12/31/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Good morning and welcome to your Start Of The Holidays Sunday Morning Chatshow Liveblog. I hope all of you had a restful and/or productive Thanksgiving. I have recently returned from the paradisical lands of Northern New Jersey, where the "Star" in the Star-Ledger continues to sadly and quietly fade. I can report that the state of Delaware continues its comical refusal to assist in the process of allowing people to speedily commute through their state. Delaware remains the only place on Earth where being an EZ-Pass member is a burden instead of a privilege.

Of course, the pleasant holiday atmosphere was tainted by the sad news from outside the family bubble. Can we please arrest and jail everyone who participated in this years fatal Black Friday Wal-Mart trampling? And as a society, may we shun - as in banish from polite society and force to live in the woods - the Wal-Mart spokesperson who felt compelled to mention the unnecessary facts that the killed worker was a temporary employee and a low-level maintenance worker at that? That doesn't make it okay. And, of course, from halfway around the world, the terrible attacks in Mumbai, India cast a pall on the festive season. The city of Mumbai maybe seems a bit far afield to capture our concern, but it's really square in the heart of all that's modern, open, crazy, outsized, and feverishly dreaming of possibilities. Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City, has a moving op-ed on this matter in today's New York Times that's well worth the read.

And with that, let us commence to liveblogging. As always, leave comments, send emails, and dispense holiday recipes.


Oh, boy. Battle of the Surrogates, 2008 style today as Lindsey "Jowly Dave Foley" Graham does battle with Claire McCaskill.

So, Graham is still trooping around the war-torn world with John McCain and Joe Lieberman, and might stop by Pakistan. He worries about the blowback and Indian demagoguery. I continue to worry about sitting down and blithely meeting with people from the Pakistani intelligence agencies. Talk about meeting bad actors without preconditions. McCaskill says that the Obama national security team is bent on strengthening "the entire region" and identifying the real terrorist threat. She notes that as they've been saying, Pakistan is the epicenter of the global terrorist threat. McCaskill doesn't feel that Pakistan has been fully cooperative in rooting out the terrorist threat within their borders, but if McCaskill knows about a stick that's coming after the carrot, she doesn't mention it.

Graham, who whined and mewled about how Obama would get us all killed is asked about his comments during the campaign. Don't worry! No one ever has to answer for any of the crazy things they say on the trail! Graham gives everyone the happy slant on everyone that Obama's picked, and then says "Listen to General Petraeus," because that's how General Petraeus has been marketed, as someone whose words need to be hung on. Personally, I liked those words Petraeus uttered in Congressional hearings in response to Senator Clinton last spring, where he said he would follow the orders of a new President.

Wallace and McCaskill then get into discussing the new Status Of Forces Agreement. Wallace, sensing that McCaskill might accurately capture it as the agreement that will spur a U.S. troop withdrawal in the timeframe recommended by Obama on the stump (for that is precisely what it does!), steps in a frames it as "the document that allows U.S. troops to remain in Iraq." McCaskill says, "The important part of the agreement is that it embraces the kind of timetable [for withdrawal] that was the focus of [Obama's] campaign."

Retaining Gates has its advantages, namely, it keeps the relationship between Obama and the Pentagon on a positive footing and keeps the warriors happy. The disadvantage is that it continues to send the message that no Democrats exist who are capable of doing SECDEF. I think that Obama is placing Iraq withdrawal on a higher priority than boosting the Democratic Party brand, and if you aren't a bloodless politico type, you probably accept the wisdom of this.

Naturally, it's pretty hilarious to hear the idea that Gates wouldn't follow Obama's orders is ludicrous. That's his job. I'm also laughing at the notion that Wallace puts forward, that retaining Gates "might mean Obama might reconsider" his deadlines. THERE'S NOTHING TO RECONSIDER! The sovereign, duly elected, free government of Iraq has ratified the SOFA. On the streets, they call this the "withdrawal agreement." There's no reason in the world for Obama to get in the way of it, it aligns perfectly with his foreign policy doctrine of withdrawal and redeployment. Frankly, this is where George W. Bush should be running up his "Mission Accomplished" banner. Everything pertaining to withdrawal will be in motion by the time Obama takes office. It will be the new reality in Iraq. It will be the "conditions" in the phrase "conditions-based." And it will be impossible to paint Obama as a "surrenderer."

