TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads
Good morning everyone and welcome to your Sunday Morning liveblog, where I mine the weekly political chat shows for four or five good one-liners and then hide them among several pages of spelling errors and weird emotions, as a sort of Scavenger Hunt Of Feelings for all of you!
My name is Jason, and today -- what a day it is likely to be! You should be watching al Jazeera today for news and information that's of significance. This will be a day where these shows' hosts start off by saying, "Let's check in with what's going on in Egypt," and the reporter will have three minutes to talk about the amazing events taking place there, whereupon the host will say, "Wow, really powerful stuff, reporter-person, thanks a lot," before the segue: "And now, we turn our attention to Washington. The Tea Party: how are they changing the way lawmakers wear pants." OR SOME SUCH BOOOOLSHIT.
I don't even know who's on these shows today, with one exception: Harold Ford. I know he's on because after some people on Twitter declared him MIA I had to make sure he wasn't going to try to "take his talents to South Cairo." Duh: he was scheduled to be on MEET THE PRESS. I think he lives behind one of the fake bookcases. (Does he pay taxes in New York, though? His spokesperson will eventually get back to you, probably with some lies!)
FOX NEWS SUNDAY
Hillary Clinton and John Boehner are here, but first Chris Wallace will run down what's going on in Egypt. Here you go: people are rioting, and Mubarak has chosen a new government. There you go, people who have been trapped under a rock since Friday afternoon! Someone named Greg Palkot who looks like he just came off the lot of a Toyota dealership reports that "Americans should stay clear," just in case any Americans wanted to mix it up with protesters and the Egyptian army. Mubarak "is hoping that some of the changes" he's made will pacify people, changes such as "naming a new vice president" and "here, what if we invented the position of vice president" and "oh, whoops I am all out of ideas now."
Now here to walk the many fine lines you have to walk when you tacitly support dictatorships is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She says that she is "not satisfied" with the moves that Mubarak has taken, and insists that the U.S. has been urging Mubarak to do more for nearly three decades. Now, she would like there to be a "dialogue" that leads the people on a "path to democracy."
Does she still back Mubarak? Clinton backs an orderly transition to democracy. Don't all dictators eventually ease their way into giving up the power they've enjoyed?
Wallace worries that "Islamic radicals" might rise up and fill the void created by Mubarak being deposed. Clinton says that she hopes there "won't be a void." If there is a void, maybe it can be filled with bunnies? Those bunnies would probably turn out to be jihadists.
But what side is the U.S. on? Clinton says, "We recognize the volatility of the situation...no one wants to see instability and chaos...we want to see an orderly transition to a democratic government and economic reforms, exactly what the protesters are seeking. At the same time, Egypt has been our partner...in the peace process." So we want the Egyptian people to have the freedom to do everything except hamper the peace process. Do not forget to put "peace process" in scare-quotes!
Let's transition to John Boehner! He says that the administration has "handled this tense situation pretty well," and that "bringing more democratic reforms to Egypt" is a "step in the right direction." But he endorses the view of Representative Thad McCotter (R-Mich.), "America must stand with her ally Egypt to preserve an imperfect government capable of reform, and prevent a tyrannical government capable of harm." Eye of the beholder, Thad! What you describe as a "tyranny" seems to be "what the majority of the Egyptian people prefer." The hope is that when you throw off the chains of a thug regime, it's the taste of authentic justice that guides your hand from then on. I understand the risk is that the Mubarak regime gets replaced by a less willing partner to the U.S. But either you have faith that there's a brotherhood of free people or there isn't one.
This mostly feels like "the conversation that people probably had about Saddam Hussein, back when he was our pal!"
Anyway, on to the debt limit! "I don't think Americans will tolerate" more debt, says Boehner. So all of that talk of investments -- or "stimulus spending" is off the table. (As is cutting the defense budget.)
