07/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Well, hello there and welcome to another edition of Your Sunday Morning Liveblog, our chronicle of the comings and going and sayings and doings upon the television as various teevee pundits and politicians battle it out for crotch supremacy. My name is Jason, and I'll be your host through the morning -- the first ever iteration of these shows in the post-analog-to-digital teevee conversion era. I haven't much in the way of preamble today, other than to say, as usual, that liveblog readers always have the special opportunity to leave comments, send me an email, or follow me on the twitter. I realize that really, these aren't special opportunities, that anyone can do any of those things. Rest assured, I will like libeblog readers the best, when thye do any of those things. Pot sweetened?

Okay, speaking of sweet, sweet pot, it's time for the show that comes on first in my neck of the woods...


Oh, and for your Iranian election news, refresh these pages: HuffPost's Iran Liveblog, Juan Cole, Andrew Sullivan, Spencer Ackerman, Talking Points Memo, Gary Sick, Laura Rozen, Marc Lynch, and the Twitter page of ABC News Jim Sciutto. If you have a favorite source for news, feel free to let me know.

Anyway, today on The Real Housewives Of Fox News Sunday: Health Care! Who will pay for it? Probably not Chuck Dodd and Charles Grassley. And the panel recommends bombing everyone!

Wallace says the "debate over health care really got going this week." This week? I think people without health care have been debating this for a long time. Anyway, Wallace asks Grassley if the White House's spending cuts are realistic, and Grassley says he can't put a figure on the money and the there's "stuff" coming out of the White House that haven't been scored by the CBO.

Dodd says there will be a "patient Senate probing." As opposed to the typical frenzied, Ecstacy-fueled probings that have frankly left me unsatisfied and unable to walk. Anyway, Dodd thinks that cutting waste, spurring wellness, and targeting prevention will bring down costs.

Something I've learned from past experience with this: I'd love to see someone with actuarial know-how vet whatever health care policy comes out of the Congress.

Wallace asks Dodd: Should a family of four making $110,000/year have the government pick up the tab on health care costs? Dodd says that the "number could be high" and that it's subject to negotiation. But that comes from his amendment! Of course, maybe that number is too high, but will the government be there to keep that family from going into crippling debt if something tragic or costly happens to a member of that family? Grassley notes that those cost equations were lower for S/CHIP and so everyone should know it's a non-starter.

Public option? Seems to me that the opposition to the public option is that it will be an unwieldy and inneffective government program. Or wait! Sorry. The opposition is that the public option will be the clear competitive winner in the marketplace and wreck the private insurance industry! These two ideas seem self-negating! OH NOES! Okay, the public option will turn us all into KILLER CLOWNS! We'll just go with that.

What about taxing health care benefits? Grassley says it could happen, but notes that Obama stood on his head to criticize McCain's proposal to do the same thing and it will look sort of idiotic for him to propose it, now. Dodd says taxing health benefits is a dealbreaker, ladies!

Wallace makes fun of Charles Grassley's ANGRY TWITTERINGS. Last week's joke! But okay: HE IS NAIL! Meanwhile, Chris Dodd's wife: is she society's greatest monster, with all her board-serving? Dodd says she's not, and she won't be stepping down from any of them. ANY OF THEM! Rest assured, random boards.

Meanwhile, is the system of capitalist free enterprise under attack? UHM NO IT IS NOT. But Thomas Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce thinks maybe it is? Or maybe not. He says he's running a "positive campaign!" And he says that it's got nothing to do specifically with Obama, despite the fact that's how Wallace advanced the argument twice. I think he said, "That's your bag?" That can't be right.

Anyway, Wallace points out that he supported all sorts of wheelbarrows of taxpayer dollars going to the financial sector and the auto industry. Sure! But why all the "rules" and "accountability?" Sure! We make churches tax-exempt but no one tries to regulate God! The same situation should obviously apply to the titans of finance. Did they get it terribly wrong and nearly wreck the economy? Sure! But think of that as their "Great Flood." And we didn't even have to round up animals or build boats, did we? SEE THE SYSTEM WORKS.

