Washington Sketch

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank teams with washingtonpost.com's Akira Hakuta to provide a behind-the-scenes look at government proceedings in Washington.
Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, April 10, 2008; 1:00 PM

Post columnist Dana Milbank, who serves as the capital's foremost critic of political theater in his Washington Sketch columns, was online Thursday, April 10 at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the things politicians say -- and the absurd ways they find to say them.

The transcript follows.


Dana Milbank: Hello, dear reader. I am coming to you live from the cafeteria of the U.S. courthouse at the foot of Capitol Hill. We're on lunch break in the trial of the D.C. Madam, and it's such a tawdry affair that I think the judge should order in portable showers for the jurors and spectators. While I was watching the prosecutors expose the identities of (and quite possibly ruin the lives of) more women who worked long ago as prostitutes, President Bush was busy planting an improvised explosive device underneath the next president: His plan to limit deployments cleverly takes effect when he's back in Crawford next year, clearing brush and playing golf.



Ocala, Fla.: Okay, you were careful to draw a distinction between the general and the madam, but I notice that you didn't draw any distinction between the GOP lawmakers and the escorts. Are they indistinguishable?

washingtonpost.com: From the GOP, the General Gets Unfriendly Fire (Post, April 9)

Dana Milbank: The main distinction is the members of Congress are paid more for their, er, services. Turns out the escorts only got to keep $130 after their 90 minute "appointments." Figuring in travel time, I'm guessing that's about $40 an hour -- and there's no sign that they were getting medical and dental benefits, much less a 401(k) plan.


Tuckahoe, N.Y.: Wow, even Move On only accused Petraeus of betraying his duty to the country by whoring for the administration; leave it to Milbank to compare Young MacArthur with an actual madam. Not a point you'll be making on MSNBC, I'm sure. But seriously, if seriousness is permissible, all they did this week was to positively confirm that the whole intent for Bush has been to run out the clock and hand off the mess to his successor.

But how exactly does this make sense, even from their own point of view, since the house of cards collapsing in 2009 or 2010 doesn't make his, ahem, "legacy" look any better? Wouldn't some patched-up settlement and the commencement of withdrawals last year have enabled him to change the subject, declare "victory" and also free up enough troops to launch a pre-emptive attack on Iran, which is what they want most anyway? Even from their self-interest, I just don't get what the point of the surge is. What is the best-case scenario as these guys see it? Permanent occupation? The (inapplicable) South Korea model?

Dana Milbank: Let's be clear: I have the highest regard for the general, and I compared him to the D.C. Madam in the best possible light. (Actually, he just happened to come to town to testify the same week her trial began nearby.) I do not suspect he's involved in any extracurricular pursuits, although he did let slip in the hearing yesterday that he watched "The Sopranos."

To your question, it does seem to me that what Bush did today puts his successor in a bad spot, whether it's Obama/Clinton or McCain. If McCain wants to keep up the pressure in Iraq, he has to be the bad guy and extend deployments again. At the same time, it steals thunder from the Democrats by making Bush appear to be supporting a troop reduction when he actually is doing no such thing during his presidency.


Capitol Hill: Shall I presume that the reputations of no johns have been ruined and that lots of offices here soon will be more relaxed? Not, of course, that anyone here is nervous about anything...

Dana Milbank: Looks that way. Prosecutors are wrecking lives of plenty of private citizens but apparently the Vitters et al will be spared further trouble. The prosecution's witness list included Harlan Ullman, the creator of the "shock and awe" doctrine. But instead of shock and awe, so far we've only had shock and ewwwww. They keep asking the call girls about their menstrual cycles.


Cleveland: Have you read the New York Times Sunday Magazine piece on Chris Matthews? He comes off as a misogynistic, narcissistic jerk. My favorite part: "Sometimes during commercial breaks, Matthews will boast to Olbermann of having restrained himself during the prior segment. 'And I reward him with a grape,' Olbermann says." Is the story a hit job or is that really who he is?

washingtonpost.com: The Aria of Chris Matthews (New York Times, April 13)

Dana Milbank: That question is bound to get me into trouble. Let me just say that I am an admirer of both Matthews and the article's author, my former Post colleague Mark Leibovich. At the risk of drawing more attention to Brand X, make sure you've seen the cover story of last Sunday's magazine excerpting the book written by the brilliant and beautiful Helene Cooper, with whom I worked long ago at the Wall Street Journal.


washingtonpost.com: In Search of a Lost Africa (New York Times, April 6)


Freedom of speech: This is First Amendment Day -- which guarantees journalists the freedom to do their jobs (no matter how difficult the Bush administration makes it). How do you celebrate this auspicious holiday -- both personally and at The Washington Post?

