03/27/2011 09:04 am ET | Updated May 27, 2011

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Hello and good morning and welcome, once again, to your Sunday Morning liveblog of the dying-fish-flapping-on-the-side-of-the-docks that is your Sunday morning political programming. My name is Jason. Today, Libya! Libya, Libya! 1980s nostalgia! Not fully thinking things through! That's basically what everyone is going to talk about, mildly critique, and eventually go back to quasi-enabling. It will be unfun and no one will learn anything, I think!

Meanwhile, happy birthday, Affordable Care Act! Here's the incredibly true story of some wonderful taxpayer savings and medical innovation that you made possible, and that Jim DeMint tried to block, because his brains are made of cotton.

You know what to do right? Feel free to leave a comment, or send an email, or follow me on Twitter.


Oh, boy, the most decisive man in American politics, Newt Gingrich, is here to talk about all of his plans for 2012, which will probably end up amounting to "the null set." Here's a pretty good summation of the figure that Gingrich cuts at the moment:

Other Georgia Republicans who once were avowed Gingrich backers have become disillusioned watching him over the years.

Lee Howell, who worked as a Gingrich campaign press secretary, won't be casting a ballot for his old boss if he runs.

"If I was giving a cocktail party and wanted to have good conversation ... I'd want Newt to be there," Howell said. "I'm not sure that he would be the kind of person, would have the skills necessary to be president."

I'm not even sure that's true if he's truly the pious bore he claims to be these days. But whatever! Chris Wallace is going to ask him about his Libya flip-flop. So, what's up with that? He says that well, in an earlier clip, he was "for removing Gaddafi without using the U.S. military" and the President "changed the rules of the game." (Apparently, in February, we were all playing a "game" by which barking mad hair tranplanted murderer Gaddafi gets "removed" by magic by the people who'd been patting him on the back since the Bush administration.)

Wallace says that he's pretty confused. I don't blame him! Gingrich protests, saying that back in February he thought that Gaddafi should be removed by enabling freedom fighters to take him out in the "Reagan/Eisenhower" mold (which I guess means that arms sales to Iran are optional but not off the table?), and that Obama "changed the game" by saying "Gaddafi must go." I kind of don't see the difference? If you're saying, "Let's arm freedom fighters like Gipper or Ike would do, in Libya," you are basically also saying, "Gaddafi must go." (Also those enabled freedom fighters would still basically need a no-fly zone imposed, we are back at square one.)

Also a lot of those dudes in Libya who we'd be arming in the one instance and no fly zoning in the other, were best known for killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq, so, there's a fun fact!

Wallace asks Gingrich what he would do if he were President in this situation? Kick NATO to the curb? Call for Gaddafi's ouster? Gingrich says that he hopes that tomorrow, Obama will be clearer about what's going on in his address. (Hear, hear.) He says that he hopes he'll find out that Obama consulted Congress. (Uhm...he sent the very letter he was required to under the War Powers Resolution, did Newt miss that? Does he not know how to read a newspaper?) And he hopes that Obama will say Gaddafi "has to leave" and basically he wants us to bomb Gaddafi utterly, and have Moroccans or somebody send in ground troops.

"I don't think the Pentagon can sustain a war withing it's current budget," says Gingrich, who wants the Air Force to oust Gaddafi, presumably with a coupon book he got in the mail.

"You have been playing Hamlet for several months now," about a 2012 run, says Wallace. Months? Sixteen years worth of "months," Chris! Anyway, Gingrich is going to do some other things first and decide in a month on what he might do, maybe, if everything works out. Fascinating! Also, Rick Perry is working on Newt's campaign? That's as sure a sign as any that this Newt 2012 is a non-starter -- Romney and Pawlenty and Barbour are staffing up with real, live adults, not Texas' secessionist dandy.

"This is a very serious exploration," Newt says. Katon "Country Club" Dawson will be a part of it!

Gingrich cheated on his wives, all the time, and now Chris Wallace has to ask him about it. Anyway, the good news is that Gingrich has finally matured. Wallace says he's bothered by the fact that Newt was leading the charge to oust Clinton from office while having affairs himself, but Newt, as you might logically expect, says that he didn't lie about it to a federal judge.

Anyway, Gingrich says that we'll find out in six months or a year whether people will forgive him about all the ladies he's banged while other ladies he'd committed himself to were being diagnosed with ailments. (If he runs! Although maybe if he doesn't, he and Rick Perry will go on an absolution tour of America, to see how many states will let him buy an indulgence.)

