TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Hello and good morning and welcome to this January 23rd edition of your Sunday morning liveblog of these political chitter-chat shows that we are forced to contend with in order to understand the minds of your political figures (addled) and the men and women who cover them (needy). My name is Jason, and I don't really care who wins the Superbowl now, though green is my favorite color. Please feel free today, as always, to send emails or leave comments. And, if you feel like you must or should, you can keep up with my various obsessions and derangements on twitter.


Today we are going to be talking about "The State Of The Presidency." So, in case you were wondering, I am already bored! But at least someone is concerned about one job that one guy could possibly lose. (There will be at least five job seekers for that opening, so it's a mystery why they can't sympathize with what's actually happening in the country.)

Joe Lieberman, Kent Conrad, and Kay Bailey Hutchison are three Senators who have reached a point in their career where their sheer lacking-ness across every conceivable dimension has finally caught up with them and made it impossible for them to get re-elected, which is crazy, because incumbency is typically pretty easy. The only reason these guys should be on a show is for a lengthy exit interview picking over their faults, but instead, I think they are going to provide "perspective."

First, here's Jake Tapper, asking about the "state of Obama," by which we mean, "the comeback narrative," that was scheduled to begin at this time anyway. It's striking to hear, in this package, the way "The State Of The Union is strong," has basically become a ritual incantation at the State of the Union address. It's the only thing Presidents say anymore, as if it's enough to summon the voodoo zombie spirits of the founders to protect and preserve us. It'd be pretty awesome if Obama stepped to the dais and said, "We are in an interminable, expensive war and our economy is terrible, none of you are working, and you sent a bunch of people to Washington who think we can solve our problems by painting Hitler mustaches on them, so I'd say the State of our Union is pretty much ass-over-tea kettle, okay? It is FUBAR, almost unto death! Okay? I'm going to yield the balance of my time to Jeffrey Immelt, who will tell you what intergalactic escape shuttle you've been assigned to. Yeah, that's right! We're giving up. Time to take your game into outer space, mofeaux!"

At any rate, here are you three loser Senators. Lieberman thinks that Obama needs to keep "reconnecting to the vital center of America." He needs to keep doing things like his "unifying speech in Tucson," but hopefully LITTLE GIRLS WILL NOT BE SHOT WITH GUNS for Obama to vajazzle the vital center or whatever.

KBH wonders: will Obama totally deregulate business and take people's health care away? Because that's "the true way forward." (Actually, significantly, she calls for "changes" to health care reform, not an outright repeal: the honesty of what's possible in the Senate, or a Senator who's done with her career and is finally learning to be honest.

Lieberman insists that he can win again if he wanted! Sure! Totally! He just wants to try something new, and start a new chapter. He will lead a vitally centrist, Sabbath-observing biker gang. Or price retirement condos for John McCain and Lindsay Graham. Or personally attack Iran, with his fists.

Kent Conrad summarized the past election by saying that, you know, there was TARP, and the auto bailout, and the stimulus, and the health care reform, and people thought it was "too much coming from the federal government." Yes, it was pretty terrible, that time that the federal government headed off pure, mountain grown, economic ruin, I guess. Fie on those people!

KBH won't say anything mean about the Tea Party folks who have made it impossible for her to ever be Senator again. She thinks she would have won her race, too, though! Because of her history of "getting things done," but now, she feels "America is moving in the wrong direction." So, I guess, she's not running because she's terrible?

Hutchison: "I read the blogs, and it's kind of depressing, to read those blogs." It's pretty depressing to write those blogs, too, but YOU'RE WELCOME!

"There was a collective wail of sadness," Amanpour says, "When all of you decided not to seek re-election." AMERICA: it seems that your joyous strains of relief have started sounding like "sadness." STEP UP YOUR ENTHUSIASM GAME. When I heard Lieberman wasn't running again, it was like someone staged a Kylie Minogue concert in my brain.

