Washington Sketch

Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, July 3, 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 26 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.

Subscribe to this discussion

The transcript follows.


Dana Milbank: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I have, this very morning, met the most nervous man in all of Washington: Phillip Swagel. He's the assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy, and this morning's jobless report caused him to deliver his monthly economic briefing in a stutter. That will be tomorrow's Sketch. Today's Sketch, which you may have seen, is about the imminent start of war with Iran. Let's get to your questions on these and other topics.


Oak Park, Mich.: Reading the Memo from Steve Schmidt, I noticed an interesting phrase. He called John McCain "a man who never surrenders." Is this the new message for the McCain campaign? And if so, what snarky response do you have for it?

Dana Milbank: Snarky? Not me.

But the Democrats have been pointing out an awkward McCain moment today. A day after the Schmidt regime brought to the campaign a new era of message discipline, McCain rolls out his jobs program in, uh, Mexico.


Arlington, Va.: I enjoyed reading your article about the "third front," and my question is, would an Israeli attack on Iran have an influence on our November elections? Would it help John McCain and hurt Obama?

Dana Milbank: Well, let's game this out:

1. Israel attacks Iran.
2. Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz.
3. United States attacks Iran.
4. World War III.

Possibly this would have an effect on the election.


San Francisco: Wow, John McCain seems about to blow his top lately! On the plane with ABC about Wesley Clark, with the "Good Morning America" anchor about being an expert on the economy -- what's your prediction for what might make him really explode on camera? And do Graham and Lieberman always have to hang around to divert the anger?

Dana Milbank: Actually the most interesting anger story was out of Mississippi, where, inexplicably, Thad Cochran is talking about how McCain roughed up one of the Sandinistas 20 years ago. 


Southwest Nebraska: I cringe whenever Bush speaks. His latest is, "first of all, anytime a troop loses their life..." Is Bush at all aware of how poorly he speaks English? Does he think it is cute and endearing? It's not, it's very embarrassing.

Dana Milbank: No doubt you are familiar with the famous Bush poem, which I believe originally was penned by my colleague Anne E. Kornblut:

I think we all agree, the past is over.
This is still a dangerous world.
It's a world of madmen
And uncertainty
And potential mental losses.

Rarely is the question asked
Is our children learning?
Will the highways of the Internet
Become more few?
How many hands have I shaked?

They misunderestimate me.
I am a pit bull on the pant leg of opportunity.
I know that the human being and the fish
Can coexist.

Families is where our nation finds hope
Where our wings take dream.
Put food on your family!
Knock down the tollbooth!
Vulcanize society!
Make the pie higher!
Make the pie higher!


Chicago: Hey Dana -- given that Obama responded affirmatively to whether he would meet with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, how will he react when we attack Iran and Mahmoud becomes public enemy number one?

Dana Milbank: I'm thinking it will be harder to talk to Ahmadinejad after we bomb him.


Crestwood, N.Y. : If I were Obama, I would go for as many town halls as I could, because it greatly increase the chances of McCain having a blow-up on camera. He seems to need his handlers here, like Sen. Graham or Lieberman, to jump in and cause a distraction when he starts to smoke out of the ears, and this can't happen when he's on stage alone. Its like Bogart in "The Caine Mutiny." All Obama needs is a Jose Ferrer doing the questioning. Did he ever blow his top at you? I would think that you irritate a lot of politicians.

Dana Milbank: I must say that, in my years of covering McCain, I never have seen him blow his stack. On the other hand, when I caught up with him in New Hampshire, he greeted me warmly and repeatedly as "Mike."


San Diego: Dana, I had a dream the other night that Obama received 350 electoral votes in the upcoming presidential election. Any suggestions where I can place my bet, preferably for cash?

Dana Milbank: I'd recommend the Iowa Electronic Markets.


Author, author: Dana, I am reading your book "Homo Politicus" and enjoying it very much, for the most part. Some segments make me laugh out loud or chortle delightedly at the idiocy on parade. But, sorry to say, other anecdotes make me very disgusted with the quality of people we have representing us in Potomac Land. How do you personally maintain such a chipper demeanor with all the lying, corruption, and hypocrisy you witness in your reporting?

Dana Milbank: I am chipper precisely because of all the lying, corruption and hypocrisy. If everything was done in a clean, efficient and earnest way here, I'd be out of work. What's bad for America is good for Milbank.


Long Beach: First of all, kudos to you for coining a new term "The Third Front." It got mentioned in Dana Priest's chat today, so your term is off and running! Do you think we should make a clear distinction between full blown war against Iran, and a strike of some sort right before Bush leaves office, a macho parting shot of sorts? War: highly unlikely some sort of strike a few days before election or leaving office: 50/50 I say... what are your odds?

