TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to your Sunday Morning Liveblog of the televised antics of your political talking heads and the people who have been booked to yammer at them. My name is Jason, and wow did my NFL playoffs hopes ever end in depressing fashion last week. If there are any football fans among you, I hope that your team is still alive, and barring that, I hope that your team is made up of people who are not in need of bionic knees in the offseason.

Last week's shows were themed around two clear ideas -- the next idiotic fiscal battle, and the new Congress of idiots who will fight that battle. (Yes, we have a lot of confidence.) Today's offerings feel more like a grab-bag of topics, which I guess is nice, because next Sunday will probably be some super ponderous morning of thumb sucking over Inauguration Weekend and What It All Means. (What it means, for me, mainly, is that getting around Washington is going to be a Sartrean ordeal.

At any rate, you know the deal! Please come on in and make merry in the comments stream. Drop me a line if you feel the need. Come follow me on Twitter if that's your thing. And, if you get bored waiting for me to add more frantically typed liveblog, click over to my Rebel Mouse page, where, as always, I've stacked up some interesting reads from around the web from the past week.


Fox News Sunday will be yelling over the gun debate today, pitting Neera Tanden against Larry Pratt in an effort to depict the matter as hopelessly unresolvable. Later, Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will yell at each other about war, probably.

But first, the yelling about guns. Chris Wallace opens the discussion by pointing out that the NRA -- a lobbying group that supports the gun manufacturer industry -- lined the pockets of your Congresscritters with $20,000,000, and to the especially docile and cuddly critters, they gave an A-rating, which carries a certain amount of cachet in the hinterlands of our hopelessly tribal politics. So, how to compete?

Tanden points out that just because the NRA spends money doesn't get everything they want, and while they are a "strong lobby," her intention is to bring other voices into the conversation -- including gun owners who support some common sense reforms -- to solve the problem of mass slaughter without alienating anyone. She says that she expects President Obama to play a part in leading this effort. It sort of goes without saying that there's no desire here to ban guns -- but that is probably how it will be portrayed, all the same.

Pratt says that he "doesn't think there's much likelihood" that Congress will do the things that Tanden wants. Instead, he's hopeful that Congress will do away with "gun free zones." He seems to be under the impression that the people who commit these crimes -- that is to say, deranged people -- actually are able to fight through their derangement long enough to be deterred by the thought that someone with a gun might kill them. As we've seen time and again, many of these killers expect to die, it's just a race to see how many people they can kill first.

They talk about Heidi Heitkamp's remarks, in which she called some of the ideas that the President was -- supposedly -- talking about "extreme," and the backlash she suffered as a result. Pratt argues that it means Democrats who are against gun control are having a hard time in the party's tent. Tanden counters by pointing out that Heitkamp has actually taken the feedback in stride and has professed a willingness to talk about it.

The key issue, of course, is how "extreme" the White House's task force’s solutions really are, and I would anticipate that people who really hate the proliferation of guns are going to be disappointed. As Tanden notes, the top agenda item seems to be reinforcing the existing system of background checks, which would be a welcome development, and one that the majority of NRA owners support. Tanden says that her effort is one that reflects the "broad middle" of Americans.

The tougher hangs? Well, that's an assault weapons ban and the elimination of high-capacity magazines -- though there's a glimmer of hope on the latter, but don't get overexcited.

Wallace asks Tanden what she thinks can get through Congress and again, she says that strengthening the background check system. She simply says that assault weapons bans and eliminating hi-cap magazines are going to be tougher.

Pratt insists that even background check improvement is unacceptable because people can steal guns and the like. This is why we gave up on sobriety checkpoints and traffic signals. People still drove drunk and ran red lights, and when we thought about how all the effort we gave to stop those things, and we couldn't stop EVERY scofflaw? Well, I think you'll agree that not enforcing traffic signals at intersections or drunk drivers has been a lot better for America.

I mean, why do anything? Just sit at home, stewing in your own body funk, and wait for death.

Wallace says, "No one is suggesting that background checks are a firewall," getting shirty with Pratt. Pratt, undeterred, says that getting rid of the gun free zones is much more important than background checks.

Wallace asks about the efforts of Barbara Boxer to fund more armed police in schools. The whole "armed guards are the real firewall against mass killings" idea is not one that's been well borne out by reality. Columbine, for example, was protected by an armed guard. Could it have fared better with four armed guards? Perhaps! I worry it's not enough, but I'll tell you what -- I WOULD LOVE TO FIND OUT MORE ARMED GUARDS IS THE ANSWER.

But remember, here's where we come up against political reality, and all that talk about doing everything under the sun to protect our lovely children hits the wall with this written on it: "SO LONG AS IT'S REALLY CHEAP." This is where the whole, "Let's just give janitors guns and ask them to run into a fusillade of gunfire" comes in, as the sort of cheap idea that probably carries the day. The big thing that Boxer wants to do is spend money to create government jobs. Not too long ago, the party that traditionally opposes her thought that was terrible for America.

Tanden says that she's open to considering the armed guards idea, and that she hopes that Pratt can be persuaded to be more open-minded about background checks. Tanden is so far assiduously avoiding doing anything that might allow her to be painted into a corner, politically speaking. Pratt seems toned down, too. If this becomes a battle of who can sound the most reasonable and open-minded on the issue, that's an environment in which some of these measures might happily pass Congress.

But Pratt is still losing this fight, today -- on points. Wallace continues to pester him to respond in kind with Tanden's reasonableness. He asks if he could at least support the idea of different government agencies that already monitor the sort of people who should not be able to purchase guns sharing that information with each other instead of stovepiping it. He dismisses it and changes the subject saying that his big problem is with people who insist that self-defense is not a valid option. Here's the thing -- if there are people who believe citizens should not be able to defend themselves with their own firearm, they aren't on Fox News Sunday today, pestering him. There's been no discouraging words to anyone who wants to own a weapon for self-defense from Tanden or Wallace.