Conrad laments the fact that people don't want Social Security and Medicare cut to ribbons. He also seems to think that there's no public demand for defense spending cuts. It makes him so mad! "And by the way, they don't want to touch revenue!" Well, actually, revenue is all y'all lawmakers' hangup.

Here's what "the people" want:

The problem is that all of the influence exerted on lawmakers by corporate interests pushes them in the opposite direction. "There needs to be leadership to help the American people understand how serious this problem is," Conrad says. First of all, Kent, people who are quitting their jobs because the fight to keep it is getting too tough really shouldn't be lecturing anyone about the need for leadership. You think we need leadership? NUT. UP.

Second, peep the chart my man! I think that leadership is coming from the people who have always "led" this country. How about y'all provide us with some followship?

Kay Bailey Hutchison doesn't have a date for the prom, I mean -- State Of The Union! That's sad. Lieberman doesn't either! Conrad asks Kay, so LOVE CONNECTION. I'm pretty excited about John Thune and Kirsten Gillibrand going together because, WOW, SO MUCH HOTNESS, YOU HAVE TO ADMIT.

Now there's a section of the show that describes something obvious: Obama has to work with freshman Republicans. There's a particular fascination with the fact that several of them held down ordinary jobs, prior to their arrival. Like, there's one guy who worked in a restaurant? As if that's weird?

Anyway, they are learning people's names, and one of them is sleeping on a air mattress that they've stuffed into a closet, so that they don't have to rent an apartment.

(Then there is an abrupt smash-cut to the scenes of the Tucson shooting, I think to make a point about "civility.")

This is basically a summary of stuff you already know about: people got elected, everyone's trying to be nicer to each other, but everyone has their own wants and ideas. And the White House is "shifting to the center." It's like the set up to an Aaron Sorkin series. A shift to the center is not cool. Know what's cool? A BILLION SHIFTS TO THE CENTER!

Panel time: with George Will and Donna Brazile and Paul Krugman and Matthew Dowd.

Will says that it's astonishing that fewer people are thinking of Obama as a liberal, and that this will help get back "blue collar white voters," because they will identify with Jeffrey Immelt or something? Krugman points out that Immelt employs workers from outside the U.S. and makes most of its products from outside the U.S., so that's a weird way of appealing to bluye collar America.

As Dowd points out, "presidencies are mostly about perception." So, let's just pretend that this "message to the business community" will bring "confidence," and let us hope that "confidence" allows us to grow a "beanstalk" that enables us to steal "magical gold from a space giant." Because actually, most corporations are squatting on billions of dollars -- taxpayer dollars! -- hedging against the day people like Citibank have to admit the real value of the assets on their books and finally reveal themselves to be insolvent.

In the meanwhile, we live in a state where, as Krugman points out, no one thinks it's actually safe or wise to expand a business, and there's been little stimulation of aggregate demand, so we're down for a long, long "healing process."

George Will hates watching the State of the Union on teevee, and I basically agree! It's boring and they go on and on! Will puts it like this: an attempt to "stroke every erogenous zone of the electorate." OH, STOP IT WITH THE SCANDALOUS SEXXY TALK, GEORGE WILL! (Seriously, stop it.) Dowd points out that SOTU addresses never moves the needle, approval wise. (I'm pretty sure that speeches never do. We get nostalgic for things presidents once said, years after the fact, but it hardly shapes our immediate future. It's in retrospect that we connect words with the way our destiny was shaped.

"The whole event does not matter," says Will. By the way, I'll be covering the State Of The Union that night, so please tune in! (Or just go and live your lives.)


Chris Matthews and his panel will also be talking about the State of the Union address, so this is a really good opportunity to build up some SOTU-pundit antibodies in my bloodstream.

"Can a state of the union be a game changer," Matthews asks. NO. The answer is no! (Also: they are going to talk about "Tiger Moms"? Tiger moms? Why can't we just let that Amy Chua column die? It's so, so, so past it's shelf life.