Dana Milbank: I think it was Admiral Mullen who was talking about the "Third Front" first. But either way, I think the bigger risk now is that the Iran attack comes too early for it to qualify as an October surprise.


Boston: I've got Dana Priest on the other window -- it's too damn confusing going from one to the other -- you're the funny Dana right?

Dana Milbank: She's the prettier one who wins Pulitzers.


Need more vacay: Can we get another holiday for July 1-3 to celebrate the Battle of Gettysburg or something? Americans need more vacation time.

Dana Milbank: Well, this is the birthday of my onetime colleague Peter Baker, so that's worth a holiday. Take the rest of the day off -- after this chat is over, that is.


Hackensack, N.J.: That was quite a leap from "U.S. attacks Iran" to "World War III," seeing as neither the Afghanistan invasion nor the attack on Iraq triggered a world war, despite all the dire predictions. So could you elaborate? World War III will be between whom and whom, and why?

Dana Milbank: Quite right. Let's revise that with some steps between three and four. Please send other ideas in if you have them.

1. Israel attacks Iran.
2. Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz.
3a. United States attacks Iran.
3b. Hezbollah cells go wild everywhere.
3c. Everybody attacks Israel.
3d. Israel nukes somebody.
3e. Pakistan, feeling left out, nukes somebody.
4. World War III.
How's that?


Anonymous: Are you aware how confusing it is for some of us multi-chatters to have your chat opposite Dana Priest? Perhaps you should consider changing your name to Mike.

Dana Milbank: See, there is always wisdom in what John McCain says, even if it is not always apparent at the time.


Ocala, Fla.: So, Liz Cheney has taken over under the secret provision of the 25th Amendment, which sets succession to the vice president's daughter in the latter months of an administration?

Dana Milbank: This is a reference to the younger Cheney's Iran war talk at the CSIS conference, quoted in today's Sketch. My colleague Mike Abramowitz recently wrote about other tough talk from Liz Cheney at AIPAC. I'm guessing it's a genetic mutation?


Sedona, Ariz.: Thanks for taking questions today, Mike. I heard that the hostage release in Colombia and the McCain trip to Colombia was not simply a coincidence as is being reported. I heard, on good authority my friends, that John McCain negotiated the release and flew the rescue chopper. Is this true, my friends?

Dana Milbank: Of course it is true, my friend. But stop calling me Mike. My name is Dana Priest.


Anonymous: Saying a term and coining it into our vernacular are different things, Dana. Your modesty is touching, but in fact, Third Front is all yours. So, don't be shy! Sons of the Desert, attack!

Dana Milbank: It's official, then. The term "Third Front" officially was coined today, in The Washington Post, by a guy named Mike.


Harrisburg, Pa.: I am recalling a quote by Drew Pearson, who explained how laws get passed through Congress as "the right things get done for the wrong reasons." What are your impressions of that description of how Washington operates?

Dana Milbank: I've been so busy coining the "Third Front" thing that I haven't had time to work on this one yet, but how about: "The right things get done when all other possibilities have been exhausted."


Baltimore: One quick question -- we're flopping out in Afghanistan; Iraq is a mess; and there's suddenly talk of going into Iran. Are we insane?

Dana Milbank: As a wise man once said:

It's a world of madmen and uncertainty
And potential mental losses.


Dunnellon, Fla.: I thought McCain was in Colombia to personally fly the hostages out of the jungle. Don't they trust him at the controls?

Dana Milbank: One of the most pleasant flights I ever took was a Southwest flight from San Diego to Phoenix back in 2000. I was sitting next to McCain, and I recall there being some turbulence. I asked him, given his past, whether he was a nervous flier. He replied something to the effect of: "Mike, it is not my fate to die in an airplane." (Okay, I added the "Mike" part.)


Furious: I just don't understand how a respected reporter like Mike Abramowitz could countenance such stupid chat questions as these. I've lost all respect for him.

Dana Milbank: I'm probably in trouble with Wilbon, too.


Anonymous: Any chance we can get a mortar squad to shoot off the fireworks on the Mall this year? We need to militarize the Fourth of July during "war," don't you think?

Dana Milbank: This is precisely why I'll be watching the fireworks from the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg.


Sewickley, Pa.: About six months ago my 50-year-old husband filed his retirement papers with the U.S. Army after nearly 21 years of service. He has yet to receive a reply. Do you think President Bush has plans for him?

Dana Milbank: If a guy named David Addington knocks on your door, don't answer it.


Anonymous: Dear Mike Priest, do you even know who you are now? I'm confused.

Dana Milbank: Okay, I think this means it is time for this chat to come to an end. Speaking for Dana Priest and Mikes everywhere, I thank you for wasting this hour.


Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company