TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Let's have some affable conversations about politics punctuated by video clips from Chris Matthews' favorite SNL routines, okay?

Hi everybody! This is your Sunday Morning Liveblog and I am your long-suffering replacement referee of political chit-chat, here once again with you for another week of desperation and sleep-deprivation. Hello! My name is Jason. We are now within forty days of this election thingy, right? Thank heavens, I'm sure it's going to solve everything in America. Hopefully, and especially, that problem we all face on planes when contents in the overhead compartments "may have shifted." WHY DON'T WE KNOW? It is the twenty-first century! Anyway, that all changes in Jill Stein's America. Or whoever is favored to win the presidency. Lebron James, was it? The cast of Modern Family?

Anyway, let's get this little she-bang started. As always, you should feel free to jump into the comments and hang out with one another. You should also feel free to drop me a line if necessary. I guess I should remind all of you having trouble with your iPhones and iPads -- KEEP CALM AND USE SAFARI. You will be able to read this there, don't worry. You can follow me on the Twitter, if that's your bag. And, if you find yourself waiting for more liveblog or otherwise bored, head on out to my RebelMouse page, where I have got newsworthy, interesting, and diverting reads from the week gone by waiting for you.


I like how when Chris Wallace stands on the set to introduce his show, they back-light him, so that he looks like a ghost or a hologram.

Today's extra-special guest is Paul "Kid Serious" Ryan, who is the part of the Romney/Ryan ticket that conservatives seem to authentically like. Now, he's having weird satiric pieces written about him in POLITICO, your go-to source for both political humor and the subtle use of the English language. Also, there will be a big panel discussion about the debate, because it is so shiny and bouncy right now. "The presidential debates may be Mitt Romney's last best chance to turn this thing around," says Wallace. What? He doesn't think the whole Lyme disease thing is gonna be a game-changer?

Wallace went to New Hampshire, to exclusively crawl around the bowels of some convention center venue. There he learned that Romney and Ryan opposes the Obama/Biden ticket, probably because of tick-borne illness.

What does Romney need to do in the first debate? Ryan says that "he needs to give America the choice that we're offering." Isn't that what the debate moderators have done, by suggesting to America that there are two people who have different ideas and they are going to have a battle of wits with each other? I don't mean to get ontological here. Anyway, Ryan says his ticket is against the bad economy and government dependency, and he is for a "brighter future." It's a Classic Choice, that you will prefer to the New Choice and also Pepsi.

Wallace asks, "I thought you dudes wanted to make this a referendum election, what?" Ryan says that Obama's record is a "failed record" and they were right to try to point that out but now it's time to do choice election stuff, like vaguely hint at plans and promise to be for the future and what not.

Wallace points out that they are trailing in the polls and that the conservative pundits are starting to get twitchy. It's apparently been declared -- not by me or anything, but by whoever Wallace has bagels with on Sunday morning -- that it Romney doesn't score a clear victory, donors will start to put their money elsewhere. So Romney must cleanly extract Obama's pancreas with his bare hands and feed it to Jim Lehrer, right? Ryan says, "I don't think one event is going to make or break this campaign."

Then he explains that Obama is the greatest living debater and laser-visioned orator and Mitt's never debated at this level before -- where everyone is jumping around in the trees like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and levitating on the end of each other's swords and stuff, and so you should expect Obama to delicately fillet Romney, with words, but slowly, Romney will win the same way John Cusack wins in the movie "Better Off Dead" -- a really good montage, underscored by Roxette, or something.

Has the President engaged in a cover-up over the events in Benghazi? Ryan doesn't want to go there, instead calling the response slow and muddled, and the larger problem is that "the Obama foreign policy is unraveling before our eyes." Romney, he says, will articulate a foreign policy that's based in "strength" and not "weakness."

