07/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Good morning America, and welcome to your Sunday Morning Liveblog of political-minder chit and chat. My name is Jason. Today, whilst liveblogging, I commend you all to CNN's Reliable Sources. There, our own Nico Pitney will be talking with Howard Kurtz and the smoking-jacketed Louche of the Post of Washington, Dana Milbank. As you may know, Nico is History's Greatest Monster for knowing a lot about Iran and its ongoing revolt, and having the audacity of agreeing to pose a question to the president. I shall not be watching, because of these liveblog duties, but y'all should. Then come back and read this. Then go off and hike the Appalachian Trail for real, maybe. Why not?

Actually, it's because of matters like this that we shall be upgrading our TiVo-power this summer, which will hopefully allow me to bring you more coverage of Sunday Morning. In the meantime, sit back, relax, watch Nico, drink coffee, and plan an excellent Sunday, while letting me wade into this mess for you. As always, you are encouraged to leave comments, send emails, and follow me, on the Twitter. We begin, as fate has decreed we must, with FOX NEWS SUNDAY: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN.


Bret Baier is in for Chris Wallace, who's off doing Infinite Summer or something. Health Care Reform and Mark Sanford, woo.

Baier has one of Robert Gibbs ties on and he's joined by Kathleen Sebellius. Will Obama sign a bill that will not include the public option (that everyone wants)? Sebellius says that he won't sign any bill that won't bring down costs. As for co-ops, Sebellius says "all serious options should be on the table."

BUT OMGZ! Paul Ryan is worried that people will start behaving as if the free market was just invented! Sebellius says that the bill will "build on the current system, not dismantle it." That's great! Who'd want to dismantle our current, awesome system of health care?

But what about Obama's one-time opposition to taxing employee benefits? He beat McCain about the head with that, and now, it's one of those "serious options on the table." Sebellius avers that Obama has his own preferences. Nevertheless, bills with those taxes could end up on Obama's desk! Sebellius basically wends and winds her way around the whole issue -- it's not his preference, but, uhhh, how about we tax people at the same level that they were under Ronald Reagan? SHINY SHINY! REAGAN SHINY!

BUT THE CARE? COULD IT BE RATIONED? It's kind of "rationed" now, in that millions of people get no healthcare! Sebellius points this out, and also points out the way pre-existing conditions keep people from getting care in the first place.

Will the president make with tort reform? No. Just what he said to the AMA. No caps on malpractice suits.

How about we all get immunized against H1N1 Pig Flu Plague? Sebellius says there will be a program in the fall. One million people in the U.S. are infected, but the lethality of the disease has been low.

Now here's Mitch McConnell! He says that the government will kill the health insurance companies of America! Surely all will mourn the benevolent angels of Kaiser Permanente!

McConnell says that an alternative is to "target what is askew in the [health care] system." What's not askew, though? OH RIGHT: this is the "finest health care system in the world," so long as the "world" does not include all the health care systems that vastly outperform our own.

On energy, suddenly McConnell loves French people, because they build lots of nuclear power plants, and he thinks we need some more in America. Of course, this is the same guy who said stuff like, NO WAY CAN WE BRING MAGICAL TERRORISTS TO AMERICA and let slip the dogs of NIMBY. Anyway, I look forward to McConnell suggesting that many nuclear power plants and waste dumps be built in his hometown. It will be just like France, except with inferior American healthcare treating all the radiation burns.

Meanwhile! Iraq withdrawal is happening! I think? Will we make the deadline? General Ray Odierno says yes, everything is right on schedule.

But the recent uptick in violence? Odierno says it hasn't impacted the overall stability. Iraqi citizens remain hardened against extremists, who are seeking attention. In May, there was the lowest level of violent incidents in Iraq. "This is the right time to turn responsibility over to the Iraqis." Odierno is "fairly confident" in Iraq's security, local governance, central government, and the spirit of the population.

BUT WHY WON'T THE IRAQIS SLOBBER ALL OVER HOW GREAT AMERICA IS? Baier has a sad that Nouri al Maliki is still calling us "foreign occupiers," but he can't draw Odierno into his emo weepfest. Baier wants to know if he's nice to Odierno in private. Odierno says that they've been partners, and it's time for the balance of responsibility to fall on Iraqis.