It's an argument that Pratt is having with ghosts from other rooms.

Wallace asks about Pratt's comments about Obama's supposed "disdain" for gun owners -- comparing him to George III. It's a ridiculous canard. If there's any group that should be disappointed in Obama, it's the zealous devotees of gun control. Justice Antonin Scalia, as Wallace points out, in supporting the Heller decision that legalized gun ownership in Washington, DC, said that in terms of the Second Amendment, "the right" to bear arms "is not unlimited," and that it was Constitutional to establish certain parameters and regulations for gun ownership.

Pratt just says that Scalia's interpretation was "unfortunate."

Let's remember what Obama said about Heller:

"I have always believed that the Second Amendment protects the right of individuals to bear arms, but I also identify with the need for crime-ravaged communities to save their children from the violence that plagues our streets through common-sense, effective safety measures. The Supreme Court has now endorsed that view, and while it ruled that the D.C. gun ban went too far, Justice Scalia himself acknowledged that this right is not absolute and subject to reasonable regulations enacted by local communities to keep their streets safe. Today's ruling, the first clear statement on this issue in 127 years, will provide much-needed guidance to local jurisdictions across the country.

As President, I will uphold the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun-owners, hunters, and sportsmen. I know that what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne. We can work together to enact common-sense laws, like closing the gun show loophole and improving our background check system, so that guns do not fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals. Today's decision reinforces that if we act responsibly, we can both protect the constitutional right to bear arms and keep our communities and our children safe."

That's not the ravings of a guy who wants to "take guns away." That is a guy endorsing the decision to end the District's gun ban. There's politics fluttering in there -- the whole "what works in Chicago may not work in Cheyenne" is pretty much the mantra of the modern Democratic party, which abandoned the efforts to enact a one-size-fits-all gun control legislation in Congress so that the party had a shot at winning seats and electoral votes in Western states like Colorado and Nevada and New Mexico. (Wyoming remains a little ambitious!)

Anything the Democrats do about guns will necessarily be constrained by their own party's electoral ambitions, which for the moment, continue to require voters in Western states, where gun owners and hunters are plentiful, turning out and voting for them.

Wallace asks if Obama has lent her any insight as to the political capital he's willing to spend. She says that from what she's observed, he seems ready to, but she's not been consulted on the matter.

Now Kelly Ayotte and Richard Blumenthal -- two of the most enervating people in politics! -- are here, repping the Senate Armed Services Committee, to talk about Obama's recent slate of appointments in the national security arena. But first, a topic bridge about guns. Wallace asks each what sort of gun control measures they support. Ayotte begs off answering as to whether she'd specifically endorse enhancing the background check infrastructure today, but she says she's willing to talk about both background checks and increasing services to the mentally ill.

Blumenthal is asked if he thinks the stuff that Biden is proposing might get through Congress. After a monologue about his involvement in the Newtown community, which he represents in the Senate, he expresses some positiveness on the prospects of adding sensible reforms, and adds that he'd like to see the existing laws on the books getting some strengthening.

Blumenthal says he would specifically support background checks at point-of-sale for ammunition (the argument being that it is perhaps a better sign of coming mayhem to see someone stocking up on ammunition than it is to see someone stocking up on guns), and the ban of Teflon tipped bullets and incendiary rounds.

But, let's move on to Chuck Hagel. Ayotte says she is "very troubled" by the Hagel nomination and that the "hearings are going to be consequential." She feels that Hagel is not saber-rattle-y enough with Iran, and OH NO someone in Iran propagandized about the Hagel nomination, saying that they were "hopeful" that he would change policies. (Does it not occur to anyone that sometimes officials from hostile nations say stuff like this because manipulating people like Ayotte is just too easy and fun? Anyway, Ayotte says that she doesn't want Iran to be "hopeful," she wants them to be "fearful." I don't know why she's turning her back on the Iranian dissident movement like that!

Is she leaning against Hagel's nomination? Clearly, though she won't say so. "I'm perplexed by the nomination." Ehhh, in some ways I am too, but Ayotte and I would likely disagree on the fault lines. For me, I wonder why a known war critic would want to come work for an administration that's expanded most of the military actions of the president who preceded him -- and who Hagel lustily criticized. What is it about expanded drone strikes and kill lists and the permanent presence in Afghanistan does Hagel not understand. I have a feeling that the confirmation process, rather than revealing Hagel to be some sort of unacceptable squish to Kelly Ayotte, is going to be an intense period of "deprogramming," where Hagel suddenly becomes the Good And Sensible Beltway Boy on the matter of war, whitewashing the previous positions that ennobled him to many.

Blumenthal has questions for Hagel too, but he says that he's going to defy the tradition of staunchly opposing a nominee before they've had their day to speak their mind. Ehhh, okay, Richard Blumenthal, but that's the sort of quote that gets thrown in your face when you adopt different rules for a different president. But, in general, "reserve judgment before I hear responses to questions" is fine. Just live by that code consistently!

Ayotte is concerned and concerned and concerned. I am concerned that she does not own a thesaurus. Anyway, in case you haven't figured out, she's all booga-foo over Benghazi. She's mad that Obama brought troops home from Iraq, and couldn't change the Status of Forces Agreement that Bush agreed to and which mapped out our withdrawal. Ayotte is one of maybe a million people who have come on the Sunday shows over the past five years, complaining about this, failing to understand that the Status of Forces Agreement could only be changed with the permission of the Iraqi government -- we asked for it, they declined to give it, and that's that. Don't like it? Ask for President Bush's email address, and send him all the poop emoji you can type.