Would Newty shut down the government again? He says that the shutdown really rebounded well for the GOP (?!) and that he'd rather the GOP not "cave to Obama" of deficits. (He'd also rather that the House GOP be able to do what they want without having to take responsibility for it, so, classic Gingrich.)

So, it seems that Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates are semi-full Ginsburging today, and will be on Meet The Press, and Face The Nation, and This Week. But they frosted Wallace, which, sigh...that's a pretty bush league move, I have to say. I mean, this isn't some dumb nonsense like, "Oh, we're doing something really neat-o, and we're going to tell everyone but Fox." This is about a war in Libya. So, that was actually pretty douchey of the White House, and WE ALL LOSE because instead of Clinton and Gates, we get Sunday Morning muppets John McCain and Joe Lieberman.

Would McCain be sending forces into Libya? McCain says yes, because this is apparently the equivalent of Srebrenica and the Holocaust, which is like, wow, if only those words have any meaning, because I don't hear McCain calling for an intervention in the Ivory Coast or in the Sudan.

Lieberman says that if Obama hadn't installed the no fly zone, they'd be on Sunday Morning teevee wondering why we'd let all those people in Libya get killed. Instead, we're talking about the political ticky-tack over Libya today, and not saying a word about the people in Bahrain or Yemen who are getting killed.

Really, no one should ever make the case that these Sunday Morning shows have been used to make brave cases against genocide. That's a pretty insulting thing to pretend. AND IT COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED IF THE WHITE HOUSE HAD LET GATES AND CLINTON COME ON THIS SHOW.

"We have taken a side," Lieberman says, "and we ought to be happy about it." Sure, dude! You can pay for it, and what not, okay? I'm already pretty much on the hook until 2014 for Afghanistan. HAHA, I mean, "Beyond 2014," don't I!

Wallace asks McCain if he'd support Gaddafi being outright toppled, and he says something confusing about how he wants to hear Obama say that Gaddafi should either be "with Hugo Chavez, or Hitler and Stalin, or in the international criminal court." So, he hopes that Obama will clarify that Gaddafi should be either alive, or long-dead, or standing trial in an international arrangement that the United States has continually decried as something in which we'll never participate.

Lieberman says that now that the world has "set the right precedent" in Libya, we should also maybe attack Syria, which will almost certainly cost no money, and I guess that deficit crisis is over, yay!

"Yemen is going to be difficult," says McCain, who adds that he doesn't know what to do about the nation, because it's so tribal -- just like Libya, but whatever.

Ed Harris will be playing John McCain in GAME CHANGE, the movie based on the book of the same name based on the rumors and misogyny of campaign staffers that know John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. McCain says he has not read the book. I have, and he's not missing anything. PLEASE CONTINUE NOT READING THAT BOOK, JOHN MCCAIN.

Panel time, with Brit Hume and Nina Easton and Bill Kristol and Juan Williams. What does everyone think about the exciting developments in Libya? Hume says, "So far so good!" And that Obama should probably finally notice how awesome America is at establishing no-fly zones. Easton says that while it's great that the action in Libya is 'multilateral," it's too bad that Obama is so "apologetic" about it, which is a funny way of describing hundreds of cruise missiles directed against Gaddafi. (I think if there's an implied apology, it's more like: "Uhm, sorry, American people, that we're doing this stuff again after spending a year bitching about how the country is broke and all of you are out of work."

Anyway, in his address tomorrow, Obama should drink the blood of his enemies from a skullcap, and then Bill Kristol will say, "Obama is finally starting to understand American exceptionalism."

Kristol wants to arm all sorts of rebels in the region, and it falls to Juan Williams to point out that some of those rebels are linked to al Qaeda.

Meanwhile, Affordable Care Act birthday. Easton says the needle hasn't moved on health care at all in a year, and that court cases could decide it's fate. She also puzzlingly maintains that it will cost more -- it probably will in the short term, but the CBO has always pointed out that the long term deficit reductions of PPACA are pretty significant, as are the long-term detriments if it's repealed.

Kristol says that PPACA is a sign of the "insane overreach" of the entitlement state, which might mean something if the new poster children for "insane overreach" weren't the governors of Wisconsin and Ohio and Michigan and Maine. Williams points out that the end of the world scenarios that were predicted have failed to materialize, while at the same time, people are starting to realize some personal benefit.

