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TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

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Hello, hello and welcome once again to another edition of your Sunday morning liveblog of the political chat shows, post-Inaugural edition. Hopefully, everyone enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of last week. I particularly enjoyed that there were just enough people in Washington to make the occasion a merry celebration of the political system but not SO MANY people that everything became a baffling ordeal of epic proportions. So good on everyone, especially the people in the parades, I already kind of miss the bunting.

But, now all of that is over and it's time to get back to the droning grind of your political discourse. Today, the shows have invited Paul "Kid Haircut" Ryan on and John McCain, leaving me to have to come to grips with the age-old conundrum: which of these tiresome, cliche-ridden, skin-sacks do I avoid, to keep my soul from being singed? (Obviously, it's John McCain -- who at this point exists only to demonstrate just how many people are smart enough to not come on these shows. Speaking of, Hillary Clinton dissed the Sunday shows pretty hard in her Congressional testimony! It was a refreshing change of pace to hear someone properly place these things in the intellectual caste system...but then I realized that I will probably be watching them until the end of my life.

Not so funny anymore.

Well, let's drag out the gallows anyway and try to make the most of these hours I will desperately try to claw back on my deathbed. As usual, you should feel free to pass the time together in the comments. Drop me a line if you need. You can follow me on Twitter, if you'd like periodic outbursts and inside jokes. And, please visit my Rebel Mouse page's "Sunday Reads" section -- it's got fun and informative articles from all over the internet.

Oh, and as a programming note: there will be no liveblog next Sunday, February 3rd.

FOX NEWS SUNDAY

Today, Chris Wallace is going to be talking about the Pentagon dropping the ban on women in combat (as a formal distinction) with retired Air Force colonel Martha McSally and retired Army Lieutenant General Jerry Boykin. Then Senators Dick Durbin and Bob Corker will yell at each other. Then there will be a panel. Then the earth keeps turning.

But first, let's talk about the women who will have new opportunities in our endless hopeless wars. McSally is the United States first female combat pilot, by the way, so remember that the "combat" distinction here, in the lifting of this ban, does not mean that women have hitherto not faced combat. (Also, it should go without saying but women who would join combat soldiers as a part of this new directive would nevertheless have to manage to cross a certain threshold of physical ability to end up there.)

So, Boykin says that this is "another case of the Pentagon doing a social experiment," so this whole discussion is awkward for him, given that McSally is here. He basically says that he's cool with women facing combat and thinks McSally is just great, it's just that having the ladies in close quarters with the mens? In combat? Ohh, he don't know about that, since they will be humping all the time, instead of training the Afghan security forces.

McSally says that she understands that flying combat missions and fighting on the ground are two different things, but Boykin's argument is flawed and that individuals should be treated as individuals, and that you should "bring the best soldiers to the fight." Wallace points out that there are physical standards that have to be met by combat soldiers -- this is not him being mean, this is a clear-eyed reality. Is McSally confident that women can meet those standards? She says that while the "bell curve of men" is stronger than the "bell curve of women" but that they "overlap," and she finds Boykin's argument to be one that would allow "Pee-Wee Herman to be in combat but not Venus and Serena Williams." (Again, Boykin's argument appears to have not gotten past the whole, "But men cannot control their loins, around Venus and Serena Williams," and not "Venus and Serena Williams cannot adequately jack up America's enemies.")

McSally also points out that the Pentagon, some time ago, evaluated the whole damn country and determined that we are all pretty unfit for duty, and so if we are going to survive, maybe we need some tough and capable ladies to keep us safe.

Anyway, Boykin isn't arguing that position, he is just concerned about "privacy" and "doing your personal hygiene" in the company of women. McSally is basically, "STFU, GTFO" to that argument, pointing out that we have a "360-degree combat environment" right now with plenty of women serving in close proximity to men, and that the Canadians have already long adopted these mixed-gender forces and are doing just fine. But maybe Canadians have smooth, Ken-doll like pastures of shiny skin where their genitals should be? I don't know? There's something about Canadians that makes them so darned agreeable and if it's not that then I guess they just place a higher value on having a strong and inclusive culture than we do or something!

Now we will talk about sexual assualt in the military, which there are high incidents of, unfortunately. It's widely held that these sorts of segregations contribute to a culture that fosters those sorts of crimes, but Boykin -- he is seriously much more concerned about who goes to the bathroom with whom. Like, this is clearly something he's spent a whole lot of time worrying about. "This is not a specious argument," he says, speciously.

McSally gets us back on topic, and she agrees completely that the status quo ante military environment created situations where sexual harrassment and assault were commonplace. She has a super complicated method of dealing with the sexual assualt crimes, by the way. I mean, hold on to your hat and try to get your head around this one:

1. Take sexual assaulters and drum them out of the military forever.
2. Stop blaming women for the fact that bad, stupid people assault them.

