TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

09/23/2012 09:22 am ET | Updated Sep 23, 2012

Oh, hello there. I didn't see you there. Because this is the internet, and you are not in my apartment, where I can see you. And also because you are probably -- hopefully! -- not even awake yet. Yes, this "hello" stuff is just all artifice, like the sort of thing you might do, at, say, the Univision forum, only less cynical and less embarrassing and less "temper tantrumy." Anyway, my name is Jason. This is your Sunday morning liveblog of the political chat shows.

Relax, it is nice to have you! I wish I could pretend that there was something special on tap for today, but there's really not. There are six weeks before the election, which is just about the most generic number of weeks that can possibly be before something. "Six weeks" is the number you tell people when you are pretty sure that something is going to happen in a little over a month, but aren't completely sure. "Yeah, dude, I am having my vasectomy in about six weeks." It's the least meaningful duration of time there is. How meaningless is it? The Romney campaign is sending Kelly Ayotte to do the surrogate thing today, and she is better known by the Romney campaign as "the energy assassin," according to people we talk to, and also anyone who saw her performance at the Republican Convention. (Note well that I thought she'd make a good running mate, for Mitt, for some reason!)

Anyway, this is the part where I remind you that you all should head on into the comments and say hello to one another. Dropping me a line is always an option, as is following me on Twitter. And if you get bored waiting for my typing -- check out the Sunday Reads on my RebelMouse page.

Okay, on with whatever this is.


So, we'll start off the day with Robert Gibbs and Scott Walker yelling at each other about politics and then have a panel discussion's getting to be pretty routine, now. Just once I would like to have one of this shows starts with Chris Wallace saying, "Guys! Guys! Brit Hume has been playing stabscotch since about six this morning and he hasn't stabbed his fingers yet! YOU HAVE GOT TO SEE THIS!" And then the rest of the show is just us watching to see if Brit Hume impales himself or not.

But we start with the goings-on in Libya, because if you remember how last week the administration was all, "This was sort of a spontaneous thing that arose because of these cartoons" and the people from Libya were all, "Dude this was pre-planned and not random, yo" and then sometime this week the White House was sort of quietly, "Oh, yeah, that was a little terroristic?" and then finally, they were all, "YO, like WE SAID, it was terrorism" and you were like, "Hold on, now?" and they were all, "NO, SHUT UP" and then they were relieved that Romney put out a tax form? Well, now we are going to pepper Robert Gibbs with questions over that.

Wallace points out that Susan Rice was just over there, at his studio, saying that it was not a pre-meditated attack" based on the "best intelligence." So Wallace wants to know, "Why did Ambassador Rice give the American people bad information?" Because she hates us, probably! Gibbs points out that she was giving the best answer based on the intelligence she had, but everyone has learned more about the attack, and who knows? Maybe we'll learn even more about it? Maybe we'll find that Martians did it?

But Wallace says that the President of Libya had fingered al Qaeda, and Rice said something definitive. Gibbs holds on to his explanation, that Rice spoke about the "information she knew at that point," and that "we've learned more and will continue to learn more."

Gibbs goes on the offensive about Paul Ryan's budget, saying that it would "cut diplomatic security." Wallace counters, "So would your sequestration cuts." But those are Paul Ryan's too, honeypot! Gibbs points out that Congress can solve that at any time, and Wallace says that the sequestration was the Democrats' idea. Got to drop some science on you, Wallace! That whole sequestration stuff? Call it a bad idea if you want to, but it was absolutely one of those bipartisan things. And here is Paul Ryan, basically swooning in Brontean heroine fashion over it, back when it was passed:

RYAN: Let me just sum up by saying this, Mr. Speaker. This debate, it's very clear that we have differences of opinions. We have different philosophies on how to address these issues. But we're coming up to a deadline that we all must recognize: default. And so what this has done, it has brought our two parties together. So I would just like to take a second to reflect for a moment that we have a bipartisan compromise here. That doesn't happen all that often around here; so I think that's worth noting. That's a good thing.
First off, as my colleague from Texas has just said, this is a down payment on the problem. It's a good step in the right direction, and it is a huge cultural change to this institution. Both parties got us in this mess. Both parties are going to have to work together to get us out of this mess, and the real problem, I would add, Mr. Speaker, is the fact that we spend way more money than we take in. We have to address that.

To my friends on the left, I think they would like to take comfort in the fact the way these spending cuts are designed and the way the sequester is designed.

To my friends on the right, we are cutting spending. We have been trying to get discretionary caps in law for years. I have been here 13 years trying for it every year, this is the first time.

Dude loved the sequestration so much he might have MARRIED it if his party would have allowed it.

Anyway, that was the Super Committee's deal, and one thing I thing we can all agree on, is that the Super Committee was a terrible idea! Next time you want to get Congress to act, administer a slow-acting poison and tell them you won't give them the antidote until they come to an agreement. That way, America will finally get something out of our legislature -- a bunch of fun suicides!

Anyway, back to Libya. Wallace wants to know if the Obama administration "play down" the attacks? Gibbs says absolutely not, and it's all about steadily learning information as they go along. He goes on to point out that in Libya, this weekend, the people have taken to the streets against "Islamic terrorism and armed militias."