So, Saxby Chambliss, that famed slanderer of Max Cleland, is on today to raise awareness of his ongoing Senate campaign against Jim Martin. Fox has been allowing sex-freak pundit Dick Morris to shill and fundraise for Chambliss on their airwaves, so I don't expect much. Like, what policies does Chambliss support? What's his vision for Georgia, and America? HE HASN'T A BLESSED CLUE. Wallace asks four straight - now five straight process questions. Clearly the real story is that the media hasn't lost their taste for election year vapidity.

"Let's talk about some of the issues," says Wallace. But it's more process nonsense. And ad copy. And facile questions on voting records. Wallace plays gotcha with Chambliss' lack of grasp over the economic recession. And, woo: touche. But you had to be pretty special to not do a little bit of misleading on the recession. Anyway, Chambliss says that he relies on the expertise of tiny-ass Georgia bankers, which, as someone who's been given the hard-sell by any number of tiny-ass Virginia bankers, is pretty scary. And on all other matters, Chambliss is proud to have voted for all the aspects of the financial bailout that have or will have succeeded and thinks that everyone else should take responsibility for the aspects of the financial bailout that have or will have failed, including things that are succeeding today. And he listens to "financial industry" leaders who have so far not failed America, while retaining the right to criticize those who have. I CAN HAZ IT BOTH WAYZ.

Now it's Panel Time, with the usual panel of tired losers. Mara Liasson is shocked - SHOCKED! - that Mumbai was so "vulnerable" to terrorist attacks. I wonder how aware she is of how vulnerable American ports and airports and cities are, today? Bill Kristol is incensed that we haven't shown solidarity with India. Of course, last week, he was incensed that we hadn't sent to Navy after the Somali pirates. Juan Williams Notes that the attacks go a long way to alienating the partners who Obama want to have in the fold to fight al Qaeda.

Hume is calling Pakistan "dangerous" and "danger inspiring." So much harshness toward Pakistan on this panel! And, in my opinion, somewhat deserved, at least on an institutional level. But I wonder how many instances I could uncover from last year of this panel calling Obama's approach to Pakistan - and the notion that we would go after terrorists within their borders regardless of Pakistan's willingness to allow us to do so - crazy and dangerous? I suspect I'd do pretty well. Yet, here's Bill Kristol, talking about "going after" terrorists within Pakistan's borders.

Discussion turns to the naming of the Obama foreign policy team. Wallace wonders how Gates and Obama square their differences over Iraq. I imagine that he'll square them by looking at an org-chart, and that's what Williams integrates. Williams seems to think that Obama's plan was to INSTANTLY AFFECT AN IRAQ WITHDRAWAL. It was, actually, always a sixteen-month timeline that would INSTANTLY GO INTO EFFECT (sorry, grammar police...remember, this is all done on the fly!) on Obama taking office. Liasson, futilely protests Williams and Wallace, and their ignorance. Truth be told, the SOFA means that the process of withdrawal is beginning two-months before Obama takes office.

Liasson notes that Obama's picks have been along the Brzezinski-Scowcroft school of thought, and to Kristol, this does not represent change. Matt Yglesias, in his recent writings (and in his excellent book) builds a good case that reveals that the Scowcroft school of thought is decidedly TO THE LEFT of the Democratic Party hawks who...yes, wait for it...GOT THE IRAQ WAR WRONG. (This also means that one CANNOT put Hillary Clinton in that category - she remains the head-snapping exception to the rule.)

Nevertheless, Kristol's attempt to paint the Obama team as an extension of Bush foreign policy - for that is what you are suggesting when you say that there will be no "change" in policy direction - is just ludicrous. What Obama's moves reflect is a desire to achieve a level of basic competence that has been sorely lacking in our foreign policy. It will not be an administration in which gangsters like Ahmad Chalabi inspire strategy, or where dimwits like Douglas Feith reign. (And look, yes, there were obvious distinctions to be made between Obama and Clinton where the Iraq War was concerned, but even still, Clinton is much more aligned with Obama's line of thinking than she is with Bill Kristol.)

All the same, Obama doesn't exactly inherit a low-stakes atmosphere to begin a Presidency. I remember that Bush's first big frack-up was the Hainan Island spy-plane incident. Pretty low-stakes stuff, when you have the perspective of the seven years that followed. Obama's going to have to walk a tight line, and get everything right. And he'll have to bank the support of professionals in advance, and keep those nagging "coulda shoulda leaks" to a minimum. In that sense, retaining Gates was smart: it send a message to the Pentagon that no one's "going rogue" or swinging pipes at anyone's heads. All that "Team Of Rivals" stuff does not apply.


