01/06/2013 10:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BOTH SIDES NOW : Q: Why Can't the U.S. Reduce Deficits and Gun Violence? A: Voters

By Mark Green

After a holiday hiatus, BSN -- today with former NYS Governor Eliot Spitzer and former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs under Bush-Rumsfeld Torie Clarke -- to discuss issues that seem to spur the responses of either meh, feh or yuck; those have been applied, in order, to a) Fiscal Cliff resolution, b) the "Groundhog Day" aspects of gun deaths and regulation and c) John Bolton's implication (and Ingahram's and Krauthammer's) that Hillary Clinton faked her illness to avoid congressional testimony.


*On the Obama-Congress Cliff Compromise. It's a cliche that a tie in football is like kissing your sister. Can we likewise say that Obama won a small victory in raising top rates and avoiding the "cliff" of severe spending cuts that would have caused a self-inflicted recession?

Eliot joins the Krugman/Reich/Kuttner/NYTimes Ed Board crowd in thinking that the deal is meh because $620B in more revenue over a decade is too small to either significantly shrink deficits or pay for the progressive government they think necessary. Asked whether the President can now find a few hundred billion more revenue in loophole closing and tax reform, which the GOP had previously supported, he tends to believe the McConnells and Wills who say, no mas!

Torie, for different reasons, also thinks it weak tea for not dealing with the biggest reason for deficit problem, i. e., entitlements.

Host: But isn't two-thirds of current debt attributable to three decades of reduced tax revenue and W's Great Recession, two wars, Medicare Part D? Torie vigorously disagrees, citing demographic changes ballooning Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid. Eliot concurs that in 30 years that may be true "because of uncontrolled health care costs" but today it's the fault of GOP policies on war, taxes and regulation.

Host: Meh? But what of Lawrence O'Donnell's commentary lauding POTUS for getting 40 Republican senators to vote for a tax increase after two decades of zero such votes (not to mention a reduction in inequality)? Eliot thinks Obama could have negotiated for a better deal since he either had to go over a small cliff now or a bigger one at the next cliff-hanger in March -- the debt-ceiling fight.

There's then agreement that the basic problem is voters who want more government than they will pay for...and disagreement over who blinks in March. Torie wonders if the GOP is united enough to call Obama's bluff and cause the United States to default on its debts while Eliot thinks Obama will have to yield as "the adult in the room."

An unusually argumentative moderator, however, concludes that Obama has brilliantly adopted Mel Gibson's strategy in the movie Ransom about how to flip risk; instead of paying his son's kidnappers a $2 million ransom, the actor instead pledged to pay $2 million to anyone giving information leading to the kidnappers' capture (which worked). In today's test of wills, the Wall Street Journal editorialized that "you shouldn't take a hostage if you're not prepared to shoot." And Obama knows that even a Tea Party-inspired GOP, pressured by business leaders and the public, ultimately won't want to be blamed for an American and world economic calamity and branded the Hoovers of the 21st century. The GOP gun is pointed at their own heads.

*On Guns after Sandy Hook. Speaking of guns literally rather than metaphorically, the panelists wonder whether the Sandy Hook massacre will be enough to strengthen gun regulation efforts.

Torie deplores as "crazy" the Wayne LaPierre proposal that Congress provide for armed guards in all 100,000 schools across America. She instead urges that everyone think harder about exactly what we want to and can accomplish: reducing Chicago's gang-violence-related astronomical murder rate, reducing more Newtown massacres, etc?

She suggests a comprehensive package that includes bans on civilian use of assault weapons and clips, background checks at gun shows and buy-backs of the most dangerous weapons, as well as smarter policies to deal with the mentally ill. (After the taping, a Washington Post article says that Biden will be proposing something very similar to the president.)

Host: is it fair to throw up one's hands and yell feh when, from Kennedy through Virginia Tech and now Sandy Hook, there's been inadequate gun regulation not only because of the slow-walking, never-give-an-inch NRA but especially because of a deep cultural habit that, unlike England and Australia after similar mass killings, prevents changes in laws and habits? Would Torie's (and Obama's to-come) proposals just be a modern Prohibition since ardent gun owners also simply wouldn't comply with desirable restrictions?

Torie is optimistic if Obama really puts his shoulder to the wheel. Eliot also thinks change will come, perhaps in more creative ways: Bush 41 and 43 could join with Clinton 42, he suggests, to have a counter-intuitive press conference calling for effective violence reduction...or investors and hedge funds could pressure gun manufacturers to change... or cities as purchasers of guns could refuse to deal with firms making and selling the most dangerous weapons, as Eliot has mentioned to Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Speaking of whom: how about also urging Bloomberg, the sixth wealthiest American at $22 billion and a passionate advocate for gun safety and huge philanthropist, to spend $500 million this year in a national education campaign to change our gun culture to shrink our 40,000 gun-related deaths annually. A discussion ensues. No pledges of $500 million appear imminent.

*On Al Jazeera buying Currrent TV, Eliot's employer. While right-wing commentators have attacked Al Gore for selling his cable network to the government of Qatar which owns Al Jazeera, Eliot has a different take: the news network has won awards for excellence in journalism, especially during the Arab Spring, and it would desirable for American to have this viewing option. Torie agrees that it's essential that Americans see and be seen on a network reaching 30-40 million on the Arab Street, "which is why I urged everyone I could in the Bush White to watch it."

*Quick Takes: Torture, Bolton's Gaffe, 2013 Predictions, Military Suicides. On the controversy over whether Kathryn Bigelow's powerful film Zero Dark Thirty implies that torture helped lead to the killing of Bin Laden, Torie urges "everyone to take a deep breath and remember that this is a movie, not a documentary." Not having contrary information, Eliot believes past and current CIA directors -- and Senators Feinstein, Levin and McCain -- who say that waterboarding did not lead to the currier who led to Bin Laden.

Consensus alert: the two think it was "stupid on the face of it" for UN Ambassador John Bolten, among others, to imply that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton faked her health scare to avoid being questioned about Benghazi by Congress. We listen to a livid, acidic reproach by Joan Walsh on Hardball about "wingnuts who assail democratic presidents like Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and a possible future one... we need more Republicans to call these people out!"

As for Democrats who said ugly things when Bush 41 was in the hospital, Eliot cautions all to reject false symmetry between ranking Republicans who say such slanderous things and a twitter-verse which regularly engages in anonymous ugliness.

Predictions 2013, ideally more like Nate Silver than the Mayans: Eliot thinks that that the Supreme Court will split differences on gay marriage this Spring, overturning DOMA's refusal to honor the Constitution's full-faith-and-credit clause respecting state laws but won't overturn Prop 14 in California legalizing same sex marriage. (Host bets the former Attorney General a dinner that the Court will overrule both.) Torie predicts that Israel will take some kind of unilateral action against Iran's nuclear capacity due to growing instability in the Arab world and that Sen. Mark Warner will start a serious bid for the presidency in 2016.

Last, Torie Clarke, who served as an Assistant Secretary of Defense, discusses the shocking fact that in 2012 more soldiers died from suicide than combat. She thinks that the DOD, starting under Panetta and continuing in his successor's term, will now take the lead in treating the kind of mental illness that produces such tragedies "and will lead the country in treating mental illness."

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

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