Balance of Power with Tucker Carlson and Ana Marie Cox

Tucker Carlson and Ana Marie Cox
Political Journalists
Wednesday, February 18, 2009; 12:00 PM

Tucker Carlson. Ana Marie Cox. He's conservative. She's liberal. They both write for The Daily Beast, and she's a national correspondent for Air America Radio. They were online Wednesday, February 18 to offer their analysis of the first weeks of the Obama presidency and other goings-on in the world of politics.

A transcript follows.


Kettering, Ohio: Of course you would have to move to a time when I have to be in a meeting. Tucker and Ana? Or have a job? I have to go for the job.

But let me ask this. The Chicago Tribune called today for Burris' resignation. If you believe that he will do the right thing, I have a bridge or a fantastically overpriced stimulus package to sell you. However, could Reid and Boxer have the stones to pitch his lying keister out of the Senate? Roland Burris, resign (Chicago Tribune, Feb. 18)

Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, these days I'd go with "job." Hello everyone and speaking of jobs I can't believe they pay us to do this. Always fun and always great questions.

Of course they don't pay us VERY MUCH...


Rockville, Md.: What are the odds of Burris staying put? It's almost pathetic that he really DID try to pull a Jesse Jackson Jr., only people saw him as the hack that he truly is and held onto their wallets. Can that lie get him out of the Senate (and be the answer to Harry Reid's prayers), or is he staying until 2011?

Tucker Carlson: Welcome. Thanks for having us at our (at least for this week) new time.

A better question would be: Why would Burris leave? Because he's ashamed of getting caught in a lie? Come on. As for the Democratic leadership, if they even talked about trying to force him out, the CBC would declare him a civil rights hero and they'd back down, just as they did before. So my advice would be, learn to enjoy Roland Burris. He's going to be around for a while (assuming he doesn't go to prison for lying under oath).

Ana Marie Cox: It'll be interesting to see how Dem leadership reactions play out. Senators tend to protect their own, so I think there's a perfectly good chance that we'll be enjoying Burris for years to come.

Of course, that's easy for us to do, we're not in Illinois, where I'm guessing it doesn't seem as funny.


Helping hands: If the federal government bails out the banking industry, the home mortgage industry and the auto industry, will it bail out the state of California, which seems to be equally large and dysfunctional?

Tucker Carlson: Philosophically, I can't see how the Obama administration can deny any bailout request from any American from here on out. And unlike some of the other bankrupt entities you mentioned, California has a future. So why not?

Ana Marie Cox: I'm not sure there's a coherent "philosophy" at work here at all.


Washington, D.C.: Noon! You have now disrupted my entire workday! Seriously, I am happy to see you earlier. My question is about the stimulus money. Do either of you really believe that the Republican governors who have said they don't want the money will actually refuse when the check is sent to them? Ideology only pays so many of the bills.

Ana Marie Cox: I don't think that the objection of the governors was to getting money, it was to HOW it was spent, no? And the strings attached? But of course, no one is going to turn down the money. Sarah Palin is just upset she can't spend it on shoes.

On a related and more serious note: I just saw a Tweet from an RNC staffer that read, "T-Paw reminds MSNBC that 'vast majority of Republican governors did not support stimulus.'"

The more we can use "T-Paw" in official political conversation, the more likely I am to vote for the guy.

Tucker Carlson: T-Paw? So gansta. I'm impressed.

I think most Republican governors will take whatever federal money they can get their hands on, and that's exactly why the Republican Party is in collapse: A lot of them are phonies. The Democrats promise to spend as much as they can, and when they get elected, they do. Republicans pose as fiscal conservatives, but behave pretty much like Democrats. As long as this is true, Democrats will always win. Why vote for the pale imitation, when you can get the real ting?


University Park, Md.: It seems that the opinion:information ratio in the media is way out of whack. Does being a pundit pay more than being a reporter? How did this happen and how can would-be informed citizens get the news we need?


Tucker Carlson: I don't know where you heard that, but it's totally false. The media pay hierarchy works this way: wire service reporters make the most, followed by statehouse reporters from regional dailies, followed by the guy on the transportation beat at CQ, followed, finally, by blowhard talk shows hosts on cable news, who barely make enough to pay the mortgage on the townhouse in Manassas. It's unjust, but that's the way it is.


Ana Marie Cox: Just a note not related to a question, I have DirecTV's invaluable "News Mix" on in the background and am seeing what it looks like to have TOTAL ROADBLOCK COVERAGE. Obama is speaking live on every news channel available except the Weather Channel and I think they're just waiting until after the commercial break.