In Afghanistan, it's much different -- the Afghan forces we are training keep doing this thing where they take the training and then, you know, kill the U.S. trainers. Ha, and we are committed to staying there until 2014, you guys! Pop some champagne! Also, Israel says that if they want to attack Iran, they are gonna do it and that we do not have the "moral right" to say otherwise. (I agree with that, at least the whole part where we have definitely, definitely long since ceded the high ground necessary to admonish someone else for being bloodthirsty.

Gibbs says that the training of Afghan forces has progressed. Wallace says, "Yeahm but they've suspended it!" Gibbs assures that all we're doing is "re-screening" the people who have been trained. Maybe they will use the same standards they "stress-tested" the banks with, because then everyone would pass.

Gibbs goes on to say that we have put tough sanctions on Iran. Wallace wants to know if it's slowed down their nuclear ambitions. Gibbs says that the international coalition against Iran has grown under Obama's leadership, which is true -- China and the Russians are on board, at least nominally, and that is useful and helpful. Wallace says that it's not working to anyone's satisfaction, which is also true. Wallace asks if our policy has "stopped" Iran. Gibbs says it's "making it tougher" and "complicating it." And then, for those of you playing the Iran nuclear drinking game, "Our red line is that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon and we've taken nothing off the table in terms of dealing with that."

Also Ehud Barak totally loves us, why don't you cite his neat soundbytes, come on!

Gibbs takes a moment to make sure everyone knows that all these troubles in the world are being caused by a suicidal group of nihilist death-cultists, and not "Muslims writ large."

Wallace wants to spend some time asking about the President's schedule and why he can't meet with certain people, because he's been going on teevee and going to fundraisers and not meeting privately with world leaders, and I think the reason for this is that he's running for re-election? The media creates this horserace nonsense every four years and that criticizes the participants for participating in it. Anyway, Gibbs points out that there are these devices now that allow people on different parts of the planet to communicate with each other telephonically. Wallace is just mad that Obama went on "The View" -- it sucks, but that is just something that presidential candidates do now.

Now they are talking about the recent, timid tax disclosures of this past week, and Wallace wants to know if that "ends the tax return issue with the Obama campaign." (He does say that this is a pretty dumb question, like the kind they ask on The View.) Gibbs says that he only gave the American people two years when he could have offered "straight" talk of a similar standard of other presidential candidates. Gibbs laughs that Romney had to manipulate his taxes by not taking all the deductions he was obviously eligible for in order to be able to say he had paid a reasonable tax rate, which, as Gibbs points out, was something -- paying too MUCH in taxes -- that he once said would be "disqualifying" for a Presidential candidate.

(Also, if he loses the race? He can get that money back. Actually, he can do that if he wins, too.)

Wallace, in terms of the 47% video, says he wants to ask Gibbs a "policy question" and goes on to point out that "46% Don't Pay Federal Income Taxes" (because they are children, or retired, or veterans, or too poor to qualify for federal income taxes, and anyway those that work pay payroll taxes, and sales taxes and also various fees for services) and "49% of Households Get Government Benefits."

Is it only 49%? H.R. 3409 is the "Stop The War On Coal Act of 2012," and what it basically did was protect existing rentiers in the coal industry from losing out on ducats that might otherwise have gone to a cheaper form of energy (natural gas) by literally bringing the scales that represent the "free market" into the room and placing a finger on one scale to prevent Adam Smith's ol' Invisible Hand from working its magical will. So, you can add yourself some rich coal executives to the "households that get a government benefit" and maybe some of them will be lucky enough to meet Bill Gates of Microsoft at the next meeting of the Welfare Royalty.

Anyway, Wallace wants to know if it's "good policy for so many Americans to not have skin in the game" and Gibbs points out that this notion is, essentially, horseshit.

Also, "how big a moment is the debate and who has the advantage?" Gibbs says that it will be a big moment, totally. And Romney has the advantage "because he has been through twenty debates" this year. Yeah but those were terrible debates! And Romney did the smart thing in most of them -- sit back and let his squabbling opponents tear each other apart. (When the moment came for him to rise up and crush Rick Santorum into dust, though, he totally did.) But that's how the "expectations game" is played.

Now here is Scott Walker, who will answer questions about the whole "47%" thing. This is a shrewd deployment by the GOP because a) Walker is not personally touched by this mess and b) he has been extremely successful at convincing poor and middle class people to enthusiastically impoverish other poor and middle class people. So if there's anyone who can talk to the "47%" and convince them that they are not the "47%" but in fact need to put the "47%" to the torch, it's Walker.

Wallace begins by asking why Romney hasn't run the "bold, reform" campaign that Walker himself insisted he needed to run in order to win. Walker says that it's tough, given "some of the issues" that have come up during the campaign. He does like the Paul Ryan pick, because it took Romney to a place where he had "courage and passion."

Wallace is like, whatever, he picked Paul Ryan over a month ago. (Wow, has time really flown by that fast?) So, are they "wasting Paul Ryan, and wasting the opportunity to present a bold agenda?" Walker demurs, and says that what Romney and Ryan really need to do is show some "enthusiasm." That is followed by some generic trickle-down economics talk -- which is also stuff that Romney really betrayed during that 47% speech.