How does Iraq feel about Iran? Odierno says that Iraqis are watching, being patient, and developing a confidence in their own government, comparatively. He says that Iraqis want to "control their own destiny." Baier is worried that Iran will fill the vacuum. Should have been worried about that before the invasion, Bret, like I was!

Panel Time! What about the climate change bill? Brit Hume says that nobody's worried about climate change anymore and that climate change deniers are awesome, and isn't it still cold somewhere in the world, so the Senate will stop it, and he will twiddle his nipples in delight. Kristol thinks that massive unemployment is a winning issue for the party that caused it, so, bring it on. Juan Williams is happy that someone finally did something about climate change, and highlights the fact that the bill also is a significant path off foreign energy sources. He predicts passage in the Senate, and decries the lack of "intellectual energy of the GOP."

Watching Brit Hume talk about "energy" is the world's greatest irony. His part of the dialogue is a weekly battle against thermodynamics.

Meanwhile, y'all realize that we livin' in MARK SANFORD'S WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER 2009, right? Oh, yeah! Sexytime in Argentina: the Mark Sanford "jobs bill." Hume says that his presidential hopes are "dashed" and that he's a "laughingstock." That's because Sanford's not owning it! He needs to start governing with some Buenos Aires flava! Borrow one of Dana Milbank's smoking jackets! Start a new South Carolina tourism campaign:


Kristol says that Obama's policy of engagement with Iran, if Ahmadinejad retains power, is over, and that the "Washington Post's op ed page" has weighed in on the "serious path" in Iran. WOO! Fred Hiatt's merry band of morons have busted out their crayons and drawn a picture of seriousness, in Iran!


It's been a while since we checked in with this show, so we'll tune in and hope for the best.

First, though, we check in with dear liveblog friend Chris Blakely:

Boy, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sure avoided Bret Baier's question about how Governor Sanford's affair and bizarre behavior would impact the Republican Party like it was contaminated with the Swine Flu! Instead, Mitch thinks the American people want elected officials to focus on the peoples' business, like Health Care reform, Supreme Court appointees, etc.

How refreshing! Too bad that wasn't Republican leaders' perspective during Clinton's impeachment! Of course, one might expect a different answer from the former chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics.

True that. Man, do you remember when Mitch McConnell was in charge, of THE ETHIX? Damn, but we did buck wild in the well of the Senate! Still, I think that McConnell's unwillingness to talk about it is the fact that Mark Sanford is the New American King David!

Ahh, remember when Mark Sanford moved in you? And the holy dove was moving too? And every breath you drew was hallelujah? WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER 2009, people!

Melissa Palladino reports from the Nico Pitney appearance on CNN:

nothing to do with MTP or anything...but holy cow those two w/ Nico are effing douchebags. How can asking a question from the Iranian people be collusion with the White House? I mean, if those two were actually doing their jobs and paying attention to Iran they might have been asked the second question too. Color them jealous. Geh.

I basically agree, but let's remember, "paying attention to Iran" is not the job of Howard Kurtz or Dana Milbank, and let's face it, we should all be thankful that's the case. It's not the sort of work I like seeing done by martinets.

Anyhoo! Today, on the CMS, we got Katty Kay, Dan Rather, Helene Cooper, and David Ignatius, so naturally, LET'S TALK ABOUT MICHAEL JACKSON! Gah! I have to say, no one's life and travails, and now death, has, in my lifetime, inspired quite the pageant of phantasmogoria as Michael Jackson.

I must confess, though, that I find this news story to be redundant. I made my peace with the death of Michael Jackson years ago, when he stopped making music and started producing high-gloss, unlistenable turds and became the Official Were-Wraith of Pop, a hollow and ghost-like husk, into which goopy, vulgar celebrity was poured in order to give him the semblance of animation. Anyway, now that husk no longer shambles around our dimension, but sadly, I think think the uncontaminated soul of a troubled genius left this plane a long time ago. Sadly, there'll likely be a freakshow blitz of borderline repugnant post-death exploitation all over the media now, so our memory of the alien ant farm that took up residence inside MJ is likely to persist over that of the sweet kid who dizzyingly catapulted R&B ahead into the future.