Also, Ayotte wants to broaden our footprint to include places like Iran, and be prepared to launch military strikes against the Iranians to forestall them getting a nuke, right? Well, there is not an unlimited supply of soldiers, I'm afraid, and the ones we have are still overstretched and overdeployed. So if you really, really want to see the U.S. military attacking Iran to save the world, then you can bloody well be glad that some of the people who are now available to do it aren't bogged down in Baghdad right now.

Blumenthal is very Bideny on what he sees as the future of the armed forces -- lean, mean rapid response teams of terrorist fighters and spies backed by drones. Not a lot of room for the current counter-insurgency regime. He says, "There is not a Republican or Democrat approach to the military," and to a certain extent, that's right. There are counterinsurgents and counter-terrorists.

I still think that we lost the thread on countering terrorism when we, for some reason, decided that a coordinated law enforcement approach wasn't tough enough on our enemies. As it stands, some of the most successful operations the military is running right now involves ferreting out IED networks and gun-runners and even some anti-racketeering stuff. It's impressive to see how far the military has gotten ramped up in these activities -- the anti-IED efforts are an especially brilliant blend of brawn and nerdery -- but this just suggests that more attention should be paid to the law enforcement side of counter-terror.

Okay, panel time with Brit Hume and Bob Woodward and Bill Kristol and Evan Bayh. I wonder, in light of Jack Lew's nomination to Treasury, if we're going to talk about how badly Woodward got himself rooked by his GOP sources over Jack Lew's role in the budget negotiations. Woodward's book portrays the matter as one in which Lew was just an obstinate refusenik. As it turns out, he got it wrong. Let's get it right, courtesy of Matt Yglesias:

As Jack Lew moves over to the Treasury Department, I think it's important to revisit a point that was made but not understood in a lot of reporting on the 2011 debt ceiling battle. At this point, Lew was OMB chief and Bill Daley was chief of staff. Lew's reputation, at the time, was as a committed progressive who Republicans liked and thought they could do business with because he's also a pretty hard-boiled numbers guy.

But it emerged over the course of the negotiations that John Boehner and other Republicans kept trying to kick Lew out of the room to make a deal. That's because what Boehner wanted to do was make a deal in which spending cuts would be balanced by flim-flam, and Lew kept saying that the flim-flam didn't work mathematically. To put a balanced package together, Lew insisted that you needed to have real revenue-increasing tax hikes not just "tax reform" and handwaving. This kept spoiling the party, so Boehner wanted to make deals with Daley—with the political fixer rather than the budget guy. But ultimately you couldn't get a deal done, because you can't just smuggle a deal past the OMB.

Seriously, you hear a lot of stuff about why the "grand bargain" failed, and sooner or later you find out that the stuff you got fed that tasted vaguely of bollocks tasted vaguely like bollocks for a reason. (The reason being: It was bollocks! But expertly seasoned bollocks, you have to hand them that. Don't get me wrong, I love a good Rocky Mountain Oyster, but I like to think that I'm not the one being served.)

Hume says that he hopes that we can exit Afghanistan according to Obama's timetable, but he's super-concerned that it's not a good timetable, and oh my, I hope he gets good advice from Chuck Hagel, boy I don't know? Woodward assays the Afghanistan situation as one in which we are "trying to adapt to a post-superpower world," and so thanks for the view from the Eames Chair atop the Tower of Ivory. I'm pretty sure that most of the kids on these FOBs in Afghanistan spend all day thinking about how well their doing at adapting to changing geopolitical philosophical constructs.

Kristol thinks that the Hagel nomination is irresponsible and says that no serious people think that only a few thousand troops should stay in Afghanistan, except for maybe the mothers of the people who would get to exit the Graveyard of Empires.

Pressing on with the Hagel nomination, Wallace wants to speculate on what sort of Secretary Hagel would be. Kristol is concerned that Hagel might cut too much from the Pentagon's budget. Bayh says that the story is that Obama is appointing the guys he likes and trusts and wants and contra Bill Kristol he believes that the defense budget can be pared down. From there, he just sort of opines that Hagel will happily comport to the traditional Beltway mentality on war.

Hume is really upset that Hagel will demonstrate bad budgeting decision in the age of "austerity," by which he means that he endorses the idea of widespread austerity as long as it exempts defense contractors.

And we move on to the issue of gun control and the Biden task force and what's possible. Kristol says that Congress is not going to do much on gun control "unfortunately," and points out that second-term Presidents tend to have the most success enacting the things they campaigned on -- and Obama never really discussed gun control. It's true that the Sandy Hook shootings have catalyzed the issue to an extent we've not seen in a while, but let's face it -- the issue WAS there to be talked about, what with Aurora and Gabby Giffords.

Wallace takes up for the Sandy Hook shooting being a huge event in the life of this discussion, but Kristol shoots it down, saying that one event doesn't make the matter easier. Bayh admits as well, "This is a heavy lift" -- especially when you compare who is better prepared and better funded for the debate. (It could be a major victory to just even the scales, though I sort of wonder why five million people who support an assault weapons ban don't just join the NRA and change the culture from within. How does it hurt?)

Hume seems to be a bit taken aback that Obama is "coming on aggressively" after winning an election, and I don't know if I agree that it's somehow a shock that a re-elected president would treat his re-election as a mandate. I also don't really see Obama as having become suddenly more aggressive because the last time I checked he gave up all his bargaining leverage on tax rates for upper income individuals because he wanted -- well, I don't know WHAT he wanted, exactly? Less revenue? A breach of promise with the people who elected him? I think that the central plank in Obama's legacy is to be able to say he made gentlemanly compromises at every turn, irrespective of whether it made sense from a policy standpoint.

And he's not getting the legacy either! Even though we are living in a Golden Age of Democratic Caving and Compromising, here's Bob Woodward bitching about everyone having petty arguments, and forgetting the fact that the petty arguments stem from the asymmetric war that is taking place between the League Of Extraordinary Compromising Gentlemen and what Representative Alan Grayson memorably termed the "bath salts caucus."

