Balance of Power with Tucker Carlson and Ana Marie Cox

Tucker Carlson and Ana Marie Cox
Political Journalists
Thursday, February 5, 2009; 3:00 PM

Tucker Carlson. Ana Marie Cox. He's conservative. She's liberal. They both write for The Daily Beast, and she's just joined Air America Radio as a national correspondent. They were online Thursday, February 5 to offer their analysis of the first weeks of the Obama presidency and other goings-on in the world of politics.

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: An offensive response was removed from this transcript following the discussion.


Tucker Carlson: Greetings from Miami! Thanks for having us.


Ana Marie Cox: Greetings from the Senate Periodical Press Gallery, where I have no business being. And I'll start off by wishing Ruth Ginsberg a quick recovery. We all knew this President would likely be making Supreme Court appointments, I don't think anyone wanted it to be so soon.


Burke, Va.: Any scoop on potential HHS candidates?

Tucker Carlson: I've heard John Kerry is under discussion, but I don't believe it. Not enough of a diplomat. The whole point of the job is to ease the passage of the legislation, not to craft it. It's a political position, not a policy one. Look for another former senator, popular with his colleagues.


New York : Wait. He's conservative; she's liberal. So you both hate Daschle, right? Where's the person to argue the contrary proposition? Hold on, I got one: Bob Dole.

Ana Marie Cox: I don't actually know Daschle and his general presence was so soft and inoffensive that I was primarily annoyed by his softness and inoffensiveness. Talking to DC types this week, I was shocked, however, at how many folks seemed to really like Daschle. He had a lot of friends in the Senate -- except for Baucus -- and no one I talked to thinks he wouldn't have been confirmed.

The fact that he pulled out shows a degree of self-awareness and sense of shame that was probably the biggest argument TO confirm him.

Tucker Carlson: I'm not sure I could make a point more thoughtful than Ana's, but for what it's worth, I like Daschle too. But strip away the affection and here's what you have: a rich former politician/lobbyist who didn't bother to pay taxes on his limo service. Politically, that strikes me as a tough sell in a recession.


Richmond, Va.: What a combo you two are! Thanks for taking our questions.

Re: Executive Pay: I get the populist fervor in limiting executive pay of companies receiving bailout money to $500,000 per year. YES! Grab your axe handles and pitchforks! But... in reality, isn't that like turning troubled companies over to minimum wage management? There just MAY be a reason an executive gets millions a year: He or she may be REALLY good at turning companies around! And will any of these want to take a job at government-merged company only to make a "measly" $500,000 a year???

Tucker Carlson: Nobody's defending grotesque executive salaries, including me. But there are some problems with allowing the federal government to set private sector salaries, including: where do you stop? Many farmers take subsidies, why not cap their compensation? Also, does anyone believe that federal bureaucrats would be any wiser in running these companies than their boards of directors were? Seems to me a pretty scary step, and another reason we never should have bailed these companies out in the first place.

Ana Marie Cox: Are you suggesting that anyone who ran their company into the ground deep enough to NEED that kind of bailout is doing a job better than any random minimum wage management might?

If she/he is good at turning companies around, one assumes that she/he doesn't need the handout.

I have no problem with capping the salaries of in other industries that take government subsidies, btw. Loan agreements often have, you know, agreement parts.


Reston, Va.: Given today's news about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, who do you think are likely nominees should there be a vacancy on the Supreme Court?

Tucker Carlson: I don't agree with Ginsburg's politics, but that's awfully depressing news and you've got to feel for her and her family. If she were to give up her seat on the court I believe Elena Kagan would be the frontrunner to replace her.

Ana Marie Cox: I'm hoping we get a few more days to think about that.


Have Faith: Doesn't President Obama have enough problems without attempting to resurrect the Faith-based Office?

Tucker Carlson: Yes. They ought to scrap the whole enterprise, which was conceived at least in part as a way to pay off urban preachers in exchange for their political support. No one wants to say that out loud, but it's true, and it probably hasn't become less true since Bush left office. When religion intersects with politics, religion gets polluted, and I hate to see that.

Ana Marie Cox: I think it's a kind of genius move, in the same way it was a genius move on Bush's part, with the added genius-for-PR detail that no one in the Faith-Based Office will actually be on WH salary. Now that's faith-based.


Del Ray, Va.: So Tucker, any jealousy over AMC and her shiny new WH press creds?

Ana Marie Cox: Tucker knows that the WH credential is not quite worth the laminate it's printed on in terms of news-gathering. Also I don't actually have mine yet. Three months wait at the moment which might have to do with others not having figured out just how little good they do.

I half expect the wait to get much shorter when the nets stop carrying it live every day.

