TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Good morning, one and all and welcome once again to your Sunday Morning liveblog of the week-end political blather factories. My name is Jason, and is it just me, or are things out there starting to make very little sense? They are going to make a Hungry Hungry Hippos movie, people. Not a joke. Don't understand it. What's the plot here? There are hippos, they need to eat, there's a struggle, eventually, they happen upon whatever hippos eat, and they eat it, the end. Am I missing something? Is, like, Jonthan Franzen doing the screenplay and all the hippos are vaguely unlikeable and the twist is they were all hungry for meaning?

Earlier this week, DC's own Jumbo Slice pizza made it onto a list of America's 35 Best Pizzas. For those of you who don't know, this is not possible. This is un-possible. It is the null set of possibilities. Anyone who has eaten one of these jumbo slices will tell you: they are a galactic gastric disaster. If it is possible that it is one of America's best pizzas, then there is literally no boundaries anymore, between things that have merit, and things you can pluck from your stool. Even after you eat a Jumbo Slice. (Trust me, you will have to endure a poundingly long wait, for a really terrible payoff, for that one.)

For a long while, I thought I sort of understood the Nobel Peace Prize as something that was given to extravagantly decent people, with the occasional warmonger thrown in there to add a little dose of post-modernist irony, or to put a Febreze-like stench on an enduring drone war. Now, they've given one to the European Union, and, you know, nothing against the EU, it's awfully good of y'all member states to have avoided participating in a genocide for a few decades. But it sort of feels like they gave the EU the Nobel as just sort of a pick-me-up. You know, "Hey, EU, I know you're going through a rough patch right now, what with your financial crisis and all, but hang in there!" I thought that sentiment was best expressed with a poster of a treed kitten.

Against that backdrop, our election is somehow understandable. Also: very tense now, for everyone who is heavily invested in the outcome. (This leaves out, I guess, rich bankers and Canadians and most species of waterfowl. In a few weeks time, the race has gone from something the media compared to Clinton-Dole to one that should be compared to Bush-Gore -- tight as a snare drum with a dash of foreboding chaos. Is everyone ready for the possibility of an electoral college tie? That seems to be the sort of hell-with-the-lid-off that fate has lined up for us, somehow.

One thing is for certain, this week, the Game 5 of the Nationals-Cardinals series is going to become the most overworked metaphor for horse-race politics since we started defaming the horse-races. It has something for everyone. Romney supporters can talk about the inexperienced team in Washington going down hard. Obama supporters can talk about the reigning incumbent winning out in the end. Yankee fans will, of course, be the ABSOLUTE WORST. These hack adventures in figurative language could start in just a few minutes time, now. Let's agree to heap scorn upon those who do.

As usual, you all should feel free to relax and let me watch these shows for you. If you'd like to meet and greet in the comments, please do. If you need to drop me a line, feel free. Yes, you iPad and iPhone users should use Safari, the link will appear atop this page. You may, of course, follow me on Twitter. And as I've been doing lately, I have stacked up some Sunday morning alternatives to read while you wait on my Rebel Mouse page. Let us commence!


Today we'll begin with David Axelrod and Ed Gillespie dully going through the surrogacy motions. I appreciate the way Chris Wallace says "Axelrod and Gillespie!" as if that's something worth rejoicing. Whoa, guys, major gets, there. Can't wait to hear what they have to say, I'm sure it would be difficult for me to predict, just sitting here.

Axelrod is in Williamsburg, Virginia, home of the College of William And Mary, who passed on my college application many years ago, but that's okay, not bitter, whatever! Axelrod is hanging out, probably gonna hit the Trellis later, but now, he's got to talk about the Obama campaign. And unfortunately for the Obama campaign, we crapped the bed in Benghazi and now its rough sledding for them -- though probably not as rough as the sledding in the actual Benghazi. Remember: terrible things that happen to people and economies only get talked about on Sunday shows because they might thwart the ambitions of permanently affluent political celebrities.

Joe Biden said that the White House didn't know that the consulate in Benghazi, only several State Department officials told a hearing that there were lots of requests for additional security, so Wallace's question is apt: "What is the vice president talking about?" Axelrod says that Biden was "talking about what the White House knew," and that these requests went to the State Department's...I don't know...Security Request Suggestion Box, and nobody told the White House nothin'. There are embassies everywhere! Fair enough. It's just that I don't expect anyone to be calling round to see how security is in Luxembourg. Libya, on the other hand, might be one of those "loop me in on everything" sort of security situations. Just spitballing. (I could probably adequately secure the embassy in Luxembourg, with these spitballs.)

So, what does "we" mean? When Biden says "we didn't know?" Axelrod reiterates that the State Department knows a bunch of cool stuff that the White House doesn't. He ensures Wallace that Obama is totally, super concerned about what happened, has so many feelings that are super-duper, and people should know that he takes "personal responsibility" for all of our people stationed abroad.

So, Wallace is all, hey, I think I will challenge your definition of personal responsibility, and Axelrod says, dude, the President is responsible for everything that happens, you know, all the stuff...SO MUCH STUFF...and you can't guarantee anything. But the thing you guarantee is the responsibility, I think?

