01/07/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Good morning! It's time again for the things that relieves your need to spend time watching the Sunday Morning conventional wisdom klatches - a liveblog describing them, for some reason. I don't know how this morning is going to go. I am feeling ridiculously poorly this weekend, but duty calls! One thing that made me really happy last night was when I heard the news that the President-Elect plans to install General Eric Shinseki as the head of the VA. That goes a long way to restoring a measure of honor to a guy drummed out of public service by the Bush administration. It's also going to redound to our veterans' benefit. As Spencer Ackerman says:

To say this is an inspired choice underscores its magnitude. Shinseki's personal courage and virtue are close to unparalleled in the current generation of general officers. He knows the sacrifices of war personally, as he left part of his right foot in Vietnam. The new generation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans -- already underserved by the country that sent them to war -- can know that he has their backs.

I feel very good about this!

Anyway, you know the drill, enjoy the opportunity to comment, feel free to drop an email. As usual, I'll be watching MEET THE PRESS on TiVo, so you can expect me to be behind real time in covering it.


Today we'll have Condi Rice talking about India-Pakistan strife, and auto-bailout surrogate yelling from Carl Levin, who reps Detroit, and Richard Shelby, who reps the part of the country eager to see Detroit go out of business - which means we won't be having an honest discussion on the matter at all.

First, Condi Rice - less than fifty more days of her, thankfully - says that Pakistan needs to cooperate and act accordingly in the investigation into the Mumbai attacks, the likelihood of which is basically nil. "The leaders in Pakistan were very clear that they understood they needed to act, and now we're waiting," Rice says, speaking a refrain that's rung out since 9/11.

How dangerous is the India-Pakistan situation? Rice says that relations between the nations is better than they were back in 2001. "It's important to not take steps that will make the situation worse," Rice says, speaking a line of political phiosophy that runs counter to the Bush Doctrine. She follows that up by saying that diplomacy is the best course of action with Iran. Woah! She's off teh reservation or something!

What responsibility does Condi feel for the failure of intelligence that Bush now cries about at night, as he looks at what a charlie foxtrot Iraq has become, does Rice feel bad about it? Not so bad that she can't spew forth a ton of dodges. "Across the world, people thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction." Hey, I didn't! Do I get a prize for being right? (Answer: Sadly, no. Prizes typically go to the wrongest.)

Anyway, it's funny to hear Rice imply that Iraq was a "bulwark against Iran" that simply had a murderous dictator. Iraq is hardly going to be a bulwark against Iran!

Rice insists that Donald Rumsfeld, counter to rumors, did, in fact, return her calls on a regular basis. That's too bad. Talking to Rumsfeld doesn't make anyone better at their job.

It's a pity that they've got Levin and Shelby on to discuss the auto bailout bill, because there won't be a shred of nuance between the two of them. Levin, predictably suggests that the bill is forthcoming. He's confident. The automakers brought plans (actually, in the hearings, I heard a lot of Congresspersons with marketing ideas that the CEOs had plainly never thought of. Levin "confidence" has nothing to do with the measure getting passed. Also, there will be a government-appointed "car czar." Yes, America's storied history of successful czars seems certain to continue!

Shelby, of course, won't support the bailout in any form because his constituents benefit if Detroit fails. (Moreover, if Detroit does fail, automakers on his hometurf will be able to reduce wages.) Now Levin's yammering about Main Street and how the Big Three are too big to fail. The thing is, the Big Three really aren't that big! And no one is buying their terrible, terrible cars anyway.

Shelby thinks that the remaining monies in the larger bailout package should not be spent by Bush and Paulson and should be left to the Obama administration. Levin just thinks that any more bailout recipients need to parade themselves in front of his committees, and continue the marvelous series of "Queen For A Day" that the auto CEOs have brought to DC. (They all left with washing machines!)

Both Levin and Shelby are excited about Obama appointing Shinseki to the VA. Levin says he's a "hero" for American vets. Shelby calls Shinseki a "superb" person that should have been listened to, before the Iraq War.

Panel time! With Kristol, Liasson, Krauthammer and Williams. Brit Hume is probably finding it harder and harder to get out of bed. Kristol thinks that there's a "class snobbishness" that bails out Citi and not the automakers. Liasson says that the UAW is in line to make further concessions, and will likely agree to bringing their wages to a level that's comparable to foreign companies in America - an action that will touch off a race to the bottom where wages are concerned, as those foreign companies will likely drop theirs so that the gap - which is nowhere near as big as advertised but a gap nonetheless - remains.

