MEDIA
12/16/2012 10:07 am ET Updated Dec 16, 2012

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Well, everyone, good morning. I am very happy to have you guys here, for this Sunday liveblog of the political chat shows. My name is Jason, and this will be the last of these liveblogs before I go on a one-week break for Christmas starting next week.

Of course, the elephant in the room today is this terrible tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut, which may be the saddest thing I've seen in the news since I started writing here in 2007. Obviously, there is a certain myopia, bred by immediacy, that perhaps clouds some other sad event -- please, that's not an invitation to send me corrections. Obviously my bext wishes go out to everyone today who, unlike me, does not have the luxury of being able to say, "Welp, I'm going to not confront this for a few hours." I'm quite gutted by the thought that there are so many parents out there who would ordinarily be looking forward to spiriting gifts out their hiding places, putting them in stockings and under trees, and telling their children that those things appeared by magic because they were good and deserved them. And I'm worried that this time of year is never, ever going to be the same for them. (And I hear that some people in Newtown are taking down their lights and stuff because it doesn't feel right, and I thing that's probably a nice intention, but is it REALLY a good thing to make that part of the world less cheerful? I mean, what would you do?)

I also kind of don't know how if I should try to write something here that's comforting or wry or angry or helpful. I can't help but think that if some plaything from Hasbro or something had caused a bunch of small children to die this week, we'd be sufficiently brave, as people, to at least talk about stopping that. As someone pointed out on Twitter, we took a stand against Four Loko and got it "well regulated" and I don't know if it killed anyone. But in this instance, too many people people are too cowardly to actually be a part of anything but the preservation of this status quo. And you know what people go out and buy when they are feeling like a coward, right?

But, I've started and restarted this thing today about a half-dozen times in a half-dozen ways and sooner or later you have to say to yourself that this is just a dumb re-accounting of the blatherskite that people say on these truly decadent television programs, and not something that's going to solve this problem with words in ten minutes after a few thousand people read it. But let's just begin this thing, and it will be whatever it is today. It might be great, it might be lame. But it won't literally hurt anyone, and it will be the least of our worries.

FOX NEWS SUNDAY

Okay so this is going to be a pretty hard iteration of this show to watch because it's all tragedy all the time today. We begin with live details of what's going on right now. Basically, people are crying and mourning, and the report from the medical examiner, who probably would have retired a happy man without ever having to give a press conference, basically says that this is the "worst he's ever seen." Just that. He doesn't put it in a category, like, "worst donut" or "worst parking space." Just the worst. It is just the worst thing ever, according to the medical examiner.

The reporter says that people are drawing on the "bonds of small town America" but these are also the bonds of huge cities so enough of that, don't be silly.

There is a second report, that also goes on at length to describe that people are very, very sad, and there's even a bereavement counselor who is basically saying that he's on the verge of losing it completely.

Okay, now there are some parents of students who are okay, and they call what happened "incomprehensible" and "senseless" and make it clear that it's kind of an awesome responsibility to talk about this with their kids. Wallace asks one mother and father if their daughter, who is there, would like to talk about it, and her father basically, politely shuts that down, saying that they are letting her open up about it at her own pace, and so, no.

One parent tries to talk about the teacher, Victoria Soto, who saved many lives Friday and gave up her own in the doing of that deed, and he clearly wishes that he knew his kid's teacher better but does what he can to valorize her in a fitting way. And we get to Chris Wallace reminding us that the school's principal, Dawn Hochsprung ran in the direction of danger to try to stop it, and okay, time for me to take a break, because I cannot even with this.

The parents basically go on an extended monologue about how awesome Principal Hochsprung was, and seeing as she seems to have thought Thomas Friedman to be a hilarious fraud masquerading as a public intellectual, I probably would have really liked her, too.

The interviews conclude, with parents describing the act as senseless and terrible.

Now Joe Lieberman is here. "We have been through this too many times," he says, "We need a national commission on mass violence...to make sure the anger and heartbreak we feel right now is not dissipated over time." I don't know if circumstances are going to let that happen. He says that this reminds him, somewhat, of how he felt after the September 11th attacks. He advocates a mixed bag of solutions -- from better mental health services to get to people like the shooter before they reach this point of no return and better gun policies that keep weapons out of the hands of people like this killer, to exploring the role that mass entertainment played in this, and I'm sorry but no, there is no movie or song that's breeding a generation of killers.