I will never forgive myself for not being the person to coin the term "bath salts caucus," by the way. I have been scourging myself like a 15th century flagellant for missing that opportunity, believe me.

Woodward asserts that Obama has simultaneously been manifestly MORE aggressive and MORE agreeable! He's been so hard-charging that he and John Boehner eventually agreed to a compromise on tax rates. If Woodward can hold those two ideas in his mind at the same time and speak them aloud in the same breath, then the standards for cognitive dissonance have been shattered.

Bayh says that your political capital is a "depreciating asset" and so that's why Obama is being more aggressive. Again, where is this world where we have a "more aggressive" Obama. I want to go to there, to see what it is like, and to try the local cuisine. It sucks that Evan Bayh gets to see it, and I'm stuck here watching the President give away the best leverage he ever had on the tax/budget issue because he wants to be remembered as a guy who was super accommodating.

"In a few months, minds are going to turn to the midterm elections," Bayh says. Again, I want to go to this place, where Bayh lives, because where I live we are already a gang of slavering jerks over the 2016 election!


Okay, whatever weird thing was going on with my internet has been fixed so hopefully this will be faster, now.

Today, we're going to have foreign policy and gun control a-go-go, so I guess today's Sunday offering are not going to be as varied or as interesting as I thought when the day began. But to begin with we're going to have Senator Jack Reed and Senator Bob Corker and pundit-dude Richard Haass (or Haaszszzsz or Haaaaazzzzzsss or whatever) and Martha Raddatz, who will zealously guard the "z" in her name from Richard Haaassssszzzsss consonant-lust.

Anyway, Afghanistan! There is a drawdown coming, apparently, and this year could go down to 30,000 troops this year and a few thousand left in 2014. I will believe it when I see it. She says that there is a transition afoot to a more Joe Bideny approach to fighting the war on terror -- lean and rapid and light footprinted.

Corker, naturally, doesn't understand why would we make that decision today, and there is "no reason to decide" on the next step. Because there's never a reason, we can stay there forever, right? Reed assures us that we are making great progress in the field of handing over security to host nation forces, and I think that is a hot load of artisanal malarkey, but I'm sort of generically ready to end the futility before the futility ends us.

Haaasssszzss says that as far as whether we've achieved our "goals" in Afghanistan to the extent to it being sustainable after a drawdown, "the short answer is no" and the "idea that we will leave behind a self-sustaining nation" is not going to happen and that it was a "mistake to try in the first place." Good call, Haaasssszzss! Let's hope we don't decide to keep thrusting our fists against the posts and cut our losses.

Moving to Hagel. Corker says that the upcoming hearings are "going to be a real hearing process" and that they will "have a real effect on me," and that's a little too hopelessly emo, isn't it? Oh, no, I am worried that the Chuck Hagel nomination will trouble my inner child! He has a "lot of questions about his whole nuclear posture view," and questions whether he has the "temperament to run a big agency." He's implied similar things about John McCain, actually!

Corker adds: "I begin all of these confirmation processes with an open mind. I did have a good relationship with him. I had a good conversation with him this week. But I think this is one where people are going to be listening to what he has to say, me in particular … especially some of the positions he’s taken generally speaking about our nuclear posture."

G.Steph. says, basically, "Huh? Temperament?" and Reed doesn't cosign the notion, saying instead that the "incredibly compelling thing" about Hagel is that he is a combat vet himself and will be able to relate to the troops in a different way than the typical nominee.

Raddatz, however, throws cold water on that: "I think [soldiers] appreciate that" but it's not that big a deal. Raddatz smartly points out that there have been quantum changes to what it means to be a combat soldier from the time Hagel was one, and she's likely correct in asserting that it's today's combat vets who have much to teach Hagel, and not vice versa. That said, she says that if we're going into a coming period where soldiers would be coming home from theaters of war, that is something Hagel understands and can make a difference.

Haaaszzzs says "the only thing that's relevant" to the discussion is Hagel's ability to run the Pentagon and his views on policy, and the ad hominem attacks, the accusations of anti-Semitism...that's all "over the line" to his estimation, and there's "no place in American life" for such attacks.

What about Hagel's approach to coercive sanctions? Corker says that Hagel has a point that multilateral sanctions are more effective and that it's smarter to not inadvertently "hurt our friends" when we impose them. He says that he'll meet with Hagel, and "dig in" to the sorts of concerns that people have with Hagel and see if they can't be resolved to his liking. He says that Hagel has not been "disqualified" in his mind. Of course, he's the guy who sort of dropped his whole "temperament" idea, writhing and screaming, onto the table this morning.

Reed insists that Hagel is a guy who "speaks truth to power," and that's all well and good, but people get awfully deferential during a confirmation hearing.

Haazzsssssssss says that in Iran right now, the Supreme Leader is actually allowing a "debate to happen over the country's nuclear future" and it creates a surprising opportunity to bridge the existing gap. Meanwhile, in North Korea, the regime is "very conspicuously" planning another nuclear test. So, no rest on that front!

Egads, now we are going to hear from No Labels -- the centrist hack racketeers who take donor money and use it to promote things like "bipartisan seating" in Congress. The organization is now under new, hilarious management. One on hand you have John Huntsman, the 2012 campaign's Surrealist candidate who has no political constituents other than Vogue editors and hedge fund managers and the sorts of Upper West Side liberals who like to occasionally entertain a "reasonable conservative" at their cocktail parties. On the other hand you have West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who is SO INTO COMITY AND POLITENESS that he once appeared in a campaign ad in which he SHOT A CAP AND TRADE BILL WITH A GUN. NO LABELS!!

Anyway, this will be steeped in cattle leavings in all likelihood, but I live to be surprised.