Wallace stays on the subject of the video, and subjects Walker to another viewing of it. Walker says that "most people he talks to" want to "grab a job in the private sector," which I totally believe because most of the people he talks to all work for him. He goes on to try to recharacterize the "moocher victims" as simply hard-working people who haven't had opportunities in this economy. Wallace is all, well, that would have been great if Romney had talked about people like that, but he didn't, he called them victims and useless. "He didn't say what you just said," Walker says.

Walker basically changes the subject to a generic critique of Congress, for some reason. Anyway, he's convinced that Wisconsin needs more appearances from Romney, but that's probably off the cards -- Romney has to go to states that are winnable.

Walker says that "Americans want a fighter" and so he cannot be "on his heels" at the debate. He also says that Romney needs to "talk about his plans" and "get off of some of these side issues" and "show some passion." One can't help think that when it comes to generating passion and having the courage to talk about specific plans, Walker is willing Romney to be more like many of the more talented GOPers, who opted to not even run for President this year.

He seriously wants Romney to come to Wisconsin, which really will not help him. Wallace points out that Obama has a seven point lead in Wisconsin and is way ahead of Romney on who can best handle the economy. So is Wisconsin really in play? Walker insists that it is. He goes on to say that "Romney needs to show that the 'R' after his name stands for reform and recovery."

Wallace asks Walker about his famous union-busting law and the fact that part of it has been thrown out for being unconstitutional. Walker says that it's a short-term problem, but he thinks the state Supreme Court will uphold the law. He goes on to compare himself, favorably, to Rahm Emanuel, but it should be noted that Chicago got sorted out without anyone having to restrict anyone's right to, if Walker wants to be thought of as a guy who brokers deals and ends strikes with both of his balls fully dropped like a grown man, his law against collective bargaining is his own worst enemy.

Now it is panel time with Brit Hume and Kasie Hunt and Bill Kristol and Juan Williams.

Wallace kicks it to Bill Kristol, who really went off on Romney for his "47%" video, and the way it was "stupid and arrogant." Kristol jokes that lots of people have deemed his comments to be harsh, but he reiterates the argument he made -- that conservatives talk about their economic plans with skeptical audiences all the time, and what Romney said really undermines the sort of arguments that conservatives have spent a long time making. From Kristol's perspective -- and there are conservatives who have phrased this better, and my apologies to them for not being able to cite them by name from memory -- it's as if Romney really is a cartoon plutocrat who spent the year before the primaries occasionally reading conservative blogs, and has tried to be an amalgam of who he is and what he thinks conservative thought leaders want him to be. Which doesn't say much about the current state of conservative thought-leadership, but they've taken those warning calls from inside the house already, haven't they?

(Actually, one of Michael Brendan Dougherty's riffs therein is especially relevant to this moment: "But then this free market stuff. Live within your means. Fend for yourself. Be responsible. I believed that. But the people you elected didn't. Bankers, GE, Archers Daniels Midland, military contractors, really all sorts of speculators-they deserved wealth transfers, cheap credit, debt cancellation. These are your welfare queens, conservative movement. Do you know how bad this makes us look, after having attacked poor people and minorities as free-riders?")

But back to the panel. Hume says that Romney's remarks were "not good" but "not fatal" and it forces the Romney campaign to "play defense" at an opportunity cost to everything else they might want to do. "This is a campaign that's running out of time," Hume says.

Hunt says that the campaign does recognize that the video is not good for them, and a "distraction." Going forward, "they look at this next week as their chance to get back into a rhythm" and "recalibrate" the campaign. Wallace points out that it still doesn't sound like Romney's going to be offering the "bold, reform" agenda that, say, Scott Walker just recommended. Hunt says that basically, the goal is to make this a "referendum" election. (That's interesting: Paul Ryan says this is now a "choice" election.)

Is the first debate going to be a "game-changer?" Williams says that it's possible, though there's not a rich history of debates being that big a deal. He says that what Romney has to do is get in front of the shifting opinions on the economy, which Americans now perceive as improving. So he needs to find some big ideas, late in the game, to get behind.

Obama reiterated at the Univision forum that change doesn't come from within Washington. Kristol says that Romney needs to litigate that matter, and needs to rattle Obama's cage on foreign policy, and not the economy -- noting that Gibbs seemed less steady answering foreign policy questions.

Why did it take so long for the White House to come around to admitting that the Benghazi attacks were a pre-meditated act of terrorism and not some random flare-up over a barmy little bit of YouTube bigotry? My take is that they were doing the foreign policy version of the "animal spirits" scenario, where you count to three and pray that the confidence you have in your theory is enough to power it into being. Hume says that the White House is just "deeply invested in the notion" that Obama's overall "attitude toward the Muslim world" is some sort of game-changer in favor of the U.S. "They went into spin mode and it turned out very badly for them," he says.

Hunt adds that Romney did himself no favors by jumping too quickly onto the fire. It's actually interesting to think about how better positioned the Romney campaign would have been if their first response had been some generic "politics stops at the water's edge" stuff, and then let the Obama White House fumble their way around for a few days before stepping back into the fray and lowering the boom. The problem with the Romney campaign, though, is that they are all-tactics-all-the-time.

