POLITICS
04/14/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

[Please forgive us: we had some technical problems today. All seem to be resolved.]

Good morning and welcome once again to our weekly liveblog of Sunday morning's political television shows. One day, the Pennsylvania primary will be here. One day, the DNC will make a clear decision on Florida, Michigan, and superdelegates. This will not be that day. Still, those things will happen one day, as opposed to a rigorous discussion of Iraq strategy or the John Yoo torture memo, which may not happen on any day. If someone out there talks about the Yoo memo, would you please send an email? Send all the emails you like, and make full and happy use of the comments as well.

This Week, with George Stephanopoulos

Oh, hey. Maybe there will be some serious surge talk. At least from my Senator, Jim Webb. "Last time, it was as if Iraq was an island in the middle of the ocean," Webb says, saying that he wants a broader discussion on the region and the strategy that we've been deploying. Webb says our military deployment is stretched and our economy is losing ground to China. Lindsay Graham is playing the other side today, and he wants to know "how we get a handle on Iran." That's a question that Petraeus has historically begged off on, so God only knows why he wants to ask him that question.

Graham says al Sadr wants to start an Iranian style theocracy. What does he think the Shiite majority wants to start?

Webb says we don't belong in the Middle East as an occupying power, let alone for 100 years. Webb says our greatest mistake is that "Our national leadership has not found a way to aggressively engage Iran...the Iraqis have."

Graham wants to know, "What would the world be like if Iran was not trying to acquire a nuclear weapon?" Uhm...someone else would? Graham, and by extension McCain, seems to think that Iraq is a place where women have rights and everyone hates al Qaeda.

It's sad that Webb even has to explain that al Qaeda is reconstituted in Afghanistan and Pakistan while our forces are "tied down" in Iraq. Isn't it sad that the man has to come on TV and say things that are absolute facts, only to have GS stare at him as if he was saying something fascinating and controversy. "Gotta see what Senator Graham says about that!" No. We have to start acting like its the truth, because it is! Graham thinks winning Anbar province is going to have any larger meaning? He is crazy. Crazy.

Kudos to Webb for not answering the stupid question about superdelegates at the expense of the Iraq war question. Webb clearly doesn't give a crap about superdelegate. He says he doesn't even know how being a superdelegate works, and he likes both candidates.

Now we switch to Howard Dean and the issue of the Democratic primaries. Dean says "the only thing that can beat [Democrats] is disunity." So why not agree to Cuomo's first-second/president-veep ticket idea? Because it's up to the nominee, Dean says. Also: Clinton and Obama despise each other. Would there be a revolt in the party if the superdelegates overturned the pledged delegate vote? Dean says that's why the SD's should come out sooner, rather than later, but, in the end, he says the SDs are elected by the same people who elect the President.

GS remarks that the Clinton and the Obama campaigns have different stances on Florida and Michigan. Well, duh. They take the position that advantages themself. That's understandable. But the fate of Florida and Michigan isn't up to Obama and Clinton. People should stop asking Obama and Clinton for their opinion on the matter, because it's neither their fault, nor their problem to fix.

Dean thinks that the hidden advantage to this drawn out process is that Presidential candidates are going to states they normally avoid, like North Dakota. He's right! I thought it was a thrill to have a vote in a primary that mattered for once (Virginia). It's usually long over by the time it makes it here.

Jokes about bowling. Seriously, I once bowled a seventeen. Stone cold sober. So I know the humiliation.

Round table time! As far as the Petraeus visit goes, George Will thinks that new coalitions will form over the funding policy - loans to Iraq instead of just shoveling money. Cokie Roberts seems to be one of thos people that thinks it's INSANE to question Petraeus. "Not Petraeus!" she says, adding, "Weeeeeoooooogggggiggle giggle sigh!"

Katrina VandenHeuvel, naturally, favors withdrawal. Roberts says, "But Americans want to win!" You can imagine how the discussion degenerates from there. KV says the war's unwinnable, Roberts lives in the world where PR victories constitute strategic victories.

