TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Good morning everyone, and welcome to Sunday, that traditional time of the week where you get to stay snuggled in bed with your loved ones while I emerge from my haze, hook up a coffee IV drip, and take one for Team America by watching the Sunday morning political chatterbox shows so that you don't have to. My name is Jason. Now, here's some bad news: I'll be taking the next two Sundays off -- it's Easter two weeks from now, and next week I am going to be on vacation in Boston.

So I won't be here to watch these shows and reblog their contents. Mind you, this doesn't mean you have to start watching them yourself. And I'll endeavor to have something in this place the next two weeks so that all of you can gather as you do and enjoy each other's company in the comments. Which I hope you'll do today as well! And I'll be back running this misery business soon enough.

So, like I said, welcome. Drop me a line if there's anything I need to know to avoid being shunned in Boston, like Martha Coakley. I will be shaking hands outside of Fenway Park at some point, just to be able to say that I did it.

Okay, let's get started.


So, today, we'll have David Plouffe and Paul Ryan, so we're already off to an exciting start to a Sunday that won't bore us to tears. Rick Santorum won the Louisiana primary. However, Mitt Romney managed to get 27% of the vote, so he'll eat many of the delegates that Santorum would have gotten. Romney's more than halfway to the 1,144 delegates he'll need to become the GOP's nominee.

And now, let's get Plouffed. Chris Wallace starts in on him, pointing out that back in the day, the Obama campaign was totally blaming Bush for the high price of gas. And now? The price of gas is totally not Obama's fault. Plouffe should basically say, "Yeah, lying to the American people that the President has control over the price of gas is something that professional politicians do to win elections, sorry!" Instead, Plouffe says, OH WELL THIS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME. Summer comes in a year divisible by four and POOF, gas prices go up, no biggie! "We have to do everything we can to produce energy in this country," he says. And soon we'll have windmills and giant hamster wheels too, and fuel efficiency is going up, too. Okay, has he gone on long enough, not answering the question.

At any rate, the President is pursuing an "all of the above" energy plan. But Wallace points out that a lot of the big gaping holes that have been dug lately, in the earth, are on private lands, and that federal lands have been spared many big gaping holes, so is the President taking credit for things he had no control over? Plouffe disagrees, and says that they've increased permitting on Federal lands, and have held auctions, and it's up to the private sector to purchase the rights to those lands and drill there.

"We are getting more energy independent," Plouffe says, adding that if "all we do is drill, and we let China" win the wind and solar sectors, then we'll all feel sad about our hole-ridden country and it's lack of energy diversity.

Wallace moves to the Keystone pipeline, an important way of getting the U.S. off foreign oil so long as we pretend that Canada is America. Obama went to Oklahoma this week to talk about the southern leg of the pipeline. Wallace says that the southern pipeline isn't important. Plouffe says it is. Wallace says that the President doesn't have much to do with the construction of that leg. Plouffe insists that there are some permits, and some Army Corps Of Engineers Things, that need to be expedited, and they the White House will expedite them. It sort of sounds like Wallace is right on the latter score, but my understanding is that the southern leg is plenty important.

"The Republicans play games with this," says Plouffe. Okay! But, I mean, when you kick the can past the November election, you're playing games with it, too.

Plouffe says that there are no immediate plans to tap the strategic petroleum reserve, though such a thing remains on the table for consideration. Wallace asks why he'd imagine it would be effective in lowering the price of gas. Plouffe won't "get into hypotheticals." "No one should expect there to be a magic bullet" on gas prices, he says, adding that tapping the reserve would be a decision based on supply constraints, not the price of gas. (By the way, I hear that supply constraints impact the price of gas?)

Wallace next asks Plouff why everyone hates Obamacare so much. Plouffe gives "pffft" to such polls, pointing out that no one really wants to refight the battle. He predicts that the GOP will come to regret coming out against Obamacare, and that as it's slowly implemented and people experience the reform for themselves, they'll come to like it. The administration can certainly point to examples of this. (They have, in fact.) He adds that the White House is confident that the Supreme Court will find the law Constitutional.

Wallace points out that the Ryan budget plan offers larger savings, a smaller debt, and a balanced budget, than the Obama budget plan, and says, "Say what you want, but it at least addresses the deficit," Yes, because Ryan just stops paying for things. The most famous thing he stops paying for is Medicare.

