04/29/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Good morning to everyone and welcome to your Sunday morning liveblog of your Sunday morning political chit-chat festivals. My name is Jason, and today is extra-special Obama White House Charm Offensive and Multi-Pronged Explainarama Day. Yes, today, the administration is out in full force, including President Obama himself, and the way they've got it all set up bespeaks strategy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will take his explanation of open-ended war in Afghanistan to the open-ended war fans at Fox News Sunday. President Obama himself will sit down with CBS's Bob Schieffer, where he'll likely trade relatively rigorous questioning for a little old-school prestige. And Tim Geithner, the man most in need of a break, will go to the community college of Sunday Morning Talk Shows, to be furtively probed by David Gregory. Obama could have gone himself, but why bother: Gregory would spend the whole day asking him why he's raising taxes on the rich nine different ways.

Yes, at some point, I do believe that all of Obama's favorite "bowling" jokes can become "Meet The Press" jokes. Anyway, send emails, leave comments, join up to follow me on Twitter, and sit back and let's get through todays White House infomercial, beginning with...


So, Obama now "owns" a war, and Wallace is upset that the mission has shifted from a COIN/Counter-terror mission to planting FREEDOM FLOWERS and dropping litters of DEMOCRACY PUPPIES from overhead. Gates says that everyone can go on considering that as a hunky dory longterm goal, but that there's a serious threat to be thwarted in the form of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Will there be enough troops to run an Iraq style COIN strategy? Gates says Obama has been fully on board with the strategy his commanders has put forth. He thinks the mission is going to have the correct amount of forces. He doesn't specifically answer whether the troops there are adequate to run an Iraq style COIN strategy - I think because the jury's still out as to whether that can be specifically imported to Afghanistan.

Wallace asks if the commitment to defeat al Qaeda is open to review, and Gates says no. He asks about whether the Pakistanis have been helping al Qaeda. THE ANSWER IS YES, FOR YEARS AND YEARS. FROM THE MOMENT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION THOUGHT: "Hmm, let's partner with Pakistan!"

What about getting more of our allies to send troops to Afghanistan? Gates spins it positively, and adds that another way the rest of the world can help out is with a "civilian surge" of non-military expertise, and police-training.

On to North Korea. What's Gates' take on the announcement that the North Koreans plan to launch a satellite. Gates isn't sure that this is a mask for their nuclear program, and isn't convinced that they have the technology to place a warhead on it. Can we shoot it down? Maybe.

Wallace wants to know what we can do about it. Gates basically says, well, not much, dude.

Is Obama, "less committed" to a missile defense plan? Gates won't stipulate to any cuts in that program, nor will he admit to any "new skepticism" over the missle program. He'll cop to it being "under review."

CAN WE STAY IN IRAQ PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE FOREVER? Gates says there's nothing on the horizon that will affect the timelines in place. Gates sees Iran as a venue for economic sanctions to push diplomacy.

Dialogue over "Don't Ask Don't Tell", Gates says, has not progressed very far, because the President and Gates both feel they have "a lot on their plate" at the moment. That money has been allocated to continue the enforcement of those rules is only because it's the prevailing law.

Gates also says not to read into the fact that the administration doesn't use the dumb phraseology of the Bush administration.

Wow, so now Wallace is going to stick it to Steven Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada. Will he continue to keep Canadian troops in Afghanistan, now that Obama has announced his plan? Harper won't stipulate to a troop withdrawal, and does note that an uptick in civilian efforts.

Wallace tries to hang Harper out to dry on a comment he made about never being able to defeat the insurgency, and it turns out that Canadians are just as good at insisting that Fox is taking their remarks out of context as Americans are, except the Canucks can do so in French, too.

Harper won't comment on U.S. domestic matters, but he does note that Canada has a much stronger economy. No bank bailouts. "Strong activist regulation" too, which Wallace does not say as if it were a bad thing.

Harper, speaking "as a conservative," says of the government's role in the economy: "It's great to have less intervention and less regulation, in principle, but where has that led us?...A happy medium of regulation is the way to go." Are you beginning to appreciate what "conservative" means in Canada?

