The Sunday Shows take on guns and gays

Today. more Iraq War salesmen hype the Iran threat and David Gregory stands up for the right to drink soda

Published March 24, 2013 8:26PM (EDT)

 How many of these people should be banned from television forever?     (NBC News)
How many of these people should be banned from television forever? (NBC News)

One interesting thing I've noted since I started watching the mostly wretched Sunday shows is that for the most part there is not much debate, between the liberal and conservative panel mainstays, on gay marriage. Everyone is in favor of it or not inclined to strongly oppose it. So in order to have a proper right-vs-left Sunday Show Debate on the matter, two of the shows today were forced to bring in outspoken bigots. National embarrassments Tony Perkins and Ralph Reed both gamely answered the call, and defended "traditional marriage" from the inevitable march of widespread acceptance of gays and lesbians.

First, though, ABC's "This Week," the only one of the big three shows this morning to have another idiotic debate about budgets, began with George Stephanopoulos actually bragging -- bragging! -- that he had both Jim Messina and Karl Rove. Oh boy, two campaign strategists! When I am looking for well-considered and thoughtful commentary on national issues, I always turn to people who are good at managing political campaigns.

The first question was, naturally, based on the premise that the Senate Democratic budget and the House Republican Budget represent the left-most and right-most extremes in the debate over the proper role and size of the federal government -- haha sorry again, invisible House Progressive Caucus budget -- and therefore implicit in the debate was the understanding that it will be both necessary and good to find a compromise somewhere between the two, which would obviously end up being a very conservative budget compromise well to the right of the current status quo. Mostly, though, everyone -- Messina, Rove, Donna Brazile, Peggy Noonan and Terry Moran -- was just super psyched that the Senate passed a budget. Hooray!

"I frankly take this as a constructive sign," Karl Rove said. "I have not understood why the Senate Democrats have not passed a budget resolution for the last four years." That's a remarkable admission of ignorance, from a political veteran as experienced as Karl Rove. It is easy to understand why the Senate hasn't done this: Because it's unnecessary for the continued functioning of the government and because budgets are full of potentially politically controversial things.

One fun fact about Peggy Noonan is that she always sounds like she is telling small children a story she is making up as she goes along. She is very good at performing "thoughtfulness," and then saying airy garbage. Noonan said that the president's poll numbers are "deflating" because "a number of people think the White House is playing games" on the sequester, and "also there is Obamacare."

The panel moved on to guns. Rove was the first person this morning to articulate the conservative conventional wisdom on all current proposed gun regulations: They would not have stopped Sandy Hook, and so therefore they are unnecessary. Doesn't that imply that stricter gun regulations should be proposed and enacted? No, shut up, if we register guns THEY WILL TAKE ALL OUR GUNS.

Here's Noonan on whether or not the Senate should pass wildly popular gun regulations like universal background checks: [THOUGHTFUL PAUSE] "The central fact is that nobody in America really trusts Congress." Well, sure, no argument here! Noonan then suggests that people would trust Congress more if Congress only passed "five page bills." America dislikes Congress because most bills are too long, I guess. "The reason Americans don't trust these big bills, is that they assume so much mischief is hidden inside," Noonan continued, not ever betraying any indication that she either supports or does not support stricter gun control legislation of any kind.

Stephanopoulos then asked Messina and Rove about the RNC "autopsy," the report the party put out recently that pointed out that everyone hates Republicans because they are all old white rich people. Rove should really have no problem with the findings of the report. Everyone hated Republicans in 2000 too, when Rove ran the presidential campaign that presented George W. Bush as the face of soft, cuddly moderation. But Rove is also invested in the idea that the party doesn't actually have a serious long-term demographic problem, so he praised a litany of Republicans who've paid lip service to the notion of changing GOP rhetoric (but not ideology) and then he said that the party was clearly fine because they control a bunch of state legislatures and Romney got 42 percent of the Latino vote... in Ohio.

Then Donna Brazile called Karl Rove "Charles," leading to this bizarre exchange:

BRAZILE: "Charles was a former friend."
ROVE: "I thought I was a current friend."
BRAZILE: "Well you owe me some chili."
ROVE: "Well you owe me some fried chicken."
BRAZILE: "Well I saved your life from malaria once."

Then everyone laughed but no one explained any of this.