I could put money back into my household budget by ceasing all payments to Dominion Power. And when my wife complains that it's dark and the food has spoiled and we're roasting in an un-airconditioned apartment. I could say, "Say what you want, but it at least addresses our deficit."

Plouffe says that no one's seen all the details of the plan, but he happily points out that it favors the wealthy and it's also the plan Romney supports, so you should call it the Ryan-Romney plan, and -- well, here Wallace interrupts and says, "No one knows these things yet! We don't have all the details." Oh, well, forgive me, I thought you were the guy confidently saying "Say what you want, but it's secretly awesome" just a few minutes ago.

At any rate, Plouffe says that the President's plan is better.

Moving to the Trayvon Martin case. Wallace wants to know if the President considers it a "race issue." Plouffe says that the President considers it a tragedy and sad when things like this happen to anyone. I'll just go ahead and consider it a race issue, then, because I am pretty sure that I could go to that same community, at the same time of night, and wear a hoodie and hold skittles and not get shot to death. I bet you a million dollars that I can go to that community and wear a hoodie that says, "F--K THE NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH I WILL KILL YOU WITH KNIVES," litter the place with skittles, and clink bottles together whilst calling out, "GEORGE ZIMMERMAN COME OUT AND PLAY-YAY!" without getting shot to death.

It's really too bad that Obama saying that his son would look like Trayvon is some sort of political liability. This is one of those times that politics forces people to literally pretend to be stupid.

At any rate, Plouffe concludes the day by surprisingly endorsing the re-election of the President, which was unexpected and really had me on the edge of my seat. Let's definitely say pleasing, insincere things about a tragedy, and say them quickly, so that there's time left on the teevee to remind people that the president's surrogates support the president.

Now, here's Hair Captain Paul Ryan to talk about his most recent foray into Randian fantasia. Wallace asks him about the charge that the wealthy are favored by his budget plan. Ryan says that he's closing the loopholes that wealthy people use. Which is kind of an admission that it does favor the wealthy! But more to the point, as Travis Waldron points out, "Even in the unlikely scenario that the GOP managed to close every tax loophole available to the wealthy, each millionaire would pay an average of $187,000 less under Ryan's plan than they would under current law (which assumes an end to the Bush tax cuts)."

Waldron goes on to cite a study from Citizens for Tax Justice:

While Rep. Ryan does not specify which tax provisions he would repeal, these calculations assume he would repeal all itemized deductions, all tax credits, the exclusion for employer-provided health insurance, and the deduction for health insurance for the self-employed.

Even under these assumptions, over 92 percent of these very high-income taxpayers would enjoy a net tax cut, and the average income tax change for these taxpayers would be a reduction of $187,000 in 2014.

I'd also point out that when you get rid of loopholes, especially in terms of corporate taxes, the goal is to capture revenue. Other countries have smaller tax rates but capture more revenue because they don't have all the absurd loopholes and bailouts that we do. But Ryan is not into capturing revenue. He's into "deficit neutral tax reform," which, as I like to say around here, is like "cake-neutral baking" -- and exercise so pointless in the undertaking, that only an idiot goes to the trouble.

Sorry about the long pause...I was having internet problems, and problems with pausing my TiVo too much. Continuing on:

Ryan is asked by Wallace how on earth they'll pay for these tax cuts, and Ryan says in the same breath that they'll close all these loopholes, and bring in the same amount of revenue, which SHOULD lead Wallace to say, "Indeed, I just asked you how you would pay for this stuff!"

Wallace does attempt to nail down how heavily Ryan will bring down the axe on the most popular of the tax breaks -- like employer-provided health insurance and pensions, home mortgage deductions, and capital gains' lower rate. Ryan said that he'd limit those deductions to the higher income earners. Wallace says, "Are you willing to say this will be revenue neutral--." Ryan interrupts, "Yes." And indeed, again, HOW IS WALLACE MISSING THAT, but I digress, because Wallace asks if the plan would be distributionally neutral, and Ryan insists that there's no way of knowing or guaranteeing that. Which is to say: NO.

Ryan goes on to compare his plan favorable to "Bowles-Simpson," citing the fact that the Bowles-Simpson tax rate is lower. What he neglects to mention is that the Bowles-Simpson plan is revenue-generating, not revenue-neutral.