We're going to leaven our serious Sunday bread with a little of would-be Pennsylvania Senator Chris Matthews' brand of whimsy, why not. Today's panel includes Katty Kay, Mark Whitaker, Ceci Connolly and David Ignatius.

So, yeah, the economy. Peggy Noonan may have not noticed it, because no one's attempted to remount THE CRADLE WILL ROCK on Broadway, yet, but times are tough. Also, war, strife, and global uncertainty. Even Bill Kristol has pledged to support the nascent Obama presidency, until it starts making decisions that aren't clouded by the empirical delusions of nincompoops. Will Obama get a break from partisan politics? (Should he?)

Whitaker says that the dire straits of today have made the Obama camp the sultans of swing, and they are going to pursue their long-and-deep agenda of bold moves. There will be a "Rush Limbaugh wing" of the party that will presumably, do as Rush Limbaugh does - rattle angrily and alone inside their insulated world with their cat as their only friend.

"The honeymoon is a hurricane!" says David Ignatius, and then credits JOHN MCCAIN with healing the nation, with his glorious concession speech. YES, DAVID. That washed away months of dishonor and grave stupidity!

Connolly says that while the GOP needs to regroup, people need to remember that EVERYTHING IS BAD FOR DEMOCRATS. Isn't the structural majorities in Congress that Obama will have to work with a BAD THING? Maybe Connolly hasn't noticed the vast legislative background of Obama's inner circle, or how the Clinton roadblock will be mollified and sent to Foggy Bottom?

Who will keep the blogosphere happy, in the Obama administration? I don't know? Probably the echo chamber in their comment streams, which constantly remind the bloggers of how right they are? That's sort of how it works. Anyway, surprise, surprise! It's hard to be president - concessions pave the way for consensus. There are competing interests to be tended to. And everyone knows what a GENIUS has been tending the tiller for the past eight years. I think that if Obama governs from the standpoint that he has to mollify a thin band of the shouty-faced on either side of the aisle, he'll be pissing away the opportunity to govern well and build a consensus for policies that can gradually grow more progressive as America learns to be less cynical about their government.

Matthews says that Obama's popularity could affect al Qaeda's global brand. Already, al Qaeda is yelling at Obama, calling him "House Negro," and complaining about the way the media has captured their statements like they were Mark Salter or something.

I can't get over the way Matthews obsesses on Obama's middle name. Yes! Let's be amazed! It's the one thing Obama has done in the War On Terror that he had no control over. I mean, my middle name is Basinger, but you shouldn't be wondering if that implies that I have taken a side in Alec Baldwin's messy divorce.

Will Obama affect al Qaeda's ability to recruit? Ignatius thinks that Obama's presidency might "create a crisis in the minds" of the non-hardcore.

I guess I should be all suffused with how hope and change will affect the War On Terror. And I'm happy for any sort of psychological drift that having Obama as President occurs, as long as it proceeds in our direction. But battling al Qaeda is a matter of policy, not warm-fuzzy projection, and I'm more interested in what takles shape as a matter of policy. Certainly, there, I'm hopeful! But in the end, Obama's name and skin color will be of decidedly small impact, and I have a feeling he'd tell you that himself.

Things that Chris Matthews doesn't know (that do not include, maybe, his projected double-digit deficit in the polls in Pennsylvania) are as follows. Katty Kay says that there is terrible news coming out of Africa, and she hopes that Obama will take Africa seriously by appointing Samantha Power and John Prendergast to head up the State Department's Africa mission. (Power is back in the Obama camp, as a part of his State Department transition team. She and Hillary Clinton have reportedly buried the hatchet, and not in one another's skulls.) Whitaker says that Education hasn't gotten much attention yet, but it will. Connolly says that Obama will not reverse all of the Bush executive orders, but will rather be "forward-looking and not backward-looking" on some of them, whatever the hell that means. Ignatius says that John McCain will be Obama's "key ally" on climate change - which could be problematic, since I don't think McCain supports mostly pleasant sounding "green" rhetoric, as opposed to a sensible carbon-tax plan.