Tucker Carlson: First of all, I am covering the White House, for the Food Network. So I'm still in the game, and not at all jealous. Second, I agree with Ana: this is one of those clubs that, the second you get in, isn't worth joining in the first place.


Norman, Okla.: Any news on the White House puppy situation?

Ana Marie Cox: I believe it was Anderson Cooper who put this VERY IMPORTANT question to the POTUS the other day and the news is grim: No puppy until Spring which means I guess they've missed out on a pop-culture-trifecta adoption of a Puppy Bowl MVP.

Tucker Carlson: Talk about abandoning promises made in the heat of the moment on the campaign trail. If the Obamas think that America's going to forget, they're wrong. Some of us in the pro-dog caucus are watching, closely.


NYC: Tucker, are you surprised that Obama is selecting so many Republicans to his cabinet? If you could pretend you were a Democrat (is that possible?) how do you think you'd feel about it?

As a lefty Obama supporter, I'm not pleased. I don't vote Republican for a reason, so I don't want my Democrat picking Republicans. Maybe he's taking the high road, but don't forget -- you gotta be on a high road to drive off a cliff.

Tucker Carlson: Rest easy: I don't think Judd Gregg will subvert the president's essential Obamaness. He's still a lefty. But if you're looking to get upset, how about Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State? Isn't that exactly the foreign policy you voted against when you voted for Obama in the primary?

Ana Marie Cox: I am neither surprised nor especially disappointed but not all that much of a lefty as I used to be. And I like Hillary there better than as President.


Chattanooga, Tenn.: If Daschle hadn't stepped down because of the tax and faux-lobbyist issues, he should have been disqualified for wearing those girly red-rimmed glasses. Could you see Ahnold the Governator on Capitol Hill wearing glasses like that?

Tucker Carlson: I never mock a man for a midlife crisis. It's bad karma. I'll be there soon myself.

Ana Marie Cox: I LOVE those glasses! They are the glasses of a man confident in his sexuality.

Also obviously proves he's a Griffyndor and not a Hufflepuff as previously assumed.


Mea culpa: Did President Obama's prompt admission that he "screwed up" over the failed nominations win him any political points? This may have been an easier thing to apologize for than some future mistakes.

Tucker Carlson: It did with me! I found it appealingly forthright and charming. That's exactly what I teach my kids to do. Good for him.

Ana Marie Cox: It was smart politically tho not necessarily that revealing -- at the press conference the next day, when pressed as to what Obama did, exactly, that was the "screw up," Gibbs said that Obama let his desire for remaking the health care system under the most talented person available blind him.

It's the kind of answer you get a job interviews -- "I'm too hard a worker," "I'm a perfectionist" -- and it may even be true but it doesn't get at what actually went wrong with the nomination.


New York, N.Y.: For HHS Secretary, I hear Caroline Kennedy is running for it. She will go on a month long campaign across the nation only to withdraw her name shortly before President Obama picks someone else. Yet, on a more serious nature, what about Robert Kennedy, Jr. for HHS Secretary?

Tucker Carlson: Probably best to accept the Kennedy era is over. Again, Obama needs someone who's popular with members of Congress, and that almost cetainly means a former member.

Ana Marie Cox: Agree that it's hard to picture anyone but another ex-Senator in HHS. Whole admin is like The Revenge of the Legislative Branch.


Backwoods Pa.: Our new President has a lot on his plate at the moment, which has been pointed out almost constantly in the media. Do you feel that the administration is "all over the place" in its focus? He's made overtures to Iran, he's trying to push the stimulus package, he's picking his cabinet, he's out trying to placate the anti and pro abortion camps, he's pushing for executive wage caps for companies receiving bailout money...

Tucker Carlson: Don't forget bringing peace to the Middle East. Maybe he can do it all. At that point I'll agree with my neighbors and concede he is God.


NYC: "Isn't that exactly the foreign policy you voted against when you voted for Obama in the primary?"

Thanks for reminding me of that. Troublemaker. But you're right. HRC as SOS makes little sense. I would have thought HHS for her, let her get the national health care thing right this time. It's a passion of hers and it was what I did like about her. My one and only reason for not voting for her was her stance on Iraq.

I have to say I'm somewhat disappointed with what Obama's done so far.

Tucker Carlson: You're exactly the person Obama will learn to fear: A sincere liberal who believed him when he promised change.


Stone Ridge, Va.: So the evil Bush borrows $900 Billion or so from the Chinese over the course of years via T-Bill sales to wage war in Iraq which helps (along with the sub-prime meltdown) get us into this mess, and now The Chosen One will spend another $900 Billion over the course of weeks to get us out of it (that, and pay for a bunch of Democratic policies without going thru the pesky budgeting process).