Does Boehner support cuts that result in kids being thrown off Head Start and the FBI losing agents and fewer Mexicans being deported? Of course he doesn't! Plus, maybe they'll build a plexiglass bubble around themselves, in reponse to the zero people who have ever tried to bomb the House chamber! Significantly, Boehner says, "if you wanted to do an across-the-board cut, that's what you would get." So, no across-the-board cuts are coming? Paul Ryan sees it differently: his plan is set a budget level and demand everyone swim at the new depth.
Boehner also sees the health care repeal effort as a budget saving activity, but if they did anything, it was spend money pointlessly on a pageant of whining. Boehner is lucky that repeal won't be successful. If it was, it would add billions to the debt.
"We want to reduce spending," Boehner says a million times. "There's an implied 'or else' in this," Wallace tries to point out, but Boehner won't cop to that. "I am going to suggest to you that we are going to keep our promise to the American people." Boehner acknowledges that defaulting on the debt would be a disaster. We're basically looking at a game of chicken: Wallace is doing what he can to ferret that out of Boehner, but no dice. Boehner promises that we won't default.
Each side has economists willing to tell them what they like to hear, apparently. I think that's how that field of employ now works, in America.
Any problem dealing with the "Tea Party?" Boehner says, "absolutely not." Michele Bachmann is free to channel her alien masters at the National Press Club to her heart's content. But are there some spending cuts that go further than he can tolerate? You know, put all those deportations at risk? Boehner says that the "House will work its will."
On Social Security, Boehner says that he wants to have an "adult conversation," and he thinks the White House wants to have the same thing, but that Harry Reid is a monster who loves Social Security too much, and he is fracking everything up. What chance does he give entitlement reform? Boehner says that he's an optimist -- not about doing anything! Just about "beginning the conversation." This is how cans get kicked down the road, forever! People of influence celebrate the achievement of a conversation. "We were so willing to put things ON THE TABLE. Look at that TABLE! It's a goddamn smorgasbord of options! WELL ANYWAY, WE'VE TALKED ABOUT IT, SMELL YOU LATER."
Wallace asks if he'd be willing to accept tax increases as well as cuts, and Boehner declares that to be the "same old nonsense." I THINK WALLACE WAS TRYING TO JUST HAVE AN ADULT CONVERSATION. Unfortch, one of these adults isn't willing to let go of the fairytales he was taught about tax increases. "Let's talk about the size of the problem," Boehner says. AMERICA NEEDS TO HAVE A SUPER CONDESCENDING CONVERSATION ABOUT WHAT A "BIG" PROBLEM ENTITLEMENTS ARE. I can't wait for that.
BOEHNER: It's a big problem.
AMERICAN PEOPLE: Okay, so, what? You need more money? Because we really like this program, we've told you that over and over again--
BOEHNER: YOU ARE NOT LISTENING IT IS A BIG PROBLEM!
Is Boehner mad at Obama, for not inviting him to have a bipartisan cuddle-puddle in the Secret White House Smoking Nook? No, Boehner recognizes that the President's been busy, what with people getting gunned down in Arizona and Egypt going FUBAR. He figures they'll have a chance to make s'mores with one another and play golf.
Should all members of Congress have more security? Like robots? Boehner says that members should begin by following the rules that the Sergeant-at-Arms has outlined and provided for, rather than initiate a bunch of new expenditures to protect themselves. That's very prudent, I think! He points out that "even if there had been a protective detail" on hand in Tucson, there's no evidence it would have stopped the attack. (Couldn't we say the same thing about, "if there had been a personal firearm there?" Just saying.
Now Wallace needles Boehner for crying at the State Of The Union, and everywhere. Boehner says that he loves getting emotional and he will continue to get emotional. Also, he'll continue to smoke! "Leave me alone!" Boehner says.
Time for paneling with Bill Kristol and Kirsten Powers and Nina Easton and Brit Hume.