So, AIG can give bonuses? Donohue says you have to pay your very best people! But what if the very best people you have are Poop Monsters, like at AIG? GIVE THEM ALL THE MONEYS, sayeth Donohue.

"It's all about people...if you don't have the horses, you don't have much of a circus," says Donohue, who speaks to America as if he's penning a series of strange "Successories" posters. "I would say we did the responsible thing," Donohue says. Yeah, he helped with the bailout, but surely the economy is fixed, now, CAN HE HAVE THE MONEYS?

Panel time! Bill Kristol looks like someone said something mean to him a minute ago! No smarmy smile! Hume says that HA HA, SUCK IT OBAMA DREAMS OF DIPLOMACY! He also suggests that the "Ahmadinejad carried Moussavi's hometown," as if to say it was a sign of the nation's overall intractability - but the example's he's citing is seen aas evidence of fraud! Liasson says that the Obama administration had planned to handle Iran in whatever form it took, post-election. Kristol says that Iran should be considered an unambiguously "jihadist" "war party" regime and it's time to start bombing. And Juan Williams shrugs, saying, "Aw shucks, how do you negotiate with this regime?" At Wallace's prompting, Williams seems to remember that the Iranian President doesn't set the table on foreign policy.

Kristol says that Obama needs to support the reformers, unequivocally. Now, he wants Obama to reach out to the American people. It's tempting, to pick winners, but there's actually a pretty good reason for Obama to keep America's fingerprints off of this! Via Spencer:

The strongly anti-Ahmedinejad Hadi Ghaemi, New York-based spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, explains why that's a mistake.

Robert Gibbs' White House statement may not fully capture the depth of the crime committed against the Iranian people. "But I think it's wise for the U.S. government to keep its distance," Ghaemi says. The White House can and should "show concern for human life and protesters' safety and promote tolerance and dialogue." But to get any further involved, even rhetorically, would "instigate the cry that the reformers are somehow driven and directed by the U.S., whether under Bush or under Obama, and there's no reason to give that unfounded allegation" any chance to spread.

Ghaemi continues to say that the international community should present a united front that gives "no legitimacy" to the election. In particular, he wants U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to express "serious grievances" about how the election was conducted. "Sanctions and military threats, all these things are counterproductive," Ghaemi says. The initiative has to be expressed and promoted by the Iranians themselves, particularly from Mir Hossein Moussavi and other exponents of popular Iranian outrage. "It very much depends on what leading reformers, including Moussavi, ask them to do, and how much responsibility do they take for exposing them to danger. If they put their tails between their legs and walk away, it will be very sad."

And, back to health care! Hume says the Democrats are "losing momentum" on health care because the opposition to health care reform is "forming and coalescing" in greater strength. Liasson thinks that the "public option" obstacle seems to be softening, but the "paying for it" obstacle is looming large. To fix it, Obama will have to "climb down from campaign promises." Kristol, naturally, thinks the plan will be a "ridiculous idea." And truly, why won't more Americans with no hope of affording health care embrace the great human dignity of crawling off into the woods to die?

Williams stands up hard for "agressive and affirmative" government action on reform, and suggests that Obama needs to sell it more strongly than he's been doing. Liasson says we need to take smaller steps! Hume says "co-ops are a wonderful idea!" And that's the conventional Beltway wisdom on health care: a grand debate between advocates of hyper-timid incrementalism and advocates of designed-to-fail half-assedness. And this is why life just keeps getting better and better!

Oh and this week, Wallace went BASS FISHIN' with his POWER PLAYER OF THE WEEK, because what does he have to worry about? He's not some Iranian college student or healthcareless American!


Aw, yeah! Meet The Press in Delaware -- land of evil, evil toll plazas, half my wife's family, and JOE BIDEN, who's dropping BIDEN SCIENCE on the teevees! Let's get to it!

What does Biden think about Iran? Is Ahmadinejad the winner? Biden says that "there seems to be real doubt" and that it's all about the wait and see...but "on it's face" it's not clear what happened. He says the U.S. is doing what every other country is doing -- withholding comment.

Biden admits now that Ahmadinejad has proven to be "more durable" than he once thought, and attributes that durability to decisions on the part of the religioud leaders.