But hey! Health care! Wasn't there some stuff about that? "This is the year," Dan Rather says, "It's time to do it." And Rather, I think is right: Obama's going to have to own the issue, steer it into being. I don't know if that's what's happening. Rather suggests there's value in giving out a "patina" that Congress is brewing up the reform...but right now, I think that Congress is more than likely to pulp reform into some horrible incrementalist blob. But Rather's right. Gotta be this year, and Obama can't be passive.

Kay can't see a "grand compromise" in the offing, and like Rather, thinks that Obama's going to have to do some heavy lifting. Kay glances on the matter of who takes the lumps politically...I think Obama's well nigh upon useless if he's not willing to risk getting roughed up. Last time I checked, he won an election decisively, right? And does he have a credible opponent on the horizon? So, I don't know, dude's got to earn some bruises.

Ignatius sees success purely in terms of Obama being willing to say no to people on the left and people on the right and OMGZ the costs! He shows no evidence of ever considering what it's actually like to not have healthcare.

Kay drops some knowledge: "In countries that have a mixture of a public and private plan, nobody is voting to get rid of the public plan." So much of our health care debate is taken up with tired mythologizing of other nations health care, and how stupid it is, despite the fact that it considerably outperforms our own, and that no one ever suggests that they follow our model. In fact, the one thing that gives me pause in this debate is when Obama suggests that we need some sort of "uniquely American" model of healthcare, since the only thing America has done unique to healthcare in my lifetime is pretend that it's awesome. Anyone want to buy some uniquely American cars? Don't answer that. I know you don't.

Now everyone is talking about what Republicans will vote for what plan, and the consensus seems to be that some Republicans will vote in some numbers for some plans. It's all so terribly interesting that I'm glad Philo Farnsworth invented this device for me to see this on. Everyone agrees healthcare will pass. Matthews says it's BIG STAKES and BIG CASINO and DEFINING MOMENT and KENNEDY and CLINTON and then he strips to a onesie, grabs the Olympic torch, hums "Fanfare For The Common Man" and sets his hair on fire, PEPSI THE CHOICE OF A NEW GENERATION.


Oh, Jesus. I can't wait to hear how Michael Jackson influenced Dan Rather.

What about Iran? Ignatius says that the short run, where the protests are concerned, is grounds for pessimism. He basically cites how depressing it can be to watch the regime deploy violence against his own people. The long-run, however, he suggests is optimistic -- Iran's been fundamentally changed. "The regime at the top has split and won't come back together." Bet we can bomb it back together!

Naturally, everyone's talking about how Obama won't be able to get back to some sort of negotiation with Iran if the current regime holds. Kay notes that it would be like negotiating with a partner that has blood on its hands. You know what's interesting about these points? They all take on a new resonance because our editor, Nico Pitney, brought a question from an Iranian, right to the White House, that specifically called a renewal of that hoped-for policy a "betrayal."

Chris Matthews, however, believes that you can "cut a deal" if you are "brilliant."

Rather is even more pessimistic, saying that the protesters are basically fighting more an even more repressive, super-Islamic regime. Kay is a bit softer on this regard, merely suggesting that we shouldn't "kid ourselves," with Moussavi.

On the nuclear weapons front, Ignatius says that Iranians recognize that they "can't get well" internationally without coming to the table on the issue, and so, there's hope that a confrontation will be avoided. Of course, the way he's gaming it out sort of assumes that Moussavi prevails, since sitting down with the current regime -- even through Switzerland -- is going to invoke the "betrayal/blood on their hands" scenario, and then it's off to the races where bludgeoning the White House politically is concerned.

