JEEBUS. Cindy is making the argument that Alaska is closest to Russia, so that accounts for her foreign policy experience. At this point, if I were Stephanopoulos, I would just sigh and walk off the set. I mean, why not just let Cindy spit gibberish into the camera on her own for an hour?

Cindy wants to spend her time as first lady visiting refugee camps, which is laudable. Of course, she could just buy the refugees a bunch of new homes, right? Well, as it happens, she thinks that the jokes about homes are unfair! She wants every American to have seven homes and private jets. She's offended at Barack Obama saying such things! Hey, Cindy! It's like "Celebrity!" Everyone's just making some jokes! Grow a thick skin or something.

Anyhoo, it's time for another go-round with jowly David Foley, Lindsay Graham. Did GS just say that the McCain campaign has a "High Command?" Really? PRE-SUMPTUOUS, much? Anyway, Jowly Dave wants to make sure that they aren't seen as "out-of-touch" which is sort of a staggering admission. Jowly says that he wants McCain to be briefed in such a way that he stays out of the way of emergency efforts. Me too! If only there was some means of wireless communication, that one might be able to interact with people without being in the same room with them.

Now he's doing straight up comedy. This is like a Kids In The Hall routine? Where's Scott Thompson in a dress? Maybe he was standing in for Cindy McCain. Anyway, Palin has "done things Barack Obama could only dream of," like voting against the "bridge to nowhere" after supporting it. "She is qualified beyond belief" over Obama. These are crazy weak arguments. CRAZY WEAK. Obama hasn't challenged his own party to do something different? Frankly, he broke with the Dems on a number of issues. Most notably, and regrettably, on FISA. He challenged the Democrats in his acceptance speech.

I sort of thought that the McCain camp was basically conceding the experience argument and doubling down on the reformist label. Now it turns out that they are doubling down on crazy.

"If you can take on Ted Stevens, you can handle the Russians," says Graham. That's the just the dumbest thing I have ever heard.

Now, John Kerry is on, putting it bluntly: John McCain has crossed from "maverickism" to "erraticism." He goes on to point out that Palin has no national security experience and disagrees with McCain's stance on the environment. He calls the contention that Obama has the same foreign policy experience as Palin, "ridiculous on its face." But Kerry could state the argument better: the Obama trip wasn't great because he garnered "attention and support" from Europeans - it was great because it catalyzed REAL CHANGE in Iraq and Afghanistan, propelled the withdrawal argument forward. It was great because events in key regions began to coalesce around his positions. It was great because pretty soon, the sitting administration was knit up in the Obama Doctrine.

Kerry also suggests that McCain's picking Palin proves that he is a prisoner of "the right wing." I actually think it SORT OF does. I think that McCain and his band of brothers that have been in the thick of it with the Senator for years wanted to pick Ridge. But I think that the Rovish faction wanted to pick Romney. I think Palin is there now because McCain battled his way to some sort of compromise. Not sure that's ABSOLUTELY being a prisoner. It's more like a mutual stand-off has forced a bad decision.

Panel time! Got Matt Dowd, Cokie Roberts, Sam Donaldson, and George Will. Will thinks Palin is a good pick, which STUNS me. He thinks that Palin has "closed the enthusiasm gap" with Obama and that Palin "understands the concept of limited government." I am disappointed in Will. He's made some sense lately.

Roberts doesn't think that Palin was picked for women, but for the "bitters." Donaldson is straight-up incredulous about the pick. Dowd says that the pick helped McCain "get his mojo back."

Donaldson, I could kiss. He's clearly resisting the narrative, and refuses to get het up in the fascination over such trivial matters of "hockey moms" and Downs Syndrome as effectors on the race: "In the end, this is going to be McCain versus Obama."

I don't know what to say about Matt Dowd, who's tossing around the term "hockey moms" as if we've been using that term for longer than the PAST EIGHT HOURS. Matthew! We are not CANADIAN.

Donaldson also pooh-poohs the Palin choice as proof of "maverick" concept, rightly pointing out that poor decisions hardly build the case for being a "maverick."