I don't know, this almost makes too much sense, right?

What happens if we go back to a draft? McSally says that women have an equal responsibility to register to defend their country, and that while a draft would net women who are unfit for combat, there are plenty of non-combat roles to fill. (Also, I think we just established that most of the country would not be "combat-ready.")

Now, Durbin and Corker are here to talk politics, beginning with this sticky wicket for the Obama administration: a federal appeals court essentially saying that many of the administration's recess appointments were invalid, most notably the appointments made to the National Labor Relations Board. Of course, the recess appointments were made because GOP intransigence is basically preventing appointments being made in the first place, but there are legitimate questions over whether the NLRB appointments were actually made while there was a recess.

That said, the appeals court takes a very strange view of the recess appointment privilege and seems to be contending that they only apply when an opening comes up during a recess -- a position that would alter much of the current thinking on recess appointments.

But that's what courts are for, I suppose! Corker says that it's a "huge victory for anyone who believes in the balance of power." I think that in terms of making regular and efficient appointments, things have gotten very unbalanced, and this contends against further balancing. Corker considers the NLRB and Richard Cordray appointments to be "abusive," though I'm pretty sure that Corker feels abused just by the existence of a NLRB and an agency that serves the public in preventing them from being conned by credit card companies.

Will this invalidate decisions? Corker says that someone with the standing to sue will have to take on those decisions in court and earn adjudications.

Wallace points out that one of the ways that appointments were blocked was holding pro forma sessions of Congress, so that there would not, technically, be a "recess." Instead there would be a pointless, thirty-second session and we'd pretend that everyone was not all on vacation. The Democrats did this in 2007, and the parliamentary arms race continued into the Obama administration. Durbin says that it was taken to extremes and forced a breaking point.

One thing that you need to remember about the two parties, philosophically, is that the Democrats need to have "the government can work" as a selling point, whereas the GOP concedes nothing electorally if the government is gridlocked or dysfunctional. In fact, their whole modern ideological contention is that the government is permanently flawed and can't be counted on to do anything. So, when the Democrats used the pro-forma technique to block appointments, the tactical decision had a strategic blowback in that it gave the GOP an "in" to use it even more destructively -- knowing that it would only enhance their argument. So, Durbin is left trying to a) explain that the Democrats aren't huge hypocrites and also b) call off the parliamentary war for the sake of "perspective."

Objectively, the current method of appointing doesn't work, and there will be incentives, under the next GOP president, for the Democrats to try to get backsies. You should know, the GOP will complain as if they never ever in their lives denied the Democrats anything. They will whistle past their past transgressions, and dare a media besotted with their own need to be "fair" to actually call them out on it. None of it will matter, though! If the Democrats start wrecking the appointment process out of vindictiveness, it will only prove the GOP's point that government is hopelessly dysfunctional. Since the need to prove that government works is the stronger incentive on the Democratic side, you can expect their opposition to GOP appointments to be short-lived.

Moving to the inaugural, Wallace contends that it was a pretty liberal agenda, and I'm not sure that's true, considering I didn't hear much about a single-payer health care system or a rigorous policing of Wall Street or ending a bunch of stupid foreign entanglements. He did not say, "Wow, I really got way, way past anything that remotely fits within my party's ideological underpinnings with that whole 'kill list' thingy, huh?" Instead he talked about a bunch of things -- marriage equality, climate change, the DREAM act, and infrastructure spending -- that maybe used to sound "liberal," but can now simply be referred to as "mainstream positions supported by vast majorities of the American public." People who oppose these ideas are actually the weirdo fringe, now.

Durbin is asked who the President was referring to when Obama made his remarks that there were Republicans who opposed taking care of seniors, and Durbin replies, "Oh, you know, Mitt Romney, LOL." Corker says that the GOP really wants to take care of seniors but insists that we are spending more money on seniors than we are on young people, but the whole point of Social Security and Medicare is that grandchildren actually have to spend less of their money and their youth taking care of their impoverished elders, and so they can get on with the business of creating and inventing and working instead of undercutting their own opportunities.

There is a generic discussion of immigration reform. Corker says that while "the details matter" there is a general openness to a solution that makes sense, he likes what Marco Rubio has come up with so far, and he figures that he can support something that ties enforcement to benefit, and honestly, it does not sound like immigration reform would be a reach at all were it not for the GOP's nativist rump -- so this could be one of those matters that passes on Boehner suspending the "Hastert rule," if Rubio's fingerprints do not give it enough political cover.