That said, I think Obama's contingency plan, if the regime holds, is an international game of counter-insurgency strategy. He's sown the seeds by decrying the way Iran has dealt with its own citizens, and I think he might be successful in hammering other nations into persisting with their "look the other way" relations with Iran. That might be a recipe for successful diplomacy. But who really knows what Iran is in the process of becoming, or how long it will take? When your lifetime has included the events that changed places like Eastern Europe, like South Africa, it's so easy to get borne aloft by hope. But those places had memory of democratic institutions, redeemable models, and weren't two steps from the middle ages.

Anyway, Michael Jackson's Impact On Four People Chris Matthews Managed To Book? Kay danced in nightclubs to MJ before he got "strange." Helene Cooper says she ran from the Liberian coup with a teddy bear and a copy of "Off The Wall." Rather says you can "make a case" that there's a straight line from Jackson to Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods to Barack Obama. And David Ignatius gives us all the mental image of him, trying to moonwalk.

Last, Matthews is obsessed with the GOP giving up on calling themselves the "family values" party. I personally think all politicians should give up entirely on pretending to represent "values," and that the members of the press should follow suit as well. But, WOO, MARK SANFORD! He found love in Argentina and no one understands him!

Katty Kay says that the GOP will keep talking about "family values," and that there will be people in the party that have affairs, forever. Rather says no one in "either party should be self-righteous" but man, if politicians gave up self-righteousness, their terrible malformed brains might start working. CAN WE TAKE THE RISK? Helene Cooper says she enjoyed all the Eva Peron references. Ignatius says that the problem is the Obamas are a great family with no problems, except for Baracks terrible lies about cigarettes.

Ahh, lo. Look what rough beast slouches toward our liveblog...


Ahh, David Axelrod, is here, with his icy grip on emotionless social niceties. Gregory calls the climate change bill a "victory" for Obama, but it could be a failure in the Senate, and then it wouldn't be a victory for Obama. Axelrod says there's a "growing awareness" that we need to move on clean energy. Naturally, I wonder if the bill is actually a good bill, but this is Meet The Press, where that sort of analysis never intrudes on the shiny, shiny politics.

And so, Axelrod knows to feed that beast, talking about TWISTS! TURNS! FUTURE VOTES! Gregory thinks that Democratic opposition to the climate change bill represents opposition to everything! And Obama's toast! Axelrod says that the one result doesn't bear relation to the other.

Gregory says it's "interesting" that opposition to public plan is "illogical," and that people like Howard Dean insists that the "public option" is needed. Axelrod says the administration supports a public choice, and that the "illogic" referred to people who believe that a public health care option would simultaneously be a massive marketplace hit and a massive marketplace failure.

David Gregory asks Axelrod seven times if the "Public Option" will run for President, and if so, how many superdelegates would be covered under the plan. Actually, what he's really nattering on about is wondering whether Obama is going to ramrod the legislature with insistence on a public option. As per usual, Axelrod manages to simultaneously suggest that the White House will be a movable and an unmoveable object. Gregory pretty much has the goods on him here, dither dither.

Moving on to stimulus! You screwed up, Axelrod! Unemployment numbers have gone past your predictions! Axelrod complains that he was using the best predictions of the best predictors, and they all turned out to be wrong. Well, okay, that's swell, but I'll just point out for the second or third time that I've heard this stuff before! Recall the Bush administrations complaints, after the Iraq Cakewalk failed to come off? And the WMDs didn't materialize? "OH WELL, EVERYONE TOLD US WE WERE PRETTY AND THAT WE'D BE OPENING THE NEW EPCOT CENTER IN BAGHDAD. WE DID THE BEST WE COULD." Surely if this doesn't wash then, it can't wash now! And if you have to build the case for a second stimulus package, I'd think that glossing over an error in analysis doesn't help you win trust.

Anyway, we haven't "broken the back of the recession," according to Axelrod, but the policies! They are helping! We're moving in the right direction and building foundations!

Warren Buffet says that a second stimulus may be needed, and David Gregory trusts Warren Buffet because he is rich and thus must be the Oracle at Delphi!

Anyway, there are things called "lagging indicators" and employment numbers tend to be one of them, and so any second stimulus package is likely to get stuck in that holding pattern. And since the White House is digging in hard on the "all predictions were wrond, and we can't possibly be responsible for that," it could be a while before anything like that comes up again.

