Post Politics Hour
Friday, April 18, 2008; 11:00 AM
Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.
Washington Post congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman was online Friday, April 18 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.
The transcript follows.
Jonathan Weisman: Yowza, where does the time go when you're answering all your editors' questions? I'm late so let's plow ahead, shall we?
Cincinnati: Are there any Republican Senators who have not jumped on the McCain bandwagon? If so, who are they, and are they unlikely to endorse?
Jonathan Weisman: No way, they're all aboard -- even Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who once openly ruminated that he didn't want John McCain's finger near the trigger. Tis a time for unity!
Atlanta: Hillary claims Obama is an elitist, yet her daughter Chelsea has a terrier named Soren, named after philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.
washingtonpost.com: Campaign trail gets bumpy for Chelsea Clinton (Los Angeles Times, April 18)
Jonathan Weisman: In the immortal word of Dick Cheney, "so?" I've got a fish named Immanuel, after Kant.
Oklahoma City: This morning's story about William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn neglects to note that Ayers has repeatedly stated that he has no regrets over bombing the Pentagon, or that Dohrn once responded to a double murder and mutilation committed by the Manson gang by shouting "dig it!" These are "mainstream liberals"? Honestly, if a Republican presidential candidate had once been hosted by Timothy McVeigh or consorted with someone who gleefully celebrated a KKK lynching, he'd be forever disqualified from holding any office. Methinks Sen. Obama ultimately will be unable to explain his associations with this couple to the vast middle of America where terrorist bombings and mass murder are not part of "liberalism."
washingtonpost.com: Former '60s Radical Is Now Considered Mainstream in Chicago (Post, April 18)| Ayers Speaks (Politico, April 17)
Jonathan Weisman: I think the point is that in Chicago, there is a sense of forgiving and forgetting. Perhaps that doesn't translate beyond the immediate boundaries of the Windy City, but when I went to college at Northwestern, I remember interviewing Bill Ayers about school reform -- not because I have an affinity for the Weather Underground but because he was the most prominent advocate of school reform in the city. Whether you like it or not, Ayers and Dohrn really are respectable members of Chicago society.
Kensington, Md.: Before the ABC debates, I swore I knew who the Democratic presidential candidates were. Now that ABC has clarified this, I feel ashamed that I don't know the first thing about Jeremiah Wright's or William Ayers's stances on carbon caps or health care reform. And even with the media's round-the-clock, deep-as-a-rain-puddle coverage of Wright, his plans for trade agreements are a complete mystery. Can you help me? Election night is only months away. Thanks.
Jonathan Weisman: Kensington, I refuse to allow you to lump my fair institution, The Washington Post, into your caricature of election coverage. We have been to Trinity United Church several times, done exceedingly long stories of Rev. Wright's history and just today, Peter Slevin wrote a very interesting piece on William Ayers' role in Chicago society. I don't know how to stick my tongue out in print, so suffice it to say, so there, hmmmph.
Debate whining: Jeez, the guy (and his supporters) are going to need thicker skins to survive the Republican onslaught in the fall. This hand-wringing at anyone who dares to go at Obama is getting a bit ridiculous. This is Pop Warner level politicking compared to what he'll get in the general election (should he make it that far). I don't get what all the fuss is about -- Hillary has taken the brunt of questioning in past debates.
Jonathan Weisman: It is going to get uglier before it gets pretty. I saw that some conservatives are going after John Kerry for having the audacity to once again note his Vietnam war record on his re-election Web site -- even after it allegedly was shredded by the Swift Boat Vets.
Clifton, Va.: Are you sure this was "Crown Royal" in that shot glass? I would like to invite Sens. Clinton and Obama to a local herding trial so they won't be seen as so elitist, and we can all drink fine, untaxed Virginia corn liquor out of Mason jars. Both can work pens and get up close with some Virginia sheep.
washingtonpost.com: 'Elitist': The Rarefied Term That's a Low Blow (Post, April 18)
Jonathan Weisman: I'm not sure Barack can handle corn whiskey. Should I alert the Revenoors?
