Flush twice... it's a long way to Sally Quinn's place!
Dec. 5, 2004 (apj.us) -- The stalled 9/11 legislation and the Iraq mess were at the top of the political talk shows' agenda this Sunday -- along with the distraction of the baseball steroid scandal.
As one would well expect, there was little talk about the continuing mess in the wake of Election Day: major questions about ballot outcomes, particularly in Ohio and Florida. But there was disturbingly little about the continued shuffling of the Boy Prince's cabinet, particularly the questionable appointment of Bernard "Who's Your Daddy?" Kerik (). Oops! Looks like someone really dropped the ball on checking out his family values! Horrors! Whatever will we tell the children?
With most of our usual gang taking the weekend off, I decided to pop in on two of the most hilarious excuses for political discourse: Disney's "This Week" and NBC-Universal-GE-Jack Welch's "Meet the Press."
During the opening to This Week,the ever-chipper Steph went so far to say that the Bush Boy has hit a "brick wall" in trying to pass intelligence reform (sadly, without a comment on George the Lesser's so-called mandate and failure to spend some of that political capital he claims to have) -- and played part of the Pretend-a-dent's testy-sounding Saturday radio address (Junior's none too happy about the House wingnuts who are making him look inept in the arena of intelligence reform -- too bad, we say, because the truth is that the former Texas governor opposed it -- and too bad that not one pundit or politician mentioned that telling fact this Sunday).
Bill Frist was Steph's first guest. He was smiling at the very start of the interview (we imagine that some thoughtful ABC booker had left a basket of kittens in his green room for Frist to euthanize). Frist rather confidently predicted that by Tuesday or Wednesday we'd see a bill approved by the House. Despite his cheery demeanor, Frist sounded hoarse and a little tired as he went out of his way not to blame Congressweasels Duncan Hunter and James Sensenbrenner (gotta maintain that semblance of unanimity, even if a couple of loose cannons are making Prince Numbnutz look hapless).
When talk turned to the agenda for next year, Frist called Social Security and "tax simplification" (read: taking away your deductions and flogging more and bigger tax cuts to the rich) the top priorities. Steph said that Sen. Grassley is talking benefit cuts for Social Security recipients (but failed to mention that Social Security is in fact not in any immediate danger of getting anywhere close to a cash-flow crisis); Frist gave the expected windbaggery about "promises to the next generation" (read: promises to the next generation of large corporate brokerages, who stand to profit mightily from Social Security "piratization") and claimed repeatedly that retirees and near-retirees will not be affected (translation: if you're under 60, you're screwed).
Steph, however, said that privatization would put Social Security 2 to 3 TRILLION dollars in the hole; Frist evaded the issue, blathering about "reform" (i.e. selling out to corporate America) down the line before admitting there'd have to be money up front (specifically, the next 5-15 years) in the form of a risky debt scheme to prop up privatization. Steph called it "a Visa card to prepay your mortgage."
Here is where Stephanopoulos completely wimped out: a real journalist would have nailed Frist over Friday's news that his campaign failed to repay a loan and had to grovel for an extension because they lost their shirt on the stock market. It would be simply unconscionable for a real journalist to fail to bring up this issue -- but then, Steph is no journalist, merely another Beltway celebrity with neither conscience nor courage. He must aspire to be the next Tim Russert.
But, alas, I digress. To his credit, George got Frist to admit that he will be looking at increasing the retirement age, though he injected the newest Karl Rove Talking Point ®: "[Bush] wants to fix the system permanently." (Translation: Bush, who at an early age showed no compassion for the poor -- ask a few of his Harvard B-school classmates about his repeated assertions that the poor deserved to be poor because they're lazy -- now wants to kill the most successful social program in the last 225 years, the legacy of the New Deal that ensures Americans the right to a retirement that will not plunge them into poverty.)
Steph turned to the matter of Senate filibusters. Frist, who seems to forget that the GOP was just as adept at the use of filibusters when they were a minority as the Democrats are now, feigned sadness over the prospect of changing the rules to ban filibusters. Frist said that when the Preznit sends a nominee to the Senate, there _must_ be a vote. (Translation: With one-party rule, the Senate must be Dear Leader's rubber stamp, and to hell with the "advise and consent" role they are mandated in the Constitution. Where the hell are you on that issue, Steph? Why no challenge?) Frist also feigned "civility," saying he will go to Sen. Harry Reid and ask for an up-or-down vote. "I will pursue every option I have." (Translation: Frist will use the "nuclear option," calling on Dick Cheney in his role as President of the Senate to call a session and ban filibusters. It's all out war -- and Steph faile4d to challenge Frist on the issue at all.)
