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, June 5, 2008; 1:00 PM

Post columnist Dana Milbank, who serves as the capital's foremost critic of political theater in his Washington Sketch columns and videos, was online Thursday, June 4 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: Good afternoon, campers.

So the day after claiming the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama has knocked down prospects for a Middle East peace deal. He said yesterday that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel -- a position that goes well beyond that of Bush or McCain. Here, according to Reuters, is the Palestinian Authority reaction:

"This statement is totally rejected," President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Ramallah. "The whole world knows that East Jerusalem, holy Jerusalem, was occupied in 1967, and we will not accept a Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state."

Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said of Obama: "He has closed all doors to peace."

I now open the doors to your questions.


Silver Spring, Md.: A comment rather than a question. (Well, okay -- a rant.) I really am ticked off that the very first place Obama and Clinton went the day after the nomination was clinched was AIPAC. This is the first issue that needed to be addressed? I mean really, how many American Jews (of which I am one) would base their vote on a candidate's position on Israel? Does anyone think for a second that a candidate from either party is going to announce one day that he has "changed his mind" about Israel's security? Maybe it's a generational thing -- and I suppose there's campaign money at stake -- but couldn't the pandering have waiting at least a week? I'm disgusted.

Dana Milbank: I think they can't be blamed for the timing. The AIPAC conference is an annual thing, and was scheduled before anybody knew the nomination fight would end the night before.

What I'm intrigued by is what Obama said. He clearly didn't have to announce that he had taken Israel's side on one of the thorniest final status issues. Even Bush -- who never hesitates to stick a thumb in the Palestinian eye -- devoted part of yesterday to suspending for another six months plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.


Washington: Hi there. So, what did you go over and ask Ickes on Saturday?

Dana Milbank: Ah, a keen eye in the room at the Democratic National Committee rules committee meeting at the Marriott. It had appeared to me and others that, after Obama man Wexler made his presentation, he shook hands with everybody at the table but skipped over Clinton man Harold Ickes. But Ickes denied this, and when we went back to look at the tape, we saw that they had, in fact, shook hands, just out of order at the table. So, much ado about nothing.


San Francisco: It sounds like Hillary Clinton has booked the entire weekend to say goodbye. When will she cede the spotlight to Barack Obama?

Dana Milbank: January 20, 2009.


Washington: So Dana, are you ecstatic about Obama's victory, or just merely stoked?

Dana Milbank: I think if you read today's column, you'll see I'm no flack for Obama. It was, perhaps, assumed by people who read my coverage of the Clinton deathwatch that I was opposed to her. Hopefully you'll find that I'm holding everybody to account.

So I guess just "merely stoked."


New York: Do you think Obama just said what he believed, that he spoke rashly about an area which is not his forte, or that he's cynically trying to position himself as the non-Hamas candidate?

Dana Milbank: Can't guess at motive, but he was reading the speech carefully off a teleprompter. This wasn't an offhand remark. I note, however, that Hamas has rescinded its previous endorsement of Obama, so it seems to have achieved that result.

Here's the Hamas guy from the same Reuters story:

"Obama's comments have confirmed there will be no change in the U.S. administration's policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict," Sami Abu Zuhri said. "Hamas does not differentiate between the two presidential candidates, Obama and McCain, because their policies regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict are the same and are hostile to us."

Of course, being hostile to Hamas is a good thing; if I were Obama, I'd be more worried about the Palestinian Authority's reaction.


Primary Rehab: A big fist-bump to you, sir. Ever since you wrote the sketch about Hillary pointing out a friend in the imaginary crowd that greeted her plane -- a staffer she'd just seen inside the plane -- I can't help but notice every time she does it. She did it a couple of times Tuesday night, and all I could think of was that windswept tarmac...

washingtonpost.com: This Is an Ex-Candidate (Post, May 13)

Dana Milbank: I was at Tuesday night's nonconcession speech in the Baruch College gym, and saw the pointing and waving you're talking about. Now in this case, there was a crowd and a decent chance she did recognize some old friend in it. But that's the problem with phony pointing and waving -- once you do it, people will always assume you're gesturing to imaginary friends.