Moving to Hillary Clinton's testimony on Benghazi. Wallace asks if Clinton's testimony was true and Durbin naturally thinks it was awesome, and the reality is that the interlocutors were almost to a man (Rubio being an exception) more interested in litigating the old semantic issues and not ask about matters of material import. (The Democrats on the panels were more or less content to come in and purr, "OMG, Secretary Clinton u r the best, call me over summer break, LYLAS, etc."

I do, of course, appreciate the fact that Clinton dissed these Sunday shows during her testimony. My recommendation to any administration that has important information to get to the public is that they bypass these shows entirely, unless the idea is that you want to make people dumber.

Panel time, with Brit Hume and Jeff Zeleny and Kim Strassel and Juan Williams.

Hume says that the court decision on the NLRB appointments were a big deal and will be hard for the president to fight on appeal. He notes, however, that part of the ruling -- that recess appointments are only appropriate when an opening happens during a recess -- "runs counter to practice" and may not hold up on appeal. The whole, "ram some appointments through a pro-forma logjam" tactic is likely to be a non-starter. Zeleny says that the ruling "brings Obama back to earth." Strassel is amazed at Obama's focus on "executive power," but I'd suggest that his predecessor really opened the door on that and so it's almost nothing that he's done some executive orders -- I mean, he has a KILL LIST, okay?

Williams points out that by disallowing government agencies from being run by appointees undermines government in general and somehow THIS becomes the most controversial thing anyone's said yet, and naturally he is forced to answer for the fact that the Democrats initiated the "pro-forma session" trick, and I may as well refer you back to what I've already written.

Zeleny is asked about whether Obama is really trying to "annihilate" the GOP. Could be! We've talked here, in these pages about those possibilities before -- he may back off a little bit on policy outcomes if he can expose his opponents as irrational. I'm doing my best to keep an open mind to that argument -- and after the past four years of bending over backwards to please and accommodate his opponents, it may be that he's alert to the fact that someone has to get a message out about the lycanthropic nature of a goodly portion of his opposition. However, it seems to me that is Boehner is willing to keep suspending the Hastert Rule and cobbling majorities out of both sides, the House keeps moving and the Congress works a little better and bully for Boehner -- he's abetting functionality and giving, at last, his side's policies a place in the legislative framework, instead of just saying no to everything.

But Zeleny says, "Look at gun control," and I don't know, dude, I think we are not looking at gun control because there's a golden opportunity to break the backs of the GOP. I think we are looking at this because of all these dead kids. I mean, if you are going to use gun control as a means of cynically exposing your opponents' irrational side, the Gabby Giffords assassination attempt was a much better venue. I think that if Sandy Hook hadn't happened, the Obama administration wouldn't be saying "boo" about guns.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will do a joint interview on 60 Minutes, and it's really giving the Beltway media a weird sort of chubby because it's such a crazy trope breaker. The main focus of this panel, if you are interested, is what this means for 2016. "It's just a bit of intrigue," says Zeleny, indicating that resisting writing about this may be the better part of avoiding being a cliche-stained wretch.

Anyway, Hume totally Mikayla Maroneys Clinton's record at the State Department, calling her competent but not great. Williams disagrees. So it goes.

FACE THE NATION

Today Bob Schieffer will welcome Dianne Feinstein to the show to talk about gun control along with NYPD Chief Ray Kelly. And then there will be various political mush panels with Newt Gingrich and Marsha Blackburn and David Ignatius and David Sanger and Stephanie Cutter and Kevin Madden.

First, DiFi talking about guns and her new move to get an assault weapons ban in place. She says that she can get it passed, because a majority of Americans support an assault weapons ban, and that ulitmately this comes down to a battle between the NRA and assorted other groups -- most importantly Mayors and cops -- who support the measure. She nevertheless, considers it an uphill climb -- her bill bans over 150 types of guns outright. She won't however, require the registration of weapons that get grandfathered under the ban -- unless such a weapon changes hands, in which case a background check it required. To her mind, her proposal is more moderate than similar measures that have emerged from state governments in New York and California.

Schieffer points out that some people see this, sincerely, as an infringement of rights. DiFi counters by asking, Socratically, if kids don't have a right to be safe at school or adults have the rights to be safe in movie theaters. And, you know, if we're sitting around talking, sure, we say, "Yeah, they ought to have the right to be safe," but in terms of law, those rights need to be enumerated in the Constitution, or at least have the protoplasm for these legal distinctions supplied by it.

We move to a discussion of the current conflict in Mali, which has drawn the intervention of the French military. DiFi says that global terror networks are still very threatening and that what you see in Mali is al Qaeda trying to establish a new beachhead in Northern Africa and link up a bunch of disparate organizations into a functioning network. DiFi wants to see a global intervention before this new effort has a chance to flourish, and credits the French for taking immediate and direct action in the short-term. She says that the larger international goal is to take apart these terrori networks before they get a chance to start humming, operationally.