Lieberman supported the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban, Wallace points out, and after he and Al Gore didn't end up prevailing in the Supreme Court, one of the takeaways was that it was too hard for gun-control Democrats to win national races. And, indeed, the Democrats have basically abandoned any gun control effort of the one-size fits all variety precisely because that's the position they needed to abandon in order to win the electoral votes of Colorado and New Mexico.

So, time to push for gun control? Lieberman says yes -- and that all political parties have to play a part on it. He says, absolutely, that laws will not stop all violence. You may not have noticed, but all those traffic lights that we pay for and erect all over the country do not stop everyone from colliding with each other in intersections. But we don't tear them all down, because we think that some amorphous idea of "liberty" will do a better job. Nevertheless, Lieberman says that a modicum of common sense regulation can absolutely limit the incidences of mass violence.

Lieberman says that the people who make entertainments may need to be forced into "toning it down," and I mean, at some point, I just think we need to say that if vulnerable young people are really getting their brains re-wired by a videogame or a rock song, you have to wonder about whether those parents are paying enough attention and taking enough responsibility. I don't understand how you can become all murdery, listening to like...Bauhaus or something, unless you are a completely blank slate, ready to be stimulated to act by the first zazzy thing you encounter. And I don't know how you get teenagers and young adults who are complete tabulae rasa unless the adults in their lives are just derelicts.

None of this seems applicable in this case though, because this shooter was seemingly disturbed in a way that most people are not, if the reporting on the matter is true, and hey, who knows? Maybe it's not.

Now Senator Dick Durbin is here. He says that we need a "national conversation" about safety, and school safety, and gun control. We need, he says, to have a sincere conversation about the second amendment, and whether or not it's really right for people to be able to purchase military-grade weapons and ammunition and ordinances, and high-capacity magazines -- a product that is basically used to kill many human beings really quickly, and let's face it, if you have one in your home it practically calls out to you, wanting to be used for its intended purpose, I bet.

I mean, we actually do have, from time to time, whether our society should allow works by Keith Haring to hang in museums where any old person can discover them and feel offended, so I think it wouldn't kill us to have a conversation. You know, so far, in the history of "having a conversation" -- there has never been a conversation that got so out of control that a bunch of small children died.

Conversations are a lot like the works of Keith Haring, in that respect.

Wallace points out that the cowardice that keeps us from having this conversation is not restricted to Republicans, it's members of Durbin's own party, too. And this is why the whole pit-the-right-against-the-left thing doesn't always work, because I think that we can probably all agree that Dick Durbin is here to represent something other than "the Democratic Party" today.

Durbin reiterates that there's really no reasonable circumstance in which he can imagine the family of the killer needing to have a military style assault weapon. We can all revisit that if it turns out that the family was going to personally try to stop a genocide somewhere, or something.

Durbin also disagrees with the notion that teachers and principals should arm themselves as the solution to this mess. He is right, in a way, because the moment you arm principals and teachers, you are saying, "So, we took a vote and we've given up on solving this problem. Mass violence in your schools? Accept it. Expect it." And then I guess gun training will be another class that all the teachers have to take to keep up with their endless re-accreditation they have to go through in order to keep progressing in their low-paid and underappreciated career.

Of course, arming all the teachers would be potentially game-changing the next time someone decides to take away their rights to collective bargaining.

Durbin felt that after the Aurora shooting, there was no chance that Congress would do anything in response. Now, he says he is somewhat more confident. I guess you'd have a thin sliver of hope to be able to even wake up this morning and talk about this.

Now here's Representative Louis Gohmert, who would truly be a member of the House Numbskull Caucus even if he was fanatically in favor of gun control -- which he is, of course, not, but that really is merely incidental to the fact that a dissected frog with electric current running through its leg muscles demonstrates a higher level of cognition than Gohmert.

Gohmert says that killers of mass killings always go to places where they no that no one will be armed. Which, when you think about it, is EVERYWHERE. There are very few places that I've been to, where I expect multiple people, armed to the teeth, to be. So, if I woke up tomorrow with a yen to kill a massive amount of people, the world would literally be my oyster. I suppose I'd eliminate the Pentagon and Fort Myers and police stations and Langley and the FBI headquarters and then I'd be left with literally the entirety of everywhere I can drive to inside of five minutes.

Anyway, as you might expect, he thinks that all the teachers should be armed, and literally has this cool single-shooter videogame fantasy about how the shootings at Sandy Hook would have gone down if only his retroactive continuity comic book had been published in time:

"Chris, I wish to god she had had an m-4 in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids."

Yep, the head shot is always so cool when you are rocking it on your Playstation. And then up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-start" and you unlock the smart bomb and when it detonates all your kids pass their standardized math tests.