There is, perhaps, a good argument to be made that in continually decrying this anti-Islam video, the administration keeps elevating it. I don't think it's stupid to publicly point out that the video is rancid, but Kristol is probably right that having Obama decry it, one last time, at the U.N., before an audience of people who already understand that makes no sense.

He also hits Romney for not having anything important to say about this matter, which he calls a "huge missed opportunity."

Williams and Kristol fall out over Obama's handling of Afghanistan, and Williams just shrugs and says, "Right not, the only thing Americans are enthusiastic about Afghanistan is the possibility of getting out." Hume gets in a snit about the media, and how they won't help Republican candidates, and about the Romney campaign's inability to make a bigger deal about whining about the media. Williams snarks about that being "wishful thinking," and Wallace ends this Sunday's session.


Oh, hey, George Stephanopoulos is here today, making a rare appearance at his job. He will be joined by David Axelrod and Reince Priebus, because ABC's bookers are just all out of ideas. That's okay, Axelrod versus Priebus is very easy to recap. (SPOILER ALERT: David Axelrod really favors the policies of this Barack Obama fellow, Reince Priebus does not, and Axelrod tends to get a little "personal space" invadery when the two are together.

Oh, but Priebus is not live in the studio, so no worries.

Priebus says that Romney's "47%" remarks were not "the best said" things, but that this past week was "the defining week in both campaigns," because they are both "crystallizing around a central theme" of "what sort of future we want for ourselves" and only Romney represents "freedom." GSteph is a little incredulous: "You mean to say you like the choice that was presented to voters last week?" Priebus doesn't really answer the question, he just hates "government dependence" and how "Barack Obama's made everything worse."

GSteph reads Peggy Noonan's recent article, in which she called the Romney campaign "incompetent" and in need of an "intervention." (She has since revised her remarks to..."calamity.") Priebus says that Noonan "is really smart" and he read her columns and he admires people who criticize the campaign, but that Romney is running a totally different campaign is going to be fine. Noonan, he says, needs to help with the "pounding away" in a more positive direction.

"I think we have a good week last week," Priebus says, for no good reason. (He thinks Romney succeeded in "framing up the debate," which is sort of insane.)

GSteph points out Scott Walker's admonition, that Romney needs to be more "bold and specific." Priebus disputes this: "I don't think he quite said it that way...he's not right, as we sit here today."

"I'll tell you about specifics," Priebus says, "First of all, Mitt Romney talks about, all the time, about reducing the GDP spending from 25 cents on the dollar down to 20, reducing small business taxes from 35 to 25, reducing income taxes across the board by 20 percent." Yeah, Romney has a specific target but no specific roadmap of how to get there, is the thing. (How they get there, to the best guess of the Tax Policy Center, who were being as generous as they could possibly be, is that Romney enacts a huge tax on the middle class.)

Priebus goes on to say, "As far as specifics go, we're the only ones talking about how to save Medicare" and that "the president's the one that raided Medicare by $700 billion" and sweet Saint Laffy Taffy of the Obvious LOLs, I cannot, with this.

"I mean, we've got specifics coming out of our eyeballs," says Priebus, which is a pre-existing condition he will probably need Obamacare to treat.

Nevertheless, Priebus admits that the GOP has not "laid out the vision" and now only has 46 days to do so.

Quick question on tax returns -- Priebus says criticisms of his tax return disclosures are "totally bogus," and says that the Romney's give a lot of money to charity, and "that's a narrative that has to get out there" more than the narrative "why won't Romney talk about his taxes." Oh, and Priebus thinks that Obama should definitely stop campaigning, when he should be running the country, because it would really help Romney if he could just appear to be the only candidate in the race.

Priebus is sure that the GOP will win the Senate. He is pretty much incorrect when he calls Linda Lingle's bid in Hawaii, "a great opportunity."

Okay, now David Axelrod will yell about all of that stuff.

Axelrod laughs about Priebus saying that the past week was "defining" in a good way for the Romney campaign, seeing as it began with Romney "slandering" half the country and ended with him "manipulating" his tax returns "to try to plump up his tax rate." "It's fair to say that a lot of those 47% he was slandering pay a higher rate of taxes than he does," Axelrod says.

GSteph asks if "there's any juice left in this issue," because that's what political reporters do, now -- ask the subjects of their stories if there's any point to continuing to cover said stories. Axelrod says that we've learned some new things from these tax returns, but he hasn't disclosed "any taxes before 2010." So, no, it's not been resolved to Axelrod's liking.

He also takes issue with the corneal damage being done to Priebus' eyeballs, because of specifics.

Axelrod says, on the economy, that "we've come through this difficult time" and "we've said this before" and then repeats those very talking points you've heard before, from Axelrod, on the economy, which is still terrible.

GSteph asks Axelrod to respond to the new Romney ad about the stimulus bill and Reid and Pelosi pushing the mute button on the president during a conference call, so the two of them could gossip or gripe or snog or whatever without the president hearing. Axelrod says that Pelosi has "denied that incident," because surely she would have otherwise have said, "Oooh, yeah, you got me, Mitt Romney!"

Axelrod wants everyone to think that it's a big deal that Romney will lose Massachusetts, but really, that is one of the least important things going on, electoral college-wise. If Romney wins 330 electoral votes, he will still lose Massachusetts.