Steph then hammered Dr. Frist about lies that are being told to school kids through federally-funded abstinence programs. Frist sounded irritated as he tried to slip away from the most outrageous lies, and peddled one of his own: the highly-disputed claim by government agencies of a 15% failure rate of condoms (many studies put the rate much, much lower).
We skipped the blather about steroids -- nothing bores us more than sports.
Biden was up next,
fresh from Baghdad. His segment was in many ways more important than
Frist's de facto threat to kill filibusters -- Biden repeatedly said
the Bush regime is "not telling the truth" about the present
situation in Iraq. And a the interview progressed, Steph backed off more
and more, letting Biden do all of the talking. It was chock-full of punditty,
The unspoken "bottom line" of Biden's segment: the Iraq mess is an inexcusable catastrophe, and the buck stops with Rumsfeld and the highest echelon of the Pentagon. Biden could have come out and said it, but didn't in part to protect his sources and contacts in Iraq -- but reading between the lines, you can hear that the commanders in the field who talked to Biden and Hagel want that message to come through loud and clear.
The remainder of This Week was the completely useless and predictable roundtable, the best political punch lines of the week from America's number one source for news (late-night comedians), and obituaries -- including another three dozen American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, over on NBC this afternoon (we had to catch the late West Coast feed of Meet the Press on our satellite TV for family-related reasons), Tim Russert seemed not to completely deliver his usual servile performance for George Bush, Jr. -- and also let the usually quiet Harry Reid generate a few headlines and waves, much to our delight.
In his interview with Iraqi Interim President Yawar, Tim Russert pushed the point of view that seriously doubted that Iraq can hold elections two months from now, citing gloomy assessments from UN Ambassador Loqutar Brahimi and leaders of various factions in the chaotic nation. The usually Smirk-friendly Tim even suggested that insurgents are being actively backed by Iraqis with food and hiding places, and elections will not take place in large areas of the nation. (Translation: Russert sees the writing on the wall. We've lost the fight for their hearts and minds, and the chances of a Western-style democracy emerging in Iraq before the end of the decade are about as likely as that of blowing smoke into a Coca-Cola bottle with a badminton racquet.)
Yawar, for his part, seemed to have been saddled with the worst briefing book we've seen on Meet the Press since Saddam's former henchman and foreign minister Tariq Aziz was a guest. Yawar's big talking points were the assertions that Iraq's interim government is committed to peace (as if he would say anything else), insurgents and "troublemakers" are putting people in the crossfire yet have no faces and demands and want the old Saddam regime (huh? we're sure many of them are glad Saddam is gone -- and that includes some of the Ba'athists), elections will take place (yeah, right). Tim did throw Yawar one bone in the form of a question on why Iraqis who support democracy are nowhere to be seen; naturally, Yawar said their "silent majority" are being intimidated by insurgents.
(Okay, so they don't have it as good as Americans, whose silent -- and not-so-silent -- majority of people who did NOT vote for Bush, either because they voted against him or did not vote at all, are being intimidated by the Republican minority and their theocracy, pertocrat and neoconcrat sponsors.)
Harry Reid's interview, however, was another story.
Reid went after the feckless Bush Boy, actually calling him a "liar" early on in the interview. That's right -- Harry Reid, often cast as a milquetoast and bigger compromiser than Tom Daschle, dared call George a liar. We had serious misgivings about Reid given his invertebrate track record -- we also had wished the Democrats in the Senate had named a forceful blue state Democrat with name recognition as their leader (say, John Kerry, who would be on George like white on rice at every opportunity). But after his performance today, we saw signs that Reid seems to be growing a backbone.
Tim took umbrage at Reid having called Dear Leader a liar for the way he handled the hauling of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. Tim: "Is that rhetoric appropriate?"
