The battle of surrogates is a very, very lame one, between Duck Durbin and Lindsay Graham, aka Chuck Schumer's Roommate and Jowly Dave Foley. Shucksy and Emo. Both men have got two flags behind them -- makes you wonder if they mean it anymore. There is plenty of room for more flags, guys!
So, some breaking news: according to the New York Times, "The United States and Iran have agreed for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, according to Obama administration officials, setting the stage for what could be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran." The White House has been all, "We haven't agreed per se." And Iran is like, "Dude, could you at least help up defrost this fridge?" And the White House is all, "Dude, is that yellowcake in that fridge?" And Iran is like, "Oh, man, I don't know, I am so highright now." Or something. Some suddenly breaking diplomatic stuff.
What does Graham think about having one-on-one talks with Iran? Do you even have to ask? Dude is one of the Three Horsemen Of The Warpocalypse. He reckons the Iranians are trying to take advantage of this being an election year to try the get what they want, which, by the way, is as American as apple pie. At any rate, Graham says that "the time for talking is over" and we need "transparency."
"They are trying to continue a dialogue using our election cycle...I hope we don't take the bait," he says. He also restates the belief that we should have done more during the post-election uprisings in Iran, because Graham doesn't understand that had we done more, a whole lot more Iranian citizens would have been killed and jailed. Or maybe he does understand that. Iranians: isn't that really an abstract concept.
Durbin touts all of the sanctions and the impact they are having on Iranian currency and the unrest they are causing (because the Iranian people are suffering that way, too...tell you what, those folks cannot win). He says that a contingent of allies have been pressuring Iran to come to the table to talk. (This is presumably not the same table that has all the stuff on it that's supposed to deter the Iranians from enriching uranium and building a nuclear weapon.)
Wallace wants to know why we can't just continue to have talks with Iran in the "P5+1" arrangement (that's China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) instead of one-on-one talks. Maybe "American exceptionalism," Chris? Also, if late night teevee commercials teach us anything, one-on-one talks are much hotter, and you meet more "young women" who are "ready to party" and have "no inhibitions." Durbin says that "there are many options" and "one is not better then the other" but if we can meet and talk in any event, it will be a boost for peace.
Graham interjects, saying, "if the purpose of sanctions is to stop the Iranians from building a nuclear program...it's been a miserable failure." He says the talk needs to stop (he treats the "talking" as a "sanction" -- and there's some merit to that, considering having to listen to Lindsay Graham on a Sunday morning is a punishment that makes me want to enrich uranium) and that we need red lines (we have them) and "end this before it gets out of hand" (bomb Iran now).
Moving now to the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, a magic event that is amazingly confirming everyone's story about everybody else. Graham says that it will "be a case study of security breakdown" and "failed presidential leadership" because the consulate was a "death trap" that should have been "closed long before September 11th." Durbin, obviously, feels the opposite, and describes a State Department conducting a comprehensive investigation. He goes on to say that the world is a dangerous place and Americans participating in its sketchier corners face dangers, like, remember the attacks on the barracks in Beirut, Ronald Reagan, etc.
He goes on to characterize Darrell Issa's "document dump" (Issa, you might recall, suddenly cares deeply about the safety of our diplomats) as misguided and politically motivated. Graham whines that this is not true and complains for the umpteenth time about the White House and the media and insists that this attack is a world-historical event of dynamic proportions, comparable to the Battle of Kolubara.
I am not actually sure we have lawmakers who authentically care about American military losses beyond what they can provide to their electoral careers, and we are reminded of that on many Sundays. (On the other Sundays, we learn that there are no lawmakers who are authentically concerned with the unemployed, beyond what they can provide to their electoral careers.)
Now we will spend some time litigating what words President Obama used when, as if this was a matter of importance. Fox News Sunday treats the matter as a matter of comedy, with a jokey "fast forward" effect on the clip of the Rose Garden speech. I appreciate the fact that no one is even attempting to mine any serious thought from this story anymore.
"We did it that way to show that there was a gap between various things the President was discussing," says Wallace. YOU MUST IMPEACH, THEN!
Anyway, Graham says that the administration "does not want to admit it was an al Qaeda attack." But that's probably a good thing, considering that the most current report finds that there was no evidence al Qaeda was involved. And, of course, you should take that with a grain of salt, too, because investigating these sorts of things takes a long time, too long for our "jump around with our hair on fire" newscycle.