GSteph asks the six million dollar question of Manchin, essentially, hey, I love all the super vague pabulum you put out, but do you have any specific goal in mind?

Manchin says, that he's bummed out by the fact that no one's invited him to a bipartisan meeting in the Senate where everyone stages an encounter session and they agree that they'll get together and try some of the recipes from Gwyneth Paltrow's website. "We don't even know our colleagues in the House!" he says. So apparently we need some vague political organization to make people want to get to know each other. No Labels is the equivalent of Jennifer Anniston's boss in "Office Space" who doesn't understand why she doesn't want to wear more flair, and can he encourage her to do this thing that doesn't actually have a practical impact on the job of waiting tables?

GSteph notes that with a big fight over guns brewing in Congress, there is no mention of it on No Labels website. THANK YOU FOR READING MY POSTS, GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS. Yes, what makes it VERY MYSTERIOUS INDEED, is that the two main people I've associated this silly little group with -- Michael Bloomberg and Joe Scarborough -- are very much in favor of new gun reforms. But neither has used No Labels, their beloved organization, as a megaphone for championing this cause. ISN'T THAT INTERESTING? Almost as if it's too substantive or difficult a matter for an organization that prides itself on selling the notion that all our problems are just a few personality fixes away from being solved NOW GIVE US SOME MONEY.

Jon Huntsman does a fantastic job at just coming out and saying, Oh, yes, we are truly an asinine organization from stem to stern:

HUNTSMAN: Well, this is not about finding the endpoint for a specific policy issue. This is about creating a pathway that speaks to problem solving. So the whole attempt here, George, is to create a new attitude that speaks to problem solving.

There is nothing but emptiness in a guy who basically says that the end result of the policy does not matter, and isn't worth even considering, because as long as the process is one where everyone is generically nice to each other, then that is the best policy! That is nothing more than a complete racket, and that's before you get the part where Huntsman says they are going to "create a new attitude that speaks to problem solving." Let's reinvent the wheel while we are at it.

[VIDEO ABOVE: No Labels meets to solve the big problems facing America.]

Huntsman continues: "It's not about ideology, it's about extreme partisanship. That's the problem today." The problem of course is that Huntsman believes this problem is endemic to both parties, but we already have a great centrist compromiser party called the "Democratic Party" that people like these two dolts keep suggesting is being shrill and obstinate. This only encourages the "bath salts caucus" to go all in, shift the Overton Window rightward, and further away from the sorts of legislation the centrist hacks claim they want.

Stephanopoulos asks about the gun issue, and Manchin says, "George, basically we have a cultural -- we have to change the culture of mass violence we have. If you think it's only about guns and that would change the culture, you'd be wrong."

[VIDEO ABOVE: Joe Manchin courageously takes on the culture of mass violence in totally responsible, nice, No Labelsy fashion.]

Manchin supports the creation of another Congressional committee to sit around and discuss the issue, and hopefully people with an appetite for "achievement" and "accomplishment" will make do with a microwaved dollop of "activity" and "busy work."

What makes Huntsman think that anyone in his party would be receptive to what he's selling? He says that he believes he can get a "bloc of can do problem solvers." Ha, yes, the last time that was tried, it was called "The Supercommittee" and they gave themselves a deadline and a goal and big sword to dangle over their heads called the "Sequester" and they vowed that it would be a game changer and Kid Representative Paul Ryan stood in the House and said, boy howdy, this is a real change in the culture of Congress and super bipartisan to boot, gosh it's just great. (Then Kid Rep Ryan grew up into a Big Boy Vice Presidential candidate, at which point he said, "Shucky-ducky, did I say all that stuff? I don't think so!")

Nope Labels.

Paul Krugman is rightly excited by the trillion-dollar coin and so am I. As the always-outnumbered never-outgunned Joe Weisenthal put it, "what's interesting is that there are very few good arguments, legal or economic, against minting the coin," and that it "may be the most important fiscal policy debate you'll ever seen in your lifetime, because it gets right to the nature of what is money."

Hear, hear! This is an exciting time because we get a real, live important teachable moment that goes down easy because the trillion dollar coin is a puckish and fun idea. We're getting a chance to talk sanely about the nature of money and debt, and concepts like seigniorage, and it all goes to reducing the asymmetrical nature of the information, empowering non-gatekeepers and reducing the influence of demagogues. This is all to the good!

The central problem with the 2008 financial crisis is that it was complicated, few people understood how it went down, and the people who caused the crisis wanted a post-crash regime where they said, "Trust us to fix it, this is way too complicated for you plebes to master." And in fairness, it is complicated. But it's not impossible to get better informed and once you do, you are more impervious to bullshit.

We can also see who is being really willfully stupid at the expense of people in real time:


Let me pass the mic to Mr. Krugman:

PAUL KRUGMAN: OK. The thing you have to understand is that the debt ceiling is a fundamentally stupid, but dangerous thing. We have congress that tells the president how much he must spend, tells him how much he's allowed to collect in taxes. He says OK, there's a difference there, I've got to borrow it. And they say, no, you can't borrow them.

So the whole debt ceiling thing itself is a crazy thing. It actually forces the president to do something illegal, either to defy congress on what it told him to spend or to defy congress and borrow when it told him not to. And then we have this weird loophole, which everyone agrees is crazy, but it happens to be there -- but is a loophole -- that says that the Secretary of the Treasury can mint a coin for any amount which is supposed to be for commemorative pieces, but it does avoid -- it does offer a way to bypass this.

And all that's really doing is just a way to bypass the debt ceiling. It's not even actually printing money, it's simply saying, hey, we're going to say that we minted the coin. You don't even have to mint the thing, right, you just say that you did, right?

