TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

06/19/2011 08:43 am ET | Updated Aug 19, 2011

Good morning all, and Happy Father's Day, and welcome to the latest edition of this quickly typed liveblog of political chat show hi-jinks that's secretly a blog about eschatology. My name is Jason. I have nothing pre-ambly to say, so let me brew some coffee and get this morning of our lives over with quickly, I guess! As always you and your fellow liveblog enthusiasts are welcome to get together in the comments and comfort one another about the state of the world. You can also send me an email, if you like. If your appetite for disjointed nonsense isn't satisfied by the end of this, you can follow me on Twitter for more.


Robert Gates is here to talk about all of our wars and the fact they will be someone else's problem pretty soon. Also, Jon Stewart is here to talk about comedy. So it's going to be something of a veer, I guess!

Let's open with the stuff about wars that last forever. We've been in Libya for 90 days, and at long last, Congress has remembered, "Hey! Do we have any say at all in this whole warmaking thing? Or are we supposed to just lie back and try to enjoy it. Just wondering!" Gates says Congress is always threatening to cut off funding, and he thinks it's cute, the way they do that. But he says it's a mistake to cut off funding in the middle of a conflict and that the President isn't in violation of any law. Okay, but what if Congress thinks that the war itself is a mistake? Should they cut of funding then? (Answer: No, Congress only considers cutting off the funding of successful entitlement programs that they can't be bothered to refurbish in evolving times to ensure their continued success.)

Are we involved in "hostilities?" Gates says, oh no! This is a "limted kinetic operation." That's the sort of thing I expect to pay for at a Bikram yoga studio. "Oh, we'll ease you into it. Just some limited kinetics. Soon you'll want to sweat with all of these people."

Chris Wallace is concerned about how much the Libya conflict is costing us! That's so adorable!

Does Gates agree in letting NATO take the lead? "It's absolutely the right strategy," Gates says, because the United States actually does not have an unlimited supply of soldiers and military assets. He thinks that the mission NATO is conducting will end in Gadhafi's removal. But he won't predict how long it will take.

What about the drawdown in Afghanistan? This war surely doesn't cost us any money, so let's stay till the fall of 2012, right? Gates says that he'll present Obama with options and he'll make the call. Gates wants a "modest" drawdown, and Obama wants a "significant" drawdown. But what's the magic number of withdrawn troops that puts Afghanistan at risk? Gates won't talk numbers on the teevee. He says that the strategy, as envisioned since 2009, is sound, the weight is "shifting" between counterinsurgency and counterterrorism. Gates does not think Obama is poised to make a decision that would put any gains at risk.

Mitt Romney was sort of dovey at the debate this week, and Jon Huntsman seems to actually worry about how much the war is costing us, and any teensy resistance to long and stupid wars (or even an assertion of "fiscal conservatism" which was one feature of conservatives that existed before I was born, people tell me) is "OMG OMG ISOLATIONISM!" Is Gates concerned about "OMG OMG ISOLATIONISM?" He says he worries that "people whose primary concern is the economy and the deficit will see defense and our engagement around the world as a way to reduce that deficit." Ha, yeah. I wonder why they would think that?

"My question is, what is the cost of failure?" Gates says, adding, "How much did 9/11 cost after we left Afghanistan?" Wallace points out, though, that there is some "war weariness." Gates says, yeah, everyone's weary, but what about the long-term national security interests of the United States? (Okay, but, Libya, you know?)

How about our relationship with Pakistan? Will we ever be BFF's again? Gates says we just have to keep working at it. Would Gates like to see some of our troops stay in Iraq? He says, sure, there's some interest in doing that, leaving a few troops behind to do training, but he's more concerned about the threat our troops face from the Sadrists. As for anyone saying, Gates says, "That's a matter for the Iraqis." That's true, because of the Status of Forces Agreement, that I've been trying to get anyone in the media to notice/remember before they ask these sorts of questions.

Is Gates sad that Iran still has an active nuclear weapons program. He says it's a concern, but the White House has the right position on it, and he hopes it can all be resolved peacefully.