Wallace is skeptical, pointing out that Romney would not put troops on the ground in Syria or attack Iran. "There's no big difference," Wallace contends. Ryan disputes that, saying that in Iran, Romney will have "credibility," and Romney's credibility will convince the ayatollahs to stop building their nuclear weapon. So, while Romney and Obama both put "all the options on the table" Romney does so in a wholly different way, so that foreign agitants say, "Holy crap, that thing is really on the table there. Like it's totally near the floral centerpiece and I cannot reach the gravy boat without dealing with that. Bravo, Mitt Romney! Here, we are just going to turn over all of our weapons to you."

Wallace says, okay, here, take some credibility if you want, and asks if Ryan and Romney would put the "red line" in the same place as Netanyahu? Ryan says that they will establish credibility and that will be enough. Wallace points out that this doesn't answer his question. Ryan contends that the Obama administration "has moved their rhetoric a bit to be more like ours, and that's good, but it's built on a mountain of non-critical actions."

Ryan also says that the President is planning to "gut the military," referring to the budget sequester that Ryan both supported, voted for, and gave a sticky, sappy speech about how he wanted to hug and kiss the sequester and sing Dashboard Confessional songs to it, because it was a thing of bipartisan beauty and devotion.

Wallace points out that the economy is terrible, and so it's weird that Romney isn't straight up running away with the race. "We're going to win this race," Ryan says. Wallace says, "But you're not winning!" Ryan says, well, Obama is good at distorting the truth for people, and "we're going to show the country the clear difference."

Wallace says, "But Romney has been running for two years and there are only five weeks left in this campaign." This is totally why Romney is gonna get some cool teevee cameras, cue up Roxette's "Joyride," and straight up montage that mofeaux to victory!

The weird thing about how Ryan presents "specifics" is that he does so like this: "We're offering very specific reforms. How do you save and strengthen Medicare? How do you prevent a debt crisis? How do you grow jobs?" You aren't supposed to ask how, though! You are supposed to answer it. Or, at least, you are supposed to say, "We will grow jobs." Like, when you go into the diner and order scrambled eggs, they are supposed to say, "I will bring that to you," and not, "Okay, how do you cook stuff?"

Wallace asks if after all this time, are they behind in the polls because of their own failings or because of the voters. Ryan says it is not the voters fault, it's Obama's fault, because he is wily and tricky.

Wallace tries to go through the budget math on Ryan's plan, but Ryan very giddily and repeatedly dodges Wallace's key question, "How much will this cost?" by answering, "it's revenue-neutral!" over and over again. "I'm not going to get into a baseline argument with you," Ryan says, who then dispenses with "math" altogether and wallows instead in a bunch of platitudes about bipartisanship. "You haven't given me the math," Wallace complains. "It would take too long," says Ryan. MONTAGE IT, KID SERIOUS!

Wallace asks, "What it the math doesn't add up?" Ryan says, "I've run the numbers, it does." Wallace doesn't want to hear that right now, instead asking "What's most important to [Romney]" if the plan doesn't work and he has to make some kind of choice. Ryan says that the choice would be "keeping tax rates down...that's more important than anything." And he promises to "deny and close deductions and loopholes" to rich people. Every single one of those deductions and loopholes comes with a battalion of syphilitic lobbyists, so good luck.

Should the "47%" pay income taxes? Ryan says, "We don't think that imposing taxes on everyone is a good idea." Rather, he will "grow the economic pie." Wouldn't it be easier to have an economic cake, by the way? You can still slice it, like a pie, but you can add layers and frosting and stuff? Just a thought, metaphor makers!

If there ever going to be passion from the Romney/Ryan campaign? Ryan says that there is totally a lot of passion, and that Mitt Romney is full of awesome specifics. All that criticism, Ryan says, is about the attitudes of Beltway hand-wringers. Ryan continues to contend that Romney's "47%" remarks are just a mis-articulation of an idea that's actually super-friendly and well-disposed to ordinary Americans.