That was either a pretty short interview, or just not much of anything was said, or both.

Actually, that was crazy short, and now I have to spend forty minutes with the panel, which consists of Jorge Ramos, Ann Coulter, Nicolle Wallace, Melody Barnes, and Robert Reich.

Wallace says, " I talked to about a half-a-dozen folks inside the Romney campaign, and they see things the way we see things, but they don't see the solution the same way all the Republicans on the outside would like them to solve the problem. Republicans on the outside have angst in two very distinct categories. They have angst about the candidate himself. They believe that what he revealed with his comment, the 47 percent, really shows a misunderstanding, that nobody receiving public assistance wants to be receiving public assistance. And they believe that the truly conservative principle would be to help those people reach out of a position in life. They believe that's the Reagan legacy."

What would she do? She'd tell them to "stop being hostage to the news cycle" and start "trying to drive a message of their own." "I'm not sure why they didn't try this earlier." she says.

Reich says that the 47% video was "a devastating video also because it confirmed the Democrats' story about Romney, which is that he is an elitist, he's out of touch, he's a plutocrat, he doesn't know what half or more than half of America is up to." Also, it kind of made Romney look like an "automaton."

For her part, Coulter wants Romney to show the "Real Romney" and isn't too concerned about where the truth lies in the "47% of Americans do not pay taxes" stuff, because, "most Americans don't know that." She goes on to say that all Romney was doing was "explaining to donors" that "our low tax message isn't going to resonate with people who don't pay income taxes." Uhm, not exactly! The point is, their "low tax message" is absolutely supposed to resonate with them because the message is "we lower taxes on the rich and then that wealth comes down to you."

Coulter and Reich fall out over whether or not the video is that bad when you see it, and it totally is, sorry. Barnes adds that it was "shockingly bad politics," and Peggy Noonan and Bill Kristol would agree.

Ramos adds: "Who's -- who's the real Mitt Romney, the one who said that he didn't have to worry about 47 percent of the people or the one who told us at a Univision meeting that he wanted to be the president for 100 percent of Americans? The problem is that back in February, if you remember, in an interview with CNN, he also said that he was not concerned about the very poor."

Then there is a lot of arguing. Coulter insists that he was talking to donors, no big deal. Stephanopoulous is a bit incredulous. Wallace says that Republicans are much better when they campaign "for the vote of every group." Reich insists that "this video cannot be separated from the Romney-Ryan budget, which cuts dramatically taxes for the very wealthy and also, at the same time, cuts programs that average working people and the poor depend on."

Moving on to Ann Romney, complaining about all the internecine carping over the quality of Romney's campaign, and requesting that some of the critics "get in the ring." Wallace says that the Romney campaign hasn't yet quieted the critics and that the carping will continue. "I think the Romney campaign still believes that they can win, and they're going to have to learn how to do it with the speakers blaring, this loud music of Republican discontent and angst."

Barnes admits that the overall piss-poorness of the economy is one of the big factors keeping the race close, but insists that "when you break open that polling, what you see is that people respond to the president because they believe he gets their concerns, he understands their daily life, and also understand that we're holding even, even in this very, very bad economy, because people think that we're starting to take steps forward."

GSteph points out the swing states are mostly coming out for Obama right now. Coulter says it's still not great that Obama can't get over 50% on many of them (is it better that Romney can't either?) and that right now, it's the media's fault that Romney can't get traction in the swing states.

Reich does the "downplaying expectations" job for the Obama campaign: Go back to the 2008 election, primaries, Democratic primaries, and remember, Romney was -- Obama was not a great debater." Nevertheless, he thinks Romney puts himself at a disadvantage when he stops talking about the economy. (I don't know, of late, he'd be wise to talk about foreign policy.)

Ramos speaks forcefully on pressing Obama on immigration reform: "So President Barack Obama is supporting immigration reform. He's supporting the DREAM Act. But we -- I had to confront him. He broke a promise, and I had to ask him about that. And also, he has deported more immigrants than any other president in the history of the United States."

"On the other hand," he says, "we have Mitt Romney, who's supporting S.B. 1070 in Arizona, who's supporting these very strange idea -- Kris Kobach's idea of self-deportation. Governor Romney is not for the DREAM Act, at least not for students, and he's the first Republican candidate who doesn't support immigration reform. So here you have Latinos having to decide between a president who broke a promise, but, on the other hand, they have a candidate who's -- who's really -- and whose party been attacking Latinos and immigrants for a long, long time."

Wallace says that Romney has to keep focused on the economy, all the same, but insists that "Obama's failures on immigration reform predate his presidency." "It was a great disappointment when -- when George W. Bush, the last president to really champion comprehensive immigration reform, John McCain and Ted Kennedy were trying to get something done, Barack Obama was nowhere. He was not part of the solution. He was not part of the coalition trying to do comprehensive immigration reform," she says.

Barnes disputes this: "My staff was up on the Hill working with Republicans and Democrats trying to craft a comprehensive immigration reform act. And those negotiations broke down." She says that the GOP has "broken its faith with the idea that we're a nation of immigrants and a refusal to pass laws and move them in Congress."