Wallace asks why anyone would need an assault weapon, and Gohmert basically says that we need them in order to lead an armed insurrection against tyranny. Of course, Gohmert thinks that the Affordable Effing Care Act is "tyranny," and if all these people who possess assault rifles feel the same way, I have to ask, "Why has there not been an armed insurrection yet?" And: "What are you people waiting for?" I basically like the Affordable Care Act, but if I had my druthers we'd have single payer health care like they do in socialist Canada. If there was a cheat code I could press right now to unleash the "tyranny" of Canada-care on this country I would not hesitate to make with the "up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-start." And ain't none of you gonna come step to me with a gun. Ain't none of you have the guts to do that.

And so, like they say, all that talking is only bravado. So cheap. Can't purchase anything with it, least of all some manhood.

Ugh, let's skip to the panel discussion. Ronald Stephens is here right now trying to talk soberly about school safety but I cannot even concentrate, I need the soft, aimless, numbing balm of roundtable chitchat.

Okay, so if you knew that you would die today, if you saw the face of God and love, would you say, "I want to spend some of my last precious hours listening to Brit Hume and Nina Easton and Bill Kristol and Liz Marlantes?" Probably not!

We kick things off by running down a list of terrible mass shootings, and we'll ask Brit Hume what to do about it. I don't know if he knows exactly how stupid his next words are:

HUME: The hard thing to do in commenting and reacting to this is, so much of the information we have gotten so far turned out to be off base, that one hesitates to draw any conclusions, based on what we think we know, because there is so much we thought we knew and turned out to be not true and, we are remarkably early in the process, finding out what really happened and will be a while before we can make intelligent observations.

To which U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice might retort: "Where the f--k did that come from, all of the sudden?"

Nina Easton suggests that this event might be a tipping point that leads to something that someone somewhere might call "meaningful." Her suggestion? She supports Joe Lieberman's idea of a commission of some kind, because commissions have been doing such a bang-up job of solving everything in Washington, lately.

Kristol says that Republicans should "take a serious look at anything that might work," but considers assault weapons bans to be "symbolic" and his idea of the serious stuff that needs to be "on the table" (and let's just call this a Sunday Morning Liveblog Law that anyone who uses the "on the table" metaphor has to turn in whatever license that has led them to be considered a serious thinker for one month) is stuff like, "let's divert the money that funds background checks and buy security guards." He then lamely tries to get divisive on the matter, by pointing out that Democrats run the entirety of Connecticut (except for the independent Senator who was willing to be a little more serious a few minutes ago) and Nina Easton shuts that down, saying, "State laws are useless, you can purchase these things on the internet."

Wallace and Marlantes share a moment of cynicism over how ruddy useless everyone is, with their "hearings" and "commissions" and "working papers."

Brit Hume reiterates all of his hilarious, "we don't know what happened" and Wallace praises him for being someone who doesn't "rush to judgment" and I'm like, "Chris Wallace should really watch this show called Fox News Sunday," and Susan Rice, I imagine is saying, "Ugh, these people are such stunning and pathetic hypocrites."

For almost no reason, here is that video of that guy who danced with people all over the world that cynical people say is cheesy, but I don't know it seems that most people like it, and it reminds everyone that there are really cool and beautiful places in the world? Let's watch this and try to feel better or something? If this doesn't help, I am open to suggestions?

Okay, what else is on my TiVo? Oh, here's something.

FACE THE NATION

Okay, we'll wade back into this right from the very beginning almost, with Bob Schieffer starting things off by saying that "things get worse, with every new detail." And he states, rather frankly, that they got lots of details wrong in the first-day fog of this terrible event.

Lieutenant Paul Vance of Newtown's police force is here to talk, and I'm really impressed, overall, with the way this guy has comported himself on what have been the three worst days of his professional life, if not his personal life. He says that all of the various crime scenes continue to be examined, and that many warrants have been served "on multiple locations." Does he have any insight into why the killer did what he did? "The straight up answer to your question at this moment of time," he says, "is that we don't have that specific answer." Getting there will take "an immense amount of work."

Schieffer asks about the killer's family, and Vance says that local police didn't have much contact with the family, but that is also part of the investigation. He says that he cannot discuss the content of any electronic devices or writings that they have obtained. He says that he has begun the process of tracing the weapons involved, and where it was obtained.