Is the regime emboldened, or weakened? Biden says that even if he won the election fair and square, it's clear that he has "trouble at home" and "real domestic critics." How will the U.S. engage with Iran, going forward. Biden states that "talks with Iran are not a reward for good behavior," rather, they are borne out of a need to pursue American interests. Gregory asks if Obama is going to be the "President that allows to go nuclear," and Biden, incredulously, responds that "we are going to stop Iran from going nuclear, God willing, no one is going to allow Iran to go nuclear." Should I take this to mean, "obtain nuclear weapons" or "achiever nuclear energy?"

As far as North Korea goes, Biden suggests that there's little value to sitting around, trying to guess their motives, as opposed to "dealing with the reality," which is that NK poses a proliferation threat.

On the Laura Ling/Euna Lee matter, Biden suggests that discussing the matter would be counterproductive to the interests of those women.

Biden says that the administration's job claims model comes from an econometric model that no one is arguing about, but Gregory rightly points out that they are. Biden hangs his hat on the slackening pace of job losses. Gregory asks if they oversold the plan, given that they had projected to keep unemployment rate to 8% and then reverse. The unemployment rate is now 9.2%. Biden says he used expert intelligence to calibrate the model, and it just turns out everyone was wrong. It should be pointed out: ALL THE EXPERTS SAID + BIG PROMISES MADE = IT TURNS OUT EVERYONE WAS WRONG is an equation that sounds awfully RUN-UP-TO-THE-IRAQ-WAR-ESQUE.

Biden disputes the contention that they promised to release the whole stimulus kit and kaboodle out the door by now, patiently explaining to Gregory how government contracts work.

What about the budget? Biden says that despite the panic over the BIG NUMBERS, it should be noted that those big numbers are out in the public because they've been removed from their hiding place. How do they pay for health care? Eliminating tax cuts, pegging the tax rate on the wealthy to Reagan era rates, cutting waste in the Medicare system. Biden says the line in the sand against taxing existing health plans remains in place.

If there's no public plan in the bill, will Obama sign it? Biden says the President will evaluate the "totality" of whatever bill comes his way.

How much government intervention is too much? Biden asks how the hell America is supposed to continue on without fundamental changes in policies like energy and healthcare.

Biden says that the auto industry intervention was done to prevent massive unemployment, and the bank bailout was done to prevent total systemic failure. Will taxpayers see money from these transactions? Biden says yes, but won't say whether we'll be repaid in full.

Are we straight dissing Israel? Biden says no, we are unconditionally tied to Israel, but that we are also tied to the roadmap. Gregory suggests that settlement reduction is the only demand that's been made on any party, and Biden says that's not true, that the Palestinians have been charged with enabling Israel's security by not dropping bombs on them.

Then they all sit around reading Richard Wolffe's book, because why not?

What about the GOP? Biden more or less begs off talking about the matter. What about Dick Cheney, does he want, as Leon Panetta has suggested, America to get attacked again to prove his policies? Biden says he won't question Cheney's motives, only that his judgement on policy matters is wrong.

Biden doesn't exactly suggest he's given up on his Presidential aspirations, by the way. Thankfully Gregory spares us the usual, LET'S ASK HIM IF HE'S RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT A BILLION TIMES schtick.

And now, Mike Murphy and Joe Scarborough are on hand to help pimp Scarborough's book discuss the future of the Republican party. I'll need longtime viewers of this show to remind me how MEET THE PRESS's roundtables on the "future of the Democratic" party went back in 1993.

Scarborough and Murphy agree that health care is the big news. Scarborough says that "thinking big" is both a boon to Obama and his greatest obstacle. Murphy seems to have divined from Biden's talk that the "tumblers are clicking" on a walkback of the public option. I didn't infer the same thing. Of course, when Murphy said "tumblers are clicking," I thought at first he was talking about blogs.

PRAISE FOR GREGORY: He actually seems to understand that Obama's Iran-engagement policy is COIN writ large. Isolate Iran through overtures. Paint them as dead enders. Scarborough sees it the same way: Obama's Cairo speech, he believes, spooked the Iranian clerical regime into fixing the election, and predicts a short term problem but a long term positive outcome for the U.S., because Iran's overreach is going to be evident to everyone.