How does Harper feel about the auto industry situation? "It's too important an industry to have collapse in Canada." Harper is thus far pleased with the Obama approach to the matter. Has there been any movement on revising some NAFTA contracts? Harper says he's open to the same sort of side-issue revisions, like the environment, that Obama is.

All right! Happy Canada On Sunday Day!

Sheesh. Only Fox would replay Geithner being questioned by Dominic Manzullo! Anyway: Panel Time! Is Geithner making a POWER GRAB? Kristol says that the response is appropriate and not unreasonable and that it would be foolish for conservatives to just insist that doing nothing would yield any significant results. He feels like there are "freer market ways" of setting up the public-private partnerships.

Nina Easton feels the Geithner plan goes "so much farther than what anyone was talking about." Apparently, she wasn't told that some people were talking about bank nationalization/receivership. Juan Williams seems a little gobsmacked at "the reasonable Bill Kristol this morning" and questions whether we can go on with entities that are "too big to fail."

Only Bill Sammon thinks that this is a "wide power grab." "Never waste a crisis seems to be this administration's motto," he says. Yeah. Could you imagine, for instance, if a terrorist attack led to a bunch of dumbassed and unrelated military interventions at the behest of a bunch of failed foreign policy morons? Unheard of! Anyway, this seems to attach things like healthcare and environmental policy to this "power grab" scenario. I'd point out that this administration was PUT INTO OFFICE to affect these policies, so we're talking about the most publicly sought after POWER GRAB in recent memory.

Meanwhile, Kristol's been talking to hedge fund managers, and they'd be perfectly happy with "some forms of disclosure." Great! I'm sure we can trust the hedge fund managers.

Surely Hillary Clinton is right that our insatiable need for drugs has caused many of the problems in Mexico. Sammon says, well, it's true, but that the LEFT is always BLAMING AMERICA. But is it America's fault those drugs are so delicious? NO. SO SHUT UP HILLARY, ALTHOUGH I SORT OF AGREE.

Juan tells Sammon to "chill out." Maybe it's Brit Hume's presence that undermines Williams so much.

What does Bill Kristol think about Obama's Afghanistan policy? He's actually fine with it. He seems especially pleased that Nancy Pelosi is not fully on board with it. Anyway, he's got some new crew of misfit world-rapers called the Foreign Policy Initiative to continue to pontificate from, and to continue to reward the Kagan family.

Bill Sammon says the difference between liberals and conservatives is that CONSERVATIVES LOVE THE SURGE. And they will CALL A SURGE A SURGE, USING THE WORD SURGE, UNTIL THERE'S A HOT AND STICKY SURGE OF SURGING ON EVERYONE'S GABARDINES. Bill Sammon: the Jizz in my Pants of conservative punditry.


All right, time for some nation facing. Bob Schieffer gets right to it, no preamble. The Afghanistan issue is just as striking as the economic crisis. "This has become your war, hasn't it?" he asks. Obama answers that this is "America's war" and that the "focus has been lost." Obama frames this as a battle against al Qaeda and one that requires us to root out terrorist roosts and deny them the safe havens that have sprung up in Pakistan.

Do commanders have the green light to go into Pakistan? Obama avers that he'll be going after high value targets in Pakistan as he's said he would, but that the battle has to be seen as "Pakistan's war" as well, and that "accountability" is necessary from the government there. Does this mean "American boots on the ground" in Pakistan? Obama suggests that it's not going this far. He stipulates that it's going to be a "comprehensive strategy" region-wide, featuring all sorts of carrots, that make partnering with the United States seem like the preferable solution.

What if they don't come to prefer it? Obama says it won't be easy, there will be "hurdles," but ultimately, I don't recognize any sort of endgame here, yet. Obama says he's "mindful" of the fact that additional troops could also continue to "inflame" the situation, to our detriment. He cites the Afghan National Army as a success story, and part of the strategy sounds like assisting them in the same sort of stand-up/stand-down scenario, imported from Iraq.

Obama insists that it's not going to be a "open-ended commitment, allocating infinite resources." I'm told that there are strong, agreed-to benchmarks in place in this plan, but I could not tell you precisely what the endgame is, and, significantly, Obama doesn't seem to want to do so either. Afghanistan is in a process of becoming, and we'll have a hand on the steering wheel.

At the same time, it may not be a bad thing that we're no longer stipulating the sort of democracy we're going to leave behind, and that sort of thing.