David Kirkpatrick's story on the matter got the most appropriate headline of all time, in fact: "Election-Year Stakes Overshadow Nuances of Libya Investigation." Kirkpatrick endeavors to get a lot of that nuance back:
To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video. That is what the fighters said at the time, speaking emotionally of their anger at the video without mentioning Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or the terrorist strikes of 11 years earlier. And it is an explanation that tracks with their history as members of a local militant group determined to protect Libya from Western influence.
“It was the Ansar al-Shariah people,” said Mohamed Bishari, 20, a neighbor of the compound who watched the assault and described the brigade he saw leading the attack. “There was no protest or anything of that sort.”
United States intelligence agencies have reserved final judgment pending a full investigation, leaving open the possibility that anger at the video might have provided an opportunity for militants who already harbored anti-American feelings. But so far the intelligence assessments appear to square largely with local accounts. Whether the attackers are labeled “Al Qaeda cells” or “aligned with Al Qaeda,” as Republicans have suggested, depends on whether that label can be used as a generic term for a broad spectrum of Islamist militants, encompassing groups like Ansar al-Shariah whose goals were primarily local, as well as those who aspire to join a broader jihad against the West.
And so on and so forth, read the whole thing, because largely, this is the account from which each political side is going to cherry-pick the elements of their argument, at the expense of wholly informing the nation about what happens.
Durbin cites a David Ignatius story:
“Talking points” prepared by the CIA on Sept. 15, the same day that Rice taped three television appearances, support her description of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate as a reaction to Arab anger about an anti-Muslim video prepared in the United States. According to the CIA account, “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex. There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations.”
The CIA document went on: “This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.” This may sound like self-protective boilerplate, but it reflects the analysts’ genuine problem interpreting fragments of intercepted conversation, video surveillance and source reports.
The most important sentence there is: “This assessment may change as additional information is collected and analyzed and as currently available information continues to be evaluated.” It is really, too bad, that election year politics really make it impossible for people to do all the shutting up they really should be doing. As Richard Clarke recently pointed out, when these things happen, people are wrong about how and why they happened for a long, long time, until they are finally not wrong anymore:
In the case of TWA 800, the FBI thought for months that it had been shot down by a missile, only to learn much later that it was a maintenance problem that caused the fuel tank to explode. When the destroyer Cole was attacked in Yemen, it took the CIA director weeks to decide that the attackers were from Al Qaeda . The Iranian hand in the attack on the U.S. Air Force barracks at Khobar, Saudi Arabia, did not emerge for months.
News media and members of Congress may want instant answers when something explodes, when Americans die, but national security professionals know that “first reports are always wrong.”
Durbin, naturally, disagrees that Obama's foreign policy is a failure. He cites the successful end of the Iraq War, for example, though that is actually something that President Bush did by negotiating a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government that Obama simply held to (though, admittedly there was pressure on Obama to find some way to convince the Iraqis to change the agreement or otherwise abrogate it so that our military could remain). He also says Obama is ending the War in Afghanistan, which is something I will believe when I see it for myself, presuming I will still be alive.
Durbin saying nice things about Obama's foreign policy makes Graham super upset, so he seethes, silently, on his side of the screen. Wallace returns to the question of who used what words when, thus derailing the last hope that something of value or substance could be mined from this discussion.
Graham concludes the discussion by cherrypicking the stuff from the known account of the attack, and filling in the gaps with stuff from his imagination, before going on a long aria about how the "whole region is falling apart" and, you know, time to get to bombing.
Now, Wallace is going to talk to the dude who runs the Gallup polling organization, Frank Newport. Remember, for best results when discussing polling, start with our own Mark Blumenthal.
How does Newport explain the fact that Gallup is showing different results than all the other national tracking polls? He says there are many explanations, and he spends a lot of time looking at their own methodology, and in the current seven-day spread, their methodology says the race is in a different place then all the other national polls.
The Obama campaign has been complaining about Gallup's methodology, and this does not surprise Newport, who insists he does not have "deep flaws," but is nevertheless always "tweaking" his "extremely solid" methodology.
Wallace says, "Let's get into the weeds." Sigh, okay. What about the argument that peak events in the campaign are magnifying partisan enthusiasm beyond the appropriate level, thus impacting the "likely voter" screen. Newport says that they use seven questions to determine "likely voters," which are "certainly susceptible to events in the environment" -- "but that's the whole idea," Newport says.
The "other big controversy," Wallace says, is how much they weight their sample by party. "We do not weight by party at all, we never have and we never will."