Wallace presses on the whole day where it was clear the Benghazi attacks were terrorist attacks and Susan Rice was still saying it was mostly a case of film criticism gone horribly awry, like that time GIGLI came to theatres and all those people were murdered and Ben Affleck had to agree that they had a point. Axelrod gives a puzzling answer: "Well, I think the president is responsible for everything that happens on his watch. and I mean, it isn't the -- it isn't us or anyone else who is suggesting that that is what the intelligence was at the time." The two parts of that sentence are fundamentally at odds with one another.

At any rate, Axelrod insists that sometimes the facts don't comport entirely to the information you receive in real time in the heat of a crisis, and sure, you can imagine that rumors and frantic suppostions emerge in those situations -- I remember how lots of people thought there had been a bombing at the State Department on September 11th, and that made it all the way to news channels before finally getting clarified. I get that. As Wallace points out, though, there were some people in "real-time communication" between Benghazi and the State Department, and it seems to have been the quick consensus that the attacks were not some sort of improvisation. So, the question is, when did the White House decide to participate in some sort of "let's meet and get this all sorted" exercise.

Axelrod says that they are still in the process of sorting it out, and says that Obama called it an "act of terror" on the very day after it happened. As for the State Department, he says that their members testified under oath that "anyone who had the intelligence they had would have said what Susan Rice said."

Wallace dings Obama for going off to a fundraiser, and asks if he met with national security people before he went back on the campaign trail. Axelrod says that Obama was totally in communication with the relevant people at all times.

Wallace moves to Stephanie Cutter's comments that the only reason the Libya story has become so newsworthy is because Romney and Ryan politicized it. Apparently, there is no issue of great concern that cannot be shifted from a substantive interrogation of the relevant facts to a pissant little horse race inquiry that hangs entirely on a campaign spokesperson having one very bad moment of spokespersoning. It was just a bunch of dead diplomats until Stephanie Cutter used a bad sentence, NOW THIS IS ALL TOO REAL. GO SUNDAY MORNING POLITICAL MEDIA.

Axelrod notes that the conversation suddenly shifted from a serious dicussion to a stupid one -- but then undercuts his own point by yelling at Romney for politicizing it, and stuffing the 47% remarks in there, for no reason.

Chris Wallace is gonna get all umbraged up over it, and mischaracterizes Axelrod's remarks. Axelrod says that Chris Stevens' father lamented that his son's death was being politicized, and that "we should all follow his lead." Wallace goes high-snippy-dippy-dudgeon, asking, "Are you saying we can't discuss this?" Axelrod wasn't saying that, dude. And anyway, he has been having a discussion with you for ten minutes. He was merely saying that Steven's dad regrets the politicization of these deaths, not the reporting and larger security discussion. Axelrod says that Romney was "cravenly trying to exploit this." But that's what we do, in America, cravenly exploit things.

The discussion moves to debate prep for Tuesday, because we need to squeeze in some more fluffy process crap so whatever substance we we got in the first part is watered down. Hey, guess what, David Axelrod thinks Obama will be prepared for the debate, and that it will be "interesting." That settles the matter of whether Axelrod thinks the president is a terrible debater or person!

How does Axelrod feel about the shifting poll numbers? "Hasn't Romney made real gains?" Axelrod admits that Romney got some of the Republican independent voters who had lost heart. I'd say that's true. But everyone has got polls to cling to. Axelrod cites a poll from Arizona that has Obama up to that, I'm sorry, is such an outlier that someone should bring it some food. He says that 59% of early voters are breaking for Obama. (Doesn't that mean that Election Day voters might break back the other way, though?)

And now, let's get Ed Gillespied. Wallace asks him what Romney is trying to say about Benghazi right now. Gillespie says that "we need to know what went wrong" so that we can protect embassies and consulates going forward. Seems like nothing ever really changes on that front -- we're competent up to a point and then past that point we're vulnerable and so we wring our hands and to some blame-seeking and then move on until the next one happens. I can't recall a time where America did "totally securing our foreign garrisons all over the globe" particularly well, but the cock-ups only really count during an election year, so now we are where we are -- loud horse-race noises pretending to be authentic concern. All the Obama team really wants to do is dodge the worst of it, and all the Romney team really wants to do is end zone dance on it. For actual Americans stationed in high-risk parts of the world, it's KMAG YO-YO, as always.

Gillespie says that the administration is giving a "constantly shifting story," which is true, but it also sounds like he's saying that the administration is giving a "Mitt Romney campaign."

But Gillespie is right when it comes to the fact that there's no real "we" and "they" distinction to be made between the administration and the State Department, and he's got an authentic critique going until it becomes one of our new post-modern "word count" critiques, where it becomes amazingly important that he mentioned the YouTube movie "six times" against no examples of "this was a terrorist attack and I will drink from the skulls of Chris Stevens' killers, BLARGLE."