And repeal would mean disaster for many people. Here's Brian Beutler:

In the year since the law passed, patients and their doctors have been making treatment decisions based on current benefits, according to health care experts and providers interviewed by TPM, including the prohibition on discrimination against children with pre-existing health conditions, a "Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan" for adults, and the "Young Invincibles" provision that allowed Wiens to get his transplant.

Like Wiens, other patients will get transplants and life-saving treatments, thanks to these new benefits. But, also like Wiens, these same patients will require lifetimes of expensive care and medication, without which they'll reject their new organs and die, according to the experts and providers we talked to. The consequences of the care they received thanks to the health care reform law, will leave them holding the bag, if Congress or the Court abolishes it. That means bankrupting out of pocket costs, a scramble for care and medication, and possibly death.

Interviews with doctors, patients, and advocates, suggest this is a very real potential consequence of an abrupt, and complete, repeal or voiding of the law.

"Then you've got a life and death issue because without those drugs, your organ will be rejected, and when that organ is rejected, unfortunately you will die," said LaVarne Burton, president of the American Kidney Fund.

Patients with these sorts of life-threatening health conditions wouldn't necessarily face automatic death sentences if they become ensnared in the politics of health care reform. But their options would be meager, and when they proved inadequate, or didn't materialize, it could cost them their lives.

Brit Hume: "Think of how different things would be now if the White House had been willing to incorporate some Republican ideas." SOMEONE TEACH BRIT HUME TO READ THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, I GUESS? Per Igor Volsky, on the House Bill:

1. REPUBLICANS ASKED FOR - DEFICIT NEUTRAL BILL: "Do the American people believe that this almost 2,000 page bill won't add to the deficit?" [Rep. Eric Cantor, 10/29/2009]

HOUSE BILL - DEFICIT NEUTRAL BILL: According to the Congressional Budget Office, the House bill costs $894 billion over 10 years and actually reduces the deficit by $30 billion and continues to reduce the deficit over the second 10 years.

2. REPUBLICANS ASKED FOR - REDUCE COSTS OVER LONG TERM: "Nevertheless, House Republicans recognize the need to lower health care costs." [Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), 9/9/09]

HOUSE BILL - REDUCES COSTS OVER LONG TERM: Encourages payment reforms that can help lower costs. Requires the Department of Health and Human Services to establish specific benchmarks for expansion of the Accountable Care Organization, Payment Bundling, and Medical Home pilot programs. The bill will also slow the rate of growth of the Medicare program from 6.6% annually to 5.3%.

3. REPUBLICANS ASKED FOR - POLICIES ACROSS STATE LINES: "Interstate competition allowing people to buy insurance across state lines." [Sen. John Thune (R-SD), 9/8/2009]

HOUSE BILL - POLICIES ACROSS STATE LINES: Allows for the creation of State Health Insurance Compacts - permits states to enter into agreements to allow for the sale of insurance across state lines.

4. REPUBLICANS ASKED FOR - MEDICAL MALPRACTICE REFORM: "Why not bring about reasonable restrictions and limits on medical malpractice claims to end the era of defensive medicine?" [Rep. Mike Pence (R-IA), 9/9/2009]

HOUSE BILL - ENCOURAGES MALPRACTICE REFORM: The bill establishes a voluntary state incentives grant program to encourage states to implement "certificate of merit" and "early offer" alternatives to traditional medical malpractice litigation.

5. REPUBLICANS ASKED FOR - HIGH RISK POOLS: "Senator McCain has a proposal sometimes called high-risk pools at the state level...These are efforts I think we can have bipartisan agreement on and deal with the question of pre-existing conditions." [Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), 9/10/2009]

HOUSE BILL - HIGH RISK POOLS: To fill the gap before the Exchange becomes available in 2013, the bill creates an insurance program with financial assistance for those uninsured for several months or denied policy due to preexisting conditions.

6. REPUBLICANS ASKED FOR - ALLOW YOUNG PEOPLE TO STAY ON PARENTS' POLICIES: "Recognizes that not all high school and college graduates are able to find a job that offers health care coverage after graduation. By allowing dependents to remain on their parents' health policies up to the age of 25, the number of uninsured Americans could be reduced by up to 7 million." [Republican Health Solutions Group]

HOUSE BILL - ALLOW YOUNG PEOPLE TO STAY ON PARENTS' POLICIES: The bill requires health plans to allow young people to remain on their parents' insurance policy until they turn 27.