Wallace asks about the cuts to Medicaid and what not, and asks if he's putting the burden of the tax solution on the backs of the poor. Ryan says that that programs like Medicaid are unsustainable, and then there's a paragraph of Randian cant about breeding more self-sufficiency and training people for jobs, which sort of passes over the part where we have Medicare because people get old and sick and can no longer work to support themselves, because they are old and sick and not immortal and stuff and we decided long ago that watching our grandfathers and grandmothers lapse into pauperdom as a result of these things was sort of shameful.

Ryan insists that Medicare "denies people upward mobility." Which sort of fails to explain how the most prolonged period of upward mobility in the past century wasn't in any way impeded by the existence of Medicare.

Not for the first time will I point you to Matt Yglesias pointing out what the Ryan Medicare plan amounts to:

Here's Ryan's big idea. Right now the way Medicaid works is that the federal government pays states a fixed share of what it costs them to provide health care services to Medicaid beneficiaries. Under Ryan's vision for Medicaid, the way it will work is that states will get a fixed sum that grows with population growth and general CPI inflation.

So let's imagine that, by magic, health care costs grow in line with general CPI inflation. Now what happens as the population ages? Well, as everyone knows older people need more health care services than younger people do. So if you cap the per capita availability of health care services in an aging population, you get declining adequacy of coverage. That's the very heart and soul of the Ryan vision for Medicaid--lower taxes on the rich financed by less adequate coverage for the poor and disabled. And keep in mind that's the consequences of his plan with the heroic assumption that medical care inflation can be held to the level of average economy-wide inflation.

How likely is that? I would be willing to wager basically any sum Rep Ryan cares to name that whether or not his budget is enacted, medical costs will grow faster than overall inflation over the next 20 years. Over the past 50 years, the CPI for medical care exceeded core CPI only once.

Wallace asks a great question: what makes Ryan think that state governments are going to be any less corrupt and inefficient at running entitlement programs via block grants? Indeed, state governments are notoriously MORE corrupt and inefficient. Ryan's answer is that the closer government gets to you, the more responsible it is to you. Which explains why states that are full of women are passing laws that would allow the state government to shove xray wands in their vaginas.

Wallace asks about the whole plan to impoverish seniors by gradually ceasing to pay for their care, and Ryan says that the key difference is that instead of "fifteen bureaucrats" being in charge of Medicare, "50 million seniors will be in charge." Which is true! All those seniors will be in charge of trying to come up with the money to pay for the health care they'll need constantly because their bodies full of internal organs are slowly breaking down.

Of course, "nothing will change for current seniors," because current seniors will presumably be voting based on the interests of current seniors.

Moving to the horsey race, Ryan says that while Romney hasn't wrapped it up yet, he's on his way. And "he's not going to tell the candidates what to do."

And will he be vice-president? Ryan says that he doesn't know the answer to that question.

Friend of the liveblog Chris Blakeley is back! Hooray! He offers, via email:

For me the debate on the Affordable Healthcare Act is this simple: for myself, my family and all USA citizens, I want the same level of healthcare Cheney has received and continues to receive on the government dime. Most if not all of the legislators who are most critical of the Affordable Healthcare Act have access to healthcare that entails no out-of-pocket expenses to them while in Congress and in far too many cases continues as a benefit after their service ends. Too many of those most critical of this bill are far more concerned about the health of corporations versus the health of this country's citizens (even though we now know that "corporations are people").

And now it's Panel Time with Paul Gigot and Kirsten Powers and Brit Hume and Juan Williams.

The Supreme Court is going to be ruling, maybe, on the individual mandate, which is an idea the Heritage Foundation came up with, for healthcare. Hume says the action will center on the Commerce Clause, and "whether there are limits" that preclude the federal government from doing what the Affordable Care Act does. He expects it to be a long and interesting argument, though, and thinks that everyone saying that it's going to be a "slam dunk" one way or the other is wrong.

Powers says that the "administration obviously thinks it has a strong case or else they would not have gone through with it in an election year." I don't think the administration has a say in that, though? Anyway, Powers and Wallace get into some obscure case law, which I won't reblog because I do aspire to end this thing at some point. Anyone interested in relevant case law should read Dahlia Lithwick in Slate, right?