Chicago: Can we finally move past "bitter" and "elitist"? I mean, really, the horse died so long ago that now all we're kicking is a mound of decomposed hair and bone. If there's nothing substantive to talk about with the candidates on any given day (to be expected since they've been campaigning for 80 years already) can we just agree to ignore them?
Jonathan Weisman: You sound bitter about the whole thing. I can say that we can dilute the issue with lots of other coverage, but if Sen. Obama wins the nomination, I have no doubt the issue will stay alive because the Republicans and their allies in the "independent" expenditure world will keep it alive.
Washington: Is it possible that generations X and Y can team up with what's left of the Greatest Generation and tell these Baby Boomers to stop refighting all these old battles about Vietnam, the '60s and racial politics, and to stand aside while we actually solve all the crap they've messed up while they've been running things?
Jonathan Weisman: Don't look now, but those Boomers are entering retirement. Soon, they will put Vietnam and the '60s behind them to rally for Medicare coverage for Viagra and the latest version of Lipitor.
Westcliffe, Colo.: A pity they turned down your fish and made the one with Wanda. And she's a star! Whoever heard of your fish? See how far elitism gets you in life? I'll bet Immanuel is a legacy graduate of some school of fish. Probably doesn't play well with the other fish in the pond, either -- always putting on airs and hogging all the flakes.
Jonathan Weisman: Actually, my fish understands that morality is an action that is univesalizable, and because of his deep understanding of said universalizability, he is the most popular fish in the tank.
A Beer and a Bump?: Under the new ethics rules, can I give my rep (or a staffer) a beer and a bump (using good old American whiskey of course)? Does he or she have to drink it standing up (could be a problem by the third or fourth round, don't you think)?
Jonathan Weisman: Depends if you are a lobbyist or an employee of a company that employs a lobbyist. I for one cannot offer my nonvoting representative a stick of gum.
Iowa: Did Ron Paul drop, out or is he still "running" for president? I saw a Ron Paul campaign sign on my way to work this morning and wondered if he had joined hands with McCain?
washingtonpost.com: Paul Ends His Campaign (Post, March 8)
Jonathan Weisman: Ron Paul alas has dropped from the race, but the Paulites live on. So do L. Ron Hubbard's followers.
Fairfax, Va.: I know the process is only just under way, but what are you hearing about John McCain's vice presidential selection? Any names leaking out, whether in a good way or a bad way? Does Romney actually have any chance, or are his speeches and fundraising all for naught?
Jonathan Weisman: Oy, don't ya think Romney is campaigning a bit too hard? Names come and go. For awhile, Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor, was all the rage. Now all of the sudden, it's former Ohio congressman turned budget director Rob Portman. Don't ask me why.
Jonathan Weisman: Actually, my fish understands that morality is an action that is univesalizable, and because of his deep understanding of said universalizability, he is the most popular fish in the tank.: You need a vacation.
Jonathan Weisman: Ya think?
Washington: I think part of the reason newspapers are sick of the term elitist is that they are part of the elitist crowd. You don't want to write an article that insults yourself. Much of Washington is a very elitist society.
Jonathan Weisman: Dahling, you have figured us out. But wait, half of you are saying we are writing too much about the elitist thing, and now half are saying we refuse to write about it because we are elitists. What are we to do?
West Los Angeles: Didn't Democrat elder statesman Governor Cuomo get it right with his suggestion to Clinton and Obama? Cuomo said continue to fight for the nomination, count every vote, contest delegates, go at each other until the end and don't give an inch to one another -- but pledge now that whichever one of you wins this contest, you'll take the other as your running mate, and that the other will agree (if they lose) to take second place on the ticket.
During the debate, Charlie Gibson posed this question to both candidates -- a wonderful opportunity to rise above the political fray. Clinton and Obama failed miserably. Their initial hesitancy and eventual obfuscating responses indicated both are true politicians who stick close to their scripts. Had either responded yes to Gibson's question about being on a dream ticket, don't you feel it would have made positive news and Democrats would have reacted enthusiastically?
Jonathan Weisman: If you haven't noticed, they pretty much hate each other now. I still think Hillary Clinton would accept an invitation and likely would extend one. But Obama is looking exhausted and fed up. There is no way.