The Georges think that Biden is in a bind at the VP debate, suggesting, I guess, that he'll have to go easy on Palin because she's a woman. That's feminism, I suppose? But if I were Biden, I'd go out there and debate McCain. I's not Sarah Palin's policy decisions that are powering the ticket. If I were Biden, I'd attack McCain, very clearly, by name, and never engage Palin, unless she strongly suggests that she is the driving force behind the McCain policies.

Oh, yeah. The DNC. Will didn't like Obama's speech. And "the grandiosity worked against his purposes." Donaldson liked it. Dowd says that the RNC feels "like a Carrie Underwood concert" by comparison. Roberts seems to have felt it was a success. GS and Donaldson liked the ferocity of the Bush attacks.

A lot of people will criticize this coverage for waiting until the last minute to get into Obama's speech. To cut against conventional wisdom, I say this benefits Obama. The press loves to get caught in a pseudo-intellectual haze, in which the trophy goes to the most counter-intuitive thought imaginable. It's a good thing for the Democrats that Obama's speech doesn't get caught in that. That will leave the millions of opinions already formed by the millions of people who saw the speech untrammeled. We got to the end here, and the only one against it was the conservative commentator who thinks Palin is a good choice for Veep. Everyone else complimented the speech. If that mix of punditry holds for the rest of Sunday, Obama's in very good shape.


All right. We'll get to hear the case for Palin right from the mouth of the Erratic Maverick himself. It's interesting how Wallace frames McCain's task: refocusing attention away from Obama's. You'd think the task would be, demonstrating governmental competence. But, in a point made very well by Matt Yglesias, the McCain campaign seems to only care about winning news cycles:

The Obama team is constantly frustrating progressive bloggers and news junkies by being extremely cavalier about the news cycle. They don't seem especially interesting in pouncing on gaffes or in responding to accusations, and they're not especially quick on the draw or generous with talking points. Instead, they have a very inner-directed approach that's all about building and cultivating the Obama brand to their own specifications and on their own schedule. The McCain campaign's not like that at all. They're obsessed with winning the news cycle and they're good at it. But they're much less interested in the McCain brand. That's one thing you see with the "POW! POW! POW!" schtick -- McCain's war record is a great asset so they don't hesitate to bust it out in all kinds of situations irrespective of the fact that busting it out constantly undermines the asset and creates a powerful negative counter-narrative.

What you see with the Palin pick, from a political strategy point of view, is I think the McCain campaign's focus on winning the news cycle taken to a myopic and senseless extreme.

So. Cindy McCain has a separate meeting with Sarah Palin? IN-TER-EST-ING.

Anyway, McCain says that Palin is a "partner and a soul-mate." "I don't particularly enjoy the label 'maverick,'" he says. He hates talking about his POW days, too, which is why he talks about both, all the damn time! McCain has an ad up calling him "THE ORIGINAL MAVERICK." Come on, John McCain! You call that straight talk?

Anyway, Palin "brings a spirit of reform and change," and someone to fight the "corruption" in the Republican Party. But what about the fact that he's called Islamic terrorism the "transcendent threat of our time?" McCain says that Palin hates the Muslims sufficiently and totally hearts the surge, and that equals judgement. None of this changes the fact that the facts on the ground no favor U.S. withdrawal. Palin is out there, alone, with John McCain. Maybe he chose her for her experience in dealing with remote, floating, ice floes.

"You don't care one bit about Obama's experience," my wife yells at John McCain, "You just don't like the fact that Obama doesn't agree with you! Why can't you just say that?" Perhaps relatedly, and perhaps controversially, my wife would ask you readers, "What is the female equivalent of an Uncle Tom," joking, "YOUR ALL-POWERFUL LEADER WANTS TO KNOW." Then she wanders away, muttering, "She is so bad." But she's not talking about Sarah Palin, she's talking about one of our cats, Tallulah, who's spent to morning trying to open a box of meringues and then started kicking yarn balls on the floor when she didn't get her way. Tallulah is on the shortlist to be McCain's Secretary of Defense, by the way.

