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Congressman Giffords Moves to Rehab; Can GOP Get Specific on Spending Cuts?; Obama names GE's Immelt to New Council on Jobs and Competitiveness

Aired January 21, 2011 - 20:00   ET


KATHLEEN PARKER, CO-HOST: Good evening. I'm Kathleen Parker.

ELIOT SPITZER, CO-HOST: And I'm Eliot Spitzer. Here are the questions we'll dig into tonight.

Earlier today, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was transferred to Houston, where her rehabilitation will begin. We'll ask two brain surgeons exactly how much will she recover, what specifically will it take to rebuild her brain?

Plus, President Obama's State of the Union is just days away. What crucial issue will he almost certainly dodge? I'll tell you in a moment.

And a Palin-free media? Is it possible? One Washington columnist is challenging his colleagues to ignore Mama Grizzly, including our very own Ms. Parker.

PARKER: Well, but first, it's been an amazing recovery so far for Gabrielle Giffords. Shot at point-blank range and in the head just less than two weeks ago, she's now out of the ICU and in Houston for rehabilitation.


DR. DONG KIM, MEMORIAL HERMANN: We're talking about a four to six-month process, regardless of how quickly somebody recovers, because it's a lot to do. And Joad (ph) will verify that, I think. There's still issues over the next week or two that we're going to be addressing. And so I think, overall, we're looking at months.


PARKER: What does the congresswoman's progress say about her hopes for recovery? The key question -- is a full recovery even possible?

SPITZER: Joining us from Los Angeles to discuss her injury and her treatment is Dr. Keith Black, head of neurosurgery at Cedars Sinai Medical Center and author of the book "Brain Surgeon." And here in New York is Dr. Stephan Mayer, head of neuro-critical care at Columbia University Medical Center. Welcome to you both.


SPITZER: Dr. Black, let me ask you the question that we really haven't wanted to confront. We have seen this miraculous development in her capacity to walk and to respond to people. Cognitively, what can we hope will happen? Will she become once again fully functioning, a member of Congress, delivering those passionate speeches she used to deliver?

DR. KEITH BLACK, NEUROSURGEON: Well, we know that she's only 13 days out from her initial injury. And you know, the brain heals very slowly. I think that she's made progress over the last 13 days, with some very positive prognostic sign. I think that bodes very well for her future progress. And one would expect that over the next weeks and months, she will continue to improve.

Obviously, you know, the doctors in Texas will need to evaluate her language abilities, her motor skills and will work on that in rehab hospital. But I think that we will continue to see progress. And the important thing to remember is that the brain heals very slowly. How she's doing a month from now I think will be a very important indication of how well she will do in the future. But she's going to continue to improve for one year, 18 months, two years out.

SPITZER: Show us what happened and what this recovery might be.

MAYER: Yes, well, you know, at the beginning of this compelling story -- remember, it was chaos. First we thought she was dead. And then I remember the first thing I was reading, they thought she got shot from behind.

PARKER: Right.

MAYER: And the military guys came and they figured she had been shot from the front. So we haven't seen the scans, right? Nobody's actually seen her yet because it's a very private time for her. And believe me, working with these patients, she doesn't look her best, right?

But based on what we've been told, what I would guess is that the bullet really went up here and really was high up, right, out here in the left hemisphere of the brain, involving damage to the cerebral cortex as that bullet creates a wave of damage passing through. Critically, it avoided the brainstem down here, avoided key structures at the core of the brain, like the thalamus and the basal ganglia that are central.

So what do these parts of the brain do? Well, this is the motor strip. This moves the right side of the body. This is century (ph) cortex here. So it's probably been undercut. And she's probably going to have some degree of paralysis or weakness or numbness on the right side.

The language areas that we hear so much about are here and here, speech production and speech perception. That's what we don't know. Are these areas damaged or not? Actually, their precise location in individuals can be variable. Then there are other things we can expect to see. The frontal lobe here, a lot of this parietal lobe is what we call association cortex. So it doesn't do anything specific in terms of movement or sensing pain or something like that. It's a place where connections are made. But it's important, for instance, for planning what you want to do or for understanding where your body is in space or something like that.

So to give you an idea, somebody, for instance, may have some weakness on the right. And they want to drink a cup of tea, and they're sitting there, looking at that cup of tea. They've got another extremity that works, and they're thinking, How the heck am I going to get that tea into my mouth. The simple act of picking it up and going like that you need this premodal (ph) cortex to do. And so these are some of the possible kinds of issues that she'll be confronting as she works with physical, speech and occupational therapy.

SPITZER: Dr. Black, we heard so much at the very beginning about the importance of time and speed, her getting to the trauma center so quickly. What role does that play in the day-to-day surgeries that you're seeing from a trauma perspective and the quality of care that most patients get?

BLACK: Well, we know that time is brain. And you know, the ability to get to a patient very quickly on the scene so that they're not left not breathing, so that they deprive the brain of oxygen, which will cause more brain damage, the blood pressure is maintained so that the brain continues to have blood flow -- those are all very critical. You know, as in the congresswoman's case, to be able to get to a level 1 trauma center, where neurosurgeons are available, to alleviate the pressure and bleeding inside the brain will save that precious, critical brain tissue so that, you know, the patient will have the maximum opportunity for recovery.