Well, you would have to but -- nobody ever has to see it. They all have to do is say we did it and the Federal Reserve says, OK, you now have a $1 trillion bank account which we will, when you withdraw funds from that we will sell off some of our government bonds which is just a way of borrowing through the back door but gets you past this craziness of the debt ceiling.

David Walker, fiscal hack extraordinaire, is smart on the debt ceiling, "Well, the debt ceiling is a dumb idea. We're the only country on earth that has a debt ceiling. We need to reform that. We don't want to use it as a political tool," but he throws shade: "But, you know, the trillion dollar coin is a dumb idea too. Two dumb ideas don't make a good one."

(Also, David Walker doesn't understand seigniorage either: "By the way, why would you spend it on buying platinum?" HEAD::DESK.

Booo! The trillion dollar coin is a zany idea, but it's not a stupid one. And the simple fact of the matter is that the thing that the coin counterpoints, by being zany, is the extremely dangerous and psychotic notion that we should threaten the entire global economy for the sake of scoring political points that you haven't successfully persuaded enough people to vote for.

Okay, got to get off the TiVo pause button, so let's go.

Noonan says that she thinks the coming fiscal debate will feature more "loggerheads and brinksmanship." Krugman insists that a no-bargaining rule should nevertheless be imposed on the matter of the debt ceiling.

Hunt says that Peggy Noonan has been offering the GOP some good advice lately, and I actually really liked her recent column, which aside from the weird "Pirate Time" image that was too jolly and weird to lend some metaphoric insight to her position, was all about the GOP decoupling itself from nativist demagogues on immigration and clapped-out Wall Street lobbyists who are looking for handouts at the expense of the rest of the population.

Perfectly good stuff, and there's still plenty of room for Peggy Noonan and I to have heated policy debates, but in an environment that's more focused on responsive and responsible individuals who aren't purchased and bred by hotheads and influence peddlers.

Nevertheless, Krugman's line on the debt ceiling is smart, and Noonan doesn't get it:

KRUGMAN: But this is not something you negotiate over. You do not negotiate with hostage-takers. That's the White House position. They're right about that. You just don't negotiate on this. You can negotiate on the sequester, you can negotiate on taxes, but not on someone who is threatening to blow up the world economy if he doesn't get his way.

NOONAN: My goodness. That appeared to be the White House attitude on the fiscal cliff just a month or two ago.

The difference is that "going over the fiscal cliff" did not entail "doing a bunch of permanent existential harm to the global economy." Not raising the debt ceiling is the fiscal equivalent of a suicide bombing. Krugman has this correct: "This is really -- this is a doomsday -- this is really saying I will blow up the world unless you give me what I want. And you don't negotiate on that."

Hunt talks about Noonan's column being great, but is nevertheless pretty cynical about it:

HUNT: I thought it was a brilliant -- a brilliant, provocative column. There's not a chance it'll happen because it's a good applause point -- some but Tea Parties members ran in 2010. We are anti-Wall Street. We are against the banks. They got in there. They got in the financial services committee and guess what, they started getting money from JP Morgan, from Morgan Stanley, from -- and not a single one of them voted against the banks. Immigration, why did Mitt Romney turn into immigration basher? He never was before. Because he went to Iowa in 2007, the base, the core, they are going to have a terrible problem with this because their base does not want immigration reform.

One thing that really needs to happen is for the GOP to foster a new attitude on immigration reform, because a lot of the people who would sniff out a possible 2016 run are going to be the folks from the party who have historically pushed for substantive, humane, immigration reform. Jeb Bush may have felt the intense urge to get into the race, but he knew the politics of the moment worked against him -- especially when the base turned on Rick Perry, who is also a pretty humane policymaker on immigration.

We move to the new look of the Obama cabinet, and whether it has a diversity problem. I'm not entirely convinced this is a real thing, but I'm keeping an open mind to it. Judy Woodruff puts it best: "Well, and the fact that the president got double-digit support among women, second election in a row. He did very well with the women's vote. People look at this administration -- and it's not just optics which I think you said -- you were talking about something else, it's not just the optics, it's the reality of the administration. Their argument is, hey, we didn't do a great job of getting it done early. We've been distracted by things like the fiscal cliff, but when all is said and done this is an administration that will look like America. Having said that, George, maybe they ought to take a line from Mitt Romney, binders full of women. They need to get moving. I mean, there are some jobs that are open. And we'll see who they pick. I think we're all watching."

Noonan says that at the end of the day it's always smart to have some women in the room and she predicts that in the end, he'll have them. Hunt says that the larger problem, however, may be the paltry infusion of new ideas being brought into the White House, especially the lack of economists who are amenable to the notion that deregulating Wall Street and encouraging regulatory capture as the de facto regime was a terrible idea -- as Krugman points out.

Moving to the gun control debate. Noonan says that "guns are a very tough topic in America" but that if Biden's report is holistic, includes ideas that enhance mental health treatment along with gun reforms, then it could be a "Nixon to China" moment. Woodruff says that she's heard that people, in the wake of Sandy Hook, are still going out and buying guns. After the commercial, Noonan picks up the topic and says that "people are buying guns like crazy now. Not because they're nutty, not enough because they're angry, but because I really think they fear their country is falling apart," adding, "It's defensive and it's something that I think we all have to be talking about. There's so much anxiety out in America. And they also fear their government."

All of which tells me that we have really failed, as a nation, to address the economic dislocation caused by the 2008 financial crisis, which is still crushing people economically, sowing worry and concern and discontent and fear. I mean, when most of the people in the country probably know someone very dear to them who is out of work or underemployed and there is no end in sight to the problems this poses for their lives -- and by extension, your life, if you really care about these people in your life -- well...that's the sort of environment where you might get desperate or angry. Ever read the stories of people who can't get a job, and have tried and tried and tried and tried for years? Eventually, you get a story that includes suicidal ideation. And guns are a great way to go out. (You'll note that suicide is up, to a scary degree, in our servicemen and servicewomen, too.)