In case you want to stop playing Milbank for a while:... a serious question for you, Jonathan. McCain's policies are, on the major issues, pretty much the same as Bush's. And according to all polls, Bush is fantastically unpopular: on issues of foreign policy, economy and basic governance the public supports the Democratic positions far more than the Republican versions. So what the heck is going on that McCain could be even within 20 points of either Clinton or Obama? Who are these people who loathe everything the Republicans have done in the past seven years, and yet would be willing to cast their votes for McCain anyway?
Jonathan Weisman: I am dead serious. McCain has cultivated an image that has branded him as an independent maverick now for more than a decade. He fought the GOP over tobacco in 1998. He clashed with Bush during the campaign and repeatedly since then. Yes, he has become a more orthodox Republican on taxes and the war -- two huge issues -- but he still says he wants to end government-sanctioned torture, close Guantanamo and do something real on global warming.
Democrats will try to make him a carbon copy of Bush, but Americans see McCain the way they want to. Huge percentages think he's pro-choice. It's going to be hard to break the brand.
Portman: Isn't it obvious why he's on the list? Trusted by economic conservatives and relatively popular (as much as a Republican can be these days) in Ohio.
Jonathan Weisman: Yes, but he is a congressman from Cincinnati, not a statewide office holder. And his tough stands on federal spending don't really help McCain, as McCain has that angle wrapped up already.
Boston: No way, they're all aboard? Does this include Hagel?
Jonathan Weisman: I have heard no indication that Hagel will vote against him.
Washington: I'm going to be a dissenting voice and say that I wanted to hear what Clinton and Obama had to say on Wright, Ayers, "bitter-gate," etc. I vote for (or against) a candidate not merely on their stances on health care, Iraq and balancing on the budget, but also on whether they share my values, understand my concerns and are trustworthy individuals. The only reason ABC is getting a lot of flack is that each candidate got roasted on one point or other in the debate, and their supporters need to divert attention away from that. Keep up the good work, ABC.
Jonathan Weisman: Okay, I will record your approval. I respect your opinion. But maybe ABC could have spent, say, 20 minutes to a half hour on it, not half the debate.
Support The Post: Hey Jonathan, I think that what Charlie and George did on Wednesday shows just how much better we newspaper readers have it over TV viewers. By the way, I'm 46 now -- do you think TV and cable news will be as bad in 30 years, when I hit their viewers' demographics?
Jonathan Weisman: Ah, thank goodness, someone still reads the newspaper. In 30 years, our screaming heads will be streaming over the Internet straight into chips implanted in our brains. Cable TV will go the way of the Eight-Track Tape.
What a Maroon: Wow, I thought Gibson had come up with that absurd notion -- didn't realize Cuomo was behind that nonsense. Obama will pick a nice old white man with experience, or maybe Bill Richardson.
Jonathan Weisman: I am one of the last reporters to think Richardson would be a good choice. But don't think the white guy (Richardson, by the way, is half Hispanic) thing is set in stone. A repentant Colin Powell would be dynamite.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Is there any chance that Lieberman could get the nomination as McCain's running mate? I'm not a Lieberman fan, but as I watch the Democrats self-destruct, I'm finding myself increasingly concerned that McCain doesn't pick someone like Mike Huckabee.
Jonathan Weisman: No way. Lieberman has said over and over that he will not be the pick -- and frankly, McCain wouallegedly ld likely avoid a lightning rod choice.
Exposing "Straight Talk"?: When are journalists going to stop calling McCain a "straight-talker? After all, McCain says that U.S. troops require significant educational benefits but won't sign on to support a 21st-century GI Bill. He attacks Democratic groups that are "funded by George Soros," but has taken hundreds of thousands from Soros himself. He promises "straight talk" and gets kicked off the Project Vote Smart board for refusing to answer the questions in their "Political Courage Test." He calls himself a public financing champion and attacks Barack Obama for possibly opting out of the presidential public financing system, while he illegally spends money for the primary despite not being taken out of the public financing system by the FEC. And on and on. I don't like to think the "umps" are in the tank for McCain, but with contradictions like these, hearing "maverick" and "straight-talk" bandied about on the airwaves and in print makes me worry...