Reston, Va.: Is Obama starting to pull an end run around the Republicans in Washington? He's getting some support from Republican governors and a number (admittedly small, but still) of voters who identify themselves as Republican are telling pollsters they either think he's doing a good job or they support the stimulus bill. Is there a chance he can isolate the Republicans in Washington, which could limit the gains they think they're going to get out of this in 2010?

Ana Marie Cox: If that is his strategy, Republicans aren't exactly making it harder. It's too early to start counting gains and losses for 2010 but, clearly, the Rs need a positive message about jobs and the economy if they don't want to get their clock cleaned.

And this has been another edition of "Free Advice for Republicans by a Democrat," brought to you by Pepsi.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Ana Marie -- Not that it matters all that much in the scheme of things, but what is the real status of relations between your fav, John McCain, and the Obama administration? At first I thought they had a chance to become BFFs, or at least FFs, or at least parties to a mutual disarmament agreement, but now it seems that McCain is angrier than ever. Is that true? Are stories of McCain's pique overblown? What's the deal?

Ana Marie Cox: Well, I like to think it matters, and I'm pretty sure McCain thinks it does. In any case, I think the status of their relationship remains similar to what it was during the campaign: McCain has respect for the guy, but thinks he's "green" (I am almost positive that's how he'd put it), and suspects that he's more interested in looking good than doing good.

He'll work with him on stuff they agree about and will work against him when he doesn't. Sorry to make it that simple, but I think that McCain isn't really CAPABLE of complex relationships. And he's certainly not good at positioning himself in any coherent way. One of the reasons I remained a fan of McCain was that his essential what-you-see-is-what-you-get-ness never went away.

And, yes, I think stories of his pique are overblown. The stimulus got under his skin more than other issues because the guy is sort of nuts about spending. Ha ha, concerned about spending!


The Republicans and job protection: Tucker and the lovely Ana:

I love how the Republicans are trying to still act empathetic about job loss in the U.S. while voting against the stimulus. It's pretty obvious the only jobs they're worried about saving are their own.

To paraphrase Colbert, dumb strategy or dumbest ever?

Tucker Carlson: How exactly is this ludicrous, irresponsible, pork-filled bill gong to "create jobs"? Believe it or not, I'm scared enough to be open-minded on the subject. If Obama had bothered to explain how precisely this was going to work -- beyond his unproved but apparently unshakable conviction that all government spending is good for the economy -- I'd be happy to drop whatever ideological misgivings I have and root for its passage. But he didn't. Instead, he barked about "catastrophe" (i.e., shut up and support it) and pushed it through on a partisan vote. Bad news. We're going to regret this. And I'm not saying that as a partisan or a Libertarian, but as someone who very much wants him to succeed but who is becoming convinced he doesn't really know what he's doing. It's really depressing.

Ana Marie Cox: I just had a discussion with someone who understands economics slightly better than I do (which is still admittedly not much) and he explained that Obama CAN'T explain the stimulus because it is such a mish-mash of good and bad, spending and tax cutting. There is no coherent underlying philosophy and there's no directions to use the money in any especially creative ways. So there's that.

That doesn't mean it won't "work" in some way. Considering that any improvement at all would amount to it "working," that is such a high bar, though I imagine it will mean a lot to each individual who has a job in six months who doesn't have one today.

That said, "hurry-hurry-pass-it-pass-it-we'll-worry-about-the-details-later!" is exactly how Bush pushed through the Patriot Act.


Getting around: Do you two drive American-made cars? Or take public transportation? Is the American auto industry worth saving?

Tucker Carlson: Sure it's worth saving. The question is, do the rest of us have an obligation to save it? Of course not.


The Leader of the Modern Conservative Movemen: AMC and Tucker: In your informed opinions (respectively), is the current leader of the modern conservative movement Rush Limbaugh or "Joe the Plumber"? Enquiring minds want to know.

Ana Marie Cox: I reject your binary options. I mean, REALLY REJECT them. Though as the putative liberal maybe I should reconsider...

Tucker Carlson: I can't remember the last time I listened to AM radio, but it does strike me as unfair to lump Joe and Rush into the same category. Doing three hours of radio a day isn't easy. You may not like Limbaugh, but he's clearly clever and talented. Joe the Plumber? I keep thinking he must be some sort living parody, like Borat. I mean, he can't be real. And the Republican caucus can't really have invited him as a speaker. Could they?