Wallace keeps asking questions about Mitt Romney's impressions of what Obama is thinking, which is not actually a question of value? "What do you think about the way this guy thought? Does it make you sad? Do you need a glass of milk?" Somehow, Gillespie manages to "dodge the question" to an extent that Wallace gets mad at him for doing so, but that question is simultaneously not worth answering and undodgeable.

Wallace mansplains the question again, and Gillespie just says, "I don't know" and just says that everyone wants answers to outstanding questions.

Wallace moves on to the whole phenomenon of Romney suddenly becoming a moderate. I'm guessing that Gillespie will either dispute this in terms of the movement or dispute this in terms of the moderation, and we can all go home just as cynical as we were earlier this morning. Gillespie says that "Romney's positions don't comport with Obama's attack ads," which is not particularly true but a cagey answer to the question -- just blow up the premise of the inquiry entirely.

But Romney said something about not being familiar with any pending abortion legislation, and yet there is some that he's familiar with, so Wallace wants to know what the deal is? Gillespie actually piles on MORE anti-choice legislation that Romney supports, and briefly even claims that Obamacare provides taxpayer funding for abortion, which, if you'll recall is not true in an epic way. I don't know is Gillespie is just lying or is stupid like a month-old floral arrangement. Probably both, as required by the profession known as "political consultancy."

Gillespie tries to move the conversation to the economy, and Wallace is briefly, like, "No you don't, we're talking about abortion." But the conversation doesn't get any better. So Wallace moves the conversation to Romney's tax plan. Which got the absolute, ever-loving snot kicked out of it this week, by Bloomberg's Josh Barro. Read the whole thing, but here's the part Barro finds to be the most astonishing:

Finally, I would note one item that the Romney campaign does not cite in support of its tax plan: Any analysis actually prepared for the campaign in preparation for announcing the plan in February. You would expect that, in advance of announcing a tax plan, the campaign would commission an analysis to make sure that all of its planks can coexist. Releasing that analysis now would be to the campaign's advantage, helping them put down claims like mine that their math doesn't add up.

Why don't they release that analysis? My guess is because the analysis doesn't exist, and the 20 percent rate cut figure was plucked out of thin air for political reasons without regard to whether it was feasible.

Wallace wants to know "Why is it all right to tell voters about the candy...and not the spinach?" By which he means, Romney is touting the tax plan as a pure delight for everyone under the sun without actually going to the trouble of explaining where the seemingly free lunch forces a cost. Gillespie, sort of cynically, explains that this is how you lock in different voters, and he insists that you can do all the impossible things that Romney's tax plan actually can't do.

Wallace presses on the fact that independent studies tear this tax plan to shreds, but Gillespie keeps right on, and then gets to the "six studies support the plan" line. Wallace jumps on him right off the bat, pointing out that "some of the studies are questionable" and that a few aren't event actually studies. (Barro quips: "The Romney campaign sent over a list of the studies, but they are perhaps more accurately described as 'analyses,' since four of them are blog posts or op-eds. I'm not hating -- I blog for a living -- but I don't generally describe my posts as 'studies.'")

But it's not just that some of them are questionable! It's that ALL OF THEM CONCLUDE THAT ROMNEY'S TAX PLAN IS CRAPOLA ON GRANOLA. Per Barro, who goes through each of them: "None of the analyses do what Romney's campaign says: show that his tax plan is sound."

Gillespie says that they are "very credible." Wallace says that one is a blog post from a former Bush adviser. Then they actually get bogged down in an argument over the American Enterprise Institute's political leanings. They are a right-wing think tank. On most days, Ed Gillespie wakes up and when he hears the words "American Enterprise Institute" he thinks, "Yes, those are my guys, a right-wing think tank, awesome." And when he meets people over at the AEI, he sings the Golden Girls theme song to them, and switches the word "confidant" to "right wing think tank" and yeah, it doesn't scan, but whatever, this is just a guy singing to his pals.

And, of course, there's nothing in all the world that's wrong with being a right-wing think tank. Think tanks exist as a vital part of the white-collar welfare industry for parchy white people who lack the courage to actually make material contributions to society like teaching children math or delivering pizza. This nation is amazing, because in actual countries with actual problems, think tankers would be thrown in ditches.

But yeah, on teevee, Gillespie has to claim they are non-partisan, so, whatever, another one of those things we all pretend to believe in public.

Anyway, Gillespie thinks that this a "big choice" election and that even if Obama "changes his style" he won't be able to "change his policies or his record" in a debate. But, Romney did all of those things, and rather well.

And it is panel time, today with Brit Hume and Bob Woodward and Laura Ingraham and Jeff Zeleny.

Hume says that the race is tight, with Obama a little bit ahead and momentum for Romney that wasn't entirely broken by the vice presidential debate. Dropping bombs of obviousness on the teevee today!

Zeleny says that enthusiasm is growing, visibly, at Romney's rallies, and now more people are stepping up to say they want to affirmatively vote for Romney, and not just vote against Obama. Zeleny says that the double-edged sword to Obama's voters voting early is that the Republicans can use that as a thing to concern-troll the GOP base with.