Will Bush retreat from public life after Inauguration Day? Katty Kay says that "she's struggling to see that big, thoughtful op-ed in the Wall Street Journal" from Bush, but I don't know! Is the Wall Street journal soliciting an op-ed about how delicious the White House brownies are, or how cool it is to shoot off fireworks with the President of Mexico in the middle of the night? Or how far up one's ass one's cranium needs to be fitted in order to tune out the way one's decisions cost people their lives? Actually, I'd have to imagine that only the first two ideas are in play.

Whitaker agrees that Bush is likely to write or read books in his retirement. "This is why they hate us, Mark!" Matthews quips nonsenically. Connolly agrees that Bush will do mindless gardening for the rest of his life. Ignatius says a whole lot of asskissing nonsense about how "there's a little bit of Jimmy Carter in Bush" and how he's the "dissident President." "I'll bet he'll travel and meet with dissidents," he says, adding that Bush will set up a "Freedom Foundation." I agree with the latter. Bush is totally the type who would start a foundation that would raise awareness for awareness or something vapid like that. The notion that he's going to travel around and talk to the poor and disaffected around the world? I'm going to strain my diaphragm, laughing at that nonsense.


Laura Bush and Ted Turner headline today's show. I think that one thing I'd like to keep from the Bush Administration is Laura's National Book Festival. But, instead, we're going to talk about Laura Bush's work with Afghanistan's women. I wonder how Laura Bush feels about the Karzai government's halting efforts to forge a reconciliation with the Taliban? I wonder if that's going to come up? Laura says the resurgence of the Taliban is "discouraging." I say what's discouraging is the notion that so many of us were led to believe that the Taliban had been defeated in the first place.

Anyway, Laura supports the women of Afghanistan, and apparently, there is a brand of "conservatism" that Laura cannot get behind. Somewhere, Jonah Goldberg is listening to this and mulling penning a book entitled "Liberal Talibanism."

Said Jawad, the Afghan ambassador to the United States, is on the show alongside Laura Bush, and Brokaw reads him his own quote, worried about the "U-Turn" back to Taliban rule. Naturally, the fault for this U-Turn is primarily ours - remember that time we abandoned Afghanistan to go fight a nonsense war in Iraq? Good times! - but Brokaw asks Jawad, "What should YOUR government be doing more of" to change this. Jawad says that his government has done its job and they need more resources and investment.

"Do we need a new model of women's rights for Afghanistan," Brokaw wonders. We probably need a new model of women's rights in the USA, frankly. "We need to do as much as we can to educate people as quickly as we can." American politics, when you suggest that citizens need to be educated to understand key issues, it's derided as the export and spread of elitism. But, hey, as we've learned, the GOP is hardly against giant, liberal government funded New Deal style programs as long as they are happening in Iraq. And they're hardly against socialism, as long as we socialize profit to the plutocrats and the risk to the citizenry.

Know what no one seems to mention when they talk about what needs to be done in Afghanistan? Building roads. I worry that Americans might learn that infrastructural investments provide vital backups to national security.

Of course, I think that all this talk of education and awareness is nice, but I worry that painting Afghanistan as a nation that lacks the institutional memory of women holding jobs and being educated is just incorrect. I seem to recall that life in Afghanistan was vastly different for women, prior to the Taliban. The Taliban came to power in 1996, I believe, and at that time, they imposed a number of restrictions on women - they were tossed from universities, expelled from the workforce, banned from going out in public without a male escort, and the like. Is the problem REALLY that Afghanistan needs to re-educated as to how they were living TWELVE YEARS AGO? I think that women are undone in Afghanistan not by a lack of education, but by institutions - including "post-Taliban" institutions - that are far too permissive in allowing women to be denigrated, or at the very least far too unwilling to expend political capital defending them.

Brokaw does bring up the fact that the Taliban and the Karzai government are in talks, and Jawad notes that the goal is to win over the moderates, but not share power. There's a strategic benefit, of course, to getting the Taliban to the table. It really serves to marginalize al Qaeda, for example. But, in the context of women's rights, it accomplishes nothing if the pre-existing power structure doesn't go all in behind creating conditions in which Afghani women might thrive.

I have to roll my eyes at Brokaw painting Petraeus as the "most successful commander of the Iraq war." At the end of last year's college basketball season, the University of Virginia was one of the most successful basketball teams of the teams that were selected for neither the NCAA Tournament nor the NIT! Truly a great honor! Anyway, just imagine how successful some of the commanders who cautioned against the Iraq War might have been!