What's Gates' "big lesson" as a Secretary of Defense? He thinks that bipartisan support leads to success in international affairs, becausse major foreign policy problems are typically solved over multiple presidents and changes in power. He's concerned that there will be a loss of bipartisanship in the future.

Gates says that Reagan was a great president that was underestimated. Bush 41 will someday get the "credit he deserves" for helping to end the Cold War. Bush 43 was decisive, and possessed of "strong beliefs." Obama is "analytical and decisive."

As for the troops, they will be the thing he misses the most about the job, "leaving them behind while they're still in the fight."

Jon Stewart is up next (I guess that hanging out with our troops is the common aspect of today's FNS guests), to talk about stuff related to comedy and the media with Chris Wallace.

Stewart and Wallace toast, because maybe there is scotch in there. Anyway, Stewart has called Fox biased and propagandistic. Would he say the same thing about other news organizations? He says that MSNBC is "attempting" to replicate the Fox business model and be "activist" in their politics. He'd disagree with the notion that the same idea can be applied to the New York Times, as an example.

How does he explain the way the Times approached the Sarah Palin email dump (which, admittedly, was the same approach we took to the same thing), but never said, "Help us go through the 2,000 pages of the Obama health care bill." Stewart says, their "bias is toward sensationalism and's light fluff, and it's right into their wheelhouse." He goes on to say that the mainstream media was just as gleeful following the Weiner story. And, yeah, that's the right answer.

Asked if his comparing Sarah Palin's buss tour video to a Valtrex commercial was a political comment, Stewart says, "That's insane." I think that he was just comparing a filmic narrative technique, and not making a political comment about Palin. But now we're quickly into Stewart's biggest vulnerability in these sorts of chats. He asserts that he's a comedian first, and not an activist. Wallace says, "Well, that's your dodge," and tosses a quote from David Zurawik on the screen, suggesting that whenever there's controversy, he suggests he shouldn't be taken seriously.

"When did I say to you that I was only a comedian? I said I was a comedian first. Being a comedian is harder than what you do...I put material through a comedic process."

Like a lot of interviews I've seen between Stewart and people like Wallace, the mood turns pretty admirably honest, but amorphous. Wallace asks if his Herman Cain imitation is any different from "Amos and Andy," Stewart says that he's got funny voices for everyone. This runs to a conversation about whether or not he and Wallace are the same, and what their "highest aspiration" is. That's an interesting thing for Stewart to bring up, because he has actually been very hesitant, I think, for The Daily Show to embrace high aspirations, and has only recently taken on something of that role. (Probably best seen in the show's angry activism on behalf of 9/11 first responders.)

Wallace says that he thinks Stewart "honestly wants to be a political player," and Stewart says he's "dead wrong." He disagrees with the premise that he's an "ideological activist."

(Is acting on the behalf of 9/11 first responders an ideological form of activism? Discuss.)

Stewart tells Wallace that he things the role Wallace plays on Fox News is to lend "integrity" to the Fox operation and serve as a "counterweight to Hannity."

Now they are discussing a Diane Sawyer promo that left out context on the Arizona immigration bill, and Wallace asks, essentially, is this bias? Stewart says it's bad journalism, and is biased in the "sensational and lazy" way he mentioned before.

"The embarrassment is that I'm given credibility in this world, because of what the news media does." I'm pretty sure I've said this before, but if the media did really well at their job, there wouldn't be a Daily Show. It doesn't quite succeed in the flurry of back and forth between the two men, but Stewart tries to assert the Daily Show as an equal opportunity talker of smack that has an ideological bias against media absurdity and for holding people accountable.

Stewart tells Wallace, "How often do you see your show, on my show? My beef isn't with you."

Stewart says that he is disappointed in Obama. Is he upset that Obama hasn't fixed the economy? He says that he's not convinced that a president can have much sway on an economy, but he hasn't lived up to much of his promise -- after campaigning against the people who broke the economy, he's aligned himself largely with the people who created the mess anyway.