7. REPUBLICANS ASKED FOR - NO PUBLIC MONEY FOR ABORTION: "The American people will not stand for government-run insurance that uses taxpayer money to fund abortions in this country." [Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), 10/16/2009]

HOUSE BILL - NO PUBLIC MONEY FOR ABORTION: The bill prohibits abortion services from being made part of essential benefits package and prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortion (except in cases of rape, incest, and to save life of the woman).

8. REPUBLICANS ASKED FOR - PROTECT SMALL BUSINESSES: "Helps employers offer health care coverage to their workers by reducing their administrative costs through a new small business tax credit." [Republican Health Solutions Group]

HOUSE BILL - PROTECTS SMALL BUSINESSES: The bill exempts 86% of businesses from the requirement to provide coverage. Businesses with payrolls below $500,000 are exempt while firms with payrolls between $500,000 and $750,000 would pay a graduated penalty. Small businesses would also receive a tax credit that helps cover 50% of their health care expenses.

9. REPUBLICANS ASKED FOR - PROMOTE JOB WELLNESS PROGRAMS: "Promotes prevention and wellness by giving employers and insurers greater flexibility to financially reward employees who seek to achieve or maintain a healthy weight, quit smoking, and manage chronic illnesses like diabetes." [Republican Health Solutions Group]

HOUSE BILL - PROMOTE JOB WELLNESS PROGRAMS: The bill establishes a grant program to help small employers create or strengthen workplace wellness programs.

10. REPUBLICANS ASKED FOR - DELIVERY SYSTEM REFORM: "Uses new and innovative treatment programs to better coordinate care between health
care providers, ensuring that those with chronic disease receive the care they need and do not continue to fall through the cracks." [Republican Health Solutions Group]

HOUSE BILL - DELIVERY SYSTEM REFORM: The bill requires the Department of Health and Human Services to establish specific benchmarks for the expansion of the Accountable Care Organization, Payment Bundling, and Medical Home pilot programs.

Update 11. REPUBLICANS ASKED FOR - HELP AMERICANS 55-64: "To help those aged 55 to 64, the plan increases support for pre- and early-retirees with low- and modest-incomes." [Republican Health Solutions Group]

HOUSE BILL - HELPS AMERICANS 55-64:: Creates a reinsurance program to help cover expensive health claims for employers that provide coverage to Americans 55-64.

Per Ezra Klein, on the Senate bill:

(1) "Let families and businesses buy health insurance across state lines." This is a long-running debate between liberals and conservatives. Currently, states regulate insurers. Liberals feel that's too weak and allows for too much variation, and they want federal regulation of insurers. Conservatives feel that states over-regulate insurers, and they want insurers to be able to cluster in the state with the least regulation and offer policies nationwide, much as credit card companies do today.

To the surprise and dismay of many liberals, the Senate health-care bill included a compromise with the conservative vision for insurance regulation. The relevant policy is in Section 1333, which allows the formation of interstate compacts. Under this provision, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and Idaho (for instance) could agree to allow insurers based in any of those states to sell plans in all of them. This prevents a race to the bottom, as Idaho has to be comfortable with Arizona's regulations, and the policies have to have a minimum level of benefits (something that even Rep. Paul Ryan believes), but it's a lot closer to the conservative ideal.

(2) "Allow individuals, small businesses, and trade associations to pool together and acquire health insurance at lower prices, the same way large corporations and labor unions do." This is the very purpose of the exchanges, as defined in Section 1312. Insurers are required to pool the risk of all the small businesses and individuals in the new markets rather than treating them as small, single units. That gives the newly pooled consumers bargaining power akin to that of a massive corporation or labor union, just as conservatives want. It also gives insurers reason to compete aggressively for their business, which is key to the conservative vision. Finally, empowering the exchanges to use prudential purchasing maximizes the power and leverage that consumers will now enjoy.

(3) "Give states the tools to create their own innovative reforms that lower health care costs." Section 1302 of the Senate bill does this directly. The provision is entitled "the Waiver for State Innovation," and it gives states the power to junk the whole of the health-care plan -- that means the individual mandate, the Medicaid expansion, all of it -- if they can do it better and cheaper.