Looking ahead to the next debate, Ingraham reckons that the town-hall formet favors Obama, and to a certain extent I agree -- my cat just knocked over a potted plant that can out-empathize Romney in a town-hall setting with other human beings. The pitfall, though, is Obama getting baited into challenging Romney, in the direct way that everyone says was lacking in the first debate. First, he can't do what Biden did -- laugh and scoff and eyeroll at Kid Seriouspants. Second, the setting really is all about the ordinary people, finally getting a chance to bounce from the cheap seats down to the dais. And the whole look of the thing, on camera, is big proscenium style theatre, where all acts of aggression look outsized -- remember Gore stepping to Bush in the debate, and how dumb it looked?

But everyone wants Obama to "take it to Romney." I think that's a trap! (What I would do, in a town hall format, is play the role of the cheerful underminer and find a way to include subtle indictments of Romney in my answers with and to the people who ask the questions.)

Woodward says that the race is volatile and can go in either direction. Thanks! He eventually gets to a good point -- Obama can't come to the debate and look like a totally different person, otherwise it looks like "showmanship."

Hume agrees that the President will "do well with being empathetic" with voters, but he isn't sure that he can make up the ground lost in the previous debate. He disagrees with my suggestion of using the conversation with voters to cut at Romney. I'm right and Hume's wrong, no big deal.

Woodward says that the big uncertainty in a town-hall, any questioner could come out with the "killer question." Which doesn't mean that it will happen, because I'm pretty sure that the media will be filtering the questions and anything that really rocks the firmament of our bought-and-paid-for government will be kept far away from the forum.

Zeleny doesn't think that the vice presidential debate will be that memorable. Ingraham essentially says that only Mitt Romney is allowed to smile and laugh and interrupt at debates, and that Biden is history's greatest monster for having done so. (Maybe Romney has existing copyrights on "debate behavior?")

Wallace usually goes from the newsy story of the week to horse-race crap, but this week he's doing the obvious, and going to Libya with the second panel discussion.

Hume reckons, that the whole "we bombed in Benghazi" story is a "significant vulnerability for the president. I think that's true, and if there's anything that's going to mitigate that, it's going to be whether voters are all into foreign policy matters at the moment, and if not, if Romney can make them interested in it. Hume says that the matter is a "two-track" issue: first, an intelligence failure, and second, a cover-up with real "mendacity." The second may be a reach -- from my vantage, it just looks like a lot of floppy-armed flailing. He reckons that the only reason Susan Rice went on teevee on that Sunday, many weeks ago, is because "no one else would do it," but, feh, I've seen Susan Rice on Sundays plenty of times, it's standard-issue.

What does Bob Woodward think about all of this? He says he's "troubled" by the Obama administration and there are "unanswered questions" and fixates on a document that says that they were trying to "normalize security" in Libya and another document that indicates that security in Libya was still pretty touch-and-go. To Woodward's mind, this is puzzling, but I think in just about any event, there's a goal to one day "normalize security." There's a whole war going on in Afghanistan that is all about "normalizing security" on both macro and micro levels. I guess if the first document had read, "Our goal in Libya is to keep it gangsta, forever, and it will never be normal," there wouldn't be a problem.

Libya! I knew from the get-go it was gonna be big trouble! I say in my car at the grocery store parking lot listening to the radio address that layed out what we thought we were trying to do and I was like, "Hey, now. This is some wildly inconsistent stuff, right here," and also, "Sorry Syria and Bahrain, I don't think you are gonna actually be a part of this whole 'protect people from getting slaughtered' thing and I guess poo on you guys for not making it a lot easier for us to intervene." But the jokes on me, because, "easy?" LOL, where did I come up with that! But I'm more interested in how dumb ideas get started down the road in the first place than looking for a zazzy cover-up.

Zeleny isn't sure that Libya is going to do much to move people's minds with this much time before the election, because most folks are fixed in their ways. We'll see, though! Romney's whole gamble involves moving a lot of opinion in the last three weeks.

(By the way, the last debate is all foreign policy, so that means more talk about Libya, less talk about Romney's tax plan.)


Today we will have John Heilemann, Liz Marlantes, Nia-Malika Henderson, and Andrew "Panic-Pants" Sullivan joining Chris Matthews to talk about debates and more debates and how awesome Bill Clinton is at doing things that Barack Obama is lousy at doing -- like explaining things to voters in an exciting way and pointing out Romney's inconsistencies, no big deal, why would Obama want to be good at those things?

Hey, that vice president debate was sure exciting, because POW and VOOM and also SHAZAM. But now it's back to Obama versus Romney, and it's KATIE BAR THE DOOR WHENEVER THOSE TWO GET TOGETHER, because behind that door is where we keep all of our beds.

Actually Chris Matthews gets the challenge for Obama pretty right -- he has to point out Romney's detriments in a way that doesn't lead to disagreeable encounters with the actual voters who will be asking the question. He shows a clip of Clinton, "gently disagreeing" with Dole: "I can only tell you that I don't think Senator Dole is too old to be President, it's the age of his ideas that I question." Honey-soaked dagger, basically.