On the campaign, George Will thinks McCain will need to move away from biography and cease the "adolescent" economic suggestions. Dan Senor says that McCain's set to give an important speech in Kansas where he will get the Iraq War wrong, and he'll follow that up with a serious of speeches on the economy in April, where he'll get the economy wronger and wronger.

Would people seriously consider Condi Rice an asset to a presidential ticket? Cokie Roberts thinks the world would have been different if Bush had "taken her advice" and put her on the ticket.

Someone just pointed out a formatting error in the liveblog. Sorry. I think it's fixed now. KVH is talking about how Obama needs to "talk hard" about the economy.

Roberts and Senor actually cut against conventional wisdom on the prolonged Democratic process. Roberts says that people are still making up their minds on the candidates, but coming out in droves and staying engaged. Senor says he thinks McCain could have been advantaged from a little more opposition on the primary side. KVH says that Obama's effectively ended the "top-down" primary campaign.

The Chris Matthews Show

Today on the Chris Matthews Show, we'll be discussing how much Matthews hates the Clintons and how ancient and encrusted John McCain is. Isn't that the plot of that movie THE RUINS? Kids drop down into an ancient Mexican tomb and get infected with worms that later become the McCain presidency? Discussing it will be Katty Kay, Ron Allen, Gloria Borger, and Andrew Sullivan.

Bill Clinton wins and wins and wins and wins. So what's the deal with his non-winning wife? And how many dogs are going to die? And hold on: I'm rewinding just so I can appreciate how great Katty Kay's boots are. Yep. Those are great. Hope Sully's are as vicious!

Chris Matthews is all: "Woah! Clinton keeps acting like she's not going to lose!" Brown runs down the rationale: popular vote, Florida, Michigan, important states, electability. Kay says she's surrounded by people who are filling her head with delusions that she'll win, so they're after the superdels and counting on "another mess up" from the Obama campaign. Borger says that the Clinton's have long been identified with not just winning, but comeback wins, and so that sticks in the minds of voters. Sullivan, naturally, thinks it's all about "entitlement." But he thinks she's got every right to stay in the race, because Obama's going to get more thoroughly tested by the Clintons than by McCain.

"I don't want to get too psychological," Matthews says. But everyone takes up the "entitlement" angle. "Why is [Obama] messing this up for us," says Kay, channeling Clinton. "She imagines she is the incumbent," says Borger.

Borger and Sullivan work the angle that Hillary Clinton's candidacy is as much to do with Bill Clinton as anything else. Borger thinks it's about restoring some luster to Bill's legacy. Sullivan says that the Clintons equate the "Clinton brand" with the "Democratic brand" and if "a black man with a different constituency comes in with energy and dynamism, they've lost their party," and their place in history is diminished. I think Sullivan makes a good point - as long as we're, you know, "getting too psychological!" - but I'd dispute whether the Clinton's equate the "Clinton brand" with the "Democratic brand." I think that the Clinton's have long asserted that their "brand" is distinct from the Democratic one, and should replace it.

Borger notes that "Barack Obama is running a Bill Clinton campaign." She's kind of right! The guy who invented the "repeat the word 'change' until it's taken hold of everyone's brains like a zombie fungus" strategy was Bill Clinton!

I have to laugh at Brown's reaction to the daily Clinton conference calls. The "tone", he says, has dialed down lately, but your heart still sort of dies a little bit when you have to listen to them. There's a tiny light in Brown's eyes that nearly flickers out when he mentions them. The truth is, my only problem with Clinton's promise to be ready at 3AM is that I worry Howard Wolfson will be tying up the lines, yelling at reporters.

Borger says the Obama campaign has cooled their public tone, too. But that beneath the surface, the camps still are going after superdelegates like insatiable ghouls. Sullivan says that Obama's still winning the superdelegate courtship - and he's right. But Obama's rate of winning the SDs has slowed considerably in March. Check the chart, yo. Back in February, Obama was tearing down her lead at a NASTY clip. But some Clinton wins stopped the freefall, and really, now you are getting down to the bottom of the SD barrel, where there are as many commitment-phobes, looking for political cover for their choice, as there are SDs who still believe that some due diligence needs to be done.

"Superdelegates are not kamikaze pilots," says Borger.