Finally, the panel discussed the gay marriage cases currently before the Supreme Court. Again, no one explicitly stated opposition to gay marriage. Not even Karl Rove. (Also, again, no one brought up Bush's 2004 reelection gay marriage ban push. Even though Karl was right there.) Terry Moran basically said that the court will most likely punt on the issue entirely but for some reason they all continued talking after he said that. Noonan was hilarious here, saying she hoped the court would just not decide anything, because "Americans don't take it well when their black-robed masters decide" big issues (HELLO AGAIN KARL REMEMBER 2000) and that the court should leave it up to the states by saying, "if you can't solve it here, you can say everybody can solve it down there." So yeah, sorry gay Southerners, basically. But, as Noonan said, it is best if we continue having this debate for years, because "sometimes it's good when everything takes a little time to settle itself." She said that in relation to a civil rights case currently before the Supreme Court. It's always best when efforts to alleviate discrimination take forever.

The "This Week" foreign policy panel consisted of:

The Atlantic's humor writer/star foreign affairs writer Jeffrey Goldberg, who famously wrote a bunch of stuff about Iraq in The New Yorker that turned out to be horribly wrong and who also wrote a cover story for The Atlantic three years ago that said that in less than a year, it was extremely likely that Israel and the U.S. would be at war with Iran. So, yes, perfect expert, good Get.

Goldberg was joined by Christiane Amanpour, Time Magazine's Rana Forohar, and, I wish I was making this up, Dan fucking Senor. Yes, the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Where his job was to lie to reporters about how great everything was going in Iraq while his idiot boss Paul Bremer made things worse every day and misplaced billions of dollars. An incompetent propagandist for an incompetent military occupation government was joining us to advocate military action against Iran, joined by a guy who helped sell American on the Iraq war with scary stories that all turned out to be false. Those two, plus some random international reporters. Great panel, George.

I'll get through this quickly: No one cares that the Israeli and Palestinian "peace process" is "stalled," and Senor is fucking stoked that there's gonna be a war in Iran, hopefully soon. Foroohar seemed to be the only person who thought that diplomacy was either possible or preferable. Instead of speeding toward war, she said, we should maybe try to talk it out. "This is perhaps a time to step back and let the Iranians move forward a little bit."

Goldberg did not agree, because he knows that the Iranians' secret plan is to only use talking as a distraction while they build "faster centrifuges in fortified bunkers." "And the real worry on the part of the Americans right now is that Iran will sprint to a bomb in between these international inspections." Plus, you know, smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud, and all that. This war's gonna be so sweet!

On Syria, everyone agreed on the urgent necessity of "doing something." All foreign affairs discussions on these shows have a distinct bias in favor of INTERVENTION. The only consequences discussed are generally the consequences of not intervening. The "do something" argument always seems more serious and urgent than any argument against doing "something." Asked if the U.S. should take the lead in arming or fighting with the rebels, Goldberg said, "we just marked the tenth anniversary of a militant intervention by the united states, which had, obviously, huge consequences that we're living with today." Mr. Goldberg and Mr. Senor are decidedly not living with any consequences, at all, for their own parts in that catastrophe, but that line was just a set-up for Goldberg's next point, which was that ""this Syria case is an example of consequences of non-interventionism." Got that? Always intervene. Always.

On to sleepy Bob Scheiffer and his sleepy little CBS show. His first panel was on gay marriage, and it featured, on the "pro" side, Baltimore Ravens player Brendon Ayanbadejo -- a name Scheiffer clearly did not want to even try to pronounce -- and Evan Wolfson and David Frum. On the against side, attorney Austin Nimocks and shiny bigot Tony Perkins. Fun facts about Tony Perkins: He is an outspoken supporter of the president and government of Uganda, a government that believes the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for homosexuality. And he once spoke to a white supremacist group and then pretended he had no idea they were a white supremacist group.

You can probably guess how this panel went? Ayanbadejo is a hero and seems like a great guy, but he is perhaps not the best advocate for gay rights in a debate involving attorneys and people who appear on television and the radio arguing things for a living. Scheiffer kept using really loaded terms like "redefine marriage" and "conventional marriage" and "traditional marriage." The right-wing line is again basically that the Supreme Court shouldn't "shut down this debate" we're having as a nation over whether or not to extend a series of legal rights to gay people. Perkins babbled about how the gays were violating the rights of non-gays to discriminate against gays. Scheiffer asked Ayanbadejo if there are any gay people in the NFL. Perkins got the last word in, and we moved on to talking Syria with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R, Mich.).