Hume says that Mubarak is looking like a goner because the protesters seem to have the upper hand. "Short of some sort of brutal crackdown, and I don't think the military would carry that out, this will continue until he steps down." Easton agrees, but suggests that it's going to take some "outside force" (i.e. our heavy hand!) to get Egypt to be "moderate" because [INSERT MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD FEARMONGERING HERE]. One man, one vote, for Egypt? Will you be willing to vote for "Mosni Hubarak?" (He looks like Hosni Mubarak, only with John Bolton's mustache!)
What happens to our pretend peace process? Could Egypt become another Iran? Kristol says that the likelihood of that continues as long as Mubarak holds on. But if this new vice president takes over? Wallace points out that the people won't tolerate him either. Kristol believes that there could be a transition, where a more moderate party could organize, semi-organically. Powers says that calls for "immediate elections" are "irresponsible."
How is the administration doing, responding to these events? Hume says "this is a genuinely hard foreign policy dilemma" and the administration is "doing about as well as it can." One wonders what Hume considers to be a non-genuine foreign policy dilemma. Kristol says that it's a hard task to move Egypt from a friendly dictatorship to a friendly liberal democracy, but the U.S. has done it before and if the administration can "pull it off" it will be a "great accomplishment."
Wallace says that Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson sees "things very differently when it comes to government spending." Do they though? Ron Johnson is a TARP bailout-baby who has gladly suckled at the teat of the government when he couldn't make enough of a man out of himself on his own.
Powers, on entitlements, doesn't understand why everyone is standing around and pretending as if the Republicans don't already have a position on the matter. Well, by pretending to not understand very obvious things, the media can draw out all the horse-race melodrama.
Nina Easton touts the Bowles-Simpson committee suggestions as a "bipartisan set of ideas" that make things "not as divided and dire as they seem." Easton doesn't seem to understand that the Bowles-Simpson panel was created to convey the illusion of seriousness while simultaneously insulating everyone from taking responsibility or making a hard choice, because the most important "entitlement" in Washington, is "your own seat in Congress."
Easton wants to believe Kent Conrad is going to be a magical fairy of deficit compromise! Let me tell you something, Nina. Kent Conrad could have sponsored, and still can sponsor, the Kent Conrad Let's Make Some Tough Choices About Entitlements Act anytime he wants to! The reason he hasn't before is because HE LIKED BEING A SENATOR. If he gets brave in the coming days, it's for one reason: he is retiring. So that magical entitlement fairy from North Dakota? Don't expect him to be in this for the long-term.
FACE THE NATION
THIS WEEK has been broadcasting from Cairo today. As that seems eminently wise and useful, we'll liveblog some other show. WE HAVE STUPID PRIORITIES HERE, TOO. I learned it from watching the teevee.
Bob Schieffer will start with Egypt, though, and starts be warning that "looters and thieves" have, sadly, joined the protesters -- a situation which puts everyone in further danger. Meanwhile, F-16s -- supplied to Egypt by the United States! -- are circling the crowds from above (and drowning out portions of Elizabeth Palmer's report). Why are they doing that? For the purpose of "showing muscle."
With regard to looting, the word is that many protesters are serving as human shields, to preserve collections of antiquities at places like the Cairo Museum.
Palmer notes that the scene -- which looks plenty fraught to me! -- is relatively calm compared to what people expect to happen when the sun sets and curfews are broken.
Schieffer gives Clinton the word on what the F-16s are doing, and she says she has no idea what's going on, there. She reiterates the standard position that the Egyptian army continues to show "restraint." Not sure what role F-16s play in "restraint," but there you are. Clinton reiterates earlier stances on making a "transition to democracy." Will Mubarak be forced to leave? Clinton won't speculate. "We want to see what's really at the core of the protests...hey we want a better life, we want more opportunity... to be respected and responded to."
Instead of, perhaps, violent extremists taking over? Schieffer asks about what happens if the Muslim Brotherhood -- who weren't behind these protests -- comes to power. Clinton's "not prepared to speculate." She wants the people who come to power to be authentically inclined toward "civil society" and not anyone who wants to "impose an ideology" on the people. "A true democracy," she says, "not a phony one," like Iran. (Having supported Mubarak for so long, isn't this a new stance, with regard to being against "phoniness?"
