Chuck Todd's maiden voyage as moderator of Meet the Press was indistinguishable from the tired, Inside-the-Beltway circle jerk that resulted in historically low ratings and the firing of sometime Karl Rove "rap" partner, David Gregory.
Todd is a fan (and active user) of Twitter, so perhaps he was simply trolling the Internet by kicking off his show with a roundtable that was no different from any that Gregory produced. The foursome included long-time correspondent Andrea Mitchell (you know her, she's married to some guy named Alan Greenspan, but of course, none of his failings as head of the Federal Reserve ever seem to make it to air), MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, some guy named Michael Leiter, who was a counter-terrorism guru mostly under George W. Bush, and Nia-Maliki Henderson, a reporter for the Washington Post.
The panel discussed a segment of Todd's interview with President Obama, itself a bit of a joke, as Todd attempted to goad the President into acknowledging that we would need to invade Syria, as if that was accepted wisdom that had permeated the bloodstream of official Washington. The President, sober and expansive in his explanations, seemed a poor match for Todd's desire for simple solutions, but part of the reason "don't do stupid shit" is a smart, albeit pithy, encapsulation of Obama's foreign policy is that the types of decisions the President is wrestling with and people like Todd think have simple answers, do not.
Regardless, the panel discussion unfolded as one might expect. Mitchell tsk tsked the President for making Saudi Arabia "mad" at us for not toppling Assad last year (never mind the fact that the Saudis fund madrasses that teach precisely the type of radical Islamic ideology that we are fighting or that most of the 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia) and Henderson helpfully observed that when Congress returns on Monday (after a 38 day vacation, a whole other topic that might have merited discussion … alas) they will be looking to do "the bare minimum."
That this is accepted as fact and allowed to pass without comment speaks volumes about the cynicism Todd claims to deplore in D.C. yet accurately reflects the media's long-ago acceptance that lockstep opposition to Obama is a symptom of dysfunction in Washington, not in one political party. When the conversation turned to immigration, the dialogue was no more useful. Todd brought in Buzz Feed editor John Stanton, but his only contribution (other than flashing his ubiquitous tattoo "sleeves") was to state a crumb of Beltway conventional wisdom that shows like Meet the Press should be calling politicians to account for, not blindly accepting - that "this election does not matter."
The rest of the hour recycled a segment of Gregory's creation, going "outside" Washington to see how things are "getting done" in the country and looking at competitive Senate races. The resulting discussion with mayors from places like Tacoma (WA) and Oklahoma City was informative, but comparing politics in any city to the national discourse has limited value at best. The dynamics are simply too different. As for the discussion of Senate races, this could have been done on Todd's old show, The Daily Rundown on autopilot.
As for the big "get" of this first hour - Todd's interview with the President, Todd whiffed on a serious discussion in favor of convenient tropes - decisions on immigration were based on politics, war with Syria was inevitable, and on and on, nothing that some poor research assistant could not cherry pick from the litany of cable talk shows that have been espousing these facile notions. Of course, the subtext to Todd's interrogation was to lay the blame and responsibility entirely at the President's door. Do not get me wrong, it is appropriate to call elected officials to account for their ownership of problems, but in failing to note things like the House's failure to take up the Senate's comprehensive immigration bill or Congress's failure to provide Obama the military authority to act in Syria last summer, Todd and the panelists of Meet the Press simply committed the same factual crimes of omission David Gregory became famous for.
Todd did live up to one promise - the show was overly interested in politics and far less interested in policy. Which is fine so far as it goes, but the show's legacy is not as a glorified water cooler discussion about "optics," it was about delving into the issues of the day so the electorate could be better informed. Paradoxically, that charge is more important today than ever, for while there is more information than ever at a person's fingertips, much of it has a "bias" that a show like Meet the Press once trafficked in correcting. Now, it just regurgitates it.
It was said when Todd was announced as Gregory's successor that the former's "passion" for politics was one of the things that would make the show more successful; but if all you do is recycle the same tired political pablum in a shiny new wrapper because the host has more enthusiasm for the subject than his predecessor, does it really matter?