Now everyone beats up on Juan Williams, because he is a pathetic simp. It's perversely my favorite part of this show. Williams just wants to point out that it's strange to see Kristol defend the automakers. But everyone else wants to laugh and make fun of him.

And, more of these crumbums! Should maybe Obama take over the Presidency right now, and spoil the hopes of a million people who want to seel cheaply made swag on Inauguration day? Liasson says that it's going to be inevitable that Obama will come to be seen as President before the formal switch. Krauthammer says that Obama is less centrist than people are saying! Hooray! Finally, someone who's willing to stop the nonsense. He says that Obama's ambitions lay on the domestic side and that he'll desire an "All Quiet On The Western and Eastern Front" approach to foreign policy.

Williams says it will be important to see what Obama does with the CIA...after all, he says, the Bush administration is regretful of the bad intelligence they got in advance of the Iraq War. Of course, most of the "bad intelligence" that got was from people the Bush administration chose to go through the intelligence and cherry pick things that helped make the cause for the Iraq war. So it's not an issue of changing the CIA.

Oh, look! They baked Chris Wallace a cake!


More Condi Rice! She reiterates that she was very firm with our al-Qaeda filled ally, Pakistan, that they'd better do something about their coked up terrorist citizens. "They want to do the right thing," Rice says. I sort of suspect that they'll settle for doing the easy thing. Rice reiterates that India and Pakistan don't get along as poorly as they used to.

GS mentions World At Risk, and the conclusions they reached, that terrorists would use a WMD by 2013. Rice says that the President has been working very hard to fight terrorists and prevent such attacks. GS points out, that, yeah, okay: but the threat is worsening. Rice says that she doesn't think that anyone can really judge what's going to happen between now and 2013. Well, the authors behind World At Risk have sure given it a try!

How does she feel that nobody bothered to do anything about Osama bin Laden? "Everyone wants to see the day that Osama bin Laden is brought to justice. But this is not a one-man organization. And I think we are more capable at dealing with al Qaeda, tracking and tracing them, cutting down their financial networks, and most importantly we've captured or killed an awful lot of their leadership. That very coherent institution, organization, that perpetrated 9/11 is really not intact any longer, although they remain dangerous."

Rice is "appalled" at the international community in their approach to dealing with tyrants, which would mean something to me if she had represented a good example on how to deal with them!

What about Obama's accusation that the Bush White House was undermined by groupthink? Rice says that dissent flourished at the White House! It's just all the bad intel that made it hard to oppose the war! Bad intel that was bad by design! Designed to minimized internal dissent!

Rice mentions a whole list of things that made Saddam Hussein a person worthy of getting rid of. She includes several things, of course, that he did with our tacit permission. She excuses some of this away, "You don't have the luxury of doing things differently." Yeah, and for a while there, y'all were trying to cozy up to Uzbekistan's Islom Karimov, every bit as murderous a dictator as Saddam. In that case, you had the luxuiry of doing things differently, dumbass.

On Hillary Clinton, Rice says: "She's terrific...I have known her for a long time, ever since she brought her freshman daughter to Stanford when I was provost at Stanford. I think she's going to be terrific." Ha. Company man.

Now here's UAW Prexy Ron Gettelfinger, rocking a stylish mustache. He says that the UAW went to "first base" and then "second base" and then "third base" but that "no one else is in the ballpark." Isn't it that much easier to get to third base?

"We all have to get in the same room together," Gettelfinger says, adding that he hopes the room has snacks. He's satisfied with the process, so far, which totally makes sense, because the process has been geared toward humiliating the auto executives.

"People call this a bailout, but it's a bridge loan." Yes. As in, I have a bridge to sell you, why not take out a loan? If the automakers have no hope of paying the "loan" off, why do we insist on kidding ourselves?

Panel time! With George Will, Peggy Noonan, E.J. Dionne, and Cokie Roberts. Dismal job report! George Will hates the idea that no one will do the right thing and cut taxes on the wealthy, so we're going to build roads. Dionne says Obama is "blessed by crisis" because the looming problems will make it easier to do the things he wants, because people are begging for his measures. Noonan says that people just don't care about adding to deficits anymore, and Will concurs that there is no line in the sand for deficit hawks to draw. Cokie offers that the alternatives are worse, and that spending wisely is the right thing to do - I'd say that the operative term is "wisely."

George Will then recounts the time he went to see the musical Fiorello!, by Bock and Harnick.

Noonan says that bringing Shinseki back is both a move that restores talent and expertise to policy while also rebuking the previous administration. Cokie seems to give short shrift to the VA post, but they both agree that it's a delayed reward.