I think those were all very, very positive factors in this case, and it's part of the reason why we're seeing such a good recovery, I believe, at this point.

PARKER: Part of her recovery depends on sort of being in a stimulating environment and having the brain connect again in certain ways. How important is that? And how do you create that environment? What are we talking about? Are we talking about listening to music? Are we talking about colorful environments? What exactly do we mean by that?

MAYER: Well, what you're talking about is what we call neuroplasticity. Parts of the brain are missing. They're gone. And what we haven't appreciated as well before that we do now is the brain can reconnect. It can regrow, sometimes to a remarkable capacity. Parts of the brain that are preserved can learn how to take over the function of areas that are now missing in her brain. But in order for that to happen, you have to be, as you're saying, in a really integrative, stimulating environment, what I call a recovery environment. And that's exactly what she's going to be starting now at Hermann Hospital in the rehabilitation setting. SPITZER: Dr. Black, from the perspective of a neurosurgeon, somebody who has done procedures on the brain so many times, as you have, what happens now from a surgical perspective? What do you want to do to encourage or to help the brain regrow?

BLACK: Well, I think, just as was previously indicated, what you want to do is to put her in a situation where the brain gets a certain amount of stimulation, to allow the areas that are able to take over the function for the areas that have been injured, to have a maximum amount of recovery of those functions. You want to begin to sort of stimulate those language areas, those motor areas so that she can begin to make the maximum amount of improvement.

The other thing, you know, from a surgical, you know, perspective is that, you know, we still are only 13 days out. We still have to worry about, you know, the risk of infection. We want to keep a very close eye on that that, that she's not developing any infection post- op. And the bone flap that was removed to allow the pressure not to increase will have to be replaced at some point in the future.

SPITZER: Is the concern about swelling -- the first couple days, we heard so much about swelling and the concern that that would put pressure on the brain and the skull. Has that now receded to the point where that is no longer the concern? And I know you have...

BLACK: Yes, that is really no longer a risk. You know, the maximum amount of swelling will occur on about day three to five after injury. At about day 13, 14, you know, the risk of that is very, very small at this time.

PARKER: Dr. Mayer, we know -- we've heard so many amazing things about Gabrielle. I feel like I know her -- Gabby. She reached out to her husband, who was sitting on the bed, and rubbed the back of his neck. So obviously, she has command of her limbs. She can tell her arm what to do, assuming that's what she intended to do. What else does that tell us about her recovery thus far?

MAYER: That story -- and another one I heard is that shortly after getting a tracheostomy, with some help, she stood up and looked out a window. I think that there's a lot to work with, basically. Another key thing we don't know is she's got this tracheostomy here, so right now, without the use of a special valve, we don't know how much aphasia she may have. Aphasia is difficulty understanding what words mean and knowing how to say what you mean, how to create speech. And we're only going to get that figured out as the rehabilitation team at Hermann starts to evaluate her spontaneous speech by putting a special cap on the trach and engaging her in conversation.

PARKER: One last question. How important is emotional support, and how is that perceived when you've got this kind of a situation?

MAYER: That's a great question, and I think it's important for people to know about this, as well. We do the job, and what we're really looking for are when the patients come back into the ICU smiling, back to themselves, rebuilding their life around their disability. And sometimes we see incredible, remarkable recoveries, and there's a common denominator. And what that is is a present, loving and supportive family. I can't say enough about how important it is to have your loved ones around there, helping you battle through and get better.

And you know, we're seeing it all play out now with her husband and moving her home, I guess, to Houston and everything else. That's so important. And what we're seeing played out so dramatically now with Congresswoman Giffords -- the thing to remember is this happens every day to people with strokes and other forms of traumatic brain injury. But it's a great opportunity for people to learn about what happens, the importance of urgent treatment. Important to know that not all hospitals are alike for treating severe brain injuries. You need neurosurgery. You know need a neurological intensive care unit. You need specialty care, and then the rehabilitation, which, of course, at the end of the day, gets you where you want to be, which is back living your life with some good quality of life.

PARKER: All right. Dr. Mayer, Dr. Black, thank you both for being with us. So interesting.

BLACK: Thank you.

MAYER: Thanks.

Coming up: Who is Paul Ryan, and why is he talking back to the president? We'll find out next.


SPITZER: We're going to hear a lot of soaring rhetoric when the president gives his State of the Union address on Tuesday. I'll tell you what we're not going to hear. We're almost certainly not going to hear real, dramatic budget cuts, the kind that are desperately needed to reduce the long-term deficit that threatens to destroy our economy.

Budget and deficit worries are, of course, the main reason Republicans won so many races in November. Every time Republicans came on this program, I would ask them for their cuts, and I almost always got the same answer and it was just a name, the name of the Republican Party's budget guru.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... if they follow the leadership of Paul Ryan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I tell you what. Why don't you have Paul Ryan on here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Congressman Paul Ryan actually has put together a very specific budget.


SPITZER: So guess who will give the Republican response to the State of the Union? That's right, budget wizard Paul Ryan, which brings me to my guests today. Joining me are two of the smartest conservative talkers around, analyst E.D. Hill and Will Cain of "The National Review." Welcome.