Schieffer points out that the efforts the Mubarak has made thus far don't seem to be helping. "If anything, things have gotten worse." Clinton says that "everyone wants to uphold the rights of the protesters," but nobody wants to see the protesters turn violent either. "We are hoping and praying that the authorities will be able to respond to the legitimate needs of the peaceful protesters," she says.
Good get for Schieffer, who contacted Mohamed ElBaradei -- who you may recall as the head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, and is now one of the more popular would-be opposition figures in Egypt. ElBaradei says that the protests were "many, many years in the making," and the tipping point finally hit. Mubarack, he says, "absolutely has to leave, this is not me, this is the Egyptians." Mubarak's moves, of the past few days, are a "farce." He has to leave, otherwise, ElBaradei says, "I fear things might get bloody." He says that if yesterday, the call was for Mubarak to step down, today, the call is for him to stand trial.
If he leaves? ElBaradei says that the demonstrators will subside, and a space will be created for a "national unity government."
David Sanger of the New York Times swings into the studio. He says that ElBaradei's connections to the protests are "pretty remote," but he is a figurehead the Americans could live with, if he became the voice of the opposition. The U.S. has two fears, Sanger says: 1) a power vaccum that extremists could fill, and 2) a worry that if things go sideways on Obama's watch, the politics will be bad, especially if we're seen as the heavy-hands behind a botched regime change.
Originally, this show was going to be all about Bill Daley as the new Rahm. THANKS A LOT, EGYPT.
Daley says that the president was direct, these past two years, with the business community, but that he doesn't think anyone was "demonized." Schieffer asks about his opposition to health care reform -- now he claims that his criticism was of the "politics" of the reform process, and that he supports the reform package, while not perfect, is good enough that we shouldn't "refight a fight" over it. (Mayhap he's just projecting!)
Daley says that some of these infrastructure investments may come about through public-private partnerships, including some partnerships with foreign entities. One day, all of your bridges to nowhere will be owned by a sovereign wealth fund!
Daley says that when businesses struggle, they don't just cut and cut and cut. They also invest money so that there's some room to grow ROI when the rebound comes, and that's the way the president wants to run the government.
Back in Cairo, Palmer says that the F-16s did little more than inflame the crowds, and that the people are bracing for a troubled night of looting and lawlessness.
MEET THE PRESS
Now comes the interesting tension between hating Meet The Press and hating the alternative to Meet The Press, which is "freeing cars from the snow with a plastic shovel."
Here is some bad news, for everyone! Smarmy thought-douche Thomas Friedman is on the show today. Ugh. Guys? Would y'all mind if I just stopped now and went to shovel some snow?
I'd like to know how Friedman's totally real taxi driver is currently influencing his opinion of what's happening in Egypt.
I guess I'm going to find out, Allison. Richard Engel is on, though, and he's great. But also: Mitch McConnell. And Harold Ford. CAN I SHOVEL SNOW, INSTEAD OF FECES, AMERICA?
Hillary Clinton submits to David Gregory's kitteh-paws. Guess what folks! Clinton says it is a volatile situation and she hopes that Egypt will hear out the legitimate needs of the protesters and that nobody goes postal with a violent crackdown or orgy of looting. She's not going to get into "either/or choices" on whether or not we still feel like Mubarak is an ally.
Is she calling upon Egypt to have elections, and urging Mubarak to not be a candidate? She says that the U.S. have been "sending that message" on free elections for a long time. As far as Mubarak not running, "These issues are up to the Egyptian people."
"Clearly, the path that has been followed has not led to the Democratic future...the people have been seeking," Clinton says, calling for the "space" to "take a new path." The old path, by the way? The one that didn't lead to a "Democratic future?" HEAVILY UNDERWRITTEN BY YOU AND ME.
