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Russert Watch: Jack Murtha Shows 'Em How It's Done

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Greetings and welcome to Russert Watch, where we celebrate Father's Day and Jack Murtha's total dominance over Republican talking points and Tim Russert's patented pull-out-the-inconsistent-quote trick. Murtha turned it all on its ear and made a strong, sure, confident and passionate appearance on Meet The Press. Democrats, I hope you were watching.

There was also a panel of oil company CEOs on today, explaining how prices are high because demand exceeds supply, and how this year's astronomical oil profits are really just the result of high prices for crude. Sure, it's good to confront these guys with American frustration over rising gas costs, but three oil honchos equals three opportunities for common talking points to be hammered home. Meet The Press would make for far more insightful - and exciting - TV if instead they had on an energy expert or environmentalist or economist to debate this point of view and really challenge them on the issue. Tim, married to his pre-set questions as he is, is just not the guy to take these guys to task. Hat tip to Seinfeld: the panel included the chairman/CEO of ConocoPhillips, one James Mulva. Hee hee. Mulva.

So - I'm going to devote my time to Murtha. Did I mention that he DOMINATED? This was as effective a performance on Meet The Press as I've seen, and demonstrated not only that Murtha is right but that he's good. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he did it expertly. Right off the bat he took the offensive, hammering away at Republican talking points and emphasizing and re-emphasizing his own.

Now, it's worth it to watch the beginning of the show or to read the beginning of the transcript (netcast here, transcript here) because that is essentially where all the action takes place. Murtha has his talking points, establishes them early and repeats them often - a classic Republican tactic. Murtha starts by blasting Bush for having no plan, pulling no punches as he puts the astronomical costs in context and reminds us who is really bearing the costs of this war:

We're spending $8 billion dollars a month, $300 million dollars a day. And to give you some perspective of what that means, Gates said, "I'm going to quit the corporation, or I'm going to--less time with the corporation." Well, you weigh $30 billion dollars. That's four months of the cost of this war. This port security, if you want to spend more money, it'd would take 47 years the way we're spending it. Education, the No Child Left Behind, a couple months of the war would pay for that. Whose going to, whose going to pay for this down the road? Our children and grandchildren are paying for this war. And then you have the, the, the emotional strain, the, the, the people who are being hurt.

On the floor the other day, you may have heard this, one fellow says, "We're fighting this war." We're not fighting this war. One percent of the American people, these young men and women are fighting this war, with heavy packs, with 70 pounds of equipment, with helmets on in 130 degrees. That's who's fighting this war. And they say "stay the course." There's no plan. You open up this plan for victory, there's no plan there. It's just "stay the course." That doesn't solve any problem...It's worse today than it was six months ago when I spoke out initially.

Big speech, and that's just the abridged version - Murtha also detailed how things have gotten worse in the six months since he famously switched from hawk to dove, and noted that the Zarqawi strike was executed from outside the country. Lots for Tim to respond to, no?That's right, no! Tim had his list of carefully-planned questions and he'd never cut and run from that. Sorry for the excessive quotage but this exchange MUST be read in its entirety:

RUSSERT: Karl Rove, the principal political adviser to the president, went to New Hampshire on Monday, and he talked about Democrats who voted for the war and who have now changed their opinion. Here's what he had to say, and I'll give you a chance to respond.

(Videotape, June 12, 2006):

ROVE: Like too many Democrats, it strikes me they are ready to give the green light to go to war, but when it gets tough and when it gets difficult, they fall back on that party's old pattern of cutting and running. They may be with you at the first shots, but they are not going to be there for the last tough battles. They are wrong, and profoundly wrong, in their approach.

(End of videotape)

RUSSERT: Cutting and running.

REP. MURTHA: He's, he's in New Hampshire. He's making a political speech. He's sitting in his air conditioned office with his big, fat backside, saying, "Stay the course." That's not a plan. I mean, this guy--I don't know what his military experience is, but that's a political statement. This is a policy difference between me and the White House. I disagree completely with what he's saying.

Now, let's, let's--give me, give you an example. When we went to Beirut, I, I said to President Reagan, "Get out." Now, the other day we were doing a debate, and they said, "Well, Beirut was a different situation. We cut and run." We didn't cut and run. President Reagan made the decision to change direction because he knew he couldn't win it. Even in Somalia, President Clinton made the decision, "We have to, we have to change direction. Even with tax cuts. When we had a tax cut under Reagan, we then had a tax increase because he had to change direction. We need to change direction. We can't win a war like this.

This guy's sitting back there criticizing--political criticism, getting paid by the public taxpayer, and he's saying to us, "We're, we're winning this war, and they're running." We got to change direction, that's what we have to do. You can't, you can't sit there in the air conditioned office and tell these troops they're carrying 70 pounds on their back inside these armored vessels and hit with IEDs every day, seeing their friends blown up, their buddies blown up, and he says "stay the course." Yeah, it's easy to say that from Washington, D.C.

