Post Politics Hour's Daily Politics Discussion

Michael D. Shear
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Tuesday, May 20, 2008 11:00 AM

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Washington Post national political reporter Michael D. Shear was online Tuesday, May 20 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.

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Michael Shear: Good morning, everyone.

Another day, another primary election. We can talk about the continuing Democratic primary, McCain and lobbyists and anything else you want to.

Let's have at it.


Dryden, N.Y.: It is good that The Washington Post, among other papers, is using the waning days of the Clinton campaign to discuss sexism. This campaign certainly has displayed elements of its staying power, decades after Title IX. Still, I cannot forget that Bill Clinton sexually harassed women in the workplace. I always wondered why the press never has dealt with the essential contradiction of a feminist icon like Sen. Clinton tolerating (and sometimes even enabling) this in her husband. Any help in figuring out this contradiction, and why the press hasn't discussed this in the sexism stories?

Michael Shear: Ok, let's start out with this tough question.

Sen. Clinton's campaign has from the beginning raised fascinating questions about feminism in this country and questions of sexism (and, with Obama's entry, racism). I disagree that questions of gender have not been discussed in the press as it relates to Clinton's candidacy. But it's true that it may be easier to assess and discuss the role that sexism played as the campaign winds down and people are willing to talk more openly about it. More discussion about that would be a good thing, I think.


New Hampshire: Good morning Michael, and thank you for taking my question. Because Senator McCain has violated campaign finance law, has very close ties to lobbyists (including those on his staff who represent foreign governments), and is now relying on the Republican National Committee and the president for an infusion of huge corporate money as his campaign is lagging behind in fundraising, do you think his "maverick" status as a campaign finance reformer and 'straight talker" will be changed forever?

Michael Shear: It is true that Sen. McCain has built his political "brand" by earning a reputation for going after the special interests. His campaign clearly believes that the continued conversation in the press about the lobbyists on his campaign might tarnish that brand. So last week, he implemented a tough new policy that has already required five people to remove themselves from the campaign.

How important is that? Many people believe that the Democrat's ability to pierce the "straight talk" label could be the decisive factor in November.


Stone Harbor, N.J.: Why is it that the Democrats seem perfectly okay with "superdelegates" whose states have been won big by Sen. Clinton ignoring the voter's pick and going to Obama? Sure doesn't sound very "democratic" to me. Capitol Briefing: For Obama, Byrd in Hand (, May 19)

Michael Shear: The Democrats have definitely gotten themselves tied up in knots with the whole "delegate" and "superdelegate" thing. I suspect you might see plenty of changes in their party process after this is all over.


Washington: By ruling out any kind of diplomatic discussion or conversation with an enemy, what other options does John McCain propose to employ in order to forge a peace or political resolution? Does McCain's political positioning on foreign policy echo the president's hawkish ideology? Thanks for taking my questions.

Michael Shear: When asked this kind of question, Senator McCain says that he is not ruling out diplomacy, or even conversations, with enemy countries. In fact, in a speech some weeks ago, he proposed a greater use of diplomacy and working with European allies than the Bush Administration, prompting headlines about a break with the president -- something that is very important for McCain to do.

McCain's argument is that Obama should not have said he would meet personally, and UNCONDITIONALLY, with any foreign leader. It's the lack of conditions that McCain stresses (and will stress again today when he talks about Cuba.)

The question of whether McCain=Bush on foreign policy will be a key one for voters to decide. Clearly his position on Iraq will be a main point there. But his campaign hopes that people will see differences as well.


Monmouth County, N.J.: Any word from Al Gore, or is he just being overly cautious after his Howard Dean endorsement last time round?

Michael Shear: No word...yet.

My sources say they doubt he will endorse. He seems very happy to be above it all right now.\


Phoenix: Michael, where in the world did Senator McCain's "straight talk" label originate in the first place? Isn't it something he anointed himself with?

Michael Shear: I believe he did, in fact, come up with the label by dubbing his campaign bus the "Straight Talk Express" back in 2000. I wasn't covering the campaign then, but that's my understanding.


Bremerton, Wash.: When will the polls close in Kentucky, and when will Oregon have its "first count," as they've been getting ballots since May 5?

Michael Shear: I believe the polls close in Kentucky at 6 p.m. The polls in Oregon close at 8 p.m., Pacific Time, which means those of us on the East Coast will be staying up very late.


Keyport, N.J.: Michael, it is so unseemly for a person to angle so publicly to be vice president. Clearly this vanity campaign of Hillary's has that as her goal, with an eye toward remaining viable in 2012. Is Hillary tone deaf to the music, or is she just unable to leave the stage?

Michael Shear: There are certainly people who believe this is what Sen. Clinton is doing. But as my colleague, Dan Balz, reported today in the Post, Clinton apparently believes very strongly that the party will be more united if she finishes out the campaign rather than being pushed out. The thought is that her supporters -- including many women -- will be angry and less likely to support Obama if they perceive that she has been slighted and pushed out.