Rogers said it is "abundantly clear that that red line has been crossed" because Syrians "have put chemical weapons in a position to use," and "we better do something." It was essentially "we must do SOMETHING," over and over again. Scheiffer did ask him what we should do, and it was basically "show more leadership," and then finally something about sending in the special forces to "vet" and train and equip the opposition.

Scheiffer does these weird little commentaries right in the middle of the show, where he sort of expresses opinions, but like not actual political opinions, at all, because journalists are not supposed to have those, except the opinion that both parties are wrong about everything and the best option is always in "the middle." So today's little commentary was a bit of heavy-handed sarcasm about how the Senate finally passed a budget ("and aren't you proud of them") and then, can you believe it, they went on vacation! Those clowns in Congress, right? "It is the first time the Senate has been able to even pass a budget blueprint in four years, so I guess they should be congratulated." Just blanket, meaningless contempt for "the Senate," without any indication of why it's hard for them to accomplish anything, or who might be responsible, or what could be done. How is this informative or useful for anyone, at all? "Cranky old person hates group of 100 cranky old people."

Rogers came back for THE PANEL, which was another Sunday Show classic, mostly because it included Thomas Friedman. He was joined by reporters Clarissa Ward and Bobby Ghosh, and when those two were talking this was a pretty informative and not-horribly offensive panel, really, probably the best one I saw today. Then Rogers would get sort of pettily partisan about how the president sucks at stuff and Thomas Friedman would gurgle banalities like "the Syrian problem is the problem from hell." And, on the question of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, "you gotta get tougher with both sides!" (But Friedman was relieved that America does not need to pretend to care about Palestinian statehood anymore because we have a shitload of oil and gas.)

Then Scheiffer asked Rogers about drones but it was not the sort of drone conversation any Salon readers would enjoy. Rogers said the CIA must continue being an unaccountable paramilitary organization forever because of Russia, China and "cyberthreats."

There was another panel, finally, with Jan Crawford and John Dickerson, and this one, like so much of "Face the Nation," was fine I guess but pretty boring. Jan Crawford said the Supreme Court will probably throw the Prop 8 case out on procedural grounds, which seems right to me, but DOMA's up in the air, the end.

No one talked much about Iran on "Face the Nation" today so it wins.

We need to talk about how bad David Gregory is at his job. First of all, he's interviewed Wayne LaPierre 200 times now and he's not any better at it. Secondly his interview with Mayor Michael Bloomberg was an embarrassment.

"Meet the Press" began with a panel featuring David Brooks and E.J. Dionne -- a real wild, unpredictable pair, those two -- who both agreed that the President's trip to Israel was a huge success. Then it was time for the GUN SHOWDOWN with Bloomberg and LaPierre, who were interviewed separately, probably because Bloomberg didn't feel like leaving New York and did not want to be in the same room as that mouthbreather LaPierre.

So Bloomberg is cautiously optimistic that we'll get some new gun control laws, and he's going to spend a lot of money trying to counteract the money spent and lobbying done by the NRA. Good for him. No news here, but fine. Then Gregory says it's time to "switch gears" and talk about ""the fight for personal freedom here in New York City." By "the fight for personal freedom here in New York City" he is referring to the PR and lobbying campaign by food companies against Bloomberg's stupid soda ban.

First of all, yes, Michael Bloomberg is a paternalistic authoritarian. If if were up to him he really would ban sodas, and cigarettes. If he could, he'd probably support a law banning poor people from ordering take-out. If it were in his power to do so, I bet he really would simply ban guns. There are legal and political constraints preventing him from banning either guns or soda, so he is working at accomplishing whatever he can on both fronts. It is therefore fairly useless to question him about liberty and our "right" to do things he finds distasteful, because the guy doesn't care, at all. That aside, his paternalistic authoritarianism is harmless in the case of his proposal to restrict the amount of soda you can get in one cup at one time at a restaurant.