E.D. HILL, CONSERVATIVE ANALYST: Thank you very much.


SPITZER: So I have a challenge for the two of you. I want you to play Paul Ryan and tell me specifically what you will cut from the budget, real cuts so big they will balance the budget. And what I'm going to do is play the role of two people, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the bipartisan authors, or the authors of the bipartisan report that came out proposing another perspective on how we can bring our budget into balance. And of course, they did it in a way that really didn't look towards politics. And that, of course, is something I want to debate with you. Now, let's...

HILL: Well, I like role playing. I've never been...


SPITZER: Don't take it the wrong way. But here's where I want to begin.


SPITZER: Here's where I want to begin. See if we can agree on a simple proposition that the public I think should understand. Given the enormity of this budget deficit, or any budget deficit, there are really only three things you can do. You can either raise revenue, you can cut spending...


SPITZER: ... cut spending, or you can borrow, right? I mean, those are the three tools. Can we agree that just as a matter of logic, that's what you got to do?

HILL: Absolutely.

CAIN: Agreed.

SPITZER: OK. Is Paul Ryan going to propose raising taxes?

HILL: I think that he could potentially propose raising taxes, if he were to, say, propose a flat tax. You know, 2009, 47 percent of Americans aren't paying much of any tax at all. If you -- you know, if you say flat tax 10 percent, everybody across the board, very limited deductions, and other things that you can do to decrease your taxes, that would be a tax increase. He can't raise corporate taxes, though. They're already too high.

CAIN: He could. He won't.

SPITZER: OK. Well, let me -- I actually agree with Will. I don't think he will. Let me correct one thing you just said -- 47 percent to 50 percent of the public doesn't pay income taxes. Those same people do pay their fair share of payroll taxes, sales taxes, property taxes.

HILL: As does everyone else!

SPITZER: I want to go down that...


HILL: As does everyone else!

SPITZER: But the notion that 50 percent of the public doesn't pay taxes is...

HILL: I said income taxes!

SPITZER: All right. I jut want people to...

HILL: Just to clarify.

SPITZER: Now, let's -- I want to show you what has happened to tax rates for the wealthy over the last 50 or 60 years. Let's see if we can put this up on the screen. Here it is. Back in 1944, when President Roosevelt was president, it was 94 percent. Back in 1970 with Richard Nixon, 71 percent. Let's scroll down a little bit more on that. We're going to see '84, President Reagan, 50 percent. Now President Obama at 35 percent.

That number has gone down, down, down, down, down. Why not raise taxes on wealthy...

HILL: You know...

SPITZER: ... because maybe they're not paying their fair share?

HILL: I won't speak as a conservative, I'll just speak as a regular American. The reason why I don't trust you to raise my taxes is because I don't trust you to take that money and actually use it for anything that's going to make a positive difference in America. If you're going to tell me you increase my taxes 10 percent and it's going to make a difference, I'd say go for it. But they'll just increase spending!

SPITZER: Will, even before you answer, let me put up one more chart and then -- because I think this informs the conversation. Let's put up the other chart that shows whose income has gone up over the years. Top 1 percent, up 251 -- 281 percent. Middle income, 25 percent. Will, why not raise taxes on the wealthy just as a matter of equity and fairness?

CAIN: Because, one, it would be bad for our economy. But Eliot, you also said something like, Why don't the rich pay their fair share? What is the fair share?

SPITZER: Well, fair share to me can be defined either proportionate to income -- a fair question, an important question. We agree on one thing. This is an equity issue. It's a matter of how you define equity, which we can debate until the cows come home.

Let's move beyond that for right now. It's an important question and one we should talk about more. Let's get to the issue of where we cut because you don't think Paul's going to do a tax increase.


SPITZER: You said he might, but really probably not. So let's see where are we going to cut? Fair step to take? We're not going to borrow more. Nobody wants to borrow more. We don't think we can. So where should we cut? Where do you think Paul Ryan is going to say we should cut?

CAIN: OK, (INAUDIBLE) first of all. You made one misstep there. You said we're not going to borrow more. We will...


CAIN: We will borrow more. You and I both know that is what will happen. Let's talk about what should happen. Paul Ryan...

SPITZER: We will borrow more, but we want to reduce how much we...

CAIN: Of course, we have to...

SPITZER: We have to borrow...


CAIN: We want everything! We want entitlements, low taxes and not to borrow.

SPITZER: Absolutely. That's right.


SPITZER: Where are we going to cut?

CAIN: On Tuesday, I would suspect that Paul Ryan will suggest an across-the-board cut to -- the draconian dark ages of 2008.


CAIN: To spending levels of non-discretionary, non-defense spending. That means you name a program, we're going to cut it. You name it. Amtrak, we're going to cut it. The federal travel budget, we're going to cut it. Vehicles for the federal government, we're going to cut it.

Now, let me just say this. What he should say -- Paul Ryan's problems won't be a lack of specifics, it'll be a lack of aggressiveness. You cannot move towards really balancing this budget unless he's willing to include cuts to Medicare, Social Security and defense. Personally, I think Paul Ryan is willing to do that. Now that he's speaking on behalf of all Republicans, I don't know we'll hear that from him.