(4) "End junk lawsuits." It's not entirely clear what this means, as most malpractice lawsuits actually aren't junk lawsuits. The evidence on this is pretty clear: The malpractice problem is on operating tables, not in court rooms. Which isn't to deny that our current system is broken for patients and doctors alike. The Senate bill proposes to deal with this in Section 6801, which encourages states to develop new malpractice systems and suggests that Congress fund the most promising experiments. This compromise makes a lot of sense given the GOP's already-expressed preference for letting states "create their own innovative reforms that lower health care costs," but since what the Republicans actually want is a national system capping damages, I can see how this compromise wouldn't be to their liking.

(5) To stop there, however, does the conservative vision a disservice. The solutions the GOP has on its Web site are not solutions at all, because Republicans don't want to be in the position of offering an alternative bill. But when Republicans are feeling bolder -- as they were in Bush's 2007 State of the Union, or John McCain's plan -- they generally take aim at one of the worst distortions in the health-care market: The tax break for employer-sponsored insurance. Bush capped it. McCain repealed it altogether. Democrats usually reject, and attack, both approaches.

Not this year, though. Senate Democrats initially attempted to cap the exclusion, which is what Bush proposed in 2007. There was no Republican support for the move, and Democrats backed off from the proposal. They quickly replaced it, however, with the excise tax, which does virtually the same thing. The excise tax only applies to employer-sponsored insurance above a certain price point, and it essentially erases the preferential tax treatment for every dollar above its threshold.

(6) And finally, we shouldn't forget the compromises that have been the most painful for Democrats, and the most substantive. This is a private-market plan. Not only is single-payer off the table, but at this point, so too is the public option. The thing that liberals want most in the world has been compromised away.

I think people are allowed to love or hate the bill as they like, but there's just no need to ever say things like, "Think of how different things would be now if the White House had been willing to incorporate some Republican ideas." We know how things would be now if the White House had been willing to incorporate some Republican ideas, because the White House (and more importantly, the actual LEGISLATORS) were willing and DID IN FACT incorporate Republican ideas. And "how things are now" is that most Republicans want to repeal the bill, despite the incorporation of their own ideas. (The whole concept of the Affordable Care Act is something called "Mitt Romney's idea.")


Since I only want to deal with the semi-full Ginsburging Clinton and Gates once today, let's check in on what everyone was saying about everything on Thursday. Our own Howard Fineman is on today, along with Elizabeth Bumiller and Helene Cooper and Major Garrett (who is reliably fun to follow on Twitter, by the way!)

So, Obama used to be totally against dumb wars, but then he became president and discovered that those are literally the only wars that are available, so now we're going all sorts of dumb things, with guns and bombs and drones. Is Libya different? Cooper says that Obama has been super ambivalent about Libya, not wanting to put the American brand on it.

What's the Pentagon's perspective? Bumiller says that in Afghanistan, the Pentagon was happy that we escalated the war, not happy that Obama set a withdrawal date, but now that it's pretty clear that the withdrawal date is a joke, everyone can live with it. As for Libya, the country is "not very popular" at the Pentagon and they're not happy about the ambivalance. Fineman adds that "foreign policy and military policy don't come from Obama's gut," and lacks an "overarching theme" about how he'll project military force. Garrett semi-disputes that, pointing out that Obama's theme seems to be taking a plan-less military action and coming up with an actual plan. (Also: he LOVES him some predator drones, my God!)

Garrett says that the difference in Libya is that here, there's desire (protect people in Benghazi), but no plan.

So, we get into the "desire" side of the Libya matter: Clinton/Rice/Powers haunted by the ghosts of Rwanda, wanting to do something -- but, in Libya, not in other places? This still feels like choosing your humanitarian interventions off the a la carte menu, frankly. Benghazi absolves Rwanda? What absolves the fact that the nation's on a terrible footing for "do the right thing" interventions, having been hollowed out by terrible foreign misadventures and Wall Street's 2008 Decimation Of All Things? Libya is the the Soma we'll use to cleanse the palate of the pound-of-flesh-devouring we've been doing (sadly, instead of feasting on the actual villains of our financial downfall, we've been offered a platter filled with teachers and fire fighters.)

Picking up the thread, Garrett says that the people saved in Benghazi are worthy of being celebrated, and for some reason, Chris Matthews is now showing us the newly released Secret Service tapes of the Reagan assassination attempt two weeks after I heard them on NPR.