Gigot thinks that it's ultimately like compelling Americans to buy specific cars. Williams points out that the uninsured keep health care costs high for everyone who is insured. Williams describes uninsured people who get "smushed."

"Judicial activism is in the eye of the beholder," says Hume, "So the judicial activism argument is really sort of pointless."

Moving to the horsey race. Gigot thinks it's swell that Santorum won in Louisiana, and that it might have been some "blowback" from the Etch-A-Sketch line, but Santorum still needs to "deny Romney delegates." Williams says, "that's exactly right...and April is not going to be a kind month to Rick Santorum." Santorum will need to last until May, and he'll probably have to pull an upset. Hume notes that "all he can hope to do is deny Romney the nomination and force a contested convention."

I'm pretty sure that if you haven't spent time in a coma lately, any of you could have come on teevee and made these banal observations yourselves.

And now, Kirsten Powers is saying things like "Romney is the frontrunner" and "people who win primaries get delegates" and "the sun is hot." Okay, I get it. No one has anything new or interesting to say about this. Fast forward.


Oh, hello, Norah O'Donnell, who is perhaps a future host of this show, is filling in for Bob Schieffer today. We begin with Rick Santorum and what O'Donnell calls a "big win." Which really isn't that big! But I get it...this race has sort of become a series of exciting storylines, and today, Scheherazade is singing about Santorum.

Anyway, Santorum is here, and he says that he's "reassured" by the way Louisiana voted, which makes it clear that voters do not want an "Etch-A-Sketch" candidate but rather someone whose values are "written on their heart" and not on an "erasable tablet." And he would probably like to say about 76 more variations on "Etch-A-Sketch," but the show is only a half hour long.

O'Donnell points out that he needs to win 70% of the remaining delegates to win the nomination, so what is his "credible path." Santorum says that he doesn't agree with "the delegate math that Romney is putting out there." By which he means, the delegate math that the people who count delegates for the media is putting out there. Santorum believes in a different math. A math unencumbered by decisions Florida and Arizona made to be winner take all states. A math that believes that Mitt Romney and Ron Paul will somehow forget to snatch up currently unbound delegates, and allow Santorum's shoestring operation to grab them.

Santorum really believes though, that he and Gingrich will get 50 delegates from Florida and Arizona. We'll see! I'd place no bets on it!

Romney is picking on Santorum now, mercilessly. His campaign in listless, and the way he said Obama's re-election would be preferable to Romney is "sad and pathetic" and the fact that he's even celebrating a win in Louisiana is mockable because he's a team down by "seven touchdowns." Ha, ha! Laugh at Santorum! Santorum says that Romney is "desperate" and that he's making "desperate messages," and he just thinks that the GOP needs someone who contrasts well against Obama, and Romney is the "worst possible nominee" for that task, because he can't "beat Obama on the issues" or "connect with voters."

O'Donnell really wants to press the point that he was deservedly hammered for saying Obama was preferable to Romney, and Santorum shrugs that off, but she wants to press the point by showing him exactly what he said, know, what he said wasn't that unreasonable: "You win by giving people a choice. You win by giving people an opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who's just going to be a little different from the person in there. If you're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have, instead of taking a risk on what may be the Etch-A-Sketch candidate."

It's no wonder Santorum was like, "Fine, Norah, play what I said." What he said was dramatically less exciting than, "Guys, piss it, we'll be better off with Obama instead of Romney."

Santorum points out that he is running for President, and that obviously he'd prefer that the country switched from Obama to him. I think that O'Donnell really didn't have the "gotcha" she thought she had.

Does Santorum have to win Wisconsin to change the momentum? Santorum says that Louisiana was a big win! And he'll come to Wisconsin, sure, and he's behind in the polls...and he's getting outspent...and...he went bowling in Sheboygan, did you see that? Okay, the answer to the question is: Yes he needs to win Wisconsin. And, as a corrollary: no, he probably won't.

Moving to the Trayvon Martin story, O'Donnell asks Santorum for his thoughts on Obama's statement on the matter, and whether race played a role in Martin's death. Santorum says that he's not privy to what's going on in someone's mind, but that Zimmerman's mind appears to be a "sick one," and his motives were "malicious," and the end result is a "tragedy." Which, you know, is a very fine way of responding to that.