Can Obama do that against an opponent who is "even steven" in the polling? Matthews reckons that Obama needs to be significantly more forceful. I say that's a trap! Obama really should be the Obama that voters liked, to reprove the whole "concept" of Obama -- and that guy was manifestly cool and calm and under control. He wasn't, however, so cool and calm that he was listless and enervating! This is a destination that he needs to arrive at -- not an amount he needs to achieve by averaging levels of energy and aggression in three debate performances. If you go "too cold" and then "too hot" and then "just right" -- that's a 1-2 record.

Heilemann points out the Romney's "etch-a-sketch" moment came at the last moment, and the challenge is that Romney is running from the characterization that he helped Obama make, and it's caught Obama off guard.

Sullivan says that Obama needed to immediately bring up the "47% remarks" and move on from there. He says that now, you tell voters that Romney is sometimes a "severe conservative" and now he's a happy moderate, and you don't know which guy will show up on Inauguration Day. (You can ease the situation considerably by pointing out that Romney, in any event, will have vote or veto powers over policies coming out of the howlingly mad House of Representatives.) Sullivan also says Obama needs to nail him on the tax proposal question -- "What are you hiding? What is the trick?" Again, the final debate is on foreign policy, so it's Tuesday or never for confronting Romney on that.

And I suppose that the argument for directly confronting Romney is: "Tim Pawlenty didn't do it, and where is he now?" (Actually, he's at a really cushy job, so maybe Obama has considered this, only too well!) Meanwhile, the best in-your-face stuff that was directed at Romney came from, Rick Perry, I guess? And that's advantage anyone, facing Governor Back Pain Pills, but Romney didn't even handle it all that well.

Ha, you know what would make Romney just LOSE HIS MINDS all over that stage? If Obama came in and said, "The Romney that showed up for the last debate wasn't the guy I'd gotten to was like he'd been brainwashed." Google "Romney and brainwashed" to see why Mitt would probably void his bowels. The invocation of "brainwashing" would be the lowest of blows -- an absolute dirty crotch punch. But hey, Paul Ryan threw car accidents at Joe Biden, so heck -- let's take the gloves off, for our entertainment.

Henderson points out that Obama isn't always that great empathizing with people, but, like Ingraham noted, he is up against maybe the one person in the world that ameliorates that disadvantage.

What do you do with the whole teevee split screen? Matthews reckons that if you can't smile like you are happy to be there or look down because you are taking notes, what does that leave? Sullivan says you "stare the guy down." Again, not sure that's possible in a town hall debate! Don't follow Romney around, staring at him! That is called "making it weird." (Henderson, pointing out Gore's moment of personal space invasion, recommends against "making it weird.")

Matthews wraps things back around to the content of the debate. Biden opened up some distinction between the two tickets on abortion. Does that create opportunities? Marlantes says it does, because there is no "center" on the issue, and that you are either on one side or the other. Totally not true! How many people are like Biden -- personally against abortion but unwilling to impose that on other people. Part of the problem with the media's construction of this issue as "pro-life" versus "pro-choice" is that they have opted to depict these two concepts as mutually exclusive, when they aren't. If there was a group of people going around to maternity awards to convince women to not have babies, then we would have two diametrically opposed groups to evaluate.

Also, my whole "I do not have a uterus and thus I shall defer material decisions that need to be made about uteruses to the people who have them" position is a pretty centrist one if society would just let me have it.

Heilemann says that the "center" is Clinton's "safe, legal, and rare," but that's not the center, either, that is just "can't we imagine a world where nobody cares about this issue because we've limited it so much that we all let it slide?" Marlantes says that the whole "legal" part is where the conflict is, but actually, the "safe" and "rare" parts are too. You'll note that when they came up with the "Plan B" pill, which is not an abortifacient and actually prevents conception, anti-choice conservatives didn't say, "Sweet! Good work science! You solved the problem!" No, they freaked out anew, because the real issue here is being against non-procreative sex.

Actually, let me check that. The issue is being against women, and only women, having non-procreative sex, because you don't see anyone out protesting all the super-duper pills and powders and salves and extracts and poultices that let grey and dessicated old men continue to spray their dusty old baby-batter remnants hither and yon, up as many vaginas as they like. The world seriously does not need septuagenarians procreating, and no one event pretends that pharmaceutical bonerjuice is about making babies. It's pretty hard to square the whole "old men can but women can't and also no gay stuff" circle, but presumably the idea is that women are just always in a lose-lose situation, policy-wise.

But I digress! Matthews asked his pals if Obama could have "played his post-Denver hand better," and nearly everyone said, emphatically yes despite the fact that the question doesn't, strictly speaking, make a lot of sense. But, okay, Heilemann says that Obama made way too big a deal over the whole Big Bird thing and I totally agree with that. "Don't run your political campaign based on what dumb internet memes are breaking in the twenty-second attention span of social media, dumbasses," is the first chapter of my book on how to run a political campaign. It is just that sentence, repeated over and over again for twenty-five pages, ending with a phone number where you can reach me so that I can come over to your office and punch you in the face as many times as are needed to make it sink in.

