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BOTH SIDES NOW: Spitzer and Matalin on Weiner, Clinton, Newtown v. NRA

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By Mark Green

Eliot Spitzer and Mary Matalin clash over four hot topics: Can Weiner run after his spectacle of contrition? Does dynasty = destiny for Caroline, Chelsea, Hillary? Is Obama now entitled to a grand bargain? Will Newtown parents out-lobby the NRA?


When Eliot and Mary were taping Both Sides Now at noon on December 14, we heard live reports of a shooting in Connecticut that went from just-another-one to a sickening slaughter. Four months and 3000-plus gun deaths later, the issue has landed in the Senate. Also, now that Obama has called the GOP bluff on the growth of "entitlements," can Republican leaders just pocket his concession and ignore the growing pain of sequestration locally? (Sorry about that cancer clinic closing?)

*On Guns and (Background) Checks. NRA lobbyists are armed with the accoutrements of political power -- money, threats, intensity, which have worked for 20 years to silence "gun control." Parents of Sandy Hook victims have 100 percent empathy and 90 percent policy support for "massacre control" (Lawrence O'Donnell). So who wins this made-for-movies conflict -- Mr. Smith vs. House of...Guns? Is the Manchin-Toomey compromise on background checks worthwhile and plausible?

There's a consensus that its thin soup" in Eliot's phrase. "Worthwhile? Compared to what? Yes it's better than nothing and good that some Republicans support it. But it's not a game-changer because the NRA blunted more meaningful laws." Mary personally supports more extensive background checks but largely for "moral, narcissistic reasons" since it "makes us all feel good but will not deter such tragedies."

A two on one erupts: Host -- but Tucson, Aurora and Newtown shootings all involved large magazine clips (and the shooter in the movie theater had been reported as dangerous by his school therapist). Spitzer: if Manchin-Toomey is not enough, Mary, "would you support stronger laws"? She stands her ground, re-asserting that current proposals would not prevent recent tragedies and opposing stricter laws because of Second Amendment limits. "These tragedies have nothing to do with the presence of guns but everything to do with cultural degradation and a mental health system that doesn't treat lunatics."

Host: While surviving constituents have sometimes lobbied on a controversial issue -- say, funding for various diseases, coal mine safety, 9/11 families -- Congress has almost never seen the daily, door-to-door pressure coming from parents whose children were shot dead. Given the proven power of the NRA -- combined with the added advantages of rural and money interests due to gerrymandering, Senate two-per-state, filibuster, gun industry contributions -- is the hot blade of grieving families the only way to cut this Gordian Knot? Effective or tasteless for President Obama and Francis Wheeler to lobby at such a high emotional register?

Mary says it's both and understands this political tactic. And should something get out of the Senate, neither can predict whether Boehner will allow even a vote on the House floor. Ms. Matalin hopes that he does so that members can "vote their conscience" and voters can see who's on whose side. Governor Spitzer thinks that "it depends on his calculation whether a vote [or no vote] would cost Boehner's party seats in 2014."

*On Obama's Budget. After months of trench warfare, there were yards of movement this week when President Obama proposed a FY2014 Budget that would replace across-the-board Sequester cuts with a mix of some entitlement trims, some tax hikes, some loophole closings, and some spending reductions to reduce the deficit as much as Simpson-Bowles had proposed. Was this a smart gamble to box in Republicans by calling their bluff? The New York Times and Washington Post editorialize yes, the Wall Street Journal says no.

Eliot thinks it was a necessary and important step that, in combination with the growing pain of local Sequester cuts, would put "Boehner in a box." Mary thinks that Obama put himself in a box "by admitting and proposing that social security and Medicare needed cutting." But we listen to Neil Cavuto and Lindsay Graham admit that Obama has made a real move requiring a real response on revenues. And messers Krugman, Huffington and Spitzer agree that the federal budget needs short-term spending to spur the economy and then longer term deficit reduction once growth clicks in. Mary dismisses them all. "There's not a whit of evidence that stimulus spending worked" and as for the Sequester angering voters, she rails against the cost of many separate White House vacations as symbolic moves that erode POTUS's fiscal credibility.