A not-fine way of responding was Newt Gingrich's response. Gingrich was outraged that Obama would make the obvious comment that a son born to he and his wife would look like a black child. Gingrich just thought that was terrible, because it took away from the fact that it was a shared tragedy. It's sort of important to remember that Gingrich is an egomaniac, currently losing an election badly, and it makes no sense to him, because he is Destiny's Child. So he's increasingly desperate to get back into it. He knows that universally slamming Obama is one way to do it, so he's basically got to keep at that game. If Obama encourages people to floss inbetween meals, then flossing is for secular-socialist Rosemary's babies and supporters of flossing should be guillotined, and their headless corpses shipped to participate in a Lincoln-Douglas Debate with Gingrich.

Santorum is asked to comment on Gingrich's comments, and says, "All I can say is that there are a lot of people who have perverted reviews on's hard to generalize about one heinous act..." and it take a minute for me to remember that he's talking about Zimmerman, not Gingrich. Though the description certainly applies! (And I don't think Santorum minds anyone thinking that he's being too clever by half!)

Moving on the Paul Ryan, who will only have a few minutes to talk. O'Donnell asks if everyone will have to sacrifice under the budget. Ryan says yes. We've been over this:

Ezra Klein points out that the distributive inequities of the plan are hard to get past, once you factor in all of the GOP's pet premises:

The Republican plans we've seen share a few basic premises. First, taxes are too high, and must be cut. Second, defense spending is too low, and should be raised. Third, major changes to entitlement programs should be passed now, but they shouldn't affect the current generation of retirees. That would all be fine, except for the fourth premise, which is that short-term deficits are a serious threat to the country and they need to be swiftly cut.

The first three budget premises means that taxes and defense will contribute more to the deficit, and Medicare and Social Security aren't available for quick savings. That leaves programs for the poor as the only major programs available to bear cuts. But now cuts to those programs have to pay for the deficit reduction, the increased defense spending, and the tax cuts. That means the cuts to those programs have to be really, really, really deep. The authors have no other choice.

And we can move on to discuss the relative seriousness of Ryan's plan, again, with Klein's assistance:

Ryan tells CBO to assume his tax plan will raise revenues to 19 percent of GDP and then hold them there. He tells them to assume his Medicare plan will hold cost growth in Medicare to GDP+0.5 percentage points. He tells them to assume that spending on Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program won't grow any faster than inflation. He tells them to assume that all federal spending aside from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will fall from 12.5 percent of GDP in 2011 to 3.75 percent of GDP in 2050.

It's that last assumption, perhaps, that shows most clearly how unlikely Ryan's specified budget path is. He's saying that in 2050, spending on defense, on food stamps, on infrastructure, on education, on research and development, on the federal workforce, and everything other non-entitlement program combined will be less than four percentage points of GDP.

Consider that defense spending has never fallen below three percentage points of GDP, and Mitt Romney has promised to keep it above four percentage points of GDP. Ryan has not outlined a realistic goal.

It seems that Ryan has cooked up a pretty good way to create Panem, from THE HUNGER GAMES, but not necessarily achieve an equitable plan for America.

Anything new in the Ryan/O'Donnell dialogue that sets it apart from the Ryan/Wallace dialogue? Not really. But that's not Paul Ryan or Norah O'Donnell's fault.

O'Donnell does ask about the politics of backing such an unpopular plan that the public hates. Ryan says that he's morally obligated to offer a solution to our debt problem, which to my mind is not do things like pass the Bush tax cuts or Medicare Part D or launch expensive pointless wars in the first place. But all that stuff happened, and so now, seniors will have to manage their own health care financing in perpetuity. But they can call all that time they'll spend scraping money together and shopping hither and yon for marginal savings "freedom!"

Ryan says that the country deserves to spoken to "like adults and not children" He says this, however, after saying that his plan "preserves Medicare." Of course, he doesn't want to preserve Medicare. His plan is to eventually have "50 million seniors" in a state of nature, clawing for survival. So, that is like talking to America as if they were children, in the way that children are told that Santa exists and that "the ball won't hurt them" and that "it's really important to get a good grade in Chemistry and of course you'll use that knowledge later in life."

"Would you consider being Vice-President?" O'Donnell asks, as I fast forward the TiVo, because GAH.