Wallace asks: "Do you think that the media is carrying water for Barack Obama?" Ryan: "I think it goes without saying." He also says he's totally "used to" the biases of the mainstream media because he is a conservative, and everyone knows that wherever Ryan goes, the media is always telling him he is awful and stupid. I mean, it's not like Paul Ryan's entire persona of being the super-serious "math guy" and "budget savant" was completely created by easy-to-snow political reporters or something! No, no, Ryan does not owe his extraordinarily high regard and sterling reputation to the fawning media, at all!

Moving the the vice-presidential debate, Wallace asks if he's figured out Joe Biden's strengths. "He's fast on the cuff, he's a witty guy, and he's been doing this a long time," he says. "My job is to make sure [viewers] aren't confused about what we stand for." Ted Olson has been standing in for Joe Biden, and has been practicing, having watched tapes. (The irony there is that you could argue that no two political figures in America have done more to advance marriage equality in recent years than Ted Olson and Joe Biden.)

Wallace points out that Obama hasn't been on Fox News Sunday for over 1,600 days. But he's totally invited to come by! Friend of the liveblog Chris Blakely writes in: "Regarding the length of time since Obama and Biden have been back to FOX News, I suspect we will see them at FOX when we see Romney and Ryan on MSNBC." Ha, right! (And if they came to CNN, who would watch?)

Now it is time to get our panel on, with Bill Kristol, Liz Marlantes, Laura Ingraham, and Juan Williams.

Kristol says that Romney needs to win this debate, because it's time to start panicking a bit. To quell the panic, Romney needs to lay out the future, and stop dwelling on the last four years, Kristol says. He urges Romney to "ignore Jim Lehrer" and not answer his questions. Marlantes says that the universal consensus is that Romney needs to win, and that a "safe debate performance" probably won't cut it. That said, she goes on to say that the challenger typically has an easy time winning the first debate. "The dynamics will, in some ways, favor Romney," she says, "and he could win this debate with one geniunely good human moment."

Ingraham objects to the notion that the debate is the be-all end-all for Romney. She goes on to say that Obama is "very uncomfortable" when challenged, and that Romney needs to challenge him and show "real leadership" and set up a contrast between himself and Obama, who, to Ingraham's estimation, is only comfortable on "late night talk shows."

Williams wonders if the people who will be tuning into the debate won't just be the sort of people who have intractably made up their minds in this election yet and are just following their tribal impulses.

Does Bill Kristol feel that there is a lot of media bias? Kristol says that it's pretty clear, but that conservatives can't use that as an excuse -- after all, they win plenty of elections. He goes on to say that one condition this creates is the call for Romney to be "more likeable." "Forget it," Kristol says. "He's got to be tough, he's got to go right at Obama," and if the narrative the next day is that everyone got along and had a mature debate, that's a loser for Romney.

Marlantes says that the problem the media poses for Romney is just that they are "covering him like he's losing." Ingraham says that the real story is that Obama has been constantly running for re-election and not meeting with foreign leaders. Williams objects to this, but not in a particularly interesting way. Williams and Ingraham fight to the commercial break.

On their return, the discussion turns to recent events in the Middle East and the administration's fumbling explanations of what happened in Benghazi, and was the ensuing confusion incompetence or a cover-up? Kristol says that the attack in Benghazi was clearly a terrorist operation, but "Obama has a big investment in the notion Qaeda is dead," and they "tried to pretend that this was just a reaction to a video."

The problem, here, is that Susan Rice did her round of Ginsburging a couple of Sundays ago at a time where there were plenty of other people reporting on the matter as a pre-planned attack. Marlantes points out that Rice left herself no wiggle room, and that's created a problem. She says that the problem is that it presents an "honesty problem" and raises the question that the administrations' actions were less about foreign policy and more about protecting his presidential campaign.

Ingraham wonders why it was so necessary for Susan Rice to run around on Sunday when there was so much more, at that time, to learn. That's a good question, frankly! Williams defends Rice, "I think she gave the best information she had at the time...she was being forthcoming." If that's true, then the lesson is that discretion and caution is preferable to something that sounds like premature consensus -- and it's not like Rice was the only person contending that everything stemmed from the goofy little YouTube video.