Wallace is a little incredulous, pointing out that she, herself has admitted to not being focused on national security. McCain's rejoinder: "She was in the PTA!" This is really, really, really, just sad. As someone who harbored some admiration of John McCain in the past decade, watching him flail around, in a dim attempt to justify this pick. It's a little sad.

If he would simply say, "Reform of our government is the most vital issue we are facing," then I'd say the pick made some sense. But McCain is really doing himself no favors by pretending as if he hasn't totally conceded the experience argument. The whole thing about Obama voting "present" is a gloss-over and McCain knows it. He's a dodger of legislative duties himself, and knows the difference. He then goes on and on, basically suggesting that anyone in the world could be vice-president.

This is a little sad.

"The fact is, I've been watching her," McCain says. Hence, the private meeting with Cindy!

McCain doesn't seem to know that Palin supported the bridge to nowhere!

McCain first says that he didn't watch Obama's speech and then says that "he saw excerpts" and anyway TAXES TAXES TAXES. Wallace points out that McCain has consistently voted against the minimum wage. He says that he'll veto every bill that isn't a straight, clean piece of legislation. Which means you can look forward to hundreds of veto overrides in the McCain presidency.

Now he's railing against teacher's unions and their power: WIfe goes off: "Effing SAG is more powerful that the NEA! I wish our union was as powerful as he makes it out to be! I wish we had government under our thumb! But we are not the second coming of Jimmy Hoffa, I"m afraid! What other profession can you think of where the worker spends, on average, $1500 of their own money on supplies for their job?" I point out that her union has negotiated a tax break to recoup those monies. "That's true. I am in a better situation than most. I am talking about teachers that have to buy their students pencils. I'm talking about teachers who have to buy their students textbooks. And No Child Left Behind wants to take further funding from these schools. It's crazy. This is why qualified teachers leave the profession after such a short time. That's a national crisis. Who's talked about it in those terms? Barack Obama! John McCain says that the fracking teacher's union is the problem? He's straight up nuts."

Well Sarah Palin was on the PTA? "Why should that make me feel better?" she says, "For every helpful parent on the PTA, there's one that doesn't trust anyone and wants to run things their own way. That's like saying, 'I've been to the doctor before, so I'll be performing my own surgery now.' Okay? KUDOS TO YOU SARAH. I am spending thousands of MY OWN DOLLARS to get a degree, but okay, YOU WERE ON THE PTA. Go ahead and be Vice President, I guess."

I miss a lot of what McCain says, but I think you'll agree this is more interesting!

Oh, dear. McCain is now linking Obama to WISHES that Obama was in their pocket! And he's mad that Obama didn't vote to condemn MoveOn's ad. "CONDEMN WHAT? Their right to free speech?" my wife moans, "How are you even watching this interview? Doesn't it hurt you, deep down?"

Is McCain "milking" his POW status? Yes. "Most of my supporters say 'Talk more about it.'" Obviously, most of McCain's supporters are boring people.

McCain says that Gustav could prompt the suspension of the RNC, which is perhaps the first thing he's said that reminds me of the guy I used to respect. He shouldn't be going down there and getting underfoot, though. "We shouldn't appear festive." Of course, with all the GOPers skipping out on the convention, I don't think there's any worry about their convention appearing festive.

"What happened to your promise to run a respectful campaign?" McCain gives his stock response: "Obama refused to go to town hall meetings," so now he reaps the whirlwind! Anyway, it was all in good humor! Now, if Wallace wants my gold star for the day, he will immediately say, "But Senator McCain, you took offense at Obama's ads ridiculing you for not knowing how many homes you own!"


And he says, "Obama has the tendency to shift positions." Somewhere, the pot and the kettle are boning up on the synonyms for "black." Obsidian! Ebon! Jetty!

"Waterboarding, to me, is torture," McCain says. So disallow it's practice, please!