Katty Kay says that the big worry for Obama in Pennsylvania is his poll numbers "shooting ahead" of hers. It's CRAZY that should be a worry! Has it really come to this? Being up in the polls is potentially devastating news? But she's probably right.

So, in other news, McCain is old. Like, Gregorian chant old. So what's the deal with that? What will Andrew Sullivan do when he sees McCain standing next to someone like Obama? (Uhm...we don't really need to answer that.) Or do we? Sullivan says McCain has an "astonishing energy level," and makes a "great representative of the 20th century," as if the 20th century was some crazy, foreign land. "McCain best reflects the grunge era, as well as the age of the flush toilet." Sullivan says Obama is the future: flying cars and warp drives and freeze tubes and living forever.

"Values are ageless," Borger says. She's making a lot of good points today! And that's what the biography tour is all about. But Brown counters that McCain's challenge isn't seeming "young at heart" or in values, but associating himself with a future that's not tied to the past seven years of the Bush administration.

Argh...a commenter, rightly, pointed out that I mixed up Iraq and Iran earlier in this post: "Graham wants to know, 'What would the world be like if Iraq was not trying to acquire a nuclear weapon?'" I meant "Iran." It's been changed to reflect this. I very much regret the error.

In that spirit, we get to the "Tell Chris Matthews something he doesn't know" segment. Kay says Obama hasn't won over the environmental lobby - "They've got a big problem with him." Ron Allen says: "I think it's a critical time in Iraq. The fighting in Basra was significant." It says a lot that Brown thinks he's telling Matthews something he doesn't know, here! Brown's basically saying: "Uhm...okay...what don't you know, Chris? ANY NUMBER OF BASIC FACTS ABOUT THAT WHOLE 'WAR' THING WE HAVE GOING ON." In the background, you can hear Matthews mutter, "Oh. Huh."

Borger says that "top Democratic" officials are going to yell at superdelegates in a single "Yelling At Superdelegates" press conference. Andrew Sullivan MENTIONS THE YOO TORTURE MEMO! And suggests that Donald Rumsfeld, David Addington, and John Yoo, "should not leave the United States anytime soon...at some point, they will be indicted for war crimes." The very fact that Sullivan found this news story to be important puts him a cut above the rest of the press. I really should drop a Whitman's sampler off at his office this week or something. Kudos to you, Mr. Sullivan.

"Really," Matthews says, nonplussed. YES REALLY, Tweety. REALLY.

So, assuming she doesn't win the nomination, will Hillary run again? Kay says yes, and that's why she's ripping Obama apart now. Brown says she's focused on the now. Borger says its a cynical theory, but she agrees. Sullivan says "Gollum will never relinquish the Ring." Yeeeaaahhh-ughhh...uhm, we're still going to give you lots of credit for mentioning the torture memo, Andrew."

Commenter "Johnie2xs" offers me some good criticism:

"Jason, I read your blogs on the Huff and particularly like your weekly rundowns of the Sunday morning talk shows. That having been said, you allow yourself to fall into the same trap as the rest of the media, that you decry. What is needed now, is to point up the things that we should be talking about (i.e. Iran and the administrations run-up to yet another incursion). The "Blogosphere" is truly becoming the only place in which the truth of what is happening around, and too us, can be found. Unfortunately, like it or not, the MSM still holds sway. When, and only when, the drumbeat of the alternative press gets so LOUD that not even the Corporate Media can deny its veracity, will, I feel, the tide will be turned."

I can appreciate your concern. Thanks for giving me something to reflect on as Petraeus comes to town. I will keep your comment with me, and do the best job I can.

Meet The Press

Well, it's another battle of surrogates. Bob Casey and Ed Rendell. Now, we've been referring to Rendell as "Dope" the past two weeks because, two weeks ago, he said something dopey: namely, that it was more of a test for Clinton to beat "Uncommitted" in Michigan that it would have been to beat an actual opponent. Pretty stupid! But it's only as stupid as it is self-serving. He's been punished here enough for it, and so, we shall return to calling him "Ed Rendell." Don't dope it up today, Ed!