Kristol says that the media's reaction to Netanyahu's Wiley Coyote bomb-cartoon was totally wrong and dismissive. In Bibi's defense, he was at a meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, and it's not like every nation in the world is filled with erudite geniuses.


Let's have some affable conversations about politics punctuated by video clips from Chris Matthews' favorite SNL routines, okay? Today, joining Chris at the genius bar -- to talk about debates, and polls, and the campaign -- are John Heilemann, Trish Regan, Kelly O'Donnell, and our own Howard Fineman, who has, I guess, synced his Chris Matthews Show schedule to mine, or vice versa.

Matthews says he has a, like, debate must-do list, and the first thing he has to do (contra Bill Kristol) is "get likeable." He can't get all snippy at the debate, like he did with Rick Perry back during the primaries. Instead, he will need to be "formal and presidential." Heileman says that the Romney team is going to try, and that they will specifically be trying to "reach for a moment" that "breaks through" and that the risk they are running is that they may do so in too heavy-handed a fashion. (We are told that Romney is "learning zingers" for the debate. I do not think this is what he should be doing. At any rate, you want those zingers to appear spontaneous, so telling people that you are working on some really cool cutdowns in advance is actually going to steal some of the "zing.")

O'Donnell says that Romney has to present a "you can't afford another four years of Obama" theme. Should he be aggressive? They are prepping him to be aggressive.

So how does he become likeable? Howard says he will have to be "skilled" and "deft" and "visionary" and "focused" and "humorous" and "specific" and pretty soon, the rest of the panel is laughing, as intended. "Don't steal my punchline, John Heileman." He goes on to say that the Romney campaign will probably treat the four debates as if they were a television series -- the four occasions will fit together as a narrative, with pre-planned arcs and tonal shifts. The only problem I see with that plan is that GOP donors are probably looking to this Wednesday as a clear moment of breakthrough where this candidacy reclaims it's footing. I don't know if they'll tune in for subsequent episodes.

Regan says that Romney needs to establish some ability to empathize with people, because they will be looking for a candidate who doesn't just "understand Wall Street" but seems capable of grasping what the economic interests of ordinary human-Americans are.

Turning to Obama, Matthews says that one thing he'll have to avoid in the debate is his tendency to be snippy and condescending -- the "you're likeable enough" moment from the 2008 primary debates gets presented as an example.

Howard notes that it was a bad moment for Obama -- "the essence of arrogant condescension...and that's the sliver of Obama's personality that he cannot afford to show." He concludes that this is exactly the sort of reaction that Romney will help to engender.

You wouldn't think that politicians at the top of their game would resort to, or even fall for, these sorts of tactics, but let's not forget that these are men and their penises tend to get all penis-hurt by the slightest slight. (Also, American politics is not some model of maturity!) Now everyone is arguing if Obama is a good debater at all. My verdict is that Hillary Clinton was way better at debates than Obama but that John McCain was, somehow, hilariously bad at them. None of the three particularly blew my mind.

Howard insists that Obama's big problem is that "he doesn't like to be challenged" and can "be brittle" when he is.

The one thing I'll say about this discussion is that lots depend on whether the people who tune into the debates are tribal partisans with their minds made up (Romney fans will cheer his zingers; Obama fans will applaud his condescension) or authentically undecided people who don't have their minds made up. Regardless, you should remember that the whole conversation about "who won the debate" will be pushed by the first group -- the tribal partisans. Authentically undecided people don't actually care who won a debate, they are trying to make up their minds about who has the better vision for the future! But for tribalists, every event in the election decathalon matters in its own way.

The panel watches an old clip of Romney debating Ted Kennedy, and O'Donnell concludes that Romney, too, has a "prickly" side.

Fineman says that right now, Romney could really serve himself in good stead by attacking Obama "deftly and with humor." It could be a big factor in getting his supporters out to vote, in early voting. Regan agrees up to a point, but maintains that Romney "still needs to get specific now," especially with his economic plan. "As a financial journalist," she says, "I want to know and I think the American people want to know."

