Post Politics Hour

Tom Edsall
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Tuesday, June 13, 2006; 11:00 AM

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Washington Post national political reporter Tom Edsall was online Tuesday, June 13, at 11 a.m. ET .

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The transcript follows.


Columbia, Md.: I know the Democrats were probably depressed after hearing the news this morning that Rove is not going to be indicted. What is the mood in "mainstream" media circles to the news. Is there the same depression that they aren't going to be able to use this to attack Bush any longer. Will there be any apologies to Rove from the media for their past coverage of this?

Tom Edsall: This will be my last day doing a Post political chat. I have taken a buy out, and will be working for The New Republic and the National Journal. I will miss doing these conversations which have something I have come to eagerly anticipate every two weeks.

The Rove question. I think the mood in the "mainstream" media will be ambivalent. Some reporters personally believed Rove was a participant in a criminal disclosure of the identity of a CIA operative. Other reporters, myself included, are concerned about the criminalization of the political process, the use of investigations as political weapons and the failure of elected officials and their challengers to deal directly with the issues that divide them to allow voters to make the choice.

Despite that, I do not think apologies to Rove are warranted. He was the subject of an investigation. That process was reported upon. This chapter has not yet come to a close. Rove may well be called as a witness, and he may be subject to civil litigation initiated by the Wilsons.


Madison, Ala.: The press devotes a lot of attention to Bush's approval ratings. On the other hand, they seem so volatile as to be essentially meaningless at times. It's 32%. Now it's 44%! Whoops, back to 37%.

Is this just an easy story, or do these "snapshot" polls really impact Washington runs on a day to day basis?

Tom Edsall: You are correct that the press pays far too much attention to polls. Polls have become vehicles for reporters and editors to legitimate stories about the successes and failures of the administration without having to report the story. That said, the general trend in Bush's poll ratings have been very negative and that is a legitimate story.


San Francisco, Calif.: Hello, Mr. Edsall, and thanks for taking my question. I want to first say how much you'll be missed, as I read that you were a Post staffer who took the buy-out package. Best wishes to you. To my question: Are Establishment Democrats hearing the hoofbeats represented by Jon Tester's primary victory in Montana and Ned Lamont's incredible rise in the Quinippiac poll last week? What evidence should we look for that these events are affecting inside-the-Beltway Dems?

Tom Edsall: I think the issue you are raising is: will the DC media and beltway types recognize the importance of the blogosphere in these two races. There is no question in Tester's case that the blogs pulled out the stops for him in the primary that he won decisively. In addition, however, his opponent had some real baggage that came out during the campaign that diminished his credibility as a general election opponent to Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.)

The Lieberman-Lamont Democratic primary in Connecticut is shaping of as both a test of power of the blogosphere and as a test of the strength of the Iraq war issue among Democratic Primary voters.


Ashburn, Va.: The media reports that Bush is concerned about his low public polls. Why does he care? He has been a lame duck since the start of his second term. The 22nd Amendment made all second term presidents lame ducks, except to the extent that the members of Congress want the President to campaign for them. I would think that it is the GOP party leaders, not Bush, who would be concerned, if anyone. But they needn't be concerned as long as their incumbents run on local politics, rather than on national issues. Republicans have demonstrated great skill in controlling campaign issues. (Much better skill that they have demonstrated in governing.)

Tom Edsall: Republicans in the House and Senate, and elsewhere, are very concerned about Bush's numbers: their future does depend in many ways on how well Bush does.

You are assuming, in you comments about Bush, that his only interest was winning a 2nd term, and once that was done, the heck with everything else. The fact is, almost everyone taking on a time-limited major responsibility, from a camp counselor to the president, cares deeply how well they do. It is not a pleasant experience to wake up every morning and see yourself portrayed as a loser every day.


Louisville, KY: Bon voyage and congratulations on your new positions with the National Journal and the National Review. I've enjoyed your presence on these chats.

So Zarqawi's dead, Rove is "innocent," and Bush is in Iraq. This has been the best week in a while for the administration, hasn't it?

Do you think, to borrow a phrase, that's we've turned a corner? Or is this simply one good week for Bush among many, many bad ones?

Tom Edsall: I don't know if they have turned a corner. That may not be the right image. They are clearly turning the administration in an aggressive fashion in a new direction; the question is whether they are surrounded by cement walls sure to crash no matter what, or whether there is a way out of the maze that they built around themselves.


I'm sorry to hear this is your last chat...: but here's the most important much are you going to miss working with Dana Milbank?

Best of luck to you!

Tom Edsall: Very much


Fairfax, Va.: Sorry to learn you are leaving. I hope you will take and answer a question I have about the way The Post labels Democrats in its political reporting: why does The Post use the term "lefties" referencing the Party's liberals and progressives? Maybe I am old-fashioned but I associate "lefties" with "commies" and "socialists" so why use the term? Also, The Post never labels Democrats who regularly vote on critical issues (e.g., killing the filibuster's use to stop right wing court nominees,etc.) with Republicans, Right Wing Democrats or even conservative Democrats but only as "centrists"; thereby assigning the term "centrist" a conservative or right wing meaning. Why do Post political writers/editors do this when a commonsense definition of centrism means the center of national mainstream thought?