So, Haley Barbour? Eleven people on the "Matthew Meter" say that he can run against Obama "without appearing racially insensitive." One person, I'm going to guess Andrew Sullivan, said no, but what a question! I mean, isn't there a difference between inadvertently casting an awkward contrast and being racially insensitive? Racial insensitivity, I think, is not caused by "Haley Barbour simply existing."

But whatever! Howard says that Barbour has to be careful and not make mistakes, and so far, he's made some: his stuff about the Conservative Citizens' Councils being a great example. Fineman says: "If you've got a problem, hang a lantern on it." (And you may as well do that in February of 2011, too! These days the news cycle will burn off your sins faster than fire.)

Cooper says that Barbour would have to "move to the center" (duh) if he wins the nomination, and play up the folksiness to contrast with Obama's cold, professorial bearing. Garrett says that the anti-Obama that Barbour talks about is "folksier, less professorial, less arrogant, shorter answers."

Matthews thinks that Haley is a different sort of candidate because Romney and Pawlenty are basically androids. Fineman points out that despite being essentially forged in politics and being known as a shrewd political fixer, Barbour isn't as robotic as a lot of others. ("You can't see the seams.")

Of course, Barbour's opening gambit has been to question the War in Afghanistan. So that isn't just him being the "anti-Obama," that's setting himself apart from the rest of his opponents. (And who thought Haley was going to take on the rest of field head-first in foreign policy?) I don't know: seems to me that Barbour is the first guy in the race to do something genuinely interesting. Can further advantages be wrought from that?

Things Chris Matthews does not know include: Ron and Rand Paul will be sorting out which one will run for President (Rand can do it without giving up his seat), the top candidates to replace SECDEF Gates are Leon Panetta and John Hamre and Hillary Clinton (no Michelle Flournoy?), the White House is very concerned that some of the Libyan rebels have ties to al Qaeda (yeah, man, that's something that we should have thought of, right?), the GOP is not in good shape in terms of finding someone to take on Joe Manchin in West Virginia, not that it matters, because Manchin is an everyday blessing for the GOP anyway. One Joe Lieberman is gone, Manchin could easily slide over and become John McCain's replacement poppet.

So, Matthews wants to know where Joe Biden was in the Libya debate: Fineman says Biden's invisibility probably is as good a sign as any that Biden was against it, Bumiller agrees and points out that Biden was against escalation in Afghanistan, too. Cooper and Garrett concur. Garrett jokes that Biden didn't want to make a "big blankety mistake." That joke would have worked better if you'd said "bleeping," Major, but I admire the attempt. And Matthews sings the praises of Irish people for not being warmongers, I guess? Whatever, Irish-American people are cool, I married one.


Okay, now at long last we'll get to Clinton and Gates. Don't you love the way this semi-live blog works, where we get to important things only long after I've grown tired of typing them? Whatever! As long as you guys are having a good time in the comments trading recipes and advice and jokes and kindnesses and building lasting friendships, that makes this worth doing.

Well, I think David Gregory sets the table rather well here:

--What happens if Gaddafi clings to power?
--What are the limits of the U.S.'s role if Libya gets into some FUBAR civil war?
--How does this campaign relate to the overall Middle East strategy?

I hope that last part bears connection to, "Are we all in as far as humanitarian intervention in this region" and more importantly, "Is the rest of the world, because we do not have the scrilla to pay for that, remember?" (Maybe Hosni Mubarak can bankroll all of this?)

Sadly, there's going to be the typical BS panel about "how will all of this affect Obama's re-election chances," because that's the main impact of men with guns in North Africa on the world -- rich politicians may lose their seat and have to face a life of extreme luxury and comfort forever, how terrible for them!

Richard Engel says that Western air strikes have allowed the rebels to advance their line 50 miles west of the position they were in 24 hours ago, so this mission, "limited" as it is, is having a dramatic effect. (The question is, according to Engel, is when does this fall into stalemate.

Anyway, Gates and Clinton are here, on tape. Gates says the no fly zone has been a success and the humanitarian effort has been a success, and that we have "completed the military mission, in terms of getting it set up." Clinton says that we have "prevented a humanitarian disaster."

Will we supply arms to the rebels? Gates says no decision has been made by our government, but it would be permissible under the U.N. agreement. Do we want to see the opposition prevail, though? Gates says that the "president's policy is that it's time for Gaddafi to go," but "that's not part of our military mission." So it's sort of like, "It's time I quit smoking," but it's not like you want the Army to stop you from smoking, with guns (consequently, you probably keep smoking).