My question - where does President Obama plan to get the $900 Billion this Spring?

Tucker Carlson: Here's a better question: Who's going to buy all that debt?

Ana Marie Cox: Whatever happens it's probably a good idea to start learning Chinese.


Reston, Va.: Does anybody like John Kerry? What did he do to piss off so many people?

Tucker Carlson: Because he's incredibly annoying. And that's not me talking. He's always been nice to me. I sort of like the guy. But find three fellow senators who will admit privately to liking him, and I'll buy you lunch.

Ana Marie Cox: Not even his staff likes him that much; it's actually sort of sad. I think it's not that he's almost completely unselfaware and self-important (that describes most Senators) it's that he seems to genuinely think he's "cool."


Midwest: You are both new/electronic media people, but do you think there is any future for the American newspaper? In the past month the two dailies I subscribe to have laid off/fired staff, redesigned (shrunk) their product, and increased the amount of wire service copy they use. Are they really dinosaurs just waiting for the last meteor to hit?

Ana Marie Cox: All I know is that if there's anyone whose prescription for the renaissance of Old Media I will totally trust it's that of Walter Isaacson, former editor of Time Magazine and head of CNN.

Tucker Carlson: I'd like to be a new media person, and am even now trying to perfect my imitation of one, but in real life I started at a newspaper when I was 23 and never really got over it. I love newspapers, and I fear what will happen when they (inevitably) die. Who will bloggers steal from? Who's going to report the news? The same people who've been rooting for the demise of the New York Times are going to be left without much to talk about when it finally goes away.


Norman, Okla.: Why is it so hard for the POTUS to find potential cabinet members without a tax problem? Now the latest one in trouble is Sec. of Labor-nominee Hilda Solis! AGH!

Tucker Carlson: That's it. I'm not paying my taxes this year.

Ana Marie Cox: In preparation for my eventual cabinet nomination I have never paid taxes. I thought that's how they found appointees.


Taxing times: What percentage of our congresspersons could survive a rigorous tax audit unscathed?

Ana Marie Cox: "Unscathed" or "totally in compliance"? I believe the difference between the two is referred to a "Rangel unit." As I've argued in this space a few times, the wonderful/horrible thing about Congress is that it IS REPRESENTATIVE. With that in mind, "The overall tax payment compliance rate has hovered around 85 percent for decades, according to IRS statistics."


Sen. Kerry: Yes, I suppose having people trying to kill you and having your job trying to kill others would tend to not make someone melancholy and out of touch. Please, does he have to be likeable or does he need to do his job and represent his constituency?

Ana Marie Cox: I don't think anyone said that being "likable" is part of being an elected representative, in fact I wish voters were less demanding about it. One of the most talented and effective members of Congress is Barney Frank, after all, and he is -- admittedly -- sort of a prick.

Tucker Carlson: "Sort of"? Ever talked to Barney Frank? He's possibly the most unpleasant person in the United States. He once made a CNN producer cry in front of me, smacked her hand for daring to smooth his collar. He's genuinely awful, the worst.


Re: Executive Salaries: Primarily for Tucker, but could the government have done a -worse- job at running hedge funds, investment firms and mortgage companies than their respective boards did?

Tucker Carlson: If Social Security were a private fund, its managers would be arrested for running a Ponzi scheme. So, yes, government would have done a worse job, and would never have been held to account for it.

And in fact isn't being held to account for it. Fannie and Freddie made bad loans in part because they were encouraged to do so by a series of administrations hoping to hike the homeownership rate.


Little Silver, N.J.: Don't you think Obama's first two weeks prove he desperately needs a Snark Czar to reach today's crazy kids on teh Internets and bloggeries?

Ana Marie Cox: I believe that is the job of Tommy Vietor in the lower press, who defeats most of it by virtue of his incredibly earnest name. (Who beats up on "Tommy?")


Santa Barbara, Calif.: You guys start off far too many answers with "I agree with Tucker" or "I can't disagree with what Ana said." I thought you were ideological mortal enemies! Disagree with each other purely on the principle! Does this mean that there's hope for bi-/post-partisanship in our country??

Ana Marie Cox: I know Tucker has admitted in the past to being bi-curious.

Tucker Carlson: I can't improve on that.

For the record, I deeply disapprove of Ana's principles, her world view and her choice of friends.


East Lansing, Mich.: Don't you think the MSNBC 10 p.m. slot could use something like an updated version of Crossfire... you know, maybe co-hosted by a man and woman, one leftish, one rightish, but hipper, racier and sillier than the old screaming format. I think it would be a huge hit but I can't think of anyone to fill the roles, can you?