Gtown, D.C.: Instead of giving tons of money to people who bought bigger houses than they could afford, how about forgiving a ton of the student loan debt that much of the younger generation owes directly to the government. It probably won't happen because there isn't a big enough lobbying group pushing that idea.

Tucker Carlson: Not a bad idea, though you're wrong on one point: There's a huge lobby for having government pay off student loans. What I'd like to see if someone stand up and tell the truth: Most college loans aren't worth it because most people (definitely including me) shouldn't go to college, and definitely not to graduate school. Learn a trade, travel, do something interesting instead. Don't drive yourself into decades of debt for a degree that, no matter what the rest of us pretend, often isn't worth very much. The whole thing's a scam, and I'll toast the first public figure brave enough to admit it in public.

Ana Marie Cox: Agree with Tucker about the college scam, and will add that the lobby for government loans isn't limited to evil commie left wing professor types. The for-profit education industry is one of the more under-reported booms of the last 20 years, and under Bush's Dept. of Education they have come to have more and more say in shaping education policy. And, why yes I've written on the subject.

One way to get at the problem Tucker describes and root out scammer for-profit schools would be to make a high school degree more meaningful than it is now.


Bristol Palin Interview: I am curious as to your reactions to Bristol Palin's interview with FOX, specifically what she (and her mom) had to say about teenage pregnancy. One one hand, Bristol says she wants to be an advocate to prevent teen-pregnancy, which would be fantastic. It would be great to raise awareness that this is a problem that affects America not just certain demographics. On the other hand, she "doesn't want to talk about" contraception and her advice is "they should just wait for like, 10 years." I know she's only 18, but really? "Abstinence didn't work for me, but I'm sure it'll be great for you!" Anyway, what are your thoughts?

Tucker Carlson: Did she really say she wants to be an "advocate to prevent teenage pregnancy"? My god. Why does everyone need to be an advocate for something? We'd all be a lot better off if she'd stop giving interviews, get married and raise a decent child.

Ana Marie Cox: Isn't the problem with Bristol's use of abstinence as a form of birth control that she didn't actually use it?

That said, I do think her continued celebrity isn't exactly sending a message that teens should avoid pregnancy.


Miami, Fla.: When Democrats pass the Fairness Doctrine, will it apply to NPR? CNN? WaPo? NYT? CBS? NBC? ABC? How 'bout Hollywood? Academia?

Tucker Carlson: Unfortunately they're not going to pass the Fairness Doctrine. That wold be insane and they're not that stupid. Why is that unfortunate? Because it would be the full employment act for people like me.

Ana Marie Cox: If they called it the "Tucker Carlson Full Employment Act" I would totally lobby for it.


Albany, N.Y.: We're calling an emergency meeting of all Washington pundits, and you guys are needed. Unless we do something right away, like yesterday, we are going to lose Senator Burris. I don't have to tell you what that would mean. What are we going to do for the next two years, make fun of John Boehner's last name? So let's get on the stick. We can go one of two ways with this, as I see it, either the time-tested "we've known all about this, nothing new here" or the very popular "of course he promises to fund-raise; for a politician this is like promising to eat. Where's the scandal?"

I don't have to tell you how urgent this is, so get out there and spin like your jobs depend on it. There is no one sitting on the Illinois bench with this type of game-changing talent, although there are much bigger crooks, of course. Good luck and God bless.

Ana Marie Cox: I'm sorry I was late! Can we also consider the hail-mary play of "comic relief"?

Tucker Carlson: I've asked all four of my children to include Sen. Burris in their nightly prayers. That's how much I agree with you.


Prescott, Ariz.: I read this morning that Sarah Palin has finally admitted she has to pay back taxes on all the per diems she was collecting while she was staying at home and eating home cooked meals.

I read a lot of nasty names like "tax cheat" directed at Daschle, etc.. Are we going to see the people who were the loudest in calling Daschle a tax cheat keep the same standards about paying taxes when Palin runs for President? Alaska Says Palin Owes Tax on Expense Payments (The Washington Post, Feb. 18, 2009)

Ana Marie Cox: Well, the stakes have changed a bit now that (Thank God) Sarah Palin is not a potential national leader. And I am pretty sure her chances for Commerce Secretary were slim to begin with.


Upper Marlboro, Md.: OMG, I am stuck in the most ridiculous "team building" session with a speaker who is great, but it isn't making me feel any better about possibly losing this job. Which brings me to this question: This is the biggest freakin' amount of money that I have ever heard of the country spending at once on anything. I am still not sure about the specifics. My husband said that, essentially, the country crossed their fingers when we elected Obama and said, "we'll give it a try". Is that enough to actually cause the markets to rise, banks to give credit and me to be able launch myself as a consultant without fear? (I'm pretty sure I'm losing this job.)

