I've made it a habit to not watch John McCain wash down the drain of his career by trying to establish a George Blanda-esque record for appearing on the Sunday morning circular jerk marathons, but occasional I get lax and so here I am, poised to suffer through McCain yelling at or around Nancy Pelosi, both of whom will be talking about the "state of our union." Then there will be a panel discussion, about John Brennan and targeted killings, with which I imagine the entire panel will find no problem.
Ahead of that, we have the "sequestration" -- the fun new fiscal failure that's set to occur because Congress is useless. That is where the conversation with Pelosi begins, or is framed. Pelosi thinks that it's a "bad idea, all around" and should be "out of the question." She asserts that the Budget Control Act made a lot of cuts already, and now we need "growth" through a responsible mix of new revenue and new cuts.
But John Boehner thinks Washington has a "spending problem," so Wallace wants to know what the big deal in finding a mere $85 billion in cuts to "avoid the sequester." (Note: I don't actually know if this "avoids" the sequester, but let's run with it?) Pelosi says that in terms of cuts ahead of the next month of wrangling, they've agreed to the elimination of agriculture subsidies, as well as subsidies for oil companies. She says she doesn't see the point in cutting Pell Grants when you can eliminate these subsidies.
Wallace asks, "But why not just cut spending?" Uhm...that's what you are doing when you eliminate subsidies, Chris.
Pelosi goes SLOWER, pointing out that the HIGH RATES of spending have to do with these TWO BIG WARS and this DUMB PRESCRIPTION DRUG PLAN. Wallace stammers about the current administration, and Pelosi holds his hand and says, YES WE STIMULATED THE ECONOMY, remember? Remember how we did that, and we didn't have 15% unemployment? There, there, Chris Wallace, it will be okay. "It isn't so much a spending problem as it is about priorities," she says, adding that it's also "about timing, and when you make cuts."
Basically Pelosi wants to spend money to create jobs and foster growth -- she's obviously behind the whole mix of cuts-plus-revenue (through loophole closure) that the President has been out hawking (having stolen it from Romney), but she takes a minute to evangelize for investments in education.
She says that it's a "false argument" to suggest we have a spending problem, but she allows that the levels the deficit is currently at "immoral levels" and "must be reduced." "We're sick and tired of paying the interest on the debt," she says, and goes on to say that the Democrats have agreed to $1.6 trillion in cuts alongside at least $1 trillion in Medicare savings, which are big numbers I can't judge without the fine points or details.
Pelosi says that no one, going forward, is going to be talking about raising tax rates on anyone -- revenue will be collected by ending loopholes and subsidies. However, she then invokes the "Buffett Rule." But the Buffett Rule is about rates, and Wallace jumps on that. Pelosi says sure, but it's a lower rate than the one they are paying now. This feels a little freelancey.
Wallace is all, "Blah, blah entitlements," and asks why not raise the eligibility age for Medicare. Pelosi says, "Don't you want to see if raising the age actually saves money, first?" She says that the "challenge in Medicare" are "rising health care costs in general" and that's where the scrutiny and the effort needs to be applied.
Talking gun control, Wallace notes that Pelosi has called for a study into the causal connection between pop culture and gun violence, and Wallace wants to know why she doesn't just go to "her friends in Hollywood and shame them" for creating cultural products like that. She says that bills need to be underpinned by data, not anecdotes. Wallace says, "Why don't you just go out and challenge people to stop the video games?" I'm guessing she won't do that because it won't actually do anyone any good? Punishing millions of people for crimes they had nothing to do with...isn't that the same perfectly sane argument that a law abiding gun owner would make, right about now?
Pelosi points out that Japan has the most violent video games and the lowest incidents of gun violence. "I don't know why that is, I suspect that they just have stronger gun laws," she says. (This is correct.)
Wallace points out that Obama predicted that Pelosi would be Speaker again, soon. She says that it was "nice of him to say that," but in the meantime the Democrats have a "lot of work to do" in terms of moving all kinds of legislation, as well as playing a leadership role in restoring "confidence in our democracy," by working hard, hopefully on a "bipartisan" basis. It's a very humble message coming from Pelosi -- I gather she assumes that coming legislation like immigration reform will be largely collaborative and passed on very good terms for Democrats, so instead of sowing conflict she's talking partnership. The key phrase there is "restoring confidence in our democracy" and "bipartisan collaboration." Pelosi is not on a "war footing," it would seem. But we'll see if that quiet, willing to collaborate lasts through the coming fiscal crises.