Anyway, now Iran! Gregory says "something is changing" on Obama's stance on negotiating with Iran. Axelrod says that the Iranians are shaping the future of diplomatic relations themselves. Meanwhile, there are parties and coalitions that continue to attempt to engage Iran on the nuclear issue. Axlerod says Iran has two paths to pick from, one that leads to further participation, one that leads to "further isolation." I like these terms, because I'd want to be stimulating that portion of the Iranian populace who are young, well educated, and who want to be a part of the world -- collaborate with it, compete with it, test their mettle. I have no problem with Axelrod noting that isolation -- and God knows how many more lost years and opportunities -- is in the balance.

Outside of that Axelrod is disappointing in continuing to assert the split between Ahmadinejad and the foreign policy decision makers. That was in play a while ago, sure! And at one point, it was smart to make that distinction. But now, those ruling mullahs and the Supreme Leader are inextricably knit up in the domestic world of Ahmadinejad, and the violence on the streets.

Axelrod won't say whether Mark Sanford should resign. David Gregory asked that question knowing full well that he wouldn't get an answer, so I guess we've reached the DAVID GREGORY WASTES AMERICA'S TIME part of the show.

And now, we get to David Gregory, bitching about Nico Pitney! David Gregory is basically mourning the death of democracy, brought to you by Nico Pitney. Apparently, the empty pageantry of the White House Press Corps is democracy. I wish I can say this outrages me, but after a whole six months almost of David Gregory I've learned to expect superficial nonsense from him and this show.

Anyway, I say that we should take this whole DEMOCRACY thing further, and make the seats at the White House Press Room first come first served. But in fairness, I would like to hear from all the other White House Correspondents who came to that presser prepared to ask questions on behalf of the Iranian people. Seriously, White House Correspondents? EMAIL ME. Tell me about how you were ready to do something similar.

And while you are at it, I am starting a list:


Seriously, y'all! Let's sign up. For the record, I would still show up at the briefing, because I HATE DEMOCRACY AND WANT TO DESTROY AMERICA, obviously! But the rest of you guys, again, email me, because I LOVE HEARING ABOUT YOUR DEEPLY HELD "PRINCIPLES" (some of which you may have obtained from sources besides the bottom of Crackerjack boxes.)

By the way! DAVID GREGORY? I have a question for you, buddy? Surely after your network ran their White House special, you marched straight up to Brian Williams to complain that the NBC News Division has better things to do than promote Conan O'Brien's move to the TONIGHT SHOW! EMAIL ME, David Gregory!

In the meantime, I'm hot on the tail of ABC News! A tipster tells me that me that there was a televised special this week where ABC reporters were told in advance they'd get to ask Obama about health care reform. Again, details are spotty, but I'm working on bringing this story in.

AWESOME. Now we get David Gregory talking to Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham. Do these two even like each other?

Wait! Did Axelrod actually "make news" on the second stimulus? Not from where I sit! But, okay, David Gregory, we're going to pretend that's what happened. Graham says that we should revisit the possibility of a second stimulus, but it has to be about job creation. Graham also decries the "Karl Rove style" of politics.

Romney says the economy will "turn around next year," but that the "stimulus didn't help" but won't say it's failed. Basically, Romney just forms some words and spits them out and has nice hair, tra la. But he hasn't schlepped off to Argentina yet, so he's probably the 2012 frontrunner.

Meanwhile, Graham says that Sanford shouldn't resign, but he has to reconcile himself to his family and the South Carolina State Legislature. Hopefully not in the same way! Graham says that he's lucky to have his wife, but I don't know...he sure did make that mistress of his sound pretty awesome.

Gregory says that he talked to "a Republican" who says that the issue is one of political malfeasance. Romney is too dense to pick up on what he means by that -- that the larger issue is just RUNNING OFF TO ARGENTINA WHEN YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF A STATE -- so Gregory has to spell it out for him. All Romney cares about it the affair, the family value aspect.