Chuck Schumer is here now, which means the most dangerous place in the world is between Schumer and the camera pointing at him. Why is this happening? O'Donnell wants to ask him about Trayvon Martin. Schumer's against the "Stand Your Ground" law, and thinks it needs to be repealed. But if that happens, what recourse will twitchy paranoids have when the voices in their heads are screaming, "SHOOT THAT GUY! HE PROBABLY WANTS TO KILL YOU, WITH SKITTLES," huh?

Schumer is against Paul Ryan's budget, calling it "smoke and mirrors" because he doesn't say how it will be paid for, and without a plan to raise revenue -- Schumer cites capital gains rate increase, I wonder if he could be convinced to change the rules of carried interest (I'm guessing no!) -- then the balance falls on the backs of the poor. He says the Democrats will produce a plan on tax day, from Sheldon Whitehouse, that will enact the "Buffet Rule." It will "be on the floor on Tax Day." There, it will fail to get passed, the end.

As for the controversy over the Affordable Care Act, Schumer says that it's off the table if Romney is the nominee. It's almost too bad Santorum can't come back on camera and say, "See! See! This is what I was talking about!"


David Plouffe is here, and Gregory begins with a foreign policy question on North Korea's ambitions to develop a long-range rocket. Plouffe says that the White House's position on North Korea is that "we can't reward bad behavior" but that the world is now united against that sort of behavior, and you see the same thing in Iran. (Russia and China might dispute whether they've been unified with the rest of the world in their position on Iran. And vice-versa, obviously.)

On Trayvon Martin, Plouffe says that "our focus needs to be on the family, and on the investigation." Gregory badgers him as to whether race was a factor in the death. It obviously was, but as we've discussed before, this is an area where the White House "makes news" if they make the obvious observation that a normal human being would make. So that won't be happening. (In an odd way, you can see how Mitt Romney's robotic nature and lack of personal connection to anything would serve him in good stead in the White House. "How do you react to X, President Romney?" "Within standard operating parameters BEEP BLORP THANK YOU FOR THE QUESTION, REPORTER-HUMAN.")

If the investigation demonstrates that race was a factor, then maybe the White House will say that the investigation demonstrated this. Gregory keeps badgering him, saying, "The President of the United States would not have spoken out about this this personally with an African-American victim if he did not believe race was at the core." He says this as if it's some sort of gotcha. "HA HA! I CAUGHT THE PRESIDENT HAVING A PERSONAL OPINION! NAILED!" You know, maybe it does demonstrate that Obama is copping to a belief that race played a role, but the real reprehensible thing is that a child is dead and David Gregory and his media colleagues are excited that they might be able to get David Plouffe to slip up and say something controversial here. That seems to me to be a pretty irresponsible use of this story and its underlying lessons, be those racial or not. The reductiveness of the "horse race uber alles" coverage is staggering.

Gregory also thinks that there's something to be made about the fact that Obama called Sandra Fluke and not Trayvon Martin's family. Plouffe points out that the difference was that Fluke was under fire for "policy decisions that we had made." That's actually an interesting admission.

Gregory really wants to sort of catch the president in the trap of talking overtly about race, so that everyone can pounce on him though. And he sort of asks, and answers his own question, here:

GREGORY: There are people who made the observation, back when Professor Gates at Harvard was arrested, and the President at that point thought the Cambridge police acted stupidly, he said so publicly and there was a controversy and he ended up having that beer summit. He's been cautious about talking about race. As the country's first African-American president it was an issue of sensitivity during the campaign, but some people question why he doesn't lead more forcefully and say, this is a conversation we should have and I should more directly lead it. Why not?

The answer is that the media environment isn't conducive to having that conversation, with a sitting President of the United States, because the media environment favors, and recommends for itself, a situation where staging a clown attack on the political discourse is a good thing to do for generating ratings and stoking controversy. In the case of Gates, he was arrested for breaking and entering his own home. That was an objectively stupid arrest. I'll tell that cop right now, today, "Hey buddy! Nothing personal, but that was an objectively stupid thing you did. Yep! For one moment in your life, you were objectively stupid! Happens to the best of us. Own it. Move on. Try not to be so stupid!" As a private citizen, I can make this observation. And whether or not the cop agrees or disagrees, he's got to sit there and take it. I think Obama briefly made an objectively stupid move of his own, when he forgot that he doesn't have the right to say objectively sane and reasonable things about everything anymore.