Anyway, today we have our own Howard Fineman (I'm almost 100% sure this will be the first time he's ever had to talk about "tiger moms"), Katty Kay, Cynthia Tucker, and Norah O'Donnell.

(If you've somehow managed to live your life without any knowledge of "tiger moms," I'm sorry to do this to you, but this is what they are talking about.)

But first, the less asinine topic: the State of the Union, and how it will change the world. Fineman says that the White House is planning to really shoot the moon with this speech. "A generational call to the future," seeking investment and focus on taking on the Chinese, the new competition, which has been raised entirely by tiger moms. Obama will counter by asking our nation to birth a generation that's actually whelped by tigers.

China is like the new Sputnik, shooting tiger mother satellites into orbit, where they hold down the value of their currency from space.

But how do you get people to invest in higher education? BECAUSE TEACHERS UNIONS ARE THE DEVIL, YOU KNOW. (I think about how POWERFUL the teachers' unions are every day, when my wife tells me her lunch break was five minutes long and she got to eat a few crackers.) Anyway, we should definitely give a ton of taxpayer money to corporations, to build a ton of sham charter schools, that offer degrees in bowling alley maintenance.

Howard suggests that Obama will have to convince the olds to give up some scrilla so that the youngs can have a future that's not cleaning tiger mother poop off of bowling alleys. This will be difficult, I think, given the fact that most Americans only get interested in politics after their teeth fall out and they have to start wearing diapers again.

Will the GOP be better off compromising or opposing? Naturally, most pundits agree in compromise. O'Donnell points out that the polls suggest that some compromise might be possible, as the GOP's "honeymoon is over." Kay says, "They own the problem, now." Fineman says, "Well, they own a condo in the problem, now," and I think Norah just about loses her mind in laughter, thinking about that: a condo built inside a problem.

Kay says, that there's a greater mood for compromise all around, moreso than you'd have "expected on the night of the midterms." O'Donnell is now laughing like crazy about something else, but stops long enough to suggest that the tax code might be a place where everyone can find compromise.

Matthews says that FDR was raised by a "tiger mom," and that he never got to play with other kids. Also, George W. Bush was similarly raised by a "tiger mom." So, that really doesn't say much about "tiger mothering," does it? Children raised by tiger mothers range from greatness to terribleness?

O'Donnell says that moms are important to the people who become president, but also fathers are important. Know what seems to be no substitute for parents? A pile on money. Go to the Google and see how Meg Whitman's sons have turned out. (SPOILER ALERT: they are loutish pieces of overprivileged filth, the end.)

Are we connecting the "Tiger Mom" segment to the visit from Hu Jintao? YES, WE ARE DOING THAT.

Kay says, "I fear I am a slacker" by comparison. O'Donnell says that the debate sparked by the book "fascinates her," and that she's tracking a lot of collegial critique. She agrees that we need to compliment kids more on the hard work they do, rather than their accomplishments, as the latter type of praise has just become so promiscuous. My wife, citing the general cloud of meaningless praise that floats around children these days, gives Norah a "hear hear": "Praise is so child-centered right now that the idea that the child is not the center of the universe is a foreign idea to the child. That said, Amy Chua is crazy. No sleepovers? I'm sorry, but socializing with peers is pretty important."

Fineman says that he feels he hasn't been as good a listener as he could have been as a parent, and that his kids would tell you the same thing. Wow. We are all having a moment, today, of self-doubt and thoughtful confessions and getting vulnerable today!

I'll say this, we do not have kids because the very thought of "baby-proofing" our home is just so EXHAUSTING to me. I prefer my apartment to be a death trap to young children. I warn them about it when they come in, make them entirely dependent on my kindness, and dominate them utterly. So, I am like a "Tiger mother" if by "mother" you mean "asshole" and by "tiger" you mean, "plainly and criminally irresponsble."