Now, here is Ray Kelly, who stops and frisks the Hispanic and African-American communities of New York City whilst running a police force on the side. Asked to respond to DiFi's assault weapons ban proposal, he says he commends the Senator and agrees with the plan. He says, however, that what NYC cops face on a daily basis are threats from concealable handguns, not assault weapons. What would Kelly ask, from Congress? He says that a universal background check "can be helpful," especially in identifying sellers who sell irresponsibly.

Kelly is asked about the new gun detection technology that might go ahead and take much of the stop and frisk joy out of policework in the five boroughs. Here is some background on that. Kelly says that people radiate tera-hertz thingamajiggers, and that if these magic beams are blocked by a weapon, then we can see the outline. Sounds like we have a lot of fun Fourth Amendment lawsuits in our future! The NYPD will be using it "experimentally in the next few months."

Kelly affirms that he does not want to take away guns that are being used legally, he just wants to get "illegal guns" off the streets, so hopefully this tera-hertz detector thingy will be helping him with those legal-versus-illegal distinctions. Maybe illegal guns smell vaguely of cantaloupe, to the tera-hertz detector robot thingy?

Now here is Newt Gingrich and Marsha Blackburn to talk about, I don't know, stuff? Things?

Oh, so, we're starting with guns. Blackburn says that we "need to keep children safe" but that we are "looking at the symptoms and not the cause." Basically, she does not agree with an assault weapons ban and she thinks we need a stronger mental health treatment system. Which isn't wrong, by the way, we do need to do more to address the way the mentally ill fall through the cracks in our society. Gingrich points out that Kelly just said his biggest problem was with handguns, and goes on to just wave away the assault weapons worry by saying that military weapons are illegal anyway. Schieffer won't concede the distinction on whether "rapid-fire" weapons aren't "military style" weapons, but this is a semantic fight. Gingrich goes back to the fact that DiFi's law, and its bans, wouldn't have prevented many celebrated instances of gun violence.

Schieffer goes back to Blackburn and asks if we can't do anything to reduce the "access to guns that some of these people have." Blackburn says that "we should look at what is actually causing the problem" and she's pretty certain that the issue is mental health and entertainment and video games and "psychotropic drugs."

What about background checks? Gingrich reckons that we have a sufficient enough background check regime and insists that this is even happening at gun shows. Well, no, it isn't. He thinks that the government is currently sitting on prosecutable offenses, where felons attempted to purchase guns, and that we need to concentrate on putting guilty people away. Here's where I start to wonder if maybe these cases have not been prosecuted because the relevant agencies have been starved of funding or leadership, as in the case of the ATF.

Blackburn repeats her previous positions on entertainment being the problem, et cetera. Gingrich circles back to his previous point about the celebrated incidents of gun violence not being something that a these restrictions can address. The Sandy Hook shooter used guns that were legally obtained by his mother, for example.

You can see the problem, of course, in the way these celebrated instances of gun violence prompt all the legislative action. We still have "celebrated instances of drunk driving homicides," right? Because you can't prevent all crime from happening. Speed limits do not prevent speeding. Drug-free zones do not prevent people from copping. But what people like Ray Kelly seek is a holistic reduction of the main threat that illegal guns pose, not the prevention of these celebrated incidents on the margins. The trouble is: we don't keep incidents like Sandy Hook on the margins, do we? In this way, the intensity of our focus ironically provides the basis for distraction.

Bob Schieffer, still stuck doing his editorial comments in the middle of his show, come out in favor of having women in combat roles, saying that it's not just good for women, it's good for the institution. "I'm sorry guys," he says, "you're not doing all that well these days" and that women are outperforming men all over the country, in tons of different ways. (Including women who run hedge funds and work in hospitals.) He urges "guys who hang around in sports bars" to "check out what women are up to" and think about the kind of things that excites and impresses them professionally, because then you might find yourself on a path to greater success as well.

[Here's where I knowingly shout out the people mentioned in the byline and last paragraph of this piece as a way of saying that Schieffer is making a fantastic point.]

We return to the panel discussion with Gingrich and Blackburn, and Schieffer wants to know about the current state of the party, and the continuing self-recriminations. Schieffer is, I think, a bit too impressed with Bobby Jindal -- who wants the GOP to stop being the "stupid party," but only in the sense that they stop saying dumb stuff about rape. To his mind, the only thing that "damages the brand" is gaffes, and not policies that just don't mesh with mainstream America.

Gingrich says that everyone should read his website, for ideas, and maybe also stick around buy some Gingrich swag while they are at it. The rest is all, "Wow, we lost Hispanic voters, huh, boy I don't know." (That would be a great place to just enunciate why they'd been lost, but I guess his website needs clicks.) Blackburn is a little bit more robust, suggesting that the GOP needs to focus on becoming a party where the hopes of women, for example, being treated as equals, have a home.