Will thinks that Obama might be different and might be ablt to rid his sanctum of "group think," but notes that every two years, someone writes about the "White House bubble," and that it's just hard for a President to avoid, due to the strong layers of security and "sycophants."

GS wonders if maybe the "team of rivals" storyline is overplayed. OH PLEASE LET'S START THE BACKLASH NOW! Roberts agrees that for the most part, Jones, Clinton, Gates, and Obama seem to be "singing from the same hymnbook."

Will seems to think all the "votes stuffed in trunks in Minnesota" stories are true - they aren't, and that the race in Minnesota is essentially a tie, meaning that whoever emerges as the winner, it won't be an injustice, like Florida in 2000. There are lots of people that will disagree with that!


Okay. My internet spazzed out on me there for a while, but now everything seems to be working again.

All right. Fifty minutes of Obama, followed by a ten minute handoff to David Gregory. We knew this going in. We also knew going in to Election Day that Obama was going to inherit some major problems, but we'll pretend that we've actually been blindsided by them because, let's face it, it's sporting to sometimes allow Meet The Press to feel like it's the superior institution.

This is an important moment. You know, there have been a lot of people questioning his ability, whether he belongs in the position, whether he'll deliver on his promise, and so it's good that he's offered up his best performance yet, one that should reassure people that he's the right man for the job.

Of course, I'm not talking about Obama. I'm talking about Fred Armisen, who came as close as he ever has to nailing Obama perfectly as he did last night!

That's post-racialicious!

What are the differences between the problems Obama faces and the problems that FDR faced? Obama says that times were much harder for past generations, and that many of the structures in place to help us out today were put in place by that previous generation. That said, Obama believes, the unemployment problem is significant and the economy is likely to get worse before it gets better. could become as bad?

What are the most unpopular things that Obama is going to have to do? Obama says he senses a convergence between circumstances and agenda, and that his infrastructure based stimulus package may prove to be necessary without being unpopular. But Brokaw's question is a good one: how quickly does this create jobs? Obama says that he'll tap into projects that are "shovel-ready" - but whether or not every state's definition of shovel-ready means tomorrow or next year is a devilish detail. Also, he probably should do the necessary vetting to ensure that these project do, in fact, give "bang for the buck." Somewhere, out there, there's shovel ready bridge to nowhere.

Do the BIg Three deserve to survive? Obama says they've made repeated strategic mistakes and he's been a critic of their poor adaptability. He's also, however, said that the auto industry is a huge employer and it's not good to just let them collapse. He says that all stakeholders, including labor and management, need to take stimulus and develop a business model that's not as unrealistic as it is now. The only choice, really, between welfare and bankruptcy is a thorough readjustment of all stakeholders' positions. I hope that Obama's willing to see that through ALL THE WAY. Because really, right now, I think the bailout is every bit as symbolic as driving from Detroit.

Of course, the auto industry is our major source of that manufacturing "institutional memory." And, when you think about how America got through periods like World War Two, it took that industry's strength to help us win those wars and survive those times. One could argue that this is an industry that provides a national security backstop.

Should the current management be allowed to keep their jobs? I wish Obama would just say: no. He says he hopes to introduce a "new ethic of responsibility" that brings CEO compensation packages in line with their management decisions. Not sure what the Federal government can do about it other than publicly shame them, though in all honesty, a President who'll stand in his bully pulpit and shame some of these people would be a vast improvement over the Presidents I've had in my lifetime.

Is the three-month moartorium on foreclosures still in play? Obama says he wants to see a "package that helps homeowners." As for the moratorium? "It remains an important option...the vast majority of the homeowners in trouble are still making their monthly payments." Obama's not made it a priority to yell at the administration for their decisions, or the homeowners who may have made terrible decisions: "If my neighbor's house is on fire," he says, "Even if they've been smoking in bed, or leaving the stove on, my main incentive is to put out the fire so it doesn't spread to my house."

These problems are only compounded when your neighbor is running a meth lab, because sometimes selling meth is the only way that they can make their mortgage payments. Really, it's a vicious cycle, hard to escape from. Unless of course, you use some meth.