SPITZER: OK. You said an awful lot in there. (INAUDIBLE) shock both of us. I actually with the second half of it about what we should do because what you said should be done is actually kind of close to Bowles-Simpson, but we'll get to that in due course.

What you said at the beginning, he's going to say an across-the- board cut in non-discretionary non-defense spending. Do you agree, E.D., that's what he's going to say? And if you agree with that, I want to see what that really means.

HILL: Well, I'm not sure exactly what that means. Yes, I think that's what he'll say because that's what most of them say. But how do they really do that and what happens? You know, you look what happened when they tried to increase the retirement age overseas in Great Britain and in France. I mean, people went crazy!

SPITZER: Yes, but they're doing it.

HILL: They are, and we'll see what happens.

SPITZER: They took the bitter pill. But OK, let's drill down on what it means...

HILL: But where are you going to do that? Where are you making those cuts? And that's the hard part.

SPITZER: Well, we'll get to that. That's what I want because I think what Will said is exactly what Paul Ryan will say. But I want it to be clear what that excludes. That means you take defense spending of close to $900 billion off the table, say, We're not going to cut that at all.

CAIN: Right.

SPITZER: It means we're not cutting Social Security. We're not cutting Medicare. We're not cutting Medicaid. And am I correct in saying that I have some numbers here, not surprisingly, that all that's left then is the $520 billion...

HILL: Well, he's not saying that. I think that Paul Ryan's going to come out and he's not going to say you can't cut Medicaid and Medicare. I think he's going to say you need to change it. You know, his idea of giving seniors a certain amount of money to go out and purchase the type of health insurance that's right for them, instead of saying, We're all -- we're giving you a one-size-fits-all.

CAIN: E.D., I will be surprised and proud of him if he does that. The goal here is to be intellectually consistent. If deficits matter to you, then you have to be willing to suggest that defense and entitlements have to be cut, as well. Up to this point, Paul Ryan has been a mature, serious adult when it comes to talk about the budget and deficits. He has personally gone out and said we need to raise the age on Social Security. We need to voucherize Medicare below a certain age. He has done these things. The only question that remains is now that he speaks for an entire party, who needs to get elected, will he again say those things?

SPITZER: Right, but this is the party that won on the premise that it would be mature and confront the budgets in a sophisticated and mature way.

HILL: They all say that!

SPITZER: Well, that's right...

HILL: They all say that during the elections!


CAIN: The Republicans have already won. On one side, you got a president who I don't know what he will say. But you have suggested and others suggested he has to talk about the deficit. This is a president that has introduced a new entitlement, a brand-new stimulus, and has spent with a hole in his pocket! If he can speak with any legitimacy on the deficit, it will be shocking. On the flip side, Paul Ryan, the head of the Budget Committee, will be speaking from the Budget Committee hearing room.


SPITZER: Will has said some things that are correct. He has spent with abandon because we needed to, to get out of an economic debacle. The crisis is the long-term crisis of the entitlement programs, and there you and I are on the same page.

HILL: But that's what the politicians also always say, Well, I had to spend. President Bush had to spend...


CAIN: There is no doubt that you always have an excuse for your spending. The question is will the deficit ever override those excuses?

SPITZER: Well, obviously, this is not a one-day debate. All right, Will, E.D....

HILL: No, you've got enough charts to fill up several days!

SPITZER: It's just multiple copies of the same thing to scare you. All right, E.D. and Will Cain, always great to talk with you. The debate will continue. Thank you so much.

Coming up, President Obama's new best friend. But is it a conflict of interest to have big business working in the White House? We'll be right back.


PARKER: Jobs, jobs and more jobs. It was the word of the day as President Obama announced his new White House Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Designed to attract new hires and businesses to the U.S., the task force will be headed by General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt.

Here the president is, explaining why the GE exec is just the man to take the lead.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want an economy that's fueled by what we invent and what we build. We're going back to Thomas Edison's principles. We're going to build stuff and invent stuff.


OBAMA: Now, nobody understands this better than Jeff Immelt. He understands what it takes for America to compete in the global economy.


SPITZER: Ali Velshi, CNN chief business correspondent and host of "NEWSROOM" joins us now. Ali, thanks for being with us.


PARKER: Hi, Ali. You heard the president. It's Jeffrey Immelt. His experience at GE and his role in the international market will make him an ideal adviser for creating jobs. Is it naive to expect that a successful global business leader, any of them, would have at least some appearance of conflict of interest when invited to the White House?

VELSHI: I don't know if you call it conflict, Kathleen. The bottom line is we need to create jobs, so we need somebody with skin the game. When you think of iconic American brands and companies that employ a lot of people and operate around the world, you got Coca- Cola, you got McDonald's, you've got Microsoft and Apple. You've got Ford. You don't really have GM right now because we don't want to be using that as an example. And you have General Electric.

Now, you take all of those and you say, Which are the ones that, A, do manufacturing, and B, are engaged in the jobs of the future, high technology. And you are left with General Electric. I think if you just had to choose from people, you would want General Electric in the White House. They touch every part of everybody's life almost around the world.