Ann Coulter goes on some tangent about her book, the basic conclusion being that "civil rights" as a concept is exclusively "for blacks," specifically because slavery and Jim Crow made "civil rights" necessary. That's not really what "civil rights" are -- but I suppose if I wanted to be very cynical about things, I'd say something similar, because cynicism thrives in a world where people who would normally be finding common cause with one another and working together to improve their lives, end up being pitted against each other to the benefit of those who want to close off franchise opportunities and protect the meritocracy. (See also: Wisconsin recall.) Civil rights, however, is not a zero-sum competition where "rights" are limited to a few who can, from time to time, claim them.

"Immigrant rights are not civil rights?" asks an incredulous Stephanopoulos. After a pause, Coulter says yes, this is the case. Robert Reich disputes this, as does Ramos, both in ways that restore a certain amount of dignity to this conversation. "That's why the Democrats are dropping the blacks and moving on to the Hispanics," says Coulter, re-asserting the zero-sum vision of civil rights. From there, Coulter and Ramos go for a walk in the weeds over immigration reform, only to be interrupted by Reich: "We have an aging population. The only way we can improve the ratio of people who are working to people who are retired is taking in young immigrants from the rest of the world. And anybody who doesn't realize that and understand this is on the wrong side of history."

There is more on this subject, but it's basically Coulter and Ramos fighting over Pete Wilson, and Wallace and Barnes agreeing that the GOP has, in the past, had a better legacy on immigration reform.

Moving on now, to the Scott Brown/Elizabeth Warren race. Coulter likes Brown, because he is "Bostonian." Reich says that Brown is "walking around with a scarlet R around his neck."

Wallace is bullish on Linda McMahon's chances in Connecticut, saying that "I love that she got up after losing two years ago, threw her money back in." (She should actually do some further study on how self-funding candidates fare.)

Ramos says Ted Cruz is going to win in Texas, which is a complete no brainer.

Who will control the Senate in 2013? Barnes and Reich say Democrats. Wallace says Republicans. Coulter and Ramos say they don't know.

Oh, is that all, then? No. Now GSteph wants to ask the panel about the Emmys. May as well, I guess? Nicolle Wallace is rooting for all the people who are up for awards who were a part of the GAME CHANGE movie. She is also rooting for HOMELAND. Reich loves Claire Danes, in HOMELAND. Coulter is pulling for BREAKING BAD and Bryan Cranston. Ramos likes THE NEWSROOM but it's not nominated for anything, so he's pulling for the COLBERT REPORT and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, and -- wait, wait, wait: why on earth am I recapping any of this?! Who gives a tinned turd?

MEET THE PRESS about ten minutes I will be begging to hear more about how much Robert Reich is looking forward to the new Mumford and Sons album, or something.

So, today, we will suffer through another "surrogates yelling at each other" session, featuring Deval Patrick and Kelly Ayotte.

We lead off with Romney's tax returns -- the 2011 ones, anyway. Should it end the debate? Patrick says that Americans have an understandable "curiosity" over Romney's tax returns. Yes, for generations we have collectively, nervously waited to hear about them, leaving cookies by the fireplace in the hopes that one morning we would come down from our bedrooms and see them, sitting under the tax return tree, with all schedules. But "the more important issue," says Patrick, "is what Romney will do with our taxes."

Gregory reads everyone the really good Ezra Klein piece on responsibility from this week:

Compare Romney to a single mother of two who works full-time at Wal-Mart, who takes the earned income tax credit and whose children get health insurance through Medicaid. Romney says she's not taking personal responsibility. He says he couldn't get her to take personal responsibility if he tried.

And yet Romney is someone who doesn't even have to take personal responsibility for earning money anymore. He is beyond all of that. And he's carried that belief into his policy proposals. His policy platform matches his comments. He won't raise taxes on the rich but he wants to cut Medicaid by over a trillion dollars in the next decade.

Ayotte says that Romney wants to make sure that person gets a good job and gets off food stamps, because "these people want to get off food stamps." Again, this would not be a big deal if Romney has said, "Darn it! The fact is these Americans want to get off food stamps and it's high time we delivered them an economy that gets them back to work!"

But he didn't do that! He said, "Gosh, sorry donors, I'm dealing with these people who are on food stamps who cannot be redeemed in any way." It would be nice if Gregory could catch this, as Chris Wallace did earlier. Instead he wants to know if Romney's 14% tax rate makes him more or less empathetic to ordinary Americans. Remember, David Gregory! Romney temporarily jiggered his taxes so he paid that high a rate, and he can claw those taxes back retroactively, if he wants.

Okay, Gregory eventually gets back to the contradiction Ayotte asserted: "Senator, 'They see themselves as victims.' He now says that he's really for the 100% in America. Is anybody going to buy that given that dim vision of half the country?"

Ayotte responds by saying that Romney was just providing "political analysis at a fundraiser" and "not a governing philosophy." Gregory presses: "Do you see 47% of the country that receives government dependence, do you think they see themselves as victims?" Ayotte responds, again: "What I see is what the governor sees. I see 15 million more people on food stamps that don't want to be there."

Again, that is not "what the governor sees."