Dana Milbank: No kidding?

I'm celebrating my First Amendment rights by listening to prosecutors asking sobbing witnesses about oral sex.


New York: Dana, I know this is a tough one, but which of our elected representatives gets your vote as most sanctimonious? In my view Joe Lieberman wins going away, but as a seasoned observer of the human comedy up there, is there someone sanctimoniouser?

Dana Milbank: Tricky, tricky. I say toss Russ Feingold and Mitch McConnell in a room and let the sanctimoniousist man win.


Minneapolis: What's the over/under on the number of times McCain screws up his Shias and his Sunnis before folks aren't willing to explain it away as merely being tired?

Dana Milbank: McCain, who flubbed the Shia-Sunni thing again with Petraeus on Tuesday, needs a mnemonic device. I recommend that he associate the Shia with the Chia Pet, and the Sunni with Sununu. We must also think of one to help Obama get the Iraq/Iran thing straight.


White House Correspondent's Dinner: Will you be in attendance? Who will you be wearing? Sharing a table with other notables such as...? Please convey my deepest admiration to Colin Ferguson, our new U.S. citizen.

Dana Milbank: The big dinner is just two weeks away, but I regret to announce that I have another commitment that night. I'm doing my laundry.


San Francisco: Did you think it was funny or amusing to interthread today's story on Iraq with the D.C. Madam? And, do you really think that kind of journalism is useful or appropriate for an organization that just won six Pulitzers?

Dana Milbank: Please note, San Francisco, that I am not one of the Pulitzer Prize winners. In fact, I am one of only two people at The Washington Post who has not won a Pulitzer. The other one works in the cafeteria.


Boston: "We must also think of one to help Obama get the Iraq/Iran thing straight." Oooh, good evenhandedness. But methinks you still have one candidate to insult before everyone is equally unhappy.

Dana Milbank: Okay, let me give it a try.

I think Clinton outperformed her rivals during the Petraeus hearings. She had Ryan Crocker squirming quite a bit. But I'm not sure whether this means she'd make an excellent president or whether it suggests that she should remain in the Senate.


Odenton, Md.: Dana, I need your help. I am a regular reader of The Washington Post online edition. I admit, it is my only news source. Frequently I get into debates with my husband about politics. He tells me that I cannot possibly no what I am talking about because I only read one paper and all news sources are biased. He doesn't read any paper that I am aware of and bases his ideas from having been in the Air Force from 1997-2003. He keeps telling me that Sept. 11 caused the Iraq war and repeats other mindless, disproved Bushisms. I think you guys do a great job of being unbiased, but I am a Democrat and I oppose the war. So what can I tell him when he tells me I just repeat everything I hear from my "liberal" news source? I have tried retorting Cheney style with "So?" but it hasn't worked. What would you say to him?

Dana Milbank: Perhaps you could tell him to "bring it on."

Actually, in this very chat I'm being accused of phony even-handedness. Here, I'll show you:

Springfield, Va.: "I say toss Russ Feingold and Mitch McConnell in the room and let the sanctimoniousist man win." Aw, c'mon -- don't be so scrupulously nonpartisan.

Dana Milbank: See? Show that to your husband.


New York: Dana, I appreciate your bipartisan sanctimony opinion ... as a follow-up, there must be one senator or congressperson who comes across as a dedicated seeker after truth, not just a preening how-great-am-I bloviator ... anyone?

Dana Milbank: Glad to be a purveyor of bipartisan sanctimony.

I'm hard pressed to come up with a top pick in the Senate, other than the likes of John Chafee (dead), David Boren (retired) and Chuck Hagel (retiring). But there is one person who stands above all others in her pursuit of justice, her willingness to speak truth to power, and her unfailing notion of what is right. I refer, of course, to the D.C. Madam, Jeanne Palfrey. And this reminds me that our lunch break is over and I must get back to the trial so I don't miss one bit of dirty laundry -- even if it's something small like a thong.

Thanks for tuning in.


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