Madison, Wis.: Mr. Shear, good morning. I've never been impressed by politicians who try to get votes by arguing that people ought to feel sorry for them -- but it works. George Bush's admirers have been told for years to see him as the victim of the biased liberal media. Bill Clinton presented himself as persecuted by the "extreme" Newt Gingrich. Sen. Clinton, who became a prominent figure because of who her husband was -- and a sympathetic figure to many because of the way her husband treated her -- has been appealing to voters as a victim of sexism. Margaret Thatcher, a real leader, thought it best to save complaints about sexism for her memoirs. I wonder how far someone like Thatcher would get in American politics.

Michael Shear: Interesting comments, Madison.

I've seen it work both ways in politics. Playing the victim card sometimes works and sometimes backfires.


Westcliffe, Colo.: All the candidates made an issue of Reagan's age when he ran for the presidency, certainly in the election of 1984. Why aren't McCain's joints and ball bearings up for serious discussion and, if he can, refutation (aside from the circus act of bringing in his mother -- she didn't serve in combat in a Vietnamese torture resort)?

Michael Shear: I believe that Sen. McCain's age has been, and will continue to be, a serious topic for discussion. In fact, later this week, McCain, 71, is set to disclose all of his medical records, an action that is getting far more attention than it would for a person in his 40s or 50s.

Aside from talking about his 96-year-old mother (which he does frequently) he also makes jokes: see his Saturday Night Live jokes about having the "oldness" to be president.

In fact, the reporters around him -- including myself -- have seen very little evidence of fatigue that you might expect from a man of his age. One has to wonder whether someone who is able to physically withstand the torture in Vietnam may just have more stamina than the average person.


Washington: Mr. Shear, the polls won't close in Oregon ... because they won't open. Oregon has all-mail voting.

Michael Shear: Actually, I'm told by our crack political researcher that Oregon voters can, in fact, go to the polls today, though as Washington points out, they have had the option of mailing in their ballot for some time now. My understanding -- again, subject to correction -- is that the results from the combined mail/in-person voting are not expected until late.


Jersey City, N.J.: The polls in Oregon do not have Obama beating Sen. Clinton by all that much. If Sen. Clinton comes within five points or so of Obama and wins Kentucky by 30 points or more as predicted, won't she have a very good argument that her race for the nomination is not yet as dead as the press has proclaimed?

Michael Shear: It is certainly true that this race takes all sorts of twists and turns. But so much of it is an expectations game. Since, as you say, the polls don't have Obama beating Clinton by that much, people won't be shocked if Obama wins by five or so. And similarly, no one will be surprised by a rout in Kentucky.

Now, if Clinton wins in Oregon....


Helena, Mont.: Has Huckabee's joke about Obama and a pointed gun moved him off the list of potential vice presidents and off the 2012 presidential circuit? There are some things that are not funny in this country, and political assassinations is one of them. I know, I know -- Huckabee was just trying to give NRA members the impression that, unlike him and them, Obama would try to hide from someone who was pointing a gun at him. Everyone else in that room would outdo Chuck Norris and have the perpetrator hanging by his ears in 10 seconds flat.

Michael Shear: Gov. Huckabee has acknowledged that it was a dumb joke and apologized for it. I suspect that if he was on the short list for VP before, he is still there. But I don't hear much buzz about him being the likely nominee anyway. I hear Gov. Romney's name mentioned more.


Arlington, Va.: So now it is a negative that Sen McCain is holding his campaign staff to higher standards than the Democrats, making some staffers resign if they have continuing ties to lobbyists?

Michael Shear: It's certainly not up to me to say whether it is a negative. What is certainly true is that the decision to implement the policy now has raised questions about the timing of the decision and refocused attention on the people who still remain on his campaign and their lobbying backgrounds.


Clinton a feminist icon?: Since when? When I think of feminist icons, I think of Eleanor Roosevelt, Barbara Jordan, Gloria Steinem and Toni Morrison. Even Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I just don't think of Hillary Clinton as a trailblazer for feminist issues. She is simply a politician who happens to be a woman. I believe if Clinton wanted to be a feminist icon, she would have run a totally different campaign.

Michael Shear: Interesting point. Though I wonder whether the determination of whether someone is a feminist icon is really up to the people doing the viewing. It sure seems like a lot of women view Sen. Clinton that way, whether she likes it or not.


Charlotte, N.C.: Hello, Michael. By staying in the race, isn't Clinton running up the cost of her campaign? If she is having money problems, doesn't it make sense to get out know instead of building up her debt?

Michael Shear: That's certainly logical financial thinking. But then, there's this rumor out there that Sen. Obama -- if he becomes the nominee -- might help her retire the debt. That might make continuing easier.


Michael Shear: Ok, thanks everyone.

Back to the trail for me. Check back later tonight (maybe much later) for results from the primary.



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