McCain's asked to define differences between he and Bush. One: he'd reign in spending. Two: Climate change, though his running mate, Sarah Palin, is utterly daffy-duck-doo-doo on this issue! She's nowhere near McCain on this regard! Three...and this is puzzling: "We would make sure that I address Afghanistan and our nation's security." Huh? It would take some mechanism to "make sure" he addressed that issue?

Then he forgets that Iran doesn't actually have any weapons yet. Good grief.

By the way: Carly Fiorina says that the Democrats "hold women hostage" to the abortion issue. As if criminalizing abortion and birth control, as McCain would do, doesn't hold women hostage. "That's it, then," my wife says. "A female Uncle Tom is an 'Aunt Carly.'"

Anyway, panel time, from the usual panel. They get into the Palin pick. Hume says that the pick is both wise and risky. Wise because Palin's biggest contribution is her appeal to the religious right. Risky because "she could flame out in a heartbeat." Liasson says that McCain understood the "position he was in," and that it was a smart pick. Kristol says McCain has "gone all in on Sarah Palin." It can't be understated: McCain's choice CLEARLY indicates that all the talk you've heard about the polls tightening are hoo-hah. You don't throw a hail mary early in a close game.

Juan Williams is kinda blunt: "I don't ever want to hear conservatives complain about affirmative action again." BURN. Unfortunately, he states the case that Biden needs to avoid beating her up. Again, I point out: Biden will probably, simply beat up on McCain.

Liasson says that Hillaryites are not going to vote reflexively for Palin, and is more for "the base." Frankly, I wonder how Palin plays with independent men, who would vote for McCain on the basis of his toughness - the Palin choice is a really unserious one where terrorism and national security are concerned. I'm similarly concerned about all those voters who've come to McCain through his hagiography - it's going to appear out of character for McCain to throw in his lot with a woman he barely knows.

How successful was the DNC? Kristol says that the DNC was successful but that Palin stole the news cycle. We've covered this: the real news cycle win is the fact that none of these panelists are working hard to assert their own perceptions over the ones that the vast teevee audience already have. The fact is, if I were running the McCain campaign, I'd have left a little space for the pundits to lapse into a couple days of pushback, in which they attempt to reframe the convention and its finale in terms favorable to McCain. It hasn't happened, and it's not going to happen, now. We're moving on the Gustav and Palin and the RNC. This is a win for Obama. For the want of a news cycle win, they had to abandon any substantive attack on the DNC. And look what they had to do to get the news cycle win: pick Sarah Palin! I think John McCain's made a terrible mistake!

Brit Hume brings a little bit of the real: "Let's not get carried away. Vice Presidential picks rarely make a big difference in the outcome of a election." Ha! Tell that to political dunce extraordinare Mark Halperin, who says:

"John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate will either turn out to be a brilliant way for the Republican to scramble the race in his favor -- or a disastrous pick that is cast as a desperate act."

SHORTER VERSION: The Palin pick assures that John McCain will either WIN or LOSE the election. WOW. GREAT JOB, MARK. Must be terrifying, to stand so far out on limbs that have already been blown to the ground by those gusts of hot air. Please someone pay Mark ten thousand MORE dollars.


Hoo boy. Governor Tim Pawlenty is scheduled to appear on Meet The Press' Palin-drone today. Wonder how he feels about being the bridesmaid to Palin? According to what I've read, he's not taking it very well.

Caroline has left our apartment to attend Brickfest, the Lego National Convention. She reports that it is "packed" and that they are really succeeding in drawling distinctions between Legos and the Bush administration.

TPaw - not to be confused with the 80's pop group T'Pau, who brought us "Heart and Soul," or the Vulcan starship of the same name (meeting you halfway, here, Trekkies!) - is on hand to suffer through the Palin-drone, which he probably feels keenly. "Wasn't I boring, and safe enough?" he must be lamenting, "I worked so hard to erase any vestige of personality!" TPaw is forcing some enthusiasm.