In Iraq, Obama plans to keep to the withdrawal plan dictated by the Status of Forces Agreement, at the pace they are currently on. He's "confident" that things are "moving in the right direction." I would say that it's time that everyone just admitted that establishing a timetable for withdrawal was a great idea, at least as smart, if not smarter, than the "Surge." Go out into the bright light of day, people, and assert this, fearlessly.

Is the turmoil in Mexico a threat to the U.S.? Obama says it's not an "existential threat" to the United States, but a problem specific to the border area.

Back from a quick break, Schieffer's on to auto bailouts. Obama says the Big Three has got to do more to earn a bailout. What that constitutes, I couldn't tell you. Obama's got platitudes about sacrifices being made by "everyone at the table" but little else.

What about middle-class tax cuts? Still "pushing" that? Obama says he has "absolutely not" abandoned the idea. They have got it for the next two years. He wants it made "permanent." (ARGH. NO SUCH THING AS PERMANENT, DUDE. NOT THE WAY LAWMAKING WORKS.) Going forward, though, the cut must be paid for, and he will be "pushing to get it done in this budget," and will keep pushing for it in future budget. Schieffer groks that he's laying the problem of "how" off on Congress, and Obama stipulates to that.

Obama's comfortable with "healthy expressions of anger," and is pleased that some of the AIG bonuses have come back, but insists that he's not let the long term goal of fixing the economy get waylaid by short-term frustrations.

Schieffer ends with a fun question about whether the Presidency has been the "misery" that Thomas Jefferson called it. Obama laughs that he doesn't think he's lost any friends, and vows that his is not a "caretaker Presidency" and further states that the situation is such that he's got to be able to do more than one thing at a time, whether others like it or not.

And just like that, the interview is done. Got thoughts on how that went? Let us know. I think Schieffer's good with time - he does what he can with 30 minutes, and he's always opened up FACE THE NATION on a weekly basis with big goals in mind. I love the way he gets down to questions, cuts out long preambles, doesn't rely on cheap gotcha set-ups. But I have to think he'd have liked to have followed up on some of those questions. What are specific Afghanistan benchmarks? What does the endgame in the region look like? Do we think al Qaeda can get rolled up, or merely diminished? Can we work with this Pakistani government, or are they lying their faces off? Does the fact that Bill Kristol has no substantive criticisms of your plan give you pause, because the MAN IS WRONG ABOUT EVERYTHING, DUDE.

Nevertheless, Schieffer's got a good view of the board, and does a lot with the time he's got, and really, as a viewer, he's just one of the most pleasant people on teevee to watch.


Annoyingly, I do not seem to be able to open the Huffington Post right now! So, I hope everyone's having a good time commenting. Wish I could read along. Maybe later, after my internet works out whatever weird funk it's in this morning.

Anyway, MTP time! Today, Tim Geithner talks about THE BANKINGS and the BAILOUTS and the RECESSIONS. Will he convince a bank to lend some money today? Who knows? Probably not? Also, John McCain will talk about how the destructive insurgency his campaign has led into his daughter's daily life has taken a toll on Daily Beast readers.

David Gregory's first question? GREAT ONE. Can Tim Geithner explain what a bank is? And it turns out that Geithner is aware of what banks are and do. Now, why does securitization matter to David Gregory's mom? AGAIN. THIS IS AN ACTUAL QUESTION. Geithner says that financial troubles are brutally indiscrimate - like TERMINATORS. The economy can't be reasoned with, or bargained with. It doesn't feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop until you give it ALL YOUR MONEYS.

But what is securitization? Why does it matter? Geithner says "investors are matched directly with borrowers through the capital markets." As emailer Brian C. points out, "Geithner explains what 'securitization' is without really telling us what it is."

Anyway, we must get lending unfrozen, with your money, all of it. Give it!

"That will help bring down interest rates," Geithner says. Can interest rates come down any further? Am I going to be totally kicking myself for not paying attention to that "imaginary numbers" section of algebra class?

Meet The Press has this cute little explainer of how "BANK USA" will dispose of a toxic asset. Someone at NBC had to come up with the "BANK USA" logo this week. For what it's worth, it's ADORABLE. Nice work, nameless graphic designer!