Heileman surmises that Romney, having telegraphed his intentions to take on Obama's "veracity," probably won't actually do that. Rather, Obama has to watch out that he doesn't "take the sort of cheap shots at Romney that generate sympathy for him."

Regan and Matthews agree that doing a lot of Bush-blaming in this debate will be a bad idea. If Romney has any zingers prepared, a response there, will be among them. Howard says that Romney will have to articulate exactly what Romney finds inadequate about Obama's policies, and turn the debate into a pure litigation over why he thinks he deserves another four years. Heileman says that as Romney has been "reduced to a caricature," he needs a "big moment of strength or empathy" to get people thinking about him in a new way.

Matthews shows some clips of past debates that had frozen moments that pundits now talk about today, when they are bored and/or heading into a commercial break. What happens if the Obama/Romney debates are just mediocre, though? What then? ARE YOU GONNA CRY, CHRIS MATTHEWS? (Spoiler alert: Yes.)

Meanwhile, stuff like "political science" and "history" teaches us that as September becomes October, it becomes harder for challengers who are trailing to make up enough ground on the incumbent to beat him. Also, as September becomes October, the CVS fills up with Christmas decorations. I love Christmas but more restraint is needed.

But that is a different conversation. What about the numbers? Will Romney defeat them? Howard adds that "early voting has taken on a life of its own" and that lots of people are voting right now, ahead of the debates, locking in votes for whoever ahead of whatever "game-changing" moment could come. He adds that debates, on balance, tend to play a role in confirming pre-existing opinions, not break back against them, so that's additional pressure on Romney.

Regan agrees, and restates that Romney "needs to convince Americans that he can make their lives better." Heileman says that early voting doesn't really matter as much as people say, because undecided voters aren't the ones going to the polls right now. I agree with that -- the early voters are the hyper-enthusiastic partisans. You can measure which candidate is being more enthusiastically embraced right now. Our own Jon Ward talked to early voters in Ohio last week, and my impression of his reportage was that the Obama voters came out in force. But all of that can be balanced, by Romney voters who take to the polls following a particularly good debate performance.

Here are some things Chris Matthews doesn't know: Heileman says that based on the polling he's seen, the Romney campaign's dishonest welfare ads have not worked and were "wasted money"; Regan says that "2013 is looking more and more like we could fall back into recession"; O'Donnell says that Linda McMahon is doing better in her recent bid in Connecticut because she's had a lot more direct contact with voters; Howard says that the Obama campaign is focusing more and more on veterans issues, and that Richard Carmona is doing the same in his Arizona Senate race, which has become a tie.

Was Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan a mistake? Heileman says yes, Regan says no, O'Donnell hedges, and Howard agrees with Heileman. Here's Matt Meyer, the 'president of Opportunity Ohio, a free-market think tank in Ohio, and the author of Taxpayers Don’t Stand a Chance," assaying the Ryan pick (hat tip: Alex Pareene):

Politically at the top-of-the-ticket, Ohio is purple, and, other than with Governor Bob Taft’s reelection in 2002, victories have been tough for Republicans. Bush won Ohio by just 165,000 votes in 2000 and 118,000 votes in 2004; Democratic Governor Ted Strickland won in a historic landslide in 2006 by nearly 1,000,000 votes; Obama won Ohio in 2008 by over 260,000 votes; and Governor Kasich, in a national Republican wave year, won by less than 80,000 votes. (As Rob Portman won his Senate seat by 660,000 votes — tell me again why Romney didn’t choose him as the vice-presidential candidate?)

Yeah, the whole Rob Portman thing really seems to have been a mistake, in retrospect.


In case you missed it, our own Hunter Stuart whipped up this fun mastercut of the opening credits of This Week, and their introductions of the "Powerhouse Roundtables."

The good news, I guess, is that George Stephanopoulos is here, today, to do his job, so hooray. The big discussion? The same thing everyone else is talking about -- the debates. The surrogate battle will be between Chris Christie and David Plouffe, and the roundtabling will be conducted by Haley Barbour and Howard Dean and Matthew Dowd and Donna Brazile and Maggie Haberman.