Any of the Republicans he liked? So far, Stewart says, he is not intrigued. He says that he was intrigued by Obama campaigning in a way that convinced him that Obama would "blow up" a corrupt system. Stewart says that Bush 41 is the last Republican he voted for, for president.

Stewart's bottom line is that a) while lots of liberals go to work in the media, they aren't as voracious in the activism as Fox seems to be, but b) Stewart concedes that he is often discomfited by some of the easy ways conservatives are dismissed (glib accusations of racism, et al.).

I don't know, as usual, Stewart leaves ideological firebrands on both sides reason to be mad at him this morning, so maybe he's just doing his best at all times to be honest.

Panel time now with Bill Kristol and Mara Liasson and Dana Perino and Bill Burton.

Kristol and Burton get hung up over the fact that they are both named Bill. Kristol says that the president is not showing leadership on the deficit or the economy. Burton says that there is a Senate Democrat budget coming, and the President has created jobs and the economy is not contracting. He credits the Senate Republicans for specificity, but points out that most of what was specific about their budget was that they specifically looked for ways that would specifically get Obama to veto their plan.

Burton's main point seems to be, "Ehh, you know, passing a budget, it's kind of overrated, and the country is still running, whatever."

Liasson says that the only thing that can possibly pass the congress, in terms of significant policy, are things that are negotiated by both sides.

Also, Obama and Boehner played golf, and "had some fun," and look, Boehner did complain last year that he didn't feel like he had a "personal relationship" with Obama, and while I typically scoff at this notion that once upon a time the country worked because everyone in both parties went out with each other to eat steaks and drink scotch and go whoring, but no one loses anything if Obama and Boehner learn to be able to hang out with each other on occasion. But we're not going to get the debt ceiling raised after a round of golf, don't be crazy!

Rick Perry apparently brought his dog and pony show to the RLC in New Orleans, and now Dana Perino thinks he might run for President. (But he doesn't have an organization yet, and doesn't have an announcement coming until July.) Burton says that Perry would make things fun and exciting, but he isn't really worried that independent voters would vote for someone so extreme.


Everything this nation is about turns to dust if an adequate number of teevee cameras are not pointed at Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, so Face The Nation is keeping us safe on that front, this morning.

First, here's McConnell. What does he think about this whole Obama and Boehner golfing thing? "It certainly cannot do any harm." WHAT IF IT DOES, THOUGH? This is Golf, we're talking about!

McConnell hates the stimulus, by the way! He hates saving the jobs of public sector workers. He hates regulation. He hates the EPA, and the way that they don't just let polluters "grow and expand."

Schieffer asks McConnell if he hates unemployment so much that he'll do anything about it. He says that he'll encourage the president to fight deficits and get rid of regulations. So, no. He likes unemployment just fine.

But Tom Coburn says that people in both parties "are more interested in their political survival" than they are doing the right thing. I think Coburn is right. Does Mitch McConnell think it applies to him. "Well, I sure hope not." The answer you were looking for, Mitch, was "no."

Will the debt limit get raised? McConnell says that no one's wondering if the ceiling will get raised, they wonder if "TEH DEFICITZ" will get fixed. If they can't get something massive done, there will be another short term deal.

Will McConnell go along with eliminating corporate tax breaks if the Dems give on entitlement reform? The short answer: "There's no time!" Also, "we don't have a revenue problem blah blah talking point."

Mitch McConnell, I think, just said that enemy combatants should be tried by a panel of Navy Seals, and their guns, so...great.

Now here's Charles Schumer. He's wearing a green tie and his face is orange.

Schumer hates people who don't talk about creating jobs! He likes talking about the deficitz, sure, but what about the jobs. We should talk about that, with economists. He likes infrastructure, and "some kind of encouraging about employment." I guess that means we stand outside businesses and say, "Come on! Come on! Hire someone! We'll bake you a pie!" Schumer also likes payroll tax holidays, because don't Republicans love cutting taxes for businesses? Maybe they just don't want the economy to grow!