Laura Bush thought the election was a "major historical event for the nation" and "very good." Kudos to NBC for landing that exclusive!!

Ted Turner is next. Man, it's been a long time since I've sat in contemplation of him! Commenters should spill: crazy-genius or just plain crazy? (Or just plain genius?) Seriously, folks. It's worth some back and forth.

Ted Turner says he is most thankful for "being healthy" and he continues to work with the U.N. to reduce the nuclear threat, eliminate poverty and disease, and bring ponies to the dispossessed. Seriously! Many pots are tickled by Turner's fingers. He sizes up the financial situation as one where the nation skated by for too long with mounting debt. And, yes, CNN teetered on the "ragged edge" of bankruptcy, but, as Turner points out, he didn't need anyone to bail him out.

"Even before I started CNN, I knew what the greatest threat would be, and that was a right wing news network," Turner says. He apparently planned for Headline News to be the CNN version of a right-wing network, but in the end, didn't go through with it, "because I'm not a hard right-winger." Of course, that didn't stop Headline News from giving weirdo paranoiac butt-surgery enthusiast Glenn Beck a platform.

Turner is on record as favoring a bankruptcy for the Big Three, and would rather see the government invest $25 billion in clean, renewable energy and not the "smokestack industry." From Brokaw, we get more absolutist cant about how jobs will automatically vaporize if the bailout is not proffered. I think Turner is absolutely right! The auto industry bailout is like giving someone who wants a lot of heroin a LITTLE BIT of heroin, with the expectation that they will use it sparingly and learn to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Turner, by the way, would rather be called "Captain Outrageous" than "the Mouth of the South." I'm sort of digging his withering, John Waters-style mustache.

What did Turner think of Obama? Apparently, they both were mutually excited to meet one another and Obama was happy that Turner did not need a large government bailout. They found common ground on the issue of nuclear proliferation. He also believes that the Russians are reasonable and pragmatic, though maybe he should meet the new Russians. I sort of think Brokaw is lame, bringing up McCain's old "KGB" talking points, but Turner equating the FBI and the KGB as "honorable institutions" is bewildering. Surely he understands that the FBI's mandate is significantly smaller than the KGB's. I do think it's pretty amusing to see Turner equate the U.S. invasion of Iraq as an equivalent example of "naked agression" as the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan. Most MEET THE PRESS guests adopt at least a pretense of fealty to the noble mission of fracking up Iraq beyond all recognition.

Now, weirdly, Brokaw is playing gotcha with a quote from Jimmy Carter that is found in TURNER'S OWN BOOK! WOO! NAILED HIM! Bet he didn't realize that his own book got published and stuff!

Oh, Jesus. Now Ted Turner is singing. Honestly, why didn't the good people at Meet the Press just come out this morning and say, "Hey! No one's probably watching this show today, but if your teevee needs a screensaver, we'll have some old oligarchs singing for the next hour." Then they could have rickrolled themselves or something.

Commenter "marlainWA" pretty much captures the mood of today:

"Well so far sorry to say have learned nothing new today. I feel like we are all in a holding pattern waiting for Obama to take over and watching the circus with elephants and lions and clowns go running by on either side of us while we stand in line."

I have to agree. We have major news in Mumbai today, but for the past week, everyone's been so willing to just let George W. Bush stop being the President early that we're sort of stuck now, in this between-the-regimes state, in which no one seems to want to get too hot and heavy on matters of global import, save for the economy, which is being presided over by President Henry Paulson.

Meet The Press closes with archival footage of Eleanor Roosevelt appearing on MTP back in 1957, I guess in an effort to make Laura Bush look bad! Anyway, Eleanor takes a bunch of serious questions and straight up responds with a gem-like clarity and a brisk and lovely handle on the English language. And she did all that from behind a placard that read, "Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt," which seems an awful shame.

Anyway, it was really great to get through a weekend and not hear the term "Team of Rivals." Look for a resurgence next Sunday, as the HRC nomination to the State Department becomes official. In the meanwhile, I hope everyone enjoys the last vestiges of this Thanksgiving Weekend, though it's pretty clear that watching any of today's limp Sunday offerings will basically ruin the chances of that happening. Better luck next week, y'all! If you are driving home today, please drive safely, and if you're going shopping today, please try acting as if you were not raised in a barn.