Things Chris doesn't know include: the GOP has a good shot of picking up the Hawaii Senate seat; Senators with Presidential ambitions keep a low profile, like Marco Rubio is doing (Matthews thinks he's on the 2012 ticket, despite the fact that he's only been a Senator for a few days); the GOP is looking to raise the profile of African-American Republicans, like Herman Cain; Obama delivered on a lot of his last SOTU, but he didn't have the monthly meetings with GOP leadership that he promised to have.

The "big question" involves will compromise in Washington create further rifts in the GOP topography? Howard says yes, look at the debt ceiling vote; Kay says yes, watch Romney deal with running to the right; Tucker and O'Donnell also say yes.

I think it was Norah O'Donnell's birthday this week, so happy birthday to her.


Friend of the liveblog Chris Blakely is here with a summary of FOX NEWS SUNDAY, which I did not watch today because I didn't want things like this to be what chased fresh memories of last night's Dismemberment Plan show from my brainpan:

Two comments today:

First, what did the Green Bay Packers ever do to receive the "curse" from Bill Kristol (wrong about everything) when he donned the Cheese Head hat on today's FOX NEWS Sunday??

Second, I was disappointed to see that today's FOX NEWS Sunday's Power Player Plus this week was NOT a member of Chris Wallace's family.

Yes, what about his son? Doesn't he have some fancy "power" name like "Gwydion" or "Starhammer" or "MAX POWER" or something? Anyway, we should all try Lorraine Wallace's "cream of tiger mother" soup.

Today we have exciting political throat singing from James Clyburn and Eric Cantor. It really doesn't get any _____________ than that, does it?

Here's a pro-tip from me to the producers of MEET THE PRESS, because you really need my help. Okay. Let's say the president makes a video and puts it online. You want to show some of that video. What do you do? JUST SHOW THE VIDEO. Do not create an graphical representation of a laptop in order to reinforce the fact, "OMGZ, this was on the YouToobz!"

I mean, I see that, and like a lot of people, it just makes me depressed to think about the fact that some amount of thought actually went into that. I mean, for starters, tablets are the new new thing. Laptops? We off that. But really, just look at that stuff. It's reminiscent of the video for Dire Straits' "Money For Nothing." I mean, that's some simpleminded stuff, circa 2011. Plus, don't you guys broadcast in HD, now?

Get it together guys, you are blowing it!

Anyway, the SOTU address is going to be a wonderment of centrism, and that potentially gives Eric Cantor the mad jollies. "But did he learn from the last election," Cantor wonders, and will he stop "spawning action from a Washington-based perspective?" Cantor says that he wants to "grow" not "invest" because "invest" means "spend" -- has Cantor not heard about how "investing" works?

Gregory actually hits Cantor for immediately backing down on the GOP's $100 billion promise. Cantor says, oh, you know, there will be a debt limit vote (that vote will change nothing), and they've committed to $100 billion in cuts. Is that a recommitment? No, it's a hedge: there's going to be a "debate" over what levels are trimmed to what fiscal year, and shucks, we've already blown five months, so, GOSH: #cantorshrug.

Gregory says, "It seems like a straightforward promise, though." You know, you put it on a piece of paper: WILL CUT $100 BILLION IN OUR FIRST YEAR, THAT'S OUR PLEDGE, and now you find it getting hemmed and hawed based upon shifting definitions of "year" and "first" and the Julian calendar. Cantor says, "On an annualized basis we'll cut $100 billion." Gregory: "What does that mean?" It means: "GAGAGAGAGA."

What will the GOP ask for in return for a debt ceiling vote? "Serious cuts and reforms." Like what? "Stuff, you know, some reforms." Specifically, though? "There are hundreds of programs that will need to be cut." (Like the presidential election fund! Finally, an example!) "Well that's nothing," says Gregory. BUZZ KILL! What about defense cuts? "On the table," Cantor says, deploying the most meaningless phrase in Washington.

All these cuts are pretty hilarious when you consider the fact that Congress is trying to figure out how to encase the Capitol in plexiglass and engineer 1,000-foot gun-free halos around themselves. (Surely that will come at no cost to anyone!)