Now it's time for McCain to discuss everything Pelosi just said. Wallace wants to know if he wants high taxes or sequestration cuts, and McCain says that he wants the President to just have everyone over for a White House slumber party where everyone solves the problem. Wallace says that the price for solving sequestration is more taxes, but McCain ignores the question to grandstand about the military cuts. (The sequester cuts on the non-military side are the scarier ones, but you never see much grandstanding about cuts on the domestic side.)
What does McCain think about the plans to make further investments in education and infrastructure, and he says he'll go along with it, "as long as we pay for it." "I've seen this movie before," he says, referring to the tendency of presidents to want to "spend money" to "do stuff" that might "benefit the country" and "foster prosperity" that might lead to "more jobs" and "more revenue" and "lower deficits." McCain's response, really means "it's a non-starter" because he's specifically inveighed against doing any revenue raising. So, there's no "as long as we pay for it" possibility in McCain's imagination.
Wallace brings up the Brennan hearings and the "kill list" and asks if there should be a "drone court" that approves whether or not a name ends up on a "kill list." McCain doesn't agree with the whole "due process" side of the argument, because that would restrict the President's power unduly. (Huh?!) Nevertheless, he believes the drone program should be moved over into the Department of Defense, from the CIA. He doesn't understand why the CIA suddenly has a drone army that flies around killing people (probably he should have checked on that stuff?) and insists that placing it under the Pentagon would confer "adequate oversight." Okay, so, no imagines that American citizens deserve due process of law before they go on a "kill list." As long as some set of bureaucrats agrees that they get a weird vibe from someone, let slip the drones. Instead of a robust debate over, "HOLY S#!T, HOW DID AMERICA COME TO THIS?!" we are getting a minor debate over what group of suits in which heavily secured sepulchre in the DC-Metro area gets to approve the "kill list."
On Syria, McCain says that our non-intervention is one of the "most shameful chapters" in our history, and it's incomprehensible that we're not making war in Syria. There's a good point to be made on this, because the intervention in Libya has made not intervening in Syria a glaring inconsistency. (I would not have acted in such a way that set up that sort of inconsistency in the first place.) But (as always) to McCain's mind, we just have this limitless capacity to wage war -- can't stop-loss those troops enough for his taste! -- so there's no reason at all to simply keep expanding our overseas military operations to involve Syria and Iran, and it was terrible that we let the French lead the way in Libya (because American exceptionalism-slash-penis size/girth suffers when OUR FRONDS THE FRONCH are Perriering throughout the field of WARRRR, basically). But the idea of investing in education? Oh, it is just unthinkable! The question, "How will we pay for it?" is never applied to any crazy warmaking McCain wants to do. I've seen this movie before! We apparently fund our wars with magic beans!
I realize that the reason I don't have to point out that "our actions in Iraq" are based upon following the Bush-era Status of Forces Agreement as often as I used to stem mainly from the fact that I've refused to watch McCain do his drain-spiral on Sundays much anymore. He is still a league-leader in not understanding the basics of the agreements made in Iraq vis-a-vis troops and sovereignty.
McCain says that it would be totally unprecedented for the Senate to filibuster a presidential nominee, meaning that Hagel, he thinks, will not end up getting filibustered. "I do not believe we should filibuster nominations," he says, adding, "We've never done it and I don't believe it should start here." I think he's probably jinxing it!
McCain is asked if he'd support any immigration reform concept that isn't tied to border enforcement -- no "path to citizenship" before the border is locked down further -- and he points out that the whole immigration reform deal is centered on the premise that border enforcement will be the first action taken and the rest will follow from there. I don't even know why Wallace is asking that -- McCain is a Senator from a border state who had an ad in which he said we needed to "build the danged fence." (I guess we should probably keep checking in, though, seeing as he constantly changes his positions on things.)