Gregory cannot get Clinton to say whether she prefers Mubarak to stay in power or leave. "We want to see a real democracy that reflects the vibrancy of Egyptian society." (AS LONG AS IT'S NOT ALL "WOO, LET'S THINK OF AMERICA/ISRAEL AND GET STABBY!")
Meanwhile, Richard Engel is in Cairo. We've gone back in time, by the magic of TiVo, to 10:30am, so Engel also reports about the F16s that made an appearance today over the crowds of protesters.
"This is no longer just a protest out on the streets, but a basic collapse of law and order," Engel says, referring to the rise of looters. The Army, he says, has clearly not been given an order to attack the protesters, and, indeed, the armed forces evinces no small amount of solidarity with the protest movement. Engel says that there is opposition to Mubarak at high levels in the military.
Engel says the general thought is that the police have been pulled back and criminals allowed to run loose in order to "show them that the alternative" to Mubarak is lawless chaos.
Mitch McConnell's appearance on the show indicates that the substantive portion of the hour is now over. But okay, what's his reaction to Egypt? "I don't have much to add," he says. And he doesn't!
Back in 2004, though, McConnell said some vague things about Egypt and Mubarak in an op-ed. He now vaguely says that Mubarak should have vaguely listened to what he had to say, but he didn't, and now print media is collapsing. COINCIDENCE?
Now we turn to "some of the big matters in Washington." Like, how about the way Obama is handling Egypt? Wanna score some political points? McConnell doesn't want to score any points in that fashion. Nor does he want to necessarily withhold aid from Egypt.
Is the Tea Party driving the GOP? McConnell says that the divisions among Democrats are more interesting, and there is a growing awareness that "what they did is being rebuffed." (Which, I guess, explains why most people want health care reform to either stick around in its current form or get expanded?)
Gregory says, yeah, well, y'all seem to not be willing to make specific cuts, instead opting to make a big show about sitting around, having encounter sessions about your feelings, and "putting things on the table," without doing anything about it. McConnell says that reforms can only be done on a bipartisan basis. "We have to go together!" he says, seemingly unaware that he spent two years snitting and spitting in the corner as overture after overture was sent his way, only to return covered in the leavings of obstructionists.
McConnell says that "we have two opportunities" to "do something important on spending and debt." McConnell deploys that answer for three of Gregory's questions. "I wish we had more time," Gregory says. YOU HAVE ALL THE TIME YOU WANT, ASSHOLE! Tell your Harold Ford/Thomas Friedman panel that they will have to play with each other's erogenous zones in the green room because you have to keep after McConnell! Start by asking, "You have two opportunities, you say? Didn't you just say that the only opportunity that really exists is one where the President submits entirely to your point of view on EVERYTHING? It doesn't sound like you're being that geniune on the matter of compromise. NOW HAVE YOU EVER BEEN. And if you give me that same line again to answer this question, I swear I am going to staple your hands to this tabletop."
MEET THE PRESS: WE WISH WE HAD MORE TIME, TO DO SOMETHING USEFUL.
Now we're going to talk to Martin Indyk, who says that whatever happens in Egypt will have a "tsunami effect" on the entire region.
Oh Lord! David Gregory is CNNing us today by showing us Tweetdeck. "This is Tweetdeck!" he says. Everyone marvels at Tweetdeck for a minute. If you are aware of twitter, you are aware of this. If you aren't aware of this, Indyk and Gregory can't really tell you why you should be.
Indyk says that the process is likely to be one where Mubarak steps down, passes the baton to his new Vice president, and then that guy slowly ramps up to new elections in six months time.
Naturally, Thomas Friedman is in Davos. He recalls a time where he said: "Mubarak has more mummies in his cabinet than King Tut." While "mummies" are not associated with "cabinets," this is actually one of Friedman's better metaphors.
Is Mubarak going to stay? "I don't want to make any predictions," Friedman says, he just hopes that whatever government emerges will be one that wants to "usher in the twenty-firstcentury." Friedman will mansplain to the Middle East how to use iPads and stuff.