Where does Newport see the race going? "We don't make predictions," he says. "Right now, I wouldn't predict, we have two weeks to go and big debate tomorrow night." Wallace asks how solid is the Romney's lead in the LV screen, when considered against history. Newport says, "Well, not solid at all, in the sense that things can change."
Basically, either all the other polls will revert to Gallup, at some point, or Gallup will revert to wherever everyone else is. Or neither of these things will happen! Romney could be up fifteen, or maybe Obama is going to win Arizona!
Do you want some practical advice on what to do when you are confronted by any individual polling result, national or state-wide? Here's Jonathan Bernstein: "Ignore it, and look at the polling averages." (They suggest that the race will be insanely close, sorry!)
Time to lather in panel blather, and today we have Brit Hume, Liz Marlantes, Bill Kristol, and Juan Williams.
On the matter of the U.S.-Iran attacks, Hume says that he "doesn't know what to make of it," because the New York Times' report suggested it was a done deal, and the White House says that it's not. Is it a boost for Obama, though? Marlantes says that "it will give him a talking point" but she doubts he'll tout it as a "breakthrough." The point, though, is that Obama is trying to cast himself as the candidate least likely to take us to war in Iran, though there is not a super-discernible amount of difference between the two men on Iran. "It helps Obama flesh out his argument," she says.
On Libya, Wallace asks if the President can fairly be held responsible for security breakdowns in Benghazi. Kristol goes on a long monologue that basically equates to "Yes, of course" -- though I expect this standard to be withdrawn if Kristol gets a president he likes. Williams says that, in realistic terms, requests for additional security at embassies are not going to actually make it to the desks of the Secretary of State or the President. Which is, of course, true, but ultimately they are responsible for what decisions get made at everybody's desks.
Williams also points out that the security requests that were made dealt with the embassy in Tripoli, not the consulate in Benghazi, and that they are two different cities, in two different places. He also argues that the security upgrades that were requested would not have been sufficient to repel the attacks, but Hume rightly points out that the additional upgrades may have been sufficient to the task of keeping Chris Stevens alive.
Hume complains that the on-the-ground assumption that the people of Benghazi were "friendlies" was tragically wrong. Good point! Now let's review: they hate us in Iraq and Pakistan and Afghanistan, too.
We move to the recent reports that the CIA initially determined that the Benghazi attacks "were spontaneously inspired by the protests...in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault on the US consulate." That comports to the on-the-ground accounts reported by the Los Angeles Times. "Does that get Ambassador Rice off the hook?" Wallace asks. Marlantes...oh, she just spits a bunch of word salad about every other topic at hand. Wallace redirects the question to Kristol, who says, "Not really, it doesn't get the administration off the hook" and complains about the emphasis on the anti-Muslim video. (Remember, per the L.A. Times: "To Libyans who witnessed the assault and know the attackers, there is little doubt what occurred: a well-known group of local Islamist militants struck the United States Mission without any warning or protest, and they did it in retaliation for the video.")
Hume says that the CIA talking points are "inexplicable" because the "State Department knew in real time what was happening" (did they? what does that even mean?) and thus "had to have known there was no protest such as those spoken of in those CIA talking points, that they whole thing was inconsistent with what the State Department knew." What Hume is attempting to say here is that the CIA spoke about protests, and the State Department knew that there was no protest in Benghazi. But CIA never said there was, they simply said that protests at other embassies (which the State Department, in real time, knew about) were seen, by miltants in Benghazi, as a convenient backdrop to attacks they wanted to carry out, but hadn't picked a time to do them. (This is how something can be "pre-planned" and "spontaneous," by the way.)
What will be the impact of tomorrow night's debate? Williams figures that the second debate may have stopped Obama's free-fall, but at this point, the ground game and advertising and swing-state activities, are more important than debates.
There is generic discussion of the electoral college. Hume wonders if Romney will get his "surge" in the polls will break down Obama's swing-state firewall. That is what everyone else is wondering, too. At any rate, the most important states are Iowa, Ohio, and Nevada. Perhaps Wisconsin. The good news is that if you live in almost every other state, the election is essentially over and you will hopefully be able to watch teevee without being besieged with attack ads.
Kristol makes a good point about the foreign policy debate -- the content under discussion is not the sort of "checklist" content that can pull a voter to or from a candidate. As in, you either support abortion rights or you don't. You are for gun control or you aren't. Rather, they are broad philosophical discussions of America's place in the world and how we will maintain it. He recommends that Romney do less prosecuting of the Obama administration, and more talking about his ideas. For example, he further recommends that if Libya comes up, lay off a lengthy indictment of the Obama administration, in favor of an explanation of what he will do in the region for the next four years.