Wallace says that the "flip side" of the question is that nativist conservatives think that the immigration reform package is de facto "amnesty." McCain rejects the idea, and asks, "What would you do with" the immigrants we already have? (The Nativist Crank set basically believes we should deport them all, and pay for it with faerie dust and magic, gossamer money, but if we did that we wouldn't be able to pay for McCain's magic wars.)
Panel time, with Bill Kristol, Liz Marlantes, Juan Williams, and Representative Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)...for...some reason? (I think that Cotton has a publicist that is trying to "make him happen.")
Anyway, sequestration, what's up with that? Kristol thinks it is "terrible public policy" and that the GOP using it as a leverage point would be irresponsible. Marlantes isn't sure it's the leverage that the GOP thinks it is, either -- pointing out that the GOP "probably takes the bigger hit" if the sequester wrecks the economic recovery. (Boehner, she points out, is trying to make "Obamaquester" happen. It's not happening.)
Cotton says that the GOP's plan is just to double the sequester on the domestic side and leave the military out of it, which would be just an amazing trail to blaze into the future, boy howdy!
Williams says that the GOP should "take a responsible posture" and do all that "Mitt Romney stuff" -- close loopholes, do tax reform, end subsidies...Kristol interrupts for a long whingeing bit of grandstanding about "the troops" and the defense cuts that will leave them defenseless, pretending that it's not just noses-up haughty to dump the entire sequester on the domestic side of the budget. He argle-blargles about how there isn't time to do big tax reform, but the issue isn't about timing -- it's about the fact that the GOP no longer wants to do the things they campaigned on (probably because they weren't sincere when they talked about closing loopholes, et cetera.)
Williams says that if timing is the issue, just make a deal, and get the time you need back. Kristol is even more upset about that! Why doesn't the President just follow the policy prescriptives laid out by the editorial board of the Weekly Standard?
Wallace points out that Marco Rubio is going to deliver the rebuttal to the State of the Union address, and asks Kristol and Cotton is Rubio isn't dreamy and awesome and wonderful. Cotton and Kristol agree that Rubio is amazing and is on a skyrocket to wonder and glory.
Presumably there is a panel discussion underway in an alternate universe in which they are talking about the genuinely interesting things about Rubio, like his stances on internet freedom (always amazing to meet a person in Congress who is actually participating in modernity) and his impressive shepherding of immigration reform through the thickets of right-wing radio.
Cotton is a Harvard lawyer, and he somehow nevertheless thinks that the Constitution compels the President of the United States to "keep America safe" and thus placing judicial oversight over a "kill list" would be unacceptable. I can only conclude that Harvard Law School is a haven for dribbling morons.
Marlantes is asked about the irony of Obama criticizing the Bush administration way back when for expanding his powers and keeping the legal opinions underpinning those moves close to their vests, and now expanding upon those powers and doing the same cloaking of legal opinions. Marlantes basically gives a long answer that means, "Yeah, that is ironic, isn't it, huh?" and adds that the "majority of Democrats are still okay with it." They will be until a Republican is president again, I guess!
Wallace shows a clip of Lindsey Graham and Leon Panetta Begargling over Benghazi, and OH NO the night of the attacks on the Embassy and there wasn't a special second phone call and nobody sent a reminder card or rated the "assets in the field" on Yelp and Kristol is just shocked and upset about all of this, "dereliction of duty," et cetera. (Cotton adds that the President is demonstrating that he's not yet ready to lead troops, and is a total failure. All Cotton can do is repeat all the blather and talking points he just heard from the clip of Lindsey Graham and Kristol -- who, thankfully, doesn't immediately sue Cotton for plagiarism. Cotton will get a gold star for grandstanding today, from his publicist.)
Williams and Cotton have an argument that isn't even a little bit interesting or thoughtful. Eventually, Wallace puts a stop to it, to celebrate the career of the show's producer or whatever -- Marty is his name -- who is retiring. Congrats on finally getting relief from your Sunday morning servitude, Marty.
THE CHRIS MATTHEWS SHOW
Chris Matthews is actually going to do a Valentine's Day-themed segment on the show today, involving Presidential love-letters? So things in American must be going great. Populating the genius bar today, we have Joe Klein, Gloria Borger, Elisabeth Bumiller, and David Ignatius.