Clinton says "there are many different aspects to the strategy the international community is pursuing." The military mission is just a part of it! Also, there are "strict economic sanctions" and a "political effort" from the Arab League and the AU, and discussions about "transition." "People around Gaddafi" are apparently "reaching out" to secure a possible exit for him.

Gregory: "So the bottom line is that the president wants [Gaddafi] to go, but the president doesn't want to take him out himself."

Gates: "Certainly not militarily."

Of course, everything that follows from here, is, at least in some sense, a result of someone doing something "militarily." I mean, maybe Gaddafi leaves Libya willingly to work at a bowling alley in New Zealand for the rest of his days, but that's brought about by the fact that we rained cruise missiles on him. I don't think you are allowed to say, "Oh, we didn't remove him by force. There was just a lot of force ADJACENT to the removal."

Gates says that there are other things "in the toolbox besides hammers," it's just the the hammers are plentiful and they explode and look more like cruise missiles.

John Boehner wants to know what the "benchmark for success" in Libya is, which is hilarious, because I think way back when, the only "benchmark for success" in Iraq was "can John Boehner walk around DC with a sturdy piece of timber in his BVDs at all times," but whatever! Let's get all benchmarky as the sun sets on America? So, hmmmm, what is it? Clinton says, oh yeah, GOOD QUESTION, thanks for asking, but didn't you guys pass a resolution for a no fly zone and demand action, and hey, great points: everyone abdicates responsibility, it's no one's fault, if things go wrong, it was probably because of a teachers' union.

Clinton says that if Gaddafi had gotten to Benghazi and massacred people, everyone would be dogging out the White House for doing nothing. Definitely true! And those critics would fall into two camps: one would be people who genuinely care about intervening in humanitarian disasters and who would nevertheless probably, right now, if you put a microphone in front of them would say something like, "That's nice, but what about Bahrain/Iran/Yemen/Sudan/Ivory Coast?" The other camp would be a gang of sniveling political opportunists who don't actually care about such interventions unless it gives them an opportunity to make some cheap political points, and who will find away to make those points despite the fact that thousands of Libyans are alive thanks to us. The problem is that this White House -- like all White Houses! like a long forgotten Clinton White House! -- are more put on the run by the latter group than by the former group. Would that the reverse was true!

Gates says that there will be no American troops on the ground (unless, I guess, if they get shot down and land on the ground). Very strict limitations have been placed on our involvement. Soon it will be like we were never there! The only things in Libya that will be less there than the United States are the things that have been disintegrated by American cruise missiles and Air Force sorties.

What are we doing to fix our "ruptured relationship" with the corrupt Saudi government? Gates says, OH IT'S NOT RUPTURED! Exaggeration! Why the Saudis just make "the largest purchase of weapons in their history" from the United States. FUNNY HOW THAT DOES NOT SEEM TO SET MY HEART AT EASE! "Oh, wait! You say the Saudis bought weapons from us? Ha, ha! And they also sent troops into Bahrain to help put down the demonstrations! Oh, ho ho! I sure hope those two things are not CONNECTED IN ANY WAY! Hee, hee, nervous cough!! You know, U.S. weapons...pointed at Bahrainis! Ha, ha. [vomits up pancreas]."

(Gates will be going overseas to repair the relationship, is the answer.)

What are we doing to help the youth movement in Egypt? "We are continuing to reach out to them." But "at the same time," we are working with the interim government.

Gates says that Libya is simultaneously a vital interest and not a vital interest. Gregory is confused by this, Clinton defends it on the grounds that all basically boil down to, "Well, Libya is probably interesting to someone!" Only it's put in the form of a very good Sunday Morning filibuster. How successful? After it's over, Gregory says, "Before you go, I want to change the topic" to the passing of Geraldine Ferraro.

Senator Richard Lugar is here now, to emphasize that "before we go to war we must have a plan." And there is not a plan! And that the people whose lives were saved in Benghazi were only put in jeopardy because they picked up guns and tried to depose Gaddafi by force. Anyway, Lugar doesn't know exactly what's going on our what the plan is, and honestly, it's hard to blame him for being concerned. (But hey, we could say the same things about Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Lugar says that the White House specifically presented this mission as "save Benghazi" and that having been accomplished, it's presumed we're going to back off -- "this means in essence," Lugar says, "the Libyans are still going to have to solve their civil war."