Neither Murphy or Scarborough thinks the administration can keep getting by on hanging their hats on "econometrics," though Scarborough allows that it's not realistic to expect the stimulus to have worked it's way through to arresting the employment rate yet, and that voters are going to give Obama at least "another six months."

Scarborough is asked about the "difference between conservatism and Republicanism," and he says that it's about "tough choices" about "restraint," which conservatives do but Republicans don't -- an example being the GOP's runaway spending. Murphy believes that Obama's going to blow out the budget, but that no one in the GOP wants to face political pain when they could keep appropriating.

My problem with Scarborough here is that he talks about the current power arrangement as one that "NOW" features a White House giving his political allies in Congress carte-blanche to do whatever they want. He realizes that the years 1992-1998 actually happened, right?

Mike Murphy says that the demographics of the country are all running against the GOP right now, and without some sort of "modernization," the party is going to die. He specifically notes that the youth don't like the GOP and that the GOP has really done a bang up job alienating Hispanic voters, the fastest growing segment of voters in the country.

Gregory asks about Sarah Palin and the "big news" that she made "taking on David Letterman." Dear God. That's big news? The point I've been continually making is that Sarah Palin really needs to learn to not do things like get into gutter fights with teevee comedians. As vicious as the jokes were, going all in for a fight with David Letterman is a straight up waste of political strength and time. But try telling that to Palin's most frenzied supporters, who've all been emailing me this week to tell me that PALIN/LETTERMAN is their FROST/NIXON.


I realize that I tend to linger on MEET THE PRESS a lot by dint of the fact that it always gets TiVoed and I can pause and whatnot. Just for fun, this week I thought I'd break from the "liveblog" mold a bit more dramatically to allow a similar focus on THIS WEEK.

Kathleen Sebellius and Mitt Romney, woo! That means, health care and future of GOP talk, like always!

So, Sebellius! What's the bottom line on this "firm commitment" to not increase the deficit over the next decade. Sebellius says Obama is "very serious" about health care reform and thinks it swell how "engaged" the Congress is. GS asks if Obama will accept a health care proposal that fails to pay for every dime of cost. Sebellius says that Obama wants a bill that's paid for, and does not want to increase the deficit. "The problem is," she says, "we cannot sustain the current system." "Doing nothing has a huge cost," she says.

But will he send it back, if there is a fly in his health care bisque? "He wants Congress to pay for it," Sebellius says. And she's not willing to make a veto threat.

What about taxing health care bennies? Will he reverse himself on a campaign brickbat he wielded to great effect on McCain? Sebellius says that taxing those benefits would discourage their provision, which is not something they want to do.

"There are a lot of people who think that if we do nothing, it will be okay," Sebellius says, "It will not be okay." It will be okay for Congress, though! They get free health care! The system works!

Anyway, public option. So many people would want it! No one would buy private insurance anymore. But doesn't that mean the private insurance is bad? No, SIMULTANEOUSLY, remember, the public option, according to critics, would be the worse plan. I know, CONFUSING.

"Republicans don't seem eager to sign on" to the public option, GS says, citing the fact that all the Republicans except one on the Finance Committee are against it. Really? There's at least one Republican on the finance committee that's for it? Let's apply some perspective: I have to say: given the way the public voted in the last election, the current electoral insignificance of the GOP, and the sizable majorities the Dems have in both houses of Congress, then that one Republican, to my mind, is PLENTY of Republicans. I think that America has pretty much demonstrated that the overall political relevance of the GOP Finance Committee members hoverse somewhere between "slim" and "none."

But to bridge a gap that the nation has deemed irrelevant, Kent Conrad's whipped up some classic half-steppin' -- health care co-ops! What's Sebellius' take? She says that Conrad's spirit of competition is nice! GS points out that other Dems like Nancy Pelosi don't like co-ops being pawned off as a public plan. Sebellius isn't going to mark territory, though. She cites other public health plans that have lived alongside private ones without the world ending in a rain of hellfire and Leninism.