We begin with Chris Christie, who promises that Romney is totally going to "shake things up" and he promises that by Thursday morning, everyone in the media will say it's a "brand new race." He thinks that all Romney has to do is "be truthful" and "lay out a positive vision for the future" and that he is not worried because Mitt Romney can "walk and chew gum at the same time" which is something that the average Roomba, I'm sorry, cannot do. (Though I think Roomba would be a strong third party contender in this race, don't you?)

Christie, because he has to "set expectations" says that Obama is a good debater, and has had plenty of "debates inside the White House." "He'll be good Wednesday night, but he can't change the facts," Christie says.

How would Christie respond to the criticism that Romney intends to "double down" on Bush's economic policies? He says that he would tell the president to "Stop lying." I would tell the president that I've had it with the parlance of blackjack players being abused in that fashion, but that's just me.

Stephanopoulos points out that Romney has not been very detailed about his plans. Christie says that the President has the obligation to be specific. "So the challenger doesn't have to?" asks Stephanopoulos. Christie says that he didn't say that, just that the president has to add more specificity sauce, and tell the truth about Romney's policies. (Christie objects to the idea that Romney favors the wealthy with his tax plan, because of Romney's promises to close loopholes. The issue, however, is how he can do all the things he promises and pay for the cuts as well, and the argument put forth by the Tax Policy Center is that he can't -- not without an increase of the rates on middle-class earners.

Christie says that Romner is "not going to lock himself into something" specific. Stephanopoulos wonders if the people actually deserve to know those details now, Christie says that they deserve to know the contours of his plans.

Should Romney be "big and bold?" Christie insists that Romney will be "big and bold" and that the debate will be a "powerful moment" for Mitt Romney. (So, we are not really managing expectations anymore, I guess?)

Christie says that he doesn't buy the argument that the polls are "skewed" against Romney. He also says that Todd Akin does not deserve the support of the Republican Party, and that he does not support Todd Akin himself.

Okay, time to get Plouffed.

Plouffe insists that Obama is going to tell the truth, so shut up Chris Christie -- except for all those high expectations he was building for Romney just now! He can totally keep doing that. Other than that, the notion that Obama is lying about not having a specific plan for budgets and taxes are "strong words but not true." He adds that if Romney is elected, the middle class will be footing the bill for the wealthy, and "we are happy to have that debate."

Stephanopoulos asks Plouffe if he is worried that Obama is "going to have a rough night with the factcheckers." No, no, most factcheckers are into pony-play and as long as you bridle them correctly they are all quite manageable.

Plouffe goes on to describe the various messages that Romney has "sent to the American people" both with his famous "47%" comments (which are hurting him) and the responses "around the events in Libya" which -- while definitely bad for Romney in the first 24 hours -- are no longer a real liability for him. I'm surprised to hear Plouffe even remind us of it. Will Stephanopoulos jump on it? No, he lets Plouffe monologue about Romney and his inadequacies for about three more minutes, and stays on the subject of the debate afterwards, asking Plouffe is the campaign is worried that Obama will be undone by Romney's "zingers."

Plouffe, to the surprise of everyone, does not answer, "We live in a constant state of paralyzing dread that Romney will destroy us with the bon mots for which he is celebrated around the world, by all people."

Romney, he says, is more well prepared than "any other candidate in history" so everyone should expect Romney to "have a good night on Wednesday."

Now Stephanopoulos moves to Libya. Not literally. That would be strange. No, he poses a question, centered on that topic. Though it's definitely not implausible that a man can hit a breaking point, having to constantly talk to campaign surrogates, where you say, "Piss it, I am moving to Libya."

He notes that the administration's first response was to characterize the Benghazi attacks as a spontaneous demonstration of rage against an anti-Islamic video, when it was really a pre-planned terrorist attack, all of which has prompted Romney to call the administration "confused, slow, and inconsistent." Plouffe insists that there has been an ongoing investigation and that more has been learned since then. The problem is that Susan Rice was insisting on one story as others were reporting out something entirely different. Plouffe says it was all about what our intelligence knew then, versus what they know now. Then, more monologuing.