Ana Marie Cox: I assume you're talking about Jonah Goldberg and Jane Hamsher and I would watch every night.


Fairfax, Va.: No question, just a comment: you two CRACK. ME. UP. This is my (second) favorite chat of the week! :)

Tucker Carlson: Second? What can we do to win your vote?


Washington, D.C.: Hello Tucker (I am a Democrat but am a HUGE fan) and Ana Marie. I have loosely scoured this stimulus bill and I have one question... Where's the stimulus?!

Ana Marie Cox: Surely all the birth control provisions would stimulate SOMETHING.

It's probably too late but I confess I've sympathy for the new Republican proposition to split the "stimulus" bill into different packages: spending, tax cuts, specific programs. Would at least allow for a greater understanding beyond ZOMG THAT IS A LOT OF MONEY.


Maryland: What's the issue between Rahm and Dean? I've heard murmurings but not sure what's true.

I would like to know why he, like Kerry, hasn't been considered for a cabinet post. Since Obama seems to like those he disagrees with, are they too much like him?

Tucker Carlson: All the old Clinton people seem to dislike Dean intensely. There are a lot of explanations, though I'm not sure which one to believe.

Ana Marie Cox: No one will ever go on the record about it, but my understanding is that Rahm and Dean had a kind of vicious turf war over the 2006 midterms, one which they both actually won but neither wants to admit the other helped with. Also their personalities are oil-and-waterish. Dean: passive-aggressive, non-confrontational, anti-social, bureaucratic and convinced of his own righteousness. Rahm: aggressive, confrontational, social, seat-of-pants and convinced of his own righteousness.

Some point to actual policy differences but I think Rahm's willingness to support and recruit "Blue Dogs" is a matter of thinking he's found the right candidate for the right district rather than trying to consciously promote a more moderate platform.

And Dean would say, "same difference."


Fairfax, Va.: Hi Ana Marie and Tucker. True Story! I quit my dentist because he had photos of George W. Bush and the only magazines to read were the New Republic, US News and World Report and some Trout and Fly fishing magazines. The last straw was when he asked who I was voting for... during a root canal!. So am I a partisan hack for quittin' my dentist? your thoughts..

Tucker Carlson: Yes, you are a partisan hack. But you're also on to something. Every dentist in America is right wing. All of them. I'm not sure why, but it's true. So good luck finding a lefty to drill your teeth.


NYC: Having ruled out his choice of eyewear as the cause: if Daschle's hearing had been up first, do you think he'd have been confirmed and Geithner would have gotten the boot?

Because while it was cool hearing the Pres apologize to us all for Daschle's tax failings, after Geithner made it through, it seems like he was a victim of poor timing.

Ana Marie Cox: I do think timing was everything in this particular case. And perhaps underestimating the value of leaks: As John Dickerson pointed out in Slate yesterday, the WH knew about the problems with both nominees but waited for the information to come out in the press before making the But They Are Special argument.

If Geithner and Daschle were truly the Most Insanely Qualified, so qualified that small (or not small) vetting issues should be overlooked, they probably should have made that argument proactively.


Baltimore, Md.: Are these recent cabinet appointment snafus really going to affect President Obama, or are they going to be able to roll off his back like everything else has?

Ana Marie Cox: I suppose that's kind of up to you... and us, speaking as a self-hating pundit-type. I imagine that the only thing that can really hurt him is something he doesn't actually have THAT much control of: the economy. All will be forgiven -- he could probably have an affair with an intern or something crazy like that -- if people start feeling good about keeping their jobs/homes again.


Limbaugh: So, Tucker, the House GOP has semi-officially proclaimed Rush Limbaugh to be the conservative voice of reason, wisdom and new ideas. Please describe your reaction.

Tucker Carlson: Better than Joe the Plumber, who addressed Republicans earlier this week. Seriously.

But it's Obama who stepped in it with Limbaugh. You're the new, wildly popular president, and in your first month in office you pick a fight with a radio talk show host? Come on. Grow up.


possibly the most unpleasant person in the United States: Barney Frank is the wittiest member of Congress. Did you hear him on "Wait! Wait!Don't Tell Me" a few months ago? Laughed till I cried.

Tucker Carlson: He's witty, I'll give you that. But such a nasty guy. You could imagine him torturing small animals. That bad.

On that cheerful note, our time is up. Thanks for having us. See you next week.


Ana Marie Cox: So many great questions, so little time. It's always great to hear from all of you, even if we don't get a chance to respond. Have a good weekend, pay your taxes and don't kick any puppies.


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