How will Schumer pay for any jobs bill? Schumer says that costs should be factored into a ten year budget plan, but it's critical to get people jobs so that they are back in economy, helping it expand, stimulating aggregate demand, and from there, it's actually easier to reduce the deficit.

But McConnell just said that he hates him some stimulus, dude! Schumer says that 40% of that stimulus was a tax cut! And it prevented things from getting worse. Schumer hates things that get worse, like the New York Mets usually do.

Schumer says that the American people have asked the government to "reduce the deficit and create jobs," and except for the whole "the people have asked the government to reduce the deficit" part, Schumer is right. The people who have asked the government to reduce the deficit are "political pundits."

Schumer on Afghanistan: less troops, more drones, less nation-building, the war is not deficit neutral.

Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) is here now, to talk about Afghanistan. He says that we're "in a precarious place" in Afghanistan and we need "to apply a military solution" to it and not begin with politics. Oh, wow! You mean there might be a military solution to Afghanistan? That's awesome, because as a matter of fact, we've got a bunch of troops over there already, and I bet they'd like to have a military solution!

Rogers says that anything short of Afghanistan being able to defend themselves when we leave is not acceptable. So, check off another decade of us staying in Afghanistan.

Rogers just got back from Pakistan and he says he's "more pessimistic" than ever about our relationship and that the Pakistani government needs to learn that "there's no such thing as a good terrorist." They've been helpful in supporting us, but they're playing a double game. So, we're going to have to "lay out some benchmarks" with Pakistan, too, if we're going to keep working with us. At what point does "laying out some benchmarks" for a government become "nation-building?"

Schieffer says that he wishes more news had been given to the news that many students didn't have a great grasp of American history. Schieffer thinks that we really need to start paying teachers more money, so that the best and the brightest take those jobs. I think that if we really want to get the media to cover education, however, than "education" needs to start posting pictures of its penis to Twitter.


Today, Meet The Press will yammer about Libya and Afghanistan. And apparently, the show has finally recognized that "the cost of war is a huge factor." Wonders never cease, I guess, they just get "left there" at the end of a conversation with Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin and forgotten about until next week, it's old people who are bankrupting the country and teachers who are the biggest devils.

That's a way of saying, great, hooray: Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham are here, to be thudding bores.

And panel people will discuss the 2012 horserace and, of course, THIS WOULD BE THE SHOW to talk about Anthony Weiner. The important panelists are Chuck Todd and Paul Gigot and Antonio Villaraigosa. Doris Kearns Goodwin will be helping put cock-shots in historical perspective. Not sure what Richard Engel is going to say to this panel, but he's on it too. Hopefully his comment will be something like, "God it must be nice to sit around a warm studio and talk about this trivial bullshit all day!"

"A bipartisan golf game captured the eyes of Washington." That's how this show began. Never forget that!

Anyway, Durbin says that the Biden budget people are doiny Biden budget things, and we should definitely raise the debt ceiling. Where does the breakthrough come from? Durbin says, "BLAH PUT EVERYTHING ON THE TABLE." Gregory: "WILL THERE BE A GRAND BARGAIN?" Durbin: "WE CAN MAKE MEDICARE SOLVENT." Everyone should hug, with cliches!

Graham says no one on the GOP side with votes to raise taxes, but they'll be willing to do things that are revenue enhancing. So promises Lindsey Graham: magic dealmaker, who never succeeds in making deals.

Durbin says there are ways to make savings in Medicare that doesn't involve cuts and that Americans will "roll up their sleeves" and help find a solution. (Sleeves are things you put your arms into when you put on a shirt, which is a thing you can buy if you ever have a job again.)

Will draconian cuts in spending halt the fragile recovery? (The answer is yes.) Graham says...uhm...we need to means test entitlements? I guess Graham is just going to answer the questions in his imagination. Anyway: Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill were grownups, so we should reanimate their corpses and allow them to reign over us.