Williams would advise Obama to demonstrate that he has a greater depth of knowledge on the topic of foreign policy and shine a light on Romney's deficits. He also must somehow "engage young people and women," and to do that he must suggest that Romney is going to march us off into another war. Kristol says that Ronald Reagan responded to those accusations with aplomb. Is Romney up to Reagan levels of debating? I guess we are going to find out.
THIS WEEK WITH AN ABC NEWS PROFESSIONAL OF SOME KIND
Hooray, George Stephanopoulos has actually showed up for work today, and he will manage a battle of surrogates between Rahm Emanuel and Marco Rubio. There will also be panel plather from Ralph Reed and Matt Dowd and Van Jones and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Greta Van Susteren.
We begin however, with Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago and erstwhile Obama staffer. Is he worried that the race is "slipping away" from Obama. No, he is not, and hey, here are some campaign talking points, that he will throw in for free. He says that "everybody knew this was going to be a tight race about seven times" for the benefit of all the people who I guess did not know that.
But what would Obama do in the second term? Rahm says that Obama would "bring troops home" and "battle for America's future at home," which presumably involves fewer roadside bombs, but perhaps more roads falling into disrepair. The "most important thing," he says, is that Obama will "invest in America" as opposed to Romney's plan to, I guess, do Bush stuff. In essence, the discussion of the future, between the two candidates, is a battle between Obama's "lessons of the past" platitudes and Romney's "I can't tell you what I'm going to do until you elect me, just trust me, okay" plans.
GSteph keeps prodding, and gets little more than Rahm's latest variation on the "we inherited a terrible mess but we're making steady progress" theme. Obama will move things "forward" (TM) and Romney will "go back."
GSteph moves the discussion to the Benghazi attacks, and asks Rahm if Obama will explain "who rejected the requests for more security and why" at the next debate. Rahn says that he has worked "at both sides" of the discussion -- in the Oval Office, where Obama is making awesome decisions to totally kill the bad guys on his "kill list," and on Capitol Hill, where oversight committees have the responsibility to get things right and not "release a bunch of names that put people at risk" like Darrell Issa did, in a "reckless" fashion. (Having a private "kill list" is not "reckless," I guess?)
GSteph moves to the reports on talks with Iran, and asks Rahm if he imagines that Iran is really ready to have talks, or if they are claiming to be ready simply as a stalling tactic. Rahm says that we need to take a "step back." Why? Because he wants to point out that thanks to Obama's "steady, dogged, and determined leadership" the U.S. has gone from being "isolated" on Iran, to having a bunch of supercool internation pals to hang out and be at odds with Iran, too. Also, we have "withering sanctions" in place, that are having a "political impact."
So are these talks a delaying tactic or legitimate? "That's not for me to say," Rahm says, preferring to emphasize that the world opinion has shifted to a critical stance on Iran. "The tables have been turned," Rahm says. Hopefully those tables were turned slowly if they were the same tables on which we are always putting out "deter Iran" stuff, because what if we spun it too quickly and something landed in the living room? The cat might stumble upon it, start playing with it, and push it under the sofa, along with the rest of the cat's toys. And then Lindsay Graham will be all, "Where is that war with Iran I put on the table? Who took it off the table?"
Let's get Marco Rubio, to offer some counter-blather, shall we? Rubio says that "investing in America" sounds like "a lot of spending," and that Obama has "given up" on providing an agenda for the future, maybe because any specific agenda will be reduced by Obama's opponents as merely "a bunch of spending?"
GSteph points out that Florida governor Rick Scott has been touting Florida's economic comeback and asks if Scott is "making Obama's case in Florida?" Rubio says this is not the case, that Obama has nothing to do with Florida's progress, and that Florida's progress will be super-cool awesome if Rick Scott got to work with Romney. Scott is trying to make that partnership happen, by purging the Florida voter rolls of Democrats.
GSteph shows Rubio a clip of Obama ridiculing Romney, with the word "Romnesia." Rubio denies that the term "Romnesia" is an effective way of portraying contemporary arguments in American politics, you would be surprised to learn. I was holding out hope that he would say, "Wow, I never thought about it like that. I guess I am going to quit my job and take up quilting."
But GSteph was specifically alluding to Romney's struggles to keep abreast of his constantly shifting memories of supporting or not supporting the Lily Ledbetter Act. Rubio says, "I think anyone who is working out there any making a living -- if you're the most qualified person for the job, you should be able to get paid, you should get paid as much as your male counterpart." He adds, however, "Everyone agrees with that principle." This is not actually true. If it were true, then there wouldn't be the need for this thing called the "Lily Ledbetter Act."