Heilemann says that Obama has better prepare for the "disappointed Obama voter" to show up at the debate, because he doesn't handle that voter very well.

Sullivan says he wants to passionately defend his record, but I think that maybe Sullivan likes that record really more than most people? Like there's always that one guy who wants to passionately defend Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Starlight Express" and you are just like, NO NO MAKE IT STOP I NEVER ASKED ANYONE FOR DUDES ON ROLLERSKATES PRETENDING TO BE FREIGHT TRAINS.

Has Romney and Ryan established themselves as being "presidential enough?" Everyone says yes. Ha, so, even though Sullivan spent the better part of the first part of this show calling Romney a rank fraud and a liar, he nevertheless thinks that Romney has "crossed the threshold for being a President." That tells you all you need to know about why American politics is such a bag of rot, circa 2012.

Now they are showing a clip from DOCTOR STRANGELOVE, which is great, because that is a fantastic movie.

Moving on to a discussion of Bill Clinton and how awesome he is at "making the case" for Obama that Obama doesn't seem to be capable of making. (In fairness, it's really easy to be a Romney critic in public when you actually do not have anything personally at stake.)

Props to John Heilemann for using the word "objurgation" in a New York Magazine piece. He points out that Clinton's legacy is now wrapped around Obama -- I guess that's where the stakes are -- Obama has moved from being the "alternative brand to Clinton" to the "inheritor of Clintonism" and, perhaps, the guy who sets up his wife's campaign. (He might force Hillary into the 2016 race a lot faster if he loses, though, because the Democrats have no talent in their cupboard in terms of people with presidential timber.)

Marlantes has to be a total buzzkill by saying, guys, Bill Clinton is just a surrogate, he cannot do all that much. True.

Sullivan says it's a miracle that Obama and the Clintons have put their rivalries in the past and demonstrated a lot of emotional maturity. It's too bad that you cannot create jobs out of emotional maturity, because then, I would give a crap about that.

What things does Chris Matthews not know this week? Heilemann says he doesn't know that Clinton still hasn't done a joint campaign event with Obama, but there's time reserved in the home stretch to do them and they will do them a lot -- you know, when it will almost certainly be too late to do anything. Liz Marlantes says that Matthews has been thus far unaware about the fact that the early votes are so far breaking for Democrats but both sides are doing better than they did last year. Henderson says that Matthews has been totally clueless about the fact that Julian Castro and Deval Patrick are doing a ton of events for Obama. Sullivan says Matthews has totally missed the boat on the real question that hasn't been asked at the debates, and that's "Which of George W. Bush's policies do you disagree with?"

He intends that to be asked of Romney, because the answer would be "nothing." Though if they asked Obama, he clearly wouldn't be able to say, "I disagree with him on the matter of using expanded executive power to carry out extra-judicial killings and inprisonment and also waging limitless war unchecked by the peoples' representatives or the realities of budgets!"

Matthews wants to know if the Obama administration "put the whole matter of Libya to rest." What, huh? How do you do that, exactly? Heilemann says "they are certainly going to try." Marlantes says the "drumbeat will continue" and Biden's answer was "the worst moment of the debate." Henderson says Romney will continue to start all conversations with Libya, so good luck putting it to rest. Sullivan says that "the key difference between the two candidates is that one candidate will strive to keep us out of war in the Middle East, and the other will hand over the keys to Bibi Netanyahu to launch a new global war." Well...if attacking a bunch of Yemenis, bad guys or no, with drones isn't a "new war in the Middle East," then I don't know what a "new war in the Middle East" is, clearly. And if you've concluded that ol' Risk-Averse Romney -- who has the exact same policy on Iran as Obama, except all those things he "puts on the table" are put there REALLY LOUD AND HARD, BECAUSE BLAAARGH, TABLE! -- has the actual balls to start a war on his own, then you have a more powerful electron microscope than I do, and congratulations. I guess it could all work out that way, but Sullivan's really glibly premature about it, I think.


Yep, George Stephanopoulos has yet another "well-deserved day off" because really, who works anymore at the teevee show that has your name in the title, that's cray. It works to our potential advantage, because Jake Tapper is here, and he actually knows some things about our global military entanglements, and won't just stare at a map of Libya and ask it, "What about your gaffes?"

On the other hand, the show today looks like it will largely deal with debate bullcrap, and we'll have Rob "You Would Be Winning Ohio Right Now If You'd Picked Me As Your Running Mate" Portman and Beau "I Wonder What He's Going To Think Of The Performance of Joe Biden" Biden doing the surrogate thing.

Rob Portman, who has been playing Obama in the debate prep, figures that Obama will be "coming out swinging" in the debate because he's so negative and totally mischaracterizing Romney's positions.