Brokaw lays it on think, with the problems facing the nation - basically saying that it may be NUTLOG that she's the pick. TPaw says she's a maverick and has executive experience. She's deeply involved in energy issues, which is shorthand for being drill-crazy. And he insists that she has as much experience about Obama.

Brokaw basically throws the neg on that argument and changes the subject, asking why not Romney? Why not Lieberman? TPaw says that she addresses the needs of blue collar Americans, and will succeed because she's been a blue-collar American. SO THERE YOU HAVE IT: Pawlenty admits that McCain cannot relate to the needs of blue-collar Americans, and needs help.

Newpapers in Alaska and Minneapolis hate Palin. Her own mother-in-law says that Palin's not ready and is an OBAMA FAN TO BOOT. But TPaw is insistent that she's awesome. To quote Anita, an emailer:

So. The people who know the most about Sarah Palin--like her mother in law, the newspaper writers in her own state, and the legislators she works with--don't think she has the education and experience to be VP--but the people who don't know anything about her, like Cindy McCain and Lindsay Graham and Karl Rove--think that she definitely does have what it takes?

I'm just saying.

And commenter Adagio, who truly has the pulse of average Americans, comments:

I think all the talking heads I've heard so far on the experience thing are missing the central issue. That issue is that the thousands of discussions around the water cooler and in the break rooms between Obama supporters and McCain supporters all of a sudden take on a whole different character. Last week when the McCainiac said, I dunno, these are perilous times I just don't know if I trust this new guy with no experience in world affairs. And the Obama fan would try to make some nuanced counter argument about maybe talking tough and waging war isn't always the best tactic. THAT discussion is now changed dramatically. Pundits may be able to say some really stupid things about Palin's experience as a the mayor of Mayberry and keep a straight face, but that's not going to wash at the water cooler.

I sort of wish Tom Brokaw had y'alls comments to read into the record in front of Pawlenty.

TPaw says Palin "compliments and amplifies" his strength, and then gets back into the fact that Palin, unlike McCain, could perhaps relate to middle-class Americans. As far as women goes, Palin says she'll break that 18-million cracked glass ceiling. I'm guessing she will! After all, you got to fully remove that broken glass in order for McCain to reinforce the glass ceiling with a new pane of three-inch plexiglass!

TPaw complains that Obama is never asked why he wouldn't choose a pro-life running mate. That's true! However, it's also true that pro-choice is not the radical, fringe position with regard to the American electorate. And it probably wouldn't be asked of McCain if he hadn't baited the question by flirting with Ridge and Lieberman. Anyway, Brokaw throws down by saying, "Uhm, actually, we have asked about it. Thanks, though."

And, oh yeah. Palin's a nutlog creationist. "Allow all theories to be presented!" Pawlenty says. Let children make up their own minds. Can't we say the same about everything? Shouldn't we teach children then, that Neil Armstrong landed on soft green cheese?

I love how Pawlenty passes the buck! If he were a Senator, he'd probably say, "This is a state issue." But he's a governor, so his great puss-out is to say "This is a local issue." If he were a city councilman, he'd probably say, "This is up to the neighborhood watch patrol."

Bottom line: if you ever go to a doctor and he says he's a creationist, GET THE FRACK OUT OF THERE. You will be killed by his belief in booga-foo sorcery.

I don't think science or sorcery has harnessed a power of sucking equal to Tim Pawlenty.

Many readers apparently had difficulty finding the liveblog today. To guard against this, you can bookmark the HuffPolitics page or my personal page, and you will never have trouble again, until we change all the URLs, anyway. And then I'll just let you know again.

Kelly O'Donnell says McCain is racing off to the Gulf to get in the way of hurricane efforts in a quixotic attempt to prove McCain has "reaction time." It's the typical mistaking of activity for achievement, and probably the pundits will be over the moon, lambast Obama for not caring, and never think to call McCain presumptuous.

Anyway, panel time! With Maria Bartiromo, Kelly O'Donnell, Mike Murphy, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell. Bartiromo, presciently, had interviewed Palin previously.