Tom Edsall: The first part of your question is right on. Left wing or leftie has a Communist connotation to many in the U.S., while right wing does not have a parallel negative character. In fairness on the second half of your question, there are very few conservative Democrats left in Congress, just as there are almost no liberal Republicans. Thus, to call Democrats who occasionally vote with Republicans "right wing" is just not accurate, especially when in a majority of partisan votes, they side with their caucus.


Princeton, N.J.: Good morning Tom...Bush appears to be orchestrating an up turn in Iraq -- capitalizing on the death of Zarqawi -- the massive deployment of largely Iraqi troops --the Camp David summit -- and now the surprise visit to Baghdad. Pretty gutsy stuff for a President so down in the polls. Will Bush's gutsy, Texan style/approach save him in the end? He's one focused guy!

Tom Edsall: We are right in the midst of what has the earmarks of a key juncture in the Bush presidency. I don't know whether he will succeed or not, but this looks like the moment that will determine whether he can pull out of a nosedive and in the process save Republican congressional majorities, or not.


Fort Collins, Colo.: Back to Rove. As the Post's story mentions, nobody's been charged with the leak. (Libby's charge is providing false information.) I understand your reluctance about criminalizing such issues, but I don't know how else we find out who did this. Is the civil litigation you mentioned enough to provide real accountability?

Tom Edsall: The alternative way would be for Congress to hold hearings with the witnesses testifying under oath. That way voters could have the information they need about the activities of elected officials and their appointees without necessarily turning the process into a criminal inquiry, although that could certainly grow out of the hearings. My only point is that there is, in my view, too much dependence on prosecutors and the courts to resolve what are political issues. My point, given this Congress, is pretty fanciful--hearings of this kind are not going to happen.


Ohio: Sorry you're leaving. Will you be moving into a full-time position as a NeoCon apologist at the Nat'l Review, or will you be holding onto the moderate centrist viewpoint you've shown us here?

In other words, will you have to sell out?

Tom Edsall: I will not be going to the National Review; I am going to work for the National Journal, a very different publication, and The New Republic, another very different magazine.


Centreville, Va.: One support conservatives use for their claims of liberal bias in the media is that the 'revolving door' to and from liberal, democratic campaign/political advocacy to mainstream media is so pronounced. So it's not at all out of the ordinary for Jake Tapper to go from Salon to ABC, George Stephanopoulos to go from the Clinton White House to This Week, or veteran Washington Post writers to move to liberal political commentary magazines, but you'd never see Jonah Goldberg or Karl Rove making similar transitions. Do you think the fact that these transitions are relatively commonplace on one side of the political spectrum but almost nonexistent on the other supports the claim of bias anywhere?

Tom Edsall: I think we are seeing the pattern you describe taking place on both sides of the aisle: Tony Snow -- Bush I to FOX to Bush II is the prime example, but the more common practice that really destroys the border between the press and the politicos is the widespread use on cable television of commentators and analysts who are in fact partisans, and, often, lobbyists running very lucrative practices.


Atlanta, Ga.: So who are our colleagues going to kick around now that you're headed for other pastures?

Tom Edsall: Dana Milbank is an exceptionally inviting target.


Groton, Conn.: How does this year compare to 1994, in terms of the public desire for change?

Tom Edsall: Good question. My own view is that Bill Clinton in his 1992 campaign revived Democratic support among a host of voters who had tentatively shifted to the GOP. In addition, Clinton, as a candidate, terrified Republicans who saw him as a Democrat who had figured out his party's problems. Once elected, Clinton promptly abandoned the tenets of his campaign, and I think that produced a level of voter anger at the administration specifically and Democrats generally that turned 1994 into a tidal wave. The Republicans currently have a lot of very bad problems, but not on the same scale, at least yet.


Alexandria, Va.: First, thanks for all your many years of reporting for The Post.

Second, do you think Zarqawi's capture will reshape public opinion on Bush and Iraq in any meaningful, lasting way? Or have we passed the point of no return?

Tom Edsall: I don't think Zarqawi's death is enough to turn around public opinion. It may, however, be one handle for Bush to use to gain leverage in the debate. Zarqawi is more like one rung on a ladder, and Bush has a lot more to climb before he sees daylight.


Charlottesville, Va.: Hi, Tom - I'd like to submit that the labels "liberal" and "conservative" no longer have any meaning. There are many Democrats who believe in social policies that encourage the elimination of poverty, the expansion of civil rights, the right to privacy, the protection of the environment, but do so with the idea that fiscal responsibility is important. Some of these Democrats tend to be more inclined than others to use military force to solve international problems. Republicans tend to be in favor of government regulation of sexuality and reproduction, but laissez faire business practices. They're in favor of spending government money, just not raising taxes. How does this behavior fall into the labels "liberal" and "conservative"?

Tom Edsall: I'd like to take this question to say goodbye to all of you and I hope some of you will read The New Republic and the National Journal. Both have web sites and I hope they will begin the kind of exchanges we are having here.

To the question: I agree that most people define conservatism and liberalism is ways that are very different from the actual practices of the Republican Party and the conservative movement on one side, and the Democratic Party and liberalism (which is harder to describe as a movement right now). This would make the subject of a very good newspaper series or magazine article. In some respects, I get into this question in a book coming out in late August, Building Red America (Basic Books).

I will miss you and these chats. Best Tom


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