Rubio goes on: "Just because they call a piece of legislation an equal pay bill doesn't make it so...In fact, much of this legislation is, in many respects, nothing but an effort to help trial lawyers collect their fees and file lawsuits, which may not contribute at all whatsoever to increasing pay equity in the workplace."
Here's a suggestion for everyone who doesn't want to see more money going to those mean ol' trial lawyers: make sure your pay equity in the workplace game is tight, yo! Respond to the threat of a lawsuit, in advance, by creating a working environment that doesn't feature inequality in pay. Boom! You done solved your problem with trial lawyers. What are those trial lawyers going to do with their Lily Ledbetter law then? The answer: sue people who aren't you! And that's an awesome outcome for your business, because that's probably your competitor, getting pasted, by trial lawyers.
You were basically really smart to just have pay equity in the first place, so congratulations, winner in the game of life!
GSteph asks Rubio about having direct talks with Iran -- Rubio says that the White House, having denied the report, makes it not worth talking about. Romney, he says, opposes armed conflict with Iran in any case other than a last resort. He criticizes the Obama adminstration for not doing more to get America directly involved in the "Green Revolution," thus ensuring the deaths of thousands of additional Iranian dissenters.
Panel time, with the aforementioned panelists, pounding their blather into our faces for the next forty-five minutes.
Dowd reckons that Obama's second debate performance brought some additional enthusiasm to Obama supporters, blunted Romney's momentum, and has given the president a slight advantage. Reed agrees for the most part, but cites statistics that suggest the first debate was a race-altering event that put Romney in the position to win. Wasserman-Schultz reminds that "momentum is determined by turnout" and insists that the Democrats are "well ahead" in early voting -- which means that they might not be well ahead in election night voting?
Van Susteren says that men liked the debate, because there was yelling, but both candidates totally turned off their girlfriends with all that fighting. Jones says that the "base" was "proud to see the President standing up" for himself. "YES, HOORAY, THAT GUY IS MAKING AN EFFORT TONIGHT, AWESOME!" the base said.
Dowd says he is informed by his experience of running Bush's campaign, where Gore's first debate narrowed the election, but Bush's efforts in the subsequent debates were sufficient to hold Gore off. Reid says that the difference between Dowd's recollections and the current electoral environment is that the economy, now, is terrible. Jones counters by saying that "women voters" are "deliberative" and understand that it takes time to clean up the terrible economy. Van Susteren disagrees with that. They argue a little bit. Wasserman-Schultz criticizes "binders full of women," Van Susteren criticizes other people criticizing "binders full of women." The male guests all fight to jump in and start mansplaining to the two female guests what's what, Ralph Reed, an old pro at mansplaining to ladies, wins out, but we bounce to commercial.
We return to a discussion of tomorrow's debate, and what might happen. GSteph replays the second debate's exchange over Benghazi. Van Susteren thinks that Crowley helped Romney because she put the spotlight on Libya -- Crowley was "clumsy" and thus created an environment where we are now just talking about Libya, all the time.
Dowd disagrees, and says that the exchange was Romney's "worst moment," and that Crowley was not clumsy at all, "What Candy Crowley did was laudable." He adds: "Mitt Romney does not want to be talking about Libya. He wants to talk about the economy." Too bad it is a foreign policy debate, tomorrow! Ralph Reed is undeterred: "He will talk about the economy tomorrow night," by taking a circuitous and esoteric trip back to the Cold War and out economic superiority over the Soviet Union. (Reed understands that we still have economic superiority to the nations and criminal organizations and death-cults we are currently fighting, right?)
Wasserman-Schultz argues that the White House is investigating the Benghazi attacks ably, and decries the "politicization of the issue," especially Darrell Issa's document dump. Van Susteren says that the president needs "to be straight" instead of offering so many shifting explanations. She seems to feel that "the President has the information" and could give an address on it. It's actually quite possible -- indeed likely -- that we are several weeks away from knowing precisely what happened and how. I suspect that Van Susteren's standard for immediate, near-omniscient clarity in the aftermath of a chaotic foreign misadventure will not be a standard she'll apply equally to everyone.
Jones attempts to explain the fact that it is a "fluid situation" and that information alters our understanding of what happens as new information becomes available. He then goes on an extended monologue about Obama being a "towering figure" on foreign policy.