Gingrich gets an old clip of him talking about how women soldiers would get too many gross "infections" sitting in "ditches" while fighting in wars -- because, ladyparts are just more prone to infections, or something? Anyway, he is asked if he's "evolved" on the issue, and Gingrich sort of demurs -- women are in combat already, he says, and just says that everyone needs to be "combat trained" before you go to fight in combat. (If combat training is what prevents a person from physiologically not getting a ditch-based infection, then why not train everyone?)

Blackburn says that women have earned their way to the front lines, and that Leon Panetta is just acknowledging reality. Woman, she points out, are already deploying with units in specialized capacity, and so you'll see further barriers broken.

We return to the problem that conservatives had in 2012, and Blackburn says it was all about messaging and that if the GOP had just used more "social media" things would have gone better. I sort of think that the problem wasn't messaging, it was policy, and the continuing need to cater to a weird nativist, werewolf base, and if they'd adopted more sensible policies -- if more sensible policies were even ALLOWED -- then you wouldn't have had a primary where Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were the two best options, you would have had a primary where Jeb Bush and Chris Christie and John Thune and Mitch Daniels were the best options, and then Romney would have finished in fifth.

But, you know, guys like Chris Christie did stuff like appoint a Muslim judge, and Mitch Daniels wanted to stop talking about social issues, and Jeb Bush is really quite a humane and sensible guy on immigration reform, and there was no place for that stuff in the 2012 GOP. It really didn't have anything to do with the GOP not getting there message out on Twitter and Facebook. If Marsha Blackburn is correct and the GOP did not adequately flood every zone of communication or reach every possible American with the "message" they were putting out in 2012 -- which was, I remind you, "Hey, nearly half of you are pathetic parasites!" -- then that is actually a blessing in disguise.

That stuff didn't "go viral?" Well, Marsha, y'all dodged a bullet, then. Don't reload, though!

Newt just says, "Everyone should listen to Marco Rubio." There's ANOTHER guys, who, let's face it -- if we're being honest -- is way more interesting a person and formidable a candidate than Mitt Romney.

Now, for some reason, we're going to have Stephanie Cutter and Kevin Madden yelling at each other -- 2012 stizz! -- as Davids Ignatius and Sanger look on in bemusement, or something.

Schieffer asks about the inauguration speech, wondering if it's going to "help or hurt" end the "partisanship." Ignatius says that the speech was, "in the short term," about pointing out that he won the election, and that at some point he'll need to reach out to the people "who didn't vote for him" and ask them to help put the country back together. "That's what the country is waiting for," he insists.

Schieffer asks Cutter what she thought of Obama's speech and against all odds she liked it, which I think we can all agree is fascinating, given the fact that she worked on the campaign. She does point out what I've already pointed out -- objectively, the speech was about affirming positions that are already supported by large majorities of Americans. However, in keeping with the traditions of media driven Schrodinger's Catfights, the fact that Cutter observed objective reality while simultaneously being an Obama supporter, this means that "objective reality" is now "hopelessly divisive" and in order to "bridge the divide" we now need to settle for something different than what large American mainstream majorities want.

And on cue, here's Madden, pointing out that the media has declared the speech to be "confrontational," and that's that, sorry. Quantun activity has been observed and appropriate judgments are made according to well worn metaphysical tropes, the end!

There is a bunch of additional mush, interrupted briefly with Sanger noting that what Obama did in the first four years was compromise and compromise only to find out that the right was using the ground given to simply "move the Overton Window" and continually abridge previously compromisable positions.

Madden says that there aren't a lot of "Obama Republicans" and Cutter is like, "LOL, there are a lot of 'Obama voters,' though." Schieffer presses on the point, however, and Madden concedes that the big lesson that the GOP has learned is that they have to definitively for something instead of just being forcefully against things.

On foreign policy Sanger says the new challenge for the Obama administration is the balance the need to take on emerging terror threats with the overall war-weariness of the nation. He points out that in cases, such as Mali, he'll likely happily take other countries taking the lead, and that his own foreign policy doctrine places a lower priority on countering emergent bad actors who do not have designs on attacking the homeland. Nevertheless, there are tensions between those incentives that rile the administration at the moment.

Ignatius says that North Korea is "more dangerous...more unstable and more unpredictable," and that in some ways, it's an Obama administration failure. He recommends that the Obama White House follow DiFi's suggestion, and get to knocking on the doors of allies and global powers alike, and get broad help on intervening in the emerging threats out of North Africa.

