This is a fun evening dip in the progressive pool. Ed Rendell, who falls in my affectionate, love-to-hate-’em pundit category with Bob Beckel for his general cantankerousness and occasional unabashed moments of counter-partisan push-back, serves up the diagnosis of hypocrisy for the rest of the crowd here. It comes only after they’ve had their fun bashing former Vice President Cheney with jokes from 2008, but good times.

As Noah Rothman notes at Mediaite, this is a Pavlovian response.

Recycling a series of hackneyed jokes that were past their prime four years ago, but which apparently still enjoy some traction with MSNBC’s core audience, Wagner and her guests mocked the Machiavellian Cheney as the “puppet master” of the feeble-minded President George W. Bush.

“Clearly he thinks he’s the smartest person in the room, and he probably is,” opined former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. “Dick Cheney probably wasn’t the smartest person in the room, but he thought he was.”

“In that room, he probably was,” Wagner zinged.

Yucks aside, folks, the panel moved on to the substantive issues facing both the Bush and Obama presidencies relating to national security threats.

Rendell said that progressives are being hypocritical by “soft peddling” their frustration with Obama’s embrace of Bush-era intelligence gathering programs. Wagner disagreed with this assertion before the rest of her panel guests slapped the host down and concurred with Rendell’s observation.

Frankly, I get it, and judge lightly I shall lest I be judged (and I’m pretty sure I will). There’s always an urge to throw a bulwark up around your “side’s” folks with a mocking aside to assure the audience you’re still one of them, even if you’re not protecting said side on a certain point because they don’t deserve it. But the concession on the idea the Left is soft-pedaling concerns on this issue is a step toward not soft-pedaling, so cheers to that. I also think there’s plenty of room on right and left for those who genuinely think the powers of government are A-okay at any level as long as their chosen politician is in charge —that that figure will protect from abuse, and President Obama is a figure who inspires more dedication to that very notion than almost any other. It’s pretty much his entire campaign and reelection pitch. “You’ve got me.” I disagree with this notion, for politicians of both sides, and think it’s a nice time to have a teachable moment on both sides.

ED RENDELL: Well, it’s part right and part not right. I think there is no question that anybody who’s been in the president’s presence, President Obama, clearly understands that he thinks he is the smartest person in the room and he probably is. That’s true. Dick cheney probably wasn’t the smartest person in the room but he thought he was. I think there are more checks and balances. I think the president, President Obama, does consult with people who he believes are in a position of knowledge more so than Dick Cheney did. i think Dick Cheney just thought it’s my way or the highway, period. i think the president does consult. Bob, again, we’re talking about it. Can you imagine if this current incident had happened in the bush-cheney era. what would progressives have done?

ALEX WAGNER: I don’t know that all progressives aren’t soft pedaling it. Some are.

BOB HERBERT: A lot of progressives are soft pedaling. I do think there would be just tons of outrage on the left if Bush, Cheney or any Republican were pursuing the same policies that Obama is pursuing in the War against Terror.