Tapper, citing Ryan's claim that increased unemployment is what's "going on all around America," asks Portman why Ryan would say this, "in defiance of facts." Of course, asking the Romney campaign why they do anything in defiance of facts has a simple answer: because it works. And lo, right on cue, Portman says, "Unemployment is higher today than when Obama took office." Nooope. Not a fact. But if people believe it, who needs to have the facts on your side?

What's kind of amazing about this is that from the very get-go, the Romney campaign admitted that they were going to get down to the business of lying early and often. They jumped into the campaign by stripping words that John McCain had said four years ago, and making it look like Obama said them this year -- exploiting the simple fact that Obama has dared to relate McCain's comments to an audience on the 2008 stump.
The media was actually pretty quick to point out it was a lie. They were actually ahead of the Politifact entry, cited above, on pointing out just how brazen a deception is was. But right from that beginning, the Romney campaign waggled their finger at the media and said, essentially, just so you know, we do not give a flying frack about your adorable efforts to apply the convention of truth to us. Here are the actual comments:

“First of all, ads are propaganda by definition. We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business…. Ads are agitprop…. Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing. It’s ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context…. All ads do that. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.”

It's the one think they've been consistent on, and it works for them because from the very beginning, they made it clear that they were going to deceive with real brass balls, big as the swing of Tiger Woods. The Romney hits foul balls into the deep outfield seats, and then just rounds the bases and calls it a homer, laughing at the umps who tell them otherwise. I sort of envy them, it must feel amazing to be able to disassociate yourself from moral conventions so completely. It must make you feel fifty feet tall.

And what can I say, it works! It is almost campy in its obvious silliness, but it works. Look at Portman go! Portman says the Obama administration has created "net zero jobs." This is an extravagant falsehood! He is going out of his way to just troll the fact-check industry. Portman is pissing on Tapper's leg and calling it rain, in front of the whole world, and homey just don't give a f--k. Tapper, whose senses must be straight-up dulled into icy numbness by the astounding flamboyance of Portman's fandangle, doesn't even say a word about the two titanic lies that were just sent up his snooze-hole.

Oh, no. Some very sad news to report today -- Arlen Specter has died. I wish only the best for all of the loved ones he has left behind today. I know that this liveblog has a running joke of saying that the lovely Ms. Arlen Gargagliano was America's greatest Arlen -- but I want to make it clear that Mr. Specter should be remembered with fondness and I extend my own condolences to those who knew him.

We move to the Benghazi attacks. Tapper tells Portman that Chris Stevens' father said that it "would be really abhorrent" to make his son's death "part of a campaign issue" and asks if that gives the Romney campaign pause? The short answer is, of course not, and Portman equates the Romney campaign's politicization of the matter with Tapper's own investigative reporting on the matter.

Tapper presses on China next, asking Portman if Romney can continue to take some "get tough" pose with China, even as he continues to profit from enterprises in China. Portman says, "That is something that we should re-think, because you are right Jake, that is an obvious hypocrisy and the country deserves better."

Ha, kidding. Portman says there is "no disconnect at all!" We need more trade, he says, and says the Obama administration has not negotiated a single trade agreement. One million percent wrong, again, but sweet sassy molassey, you just have to watch Portman perform today. He is just trolling objective reality in its entirety, right now; that is a whopper so dense that light cannot escape from it.

Last question, on Ohio polling. Obama is in the lead, 51-45%. Can Romney win the presidency without Ohio? Portman is pretty sure Romney will win Ohio, but he says, "I wouldn't want to risk it."

Beau Biden is up next. I hope that one of the questions is not, "Who won this week's debate?"

Tapper says that "some say" that Beau's father's behavior during the debate was bad because it contained sarcastic laughter and eyerolling. I don't know what else you are supposed to do, at Paul Ryan, though. I have actually needed to get reading glasses, because eyerolling at Ryan continuously has put enormous strain on them.

Beau Biden, also smiles in the face of obvious nonsense, and says he's happy to defend his dad, pointing out that if the other side is complaining about smiles the day after the debate, then they must not have a whole lot to say about their own guy's performance.

Tapper asks for clarity on the whole "removing troop vis a vis the 'fighting season'" thing, pointing out that the generals in Afghanistan generally prefer to not draw down during a "fighting season," because, you know, fighting season is all right for fighting. Biden (fils) says, "The point that I heard and the American people heard is that you heard my father clearly articulate that we wouldn’t have forces in Afghanistan by 2014...and you’ve seen here the congressman equivocate on that, in fact, not be willing to guarantee the American people that we wouldn’t have forces in Afghanistan.”

On Libya, Biden (fils) says that when his father said, "We weren't told" about the requests for additional security in Benghazi, that "we" refers to "himself and the President." That's still really sort of dumb and weird sounding, sorry. At this stage, it would be more credible to just literally lay out everything that everybody knew about this from start to finish. One of the big lessons you learn from Neil Barofsky's book, "Bailout" is that the best way to have the press on your side when you need them to stand up for the truth of what you are saying is to go right to them, and truthfully tell them, "This, right here, was our cock-up. Let me tell you all about it."