Krugman: "The big revelation here has been we've realized -- I didn't know, that the NRA is no longer about gun owners. It's actually representing the firearms industry. And that's something we've learned." Well, you are a little late to that observation, Paul.

They were supposed to talk about Lance Armstrong because he's going to talk to Oprah about what a disappointing rat-bastard he's turned out to be, but the never really get to the topic and who cares because that's all a little self-evident.


Okay, because at some point we all want to get on with our lives we are going to crank through Meet The Press quite quickly, but let's take a moment to appreciate the fact that last week, when this show was not on my liveblog schedule, David Gregory and his roundtable did an EXCELLENT, EXCELLENT job covering the matter of the debt ceiling, it was all very thrilling to watch, even if I watched it late, and I thought it was just terrific -- laurels all around.

We kick off with General Colin Powell, coming out strongly in favor of Chuck Hagel:

POWELL: This is a guy who knows veterans, knows the troops, knows the U.S.O. And when people say, "Well, that doesn't necessarily make him a good candidate for secretary of defense," I'll tell you who thinks that makes him a good candidate for secretary of defense: The men and women in the armed forces of the United States and their parents, who know that this is a guy who will be very careful about putting their lives at risk, 'cause he put his life at risk. He knows what war is, and he will fight a war if it's necessary. But he's a guy who will do it with great deliberation and care.

What about the criticism that Hagel is insufficiently supportive of Israel? Powell tries to defuse this. He insists that while Hagel wants "both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict to come to the table," he does not believe that there is a moral symmetry between Hamas and the state of Israel.

POWELL: He supports the peace process. But he is uppermost a very, very strong supporter of the state of Israel. He's voted for billions and billions of dollars of aid to Israel. So I have no question that, when it comes to challenges that have anything to do with putting Israel at risk, Chuck Hagel will be on Israel's side. And remember, he's working for a president and he will follow the policies of that president.

Of course, to these critics, when you say, "he will follow the policies of the President," they will respond, "BLARGLE, THAT'S WHAT WE'RE AFRAID OF!" (And naturally, when you ask for evidence that the President is an enemy of Israel, they will say, "He appointed Chuck Hagel."

Powell says, "There is an Israel lobby. There are people who are very supportive of the state of Israel. I am supportive of the state of Israel." So, Powell will get some hate mail now. The interesting thing about ANY "lobby" is the moment you objectively observe and comment upon how well they have done in becoming powerful and influential, they get very mad at you for pointing it out. (But would it help anyone to walk around pretending that they are total nobodies?)

Ooh, the Hagel nomination opens the door for some Second Iraq War litigation!

DAVID GREGORY: The renewed debate about Iraq is also occurring. The New York Times writes about that today. In his memoir, he writes something very pointed about the Iraq war. He writes, "It all comes down to the fact that we were asked to vote on a resolution based on half-truths, untruths, and wishful thinking. I voted for this resolution that gave the president the authority to go war in Iraq if all diplomatic efforts were exhausted and failed. Unfortunately, it was not his intention to exhaust all diplomatic efforts." He's talking about the diplomatic efforts you were engaged in, as secretary of state, in the run-up to the war in Iraq.

POWELL: Well, I would disagree with his characterization. We were basing all of our actions on a national intelligence estimate that the Congress asked for, that was provided to the Congress by the C.I.A. And all of us in the Bush administration at that time accepted the judgment of our 16 intelligence communities. I presented it to the U.N. Three months before I presented to the U.N., Congress passed a resolution, also supported by Senator and many other senators, that would give the president the authority to go to war. Weren't half-truths; it's what we were being told by the intelligence community. We subsequently found out that a lot of that information was not accurate. And that is very unfortunate, but that's the way it unfolded.

GREGORY: Was he wrong on Iraq?

POWELL: With respect to what?

GREGORY: With respect to what he ultimately called "a huge foreign policy blunder"?

POWELL: That's his characterization, and if people want to challenge his characterization they'll have that opportunity at his confirmation.

GREGORY: But in your judgment was he wrong on Iraq?

POWELL: I would not have called it that.

Gregory asks Powell if he thinks Hagel will be able to implement the repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell," based upon previous comments that demonstrated an antipathy for the LGBT community. Powell says that the repeal is the law of the land, now, and "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is not coming back. I'm not sure that is the question I'd use to dig in to Hagel's position on the LGBT community.

At any rate, Powell says that Hagel will make a "very, very spirited defense of his position," and will ultimately be confirmed. As for Susan Rice, Powell says that it was "improperly executed" and just allowed critics to pile on. But Hagel ultimately survived the pile-on to get tapped, and it's probably because that the problems people have with Hagel are problems that don't really reflect the Obama administration -- they are his own problems to deal with.

Would Hillary Clinton make a good president? Powell says he's sure she'd be great at whatever she decides to do.

As for whether the Hagel nomination constitutes a "rebuke" to neo-conservatism, Powell's answer is a little suffused with magical thinking: "You know, the first Obama administration was also not an administration saying, "Let's go find someplace to bomb." Neither, for that matter, was President Bush's eight years. We fought the wars that we felt were necessary. But President Bush worked hard to try to solve other problems through diplomatic means. And so I think it's a little too stark to make this kind of characterization."


He goes on: "But they're fully entitled to their views, and I didn't ever think they would go away and not be heard from again. But they have to remember one thing: It's President Obama, not President McCain and not President Romney. They've lost two elections. The American people have made it clear that they are not particularly interested in finding new conflicts to get into, and they're not particularly interested in saying, you know...sanction's just a road bump on the way to bombing."

Well, you know, they should take heart because the Obama administration is still PLENTY bloodthirsty!

Moving to politics, Powell laments the fact that the Republican Party is having an "identity problem" and encourages them to "take a hard look" and come to understand that the country has changed in significant ways.