Cutter says she hopes that Congress can get out of its current mode of careening from one dumb fiscal crisis to another, and points out that the administration is totally willing to make cuts to earned benefit programs. She goes on to reaffirm the Obama White House's commitment to a robust agenda in the next four years, and I have to wonder if Obama hasn't already bargained away the revenue necessary to have second-term ambitions of any kind.

MEET THE PRESS

Today, Meet The Press welcomes Paul Ryan and his famous haircut back to the program, and probably won't trouble him about the fact that he is a famous government leech who now decries government leeches. Since there is no football today -- unless you count the Pro Bowl, I guess, and I don't? -- here is an excellent bit of gridiron battle: Ezra Klein taking on Paul Ryan and reducing him to a hopeless state of inane buzzword salad. And here's Jonathan Chait, doing a pleasant bit of John Madden-style telestrating on the exchange.

It's worth pointing out because is David Gregory going to do as good a job? Ehhh, you know, we live in hope?

What does Paul Ryan specifically require from the White House and the Democrats? He wants the Senate to pass a budget and he wants to budget balanced in ten years. Which is fairly specific, and ignored the fact that there will be additional revenues sought. Of course, as I've been saying, the White House, having secured the revenue they've secured with tax rate increases, will now go after the revenues available to them from the exact same tax reform ideas that the Romney-Ryan ticket espoused and that there should be no surprise if the Obama administration doesn't fully agree on "revenue neutrality" from here on out. (Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if the Obama administration doesn't actually favor having the finger on the spending cuts side of the scale, including cuts to Medicare and Social Security.)

Ryan, of course had this all dangled in front of him by Ezra Klein, and as you can see in their exchange, he returned to a reflexive discussion of the tax rates and his insistence that it is a settled matter. When he seems to not understand is that it is a settled matter, and Obama settled it. Now, today, will he do any better discussing the revenue matter, or will be suspend his whole "I'm a math guy" for rhetoric that's more geared toward being simply aggrieved that he lost an election and a subsequent legislative battle?

REP. PAUL RYAN: Well, we already offered that back in the fiscal cliff negotiations. The point is, though, the president got his additional revenues. So that's behind us. Those higher revenues occurred and now we need to focus on getting spending down.

So there you have it! Also, wow: David Gregory knows what's in Simpson-Bowles! ("You say, 'Look, the president got his revenue.' But it's less than he wanted. Less than Simpson Bowles should have been part of a big package as well.")

Ryan responds: "Well, Simpson Bowles also said, "Let's get rid of deductions and lower tax rates through tax reform." That's what we've been proposing. The president didn't seem to be in favor of that. He wants higher tax rates, which we think hurts growth." Again, Ryan needs to come to an understanding here -- the tax rate discussion? It's over. Done. Bye-bye. Now, he might be convinced that in offering "tax reform" in the form of "getting rid of deductions" he was saying something about rates, but I've news for him -- the President is coming after that tax reform plan anyway, and the longer you stand in the public square asserting that it has something to do with rates, the longer you won't be part of the relevant discussion.

Ryan insists that the GOP will put forth a plan for the budget that will achieve growth and spare earned benefit programs, but remember, his plan for earned benefit programs is to slowly stop spending money on them. So, of course you get savings. I mean, I don't mean that you get savings -- you probably have to spend more of your money housing your infirm elders and stuff. (But I guess we can't call that a "tax.")

Gregory did some homework, and goes on a sustained badgering campaign about Ryan conflating revenues through tax rate increases with revenue through tax reform. It's very clear that Ryan's refusal to even back the plan his own presidential ticket espoused puts Ryan on one side of this argument because of plain, tribal politics and the need for vindication, not out of any genuine fondness for math.

Ryan pulls out an old chart that we've seen a few times before.

Gregory chooses to confront Ryan on the sequester, however, and basically Ryan's response is to offer up a comic book style retroactive continuity:

DAVID GREGORY: Here's an interesting point, though. During the campaign, particularly when you were campaigning in Virginia, a state that you wanted to carry but didn't, you said, "Look, the sequestration cuts, these automatic spending cuts that are put in place because Republicans and Democrats can't agree so you have to have this sword that comes down," you said, "we're not going to let those happen. Those will not happen, those automatic defense spending cuts." Well, now we have a new deadline coming up in a couple of months that says there's going to be a whole lot of automatic spending cuts. The same ones that were in place before.

REP. PAUL RYAN: That's right.

DAVID GREGORY: Are you going to let those happen?

REP. PAUL RYAN: So if Mitt Romney and I won the election they would not have happened. You know why? Because we would have gone and worked with Democrats and Republicans in Congress to actually put the budget on a path to balance and we'd have saved defense.

Oh, well, my solution to deal with the sequester was to get elected along with Mitt Romney and then some stuff would have happened and it would have all been good stuff, oh man, you should see what it looks like, inside my own imagination!