But the answer to Gregory's question, "Why not?" is that people like David Gregory make the world a less inviting and productive place to have these conversations. And, indeed, for the past five minutes, on Meet The Press, he's been making it worse!

Plouffe is stuck saying that Obama is the President of "everybody," but he once gave a speech about the MLK monument, so he's demonstrably aware of black people, the end. (You know, when Obama spoke at the MLK memorial, there were media types that suggested that THAT would be controversial!)

Moving to gas prices, Plouffe helpfully explains that the reason that gas prices were briefly lower after 2008 was because there was this thing called the total collapse of the economy. Anyone interested in replicating that? No? Okay, moving on.

Gregory points out that Obama has, in the past, demonized his own opponents for the high price of gas. Plouffe says, "He was just responding to the political gimmickry of the moment," meaning the gas tax holiday that was being promoted at the time. But he was adding his own political gimmickry to the moment as well.

Gregory is perplexed that Obama hasn't been able to get his energy agenda passed, and is not left to "play politics." Plouffe replies that Obama is "making great strides" in many areas of alternative energy, and they've approved dozens of pipelines...and pretty soon there's a bunch of high speed blather that seems basically designed to test Gregory's willpower to keep talking about this.

I'd sort of like the next discussion on "WHY ENERGY THING NO HAPPEN?" to begin with the premise that the energy conglomerates spend an obscene amount of money and time influence peddling and lobbying, and then maybe we track who that money goes to, and then we say, "THAT GUY THERE IS ON THE TAKE AND IS TO BLAME."

Brief infomercial on Obamacare? Brief infomercial on Obamacare. "At the end of the decade, the Republicans are going to regret calling this Obamacare," says Plouffe, who adds that "Mitt Romney is the godfather of our healthcare plan."

What does Plouffe think about the state of the Romney campaign? He says that it's going to be a close race, but he's doing damage to himself, in this campaign. He also says, basically, "Pay no attention to the Etch-A-Sketch criticism," because Romney is unchanging on the following issues: he will cut tax cuts for rich people, he'll add to the deficit, he'll try and outlaw abortion, he hates clean energy, he doesn't like getting out of Iraq or Afghanistan -- "those things are etched in stone," says Plouffe, "they'll be seared in the public's conscience this year."

Remember, the whole crazy "Etch-A-Sketch" flap is over if Santorum or Gingrich can't kill Romney with it.

Gregory asks his standard questions about who might run for President in 2016, because did you hear? Everyone in the political media is just BORED TO TEARS with the current election, already.

The NAACP's Ben Jealous is here next. He'll be allowed to talk about Trayvon Martin like a human being, and Meet The Press will be able to congratulate themselves for booking Jealous and having the discussion. Just remember, if they'd booked Obama to have the same discussion, they'd go all clownshoes with it. Jealous is going to be joined by NPR's Michele Norris, Haley Barbour, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and David Brooks, who will be providing the effete sanctimony, whilst blaming the 1960's for everything.

What does it mean that the President talked about Martin's murder so personally? Jealous says that Obama was able to channel the painful feelings, as well as raise questions about what to do about laws that seem to value the lives of black men as less than others. Actually, Ben Jealous is doing the work there, that Obama is not allowed to do. Goodwin underscores that by confirming that the President can't talk about the issue like that, but maintains that a certain level of "humanity" to it.

Gregory is still doing his best to make hay out of what he perceives as Obama's "reluctance" to "lead a conversation" about the matter, in seeming ignorance of the fact that the media would make it their duty to hold a funhouse mirror up to that conversation and ruin it for everyone. Norris says that the President is trying to get the nation to engage in the conversation on their own terms, rather than staging a "grand national" drum circle on the matter.

David Brooks says that there's a website we can visit to find out how racist we all are, and that only trained professionals should be running around with guns, doing law enforcement. Barbour says that David Plouffe's answers today were all very rational, and that everyone should find out what happened before we're having conversations or crafting laws. Barbour somehow disagrees and agrees with Newt Gingrich's criticism of Obama.

Jealous points out, accurately, that the person who had the right to "stand their ground" in this incident was Trayvon Martin -- the person who was being hunted by an assailant, who was carrying a gun.