Is Rendell confident? No, because his campaign is up to their ears in debt and being massively outspent and Obama's brilliant, so a win in Pennsylvania must be like the US beating the CCCP in Lake Placid and stuff! Bob Casey is all inspired by change and is totally excited but he probably won't win this time in Pennsylvania but is laying a foundation for the fall.

Oooh, classic Russert! "But a month ago, Mr. Casey, YOU DIDN'T KNOW WHO WOULD MAKE A STRONG CANDIDATE! Are you telling me, that in thirty days time, it was possible for you to LEARN something? And make a decision, based on what you learned? I FIND THIS HARD TO BELIEVE! Aaaaaaaaand, YA BURNT!"

Okay, so, we'll be assigning the name "Dope" to Russert, then!

Casey tells Dope that Obama's taken on big issues since then, given a speech on race and stuff. And he's not too concerned about Reverend Wright's crazy-faced rhetoric. "It was a leadership test," Casey says, "and Obama got an A-plus."

Dope asks Rendell about what he thinks about the fact that nationwide, Democrats think Obama's stronger against McCain? Rendell tells Dope, "Uhm...we use the electoral map and the Democrats need to win three of the four following states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Michigan." Uh-oh! It looks like Rendell is edging up to the similarly dopey argument that the results of primaries dictate the results of the fall elections! Casey basically says, "Yeah. That's a bunch of crizzap." Rendell's all, but Florida! But Pennsylvania! You neeeeds it! Even Russert is backing Casey up on this, so everyone's back to square one on being called "Dope."

Rendell really needs to shut up about this stuff. I mean, he's part of the mighty Democratic machine in Pennsylvania. If Obama's the nominee, is he going to back McCain? Rendell needs to be forced to look at this argument like so: If he cannot help ANY Democrat win his state in the Fall, then he's useless to EVERY Democrat.

I am so bored with Russert's endless recitation of poll numbers and standings. It's an attempt to filibuster himself, because he has very little new to say, week after week.

OMG. I am getting sick of this question: "Hey, Obama supporter, tell me. If your candidate...you know, the one you've been backing? Let's say he WINS everything. Popular vote, pledged delegates, more states...should he be denied the nomination?" WHAT DO EXPECT THE OBAMA SUPPORTER TO SAY, TIM? How many times has this question been asked? Then he turns to Rendell, and you can see he's going to ask the same question. Russert's all concerned. His hand is up! This is a question that matters! It has to be asked! What's Rendell going to say? I'm at the edge of my seat! OMG! Rendell says the superdels can give Clinton the nomination because big states and Florida and Michigan!

"Woah! Stop there!" Russert says. BECAUSE THIS ANSWER IS CRAZY AND UNEXPECTED! He's got tape about Florida and Michigan! And Rendell once said that Michigan was tough because Obama wasn't on the ballot! Ha, ha! Rendell got caught in a...not exactly a lie...not exactly a misstatement. I don't know what Russert thinks he has achieved here! But NBC will probably keep him on the payroll for this total, unadulterated poppycock that masquerades as journalism, that's for sure!

Really. This Meet The Press is a tour de force performance of Russert at his most fatuous. It is almost unwatchable.

Okay, white hot rage fading....fading...returning to manageable level. Now he's hammering Clinton for making money. "How is this going to play?" Rendell says: "They paid taxes and gave to charity and are devoted to public service." Rendell ought to bring up something the Clinton's have brought up to good effect, that the Bush tax cuts have been better to them than they have to ordinary Americans. Russert's all: "But there are poor people in Pennsylvania! You think they'll resent all that money?"

Russert wants to know who's paid for the Clinton library. I forgot how important an issue that is to all Americans! You know, people talk about how badly the Iraq War movies do at the box office? I bet they do a lot better than the movies about the Clinton library!

Casey tries to find a way to turn this inane discussion into something that a) isn't totally inane, and b) benefits his candidate, so he talks about how the Obama campaign has been funded by small donors. But Russert's all, "He's taken money from big donors. He's taken money from lobbyists!" Casey says, yeah, but it's comparatively different. Rendell says, "Obama's still raised money in the old way! He's disingenuous! Senator Clinton's raised money from the public, too, just not as much!"