Spitzer dismisses her dismissal. The Sequester will indeed shave a half point off the GDP and "austerity policies are failing Europe." "Well, if a stimulus worked, it would have done so already," counters Mary, who is counter-countered by the CBO analysis concluding that the original Stimulus did save or create three million jobs and produce 40 straight months of job creation. They discuss whether the GOP cares about shrinking deficits or government.

So far, Obama's re-election and his entitlements concession have not motivated the House GOP Caucus to allow any further tax revenues in 2013 to close the deficit and finance government. Who blinks? Depends on jobs numbers and poll numbers when GOP leaders calculate the political impact of President Obama blasting an obstructionist, do-nothing Congress on guns and budgets. The rhetorical questions write themselves: if we register cars and child-proof aspirin, why not guns? Why should we tax seniors who have lost so much wealth in the Great Recession rather than close loopholes for the rich?

*On Dynasty as Destiny. Three relatives of presidents were in the news this week because of possible promotions. What did our commentators think of:

^Caroline Kennedy to become ambassador to Japan? While some embassies go to donors or celebrities, usually major portfolios are reserved for professional diplomats. What of Kennedy to Japan? Eliot and Mary agree that it's a great idea. "She's not a donor obviously but will be a voice of credibility in this hugely important trading partner... Yes, she failed to be publicly glib in her brief Senate bid but she'll be very good in her private articulation of issues" as an envoy. Adds Mary, "she has savvy class and knowledge" and will be someone who the Japanese will appreciate and admire.

^Chelsea Clinton as a future candidate? Will she be an heir who rises (like Bush 41 and 43) or one who falls short (like FDR's sons)? Mary concludes that she has learned so much by, if nothing else, osmosis from her talented parents that she has a natural advantage in being able to talk and understand politics and policy. Eliot too notes her immediate advantage in name recognition (not to mention that BOTH her names are neighborhoods in her home county!). "But at the end of the day, she'll have to prove herself." Like Caroline, like her mother, like Weiner, all are famous for various reasons but voters will scrutinize their skills and visions to make a qualitative judgment about their character and qualifications.

^Hillary Clinton as president. She gave two very publicized speeches on women's issues that spurred even more frenzied Hillary-talk. Will she be subpoenaed by history and popularity? Her former state-wide colleague Eliot thinks yes. "She has an adoring fan base, how could she say no?" Mary's not so sure. "She now the most famous woman in the world but, if she ran, she'd then be dissected. She may conclude that she could have a more positive impact by not running...and she would be easy enough to beat." Eliot laughs -- "that's wishful thinking. We'll let you live there for a while."

*Quick Takes on Thatcher, Carson, Weiner -- only one survived April. Lionized as the slayer of socialism in Great Britain (though not socialized medicine) and villainized for her divisive persona ("Rust in Peace" read one graffiti in London of the Iron Lady), both agree that Thatcher was a transformational figure in England and world-wide...with Mary emphasizing that both she and Reagan were elevated by the admiration and support of the other.

Dr. Ben Carson was a rocket who fizzled, says Spitzer. He rose based on his eloquence, credentials, and Fox search for the next-black-hope (Keyes, West and Cain having previously failed)... but crashed when he compared marrying gays to NAMBLA. Mary touts his bona fides and brains, predicting that he won't enter politics but "will have a TV show by the time Eliot and I come back on Both Sides Now."

Can Weiner go from his personal hell to a competitive mayoral bid? Eliot thinks that his obvious political skills and smarts -- and the flattering cover piece in Sunday's New York Times magazine section -- make it likely that he can run. But to then stand out, he has to "explain his rationale now...he was the outer-borough tough voice against Michael Bloomberg" in 2005 but now lacks that foil. Mary agrees that he has political talent but asserts that Weiner can't win because "he's an obnoxious guy, he just can't help himself... unlike Koch who was charming." Eliot cautions that "Ed was not regarded as charming when he won..."

Will Weiner be a Marv Albert and Bill Clinton whose talents exceeded their scandals? Concludes Spitzer: "He will have to persuade the public. He can do it."

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

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