"The most dangerous thing" for analysts, like Friedman, Friedman says, "is to mistake my hopes for my analysis." (The most dangerous thing for Egyptians are looters and thieves and teargassing and F-16s. LIKE IS DIFFERENT IN DAVOS.)
Friedman says that Obama needs to hew to "three principles," which grow vaguer as they go along: "We support non-violence. We support consensual politics. And we support," -- DEEP BREATH, CLEAR YOUR BRAIN OF THOUGHTS AND RESISTANCE, NOW -- "any Egyptian government and outcome that will be on the side of ushering Egyptians into the twenty-first century, enabling and empowering them to do so." So we support an Egypt that will continue to subordinate themselves to our interests, but Thomas Friedman has a "nicer" way of saying that. (It's to say that they aren't humans living in the same century as the rest of us! NOT CONDESCENDING AT ALL.)
I wish David Gregory had more time to spend with Friedman's mustache!
We end today, in the same way the world will end, at the Meet The Press roundtable. It will end in this fashion: as flames consume all of humanity's existence, sending the mere memory of us cascading upwards into the sky as part of an infinite column of cinder, David Gregory will turn to the panel and ask, "I know this all seems bad, but doesn't it demonstrate that the system works?" There will be a pause, and then Katty Kay will leap across the table and strangle the life out of Gregory. "I FINALLY WON," she'll shout, sending the rest of the panel running from the room, into the fiery maelstrom outside. The last recorded moment of mankind's history will be of Kay, enjoying a swift half and a joint with he legs propped up on the table, fade to black, so long and thanks for all the bourbon.
But we've many miles to travel before that day (and hopefully when it comes, Kay won't be wearing a suit from the Shannon Sharpe collection of Distractingly Colored Piping). She's joined by Chuck Todd and Harold Ford and Mike Murphy.
Gregory shows them all Tweetdeck. "Look at how fast it is moving." Jesus. You should put "Kanye" in as your search term and just wait.
Kay says that it's clear to her that the administration has not satisfied anyone, either on the streets of Cairo or Washington. Murphy says it's not likely Mubarak survives, but any replacement will probably lead to a regime that's more anti-American and anti-Israel.
Ford and Todd both echo that there's some "relief" that the protests don't (yet!) have an anti-American flavor. Ford actually says something very surprising and laudable: maybe what's happening in Egypt isn't something that fits any of the old foreign policy paradigms, and maybe there are people who have a deeper understanding of what's driving the matter forward than can be divined from staring at Tweetdeck. Good point! Naturally, before something too intelligent -- or something that over-indicts "Washington wisdom and paradigms" -- takes root, we go to commercial.
Chuck Todd earlier, remarked that it was amazing that the State of the Union was five days ago, considering how fast it moved off the page (once something important happened). So now we're going to talk about the SOTU. Todd says, duh: it's the start of the "re-elect Obama" effort. Murphy says that there are people in the GOP are willing to "jump into the entitlement debate," but whether or not they'll be joined by the White House will boil down to whether there's enough of a window open now, before everyone brings out their 2012 guns.
My impression is that no one in either party is willing to do anything on entitlements other than "have a conversation." I mean, how many times do people have to come on these shows and demonstrate nothing braver than the willingness to form around a conference table before they stop pretending anything significant is going on. If you want to see where the White House and the GOP might dance, keep an eye on tax reform: I think that Obama and Dave Camp may come together on something significant.
What's up with the Republican field for 2012? Murphy says that it's going to be a "big, crazy field" with no incentives to jump in early. Todd thinks it's crazy for Romney to skip Iowa. (McCain basically did, though!) Ford says that this week's events favor Romney because he is an "adult." By which he means, "has a grasp of state-level managerial politics" and "foreign policy agility." He's giving Romney way too much credit on the latter -- McCain delighted in eating Romney's foreign policy natterings for lunch.
And that's your morning of diminishing returns. I am going to savor all of the snow shoveling that's to come. I wish all of you the best of weeks!