"I don't think we should be engaged in a Libyan civil war," Lugar says, "The fact is that we don't have particular ties with ANYBODY in the Libyan picture and we will have to adjust to whatever that outcome may be." I hear Lugar talking the "light touch" approach that up until now, I've associated with Obama, y'all, and which contrasts with the "WE MUST DO SOMETHING!" bellows of the McCain set.

Will it require more funds, Gregory asks. "Of course," says Lugar, and so it makes no sense to debate the "deficits and the debt ceiling in the front room" while talking about a long, uncertain military intervention in Libya in the back. And Lugar says that no one has come to him to say, well, we need to fund this, so we can't fund that. (It's almost like people are starting to understand that wars are not deficit neutral!)

Panel endurance time! Today we have Savannah Guthrie and Tom Ricks (artist's rendering) and Ted Koppel and Bob Woodward.

Koppel says that the question hasn't been answered as to why "Libya has won the humanitarian sweepstakes of 2011."

I'll answer that: it's because Gaddafi is a celebrity dictator, and as such, he gets the angry neocons howling and yowling and going straight lyncanthrope, and the media rends their garments and cries, "What's to be done?" and the pressure builds and builds until the White House deviates from their avowed foreign policy agenda and does something ill-advised. That's why Libya won the sweepstakes: because we are unable to discern smart policy once the yowling and howling begins. The same forces caused that yowling, howling song "Friday" into our cultural consciousness this past week too, but luckily, not as many people are going to die as a result. (Still: no fly zone over Ark Music factory, please!)

Is this a message being sent to the rest of the Arab World? Guthrie says yes, and that Obama will have to put this into context, but, what's the message: "Don't get into a shooting war with your own people, unless you can do so without angering up the howling yowlers, like Bahrain has clearly been able to do!"

Bob Woodward is, for some reason, doing a Television Without Pity recap of what everyone's said up till now.

Ted Koppel points out that a lot of the people we're now helping were gleefully killing us in Iraq, so what are we doing helping them? Who knows. Ricks counters by saying that while there's a concern that Libya may end up in the hands of Islamic extremists, but "I don't think all Islamic extremists are our enemy." Okay, yeah, but these guys were our enemy! (They are happy, however, thet we're helping them not die! So that's awesome. Will they return the favor? Does it ever get returned?)

Koppel is feeling me: because uhm...rebels in Afghanistan--------->our support------------->Charlie Wilson says, "These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world... and then we fucked up the endgame." -------->Osama bin Laden.

So, we're talking about the Big Ideas in terms of foreign policy. But this is Meet The Press, so I have a funny feeling that everything's actually going to get really reductive. Bob Woodward's sitting right there! A bomb of intellectual reductivity waiting to go off!

GREGORY: Bob Woodward, the big ideas?

WOODWARD: Well, it's political survival for Obama.

GREGORY: That's the big idea.

[A loud kerrang is heard in the distance, the panel is startled.]

GUTHRIE: What was that?

GREGORY: I've no idea! What was that, is everyone okay?

ME: No worries, guys! That was just me, shooting myself in the face! Please, please, carry on with your discussion about all these people dying and how it impacts someone's election, and definitely couch it in terms of "the big idea" because it's obviously the most important thing in the world.

The polling on Libya is a "51-49" case, Woodward says, so how does he move the needle and totally get over on Mitt Romney? Can you help us out, Libyans?

Is the opposition to Obama principled or feckless? Koppel says that the GOP candidates have all stayed out of the matter, for good reason. (Actually, Haley Barbour has questioned the wisdom of going into Libya, and Gingrich has held all possible positions on the matter depending on which way the wind was blowing.)

Ricks says that there reallly is a natural flow to the Libya matter from his Cairo speech, and that this is "Obama going back to an Eisenhower approach."

Koppel reminds us of the law of unintended consequences. that there was "never a more humanitarian mission" than our intervention in Somalia, and, well...that ended up going pretty sideways on everyone.

I think I'd enjoy more Ted Koppel on these panels, please!

OK, well, that's that for another week. I guess tune in tomorrow night for the president's "So You Noticed We Were Doing Something In Libya (For Which We'll Totally Not Be Committing Any Ground Troops (Maybe?))" speech, which will probably be adapted into an Academy Award winning movie. Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

[We'll be back next Sunday! While you wait, here's the latest Abe Sauer dispatch from Wisconsin.]