Now we will powerhouse roundtable ourselves to death for the next forty-five minutes or so.

Dowd says that the race, right now, is about a five point lead for Obama, and the target states are going to "flow with that." This has come as a result of what Dowd terms "campaign malpractice" -- Romney essentially quitting the field over the summer and allowing the Obama campaign to outspend and outwork and out-muscle the Romney team, thus "setting the tone for the final month of the campaign." Dowd says that the Romney campaign obviously didn't expect to be behind at this point.

Barbour says that what's damaging Romney the most is that the campaign has become about "process" -- polling, campaigning, campaign management. "It's about everything but the issues," he says. He goes on to say that Romney needs to stay focused on these issues, especially economic issues.

Brazile says that a sizable portion of the electorate seem to believe that the "modest and slow recovery" is planted and that it will continue, as a "slight wind at the back" through the next four years. Haberman notes that while "right track/wrong track" is still "underwater" for the president, those numbers have, nevertheless, steadily improved. Dean, for his part, doesn't just want to accept the story of the past four years as one that's featured a "slow and modest" recovery -- he insists that Obama's arresting of the slide into depression should be duly credited. He also mentions the recent revisions in the employment numbers that have gotten Obama over the line so that he can say he's added net jobs to the recovery. (I am guessing Dean won't mention this week's other revisions -- the ones by Commerce, which revised GDP figures downward.)

Beyond that, Dean says, Romney's central problem is an inability to connect with ordinary people. Barbour says all of that is wrong -- Obama's recovery is not great and Reagan's was better.

Dowd interjects, saying that he thinks the "natural equilibrium" of the race is about "two points" and that with enough work, he might be able to restore the race to just a slight Obama advantage, in which the economic factors that could drag on the president's campaign may return. More broadly, however, the major problem Romney is facing is that this election has become "a referendum on Mitt Romney." "At some point," Dowd says, "he needs to fix that, really quick."

Brazile says that you can't compare this recovery to Reagan's because this downturn was more downturny, or something. I don't know. The 1980s! Let's not remember them so fondly!

We break for commercials, and return to keep talking about whether or not the debates will be important. Everyone on the panel says, "Hey, you know what, let's just cancel them." I still think I'd rather watch Romney and Obama strip to their skivvies and try to climp up a greased pole, to ring a bell at the top, and everytime they fall, they land in a puddle of extra virgin olive oil, and maybe the whole thing is moderated by that dude from that "Gangham Style" video?

Actually, that's not what the panel says about the debates, because that would be such an interesting idea to pose on a Sunday show that it would immediately disqualify the person who offered it from ever returning to the program. Instead they would be forever banished to wander around in a world...well, let's face it, they would be wandering around in a world full of actual people who are more interesting and have fun things to do.

But, yeah, the panelists believe the debates are important, and Romney needs to be specific, and perhaps even "change the dynamic" of the race, and Dean thinks Obama is awesome while Barbour thinks the opposite. And the pressure is on Romney unless it's not and it's actually on Obama unless it's not and it's on both of them unless it's not and there is no pressure at all.

Also, don't sigh all the time, like Al Gore. Remember that other shiny thing we once talked about? Maybe it's like this new shiny thing?

Brazile says that Romney is amazing debater, on a long mission, like Uma Thurman in KILL BILL, and Obama will have no defense against the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique. Dean agrees that Romney is well-prepared, but he says that the key to the debate is to "turn off the sound and watch the mannerisms" -- they belie whether the debater is comfortable in their own skin.

I volunteer to watch the debate with the sound off! In fact, I might even turn the picture off! I volunteer to evaluate the debate from the perspective of a guy drinking whiskey alone at the sports bar on the ground floor of our office building. It will basically be me saying, "I am not sure about the choices I've made with my life. Christ, look at me. I used to have so much potential! What's the fifteen-syllable German word for feeling nostalgic for things you never even wanted to do back when you had the chance to do them? Also my knees hurt." I am not sure what material understanding you will get about American politics reading that, but we might as well find out, right?