Dowd complains that there is "no pause button" and no time for calm reflection and intelligence gathering, and that everyone should probably shut up and stop hyperventilating, because...he offers this example you might have heard of...sometimes you develop an assumption that, say, Iraq has a crap-ton of WMDs and you rush off to way on that assumption and thousands of people die needlessly. So, maybe everyone should give more than two weeks of thought to this.
Reed objects to this, because as near as he can tell, everything is crystal clear to him, so shut up, no PAUSE BUTTON, yargle! (He also objects to Van Jones calling Obama a "towering figure.") Wasserman-Schultz objects to the GOP's "cowboy" foreign policy and their "chest-thumping."
Van Susteren responds to Wasserman-Schultz's call for diplomacy by saying, "We have to be practical, diplomacy costs money." Ha, yes, Greta, everyone knows that there are an abundance of super cost-effective alternatives we could be exploring.
There is a bunch of yelling. A big bunch. Make it stop.
We return to a vague discussion of the electoral college. It is not particularly interesting. Suffice it to say that if a bunch of stuff happens, Obama will win, unless a bunch of different stuff happens, and Romney wins.
Ohio, GSteph says, "is the path to winning the Presidency." Reed says this is true, but Romney will win it. Wasserman-Schultz agrees, except that Obama will win. Jones agrees that Ohio is critical, and that Obama will win it. Reed reiterates that Romney will win Ohio. Maybe no one will win Ohio! Ohio's voters should probably band together and tell everyone they won't vote until their demands are met. (Those demands? The same as the ones in "Dog Day Afternoon.")
MEET THE PRESS
Okay, this Sunday is just becoming so gloriously rote. MEET THE PRESS' Battle of Shouty Surrogates rematches Rubio and Rob Portman against David Axelrod. And contributing to the balloon juice needs of the western world are DeeDee Myers and Tom Friedman and Helene Cooper and Mike Murphy.
Let's get on with it. Gregory asks Rubio about whether Florida is still contestable. He says that "he likes the way Florida is going" and repeats some of the talking points he already offered on "This Week." Suffice it to say, he thinks Romney is awesome, and he supports his electoral efforts.
Gregory asks Rubio about the the New York Times' report on the possibility of one-on-one talks with Iran, and he repeats what he already said on "This Week." Suffice it to say, he thinks Romney is awesome, and supports his foreign policy efforts.
Gregory points out that Romney supports the current sanctions, and accurately stipulates that there is "not a tremendous amount of difference" between the two presidential contenders, in terms of their overall strategy in Iran, and then moves on to another topic. Specifically, Obama's "Romnesia" quip, and the issue of "contraception and abortion." Romney supports access to contraception, while simultaneously supporting the rights of organizations to deny that access if they please, which strikes Gregory as somewhat contrary to basic logic: "I don't see how both things can be true."
Rubio replies, "I think that's a general statement about most employers, but there are a handful of employers that have conscientious objections to it, for example the Catholic church." He goes on to insist, "This is not an issue about contraception. No one is talking about banning contraception, no one is talking about preventing people from getting access to contraception. This just happens to conflict with a constitutional principle of religious liberty."
He goes on to say that Romney would sign bills to restrict or ban abortion. Hopefully he checked with the Romney campaign this morning to get today's version of that,because it's not been something that the Romney campaign has treated with much consistency.
Rubio objects to all of this week's "binders full of women" talk, as well: "In the debate, this is silly outrage. It's not even real outrage. He was discussing a process that they went through to identify qualified women for important positions in his administration. I mean I think his record speaks for himself on that in terms of the way he's behaved himself in both private life and in his campaign."
I love the way we discuss this matter. Gregory is all, "Hey, this shiny thing happened." Rubio is like, "Nuh-uh." Women wonder if they'll ever show up in this sort of discussion as something other than abstractions thrown gently in the way of a politician, as a limp challenge to eventually circling back to their talking points.
We move on to a discussion about Medicare.
GREGORY: So what the Romney-Ryan ticket wants to do is change Medicare by offering premium support or a voucher to seniors to be able to purchase health care in the private market, choices of health care plans under Medicare, including traditional Medicare. But you said, as a 41 year old, "30 years from now when we retire." But that's not accurate, Senator. Their plan would actually make these changes in ten years. So if you're a senior, if you're 55 years old, you have to think about the impact of these policies. If they have the right idea, why not do it now? Why not put these changes in place and affect your mother's Medicare right now?