Jonathan Weisman: McCain Seen as Key to Troop-Benefit Bills (Post, April 17)
Pittsburgh: Why all the harshing on "elitism" now? FDR and JFK were both arguably from the "elite" class, as Harvard graduates. JFK set great store by appointing many Harvard (and at least one Cal) grads as cabinet secretaries and advisors. What I don't get is why Bush, with degrees from Yale and Harvard, affects "good ol' boy" airs. That's hardly an improvement on his origins.
Jonathan Weisman: It's a good point and one that my esteemed colleague, Dan Balz, has addressed. It's not really elitism -- as you say, with both Bushes, Kennedy, FDR, et al, we've had our share. It's "egg-headed intellectualism" that voters don't like. They want to feel comfortable with their president and don't want to be condescended to. There's that famous exchange when someone told Adlai Stevenson he was the thinking man's candidate, and he quipped, "yes, but I need a majority."
Funny, but not a winning bumper sticker.
Harrisburg, Pa.: Are you sure Ron Paul has dropped out of the race? Not that I was paying close attention, but there are Ron Paul ads on the local radio and the newspapers are covering him as if he is still running. He definitely is at least speaking around Pennsylvania and listed as a candidate for us to consider voting for or against next Tuesday.
washingtonpost.com: Paul speaks at PSU (Centre Daily Times, April 12)
Jonathan Weisman: My erudite colleague Matt Mosk says Ron Paul's campaign has been suspended indefinitely, according to his former campaign manager.
That doesn't mean he doesn't speak on and on.
Obama and the military: Any chance he picks a veep like Wesley Clark or the recently deposed Adm. Fallon to shore up his national security cred?
Jonathan Weisman: That's why Colin Powell would be so amazing. Yes, I think he'd like to shore up that side. Virginia Sen. Jim Webb?
Fairfax, Va.: What differences in policy do the two really have to discuss? They are both very similar (liberal/progressive) depending on the term you want to use to describe them. The candidates themselves made this a primary about image, by talking about change and hope. Since they refuse to talk about their differences on any specific issues, it's only logical that ABC continues on this path. Good for ABC.
Jonathan Weisman: A very good point. Do we really want to hear anything more about whether health care coverage in a universal system should be compulsory or whether one or the other would really go to war with Iran?
"Do something real on global warming": Well, that's new. Any specifics on what "real" things does he plan to do?
Jonathan Weisman: He has backed a mandatory cap-and-trade system on carbon dioxide. That's not really new. And he's sticking to it, even in the campaign season.
Richmond, Va.: Thanks for the chats. As you posted with the veterans bill put forward by Webb and Hagel, McCain hasn't signed on yet. Isn't he probably just waiting for a moment closer to the general election to put forward his own version, so that it gets more attention? I would never say a straight-talker would play politics with a bill...
Jonathan Weisman: Well, as it's coming to a vote sooner rather than later, he can't really afford to wait. He and Lindsey Graham are trying to come up with a less costly version that would pass muster with the Pentagon, but now that John Warner has gotten on board this one -- along with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, etc. -- it's getting harder and harder to fudge it.
Anonymous: To be fair, McCain doesn't support a 21st century GI bill because he's afraid too many soldiers would the leave the service to get an education and there wouldn't be enough left to occupy Iraq for the next 100 years. Geez, give the man a break.
Jonathan Weisman: As noted in my story (well, not the 100-year part). It is a testament to where the military is that the Pentagon doesn't want to make it too inviting to get an education.
Washington: What's up with Howard Dean urging the super delegates to make up their minds on which candidate they support? What happened to democracy?!
Jonathan Weisman: Democracy, schmemocracy. His candidates are punch-drunk and exhausted, exposed and abused, while John McCain can pick and choose just how and when to go before the public. He's figuring the jig is up. If the Democrats want the White House, this can't go one too much longer.