Biden (fils) continues: “You know, I've served with and know and have personal friends who in the Foreign Service as we speak...And the idea that Romney and Ryan are suggesting that the president of the United States doesn't take seriously the security of our diplomats and Foreign Service officers around the world, I find absolutely outrageous, especially outrageous coming from the congressman, who in his budget proposed to cut diplomatic security by $200 million to $300 million.”

The case for "budget cuts are the cause of this security problem" is not particularly well-founded. But, hey, after Rob Portman's performance, I almost want to say, "Beau Biden, go get some."

Oh, lord, did the force of Rob Portman's lying put me into a coma for an hour that I did not notice? I can't believe I am still liveblogging. I am going to breeze through this super panel discussion without TiVo pausing.

On the panel today is Martha Raddatz and George Will and Newt Gingrich and Chris Dodd and Donna Brazile and some historian dude named Richard Norton Smith. The topic is "do debates really matter?" Well, they had bloody well better if I am going to watch a panel discussion on the topic.

First there is a montage, because that's what ABC News does now, montages, and not the funny ones that everyone likes. Suffice it to say that this montage does a great job explaining the presidential debates have happened for a long time, and also happening for a long time is a discussion as to whether debates actually matter. This snake will keep eating its own tail forever.

Will says that "we make too big a deal" about debates, in some ways, but in other ways we do not make a big enough deal about them. They are "semi-constitutional events." It is "plausible to say" they make a difference, unless it turns out they do not make a difference.

Brazile says that the debates she helped Al Gore prepare for are...well, something she remembers? And they do matter, because maybe people are tuning into the debates as the first thing they do to meet the candidates, and you learn I guess, what their names are, or if they have a weird birthmark or something.

Gingrich says that what he learned from debating Romney is that he wins the "life-or-death debates," and that he was surprised that Obama was so "startlingly empty" and that made the "matchup extraordinary." He then trolls the historian with a bunch of historical references. Bottom line, though, is that Romney "got himself back into contention in one night" and if Romney has been bad, the election would be over.

Dodd is reminded of the one time he did something in a debate that anyone remembers, taking on Hillary Clinton over drivers' licences for undocumented immigrants. Dodd says that the primary debates are different from the presidential debates, because you no longer have to "check boxes," and instead demonstrate that you have the character and the emotional foundation to appear "presidential." Dodd says that Obama is totally talented, and he was three more hours of debating to demonstrate it, so you shouldn't declare the election over. And yeah, dude, that is I think the one lesson we all agree has been learned.

Historian dude says that social media has tranformed the way we share and experience the debates. We have more "intermediaries interpreting what we see" and now debates are pop-cultural events, that we offer insta-analysis of ourselves, on Twitter and crap like that.

Martha Raddatz studied a lot of debates and learned that the candidates really work to get a consistent message through for ninety minutes, and trying to work in all the things they want to say.

Will says that the most consequential debates were the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which is a very popular thing to say, but they were media drenched crapshows that rivaled our own reality shows, with each candidate's purchased-media declaring their guy the winner and the other guy history's greatest monster. We remember those much too fondly.

Gingrich says that character and nature of the person matters in the debate, and it gives you a different sense of the man than you may know from the way the campaigns tend to distort and caricature the candidates. Gingrich, by the way, rarely disproves his caricature while debating.

Will wants to know what things would be like if the candidates could do like the Lincoln-Douglas debates were, with a one hour monologue followed by a ninety-minute monologue, followed by a thirty-minute rebuttal to the ninety-minute monologue. And the answer, of course, is that this prospect sounds horrifying.

ABC News asked a lot of people at home about whether the debates changed their mind. Some people say it totally does. Some people say they totally don't. A few people told ABC News that Romney's performance switched their vote from Obama to Romney -- presumably these conversions have been confirmed by ABC News' team of oneironaut reporters, who traveled into these respondent's dreams to ensure that they weren't just responses offered up by campaign sockpuppets.

So, panel? Do debates matter?

Dodd: "Maybe." [More blather.]

Gingrich: "If Obama screws up again he is in trouble." [More blather.]

Historian Dude: "I think we've established they matter. But they should stretch out the time period in which they occur." [More blather.]

Will: "They matter, and I don't think Newt Gingrich's blather was the best blather we could have had." [More blather.]

Raddatz: "Or maybe stretching out the time period in which they occur is a terrible idea. But yeah, I guess they matter. Even though the debates feature people saying things that aren't true." [More blather.]

Brazile: "The Democrats should stop factchecking the Republicans every time they open their mouth and just tell America about where they want to take the country."

It surely does seem like pointing out lies is a largely hopeless exercise after watching this show, doesn't it? Anyway, I am declaring an end to this, before I lose consciousness. It won't be much longer until the election has come and one and we can get to the month long circular firing squad to which the losing side will submit itself. In the meanwhile, try to have a nice Sunday, and we'll be back here on Sunday unless a comet hits us or something. Have a great week.

[And while you wait for next Sunday, you can check out my Rebel Mouse page throughout the week for entertaining reads.]