They're in energy and health care, in electricity transmission. They are in so many different -- they're in aircraft. So the bottom line is I think we need somebody with skin in the game. We tried it the White House's way, which is having government try and stimulate job creation. It didn't work as effectively as they would have liked. Now you've got somebody who really knows about job creation, doing business overseas with the Chinese and selling them products. SPITZER: Ali, that's all true, but let me add one other aspect to GE and to Jeff Immelt. He's a wonderful CEO. He is certainly the flavor of the moment. But let's not forget GE Capital, which got among the largest bail-outs from the New York Fed, and Jeff Immelt sits on the board of the New York Fed -- not many people know this -- as a public representative, not even as the industry representative, at the same time his company got huge, huge subsidies of taxpayer money.

So you talk about skin in the game? It's our skin in the game, not his shareholders' skin in the game. We bailed them out. And then he's dealing with China, selling the avionics that are going to give away the next critical export industry. Is that a problem?

VELSHI: Well, look, there are issues. Back in 2008, during the financial crisis, during the freeze of the credit markets, no one was able to make deals to get money. So we did this for a lot of companies. General Electric, being industrial and being a financial firm, did benefit from that at the time.

The other issue in terms of aviation, remember, Eliot and Kathleen, General Electric is the biggest buyer of airplanes in the world, more than any other airline. Most airplanes you fly on have General Electric engines, and by the way, are leased by the airline from General Electric, and in some cases financed by General Electric.

So the reality is, this is a guy who's involved in everything. There's going -- there may be appearances of conflict, but the reality is, we actually need somebody who does two things -- one, can talk to his fellow CEOs around the country and say, What do we need from the government to take some of this money that has piled up on the sidelines and actually make factories and create jobs, number one. And number two, he needs somebody to give the Obama administration some legitimacy and not being seen as this anti-business administration.

You will remember, Eliot and Kathleen, back in 2008 when President Obama was elected, the country wanted them to be anti- business. We were so mad at business and with some justification. Now we realize we need business to create jobs. So now we're mad at them for being anti-business and the administration is embracing a number of business leaders. I think for the time we're in right now this was a smart move.

SPITZER: I just have to ask, in the context of conflicts, appearances of conflicts, everybody knows that GE owned NBC, NBC owned MSNBC, MSNBC has been the voice, sort of the megaphone for the left, supportive of the president, any appearance of a tension there, of a conflict there because the president is now rewarding Jeff Immelt with this very high-profile position after MSNBC, his network has been supporting the president for so long?

VELSHI: Yes, but you can CNBC and say that it wasn't all that much. And you can take NBC, the network, and say that it was sort of in the midst of both sides of the argument. I think MSNBC is too far removed, although I know they watch it a great deal in the White House. I think NBC needed to be sold. I think this deal was likely to happen. And as you know, Eliot, the Justice Department has been remarkably inconsistent over the years in determining what's anti- competitive and what's not. SO I don't think there was anybody who thought this deal wasn't going to go through. There really wasn't much doubt there. I wouldn't think that there was any quid pro quo in this one. That said, we've been proved wrong in the past but we haven't thought so. But I don't think that it would have mattered. I don't even think that figures into the equation.

SPITZER: Ali, I think that's exactly right. Certainly no quid pro quo. I don't think anybody even suggest that here, but I think appearances are always things people would say --

VELSHI: Appearances are a different story.

SPITZER: Anyway, all right. Ali Velshi, fascinating conversation. Thanks for being with us.

VELSHI: My pleasure.

SPITZER: We'll be right back.


PARKER: Johann Sebastian Bach and outer space. What's the connection. This week, NASA announced that the Voyager space mission launched 33 years ago has outrun the edge of the sun's magnetic field. The first manmade object to penetrate an interstellar space, whenever that means.

SPITZER: And today, "The New York Times" published a list of the 10 greatest composers of all time. Bach topped the list. Still don't see the connection? All right. Let's go back to 1977.

When the twin Voyagers launched, their computer memory was a fraction of what's on your iPhone. Their data recorded an e-track tape, remember that? And they're still going strong.

PARKER: Voyager sent signals from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, but it has another mission. Each spacecraft is also a time capsule. A gold-plated record is on board and it contains the sounds of the earth as well as music. In case other life forms come upon it, the hope is that they'll listen and get a sense of who the earthlings are.

SPITZER: And who tops the chart on that gold record? You got it. Johann Sebastian Bach. And now, you know the connection. "Laverne and Shirley" may be gone, but Voyager and the Brandenburg concertos are for the ages.

PARKER: Coming up, we know Sarah Palin can shoot a moose but has she jumped the shark? In other words, has her moment on the national stage come and gone? We'll explore. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PARKER: Tonight, increasing signs that Americans may have had it with none other than Sarah Palin. Polls show that a majority of Americans have an unfavorable rating, a favorable opinion, that is, of the former Alaskan governor. And then there's the media which she's so fond of calling the lame stream media. And the "Washington Post" columnist, Dana Milbank, is declaring February a Palin-free month. What's more Milbank is challenging me, along with several other columnists to pledge not to mention her name for four weeks.

Sorry, Dana. He says, "I challenge columnist Eugene Robinson with 33 mentions, Paul Krugman with 14, Kathleen Parker with 30, and Maureen Dowd 45, to do the same thing. Those are numbers by the way of how many times we've actually mentioned Palin in our column since 2008, according to Milbank's Lexis-Nexus search.