Gregory wants to know what the "upside" is for the taxpayers putting so much skin in these sales - sorry, these AUCTIONS...you know, that will keep the top line price of these toxic assets close to ground level! - through various entities called "the FDIC" and the "Treasury." "That's called leverage, right?" he asks. THAT IS CALLED "CEDING" your "LEVERAGE," yes.

Part of the problem is that "banks made a bunch of bad loans," Geithner says. We can either let the banks sort it out - which he thinks will further damage the economy - or the government could bear ALL the burden, which Geithner also thinks is too costly. Instead, we have investors "using their self-interest" to get market realism, with the taxpayer along for the ride, with a potential benefit to be had. Now, let's reflect on how well these guys have done, where their shrewd "self-interest" is concerned. Let's also consider what a tiny gamble it is on the private side! I don't gamble, but if I showed up at the Mandalay Bay tomorrow and the casino agreed to front me ninety-five bucks for every fiver I put in, and promised me better payout terms on top of it, I'd be a drunken craps hound within minutes.

What about the Paul Krugmans, and his criticisms that this is the exciting sequel to Hank Paulson? Krugman's assessment is that the plan amounts to "an indirect, disguised way to subsidize purchases of bad assets." Geithner insists, "The investors money is at risk. They could lose all their money." Okay. On the other hand, the taxpayers' money is at risk. The taxpayer could lose all their money. Also: there don't seem to be any hard lessons for the people who tanked our economy.

"One more thing," Geithner says, "We're not going to get through this unless we're willing to take risks." Unfortunately, Geithner seems to feel that he owes the private side of this agreement greater certainty and more favorable conditions than he does the people he represents as Secretary of the Treasury. The ironic distinction being, of course, is that the private investors are supposed to be the career risk-takers, not the taxpayers. If anyone needs a soft-landing in the world of financial risk, it's the people who are being drafted into the duty without the relevant training.

Oh, and just so we're clear on this, I'm saying "Geithner" over and over because he's the guy on the teevee. But let's not forget that the word "Geithner" is a synonym for "the Obama administration," okay?

Anyway, the operative phrase here is IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME, with "it" referring to a plan that bends over backward for the private investors.

What about THE ANGERS and the AIG BONUSES? Does Geithner really share the outrage, given the fact that he had to have known about these bonuses well in advance of everyone else finding about it? Gregory wants to know why he didn't act then? "How can people not be angry?" Geithner asks.

1. Identify things that will, if done, make people very angry.
2. Don't do those things, okay?

Anyway, there were CONTRACTS! Can't break a CONTRACT, ever, right? Oh, I'm sorry, I have the UAW on line one, begging to differ.

At the same time, wow, we have certainly made a lot of hash browns over these small damned potatoes. "Going forward," Geithner says, "there need to be clear conditions" governing bonuses. How about the PAYABLE UPON DELIVERY model?

Gregory asks why the president didn't say something like "this populist anger is understandable but that it must stop." Geithner points out that this is what the president did do. Geithner claims that the White House's main concern is that they "don't want to reward failure."

OMGZ! TIM GEITHNER WAS THE ONLY NAME ON A WEBSITE! Geithner points out that there are people who work at the Treasury Department, and that they've done a lot of stuff in a short amount of time. BUT WOULDN'T THE ECONOMY BE FIXED BY NOW IF YOU JUST HAD A BUNCH OF WALL STREET NIMRODS AS YOUR UNDERSECRETARIES? Wouldn't the Treasury have invented FLYING CARS, and SPACESHIPS, and introduced CREDIT-DEFAULT SWAPS to the gullible aliens from URANUS? Geithner says that they are doing a lot in a short amount of time.

Gregory really wants more Wall Street people to come work for Geithner. REALLY REALLY WANTS. WANTS IT SO BAD!

GOD, GREGORY WILL NOT LET IT GO? "Isn't it going to be hard...You are even having trouble staffing the Treasury department!" I REALLY AM GOING TO CONTINUE TO INSIST TO MY VIEWERS that the WHOLE TREASURY BUILDING IS EMPTY, except for Tim Geithner.

David Gregory does a really good job describing what is currently on the cover of TIME magazine. He identifies the image, correctly, as a "reset" button, and even identified and correctly pronounces many of the words that are on the cover. This sort of reporting remains a great strength of this news program.