Social security! What is Cantor prepared to do? Cantor is prepared to talk about "beginning to need to work on entitlements," and "focus on what we can do together." What is Cantor willing to do? Basically, they are willing to "begin a discussion." Gregory asks, "How long do we have to have a discussion," and points out that Paul Ryan, author of the "roadmap" and deliverer to-come of the GOP rebuttal to the SOTU, calls for "draconian" cuts to social security that the GOP won't even come behind.

"Means testing. Raise the retirement age. Those are specifics." Gregory insists. Cantor offers only that no one is changing anything for the olds, but the youngs will have to have a serious discussion. He insists that Reid's unwillingness to even discuss the matter is "not leadership."

I'll reiterate briefly, something I said about Ryan.

Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has pretty good hair, and he's known for being a nice guy. And in a town where charisma is often confused with intelligence, Ryan's ridden a wave of hype and has come to be known as some sort of genius numbers-guy. Now, he'll head up the House Budget Committee, so every reporter in town is going to want to touch base with him on his plan to reduce taxes, his plan to balance the budget, and his plan to reduce long-term health care costs.

Well, okay! Ryan's plan to reduce taxes is to raise them on nearly everybody. His plan to balance the budget is to not balance the budget. His plan to reduce long-term health care costs is to ration out vouchers that diminish in value over time, relative to rising costs.

Clip and save and tweet and update your Facebook status on SOTU day as needed!

Does the GOP have a serious plan to replace the current health care plan with? SPOILER ALERT: no. If Cantor could pharmaceuticalize his bromides, maybe. They would be powerful cure-alls. Like before, his plan is to "have discussions" and long talks. They will TALK ABOUT BRINGING DOWN COSTS. Cantor, really, is the master of confusing activity for achievement.

"We're going to have an open process and invite the other side in," because the wonderful mythmaking involved here is that they weren't invited to a intense negotiations with Chuck Grassley didn't all the stuff that the GOP wanted wasn't in the bill in the first place.

Gregory challenges Cantor to call birtherism "what it is: crazy talk." Cantor won't, because he can't afford to lose any of their votes. The exchange, by the way, is utterly bonkers. Cantor is working so hard to avoid offending birthers. He clearly doesn't believe a word he's saying, but having to say it is such a trial he can't even look Gregory square in the face. He keeps staring at the ceiling of the studio.

So sad, really! Look, watch what I do: BIRTHERS ARE CRAZY. It costs me nothing to say that! There's nothing at stake! I say that at no risk to me at all. It doesn't constitute leadership to say something that's plainly obvious. Poor Eric Cantor. He's not even a real person anymore!

Oh, my bad: Clyburn is actually on the panel, today, along with Karen Hughes and Ron Brownstein and Erin Burnett and John Podesta.

Polls show that Americans care more about jobs then the federal deficits. All polls show that. That's been a constant forever, because people without jobs have enormous problems that need to be addressed more immediately. Burnett treats this as "WHEW, GOOD NEWS FOR OBAMA" because everyone expected people to care about deficits. (No, they didn't, only the deficit-obsessed Washington hackoisie expected that, because they have moronic expectations.)

Also, Erin, that the American people are concerned about jobs is not GOOD NEWS FOR OBAMA because it means that we're in a massive unemployment crisis that affects the COUNTRY THAT OBAMA IS THE PRESIDENT OF.

Burnett thinks that Obama putting Jeffrey Immelt -- the current CEO at the top of the corporate conglomerate that owns the network she works for and is currently being seen on talking about how Jeffrey Immelt's appointment by Obama atop the jobs and competitiveness panel was a terrific and ultra-savvy move -- atop the jobs and competitiveness panel was a terrific and ultra-savvy move.

Burnett says, "Of course the problem is that government can't create jobs," because she's never heard of the space program, or all those times we declared a bunch of interminable wars so that military contractors could get rich on taxpayer money, or that time we saved a lot of bankers with taxpayer money, or the "armed forces," or "teachers," or the entire sector of the economy that arose from DARPA creating this thing called "the internet."