Well, I don't take pledges and I don't join movements. But you know, that's just me. So let's see how many times we can mention Sarah Palin. We've got a few more days until February 1st. How many days we can mention her until that date arrives. So is she relevant? And joining me tonight are Ari Melber, a correspondent for "The Nation" and Steve Kornacki of

Two liberals who love Sarah Palin. Welcome, gentlemen. Thanks for joining me for this riveting discussion.


PARKER: Steve, you're guilty of having recently written a column about Sarah Palin. I almost did it this morning, but I caught myself just in time.

STEVE KORNACKI, NEWS EDITOR, SALON.COM: You said you're doing the TV show.

PARKER: Yes, exactly. Is she still relevant? Can she still fill a stadium?

KORNACKI: Well, sure. And I mean, first of all, I have to say about Dana Milbank's column, you know, writing about why you're not going to write about Sarah Palin is a back door way of writing about Sarah Palin.

PARKER: You think?

KORNACKI: And I will be interested to see after this next month if we go back and look at how much exposure and how much traction the other columns he writes for the next month do compare to the one he just wrote about Sarah Palin because I think this one's going to spark a lot more interest than anything else that he comes up with. And I think that tells you a lot and it tells you really all you need to know about why the media continues to focus on her.

You know, I don't believe that she's going to be elected president in 2012. I don't think she's going to run for president in 2012. But she is absolutely relevant, more relevant than just about any other Republican there is out there to the process in 2012. She has a fanatical following on the right in this country within the Republican Party. And I defy you to name another Republican, you know, who has that kind of following or for that matter, you know, a Democrat who has a comparable following on the left. So she's absolutely relevant. You know, like her, hate her or even if you're sick of her.

PARKER: Well, there's no question she does -- she means a lot to a lot of people. You know, there is this vast base that still loves her dearly. And up until now, Republicans have been very reticent about saying anything negative or critical about her, but that's starting to change a little bit. Newt Gingrich recently said she needed to be careful. Tim Pawlenty said that the gun sites map that she did that her base is now familiar with, that would not have been his style. Are they feeling more involved in now to back off since she's less popular, do you think?

ARI MELBER, CORRESPONDENT, "THE NATION": Yes. I think that what they're seeing in Sarah Palin now is someone who is more of a niche figure than she used to be. She obviously had impact in the Republican primaries, but we're seeing her overall favorability continue to decline tremendously as you pointed out. So that makes her less formidable and there are some candidates, Mitt Romney being one that's often mentioned, who may position themselves somewhat as the anti-Palin and the anti-Tea Party betting that there will be a move for sort of a more sober Republicanism in the presidential context which, of course, is very different than midterms.

The other thing I'll say for people watching at home. Another Palin roundtable and met a media criticism is look, this is a time in the country where people do not trust reporters in the media by and large. And there's data showing it were at a near all-time low. And one of the reasons I think to look at what the lame stream media does, as Palin calls us, is that we don't show our work enough, we're not transparent enough about what we're doing. So what Dana Milbank is basically doing is showing this sort of jovial public challenge that he thinks reporters should not cover Palin and he's showing his work. He's sort of showing that one of the conservative responses is going to be well, there you go again. It's that conspiracy against her.

PARKER: I'm not sure he can actually do it. But let me show you something. This is by Josh Marshall, who's the founding editor of Talking Points Memo online. And he was responding to readers who are pleading for TPM to stop covering Palin. This is a common theme now, over and over. And this is what he replied. "This is actually a real blind spot for liberals in general. The idea that things that are crazy or tawdry or just outrageous are really best ignored on so many levels. This represents an alienation from the popular political culture which is not only troubling in itself but actually damages progressive and center-left politics in general no end. It's almost the fatal flaw."

Is the left going to be blindsided by Palin if she does decide to run?

MELBER: Well, I think Josh Marshall is right on the substance and wrong about Talking Points Memo. I mean, part of the tension there is that they've got click-throughs. People going to that Web site when they see the Palin headline. And that's different than the core audience of that Web site which as you say is liberal and they were the ones e-mailing Josh saying enough already. I think liberals sometimes have this idea that you can stay above the entire fray.

You know, Sarah Palin is in a political context influential. And so I do think that good coverage of her should deal with her as a media celebrity and deal with fact checking. I don't think we should cover every tweet like she's a presidential candidate since she quit her last government job.

PARKER: Well, I agree with that. I personally have not written about her except when I though there were substantive reasons to do that. But now the conventional wisdom as you say is that Sarah Palin is not going to run for president or at least she wouldn't be able to win a general election. So let's fast forward to 2012 and look at some of these other candidates.

As you say, Mitt Romney has really distanced himself from the Palin contingent, but he's also got problems. In New Hampshire, for example, the Tea Party leader there says he can never reach Mitt Romney. He's inaccessible and yet he can pick up the phone and reach Tim Pawlenty any time. Now, you know, Mitt Romney can't win without New Hampshire. Is he taking a big risk here?

