Post Politics Hour
Wednesday, July 30, 2008; 11:00 AM
Washington Post national political reporter Michael D. Shear was online Wednesday, July 30 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.
The transcript follows
Michael D. Shear: Hi everyone. A few technical glitches, but I'm here now. There have been a lot of developments on the campaign trail recently, including from my own Virginia (Vice President Kaine?) and some continuing fallout over Sen. Obama's non-visit to the military hospital. So let's get at it. Mike
University Park, Md.: Good morning. Thanks for taking this question. Last week, Obama visited the military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. He decided to skip a military hospital in Berlin for whatever political reasons. Republicans are trying to make this a big deal. Please clarify the differences in visiting Afghanistan/Iraq and Landstuhl.
Michael D. Shear: OK. Lot's of questions this morning about the story I wrote with my colleague Dan Balz about the McCain attacks on Obama's decision to skip the hospital visit.
The Republicans -- and especially Sen. McCain -- are indeed trying to make a big deal out of this. Their argument is that Obama's decision shows an arrogance and indifference to the plight of the troops.
It is true, thought, that Sen. Obama did visit wounded soldiers in Baghdad and, I believe, Afghanistan too. So the Obama response is that any notion that he doesn't care about the troops is countered by those visits.
Houston: So, John McCain issues his own "no new taxes." How on earth does he propose to pay for two wars WITHOUT raising taxes? Why don't Americans understand that, in order to spend more, you have to take in MORE? You absolutely cannot spend more and, by lowering taxes, take in LESS.
Michael D. Shear: Sen. McCain -- and other supply-siders -- would disagree strongly with your contention, Houston. They would argue that by reducing taxes, economic growth will be stimulated and that the government will actually take in more: less from the lower tax rate, but more because the economic activity generated will then be taxed, bringing more into the government coffers.
I'm certainly no economist, but that's the essence of how McCain proposes to pay for two wars (and everything else). He also talks a lot about cutting "waste" and "earmarks" from federal spending, thereby reducing the need for tax increases.
Carlsbad, Calif.: Good morning Michael. Thanks for taking the question. As a life-long observer and student of American politics, I am surprised that the Democrats have developed a "Southern strategy." The Republican party loyalty in the South, especially the deep South, is near absolute. What is your opinion of the Obama campaign's expenditure of money in states like Missouri, North Carolina and Georgia?
Michael D. Shear: This will either turn out to be a brilliant strategy on the part of Obama or a total waste of time. The Republicans have had much success in presidential politics in the South, and most people think it's not a good way for Obama to spend money to go after places like Georgia.
Having said that, the South is changing in places, too. Take Virginia, where Democrats are on an upswing in state politics and the growth of Northern Virginia is shifting the demographic profile of the state. Obama has a decent chance of winning Virginia despite its history. And with the imbalance in money that he is expected to have, taking the chance is probably worth it.
Obama Presumptuous?: Thanks for taking my question. What are your thoughts on Milbank's article today? I know that there are compromises that have to be made along the way, and that he is smart to begin meetings with officials, but the bubble around him and secrecy makes me uncomfortable considering the Bush horror show that we've been living through.
washingtonpost.com: President Obama Continues Hectic Victory Tour (Post, July 20)
Michael D. Shear: Dana is a wonderful observer of political life. I would encourage everyone to read his column. He has an amazing way of capturing just the right moment.
Regarding the presumptuousness that he wrote about today: This is a big danger for Sen. Obama. People expect their candidates (if not their politicians) to be humble. If there is a sense that Obama is taking the election for granted, or beginning to believe his own hype, it will not be good for him.
Do I hear ticking?: Hey, what would Jack Baeur (WWJB)do about the problems at DOJ. I'm concerned because I'm not sure another Batman movie is going to come out in time to show us the way so Jack's all I got.
Michael D. Shear: A personal secret here: I love "24" and am crrently re-watching season 3 -- the one with the deadly virus being released in Los Angeles.
As to what he would do about Justice? After six seasons, my sense is he'd probably kill a bureacrat, torture several others and make a dozen calls to the president along the way.
Re: Obama's "Southern strategy": Michael, what I think is being missed when discussing the Southern strategy is the likely effect of a large turnout of black voters, almost all of whom will vote for Obama. By Election Day, I believe most blacks will face incredible pressure to "honor the struggles of their ancestors" and make history by voting for Obama. Almost all of them are likely to be more than willing to do so. I predict Obama will get 90-95 percent of the black vote, which changes the dynamics in any number of states.