RUBIO: Well first of all, because I think it's doable without disrupting my mother's Medicare and people in her generation. In the ad, I was describing the impact it would have on people like me, on my generation. And the truth is, our Medicare is going to look different. We're going to have more choices. Ours is probably going to be adjusted for how wealthy we are when we retire. And wealthier people are going to get less of a premium support. We're going to have more options. It's still going to be the best plan in the world, it's just going to be a little different than what our parents have.
Now we move on the David Axelrod, who I am just going to guess is going to have objections to Mitt Romney, and express his opinion that the President is awesome.
Gregory asks about the whole one-on-one talks with Iran story, and if the president believes that "such direct contact may actually be critical at this juncture to avoiding potential military showdown with Iran." Axelrod says that he doesn't "want to go too deeply into what may or may not happen" bu that the President went around the world and found people to agree to tough sanctions and that the sanctions have worked.
And so now the Iranians are "feeling the heat." This heat, by all conventional estimations, is "on" according to Axelrod. What's more is that the heat is palpable, even "on the street." For that matter, it is inside the Iranians' heads, "on every beat." And owing to the fact that the aforementioned "beat" is not just "loud," but also very "deep inside," there is now a considerable and ever-increasing amount of "pressure...just to stay alive."
And thus, the heat is on.
Axelrod objects to the Romney-Ryan ticket's popular criticism of the attacks in Benghazi as well, which is obviously very surprising.
AXELROD: There's only one candidate here who's tried to exploit it from the beginning, even while the flames were burning in Benghazi, Mitt Romney was sending out political press releases on this. And the whole Republican Party has followed. And on Friday, Chairman Issa in the House, on the Republican side, released a ream of documents that he asked for, that included the names of people on the ground in Libya who are cooperating with us and helping us on these security issues, jeopardizing their lives, carelessly, recklessly putting them at risk, all to score political points in the final weeks before an election.
That's disgraceful. The way they've handled this issue is disgraceful. And to hear Paul Ryan make the place who is budget committee chair, wanted to cut back on our requests for security funding for these embassies and consulates makes it even worse.
As I've previously pointed out, the whole "Ryan wanted to cut back on security funding" isn't actually the fertile vein of counter-critique that Axelrod thinks it is.
Axelrod goes on to insist that the White House has not been "inconsistent," rather they have been sharing what information they have, when they have it, and when new information comes to light, they share that as well, even if it reshapes the story.
I'm a little surprised that the media can go from not giving Donald Rumsfeld even a minute of static over his classic statement:
There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know.
...to now take the position that the administration had one opportunity to divine precisely what happened in Benghazi, and that after the initial description, additional information constitutes an "inconsistency" that borders on either incompetence or an outright cover-up.
Does Axelrod think that it is fair to criticize the President for not making a specific plan, for his second term? No, David Axelrod does not think that is fair, he will tell you.
Does David Axelrod think the upcoming debate is important? Yes, David Axelrod does think that. He also says that Romney is "reckless and who's been consistently wrong on foreign policy issues" and that he's already been a total flop overseas, in his "Dukes of Hazzard" tour of England.
How does Axelrod "handicap the race," and is he concerned that Obama will not win? You might be surprised to learn that he "feels good about where we are."
Those were some exciting inquiries, David Gregory, that helped me to learn that David Axelrod is, in general, pretty favorably inclined toward the president.
Quick, can you the five word phrase that is used by David Gregory to start today's panel discussion? Here's a hint: the same five word phrase is enscribed in big Comic Sans letters on the gates to Hell. Do you give up? Okay, the phrase is: "Let's talk Libya, Tom Friedman."
Friedman notes that the matter has been politicized, and ensures people that these chaotic events are chaotic, based on what he has learned about "flash mobs" from various taxi drivers. Also, in case you are not up on current events, various nations in the Arab world have gone through some dramatic changes, and change is hard, but the good news is that lots of people in Benghazi came out to say that they really, really liked Ambassador Chris Stevens.
"That is one of the greatest successes for the United States possible," says Friedman. And so that's the bright side, of...you know -- Chris Stevens being brutally murdered.
Myers says that Obama "took out Osama bin Laden, and there's no question about that." Okay! You know...okay. I mean...look, why did I wake up this morning. To play grab-ass with the totally obvious?
Anyway, she goes on: "And the leadership of al-Qaeda, in many ways, has been decimated, has been severely beat back. That doesn't mean that al-Qaeda's disappeared from the world. And the administration's never claimed such a thing. There's no question that progress has been made."