And, now, Mark Penn. What can I say? Mark Penn LIKES TO GET PAID. So he says one set of things for the Clinton campaign because at the end of the week he gets a check from them for a lot of money. Then he says a bunch of other things to the government of Colombia, things that contradict the things he says for the Clinton campaign. And people in the press have the temerity to say, "Hey, Mark Penn! You are being INCONSISTENT." Well, listen up! Mark Penn has a home to remodel! And that's a lot of hard work and it takes a lot of money. And up until this week, he was getting a check from Colombia to help pay for that. Mark Penn isn't being inconsistent! He's consistently getting paid, isn't he? Read all about it in his next book, Ha, Ha! You Just Got Microtargeted!

Russert asks Casey what will happen if Obama loses Pennsylvania. BECAUSE NOBODY KNOWS! Casey says Obama will continue to campaign. "But he has to win some primary between now and June," Russert asks, "Right? RIGHT? OH GOD, ISN'T IT TRUE?"

Surprisingly, Rendell thinks Clinton will win Pennsylvania by "4 to 9" points and will split Indiana and North Carolina. Stunning prediction. And, so, Russert asks, AGAIN, what happens if Clinton gets to the convention and she doesn't have this lead or that lead. Rendell gives the answer he always give, and Russert will ask whatever poor sucker he books next week the same question, and he'll pretend that he's the first person to think about the question and that he's only just now thought about it.

That was maybe the worst segment of Meet The Press, ever.

The second segment on Meet The Press is about Martin Luther King, because NBC has a TV special and a Tom Brokaw book to sell, and MLK's assassination anniversary makes for a good moment of synergy. I'll let you know if anything truly interesting or controversial gets said during this segment.

It's ironic to hear Ambassador Young talk about issues of poverty and invoke a "Rip Van Winkle" mentality. Shows like Russert's are an extension of, and an enforcement to, that mentality. The dispiriting prior segment, where Russert pulled out the same questions from the previous weeks, asked them all again, and gave no sign that he wouldn't do so again next Sunday, is a good example. Will there ever be a Sunday morning television show that offers something cogent on issues of race, poverty, war, the morality of torture?

At least Russert didn't try to use tape to get King in a "gotcha" moment! The questioner from that one clip, criticizing King's church for having no white members, was the progenitor of the Russertian tradition.

Ambassador Young and Tom Brokaw offer some weighty and intelligent insight into the changing nature of poverty and race. I cannot do it justice in summation, so check out the transcript (click here to advance past the first four, entirely useless pages), for the discussion.

Russert keeps trying to tie this discussion to some election year talking point - Obama's point of view, Condi Rice - and the panel keeps pushing past this and providing their own context.

From the comments:

"Watching Jim Webb debate Lindsay Graham (I'm pretty sure that little man has an orgasm every time he says Petraeus) is like watching a man among boys. Webb is exactly right when he says we shouldn't worry about a few streets in Baghdad, but look at the area as a whole."

Yep. I cast a vote for Mr. Webb and, personally speaking, he's done nothing but make me look forward to doing it again. I recommend a revisiting of his last Meet The Press appearance. He was cogent, exacting, and demanding without being unecessarily demeaning to his political opponents. I think he's a highly intelligent man, and, it's too bad that he has to continually use his expertise on this war. Don't get me wrong! His knowledge is invaluable, but the guy has got a keen mind for economics as well! Poor John McCain! The Democrats version of McCain is better suited for the presidency than McCain is!

"I found it interesting that Stephanopoulos' panel of four consisted of three Republicans and one Democrat. The modern version of the Fairness doctrine at work on behalf of the American electorate."

True that! And, while we're speaking of a doctrine of fairness, is it "fair" that Cokie Roberts got to keep interrupting/talking over Vandenheuvel all morning long?

With that, we bring another week of Sunday liveblogging to a close. I want to take a moment to apologize for some of the technical problems we experienced this morning. I entered some bad HTML by accident, and it ended up messing up the blog entry for quite some time. I appreciate everyone's patience, and am sorry if it detracted from your ability to robustly discuss this mornings' shows. Please continue to discuss matters in the comments. We'll be back next week, hopefully bug free!