Here's a hint, Tim, in the form of one example that comes to mind almost instantly. The Bush Boy kept claiming he was a "compassionate conservative" yet mocked Karla Faye Tucker as she faced execution at his hand. We could give you dozens more examples -- but calling the Texas Dauphin a "liar" isn't "rhetoric," it's a fact. We could also go into some detail about comments you made about Bill Clinton's private life at hours when kids were likely within earshot of the idiot box -- was your rhetoric appropriate, Tim? Can you say "hypocrite," Tim?
Reid said that Congress should not leave Washington until intelligence reform is passed, no matter how long it takes (and wouldn'tcha know it, that's the pull quote that made headlines on AP, not his accurate assertion about Liar Boy George). Reid also cited Tommy Thompson's comment during the announcement of his resignation concerning the questionable safety of America's food and water supplies (monopolizing on what was either an unthinkable gaffe by Thompson -- or an outright attack on Tom Ridge and Bush).
Reid also took a swipe at Bush's girly mandate and claim that he's accumulated "political capital," reminding viewers that Bush's party controls Congress and it's time for him to pull out a "few bucks" of his political capital to get intelligence reform passed. "Every day that goes by, Americans are not safe."
Reid's forceful comments, one after the other, were twin a shots across the bow of the White House and the House of DeLay, calculated to bring to the fore the GOP-controlled government's ineptitude in the area of national security.
Reid laughed at Tim's question about privatizing Social Security. Reid said "the most successful [social] program [in American history] is being hijacked by Wall Street." Yes, he continued, Bush'll talk about improving the program, but "[t]hey're trying to destroy Social Security by giving it to the fat cats on Wall Street." Tim cited scare statistics meant to suggest a Social Security crisis (straight out of a GOP blast fax, no doubt), but Reid said that there's no real problem until 2055 -- and even then, there are relatively simple fixes. Republicans, he reiterated, have been trying to "destroy Social Security." Will Reid look at raising the retirement age or means-testing? "We'll look at it... [but] don't give it to Wall Street."
On taxes, Reid blasted the humongous income tax code, called for simplification, and said his concern is that a consumption tax (which he had at one time supported) on top of an income tax is a bad idea, and the transition will be tough. Tim Russert himself even admitted that a consumption or value-added tax is regressive (and, by gum, Russert sounded as if even he thinks regressive taxes are a bad thing).
Shifting into pious Catholic mode, Tim tried to corner Reid on reproductive rights. Reid, who Tim reminded us is a Mormon, said he supports choice and wants to push for fewer pregnancies. (He was referring to correcting the underlying social causes -- and missed a great chance to talk about the fact that under Clinton, the percentage of abortions dropped -- whereas they're up under Bush). Tim kept flogging "Roe v Wade" and the phony, anti-choice pseudo-medical term "partial birth abortions." What happens if Roe v Wade is overturned? Reid predicted "difficulty" (translation: difficulty for the GOP). Continuing on his moralist bent, Tim mentioned that Reid's church defines marriage as between a man and woman; Reid cast marriage as a states' rights issue, saying that a US Constitutional amendment "should be approached very cautiously."
(Reid missed an opportunity to jump all over Tim for pressing the two GOP wedge "moral" issues and not asking him about his views on free health care for kids and a serious approach to rooting out the underlying causes of poverty, moral issues that affect far more Americans than gay marriage.)
Tim turned to Reid's surprisingly kind words about Scalia on National Public Radio -- can he support Chief Justice Scalia?
Reid said, to what we thought for a moment was our great disappointment, "Yes -- if..." before inserting the shiv: ethics. Reid detailed his problems with Scalia's appearances as a paid speaker before casting Clarence Thomas as an "embarrassment." (Yes! It's about time someone said it!)
Tim brought up the possibility of Cheney and the Senate GOPers killing filibusters. Reid said that the last Senate approved over 200 judicial appointments and disapproved only ten, and pointed out that Clinton consulted with Sen. Orrin Hatch before selecting and submitting Supreme Court nominees -- and Bush should do the same. Tim said that Reid had written a letter to Bush saying that he should consult -- what if Bush says no? Reid said that it is the Senate's duty to advise and consent. (Translation: gauntlet ready for the throwdown.)
Tim asked if Reid can work with Frist. Reid let fly effusive praise of Frist before saying he will work with him. Hmmm...
Well, okay. We'll let that one slide -- because after all the praise, the answer did sound, shall we say, amore than a tad conditional.