Karen Hughes says "Obama is moving to the center," and that it's a contrast from "what he really believes" which is an "expansive government" and HA HA HER BOSS SPIED ON AMERICANS AND TORTURED PEOPLE HA HA, "EXPANSIVE GOVERNMENT" SO HILARIOUS.

Burnett says that the business community wants the focus to be on debt, which just goes to show how alienated the "business community" is from "actual humans."

Is a government shutdown possible? Clyburn says "possible, not probable."

Gregory: "[Obama] did not have to do health care, that was a war of choice, not of necessity." HA HA: File under: things David Gregory never said about the war in Iraq, an actual "war of choice." (Also: people without access to health care tend to die? So, I think it's definitely a necessity-based issue.)

Gregory, duh, doesn't see "doing health care" as anything other than being "antithetical to business" or a thing that helps secure jobs. (Meanwhile, repealing the health care bill will actually kill a lot of jobs.)

Hughes thinks that Obama will "ultimately be a one-term president" but there's some "sorting out" to happen to decide who will be the GOP nominee. She again laments how big and "intrusive" the government is, reminding me of that time our intrusive government sent Maher Arar, to Syria, to get tortured, by mistake. (Not much has changed on that front, though, except we might, at some point tell some of the people we intruded on that we're sorry. In the meanwhile, hide your kids, hide your wife, we're renditioning everyone up in this piece, per holdover philsophies from Karen Hughes' boss' administration, that I thought we were going to change at some point? But no.

Burnett says now the financial markets are betting Obama will win re-election by a landslide, because Obama is not being such a horrible anti-business monster, who thinks ordinary Americans shouldn't die of easily treatable ailments. Brownstein says that no candidate has emerged on the GOP side capable of uniting the two sides of conservative America.

Here's Podesta and Gregory, on Palin:

GREGORY: Sarah Palin comes up so often -- our poll indicated that her likability is still a problem. Positive rating at 27 percent, her negatives are quite high at 49 percent. Where does she stand now?

PODESTA: Well, I think that she's had a bad couple of weeks. I think that her reaction to Tucson was particularly bad. And I think she's moving herself to the fringe, but it's a fringe that's occupied by probably half of the Republican caucus in the house right now. So, if you look at the economic program they're putting forward, I think it'd be pretty much in line with the way Palin sees the future as opposed to, perhaps, the way Romney does. And that, I think is spells trouble for the Republican party which is careening off to the right at this moment.

I point this out because it's so rarely suggested that "moving to the center" is EVER something a conservative needs to do, in the eyes of the media. That's something the Democrats have to do, when they start talking about a health care reform that Mitt Romney invented! Think about that a moment! If a Democrat starts acting as liberal as Mitt Romney, it's a crisis! GOT TO GET TO THE CENTER. Meanwhile, it's typical to hear hardcord fringiness on the right being celebrated a "gutsy." Launch an unnecessary war in a place populated by people who didn't attack us IN LIEU OF DOING ANYTHING ABOUT THOSE WHO DID? That just shows HOW SERIOUS WE ARE.

Clyburn says that the tone of the discourse has changed for the better already in many symbolic ways, and he hopes that they'll also change in substantive ways.

And that's that for another Sunday. I am going to get all Tiger Mother on some NFL playoff watching! But here's a nice thing! This week, my colleagues Arthur Delaney and Ryan Grim were honored with a Sidney Award for their outstanding piece, "The Poorhouse: Aunt Winnie, Glenn Beck, And The Politics Of The New Deal." If you find yourself in the mood for a long read today, please check it out! (And if you haven't made it a point to read Arthur's stuff on a regular basis, PLEASE DO SO! He's killing it on the regular doing something very few people seem to care about doing: examining the economic crisis from the perspective of actual human beings who live in America.)

Have a great week!

[More liveblog will be around shortly, as soon as it's written, in the meantime, here's an entertainment: Better Book Titles!]