McLean, Va.: Are you going to make traffic reports on the I-66 backup caused by the Obama event at the Nissan Pavilion in Beautiful Bristow, Va., not Prince William County, Va.?

Dana Milbank: Now that would have been a fine Sketch. Alas, I got a late start today -- Pepco just got our power back on after yesterday's storms. And I've got to rest up for Hillaryfest on Saturday.


New York: Dana, Love your work and your bits on Olbermann's show. My question is about delusion, which seems to be epidemic on both ends of the political spectrum. When, as on Tuesday night, a Terry McAuliffe can announce, "I give you the next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton!" and then Clinton can go on to give the speech she gave, do you think these folks actually believe what they're saying? Are they barefacedly lying for some inscrutable political reason, exhausted and temporarily irrational, still just putting on a brave face, or something else entirely? If they actually do believe it, what does that mean for Americans who have just suffered through eight years of raving delusion?

Dana Milbank: Interesting question. I assume they know they're full of it in an intellectual sense, but they get caught up in the moment -- kind of like how Scott McClellan described the march to war in Iraq. So, yes, I guess you've found another good reason to be cynical. I will add it to my collection.


Bethesda, Md.: As the namesake of the town where Hillary's campaign went to die, you would seem to be a logical choice for press secretary in an Obama White House. To audition, please give us your best McClellan-esque rendering of what Obama should say on the topic of Clinton as running mate.

washingtonpost.com: A No-Name Town Looks Like Waterloo (Post, June 3)

Dana Milbank: When we have something to announce on that, we'll announce it.


West of Milbank, S.D.: Did you get an oversized key to the town of Milbank, S.D.? Because if there's anyone who deserves it, it's a guy named Milbank!

Dana Milbank: All I got was this lousy T-shirt.

(Actually the "You'll Like Milbank" T-shirts are pretty spiffy, and 100 percent cotton.)


Washington:"How many American Jews (of which I am one) would base their vote on a candidate's position on Israel?" Like this person, I am Jewish and I would not base my vote based on this. However, I know many relatives of mine would, so I find it surprising that this question would be posed. Unfortunately, the answer is: a lot.

Dana Milbank: I think we've got a minyan for this chat.

Actually, the stats show that Jews vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and primarily on domestic issues. But Obama has a particular difficulty with this issue, being a Muslim plant an all.

(Note to David Brock: I'm kidding. He is not a Muslim plant. He is not a Muslim. As far as I know.)


Albany, N.Y.: While "The Daily Show" reporters are amusing on TV, I always have wondered if they annoy the the rest of the reporters at these events. Did your colleagues find the "four more months" chant entertaining during the Hillary speech on Tuesday, or are they more like that class clown who crosses the line?

Dana Milbank: Actually Jim Axelrod from CBS shouted back at them: "We're on air!" But I think that's the first time I came across a "Daily Show" crew. We reporters do a fine job of causing disruptions without them.


Boston: Dana, what is your take on the notion of the Obama/Clinton ticket? At one point in this was considered a dream ticket. I think that this was maybe a pipe-dream ticket, and I don't see how Obama really could offer her the vice president slot.

Dana Milbank: When we have something to announce on that, we'll announce it.


Dunnellon, Fla.: Do we know if Obama has visited a mohel lately?

Dana Milbank: That's it! We're kicking you out of the minyan.


Anonymous: Muslim plant? Is that like a date palm?

Dana Milbank: Actually I believe he is a Sabra cactus.

(This, too, is a joke, David Brock. Obama is not a cactus or a date palm. He is a beautiful forget-me-not.)


Seattle: Inquiring minds want to know: Who are you rooting for in the NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Celtics?

Dana Milbank: When we have something to announce on that, we'll announce it.


Arlington, Va.: Dana, what do you think of McCain's proposal for 10 debates with Obama? Though it will provide a plethora of material for your columns, it seems so clearly a mistake -- the comparison of the 1960 debates between Kennedy and Nixon seem so obvious, my friends.

Dana Milbank: Actually, the town-hall format McCain proposes is probably a better medium for both men, neither of whom shined in the debates. If we were going by debate performance, I think November would be a Huckabee-Gravel matchup.

The more important McCain idea -- and the one that Obama should be pressed to support as well -- is his promise to do regular "Question Time" before the Congress. That would be excellent for the nation and, more importantly, the Sketch.