POWELL: You can't go around saying, "We don't want to have a solid immigration policy." "We're going to dismiss the 47%." "We are going to make it hard for these minorities to vote," as they did in the last election. What did that produce? The court struck most of that down. But most importantly, it caused people to turn out and stand in line because "These Republicans are trying to keep us from voting."

There's also a dark vein of intolerance in some parts of the party. What do I mean by that? What I mean by that is they still sort of look down on minorities. How can I evidence that? When I see a former governor say that the president is "shuckin' and jivin'." That's a racial era slave term.

When I see another former governor, after the president's first debate where he didn't do very well, says that the president was "lazy." He didn't say he was slow, he was tired, he didn't do well; he said he was "lazy." Now, it may not mean anything to most Americans, but to those of us who are African Americans, the second word is "shiftless," and then there's a third word that goes along with it.

"Birther," the whole birther movement. Why do senior Republican leaders tolerate this kind of discussion within the party? I think the party has to take a look at itself. It has to take a look at its responsibilities to health care, it has to take a look at immigration. It has to take a look at those less fortunate than us.

The party has gathered unto itself a reputation that it is the party of the rich. It is the party of lower taxes. But there are a lot of people who are lower down on the food chain, the economic chain, who are also paying lots of taxes relative to their income, and they need help.

Powell is, of course, stepping into the "Schrodinger's Catfight," in which the person who NOTICES the racism is the REAL RACIST. Look for angry blogs tomorrow!

Okay, one last sprint through one last panel, this one featuring Mike Murphy and Andrea Mitchell and Haley Barbour and Cory Booker.

Does Haley Barbour agree with Powell on the whole "dark vein" thing? He says that the GOP really needs to improve their standing outside of the white-guy rump, and that the right policies, matched with sincere effort, can get it done. Booker says that Powell is right that the GOP spent 2012 not just alienating minorities, but devouring their own. He takes heart in the fact that guys like Newt Gingrich are publicly talking about realistically thinking about "marriage equality." Murphy cosigns the need to address the demographic cul-de-sac the GOP is in, though he gently tweaks Powell by saying that he's been "on a bit of a Democratic [Party] bender lately."

Mitchell says that John McCain is really angry because Chuck Hagel traveled abroad with Obama during the 2012 campaign. And that's 7,652,293 on the list of "Stuff That Has Attracted The Bottomless Rage Of John McCain."

Murphy says that Obama is favored to win his nomination fights, but thinks that it's surprising that he is "digging in on fighting," citing Hagel's devotion to right-sizing the budget and the GOP's insistence on portraying Jack Lew as an obstinate negotiator just because he wanted the budget math to not be some methed-up fantasia.

Booker defends Obama on diversity, and points out that his "policies" are favorable to women and that's how he should be judged, not by some picture. Mitchell notes, however, that the picture was one of Pete Souza's official White House portraits.

Moving to the Biden task force and its forthcoming report. Barbour says that the Newtown tragedy definitely catalyzed a conversation, but insists that existing laws are sufficient, with the exception of greater attention paid to mental health. Murphy says that it's a difficult fight, and points out what I was talking about earlier -- Democrats have shied away from the issue because doing so has enabled them to win in the West. Murphy wants real mental health investment and says it's easier to control a few thousand crazy people than hundreds of millions of guns. Ehhh, I don't think this should be either/or, and I am not someone who thinks the vast majority of Americans should not be entitled to own the vast majority of modern day pistols and rifles and shotguns.

Booker says that there is, essentially, "a Virginia Tech every day" and we need "pragmatic changes to gun safety laws" -- of the kind that most gun owners support.

BOOKER: So let me give you the specific solution. Right now, if you were on the terrorist no-fly list and can't get on a plane and fly into Newark, you can still go into the secondary markets -- gun shows, private sales, internet sales -- and buy trunk loads full of weapons. We've traced the guns that are killing people on my streets, and they're coming from the secondary market. Everybody, gun owners, over 80% of gun owners in America say you should not be able to just go anywhere and buy a gun without a background check. You fix that...the data shows if you're a woman murdered in this country, 50% of those women are murdered by someone they know. In places that have shut down these secondary markets, they've been able to drop that 40%. If you want to keep people safe, let's not waste political capital on the margins.

Murphy says he's supports the gun show loophole being closed and better background checks, but insists that the real issue is mental health. Booker says sure, but insists that Murphy is still partially wrong: "One thing you're wrong; one thing you're right. Legal, law-abiding citizens do not kill people. I've looked at all the shootings in my city and could only find one that is done when somebody had a gun legally. I'm not worried about you buying a gun, you buying a gun. So that's where people need to stop about all these guns in circulation; they don't concern me." He's concerned with the gray market.

Mitchell says that she's heard that the White House is "going to do the big things" -- "He's going to do the assault weapon ban, he is going to do the background checks." We'll see!

Booker has filed papers to run for Senate, but he presents it as just one step in a process he's still gingerly exploring. As for the Lautenberg spokesperson who called Booker "self-absorbed and irresponsible," well Booker is playing it safe there, too, saying that he supports Lautenberg and wants to give him space to work on the debt ceiling negotiation and fight for Sandy relief money.

Is he "ruling out challenging him?" No. So that's that.

And they are talking about the Baseball Hall of Fame and players that use steroids and Lance Armstrong being a bastard and no one on the panel is in favor of supporting cheats and bastards in sports, probably because the cheats and bastards haven't built a sufficiently powerful lobbying infrastructure.

And so, we'll call it a day and get on with our lives, shall we? Once again, I am very grateful to have you all join me today, and I wish everyone the best this week.

[The Sunday Morning liveblog returns on 1/20/13. In the meantime, feel free to, check out my Rebel Mouse page for more fun and diverting writing on the web.]