But what does Mitt Romney think? He thinks the GOP should reject the public option. I obviously don't know enough about what they did in Massachusetts, but I thought it represented government intervention. Romney is making it sound like Massachusetts is a bustling marketplace of cheap private insurance. If that's the case, then why was he touting something he did to healthcare? Anyway, he says Obama's plan is Trojan Horse, so SUCK IT, KING PRIAM.

"Every Republican and every thinking Democat who knows anything about the private sector" would know that government health care is bad, Romney says. Oh, yeah. Private sector health care is awesome! It's great to live in a country where people have to use Twitter and count on celebrities to save a person's life! I think we can all look at how having to resort to those types of measures demonstrates the surpassing wisdom of the private sector and what it has provided.

GS says, that without a public plan to help reduce costs, Romney's vaunted insurance expansion has led to runaway health care costs in his state. Romney says, OH WELL, MASSACHUSETTS IS AN EXPENSIVE PLACE. The premium, he says, has been cut in half. Great, Mitt! Oh, that's such good news! And the other attendant household health care costs? How they doing?

Romney says that government companies make no sense! "We'd have a government clothing company! And a government car company?" Well, we have a government car company now!

But what if for some reason, millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, could no longer afford clothes? Do you think the government would sit by and allow a sizable portion of the populace to just wander the streets naked? I guess Romney would, because he's a fraud-bot pervert.

"We can get our private industry to creat better products and better services," Romney says, leaving me to wonder why a) it hasn't occured to private industry to do that and b) what he'd do to spur it -- sit back and cheer attaboys?

Now we move on the national security, which Romney has always been really bad on, in my opinion. Two weeks ago, Romney was on teevee saying, "OMGZ we need more missile defenses in Alaska, to help fight against North Korean nukes that need to be painstakingly assembled and moved to a launch pad over several days and which a single plane can take out one by one and which can't seem to fly out of the Sea Of Japan even if we all take a week-long nap and ignore NK entirely." But, Mitt, what would more missile defenses accomplish? ROMNEYBOT NO NEED ANSWER! TALKING POINT SUFFICIENT! WE ARE THE DALEKS! EXTERMINATE!

On the administration's reaction to the Iranian election mess, Romney says that Obama's comment that there was a robust debate going on in Iran was wrongheaded. But last week, THERE WAS A ROBUST DEBATE GOING ON IN IRAN!

Basically, Mitt Romney thinks that the Obama administration should do precisely what experts suggest they ought not do - put their fingerprints all over the reform movement and take away their legitimacy by making them appear to be the puppets of the U.S. Romney says that the state of the world has been wrecked by Obama's "apology tour," but he cites a ton of conditions that Bush policies made a fait accompli. Naturally, it's hard to say what Romney would do. GS argues the opposite, citing the electoral reversal in Lebanon. Romney says, "I can't tell you what led to people running in the streets in Iran." So, where things are going poorly, Romney can definitively blame Obama's outreach and foreign policy, but where things are going well, the picture is muddied!

GS has to correct Romney again, for suggesting that Obama had said in Cairo that no single nation could deny another one a nuclear weapon. He was actually talking about nuclear power. Romney seems to have missed the fact that Obama, along with Dick Lugar, have been leaders on all sorts of non-proliferation policies, which are...uhm - A SINGLE NATION DENYING OTHERS NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

But what would Romney do now, if he was president? Well, by the sounds of it, he'd keep on criticizing Obama. He never answers what HE WOULD DO, and frankly, that's okay, because I want to get to sleep tonight without those sorts of horrifying thoughts.

Anyway, who speaks for the GOP? Is it healthy for the Limbaugh-Gingrich-Cheney axis to take the lead? Romney says that it's great to have a lot of voices, yelling and yelling, inside a Pie-Tanza. He says that people like Bob O'Donnell in Virginia are going to display the energy and passion needed to pick up seats. O'Donnell's passions seem to tend toward the frisky!

But, Mitt, Mike Murphy says that no one likes you anymore, and that young, educated Latinos hate you the most? Romney says, WE WILL NOT CHANGE PRINCIPLES, we will just keep mouthing them in different ways. SPANISH MAYBE? Romney says that one of the advantages to having so many GOP voices speaking is that they can find one that can get the point across. But what if the public can five ten more that like to yell about how Sonia Sotomayor is an uppity Latina?