The panel has, during this time, continued to speak somewhat meaninglessly about the election. Donna Brazile thinks that Romney will be a moderate-seeming Republican in the debate Wednesday night. Barbour says that Romney "just needs to be Romney." I think Romney just needs to be William Shatner -- Barbour is very close to achieving that for himself, and he's doing okay! Dowd says that Romney needed to go bold a long time ago, and instead opted for "small-ball." Dean says that his impression is that "small ball is the way Romney thinks, and that's the problem." (Huh? Romney invented Obamacare!)

Speaking of small-ball, Romney's campaign in Virginia is all about Lyme Disease now, for some reason? Haberman says that this was "surprising" to her. I would say so! "This has not been a thing that people have been screaming about in the's not entirely clear how it came about."

A highly influential social conservative in Virginia, Michael Farris, believes that people can contract “chronic Lyme disease” that must be treated with long-term antibiotics. The Center for Disease Control says there is no such thing as “chronic Lyme disease” and “long-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease has been associated with serious complications.”

You can read about these complications in this article from “Clinical Infectious Diseases,” the official publication of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, called “Death from Inappropriate Therapy for Lyme Disease.”

Farris “claims that his wife is a chronic Lyme sufferer as are all his seven children.”

Farris, who has no medical training, was invited to speak with Romney on his campaign bus a couple of weeks ago. Farris said that he and Romney “talked about Lyme disease. It was cordial and encouraging.”

More to the point, Haberman points out that Romney has gotten the "small-ball" tag because the campaign does a lot of "throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks." Dowd attributes that to obsessions with "micro-targeting." I'd say that it's primarily a function of the Romney campaign placing a preference on expressing themselves with political tactics rather than policies or ideologically. They simply take the news of the day and try to react to it the best, to "win the narrative." They need "ideas," but they are addicted to tactics. (When I hear that they've reduced Romney's debate prep to nothing more than learning a bunch of zingers, I believe them.)

The panel goes on to discuss Obama's significant advantage on Medicare. Dean points out that the advantage is basically a product of the Obama campaign being the one that doesn't walk around promising to end it. Barbour disagrees, and says that Romney should have "stuck with the issue" instead of abandoning it. Dowd says that Romney should have definitely done more to educate voters on the issue. Dean points out that campaigns that set out to educate voters usually lose. (He has been, at times, one of the few Democrats that seems to grasp this. Most Democrats believe that America is perpetually one lesson plan away from voting them into office, forever.)

The topic shifts to Netanyahu's speech at the U.N. General Assembly, and I now sort of see why Bibi brought his cartoon bomb with him -- otherwise, the speech might never have attracted the attention of the Sunday morning news hosts. WE NEED MORE CARTOON BOMBS, NOT LESS.

Anyway, Stephanopoulos reports that the moment "got a lot of attention," which is stellar reporting. Dowd says that we should be on the lookout for whether some exogenous event that could change the race. Like, what if a piano falls on Mitt Romney? Or what if Barack Obama is transformed, by magic, into a plate of grits? These things could really "change the game." Haberman says that the Romney campaign is "very concerned" that early voting has started ahead of the debate, but offers a prediction that some "intervening event" will happen between now and Election Day that will factor into the voters' decisions.

I think that's the place to leave this today. Especially since that's where THIS WEEK is leaving it, this week, with George Stephanopoulos. Something will, definitely, most likely happen between now and Election Day. Bank on it. And one of the things that might happen between now and Election Day is that nothing might happen, which would, in itself, be a significant event, unless it is not. Think about it! Unless you don't want to, I mean, I'm not going to force you to think about things. Okay?

Glad that's settled. Everyone have a good week, if you are so inclined, okay? See you next Sunday.

[As you are waiting for more liveblog, click here for fun reads from around the web.]