Gregory asks if the sequester is worth shutting the government down over and Ryan insists that no one is talking about shutting down the government.

David Gregory is now litigating Paul Krugman's criticism of Ryan, and can this POSSIBLY go well? I mean, this is just going to be Ryan saying, "Gah, Paul Krugman" and Gregory moving on because how will Gregory ask a follow-up question?

All you need to know about this exchange is that Gregory asks, "So here's what he wrote in his column on Friday. And let me get you to respond to it," and then Ryan says, "Well, we can debate the efficacy of Keynesian economics or not," and then he goes on a lengthy filibuster on the "or not" side. Next utterance from Gregory? "The question that I have is who's really with you?" And from there he's pointing out that the business community has really moved back in Obama's direction on this matter -- all well and good, I suppose, but, as I predicted, that wasn't exactly the most productive debate on Krugman's recent comments.

Ryan doesn't agree about the contention Gregory is making anyway:

See, I don't know if I agree with that. They believe we should have tax reform. We have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. We're taxing our small businesses now at rates higher than corporations. We should have lower tax rates so we can be competitive.

Stuff I shouldn't have to point out but will includes:

--If businesses believe "we should have tax reform," then Ryan should answer why he has shown up today as the guy who suddenly opposes it, out of pique, because: "[WHINING] Obama awwready got his wevenues!" Also, the hard truth is that we could, if we close the loopholes, substantially lower the nominal corporate tax rate and actually collect more revenue, but Ryan is reflexively against that and I'm not sure the "business community" is either.

Ryan is talking now, saying things like, "He says so but he has yet to actually put out a vision or an agreement to actually make good on these promises. We hear the rhetoric but we never see the results," and I have to say that's a pretty good critique of the Romney/Ryan ticket.

How does Ryan respond to the fact that Obama pointed out that Ryan has a deeply held Randian belief that America is overrun with moochers during his inaugural address? Just with a lot of repeated insistences that he wants people to "reach their potential" and "achieve the American dream."

"No one is suggesting that Medicare and Social Security makes you a taker," says Ryan, who I guess needs to re-explain his foundational opposition to these programs and their existence and why he wants to "reform" them by steadily bleeding them dry.

Ooh, Gregory throws this Jonathan Chait column in Ryan's face, I will provide some expansion on the section Gregory quotes, emphasis on the part that he quoted:

Ryan and other conservatives have painted Obama's defense of the welfare state as some sort of absolutist refusal to touch any existing programs at all. In fact, Obama openly stated his willingness to make unpleasant changes to spending programs in order to preserve their long-term viability. But he did, once again, express the vast moral gulf that separates him from Ryan and Ryan's party. Here is the portion of Obama's speech immediately preceding the takers jibe:

"For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm."

That really is a direct shot at Ryan more than anybody else. Obama is arguing that misfortune can strike Americans in all forms — a disability, a storm, illness, or merely outliving our savings — and we have some obligation to each other. Ryan's budget imposes savage cuts to food stamps, children's health insurance, and other mitigations of suffering for the least fortunate. Oh, and Ryan also voted against relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy. By Ryan's definition, if the government is rebuilding your destroyed home, you're a taker, too.

Ryan says that this is the "straw man" argument. But that circles back to what Chait is pointing out in this column in the first place. There's no straw man! Ryan is being properly judged by his own words. It's not a "straw man argument" if the argument has an identifiable antecedent. And trust me, I'll readily admit that Obama DOES USE A LOT OF STRAW MAN ARGUMENTS, but not this time, baby!

Ryan tells Gregory that he doesn't think that the president "thinks we actually have a fiscal crisis," and that's weird because if that was true he'd probably not have already endorsed so many spending cuts, let alone continually allow these dumb commissions to try to solve the problem. It was Obama who gave birth to the Simpson-Bowles commission, after the Senate's own deficit commission didn't get passed (because its GOP co-sponsored bailed on it).

Now Gregory is asking, "What did you learn from your run for the vice presidency and being Mitt Romney's running mate?" and I guess this means the useful portion of the interview is over. Ryan says that the GOP needs to expand their appeal and "show how their ideas are better suited to fighting poverty" and that maybe the GOP can help move immigration reform, et cetera. "Look, immigration's a good thing. We're here because of immigration. That's what America is. It's a melting pot. We think this is good." And then Ryan pulls the melting pot down off the shelf and starts washing it again, because SUBSTANCE.

On gun control, he seems open to improving background checks but from there, you just have "recycling the failed policies of the past." Which ones are those? He does not say.

Gregory asks what he was joshing about with Bill and Hillary Clinton and he says that they were just talking about their "personal health." Then he gets weird:

RYAN: Look, if we had Clinton presidency, if we had Erskine Bowles, chief staff of the White House or president of the United States, I think we would have fixed this fiscal mess by now. That's not the kind of presidency we're dealing with right now.