Is Geithner sad at all the people yelling at him, over then bankings? He says that it's a privilege to do so many unpopular and potentially ineffective things for the President and the country.

Lawrence S. emails:

Was I incorrect in reading the wrap up that Bob Scheiffer did at the end of Face the Nation as a "Smack Down" on the Washington Press Corp in last week's Press Conference?

Bob noted that in the entire one hour Press conference no one asked a question about Afghanistan, while everyone just did continuing follow up questions on the budget, AIG, and domestic policy.

If someone had asked a question about the war during the Press Conference Mr. Schieffer could have done a follow up question instead of having to ask all the first line questions about the war.

I must confess that I didn't read it that way, though perhaps I should have. I may have had his own time constraints on my brain while watching him wrap. That said, it was a pretty bad press conference, from the standpoint that so many people seemed to be concerned mainly with spending and budgets. The press didn't really bat a lash when the previous administration ran up huge debts, but now everyone's a deficit hawk. Such is the fashion, inside the Beltway. At the same time, we have an administration now that's rather up front about the deficit increases, is mindful of the need to pare them down, has set a goal to do so, and yet won't back down on attempting to do the things the electorate wants them to do.

That's all way too refined for most of the White House Press Corps. But then, their job isn't to ask refined questions that bring clarity to the discourse. Their job is to establish contentiousness, in the hopes that it will make for good copy, that can be rebroadcast with a leader like, "A contentious moment between Obama and reporters today..."

Only these smaller organizations, with a constituency that expects some value and clarification and insight seem to know how to do another style of reporting. Which is why Obama keeps calling on them.

According to another emailer, Ryan, I missed Matthew Dodd dressing in jeans on THIS WEEK. "Casual sunday?" he wonders. Maybe. We should be thankful that George Will wears pants at all.

Okay. Here's John McCain!

McCain has "some confidence" in Geithner, but what's most important is that Meet The Press did a nice job with their super graphics and explaining! WHEEE, GOLD STARS FROM JOHN MCCAIN! When will McCain suspend his campaign of kissing ass to save the economy, though?

McCain says he's not an expert but that the plan is coherent and gave people some confidence. I'll allow that McCain is right that it's good that Geithner hasn't continued to sell TARP as the cure-all for everything.

McCain wants "select committees" like the 9-11 committee to study the issue and present their findings, which half the people won't read and the other half will read in an attempt to get the other side to care about the fact that they've read it. Mainly, though, trees will die. AND THEN WHAT WILL THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON TREE DEATH DO?

Have Republicans heeded the call for goodwill? Has Obama? McCain says neither side has been perfect. He wants more negotiations, and insists that Obama hasn't met the GOP on these matters. That's kind of absurd, given how the stimulus package was GOPed up the yin-yang, to the extent that a lot of the loyal opposition went home to take credit for it and get their props, despite not having voted for it.

McCain is more generous in his assessment of the foreign policy front, where Iraq and Afghanistan plans have come about with input from all sides. I think the Afghanistan plan bears resemblance to what McCain proposed. Naturally, the Iraq withdrawal is NOTHING like McCain proposed - he was the last man in the room who wanted to extend the deployment, not even Bush wanted to at the end of 2008. And, that's why I sort of don't have that hard on - OOH, OBAMA IS JUST LIKE MCCAIN ON AFGHANISTAN. McCain wasn't right enough on Iraq to allow himself to be himself on Afghanistan.

HAHA, I hipe your alternative budget is more than the 19 pages of empty platitudes and internet clip art that Mike Pence came up with! I hate to think what dumb things Mike Pence turned in at science fairs when he was a kid.

McCain, by the way, is ANGRY ABOUT THE EARMARKS. Because it's like KARL EARMARX! Anyway, Obama sort of copped out on earmark reform, basically. But, baby, at the same time, why can't we just acknowledge that it's a lot of sturm und drang over a miniscule part of the budget?

McCain's basic strategy has been: LET'S JUST RIDICULE ANYTHING THAT HAS SOME FARM ANIMALS IN THE NAME. "Pig odor research? That sounds weird." McCain is like the BRIAN FELLOWS of budget busting. "Why is that pig looking at me like that? I don't like the way he smells. What's all that SEMEN for? I'm JOHN MCCAIN. I HAVE HALLUCINATIONS OF WOODLAND CREATURES."