Chris Matthews crunched the numbers and did a word cloud and found that the word most used in States of the Union address over the past half-century is "more." Also, every single president apparently opined that the State of the union was "good" or "strong" or "tremendous" or "cramazing." Which either means that most Presidents aren't aware of what's actually happening in America, or that they just have a pretty high opinion of themselves.
Oh, ha, so I forget, Gerald Ford once said that the "State of the Union is not good," and look where all that honesty got him!
Joe Klein: "Ha, ha, I remember that! I remember that!" Yes, you are as old as dirt, munchkin. Anyway, Klein says that President Obama probably does think that the State of the Union is strong because he got re-elected and that even the House seems to be shaping into a governing majority he can maybe work with, plus the economy is...doing okay? If you squint at it, just the right way?
Borger says that at the SOTU address, Obama needs to talk about how we're at a "precipice" and we need to "choose the right direction" because sequester -- boy, I dunno? -- but something, something otherwise we "go off the cliff." So, it sounds like Borger needs a GPS device up in here, to help with all these topographical metaphors.
Marco Rubio will be the rebutter (rebuttaller?) to the SOTU, because, as Matthews says, he has the "hot hand" and "immigration just jumps right out of that guy when you see him." Yes, I double-checked that! Apparently, you bump into Rubio, and the very concept of immigration just leaps from his body like Pallas Athena out of Zeus' dome.
Bumiller says that this past week, the Pentagon "pulled out all the stops" to explain how terrible and awful the sequester cuts will be, emphasizing once again how great it must be when you can be your own multibillion dollar lobbying organization ahead of a legislative battle. This is why we rarely hear about the deleterious effects that cuts on the domestic side of the sequester (and as awful as the Pentagon makes it sound, the simple fact of the matter is that we will have the greatest military on earth even after the sequester by several orders of magnitude) -- they don't have a billion-dollar, platinum-encrusted megaphone to speak with, and no one in the media takes it very seriously, because while they'd all love to meet a General or an Admiral, meeting poor people in America is beneath them.
Klein says that Obama should use the SOTU to make the case that budget deficits aren't as important as fostering job growth as soon as possible. I agree! This is, what, the FIFTH State of the Union address where I've wished he'd make that clear! Bumiller says that she thinks, "Immigration and gun control" will be in the State Of The Union, and that those "will be the headlines" that we can just write today and go home and sleep until Wednesday afternoon.
Everyone agrees that the sequester cuts will be "kicked down the road," so that's good news for that one road we still spend money on upkeep!
Now here's the part where Matthews reads love letters from Presidents to their FLOTUSes, and builds to a segue involving a Saturday Night Live clip, if it's Sunday morning at whatever time this is happening, then it is whatever time this is happening, all weeks, always, for eternity.
Oh, hey, now we will talk about drone strikes, and the blowback that comes from killing innocent people with robot-missiles. Ignatius assures us that in terms of drone war -- "the level of collateral damage" is lower than with any other means of waging war, "that doesn't mean there is none." But! "That's not the issue here," Ignatius says. Oh, really? Well, sure there is the matter of the Constitution and due process and the inalienable rights of American citizens and -- what? "The question is how does he find rules, a legal framework for himself" to do this stuff.
I mean, isn't this what Congress passes laws for? To establish the legal framework to do things and/or not do things? I love how Ignatius is like, "Hmmm, tricky wicket, this whole Constitution thing...I feel there must be some sort of neat end-run we can make whereby the cat just up and agrees to skin itself." What rules there are, are "secret rules," and shucks! They became public! Huh!
Bumiller says that the secret rules are "murky" on the definition of "imminent," which is funny because most English language dictionaries are wonderfully clear! She goes on to point out this terrible story, of an anti-Al Qaeda cleric, who denounced the death cult, and ended up being killed in a drone attack.
Yes, this is just awesome. This Yemeni cleric named Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber stood up and delivered a lengthy denunciation of al Qaeda. Boy, did it ever piss al Qaeda right the frack off, too! So a bunch of al Qaeda guys showed up at his mosque, and they had themselves a little argument with one another, standing outside, and while they were all arguing, we up and drone-bombed the lot of them! Hot hellfire from the skies for everyone -- al Qaeda death cultists and outspoken opponents of al Qaeda death cults alike! Pretty awesome. I mean, if there's anything that could reanimate the spirit of Joseph Heller, it's this nonsense.