Patrick swoops in on this: "I can tell you as someone who grew up on welfare, who spent some time on food stamps, my mother was just the kind of person that I think the senator is describing. Who was aspiring to get to a better place. To get her GED. To get a job. To stand on her own two feet. And the notion that she or we or people like us would be belittled while we needed some help to be able to stand on our own two feet is exactly what I think Governor Romney is conveying--"

And for whatever reason, Gregory shuts him down, and they talk past each other for a little bit.

A few more minutes on food stamps, as if people didn't end up on them in increased numbers over the past few years because there was some sort of global economic calamity that no one wants to address or even remember. The salient argument of today, for better or for worse, is whether those people are irredeemable moochers or not. Happily everyone seems to agree that they are not. Except Mitt Romney. Again, I chalk this up to the notion that Romney has sort of learned "how to be a conservative candidate for President" by reading the backs of particularly paleoconservative cereal boxes.

Gregory asks Ayotte, "Do you think he needs to go beyond saying that this was inelegant to saying that he was flat wrong?" Ayotte says that Gregory is wrong in his analysis and that Romney "cares about every single American in this country," including, I guess, the ones who will never, ever be useful to the country ever again.

Gregory is a bit more forceful on this: "But he was talking about 47% of Americans who pay no federal income tax and who are too dependent on the government. His words. To do everything for them. Housing, food, et cetera. You're not really being responsive to that point."

Gregory then pivots to former Virginis Governor Tim Kaine, who strangely told Gregory during his debate with George Allen that he would not be averse to consider a law that would ask the poor to start paying the income taxes they do not currently pay because of the fact that they do not earn enough money to even qualify. For Kaine, it was a very daft moment -- Allen gets to run an ad attacking Kaine for this, despite the fact that if Allen could put his own "yes" vote in the Senate to a bill that did specifically that, he would in a heartbeat.

Patrick is asked if he supports the idea, and he says, well, this is the first I'm hearing about it, which cannot possibly be true! Kaine's hilarious idiocy was well known and widely discussed.

Ayotte briefly tries to mount the argument that Obama has divided people. Gregory is incredulous: "You're not really blaming the president for pitting classes against each other after Governor Romney talked about 47% of the country that are freeloaders who won't take personal responsibility?" Ayotte says, "His leadership on his policies have failed and he has not been the uniting force that we need to get things done."

Gregory reads Patrick Emmanual Cleaver's remarks about unemployment in the black community: "I'm supposed to say he doesn't get a pass, but I'm not going to say that. Look, as the chair of the Black Caucus I've got to tell you we are always hesitant to criticize the president. With 14% black unemployment, if we had a white president we'd be marching around the White House."

"Pretty stinging criticism from the chairman of the Black Caucus," Gregory says. Patrick sort of gets out of the spot with this: "Nobody is prepared to declare victory. We've had the worst economic environment in a generation or two, since the Great Depression. And that was caused, by the way, by some of the very policies that Governor Romney is urging on the country today. This president has turned that around. This president has shown that he is able to swim against the current and make some change." Basically, slightly more creative variations on the same boring talking points.

Gregory ends with a lengthy plug for some education summit NBC News is hosting or sponsoring. Patrick and Ayotte offer boring, talking point-laden bromides that make no new news and provide no new information. Suffice it to say that each campaign surrogate thinks the person they are flacking for is awesome.

Panel time, now, with Joe Scarborough of Morning Joe-- which, like the Huffington Post DC bureau, celebrated its fifth anniversary this week -- and Bay Buchanan, Dee Dee Myers, David Brooks, Kasim Reed, and Chuck Todd.

Todd explicates the recent polls -- Obama up in Michigan, Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. This is bad news for anyone who is rooting for an electoral college tie, which would hopefully lead to total anarchy and maybe being overrun by people from Quebec.

But, meanwhile, paneling. Scarborough says that the Romney campaign is "in a lot of trouble" but luckily there are 45 more days to do and four debates to go through, in which the "data driven" Romney might well "right his ship."

Brooks is reminded about his own column, which depicted Romney as "incompetent" and "trying to be something he's not...a government hater." So out of touch, right, David Brooks? "Well, A couple of years ago I had a chance to have dinner with Tom Clancy..." Oh, really! Is he one of the people you traveled Europe with, following Bruce Springsteen around because you just have to see the Boss in the setting he was intended to be seen, which is, naturally, Barcelona?

Anyway, the point is that Tom Clancy has passion for guns and so he writes about them and people believe it, and Romney is not passionate about the things he is talking about. His advice? "Be a Powerpoint guy." I'm sure we all have memories of a Powerpoint presentation that inspired us to stop being victims, right?

Bay Buchanan frames the entire "47%" remarks as one in which it's totally okay to write off half the country because there are only about 6% of the country who are persuadable. Remind me: is the country polarized? Or do our politicians and pundits go out of their way to polarize the country?

Reed calls Buchanan's defense incorrect and Romney's comments reprehensible. Romney, he says, is a "defective" candidate and it should not surprise Republicans. "The best analysis of this election this year that I've heard was from a Republican friend that I was having dinner with. He said that this guy's defective. He said he's like being a bad NASCAR driver on a rich team. He said, 'No matter how good the car is, no matter how bad the pit crew is, the driver's gotta drive the car.' And this guy puts it on the wall every single time."