We get right into Palin, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. Goodwin says that McCain's position, that a Veep "inquires daily about the health of a President and attends funerals" is an "old, wack idea that is no longer relevant. This is why I love DKG, she drops terms like "wack" into the discussion, where you wouldn't expect. She recalls that McCain said that he vowed to pick someone who'd be ready to assume the Presidency. She also calls into question the vetting process. Of course, there doesn't appear to have been one. "I think it's a very strange choice."

Murphy allows that McCain's picked a "maverick," but it puts McCain's experience argument "in a weaker position." He notes that Palin is likely to be a big hit with the convention-goers, but, he says, "In the tough business of practical politics, you don't care how happy your voters are, you care about how many voters you are going to get."

Will Palin draw the Clinton votes? Mitchell says that she's not appealing to the same women as Clinton, but could peel off blue-collar women. This is also interesting stuff from Mitchell, noting that McCain wanted to throw a "long ball" but was forced to use the right's playbook. McCain's co-opted Obama's argument of change, abandoned the experience argument, demonstrated his adaptability, highlighted his decision-making, BUT: "It doesn't get to how he would govern."

Bartiromo says that Palin's biggest winning point is her "expertise in energy" - but she want's to drill in ANWR! And only stupid people believe that drilling in ANWR would be of significant - indeed, ANY - benefit to Americans. It would, in fact, NOT. So, if that's Palin's "comfort zone," as Bartiromo suggests, then things just got a whole lot more comfortable for Obama/Biden.

Besides, isn't John McCain against drilling in ANWR? Oh, who cares? John McCain and his positions on issues today clearly have no real-world meaning at all. Bartiromo insists that Palin is smart on the economy. We shall see.

Bartiromo says that Palin got along well with "the people on the ground." Uhm, Maria? Could we not just emptily intone military talking points when they aren't necessary? Unless there is a race of left-leaning levitating Inuits, then all Alaskans are "people on the ground."

David Gregory says that now independent voters can "vote for history without voting for Barack Obama." Seriously, David Gregory. What are you talking about? Voters vote their values. There is not a single voter in America who thought they were trapped into voting for Barack Obama because they wanted to "vote for history." Can you imagine? "Oh, no!" David Gregory's imaginary voter says, "I really don't like Obama's positions on anything, BUT I MUST HONOR HISTORY." All Presidential elections serve to steer history. That's maybe the stupidest thing I've heard today.

Murphy says that "the officer class of the Republican party" was very "unsettled" by Obama's speech. He also throws water on the "Puma" theory. Murphy says the key is keeping attention off her "social issues," otherwise, she'll be an anchor.

Oy, DKG says that Biden has to worry about beating up on a girl. For the third time, I'd just tell Biden to beat up on McCain. No one's adopting Palin's policies, and you don't need to debate her biography.

Murphy says that McCain needs ticket-splitters to win - McCain voters who'll vote Democrat downticket - and that Palin's creationism isn't going to garner those votes.

Palin likes moose stew. That's a matter Brokaw has decided is worth bringing up. But they make better moose stew in Canada, where I'm moving to regardless of who wins the election, because MY GOD WILL WE EVER HAVE AN ADULT DISCUSSION EVER AGAIN?

Drink every time you hear a pundit say "hockey mom." And drink strychnine.

Murphy allows that experience isn't entirely off the table, but that the argument is harder. What Adagio said. More troubling though, is Murphy saying that Obama officials, "expect the press to make Palin famous in a bad way." That's not very good thinking on the part of the Obama campaign.

Bartiromo says that Palin wants to be a "champion for women." I wish Caroline was here to groan at that. Paging Aunt Carly!

Well, we get to the end of the show and it's been all Palin-all-the-time, with goodly amounts of skepticism, and Murphy warning that any gaffe would be a killer gaffe. Meanwhile, Obama's convention gets through Sunday without being subjected to a lot of media critique. That was a media cycle, lost wisely.

We're going to leave it there, and we wish everyone in the Gulf Coast region the best. Please be safe.