Nice work, guys!
Borger says that the problem here is that this has been an "executive branch" operation, and not it's getting seen by the legislature and maybe they'll come up with some sort of judicial process, to try American citizens, because no one's invented one yet.
Matthews wants to highlight the primary benefit of drones -- which to his mind is that you have a limited amount of choices: you can "start a war and put an army in there to get the bad guys" or you can use an "elite team of Seals" to get the bad guys and run the risk of angering nations like Pakistan, or you can use the drones! Hey, no muss no fuss! Ha, but the drones kind of piss off Pakistan too, don't you know?
I like how we are talking about how drones relieve Seal Teams of the need to take risks. To the best of my knowledge, a certain amount of dire risk is implicitly involved the moment you become a Navy Seal, so it's weird to have constitutionally murky policies and processes that provide the benefit of making it so that an elite fighting force doesn't have to do any elite fighting.
Ignatius calls drones an "addictive" means of projecting power, and these hearings may, hopefully, put limits on their use. Bumiller says that the concerns over drones have always been that they will make participating in wars or starting wars more easy. They have certainly made it super-easy to extra-judicially assassinate American citizens!
Borger points out that Americans totally support drones and Matthews adds that "liberal do too," and as always the truth is much more complicated than that -- and that the minute you mention the fact that innocent bystanders could be killed, you get a whole lot less approval.
Nobody has explained to my satisfaction how it's become presumed that only America and countries that like America are capable of building a flying, remote-control bomb-delivery system, so I imagine that when it comes to pass that other countries' drones are whizzing overhead, dropping ordnance on us, our attitudes on these weapons are going to change dramatically. (You can pretty much count on the first nation or organization to attack us with a drone being called "cowardly.")
Things that Chris Matthews does not know includes the fact that Obama has a meeting on Friday with the leaders of "team Rubicon" who are veterans who do disaster relief, Senate Dems are coming up with a plan to deal with the budget (a seven month can-kick), Leon Panetta is leaving the Defense Department (Matthews didn't know this?), and that the CIA made a determination last year that arming the rebels in Syria was not going to accomplish much because access to arms was not a problem for those rebels. (It's implied that the rebels in Syria are hamstrung by some other problem, but whatever it is, it goes un-speculated upon.)
Which GOP figure has the most upside potential, career-wise, Marco Rubio or Chris Christie? Klein says neither (Jeb Bush), Borger says neither (Paul Ryan), then she says Rubio, Bumiller says Jeb Bush, Ignatius says...I don't know...it's a ramble that ends with the suggestion that Christie show some intellect. Gloria Borger is apparently all wet with anticipation over a Joe Biden-Chris Christie matchup in 2016. I hope that my dreams for the future never wither down to the paltry imaginings of Gloria Borger, but I predict that they probably will, maybe even before I'm done watching MEET THE PRESS, today.
Oh, speaking of!
MEET THE PRESS
Meet the Press is going to feature Dick Durbin and Eric Cantor yelling at or around each other today, and then there will be a long panel discussion and hopefully we'll get to the rest of our lives sometime after that.
First, David Gregory takes a few minutes to note that snow happened. But now it's time for a blizzard of political talking points, starring Eric Cantor and Dick Durbin.
Gregory asks if Cantor really, really wants the sequester, seeing as how his state will suffer as a result of it. From the defense side of the sequester, anyway! Meet The Press takes pains to highlight the defense side. Remember, the media DOES NOT REALLY CARE about how the domestic part of the sequester will affect ordinary Americans, because they are all-in on making "tough choices." ("Tough choices" is a media euphemism for "futher impoverishing the already impoverished. It's "tough" because they have a dim memory of how Judeo-Christian morality is supposed to work, but they've sort of inverted the notion of "sacrifice" so that now, choosing to enforce pain and misery on others is heroic.)
Cantor says that the sequester is obviously "not the best way to go about curbing spending" and he hopes the president will agree with him on that. (Spoiler alert: he does.) What's the problem, then? As Cantor says, "Everytime you turn around, he wants to raise taxes." Well, sure, that one time, he did! But now that he's secured the rates he wants, all the White House wants to do is the loophole-close-to-revenue policies that the Romney/Ryan ticket proposed, to the cheers of people like Eric Cantor.