Dee Dee Myers asks: "Does he have any understanding at all, life outside the bubble that he's lived in?" Hey, I've been asking that question about all of you mofeaux!

There is about an hour of crosstalk, because David Brook and Joe Scarborough want to mansplain things to Dee Dee Myers.

Brooks says that Romney has "the perfect life for someone who wants to run a 'compassionate conservative' campaign," and so it's weird that he doesn't get to run like that. Dude, are you advising Romney to, say, run on his healthcare reform? Try it, see where it gets you, and then ask yourself if maybe the problem is that the right has gone a little bonkers in the head from way back in those "compassionate conservative" days. Because YES OF COURSE ROMNEY WOULD PREFER TO RUN A RACE LIKE THAT ONE -- THE ONE HE RAN IN 2008, REMEMBER?

Scarborough is pretty sure that the 47% remarks won't change many votes, but it is bad because it is dispiriting to conservatives -- and that Margaret Thatcher would never say things like that. Bay Buchanan totally wants to fight him on this score, and they do. Buchanan is upset because she is the only person at the table who thinks Romney's remarks are fine, on the grounds that Romney has led an exemplary life and that people should be grateful for that. She goes on to reiterate the whole "moocher" case, but no one else at the table is buying it.

Gregory goes on to point out that Romney's unfavorable rating is the "highest of any candidate running in recent memory." Buchanan says this is the media's fault. Scarborough won't have it, and just sits there listing the names of conservative media A-listers who have all labelled Romney inept.

This has basically become the beat up on Bay Buchanan hour, which may or may not solve the country's major problems. I'm leaning in the direction of saying that it will NOT solve anything, but at least this is something we haven't tried yet, making Bay Buchanan mad.

Now David Brooks and Kasim Reed are fighting. Brooks wants to know what the most significant law Obama has proposed for his second term. Reed answers "The American Jobs Act," which really doesn't count. There is a lot of crosstalk, with Reed dominating just because he is the more forceful voice in it all, not because he has anything particularly novel to say. Scarborough insists that Obama "has no plan over the next four years," and that Romney could add something of his own. But he refuses to do so, so Scarborough is not surprised that no one is coming to his corner.

Bay Buchanan is pretty sure that Romney is awesome, and that his numbers are coming up while Obama's are going down, which is just not what is happening at the moment. Lord knows, a couple weeks from now, if the Obama campaign gets fitted for a pair of cock-up clogs of their own, we might be able to say that. This is a weirdly close and interesting race for a race that is so bent on being utterly vacuous! But it's just a dumb thing to insist that Romney's numbers have bee improving the week the poll average in North Carolina moved back into a tie.

Scarborough continues to antagonize Bay Buchanan, like it's his job. "So what's the message," he asks, dripping with sarcasm. Buchanan's answer is that Romney's inadvertent 47% remarks from the video he didn't want released is the bonafide message of the Romney campaign.

We break for commercial...ugh, still a quarter hour of this nonsense to go. Gregory plays Ryan's appearance at AARP, where he got booed for vowing to repeal Obamacare. Brooks calls the GOP passive in the face of the Medicare argument, saying that Ryan's plan is good but the Democrats are successfully scaring people. Scarborough also praises Ryan, saying that he wishes Romney would show a similar courage. Reed counters this: "This is about more than Paul Ryan being booed at AARP. This is about the American people not wanting to privatize and voucherize Medicare that they've paying into."

Ha, ha. Reed also remembers the Obama-Boehner Medicare-and-budget "Grand Bargain" that all of the Beltway Media has tried to stuff into the memory hole: "A $4 trillion deal where we put everything on the table. If we want to get a deal, let's get an overall global deal that puts $4 trillion on the table that includes revenue raises." We might be miles down the road on this issue had Boehner been able to keep his caucus focused on winning that bargain.

Bay Buchanan flails, "When will the president do the heavy lifting?" Uhm...see the one thing that Obama didn't get, along with the rest of the "perks of office" is a Green Lantern Power Ring that allows him to just physically manifest his willpower in ways that other human beings cannot match -- so, grand bargain offered, grand bargain denied, because the will of Obama and Boehner was not enough.

Lots of yelling. Brooks finally grabs the conch: "The Republicans are going to agree to raise revenue. The Democrats are going to agree to restructure Medicare. They're probably not going to do it before a big national bankruptcy because it's politically hard. But that is the deal. And we're going to solve it sooner or later, but probably after some big national crisis." Yeah, probably. But for how long have we been observing this? We are typically, pretty great when disaster has already befallen us. No one wants to expend the effort to get out in front of the next one. We haven't been that country in decades.

Actually, we are now evolving into a country that actually wants to have more disasters -- as the whole, "let's not raise the debt ceiling and instead destroy the global economy for kicks" episode we just endured. (By the way, if elected, Mitt Romney's going to want to raise the debt ceiling a bunch of times!)

Anyway, things cannot be that bad, because for whatever reason, everyone is talking about baseball.

Okay, well, that's another week in the books, in terms of our Sunday morning politics. Let us all enjoy the rest of our Sunday, and welcome my favorite season, Autumn, which helps cool off what Leslie Knope accurately referred to as "this stupid swamp city." Enjoy cooling temperatures, America, and have a lovely week!

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