Cube City: You said "once you do it, people will always assume you're gesturing to imaginary friends." Excuse me -- just because you can't see them doesn't mean they are imaginary or that their votes don't count! They're not invisible to her! No sir!

Dana Milbank: Thank you, Lanny Davis.


New York: When it comes down to it, I think Hillary lost the nomination because her campaign had the feel of one being run by Karl Rove and his cadre: Spin the truth, change the rules, never admit fault, deny reality. On the same day Obama clinched the nomination, she was introduced as the next president of the U.S. It looked like she was in the same type of bubble Bush has been in for eight years. Please, no more of that.

Dana Milbank: All the more reason for Obama, after pledging a different sort of foreign policy, not to reverse course the day after clinching the nomination.


Washington: Wow, you know the campaign is getting way too long when you find yourself writing stories about towns that share your surname.

Dana Milbank: Indeed, it was a cheap and tawdry stunt, and I enjoyed it immensely, Milbank you very much.


Washington: "Question Time" is clearly a ploy to boost C-SPAN's ratings, and the 10 televised debates proposed by McCain are a ploy to sell his message on national TV 10 times without having to pay a buck in ad spend. It's all very noble.

Dana Milbank: What's good for the Sketch is good for America.


Technically speaking...: by birth he is Muslim, via simple fact that his father was Muslim (just as a Jew is so by virtue of his/her mother being a Jew). I don't see a lot of talk about this, perhaps because folks feel the general public is just too dumb to get the concept.

Dana Milbank: Thank heavens he has all these crazy Christian preachers.


New Hampshire: Hi Dana and thanks for taking my question. As your intro states, you are the person "who serves as the capital's foremost critic of political theater in his Washington Sketch columns and videos." Can you please explain to me what all that posturing at AIPAC was yesterday, and why the media actually covered it at length, as opposed to other years when only C-SPAN covered any speech at all? Do you think that these speeches will have any effect on the electorate or the general election?

Dana Milbank: Actually AIPAC is a Sketch perennial. From 2005:

"Reporters arriving at the convention center yesterday were given a list of "Food Facts" for the three-day AIPAC meeting: 26,000 kosher meals, 32,640 hors d'oeuvres, 2,500 pounds of salmon, 1,200 pounds of turkey, 900 pounds of chicken, 700 pounds of beef and 125 gallons of hummus."


washingtonpost.com: AIPAC's Big, Bigger, Biggest Moment (Post, May 24, 2005)


Minneapolis: I didn't realize religion was determined by birth. Perhaps "Technically Speaking" should tell Tony Blair to stop parading around like he's a Catholic.

Dana Milbank: Yes, he is definitely a Sabra cactus.


Washington: Of course that pointing and gesturing is fake -- do you ever notice how she says a few words as she's waving? Like whoever it is going to hear any of that. Maybe she has a lot of lip-reading pals.

Dana Milbank: In fact there was somebody doing sign language on the stage, I recall, when McAuliffe was giving his speech. I wasn't looking but I'm guessing that when he introduced her as the "next president of the United States," the interpreter circled her finger around her ear in the the international symbol for "cuckoo."


Farmington Hills, Mich.: Love your chats Dana. Always puts a smile on my face. One question -- have you ever been invited to "The Daily Show"? You'd be a natural. Maybe you should start your own and give Stewart a run for his money.

Dana Milbank: Thank you for the question; please debit my account the usual charge.

Alas it is a sore point. No amount of begging and pleading would get me on the show to sell my book, "Homo Politicus." I therefore am boycotting the show; I know this has hurt them terribly.


Milbank on Milbank: Hellooo Milbank! Did you get the chance to sit with Bill Clinton for an interview in Milbank? Do you feel he's lost a step, or is that just vicious rumor?

Dana Milbank: His labeling of the honorable Todd Purdum as a "scumbag" did indeed fuel the speculation that he has some sort of surgery related brain damage. But possibly he was just hungry for lunch and the Milbankians were not leaving him alone.


Veepsterland: How do you handicap the race to be Obama's pick for vice president?

Dana Milbank: When we have something to announce on that, we'll announce it.

Thanks for tuning in.


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