Who is likely to become the chairman of the DNC? How will President Bush govern during his second term? Is the passing of the intelligence bill a win for the president?
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took your questions on the campaigning, the candidates and last night's debate.
The transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Terry Neal: Good afternoon everyone (and good morning to those of you out west). It's good to be back with you for my regular weekly chat. I'm looking forward, as always, to taking your questions.
So let us begin.
Some are blaming media outlets for "erroneously" reporting on Treasury Sec. Snow's imminent departure. But what is the feeling of reporters who received that quotable tip from a "senior administration official?" Was the source a reliable mouthpiece for the administration's mood, but the mood changed? Or was this irresponsible reporting of unnamed sources' personal feelings?
washingtonpost.com: Bush Making Final Cabinet Decisions (Post, Dec. 9)
Terry Neal: Thank you for your question. It's a good one. This is another cautionary tale about reporting. My feeling on this is that the source(s) was probably reliable and was probably correct at the time that it appeared Snow was going to go. And as all of the reporting today suggest, the mood changed for various reasons.
This is the dangerous parlor game that is played in Washington, where reporters rely heavily, too heavily at times, on unnamed sources.
I don't believe the reporters were reckless. A reporter's job is to determine the credibility of his/her source and try to multiple source tips. I believe that was done. But that doesn't mean to suggest we still don't look a tad bit silly.
Falls Chuch, Va.:
An editorial in today's Post, by Beinart, notes that the Democrats are not trusted by voters to defend American security against terrorists. I would also argue that they are not trusted to defend traditional American religious and family values. Is there any evidence that the Democrats are moving to the right on the family values front, or are they going the way of Canada (with some no doubt wanting to move to Canada also)?
washingtonpost.com: Can the Democrats Fight? (Post, Dec. 9)
Terry Neal: Another great question. I agree that Democrats have problems in both areas. But especially on the "family values" front, I believe there are reasons for it that go beyond the way the parties have performed. I'm working on a little project right now that will go more in depth on this, but the gist of it is that I don't believe either party can claim the high ground on moral and family values. I don't believe Republicans love their children any more or less than Democrats do. I don't believe they cherish and respect their neighbors more or less than Democrats do...But of course, there are some fundamental ideological differences between the parties on issues such as abortion and gay rights. But I believe those differences exist more among the voting masses than among the coastal and economic elites who run both parties.
I'll have more to say on this soon, though. So stay tuned.
With few exceptions, the philosophy of Congressional Republicans has been, "Give the president what he wants, when he wants it." Is there any reason to think this will change with the new Congress? The social conservatives are probably happy, but the deficit hawks must be tearing their hair out right about now.
Terry Neal: I think it's likely that you will see more intraparty ideological flash points in the second term because, well, because it's a second term and that's when these things happen.
Without the element of a presidential re-election fight, internal tensions are more likely to play out. You already saw some of that with this intelligence reform bill, where a minority of the majority party openly challenged the president and House leadership. I think there will be a lot more of it in coming years, particularly over matters of the budget deficit and possibly foreign policy matters.
And I'm not sure you could say yet that the social conservatives are happy. They expect the party to deliver now and will be impatient with excuses. It remains to be seen whether they will be satisfied with the course the administration pursues in the next few years. But we shall soon see.
How much will who heads the DNC really affect the direction the party moves in? I know a lot of Democrats are looking at this choice as the first step to the future of the Democrats, and as an actual progressive, I'm terribly worried about moderates and the DLC taking over and leaving me witout a party to call my own.
In a nutshell, if Dean doesn't win, should I start looking at the Green Party?
Terry Neal: Normally, I don't think it matters terribly much who the party's chairman is, as long as they're competent, know how to raise money and don't stay a lot of stupid things in public.
But I actually believe the choice the DNC has before it does matter a great deal. The party is badly in need of a strong, compelling leader. And I don't just mean someone who can raise money. The party needs someone who can really help the party craft an enticing, interesting, compelling message. Someone who can rally the different factions of the party. And someone who won't automatically turn off vast swaths of the voting public.
I'm not going to comment on any specific person right now. But I do think it is imperative that the party gets it right.
Just wondering why the Post is not covering the hearings on voting irregularities in Ohio (chaired by John Conyers) that is taking place on Capitol Hill and being aired on C-SPAN right now?
Terry Neal: To be honest, I don't know whether there is a Post person there or not. But you can be certain that the newspaper is on top of the story and will report any important developments out of today hearing and beyond.
I realize a considerable amount of Cabinet turnover was expected, since there was an unusually small amount of turnover in the first Bush administration. But I thought it was to be staggered somewhat, to avoid too many key posts being in transition in the event of a major crisis. Has the number of changes since the election surprised you?
Terry Neal: No the number of changes has not surprised me. There are always some big moves during a president's second term. I've seen reports that suggest the number of changes don't set any sort of new precedent. I think the changes have struck people for just the reason you mentioned. Bush's first term was relatively stable. And the loyalty factor has been a common (theme in news reports during the Bush presidency.
The bottom line is, a lot of these cabinet level jobs have a high burnout factor. And the folks who hold these jobs can usually go on and make a lot more money doing a lot less work somewhere else after doing them.
"It's Hollywood, stupid!"
As long as the Dems get a lot of money and a lot of public support from Tim Robbins, Jane Fonda, et al they will lose the "family values" credibility issue to the GOP...
Terry Neal: Perhaps. Of course, the Democrats don't get nearly as much money from corporate America as the Republicans get. So if the Democrats distance themselves from Hollywood and the money stops coming in, the party won't be able to compete either. So the Democrats lose either way. And that, of course, is the way the GOP wants it.
There are some Democrats who believe that the winning GOP majority is rooted in the ability of its vast PR machine to convince people that Tim Robbins, Sean Penn and Whoopi Goldberg are their true oppressors. The writer Thomas Frank in his book "What's the Matter with Kansas" argues that the GOP has succeeded by creating a vast class of people that feels permanently aggrieved and victimized by an indefatigable liberal boogeyman, deflecting attention from the fact that Republicans and their corporate backers actually dominate the political and economic power structure. This same theory suggests that by keeping people focused on the political "Jason", the invincible liberal bogeyman, also deflects attention from the lack of progress the GOP power structure ever seems to make on the cultural issues that its masses of evangelical and social conservatives demand.
This sort of suggestion angers Republicans, who believe it's indicative of the coastal elites to believe that they are not smart enough to understand their own self-interests.
Whatever the case, I do believe that Robbins and the rest have as much of a right to their opinion as, say Rupert Murdoch or Sumner Redstone, do to have theirs.
Terry Neal: Well folks, I've got to run. There were a lot of really good, insightful questions today, and I apologize that I could not get to all of them.
If I missed you this week, though, try me next week. Same time, same place.