Gregory asks if any of this is unreasonable, and Cantor just acts like the whole idea of raising revenue at all is just crazy. "We can't be raising taxes every three months," he says. But can't we do "revenue neutral tax reform?" I've always said that "revenue neutral tax reform" is as dumb as "cake-neutral baking" but if we've secured the rate hike we've secured, we can definitely go 1-to-1, dollar-for-dollar, spending cut-for-loophole closure, as the White House wants to do, having stolen the idea from Republicans, who held over the past four years that it was insane to not do this!
Obviously, Cantor's abnegation here is based on the fact that there is a shimmery scoreboard in his mind and on that scoreboard it's written, "OBUMMER GOT SOME SOCIALIST KENYAN REVENOOO" and now he's got to hold the line on doing anything more, even if it means tossing out the playbook from before. But this isn't a policy argument, this is Frankenstein shrieking "FIRE BURNS! WANT PRETTY FLOWERS!" and pretending that it's leadership.
Cantor says that he wants to plug loopholes and bring down rates, but I'm betting what he really wants to do is bring down rates and not close loopholes, because for years people like Cantor have been lionizing the low tax rates of places like Ireland and bitching about how we aren't as competitive, but they never mention that those nations' low tax rates actually capture more revenues than our Swiss Cheesy higher tax rates, and that corporate America is never going to just let us become that good at extracting revenue from them without a fight, and they've plenty of lobbyists to see to it that they don't.
Switching to immigration, Gregory points out that there is a shift underway in the GOP, and that now even Cantor himself is talking like a dedicated supporter of the DREAM Act. So, is he ready to do "all in?" Cantor says that the "best place to start" finding that common ground is "with children," who didn't have a choice in coming here. He's not necessarily in favor of the DREAM Act, but he's in favor of something similar, it seems.
Whatever that is, you get the sense that Cantor's been doing a lot more talking to Marco Rubio, and a lot less talking to Paul Ryan.
Gregory asks Cantor if it's "tone" or "communication" that's keeping the GOP from winning, or if they need to abandon policies that Americans in large numbers just reject out of hand. Cantor gives a long-winded answer that doesn't actually answer the question. People have problems, and government needs to help, Cantor says, which is kind of a new admission? "We have got to be talking about helping folks," he says. And, I guess we do all that helping without raising any revenue at all, somehow.
Finally, Gregory asks why Congress hasn't passed any legislation to review drone policy or add checks and balances to a set of policies that now involve putting American citizens on a "kill list" for whatever "imminent" stuff they might be imagined to be potentially doing to the homeland, one day. Cantor says that he's glad that Congress is getting a better view of the policies and their legal underpinnings, and that "we're going to be about oversight," -- but the bottom line is that "extremists" are trying to kill us and we need the "tools" to stop that from happening, and as a bonus, maybe it will adhere to the Constitution, if we squint at it the right way.
Okay, I'm not sure what's happening now because I thought there was going to be Dick Durbin yelling about stuff, but instead they are going to jump to the roundtable. This is the new innovation on Sundays -- sprinkling the roundtable stuff throughout the show, instead of just sticking it at the end. The whole notion that you can move a roundtable discussion to the second quarter-hour of a Sunday show is totally game-changing and way-outside-the-box in terms of thinking, and whoever ideated this concept in the sensory deprivation tank and implemented it is really Six Sigmatizing on a whole new dimension and synergizing up key growables in the infotainment space.
So, we have Kasim Reed and Mike Murphy and David Gerson and Katty Kay and Michael Isikoff, who got the whole drone "white paper" story, to talk about the upcoming State of the Union address, and the "ambitious legislative agenda" he'll try to advance.
Murphy says that while Obama won the election fair and square, he needs to do a "Nixon to China move," which he's using as a euphemism for "doing stuff that the people who voted for Mitt Romney wanted Mitt Romney to do."
Kay says that the "window is short" to get big things done, because pretty soon all the members of the House will be running for re-election again, and says that Obama's single-biggest task is to lay out a vision for a post-manufacturing America that reduces income inequality and fills the future with good, fulfilling, sustainable jobs on which ordinary people can build their lives.