Will Romney run again? And will he do anything about the crippling credibility problems he had before? Probably not, he will probably get new crippling problems, from the private sector.

I think it's hilarious that anyone in the Romney campaign saw him as a "Economy Mr. Fix It" considering he won the Michigan primary on the strength of some intense pandering and surreal promise-making, where he told Michigan he would bring back the auto industry with his MAGICKS.

Panel Time! With George Will, Kim Strassel, Ron Brownstein, and Donna Brazile. What does George Will think about the debate between Sebellius and Romney? WAIT, THAT WAS A DEBATE? News to everybody! Anyway, Will hates the "public option," but he a) conflates "public option" with "single payer" and b) even knowing that doesn't seem smart enough to pick a single argument against it, just a bunch of different ones: he says that the government can't claim to keep the private sector honest because the government's budgets aren't honest, except the most recent budget is devoid of gimmicks, and that the relative honesty of government doesn't remove the pressing public need of keeping the private sector honest. He also wonders if there's any point to a public option if it's only going to be one more option in a market of choices - but if that's the case, he'd surely not be too worried about the public option. It would just succeed or fail on its market merits.

Anyway, Will's happy with the status quo, and why not, he's an old rich man.

Anyway, Brownstein doesn't think that a public option does not have to be a central component of industry reform. Rather, the reform that's afoot merely seeks to mandate insurance for everyone after winning key reforms from the insurance industry, including the pernicious "pre-existing condition" rules.

Will says that the uninsured can be insured with magic debit cards, and a willingness to go into crippling debt or, as I said before, crawl off into the wilderness to die, like the mighty American buffalo. WHY CAN'T AMERICANS LEARN TO BE MAJESTIC BEASTS?

Stephanopoulos stops Ron Brownstein from providing analysis, because "that's not where the politics are." It's good to recognize that we are inside the Beltway, where cogent analysis takes a backseat to SHINY SHINY.

Strassel says that all previous reform attempts to reform have failed, so why bother. MAKE LIKE THE BUFFALO, PEOPLE!

As long as we're talking about the politics, a question. There are legislators on the left who want single payer. There are legislators on the right who want no government intervention at all. And yet it's only the left that's said to be on a "slippery slope" to somewhere dangerous. When the right draws a line, no one ever acknowleges the consequences of their having done so. They are treated as the sensible rock in the road that everyone must get around. I wish the opposite could live in an equivalent space, where people would have to publicly explain why they are okay with Americans not having insurance to pay for life-saving medicine.

Meanwhile Iran. Will says that the election is a disaster for Obama. Brazile suggests that a tangible democracy has been unleashed on the streets of Iran. Brownstein suggests that the election says there's a substantial reform constituency that's now locked in battle with a status quo. Kim Strassel can't pronounce Ahmadinejad.

Will says the young demographics are running against the "medievalists." This appears to be the case in Iran as well.

Meanwile, Palin v. Letterman! Strassel says Letterman shouldn't have been surprised at the blowback he got, and that this will probably disappear. Brazile says Letterman should have backed away from the joke, but that this is all good news for Palin. I think short term, she gains advantages, but I fully endorse Ron Brownstein's statement (which is in itself a full endorsement of my opinion on this matter): "In the long run, it is a mistake for Sarah Palin to get into an extended battle with a late night comedian...ultimately, she needs to be defining herself on the national stage by weighing in on the health care bill or cap and trade...she is being covered now as more as a celebrity, and not a political leader." That's pretty much it, right there!

And that's it for this here liveblog. Please consider keeping some of those Iran election sources I mentioned at the top of this in your browsers, and again, any good sources that you can share with each other (and with me!) would be greatly appreciated. I'm greatly cheered by the passion of those who are fighting for a fair election, while simultaneously afraid for their well being. But their story might not get told without all of us doing what we can to witness it. Even if it comes in fleeting glimpses, the mere act of paying some attention to what is going on can assists the cause of reform and democracy. Wishing everyone the best for the week ahead.