Ha, yes, the presidency we have now is the one that went out and got Erskine Bowles to sit on a committee that tried to "fix the fiscal mess" and discovered that one of the people bent on scuttling that effort was, uhm...Paul Ryan.

Okay, let's rocket through this panel with Ben Jealous, Jim DeMint, Ted Koppel, Bob Woodward, and Andrea Mitchell.

Is Obama more interested in political conquest or political compromise? That's the question Gregory puts to Woodward, who drools into his own sippy cup, and the real interesting question that should be asked is how much of the past is prologue to the present? If, in fact, Obama has decided that a political conquest must be mounted, what has informed his decision? We are tacitly admitting that this is a different Obama -- a conquest-minded one -- so what's led to that. I'll gently posit that it's because he came to Rome expecting to deal with Romans and instead encountered Gauls and Visigoths.

There is about five minutes of discussion that it literally too boring to follow or recap. DeMint thinks we are "becoming Europe" and that liberal ideas always fail, Jealous notes that they have actually, at times, succeeded. It's all very surprising, hearing spokespersons from the Heritage Foundation and the NAACP take these positions, that you never see coming.

Koppel says that "he thinks this president will end up facing some of the biggest foreign policy crises" that a President has ever faced, which is just bold enough to be quotable and just vague enough to be self-fulfilling.

Woodward takes the extreme position that you fix the economy by "getting the economy" moving again, and I don't know that sounds just crazy enough to work, right?

Mitchell points out that the AARP was against Obama's suggestion of raising the retirement age, suggesting that it was a political non-starter as a result, and I'm wondering, if that snap judgment is possible, why the similar reaction to the Ryan "premium support" system wasn't similarly waved off as unrealistic.

Bobby Jindal talked about how the GOP needs to keep having the same stupid positions on rape but refrain from publicly enunciating them, because it's been costing them votes, and DeMint agrees, changes the subject, is brought back onto the subject, and then starts mouthing platitudes, and that's basically that.

DeMint says that he will relentlessly point out liberal failure. Jealous says that the GOP needs to get rid of some of the Dixiecrat language but goes on the say that both sides should be able to work together and that the GOP should definitely be capable of expanding their tent. You are, I hope, seeing the weird asymmetric nature of this rivalry, where DeMint says, "YOU LIBERALS ARE BAD PEOPLE AND YOUR FAILURES ARE ABSOLUTE" and Jealous is saying, "I THINK YOU COULD BE BETTER THAN YOU ARE AND I BET WE COULD STILL WORK TOGETHER."

Mitchell had previously pointed out that an inaugural address is not like a State of the Union speech and so you shouldn't read it as an absolute laying out of policy priorities, but Gregory is hot to talk about the fact that Obama didn't delineate the foreign policy threats to the United States this past Monday. So, Ted Koppel helpfully fills this void I didn't know existed by enumerating the foreign policy crises of the future, and they are: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria. Nuclear weapons, al Qaeda, and chemical weapons. Do we side with Syrian rebels, who have already sided with al Qaeda? What happens is Israel attacks Iran and they attack us, with cyber war?

I am looking forward to the day where we are not the only country with a fleet of deadly drones. Because those will be exciting times -- our cities being blown apart and what not.

DeMint and Jealous exchange rival takes on their rivalry and Gregory returns to Koppel with a pretty interesting question: "Do we have a real policy approach that is somewhere in between a projection of American power and just leaving the region?" Koppel says that we have "new tactics" in place of a "new strategy" -- they involve "moving away from big unit operations" and using drones and spies and contractors and cyber warfare. He says that it will be a big problem if Obama leaves "America with a sense that somehow al Qaeda has been dealt with, the war in Afghanistan is over, the war in Iraq is over." My concern of course, is that we can invest so much in ensuring that we all have great and happy feelings about our involvement in those places that we refuse to grow up and admit that our interventions did not succeed and were a mistake to undertake in the fashion that we did in the first place.

Now they are talking about whether Obama's interview with Clinton on 60 Minutes constitutes "passing the baton," and I'm pretty sure that means the substantive portion of the show is over. One thing is clear, and that is if the Democrats go to war in 2016 with Martin O'Malley or Andrew Cuomo as their standard bearer, hoo boy! I don't know about that!

Oh, and so Meet The Press actually is ending and so shall I. Just a reminder: there will be no liveblog next weekend, so enjoy getting ready for the Super Bowl, if that's what you are into. For everyone else, have a great fortnight and thank you for your continuing support of this weekly exercise in agita.

[The Sunday Morning liveblog returns on February 10, 2012. In the meantime, please check out the articles I've curated on my Rebel Mouse page.]