Schieffer invites two reporters to talk about the matter, and answer the same questions -- but one of these guys is in Washington and the other is in New York, so I'm not sure this is going to be particularly useful. One of them says that the cops have subpoenaed the killer's electronic accounts, and there's going to be many long nights of reading emails ahead. As to the family, and their guns, the other guy says that the mother of the killer was an "avid sporting enthusiast" and that Connecticut's gun laws are quite strict and so she has dotted the i's and crossed the t's, et cetera.

Why did the killer go to this school to shoot it up? "No clear reason," says the first guy, "so we have to extrapolate." No we don't, actually!

The second guy says that they killer's computers, which had been "smashed to smithereens" could "be the key," unless they aren't. Unless there's nothing on the computer that helps us make any sense of this is all.

Now Senator Chuck Schumer is here, along with Schieffer saying, essentially, that all of the pro-gun rights members of the Senate Judiciary Committee were either "unavailable" or "said no" to coming on the show today. Ah, well, as Mr. Tolkien said, "A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it."

Anyway, Schumer says "we could be at a tipping point," which kind of mirrors what Durbin said, earlier today. Probably the staging ground for the Committee To Do Something About This That Isn't A Bunch Of Complete Bullshit is in the apartment they share in Washington. He says that for starters, you pass the assault weapons ban, you limit magazine capacity, and you make it harder for mentally unstable people to get guns. "I am hopeful that there can be some kind of change."

But Schieffer wants to know why is it so hard to get anything done, pointing out that it should probably be easier to have a conversation about stopping little kids from dying than it is to have one about tax policy. Schumer says that there's gridlock and distrust in Congress, and "we need a new paradigm" to bring the two sides together. He says that the one side needs to admit that people have the right to bear arms, and it's weird to read that amendment so narrowly while suggesting the broadest read on the other parts of the Bill of Rights. He says that the other side needs to admit that there are still plenty of limits on those rights that currently enjoy broad interpretation. In other words, it can't be a conversation where the positions are: "get rid of all guns" and "own every time of killing machine imaginable."

Now here is Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, to tell us that he still has too many questions left unanswered, and that he is as overcome and overwhelmed as everybody else. I zone out for a couple of minutes. When my concentration returns, Malloy says "you have to wonder is assault weapons" should be as widely available, so that they might be put to such "disastrous" ends. He says, however, that he's not actually had all that much time to consider the national picture, because he's been tending to this community, which will host at least eight funerals this week.

Will the children be ready to go back to school on Wednesday? Malloy says that he reckons that lots of people would like to return to normal as soon as possible, and of course the school system will be ready, but who knows the answer to that? They should be prepared for a lot of children who will walk down the same hallways and pass through the same doors that they used while, you know...fleeing for their lives.

Here's what Bob Schieffer has to say, personally, about all of this:

By now, the pros and cons of the gun issue are well known, but here is the question that must be asked -- is what happened Friday the new normal? Of course, there are reasons for both pleasure and protection to own guns, but if the slaughter of innocent children is not bad enough to make us rethink what we can do to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, what is bad enough? To what depths of horror must we sink before we say this cannot be tolerated? Are we willing to settle for a culture in which kindergarten children are no longer safe in the classroom and the visit to a mall or a movie is a life-threatening experience? In recent years there has been no serious effort to address this problem, no piece of gun legislation was seriously considered during this session of congress. It's a subject no one wants to talk about for fear of offending the powerful gun lobby. Perhaps it is time to remember what Ed Murrow said. We are not descended from fearful people. Our forefathers had the courage to tell the most powerful country of their day "You have gone too far, we can tolerate this no more." Upon this courage America was built. Have we, their descendants become so afraid possible political consequences that we are unwilling to explore ways to make a safer world for our children? I cannot believe we have. I think we are better than that.

Here now, is a panel with Dr. James Peterson, Dan Gross, David Frum, and Jeffrey Goldberg. You'll be surprised to know that though Schieffer asked a representative of the NRA to come on the show, they declined. Ah, well, as Brooke Westcott once said: "Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes of men. Silently and perceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or weak; and last some crisis shows what we have become.”

Is this a tipping point, that could precipitate? Gross says that "this is a pivotal moment in the history of this issue," and that the problem is that there is a disconnect between what the people want, and what lawmakers are willing to do. The public wants to have a conversation, but their public servants refuse to engage.

Peterson says that we "are moving in two different directions at the same time," with mass killings becoming as normal as broad libertinism in gun culture.

Frum adds that this is the one category of deadly crime that is escalating, and that in all other arenas in life, we are safer than ever before. "The availabilty of these weapons that people falsely believe will protect them, is in fact THE great source of danger," says Frum. (He notes that he is a Canadian, and that this is "one of the areas where Canadians do not understand their neighbors...why anyone needs a semi-automatic weapon."