McCain says: "Someone will come on here and say, it's only a small amount of money. Only a few billion dollars. I just don't buy that." Okay, John. Feel free to "don't buy that." And yet: WOW! IT'S STILL A SMALL AMOUNT OF MONEY. Give me some fire and fury - and more importantly, some OBSESSION - over, say, DoD cost-overruns, John? Same waste, same lobbyists, same corruption, but you want to know the difference, John? TALL DOLLARS, baby. MAD GREEN. Makes your earmarks look like chump change.

ATTABOY, JOHN MCCAIN. Various Obama officials said the words "fundamentals" and "economy" and "strong" in the same sentences and in adjacent sentences. I hope that MONEY JESUS will fly down from heaven and pour some gatorade on you, so that Mark Salter can write about it in a book.

McCain is really concerned about spending and deficits, at last. But spending reductions and spending freezes will do nothing more than exacerbate the economic downturn. Anyway, as always, the White House's crazy claim is that fixing health care will save taxpayers money, that a new energy policy will create jobs, and that education policy can stimulate growth and create a smarter and more productive workforce. On the other hand, we can stop all spending forever, and continue the escalating costs of healthcare, stay addicted to foreign oil, and never train anyone to do anything new.

Anyway, McCain says that Obama should have prepared the American people for a "long and hard and tough" slog in Iraq with an increase in casualties. I agree with that. Neither Obama or McCain seems to have an idea what the endgame is in Afghanistan. McCain says, "same as Iraq," but if you listen closely, there's a key omission from McCain's conditions to Iraq success - no longer is Iraq required to be an ally of the United States. That reflects, at last, a realism that Iraq's power vacuum has been filled by Iran - as many should have predicted it would be - and that the people would come to lionize a dude who threw a shoe at the president.

McCain seems to now be of the mind that Pakistan is important. I am not sure he's right, though, that Afghanistan can be a success while Pakistan's problems remain.

McCain is of the opinion that extant problems in Syria and Iran have not impacted our success in Iraq. I would prefer it if he acknowledges that the problems in Syria and Iran have been the direct result of our unwise invasion of Iraq.

Phoenix, Arizona is the "kidnapping capital," McCain says. Second place for Flagstaff, as always.

McCain says that the GOP's fortune hinge on "new ideas" and reaching out to "other ethnic aspects of the American electorate."

Would McCain like to see Sarah Palin become president? "I'd like to see her compete," he says, before talking up John Huntsman. "That was an...interesting answer," snickers my wife. Also Bobby Jindal and Tim Pawlenty. SO MANY GREAT PEOPLE NOT NAMED PALIN. Here's some news, liveblog fans: the truth is the MCCAINS ALL HATE THE PALINS, like GRIM DEATH. Oh, wait! You guys "already knew that" because it's "painfully obvious" and that you guys "are not stupid?" Well, I apologize to all of you!

Anyway, yes. Who wouldn't love to see Sarah Palin "compete," perhaps against wolves, in the wild, for sustenance and fire.

David Gregory presents John McCain with the idea of competing against Bob Dole for the MEET THE PRESS DEATH MARCH AWARD, where he comes on the show eight more times this year, to yell about spending, and goat semen. THAT WOULD SURE SHOW BOB DOLE.

Meet the Press closes with footage of the late Irving R. Levine questioning Donald Rumsfeld, the Director of the Cost of Living Council. FUN FACT: That Donald Rumsfeld would eventually become the famous snotmongering War Demon from Hell in the Bush administration who got to take the blame for everything ever so that we could have a SURGE. Now, Rumsfeld lives in Washington, DC, where the trappings of modern life both confuse and disgust him, so that we may all laugh.

And that's it for SUNDAY MORNING: OBAMA CHARM OFFENSIVE EDITION. We'll leave you with this screenshot from Ryan, of Matthew Dowd scandalizing America by wearing blue jeans on this week, which is the Sunday Morning equivalent of giving a bald eagle a fatal, socialist hand job, or something.

When the Dow goes down a hundred billion points tomorrow, you'll know why! Have a great Sunday.