We're now in the thick of the section of the roundtable discussion where everyone is just describing the intense personal feelings that are having about this. There's nothing wrong with that! But it's pointless to try to recap them. Suffice it to say that everyone on the panel is revolted by racism and sadness. Goodwin and Jealous are cheered by the fact that now, incidents like this are publicly questioned and that people in general now tend to have some more personal relationships with people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Barbour, Goodwin and Jealous are cheered by the fact that the people in Sanford aren't "sweeping the matter under the rug," but are actually calling for additional scrutiny.

Brooks says he's concerned that "this is going to become an easy conservation where we all condemn some racists out there." Goodwin points out that the discussion about changing these weird "stand your ground" laws is a much different one than the one Brooks is describing. (And everyone was essentially just talking about that!) Jealous adds that he doesn't think it's an easy conversation about racism, pointing out that black cops often have the same misperceptions about young black men.

Moving to the horsey race. Goodwin says that "presidents lose popularity over gas prices" historically, but Obama can avoid Jimmy Carter's mistakes by continuing to present himself as being on the side of the people, instead of being strangely aloof. Brooks says that everyone says the other guy is responsible for the price of gas, but none are. That said, he hates the president's position on the Keystone pipeline.

Barbour is mad at Obama's policies, and for Steven Chu's supposed desire to elevate the price of gas. Jealous counters with an old saying from the Bush administration -- cheap energy. Here's the passage, from David Frum's The Right Man, that's relevant to this discussion:

I once made the mistake of suggesting to Bush that he use the phrase cheap energy to describe the aims of his energy policy. He gave me a sharp, squinting look.

"Cheap energy", he answered, "was how we got into this mess. Every year from the early 1970s until the mid-1990s, American cars burned less and less oil per mile traveled. Then in about 1995 that progress stopped. Why?"

He answered his own question: "Because of the gas-guzzling SUV. And what had made the SUV craze possible?"

This time I answered, "Um, cheap energy?" He nodded at me.


Is it time for the race to end? Barbour says that it's for the primary voters to decide, and that he wouldn't be inclined to ask anyone to jump out of the race. Though, to his mind, Romney is going to be the nominee, "unless he steps on a landmine."

And now, Rachel Maddow is here to talk about her new book, Drift, which concerns itself with the idea that at some point in the past, America became inured to being "in a perpetual state of war." (Full disclosure: I have pre-ordered this book, and look forward to reading it.)

Why the interest in the topic? Maddow says that she had a radio, and later, a television show, to talk about many things, but that he thoughts on this matter didn't fit the format too comfortably. "It's been bothering me for a very long time, this idea that we've made a series of changes over time, over the course of my lifetime, I think, that in all cases have made it easier -- given us less friction towards using war, less political friction, less public discomfort with it in a way that we have gone to war...and felt it so much it bothers me emotionally. So I wanted to treat it in a long form way to lay out the case."

In the book, Maddow cites the way only a fragment of the population now expects to end up fighting these wars. That's a big factor, she says, in keeping ordinary people for feeling the pain of war. The big tax breaks we gave ourselves prior to launching those wars, she says, is also a cause of this.

Gregory remarks that Maddow's criticism is "bipartisan," and I mean...on this issue is sort of has to in order to be honest, doesn't it? "This is something that emerged over multiple administrations, and not in a conspiratorial way." She notes, for readers, that a lot of her case rests on emphasizing the post-Vietnam period, and not necessarily the post-9/11 period. Well, if that's the case, then it sounds like this is going to be a pretty smart book!

What to do when the troops finally get to come home from these far-flung misadventures? Maddow and Gregory agree that jobs need to be waiting for them. Maddow says that "of [her] generation of veterans, I know of nobody else in my age cohort who is more impressive, who has worked harder, accomplished more in my age group than the people I know who have been to these wars. They are an impressive group of people. They are leaders for our civilian life going forward." She adds that over time, America has a "moral responsibility" to learn more about how military families lived their lives during this period of time, so that we might feel these consequences more keenly than we already are. So that's Drift, out next week.

And with that, I will be taking my leave of you, to return to the fast-typing, teevee watching on April 15, which is tax day! And my sister's birthday! Again, I shall endeavor to fill this space with something, so that all of you can come and gather and have your own valuable Sunday conversations. Happy Easter in advance, and I'll see you again soon!