KORNACKI: Well, I tend to think, you know, there are eight or 10 different candidates who are looking at this on the Republican side. The reason I don't think Palin will run is because there is a poll that shows she had a 20-point drop between 2009 and 2010 in the number of Republicans who said they would be open to the idea of supporting her in 2012. That's phenomenal. No other Republican had a drop like that. The Republican who scored the best in that poll who was the most popular Republican in the country was actually Mike Huckabee. And I think he's the one who you really need to keep an eye on here because I think there's a tendency with Huckabee to look at him and say he is just, you know, sort of a candidate of the Christian right. He can win in the South. He can win some caucus states. They're dominated by sort of social and cultural conservatives but he's not going to have the crossover appeal.

I think Mike Huckabee has a lot more crossover appeal because of his personality, because of his affability, because of his really strong communication skills than people appreciate. And if you look at Iowa where he won last time and if you say, OK, Palin seems to be kind of on the wing in the Republican side here, you know, I think Huckabee can absolutely win Iowa.

PARKER: Right.

KORNACKI: I think Romney maybe he wins New Hampshire, maybe he doesn't but you look beyond New Hampshire on the Republican side, you're going down to South Carolina, you're going out to Nevada, you're going through the South on Super Tuesday. And I'm saying boy, if you're looking at a Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney contest, and I know there are a lot of other names out there, but between those two, I'd absolutely put my money on Mike Huckabee. MELBER: One more thing about Huckabee, you know, we talk so much about strategy. Policy can matter. And the country is paying more attention to economics than at other times. And Mike Huckabee is one of the few conservatives who actually defined himself as an economic populist. He took on some of the corporate interest in his state.

PARKER: Right.

MELBER: And he was for and in some cases raising the minimum wage. So that is a type of argument we're not as accustomed to in a grassroots Republican field. But he is going to, I would expect, make an argument in that race that he actually is someone who's been sticking up for the little guy and trying to make that argument to the Tea Party.

PARKER: Good point. Yes, good point. He's got a good record as governor.

I feel like I should reach out and hold hands as I ask this final question. State of the Union, should Democrats and Republicans sit together for God's sake? You know how usually we have the Republicans on one side, the Democrats on the other and there's a great show of standing and not standing, great drama, theater. Seventy-two percent of Americans think they should sit together for this State of the Union. What do you make of that?

MELBER: I think they shouldn't. I think this is stupid.

PARKER: Did you?

MELBER: I think the media puffs up a lot of stupid ideas. But then you have to remember when we get mad at the media, the politicians now both parties are the ones talking about this symbolism. It doesn't matter and it's a waste of time. What people want to see are policies that address the crises facing us. You know, we had a crises obviously down in Arizona.


MELBER: I think that relates to gun policy and other issues. We have a crises in the economy. Whether the parties work together or not on those issues is a legislative question. Where they sit I couldn't care less.

KORNACKI: And there is value to the way we do it now or the Democrats are on one side and the Republicans are on the other side. Because I think the two-party system is a good thing. I think it's beneficial to this country and I think there's no better illustration at any given time to the average voter where each party stands than seeing who stands and who sits.

PARKER: Are you going to take the Palin pledge? No more Palin?

MELBER: This is my Palin pledge. I will only write and comment about her in the interest of fact-checking.

PARKER: All right. There we go. How about you Steve?

KORNACKI: My pledge is that everybody else stops talking about her. I'll keep writing and I'll get all the traffic.

PARKER: And everybody will read you.

KORNACKI: Works for me.

PARKER: OK. All right. Thanks so much for joining us.

MELBER: Thank you.

PARKER: Up next, a new film that resonates with a lot of what we talk about right here on the program. Unemployment. We'll talk to the director of a new film starring Ben Affleck and Tommy Lee Jones. Don't go away.


SPITZER: As we mentioned earlier, the president has teamed up with GE CEO Jeff Immelt in an effort to bring jobs back to this country. With unemployment still hovering between nine and 10 percent, the devastation felt by millions of Americans out of work is all too real and it's captured with unflinching honesty in a new film that comes out today.

PARKER: "The Company Men" details the crashing impact of sudden downsizing on three corporate executives played here by Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper. Written and directed by "E.R." John Wells, the story was inspired by stories from thousands of real Americans who lost their jobs including his own brother-in-law. Let's take a look at a clip.


BEN AFFLECK, AS BOB WALKER: Hey, Sean (ph), it's Bob Walker calling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's calling her again.

AFFLECK: Hi, Sally, Bob Walker. Thanks for not returning any of my phone calls. If you do return my call, I would love to know why you fired me without any notice, you cowardly witch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wonder why she never calls you back.

AFFLECK: Feels good though.


PARKER: The film marks John Wells directing debut and has been widely praised in early previews. We're happy to have him here tonight.

John, thanks for joining us.


PARKER: SO how did you get this film made? It's kind of a downer. It's not your usual big screen fare.

WELLS: You know, the film has very serious subject matter but it's actually a bit hopeful by the end. You know, I heard that from my interview of a couple thousand people before I did it who had been through this experience and everyone talked about the difficulty of remaking your life, all the things you have to go through but how your family and your friends, the people around you gather around to help you through. And that's one of the great things about the American character is that sense of resilience that we have. So it's a difficult subject matter but I think if you go, you'll find that it's actually uplifting, a little hopeful at the end.

