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Transcript

Talking Points Live

Terry Neal
washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent
Thursday, February 24, 2005; 1:00 PM

Have questions about the latest political news?

washingtonpost.com Chief Political Correspondent Terry Neal took your questions and comments on his latest columns and other political news.

Terry Neal (post.com)

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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.

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Terry Neal: Good afternoon everyone. It's a snowy day here in Washington. Perfect for sitting in a warm office and answering your questions. So let us begin.

Terry

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Washington, D.C.: Privatizing Social Security seems to be the first thing the Bush White House is really having to sweat to make happen (as opposed to thinks like Medicare, where Congress grumbled a lot, but eventually went along). If voters remain unconvinced and it starts to look as if Bush might be handed his first major legislative defeat, how do you think the White House -- which has shown a reluctance to compromise on pretty much anything -- will react?

Terry Neal: Well, I think the Medicare fight was a tougher one than you make it out to have been. But let's face it, Social Security reform is a major undertaking. It's been a successful program, and the proposed reform calls for a broad ideological rethinking of the way the program is structured.
It's too early to say there won't be any compromise because the fight has yet to really begin. It is clear, however, that the administration is going to have launch a major PR effort, because nothing is likely to happen unless lawmakers start feeling some pressure from their constituents to make it happen. I'm not sure they can pull it off, but it's going to be interesting to watch.

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Mendon, Ohio: As a Democrat, I want to express my thanks to President Bush for putting John Snow out front on the Social Security debate.

This guy has the political touch of Shaquille O'Neal at the free throw line.

Terry Neal: Yeah, just think, they coulda had Paul O'Neill!

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Rockville, Md.: Do you think there's even a remote chance that Governor Pataki of New York would go after, let alone get, the Republican nomination for President in 2008? If you'd consider Pataki, why not go with Guiliani first?

Terry Neal: I don't think neither Pataki nor Giuliani would stand much of a chance to the Republican nomination. I think while they are admired within the GOP, their positions on social issues would lead to their downfall. I can't predict the future, but I think there's a better chance that Giuliani would at least try. He remains popular not just in New York but nationally. Pataki, on the other hand, is having trouble even in his own state. One recent poll, I believe, had him trailing Eliot Spitzer in a possible match up in the next gubernatorial race.

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Anchorage, Alaska: Why isn't there more of an uproar over the Jeff Gannon/Jim Guckert issue? Why are reporters not more offended by this and other examples of this administration controling the message to the point of it being propaganda and a misuse of government funds, and in Gannon's case, a security issue? Why was he getting early heads up info? Why don't the MSM really get on this?

Terry Neal: Well, I saw an entire story on it in the Today show this morning, and if that's not the MSM I don't know what is. The Post has had several stories on it too. I do think this is worthy of at least some news coverage, and I'm disappointed that some major news organizations have done nothing, or at least very little on this story.
But as I wrote last week, I believe in proportionality.
It's a hell of an interesting story. And I think it's embarrassing for the White House. But it ain't Watergate.
Do I think democracy was subverted because some partisan hack/former gay escort came to the White House every day and lobbed obviously canned, partisan questions at the White House press secretary and Bush? No, not really.
I mean, 99.99999 percent of America had never even heard of Gannon/Guckart or Talon News until the story broke. And there are other obvious partisans, on both sides of the aisle, in White House press core.
But there are some real issues: How did this guy get access every day? Did anyone at the White House know of his background as (allegedly) a prostitute? It's hard for me to think not, given the ties his employer had to the Texas GOP.
These are all legitimate questions that should be asked and answered. But again, I'm more interested in whether Iran is building a nuclear weapon and what the U.S. plans on doing about, whether cuts in social programs and education will hurt the poor, whether the budget deficit is going to eventually push the economy back into recession. In other words, there are other issues out there as well that the MSM needs to focus on that are, when put in perspective, more important than Gannon/Guckert.

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Washington, D.C.: I just wanted to comment on the great piece in the Washington Post on Sen. Obama today. What do you see as Obama's future in politics, he obviously has the charisma but also the down-to-earth/appeal to the common man. How is he being received by his Senate colleagues on both sides of the asile? He has continued to impress me and I hope for the sake of the country everyone else (ie -- red states) see how great a stateman this man is.

washingtonpost.com: The Senator's Humble Beginning (Post, Feb. 24)

Terry Neal: It is probably both a blessing and a curse that Sen. Obama has the spotlight on him the way does right now. But politics has a way of tearing even the best people down. As soon as he start to taking votes, he'll start losing some of that support and admiration. Washington is such a nasty place, that if he just walked outside and remarked on what a beautiful day it was, someone will take offense.
That's hyperbole, of course. But the point is, he's under a microscope and everything he says and does will be dissected in a way that it won't be for most of his neophyte colleagues. I think it'll be very interesting to watch him evolve in Washington. If he can keep even a portion of the broad support he now has, big things could be in store for him in the future. But only time will tell.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you think that Hillary Clinton will be a good candidate for the Dems in 2008? I can't help but to think that this is the worst thing that could happen to the Dems. Wouldn't we be better off getting an outsider (Governor) to come in the way Bill Clinton did? It seems like the true and tested way of winning elections (i.e. Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush Jr).

Terry Neal: I don't know. I've seen various polls over the last year or so suggesting that Sen. Clinton is at the top of the potential Democratic nominee for 2008 among Democratic voters. But while she gets a plurality in some of these polls, she doesn't get anywhere near a majority. I believe there is a lot of skepticism among Dems that she could beat a strong Republican candidate for president. And that, in turns, makes her a less appealing nominee.
Clinton is as widely disliked as she is admired and many Democrats believe the GOP would have a field day pillorying her in a presidential race.
My guess is, whether she runs or not, some little known Democrat will begin to emerge, much in the way Bill Clinton did in 1992. Not sure who that person will be, but I bet it'll be someone from the governors' ranks.
We'll see.

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Arlington, Va.: Always good to see your chats and writings, Terry!

Today I'd be interested in your take on the Bush-practically-admits-doing-drugs (non-) story. Your colleague Jefferson Morley (today's column) points to lack of U.S. coverage as a textbook case of the difference between the U.S. media, with its deference to Bush, and the international media, with lack thereof.

I am absolutely no fan of the president, but I do wonder if the real story here isn't a quiet generational change, with a president having done drugs no longer any big deal. Your thoughts?

Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: Bush Gets Stoned by the World Media (Post, Feb. 24)

Terry Neal: That's a good question. I don't think this has anyting to do with deference to Bush. I just don't think admission of prior marijuana use is seen as a big deal any more. I mean, how many politicians--both Republicans and Democrats--including Bill Clinton (although, he didn't inhale) have acknowledged that they at least tried it in their younger days?
President Bush has never denied using having used marijuana, so there is no news peg about him lying. In this day and age, given the background of the baby boomers and their children, many people might be shocked if a politician of his age had not tried marijuana at some point in his life.
Now cocaine, that's another story. I think if he had acknowledged ridin' the train, high on cocaine, that story would have been front-page news for days.
Again, proportionality is the word of the day. Many news organizations, following the lead of the NY Times, ran with the marijuana story in prominent play after it broke. So it's not as though there has been no coverage.

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Terry Neal: Well folks, I've got to run. I appreciate the great questions, and I'm sorry if I wasn't able to get to yours. Let's chat again next week, same time, same place.
Take care,

Terry

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