What about taxes? And tax cuts? Surely the "economic conditions have changed," right? Obama says, basically: JESUS. IT IS A NET TAX CUT. A NET TAX CUT. CAN YOU BE THE LAST THICKO, TOM BROKAW, THAT NEEDS THAT DRILLED INTO HIS EVER LOVING, DENSE-ASS HEAD? Actually, he's more polite. But, honestly, the Brokaws of the world are just fatuous in the claims that "economic conditions" can "change" and cause the increasing of taxes on the rich to be a bad idea. THEY SAY IT'S A BAD IDEA IN ANY CONDITION. If the economy was humming, they'd say it was a bad idea. If we were all running around on fire, charred flesh clinging to ashen bone, Brokaw would ask: "SKREEEEEAAAWWWW! THE PAAAAAIIIN IS OVERWHELMING!!! PROMISE YOU WON'T RAIIIIIISE MY TAXESSSSSSS! OH MY GOD THE FIRE BURRRRRRRRRRNS MEEEEEEEEE!"

What about Pakistan, where meth labs and people on fire are fitting metaphors. Obama says that strategic partnerships are necessary in the region to fight terrorists. Afghanistan "cannot be looked at in isolation." "Tough diplomacy and smart military operations." Will Obama re-examine the policy of drone attacks in Pakistan? He'll establish a policy where it becomes unnecessary because Pakistan is doing their job to quash the threat, basically.

Brokaw asks if Obama will need to appoint a special envoy to the region. I thought that was what Richard Holbrooke was basically slated to do for the Obama administration? Am I incorrect in that?

When does the drawdown of troops begin and end in Iraq? Obama says he'll start the withdrawal process when he assumes office, but that the timetable for withdrawal is knit up in the Status Of Forces Agreement that the Bush administration has already signed off on. So, withdrawal and drawdown is the new condition on the ground in Iraq. In Afghanistan, the road sounds a lot trickier - of only because it's tough to package what needs to be done there in a neat term like "SURGE." Afghanistan, and the region (because we won't be viewing it in isolation, I guess) needs more troops, a more effective mission, more substantive diplomacy, and a commitment to enhancing the infrastructure and economic opportunities of the people who reside there. Obama notes that nothing will be solved if Afghans come to believe that the mission is a U.S. imposition, and that he'll have to convince the Afghans that the U.S. doesn't have long term territorial plans.

As for "residual forces" in Iraq, Obama says he won't "speculate on the numbers," but that a force would remain to protect U.S. Embassies, ferret out terrorists, provide training and logistical support to Iraq, if necessary. That could be a big number, actually!

Obama wants "tough, direct" diplomacy with Iran, and "carrots and sticks," like he's always said.

How soon does Obama want to meet with Russians, and does he want to meet with the puppet, or the puppetmaster? "We want to cooperate with them where we can, but send a clear message that they can't bully their neighbors." Basically, "I will totally send John McCain to yell at you if you don't stay in line."

Obama begs off weighing in on a preference for who should take Hillary's seat, openly joking about how tied in he is to similar questions in Illinois. He also makes the Shinseki appointment official: "He and I share a reverence for those who have served." Plus they are both Hawaiian! The Shinseki appointment is an unmistakable sign of progress. And hey! Obama says insistently that on Iraq, Shinseki "was right." And Brokaw repeats him! Now, quick! Go back in time, and admit, just as easily as you could have back then that Shinseki was right, instead of sitting there with you thumb up your ass, doing nothing!

"You haven't stopped smoking!" Brokaw says. "Fair enough," Obama says, "WHat I would say is I have done a terrific job, under the circumstances, of making myself much happier, and you will not see a violation of the rules of the White House." That leaves the door open for Obama to smoke, a la fake President Bartlet. I say: JUST LET THE MAN SMOKE. PRESIDENTING IS HARD. I'm okay with any president having cigarettes in office and an open prescription to Zoloft after it's all over.

And, by the way, Tom Brokaw is handing the show off to David Gregory. Saturday Night Live spoofed this moment, subtly, last night. View here, I think. Really: same facial expressions, same underwear aftermath.

Anyway, next week is the beginning of the David Gregory regime at Meet The Press. It's like Christmas come early, or Halloween come, really late. Anyway, have a nice weekend, everyone!

One final note: next Saturday, at 8:00am, ABC Family is going to show The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. I posit that this is the most effed up Christmas special ever conceived. Even more ridiculous than the one with the leprechauns and the banshees. Seriously. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is not to be missed, y'all. It's like your teevee on mescaline. Trust me on this.

Oh, and a final thing. OPEN LETTER TO WASH-FM IN WASHINGTON DC. Hey guys! I think it's great that y'all are playing nothing but Christmas music this time of year! One thing, though: Dan Fogelberg's "Same Auld Lang Syne" IS NOT A CHRISTMAS SONG. It's a song about two jackasses who meet in the grocery store and get drunk in the parking lot, remembering what sad losers they are. Please: I accept that you will play "The Christmas Shoes," but "Same Auld Lang Syne" has to go.

Okay. Bye everyone.