PARKER: You know --

SPITZER: Reinvention is uplifting if it works out.



SPITZER: But there are millions of Americans whose unemployment and the duration of their unemployment keeps getting longer and longer and longer. Does the movie confront any of the root causes that sort of led to this emotional trauma?

WELLS: Well, I think it tries to deal with the sense of what change in the employer and employee relationship is. In the sense that we used to spend a lot more time trying to worry about how to keep our sort of intellectual property, the people who work for us, cared for and the additional pressures that have come on to companies for quarterly earnings. And, you know, the Harvard Business Review recently did an article. They're coining a term which is the anorexic corporation in which you've lost so much of your intellectual capital and the loyalty of your workers because they're concerned about whether or not they're going to have a job that may ultimately be very difficult for our productivity in the United States.

PARKER: I want to shift gears just a minute. When I was watching the opening scenes, of course, we're talking about three white collar guys who are pretty well off. Right? And I noticed, I mean, the great overwhelming feeling and sense I had at the beginning was these people are hostage to their houses and prisoners of their possessions. Are you trying to say something about that?

WELLS: Well, I think the country is saying something about that whether or not I do or not. My parents are children of the depression and grew up with a certain mentality and I think all of us in my generation have had this sense of entitlement. That if you did what you were supposed to do which is go to school and get a good education and stay loyal to your company, that company is going to look out for you and you're going to be OK the rest of your life. Now we've had a moment in time in which we're clearly everyone is going to have to reassess what's important to them. PARKER: I flinched in recognition, you know, of these rooms full of stuff. You know, kids' rooms full of toys. You know, garage with skateboards and bikes and everything. And you're right. I mean, my parents are of the depression, too. I remember my father he would get upset with us if we threw away a ballpoint pen. It was so wasteful, you know, because that was such treasure to behold and we have all become accustomed just having stuff, stuff, stuff.

SPITZER: You mention something critically important I think which is a sense of loyalty. Workers expected that of their bosses in the company. And that was a different era when the boss, the CEO, lived in the same town as the workers, went to the same church or synagogue or the kids played together on a little league team. Now it's also distant. There isn't that personal interaction and workers are just numbers. That comes through in the movie.

WELLS: Yes, it's a big part of the movie. In effect, I spent a lot of time talking to CEOs and human resource executives because I didn't want it to just be this creed (ph) and talking about that point of view and Tommy Lee Jones character really represents that point of view in the film with this sense of all right, I'm making a lot of money. I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing for the stockholders and these pressures that we're under. And yet at the same time, I have people I worked with my whole life that I feel responsible for and how am I supposed to balance those things out. I think the balance has shifted too far in the direction of the requirements of quarterly earnings and annual (ph) stock price, the stock price continually rising.

PARKER: Well, I love the ultimate message that family and friends are what ultimately matter in life. When you were with "West Wing," you ran production for "West Wing" and we've got -- it was wildly popular. Wildly popular president. We have one that's struggling with that now and he's giving this big address next week as you know, the State of the Union. What would you script for him?

WELLS: Oh, that's a tough one. You know, I mean, we didn't confront on "West Wing" this kind of massive global economic problem. You know, we are in the midst of something. When we made the film, we thought we were only going to be doing -- we're going to be doing something and then when it came out, it would actually be on the other side of it. It would be a historical document. Clearly, we don't know if we're in the middle of it or towards the end or towards the beginning. We don't know yet.

I think you just have to say to people that we are strong as a nation that depend on those around you and that we really need a return to the entrepreneurial spirit, the sense that we move simply -- you know, these jobs in the next round are going to come not from major corporations rehiring millions of workers. It's going to come from lots of people as Tommy Lee Jones does in this film, taking on the responsibility of using their own funds to start something new, hiring people that you're connected again with your workers that you feel responsible for and they're responsible to you.

SPITZER: I think Ben Affleck is a great actor. But is there still going to be a problem, people sit in the audience saying that's Ben Affleck? He's not really back on his heels. He's not going to have a hard day. That's a tough leap for an audience, is it?

WELLS: Well, it's actually the movie is structured so that you don't like him at the beginning and he -- you're hoping for him to come up. He's arrogant. He feels a little entitled. And then you see what he actually has to go through which millions and tens of millions of people in this country are going through and by the end you're thinking, it's time to let him get back up and pick himself up.

PARKER: One of the great lessons I think is articulated by Bobby Lee -- I mean, Tommy Lee Jones, sorry -- that we actually don't make anything at the end of the day. Our jobs, we have nothing to show for it. And, of course, now our manufacturing jobs are elsewhere. That's also a big part of it.

WELLS: Well, that's part of what President Obama and everyone in the political arena has to start to deal with which is we went from being this industrialized company that after the Second World War when all of Europe and Asia been destroyed and we're making things for everybody because we were the only industrial economy still standing, which provided us the opportunity for the middle class to grow and for people to get jobs and a home, buy a home and a second car that we're moving into another world now.

SPITZER: Don't be so critical. We make credit default swaps.

PARKER: John, thanks so much for being with us. And good luck with this great film.

WELLS: Thank you very much.

PARKER: And thanks so much to everybody out there for being with us tonight. Enjoy your weekend. Good night from New York.

"PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" starts right now.