I had to rewind it just to see this again: "He's sitting in his air conditioned office with his big, fat backside, saying, 'Stay the course.'"I mean, did Murtha stick it to them or what? Boom! They have no plan. Boom! It's lipservice from Washington. Boom! History will prove them wrong. Boom! Karl Rove has a big, fat ass. It almost makes you weep.

There's another boom here: for Russert. Man, does he love that phrase "cut and run" (he also includes Karl Rove saying it in the broadcast's opening montage). Instead of qualifying or protesting or apologizing, Murtha dismisses it out of hand and counters with his own version: "stay and pay": the hardship on the families, the hardship on the troops, and did I mention that the soldiers are out there in 70-pound suits in the blazing sun? Did you and your fat ass know that, Karl Rove? Well, if not, I'm gonna tell you, twice. Oh and by the way, if you want to accuse anyone of "cutting and running," go ahead and accuse the American people, 'cause they want out of that mess, 2 to 1. Boom!

Next we come to the old Russert "gotcha" moment, his fave trick wherein he has some intern pull a contradictory quote from the past and challenges his guest to explain himself. Except here, Murtha's whole deal is that he changed his position. So hauling out a quote from 2004 does nothing but reinforce Murtha's argument that yes, things were one way once but now we have to change direction. Murtha has said this, drawing comparisons with Reagen changing direction in Beirut and Clinton changing direction in Somalia - leaders responding to actual conditions and reacting to actual events. Yet Russert plods on with the plan, not noticing that this bit has been made redundant early on. Is it because he doesn't recognize that or just doesn't want to chuck his pretty graphic? I genuinely don't know, all I know is that it makes him less effective as an interviewer. But I have said this before.

(A note on the but-you-said-this-two-years-ago tactic: Another way of reacting to this ploy is by dismissing it as outdated, as Markos Moulitsas did elsewhere on the dial today on Reliable Sources, responding to a 2004 incident raised by Byron York thusly: "To me in a way it's funny that they have not updated their talking points in two years." An effective response, and one future MTP guests should mark well.)

I said earlier that the first part of MTP was the most important to see and read; that's because that is where Murtha puts forth his main message: Change direction, Bush has no plan, the public wants out. As I watched I saw how he used those same strong points to frame everything else he brought up, like the fact that the U.S. is vulnerable to protect against another war thanks to this one, or the fact that the insurgency is exploding, the fact that 80% of Iraqis want the America gone. Every time, Murtha brings it back to how this war is a miserable failure. Every time, Murtha brings it back to why the U.S. needs to get out, now.

It's obviously working - otherwise why else would Karl Rove be on the attack? Calling out Murtha and saying "If Murtha had his way, American troops would've been gone by the end of April and we wouldn't have gotten Zarqawi" and challenging Murtha's suggestion of redeployment outside Iraq - clearly Murtha has hit a nerve. And when he answers, he knows what he's talking about: neither Rove nor Russert are able to score a point, because Murtha knows what he's talking about and isn't trying to fool anyone.

The funny thing is, Murtha hands the administration their spin on a plate when he says: "It's no longer a military war. We have won the military war against their enemy. We toppled Saddam Hussein. The military's done everything that they can do. And so it's time for us to redeploy. And Iraqi--only Iraqis can settle this." I mean, is that the perfect solution or what? It takes us back to "Mission Accomplished" - said Bush "In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our Allies have prevailed," and by splitting the war into the conquer of the country and the subsequent insurgency and civil war, they can actually spin that as sorta true. I wonder if that's how they'll play it when they actually start withdrawing some troops (which Murtha sees happening before the 2006 elections - great timing, natch).

Murtha makes a few more great points (yes, Democrats running for leadership should admit the war was a mistake; it was a mistake; no, leaving Iraq will not create a terrorist breeding ground, what do you think is happening right now?) and also manages to bring up another point: accountability. Says Murth: "Have we held secretary of defense accountable? Have we held anybody in the White House accountable? They promote people who're responsible for us going to war, rather than hold them accountable." Hey, George Tenet, congrats on that medal).

And that's it (apart from a bit of chatter about Murtha's possible run at House Majority leader). There's all sorts of oil-industry windbaggery that followed, but I'll leave you to that delight on your own; as I mentioned above, I think it doesn't particularly challenge these guys to give them a half-hour of unfettered response to their detractors. What I took away from today's Meet The Press is that the tide is still turning; Rove is on the offensive because he needs to be, not only because the Republicans have created an unholy mess on a whole bunch of fronts (cough Katrina cough) but also because Murtha is playing their game to win. Let his performance today remind the Democrats that they can go on the offensive too: with no apology and no equivocation, but plenty of facts, outrage, and conviction.

That's it for today's Russert Watch - I look forward to your contributions in the comments.

p.s. I almost forgot - HAPPY FATHER'S DAY! Commenters, if you think you give me a hard time, you don't know my Dad. He keeps me on my toes. Hi Dad! Happy Father's Day! You have wisdom, too.

p.p.s. Funnily enough, this came up in a Mulva-Seinfeld search. No relation.