Graham says the the GOP is the party that "openly talks about good things." WHEE! AT LAST, SOMEONE HAS TAKEN THIS BOLD STAND. I love things that are great! Great things are fantastic! It's "good for families to have a mom and dad," Graham says, promoting OPPOSITE MARRIAGE.

My wife says: "Wow. This man is actually saying these things, isn't he?"

Anyway, I guess our national mission is to get the Sanfords back together.

Mitt Romney boldly ups the ante! Children need a "mom and dad and a home!" EXACTLY! What's wrong with Lindsey Graham, that he won't stand up for homes! Graham says that Obama has "done a lot of good" in the way he's promoted good families. But he's not been bipartisan enough! And now he's compared the White House's political tactics to Karl Rove AND Tom Delay! Is there no one willing to suggest that Rahm Emanuel has his own style of politicking?

Romney says that the GOP will prove they have ideas that work, citing Wyden-Bennett. So, it looks like the Democrats are gonna have to go halfsies on all of the GOP's good ideas. Other Romney ideas: CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER energy bills.

Now we have the ancient ritual of interviewer asking if Sarah Palin is a leader of the party, and a member of the GOP saying, "Yeah, sure, Palin, she's swell, really neat lady! She's what, from Alaska or something? Yeah. Boy, she's just something...anyway, here's a bunch of other names, lots of names actually that aren't Palin, let's just forget about Palin, okay? In fact, let me change the subject, because have you heard about our new platitudes?"

PANEL TIME! With EJ Dionne, Mike Murphy, David Brooks, and Dee Dee Myers.

Sanford sexytime! What does everyone think? Brooks says that "this is a story of loneliness." People work hard, but who tends to the needs of their various penises? ARGENTINEANS, THAT'S WHO. Cue the Diego Maradona/Hand of God jokes!

I have to say, the "Ensign scandal?" Yeah, I don't think so, EJ Dionne. When I read the headline "Ensign, Presidential Contender, Admits To Affair," I was like, "Who made him a presidential contender?" Mind you, I'm quite sure someone tried, and that there may be a few people walking around believing that was true, but, yeah, America has and continues to have a very palpable lack of interest in John Ensign. Sanford, on the other hand, was MAGICAL. And Dionne notes that it's not about "the sex scandal," it's about disappearing for days on end.

Murphy contends that if you get to the matter of issues, and the future, the GOP has some competitiveness to offer. But that's not SHINY enough for David Gregory, who immediately interrupts him, leaving me wishing that Murph had been given a chance to elaborate.

Then Gregory says Huntsman had an affair, which is wrong, and apparently his producers nearly electrocuted his brain correcting him.

Brooks says that the GOP has to lose some more elections to get back to competitive level, and that they need to built a pragmatic portfolio, and learn to speak the language of common endeavor.

Gregory is still apologizing for Huntsman.

Murphy gets back to his earlier point: there's a few seats to be won in the short term, and competitive areas worth pressing, but there's a long term demographic trend running against the GOP that will only be corrected through "a bit of a meltdown," maybe, and if not that, more "social libertarianism" and "the willingness to not defend capitalism "at all times." Dionne is on board: can't go back to Reagan, got to get new. Dionne wants more attention paid to Sanford's response to the stimulus money, because that's where he's really out of touch with those factors Brooks and Murphy mentions.

Murphy thinks that the public option is "a killer for Republicans, and I think, politically, for Obama." The public option is widely wanted and supported by the public in huge numbers.

I think Brooks raises a good point on the Obama legislative strategy, in that its geared toward "passing legislation" but not necessarily toward making good policy. Can't tell you how many times I've thought the same! "They give a lot of power away to Capitol Hill, and that mystifies me," Brooks says. Me too.

Okay people. I am going to go on about the painful process of trying to keep Mark Sanford's family together. But I want you to leave you with something important. Remember: Whosoever shall be found shall be found without the soul for getting down, will probably end up in Argentina, with their mistress, or something. Have a great week!

Actually, one more thing! Don't forget to cheer on your U.S. Men's National Soccer Team, currently leading Brazil 1-0 on a nice Clint Dempsey goal. Stand up!