Libya! Doesn't the Congress have something to say and/or do about wars, in the Constitution? Graham says that the War Powers Act is totally unconstitutional and should be done away with, but while the Libyan mission confuses him, he won't be part of any effort to defund it, because Graham is like good-sense-making-machine, operating at full capacity.

Durbin also doesn't like the WPA but thinks the President is doing the right thing preventing the Libyan people from being butchered by Gadhafi. (Presumably, we're doing the right thing in not doing anything about people getting killed in Bahrain and Syria.)

Gregory points out that "what NATO has been doing for several months" in Libya hasn't worked, so why advocate for perpetual war when there's no plan? (By the way, what we've been doing for years in Afghanistan hasn't worked either, just reminding you!) Graham says that we could have ended the Libya mission quickly but we took our "airpower out of the equation," but still the plan seems to be working just fine because he hears that Gadhafi is on his last legs. So it's a plan he hates because Americans aren't the ones dropping the bombs and killing the dudes, but it's still working. WE MUST NOT LET FRANCE HAVE THE VICTORY IN LIBYA, AND WE'RE PREPARED TO SPEND BILLIONS OF DOLLARS TO SEE THAT THEY DON'T.

Graham is similiarly upset with Mitt Romney for suggesting that we shouldn't be nation-building in Afghanistan. Take heart, Lindsey! I'm sure that if Romney honestly holds these beliefs, you can nevertheless count on him not acting upon them.

David Gregory of course, asks: "Ending these costly wars means OMG OMG ISOLATIONISM IN THE GOPZ, RIGHT?" Graham says that he's worried about that. "Is it not a rational response to a decade of war?" Graham thinks that one day, we might be lucky enough to just have a permanent, South Korea-sized military presence.

Durbin says that when he voted to authorize the war in Afghanistan, he didn't vote for the "longest war in American history." Durbin must not have read up too carefully on how "wars in Afghanistan" tend to go for people.

Panel time! To talk about the big horsey race! Chuck Todd says that we're still waiting for someone else to jump into the race, or at least come at the frontrunning Romney with any ability. SO, OMGZ RICK PERRY! He could fill a "vacuum." Who doesn't see a void in their lives and thinks, "Yeah, Rick Perry will fit into that!"

Gigot says that Perry's cachet is that people see Texas as a huge success in the world of job creation. What no one on this panel will probably mention at this point, is that the jobs created are very terrible!

While Texas’ unemployment rate has generally trended with New York’s and has been much lower than California’s since the recession started, wages in Texas lag behind its large counterparts, according to BLS data. (Caveat: The numbers do not take into account differences in cost of living, which can vary widely among different regions in states and among individual states.)

In December 2007, the average weekly wage for Texas workers was $790 (about $41,000 per year), compared to $870 for New Yorkers ($45,000) and $850 for Californians ($44,000). The U.S. average was $750 ($39,000).

During the recession, average weekly wages stayed fairly stable in New York, California and the U.S. as a whole, while Texas’ dropped to $750 per week, a drop of about 5.5 percent. Since the end of the recession, wages have generally risen in all of those regions. From December 2007 to April 2011, weekly wages in Texas increased 0.6 percent, compared to 2.5 percent in New York, 9.3 percent in California and 5.0 percent in the U.S.

As of April 2011, the average weekly wage was $790 in Texas ($41,000), $900 in New York ($47,000), $930 in California ($48,000) and $790 in the U.S. ($41,000).

Additionally, Texas has by far the largest number of employees working at or below the federal minimum wage ($7.25 per hour in 2010) compared to any state, according to a BLS report.

In 2010, about 550,000 Texans were working at or below minimum wage, or about 9.5 percent of all workers paid by the hour in the state. Texas tied with Mississippi for the greatest percentage of minimum wage workers, while California had among the fewest (less than 2 percent).

The state with the second-highest number of minimum wage workers was New York, with 264,000 (or 6.4 percent of all hourly workers in the state).

From 2007 to 2010, the number of minimum wage workers in Texas rose from 221,000 to 550,000, an increase of nearly 150 percent.