Libya, though, is "chaotic" and there is a lot of shifting conflicting information about what happened. Murphy says that we have learned that the "world is sloppy" and that campaign season is a bad time for foreign policy events to take shape, and there was some junk response from all quarters: "I'm a Romney guy, but they put out a dumb press release too early. And that was a bad idea. Then the administration's been wiggling all over the place with different stories. There's finger pointing. Now the permanent institution, the intelligence community, has kind of taken their shot. The whole thing has been, I'd say, kind of a middle level train wreck."
Gregory wants Helene Cooper to explain to him "the bigger point" of all of this, and Cooper is like, uhh, I guess the Arab Spring or something? And stuff?
"Let's go to 30,000 feet for a second," says Thomas Friedman. What does that mean? It means that Thomas Friedman is pretty sure that the next president will totally have to do, like, some real foreign policy stuff, like, for sure.
TOM FRIEDMAN: Foreign policy is about leverage, David.
DAVID GREGORY: Yeah.
Murphy says it might be interesting to see if America elects Romney, to "put the squeeze" on Iran, because he's "the guy from Bain Capital." I can only reasonably assume that Murphy believes that Romney will use his well-worn ability to hollow the health out of any organization to feast on it, leaving it a barren, former shell of itself.
Now, Rob Portman is here, to comment on "the Iran story." Gregory says, "I guess my big question is where, beyond the rhetoric, does President Obama, do President Obama and Governor Romney differ on the path forward to Iran?"
Because when you want to get "beyond the rhetoric," you ask the guy who has been doing debate prep with Mitt Romney. "Well first, I don't know if it will be a big story, because both the White House and the Iranians have said it's not true." Thanks, dude, it's been almost five minutes since Marco Rubio said the same thing for the second time today.
At any rate, Portman is pretty sure that the Obama administration is terrible and says that it sounds to him like we're about to "jettison our allies," even though he just said that it sounded to him like nothing was going to happen because the administration denied the talks that could cause our allies to be jettisoned were even happening. But since the Obama administration has been touting the fact that they have actually gone out and put together an alliance, against Iran, that they would not risk losing, the smart thing for Portman to do is say that the Obama administration would risk that alliance -- an alliance that Portman and Romney do not even care for in the first place and in fact would prefer did not exist.
Really good thing that we managed to totally get "beyond the rhetoric" on Meet The Press, like always.
What does Rob Portman, Senator from Ohio, and key Romney surrogate, think is going to happen in Ohio, on Election Day? Just send your guesses to me in an email. Pretend that this inquiry was at all suspenseful for viewers.
Is there more? Yes, but thankfully, not much. Myers says that "women do not trust something about Romney," and the whole "binders full of women" meme proves that. (Even though the reason to mistrust Romney's account on those "binders" was not actually revealed by the meme itself. You had to have read the Boston Phoenix story on the matter to get to the "can't trust Romney" part. Mike Murphy, fairly, echoes a criticism of Amanda Hess who wrote: "Amazingly, Romney is now being criticized for the idea that achieving parity in political appointments requires effort."
Helene Cooper patiently explains to David Gregory why modern women think it's strange for Mitt Romney to be overly concerned with whether they have enough time to get home and cook dinner.
Friedman wants Obama to "come out with energy, excitement, and imagination" about how he is going to create more jobs...in the foreign policy debate.
Murphy says that the state of Ohio is looking like it might be kind of important, in the race. Myers agrees, but adds that Obama has "paths to 270" that don't involve Ohio. (He does, but they are neither likely, nor good.)
What would they ask at the foreign policy debate?
HELENE COOPER: For Mitt Romney, I'd ask him about his pledge to declare China a currency manipulator on day one. Why does he think this is a good idea, given that this could lead to a trade war?
DAVID GREGORY: Okay.
HELENE COOPER: For President Obama, I would ask him, he criticized Mitt Romney for saying that the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks should be the "kick the can down the road." I would ask President Obama whether he has not just done exactly that for the last two years.
DAVID GREGORY: Really quick, you would ask about carbon tax.
TOM FRIEDMAN: Would you support a carbon tax that will help us be less dependent on foreign oil, strengthen innovation at home and combat climate change?
Hey, Tom Friedman, that's actually a great question to ask. Wow. I have to say, it's nice to end MEET THE PRESS on a statement that is not steeped in stupid, Beltway conventional wisdom or the moronic obsessions of out-of-touch media elites. I am rather surprised and delighted that we can end it here --
TOM FRIEDMAN: And pay down the deficit.
DAVID GREGORY: Right, all right.
TOM FRIEDMAN: Even most important.
Well, I spoke too soon, obviously.