Gerson, who believes that Obama is terrible for doing things that highlight the fact that the House Republicans are filled with methed-up nativist howler monkey anger-junkies (those "things" include doing or proposing almost anything, like flossing one's teeth), says that he really hates the fact that Obama is using the "outside game" to lobby for legislation. The "outside game" is when he asks constituents to ask their Representative to support the passage of bills. Presumably, this is a terrible imposition, and the fact that Obama is encouraging the Normals to participate in democracy has Gerson terrible unsettled -- he is flopping his hands around in desperation at the thought. (Presumably, he prefers the "inside game," where corporate lobbyists quietly undermine American life.)
Now we kick it out to Durbin, because Meet The Press is just crazy and punk rock, cold switchin' up between panel and interview, like a boss! (Durbin says that we need to "come together" on a plan to stop the sequester that includes an even mix of revenues and spending cuts, as akin to "Simpson-Bowles," which everyone believes is magical and amazing.)
Durbin points out that the sequester exists only because Congress promised that having the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads would spur them to do something -- anything! -- about the budget. It didn't work. To Durbin's mind, you can lay all that on the President, or you can acknowledge that he continues to offer reasonable solutions. Gregory is just all, "WOW, WASHINGTON, HUH?"
Durbin goes on to point out that after the election, there's been a clear sign of thawing between the President and the GOP in the legislature -- comprehensive immigration reform is closer than ever, the "Hastert Rule" has been suspended a couple of times to cobble a governing, bipartisan majority out of the House -- so what's the issue? Durbin argues that the willingness to work across the aisle is still there, despite the fact that the election results clearly put more support behind the President's values and policies. Indeed, the election results did not stop Obama from offering to move up the tax rate threshold from $250,000 to $400,000 in a massive concession to Republicans that he a) didn't need to offer because he could get $250,000 without getting out of bed and that b) actually put a constraint, in terms of revenue, on his own agenda. (And now he's willing to go revenue-neutral the rest of the way! It's just crazy to suggest he's ramming liberalism down anyone's throat! He won't have enough revenue to do a lot of liberal policy-making! (It's possible that a lot of liberals haven't figured this out, yet.)
Gregory wants Durbin to concede that there is a spending problem in Washington. I don't know why you'd have to go on the air and concede to cheap talking points, but Durbin does so, and he adds that he's willing to ameliorate this, without cutting essential programs. Gregory, is sort of stuck in that place that the minute you say something like, "Head Start is an effective program that's giving America this bang for this buck," and he says, "My God, you'll find a reason to spend money on anything!" Any argument that money is being spent well is a de facto argument that no one is serious about spending cuts. It's such idiocracy, you would just not believe.
Gregory moves to "the drone debate," and says that the belief that the president needs "strong executive power" that trumps constitutional restraints is just "political reality" in post-9/11 America. Is there a question, here, Davey, or are you just feelin' like you wanna propagandize here for everyone's benefit? Eventually, the question is: "Should we even debate this, Dick Durbin?" and then Gregory stares at Durbin as if he's a crazy person when he suggests that we need to strike a new Constitutional balance.
And then we're back to the "is Chuck Hagel going to be confirmed?" question. It's an odd exchange, David Gregory, for some reason, feels that it's important to throw Dick Cheney's opinion of Hagel into the conversation, like so:
SEN. DICK DURBIN: I think Senator Hagel will be confirmed. And Republican senators have told me privately they are not going to initiate the first filibuster in history on a secretary of defense nominee. He's taken a lot of grief from members of his own political party, many of whom he served with in the Senate. At the end, I believe he's going to receive the necessary votes to be the next secretary of defense.
DAVID GREGORY: Including the former vice president, Dick Cheney, who said that he was among those national security nominees who are, quote, "second rate choices by the president."
SEN. DICK DURBIN: I'm not going to comment on Vice President Cheney's views of public service at this point.
Ha, exactly, because who gives two tugs of a dead dog's tail what Dick Cheney thinks about Chuck Hagel, for Pete's sake? Just let me know what Former Vice President Strangelove is in my neighborhood so I can shelter in place, thanks.
I don't know what it is about Meet The Press lately that it opens a hole in the space-time continuum and suddenly, within the frame of what feels like fifteen minutes a whole hour has passed and my afternoon is half-dead, but here we are, and somehow the Mayor of Atlanta is being asked about the sequester, and Michael Isikoff is being asked about the budget deficit.