The federal minimum wage rose from $5.15 per hour to $5.85 in July 2007, to $6.55 in July 2008 and to $7.25 in July 2009. That certainly contributed to the sharp increase minimum wage earners; however, even though the minimum wage remained unchanged in 2010, the number of Texans making minimum wage or less rose from 474,000 to 550,000 that year, an increase of 16 percent.

The median hourly earnings for all Texas workers was $11.20 per hour in 2010, compared to the national median of $12.50 per hour.

People should mostly be hoping that Perry's "success" in Texas remains localized to Texas.

Pawlenty did a terrible job at the debate, sure! But Goodwin points out it's still very early in the race. So, Tim Pawlenty will have a LOT more chances to screw up his attacks on Mitt Romney.

Richard Engel does his best to inject himself into a conversation that's miles and miles beneath him, pointing out that Romney mistook "Afghans" for "Afghanis" and that the former is "the people that live in Afghanistan" and the latter is the currency, and it goes to show that Romney isn't as well prepped on foreign policy as he's made out to be. (I'm almost 100% sure I've made the same mistake.)

Engel goes on to say that in Libya, the "war" is not "very serious," NATO is not doing a good job, the rebels need more assistance, and that what's happening right now is not going to succeed in driving Gadhafi from power.

I guess I should consider it a major victory that pundits are willing to say things like, "There is war weariness and it's understandable." Nice to know that we're not just being unrepentant dicks when we point out that the Afghanistan conflict has gone on so long. Glad to know that it's "understandable." (Anyone who wants to end it is still not "serious," or course!)

Engel: "Small wars will become the future; drone wars..." So, good luck sorting out the role of Congress to have oversight over warmaking! (First, we have to come up with a definition for the word "hostility.")

Chuck Todd says that Obama hasn't slapped enough backs of Congresspersons, and with a little slap and tickle, it shouldn't be that hard to just get them all to greenlight the bombing of whatever human beings need to get bombed!

WEINER TIME! Put it in perspective, Doris Kearns Goodwin! She says it was bad timing for the Democrats, Weiner lied a lot, and the media was crazy hyped up to cover the story. Todd says that Weiner didn't have any friends who had his back, and is pretty sure that David Vitter would go down, too, if he'd hit peak scandal in this day and age.

I like the whole idea that Weiner's timing was off! Yeah, there was a better time to send the internet a picture of your erection, sure!

There is a debate now, over whether you can still blame Bush for the bad economic things that happened under the Bush administration, even if we all agree that he was responsible. And it seems to be a matter of dispute, as if there was someone else that can be held responsible for that!

Engel says that people around the world basically only respect our military ability, and there's nothing else about us that impresses anyone.

"Somehow the deficit has become" the thing we need to deal with right now, Goodwin says. Gregory adds, "Even our zeal to cut the debt has hurt our ability to have a jobs agenda." Those are some of the things people said today on what has been the most hyperactive "OMG OMG THE DEFICITZ" panic-show on teevee, and largest contributor, by far, to the "Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop."

Now MEET THE PRESS is doing that thing where they show things that happened on MEET THE PRESS a few minutes ago and tells you that it made news. In this case, it's Lindsay Graham getting all mopey over OMG OMG ISOLATIONISM IN THE GOP.

Also, social media says that Rick Perry and the Obama/Boehner Golf Game are "trending" in the media right now, while "losing steam" is the issue of War and Libya and who has the authority to take us to War.

Wasn't someone on one of these shows earlier saying that most of the media is biased towards sensationalism and laziness?

Well, I am sensationally tired, so that's it from me, today. I hope everyone has a very nice week. And happy Father's Day, everyone!

[Hey everyone! More liveblog is coming, as soon as the teevee shows are watched and written about and then published to the web. In the meantime, here's Abe Sauer's latest dispatch from Wisconsin, "Wisconsin, Inc.: New Republican Politics in the Age of the Recall." If you'd prefer something more happily diverting this morning, check out Julieanne Smolinski's "Taglines For Romantic Comedies That Will Never Exist."

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