Boston: Does it bother you that "The Daily Show" devoted an entire episode to the White House meeting of "principals" on torture, including a thorough interview with former Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack Goldsmith, and The Post put the story on A3 and buried one of the Bush administration's major criminal acts that American kids still will study 80 years from now? At least The Post covered it -- the Times et al would not touch it.
washingtonpost.com: Bush Approved Meetings on Interrogation Techniques (Post, April 11)
Jonathan Weisman: Hey, when the Pope is in town, page A3 is actually very good real estate.
Princeton, N.J.: It was really disheartening to see that Bittergate et al receive so much more coverage than McCain's economics speech (even in The Post). The man's ideas are hard to understand. He proposes to keep the tax cuts ($1 trillion so far, according to the Congressional Budget Office), stay until "victory" in Iraq (committed costs more than $1 trillion so far) and increase defense spending. He also wants new tax cuts for the rich. He will pay for all this by eliminating earmarks which will save less than $20 billion per year. He also talks about unspecified cuts. While I know the Democrats' numbers do not add up, this is light years worse. I am looking forward to your analysis of his policies.
washingtonpost.com: McCain's Plan for Working Class Offers Plenty for Corporate World (Post, April 16)
Jonathan Weisman: Since I co-wrote the story, I certainly wish the McCain tax plan had gotten better play. But what reporter doesn't want to be on page 1 every day?
I am coming back at the issue. Stay tuned.
Helena, Mont.: I am a staunch Democrat and an Obama supporter, but I would be steamed if Obama chose Colin Powell as VP -- or even put him as undersecretary to the undersecretary in any agency. Colin Powell used all his credibility to sell a disastrous war, one that the Pentagon's National Defense Institute calls a "debacle." He also tacitly supports torture. Anyone who sits in a room and decides on the details of how to torture another human being has no place in our government.
Jonathan Weisman: And that's where my argument goes plumeting to the floor, as a Monty Python skit once noted.
As I said, Powell wuld have to be pretty darned contrite, but we are a forgiving people.
The Pentagon doesn't want to make it too inviting to get an education: A great pity for the country that the generals in the Pentagon didn't seem to get one, either. Maybe they should have served as grunts first, then GI billed their way through school the way I did.
Jonathan Weisman: Printed as is.
Dryden, N.Y.: Can you help us out here? We know the Obamas are rich; we know that the Clintons are really, really rich; but what about the McCains? Why haven't they released their tax returns yet? Do tax-hating Republicans get a special dispensation from this rite of presidential politics? Thanks for the chats -- they really are great.
Jonathan Weisman: Dryden, it's your lucky say. McCain is putting out his tax returns today! You get to see just how much beer money he's good for.
Death by a thousand trivial smears: Aren't the "issues" that Stephanopoulos and Gibson thought were of such interest to the Democratic primary electorate really just the cliched "character issues" that are pulled off the shelf by journalists in each successive election cycle and reused? These manufactured controversies are apparently supposed to illustrate something important about the candidates -- in fact, journalists tout them as necessary to see if the candidates can "take it." But if that's true, why don't reporters feel the need to run Republicans through the same meat grinder to see if they're similarly "qualified"?
Jonathan Weisman: Well, I understand your frustration, but I don't believe the rantings of a preacher about "God Damn America" or a candidate's saying small-town voters "cling" to religion, guns and antipathy for people not like themselves are issues sitting on the shelf. Do you recall another candidate saddled with such concerns?
St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Jonathan -- thank you for taking my question. Yet more bad economic news on your front page today, as well as news that the war in Iraq is as unpopular as ever. Nevertheless, Sen. McCain seems to glide along, relatively untouched. At what point does he start to take a hit, if ever? Isn't this yet again evidence that the Dems need to wrap this up and get on with it, before McCain has inoculated himself completely?
washingtonpost.com: Citigroup Posts $5.1B Loss Due to Hefty Write-Downs (Post, April 18)
Jonathan Weisman: You have answered your own question. Yes, McCain starts getting much more attention when the Democrats stop attacking each other.