Ana Marie Cox: First, I hope you're reading this answer later, since of course you put away the computer as soon as you typed the question because I do not want you to lose your job. (Tho, GAH, "TEAM BUILDING," how do you people with real jobs stand it?)

Second, yep, that crunching sound you hear is our knuckles cracking from crossing our fingers HARD. Dow stayed flat during Obama's foreclosure speech. Cross harder everyone! Harder!


Newport News: You're just learning now that the media gives Obama "total roadblock coverage"? Pay attention! That's been the model for over a year now.

Ana Marie Cox: Actually just wanted to try to communicate what it looks like when you're watching eight screens at once. I mean, I knew he got that kind of coverage but that view underscores the impact in a way just watching one screen doesn't...


Arlington, Va.: I am livid that I have done everything right and I will get nothing out of the stimulus bill. However those who were blatantly irresponsible, bought houses they couldn't afford and ran up huge debt are basically going to get $10s of thousands in concessions from the government (in the way of mortgage concessions, etc.). Where is the reason to actually use common sense and not buy more than I can afford? Why not actually reward those who have used good financial sense instead of those who just waste money?

Tucker Carlson: It's actually even worse than that. The residential housing market crashed largely because too many houses were wildly overvalued. (In the end, who could afford them?) The short-term effects of the crash are distressing, obviously, but at some point the market had to return to reality. Two bedroom condos next to a strip mall in Ft. Myers are just not worth a million dollars, and it's a good thing that we now recognize that. More government intrusion into the housing market, however, will artificially inflate prices. This may help those who bought more than they could afford two years ago, but what about everyone else? What the young or the poor or other people who'd like to own a home? They're screwed, because policy-makers are once again propping up prices. The law of unintended consequences at work.


Perspective: Do we as a nation need to adjust our sights and just chill out? The previous president maintained that history would vindicate many of his actions that now seem, well, unseemly. The new president is telling us that he is taking "the long view" and trying not react to temporary economic blips (i.e., stock market slippage, jobless rate rise, increasing foreclosure rates). Do these guys really know something we don't?

Ana Marie Cox: One hopes they know a lot of things we don't.

Tucker Carlson: I certainly hoped so. I didn't vote for him, but Obama has always struck me as smart and cautious. I never thought he'd farm out his first and most important piece of legislation to the Democratic leadership in Congress. But he did, and it's a disaster. I'm getting the feeling he doesn't really have any clue what he's doing on economic policy. It's scary.


Rockville: "barely make enough to pay the mortgage on the townhouse in Manassas."

I have differed with George Will on many topics, but have always respected his ability to have a place in Georgetown and pay for it by writing. Neat trick for anyone. And he does like baseball.

Ana Marie Cox: It is one of my poor husband's lasting burdens (and one of the few not related to being married to me) that he shares his love of the Cubs with George Will. But maybe if I frame Will's success that way he'll be less glum about it.

Also, "a neat trick" is exactly how I think about being able to earn a living by writing. Still waiting for someone to show up and pull me off stage.


Raleigh, N.C.: Is it okay if I ask a serious question? Whenever politicians are interviewed on Meet the Press or This Week, etc., there's a tone to the questions that isn't useful. The questions do NOT come out as attempts to elicit information. They come out as accusations, as questions a criminal attorney would ask a witness for the prosecution. Why is that? The whole process lowers our discourse. The whole point seems to create a "gotcha" moment for the consumption of inside the Beltway people, rather than illuminate the workings of government for those of us outside the Beltway.

Ana Marie Cox: I don't know if the tone lowers the discourse, but the lack of actual information exchanged makes my head hurt. I watched most of the Sunday shows this week for reasons I still don't understand and was struck, again, by how weird it is to hope to get a substantive discussion about what's happening in the country by talking to political journalists. To listen to this, you'd think people sat around kitchen tables wondering just how Eric Cantor does it! Or fretting about what it means to be "bipartisan."


Minneapolis, Minn.: Some commentators say the withdrawal of Daschle over tax/ethics concerns signals a new era in politics? What are your thoughts?

Tucker Carlson: As long as politicians need to win the approval of strangers in order to keep their jobs, there will never be a new era in politics. Which is fine with me. I'm getting too old to learn an entirely new story line.

Total fun today. Thanks for having us. See you next week.


Ana Marie Cox: Looks like time's up. Thank you all! We'll be on Mondays, at noon, from here on out, please plan your lunches accordingly.


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