Goldberg says that sadly, after a flare-up of concern, we will be back to "business as usual," and within a week, the great "danger" will be the "fiscal cliff" which is a metaphor, that won't kill anyone. And Goldberg thinks this is terrible, terrible, terrible.

Gross is going to try to gather people from "Columbine and Aurora and Virginia Tech" and bring them to Washington to try to do something, at least show up and be visible. (They will be in DC on Tuesday.)

Frum reckons that "the law is going to lose to technology" and that this is going to make the outright banning of weapons, even a certain category, a fairly Sisyphean task. He advocates, instead, for the strongest possible background check regime, where you have to demonstrate soundness of mind and be a thoroughgoing expert in how to use the gun safely. "If you have a record of domestic violence, you should not be able to get a gun," he says.

Goldberg points out that many of the disturbed people who commit these crimes are falling through systemic cracks so wide that there are no watchlists that they can possibly end up on, and that has to change before Frum's idea will work. It is almost as if the things that make our civil society cost money to construct, and so maybe it's not actually a good thing that everyone's tax rates are at historically low levels.

Frum points out that the most successful public safety campaign in the history of America was Mothers Against Drunk Driving. And it was successful, and we should consider whether there is an appropriate analogue, here. But I don't think Frum fully appreciates the fact that one of the reasons that MADD was successful is that when they started agitating, they very happily discovered that there wasn't a well-funded, well-staffed, hyper-influential pro-drunk driving lobby that had bought all of the politicians.

Goldberg: "Guns can become the new cigarettes." Bad analogy! What we don't need is the government filing a bunch of civil suits against gun manufacturers that turn into an influx of money that we get so dependent on that we need to ensure that more guns get sold so that the gun manufacturers continue to be profitable enough to fund things. (Yes, a lot of this hooks back into the web of influence and corruption and cowardice and the fact that all the good guys in this town are often outnumbered.)

Now we go to a reporter that's in Newtown, and he says, "This is the saddest place I have ever been...it's all grief." And I have to get up and walk around for a few minutes again, which sucks because I was doing okay there for a few minutes.

Finally, one of the correspondents says, "I covered airplane crashes for fourteen years and every time the question was the same, 'Why did this happen?' And at the end of the day we'd go through this painstaking fact-finding process and we'd often come up with a 'why.' In some ways there was a satisfaction there. What I am afraid of here -- this is most gut wrenching story I've seen in a long, long time -- is eventually the police will probably be able to come up with a plausible explanation and motive, and I'll tell you now that it won't be satisfactory, because logical people, people in their right minds, will look at what the police explain and say 'That still doesn't make any sense to me.' And I'm really afraid we will never have an answer that we can accept here."

I worry the opposite, actually. I worry that we'll get such a tidy, detailed explanation of what happened -- something truly specific and well-investigated and all tied up in a ribbon, that it becomes super-super-easy to safely conclude, "Oh, that was a one-off. That's the Black Swan Event -- the once-in-a-hundred-years-scenario -- of school massacres." And we'll feel relieved and we'll get confortable and that will be that.

We are getting so good, at getting so comfortable, with the Black Swan Event/once-in-a-hundred-years-scenarios. You know that the entire financial crash of 2008 was precipitated by a series of market-ruptures that were deemed to be Black Swan Event/once-in-a-hundred-years-scenarios? Have you not noticed that each and every devastating hurricane that hits us is of the Black Swan Event/once-in-a-hundred-years-scenario variety?

So I hope that the reason this happens eludes us. I hope we never get comfortable. I hope we always assume that this shadow is always set to fall over our lives. I hope is stays weird and sinister and strange and that we're all jumping at loud noises and that it doesn't get easy and that it always haunts us, just a little bit, like a tiny mote of dread in the corner of a mirror that we notice in passing but then never get a fix on to see it clearly but we remember that it is there, waiting, and patient, to mess us up with our own foolish complacency again and again and again.

And now they are showing the names and the pictures of the children who were killed and...that is just it for me, I have been on this shift longer than many of the people who should be awake today answering for themselves -- as if anyone can get hurt coming on a Sunday morning political show, I mean I cannot imagine how you could even be the sort of coward that can't handle coming to the safest and most irrelevant spaces in the entirety of our civic discourse to provide some cakehole pap to the dumb Beltway insiders who watch this crap -- so the time seems ripe for me to end this liveblog. Liveblog ends.

CONVERSATIONS