Chicago: Good morning and thanks for chatting. I was struck by Bill Clinton's comments on the Obama campaign "whining" about how the debate went. He said that Obama has been going after her for 15 months and that she didn't whine when he called her a liar in Iowa or "senator D-Punjab." I have watched just about all of the debates and I don't recall any debate where the questions were so blatantly one-sided against one candidate. Would you agree with that? Also, as I recall, Obama never called Hillary "senator D-Punjab", it was something a staffer did and for which he/she was disciplined [ Obama Apologizes For Punjab-gate (Post, June 19, 2007).
washingtonpost.com: Obama Looks To Turn Debate Into a Victory (Post, April 18)
Jonathan Weisman: Yes, I thought that D-Punjab thing was a low blow.
Bow, N.H.: What are Congress's goals for this year? I get the sense that they are just trying to get by, doing as little as possible in the hope that the election will create at least a short-term realignment by putting the same party in power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. I see this in particular on taxes, where proposals made last year to extend expiring tax credits for four or five years have now been rejected for mere one-year extensions. Is there any hope for any bold action this year?
Jonathan Weisman: Fugedabout it. It's an election year. Congress needs to fund the war, make sure the government has enough money to stay open until the next president takes office, do something bigger on the housing crisis and get out of dodge. I spent the week on Capitol Hill and man, the air is already out of the balloon.
Mountain View, Calif.: Doesn't expertise or experience count for anything? I'm amazed that Obama's been able to so effectively neutralize any consideration of Hillary's better experience, policy proposals, etc. His campaign people have turned the whole race into one about vague "change" which seems to just mean "get rid of anyone older than you are."
Jonathan Weisman: In a year when 80 percent of the country thinks we're off track, experience equals status quo. It's not Obama's doing, really. It's the national mood. But when the election draws nearer, people may start to regret their desire for the next new thing. That's why Democrats really do worry about John McCain.
Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Did any of the "Big Three" -- i.e. Clinton, Obama or McCain -- have a photo-op or meet with the Pope? I saw Obama and Clinton looking serious with Gordon Brown on the news. I think I would rather meet with the Pope.
washingtonpost.com: Britain's Brown Gets Feel for Future of Alliance With U.S. (Post, April 18)
Jonathan Weisman: Nope to the Pope.
Seattle: A Congress question -- do you think Washington's 8th District Rep. Dave Reichert (R) is in a better or worse position to win a rematch against Darcy Burner (D)?
Jonathan Weisman: Worse, way worse. I never count out an incumbent, never. But Darcy Burner is a little more experienced this go-round and a lot lot richer. She's been raising a ton of money and is getting a lot of help from Democratic Washington.
Wright on: I think the earlier poster making the references to Wright and Ayers was actually pointing out that a tremendous amount of ink has been spilled about the words or deeds (even decades old deeds) of people who aren't running for office, while comparatively little (not nothing, but comparatively little) has been written about the actual policy positions of the actual candidates -- and I think we can lump The Post in with the rest of the press on that one. Hmmmmmmph back at you.
Jonathan Weisman: Well, there you go. We just had a long story on the front about Obama and abortion policy. We've done numerous foreign policy issues. I did a long one on McCain and economic policy, but I will not disabuse you of your low opinion of us.
Washington: Both of the candidates talk about creating a green economy via large stimulus packages. However, as I recall, in Bill Clinton's first year he proposed a very mild stimulus, and the money markets tanked (foreigners pulled out their cash) and in the end he had to give up on it (The Wall Street Journal called it a veto). Have either of the candidates talked about ways to address the "veto" power of foreign and domestic moneyed interests (the virtual senate, they call it) in enacting their economic proposals? As I understand, in the post-war period they had capital regulations that prevented this type of meddling.
Jonathan Weisman: Clinton did have to pull back that stimulus package, but I find it hard to believe he was vetoed by foreign investment. Even with the falling dollar, sliding economy, housing crisis and soaring oil prices, sovereign wealth funds and foreign central bankers still haven't abandoned the U.S. Treasury market, a minor miracle, if you ask me. It's hard to believe a little more domestic spending -- after a whole of of war spending -- would be the straw that broke that camel's back.
Bethesda, Md.: Predictions for Pennsylvania?
Jonathan Weisman: Okay, folks, I'm out of time, so last question: Hill wins by enough, and we're off to Indiana, still awaiting a knockout. Ugh.
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