Gerson insists that "no Republicans" would support a deal that would include revenue-raising loophole closures, even if they come paired with equivalent spending cuts but it was the precise policy that their own presidential standard-bearer ran on all last year. Murphy says that Obama would unlock GOP support and end the standoff just by supporting chained-CPI -- he presents this notion as if Obama has withheld his support for this but, indeed, it was already something he suggested. Tell me...did it "unlock GOP support?" Is supporting chained-CPI to get GOP support only a thing you can do a couple of days in February?
Ha, Kasim Reed points out that austerity policies are killing the United Kingdom, so why anyone wants to do more of them here is a mystery, especially when everyone's already terrified of the sequester!
David Gerson argues that the President can't be too vocally supportive of immigration reform because if he is, the Republicans that need to vote to pass it won't have "political cover." A more thoughtful man might question an intellectual regime that holds, as a natural state of affairs, this notion that whenever the president says, "This Republican has a good idea," then that Republican's career becomes imperiled, and that this is the President's fault. But arguing the opposite nonsense has become David Gerson's schtick of late, and he really, really thinks he's hit on something brilliant.
Finally, we get to the whole Michael Isikoff scoop, and "where the debate is going." Isikoff runs down the salient point:
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: Well, it's-- it's a very difficult one, legally and morally and strategically. First of all, what was significant about the document that we reported on is it really did go beyond, in certain respects, what had been said publicly about what the legal foundations were for targeting Americans who are suspected of being operational leaders of al-Qaeda.Attorney General Holder had given a speech last year in which he set out a three-point test for this. Number one, that the target is believed to be-- is going to pose an imminent threat of a violent attack. You read the memo, and you see there's a great elasticity to how that's defined. Imminent attack does not mean they have specific intelligence about an ongoing plot. It may only talk about recent activities and if that target hasn't renounced those activities, then it can be assumed. It's a broader definition of "imminence" than I think most people had realized.
The second part of the test is if capture is unfeasible. Well, what defines "Unfeasible?" And the memo talks about, "Well, if capture would pose an undue risk for U.S. personnel, that would be a factor in determining that it was unfeasible. These were issues that were not clearly spelled out by the administration beforehand. They use language that's very ill defined and open to broad interpretations. And I think that's why you're seeing so much attention to this issue.
Those are the issues that are up for debate, but as to the question of "where is the debate going"...well, I'm not sure it's going anywhere. Katty Kay puts it pretty well: "Well, members of Congress hate not being informed. But the downside of being informed is that you don't have some responsibility for the policy that's happening." And here's the debate that everyone seems to want to duck:
KAY: But we didn't hear-- what I'm hearing from national security is that there is a concern about that these drone strikes are not actually in America's long-term political interest in areas of the world like Pakistan and Yemen. We are turning large numbers of moderate Pakistanis, journalists, politicians, lawyers, doctors, the kind of people that shape policy in those countries, against us. Admiral Mullen, General McChrystal, have all expressed concerns that every time we have a drone that mis-hits somebody, kills civilians, we set back our strategy in those countries by months, if not years.
Isikoff says that the Obama administration has "an incentive" to work out the issues with drones, because he he believes that "the Obama people want targeted killing of Americans to be very high up on the list of their legacy in national security policy." After all, Isikoff points out, "waterboarding...is going to be part of the legacy of the Bush years."
To which I say, "Pshaw." Maybe waterboarding is part of Bush's "legacy," but where's the cost? Bush is a fantastically wealthy person who paints still lifes now. Oh man, the extent to which he's been defined by waterboarding must be KILLING him. And you know, we've done so much soul-searching, as a nation, because of that legacy. Are the italics there sufficient to denote my sarcasm?
History is written by the winners, and right now, even Michael Isikoff is using the term "targeted killing of Americans," and NOT "targeted extra-judicial killing of Americans" or "the targeted killing of Americans without due process" or "the unconstitutional targeted killing of Americans." With that in mind, I don't think the "Obama people" have all great an incentive to worry about how this is going to affect his legacy. If they were that worried about his legacy, then we wouldn't be doing that stuff in the first place.