Gregory did not even bother to ask a single question about an actually important civil liberty Bloomberg does not give a shit about, the right of Americans to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. There is currently a class-action lawsuit against Bloomberg's NYPD over the policy of stop-and-frisk -- I actually doubt Gregory even knows that -- and that trial has produced a fascinating series of revelations, from secretly taped police conversations and from NYPD whistleblowers. The trial has revealed that the police practice an illegal quota system, and that cops are specifically instructed to single out young black men for searches. Gregory cared more about soda.

So does most of the national media, of course -- Jake Tapper similarly asked the mayor about soda, but not the NYPD, on his new show -- but Gregory's interview was particularly inane. "But where's the line, would you ban the salt shaker?" he asked, in a savage parody of tough journalistic questioning. "As the executive of New York City, you're telling people what they can and cannot do -- where's the line?" The problem with a question phrased that stupidly and broadly is that it's pretty easy to answer, as Bloomberg did, that the government limits people's liberties all the time in cases of public safety and health. That's why we infringe on the liberty to drive drunk.

Meanwhile, on MSNBC, Chris Hayes actually hosted a discussion of NYPD policy with the current Democratic candidates for New York City Mayor. At least someone at 30 Rock cares as much about the Fourth Amendment as the Second. Or the imaginary amendment about how we can all have as much soda as we want at all times.

In response, LaPierre repeated his dumb talking points for a while -- the guy is really not the best advocate gun nuts have -- and then he went on a weird, racebaiting tirade about how the government isn't enforcing the current gun laws we have, in Chicago. He is very mad that the national media isn't reporting on how "Chicago is dead last in enforcing federal gun laws, against gangs with guns, felons with guns," and other code words along those lines. "I'm talkin about drug dealers, gangs and felons," he said, and also "CHICAGO."

LaPierre also said "assault weapons" are "protected under Heller," which is just total bullshit -- Scalia in particular was explicitly open to bans on certain kinds of powerful or unusual weapons -- but Gregory never said anything. I dunno, maybe Gregory hasn't read the decision. Maybe he's terrible at his job.

Then David Gregory told everyone to follow him on Twitter, because he posted his bracket, "which is a disaster," lol, what fun.

Finally the big panel, which today featured Dionne and Brooks plus Hilary Rosen and, hello there, Ralph Reed, a particularly odious little cretin who keeps returning to prominence no matter how many times he gets caught enriching himself and his pals at the expense of the movement he wishes to lead. Reed was here to talk about his corrupt campaign on behalf of sweatshops in the Northern Mariana Islands why gay people are gross. He pointed out that while most polls now show a majority of Americans are cool with gay people, some of those polls are "within the margin of error," so you know, he's still got that. Hilary Rosen was weirdly optimistic -- "the Supreme Court will decide this based on what's fair and what's right," she said, which suggests she is unfamiliar with this current court or the institution of the Supreme Court in general -- and she was also the only person on the panel who seemed to want to even acknowledge that that corrupt troll Reed was even there.

Gregory then moved to a different table to interview attorney David Boies for a minute (I don't know why Boies wasn't allowed to be part of The Big Panel) and Boies predicted that the marriage equality side would win. He did acknowledge that one possible outcome -- I think the likeliest one -- is that court will just decide to rule that the plaintiffs don't have standing, in which case California gets gay marriage and everyone else gets to keep their bans.

Back to The Panel, where they talked about guns for a while. David Brooks very quietly had the worst, scummiest argument of the day, though it sounded very reasonable and moderate. Brooks is agnostic about gun control, and he doesn't oppose it, but he doesn't think it's necessary because gun violence has fallen greatly in recent years. It's true: America has much less violent crime than it used to, after crime rose for many years. Basically no one understands why this happened, but there are a lot of interesting theories (like: lead!). Brooks has it all figured out, though: The solution to gun violence is our policy of mass incarceration of African American men. Though of course he did not say so explicitly. Instead he said gun violence is falling because of ""better policing, incarceration." "Why are we talking about these background checks," when crime has fallen because "policing has changed, parole policies have changed, incarceration...." So we're safer now, without gun control, because we're locking everyone up, for lengthy sentences, and making parole more difficult. Wonderful Great conservative argument.

The smug "reasonable moderate" fascism of David Brooks, Yale's Professor of Humility, is today's Worst Thing About the Sunday Shows. It is even worse than the Dan Senor thing.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

MORE FROM Alex Pareene