Michael D. Shear: Of course, I should have mentioned this. The expected surge in turnout among African Americans could have a dramatic shift in the outcomes in some of these southern states. But that kind of surge is not a certainty. I recall, for example, the expected surge in youth turnout for John Kerry that did not appear to materialize on election day.
We'll have to see what happens, and whether, Obama does in fact get the kind of percentage you suggest.
Kansas City, Mo.: Not be a cynic, but does it even matter if McCain's charges are true or disproved? The charges are out there and Obama is spending time defending his actions. Among small number of voters this may be how they make up their minds and Florida showed a small number can make a difference. Seems like classic Bush campaign strategy, make an accusation and let others try to disprove.
Michael D. Shear: It's true that the charges about Obama's hospital visit are out there now. And it's also true that our coverage of it (and the coverage of others) does perpetuate a discussion that the McCain camp is happy to see.
Having said that, I think we in the media have a responsibility to point out when there are allegations that have little basis in fact.
It's true, of course, that Obama did not go to the hospital in Germany, and it's fair to ask why. The point of our story was to point out that there is no evidence to support the idea that Obama had planned to take reporters and television cameras to the hospital and canceled the trip because he could not.
Denver, Colo.: Is there a feeling in Washington that Kaine and Obama would be two relatively inexperienced candidates?
Michael D. Shear: Good. Some Tim Kaine questions.
Yes. In fact, I already had a discussion with a key Republican yesterday who suggested that an Obama-Kaine ticket would be "the most inexperienced in the history of the world."
A bit of hyperbole there, but that is definitely one of the lines of attack that Kaine would engender. There are other ways in which Kaine might help Obama, but there's no question that the addition of a one-term governor would be an issue.
Pittsburgh: Isn't Tim Kaine anti-abortion? It's been noted that a Vice Presidential nominee rarely helps the top of the ticket, but can harm it. So wouldn't an anti-abortion VP nominee turn off a lot of potential Obama voters? (Likewise if McCain chose pro-choice Tom Ridge for VP).
Michael D. Shear: I believe Kaine is not anti-abortion. He calls himself pro-choice. But it is true he has supported some restrictions on abortion (ban on partial birth) that have angered some abortion-rights groups.
From today's article ::"Gibbs said yesterday that the campaign had planned to inform the traveling media members sometime on the morning of the flight to Ramstein that Obama was intending to visit the hospital but had made no plans to take reporters, including even the small, protective press pool that now accompanies him most places".
What does " small protective press pool " mean ?
Michael D. Shear: A couple of questions about this. (To be honest, I thought editors had taken the word out, to avoid confusion.)
When covering presidential candidates (or the president) journalists often form a small group called "a pool" to cover events that won't allow the entire, large group to attend. Their reports, called "pool reports" are sent back to the entire group of reporters for their use as they see fit.
A "protective pool" is a similar group that is assigned to a candidate when there's nothing going on, simply to be with the candidate in case something happens. Thus, when a candidate travels from a hotel to the airport, there is a "protective pool" along just in case he gets into an accident or something. It's the same thing when you see a small group of reporters at the president's ranch.
The confusion is with the word "protective." The reporters are clearly not there to "protect" the president or the candidates, who clearly have their own protection. I believe the history of the term is that it's to "protect" the news organizations against something important happening without them being there.
Arlington, Va.: I see lots of stories about McCain getting a mole removed from his face. During the primaries McCain allowed a pool of reporters to view all of his medical records and made his Dr. available for questions until the press had no more to ask. Obama released a one page medical summary saying everything is fine. When will the press get access to Obama's medical records and talk to his Doctor? We know he smokes, what else is being hidden?
Michael D. Shear: I was in the pool of reporters who reviewed the many McCain documents. I do not know whether we will get a similar stack of records from Sen. Obama.
But I will say this: very, very few of the documents I looked at had anything to do with Sen. McCain's general health. Almost all of the thousands of documents had to do with his cancer, the subsequent follow-ups and the back-up materials from lots of different specialists.
The basic checkups were fairly routine and short. Given that, and given that there's no indication that Sen. Obama has had any major health issues, I'm not sure how much there would actually be to see.
Still, as a repoter, I'm eager to see everything there is, regardless.
Boston: This Kaine boomlet seems like a classic red herring and I think the Governor is close enough to Sen. Obama to allow himself to be used in this way so as to maximize the time and attention given to his true VP choice. Why isn't anyone talking about Claire McCaskill, for instance? She's been Obama's most effective surrogate, represents a classic swing state and is very good on TV. Did I mention that Obama is in Missouri today? Thoughts?
Michael D. Shear: It's certainly possible that the Kaine talk is a head-fake from the campaign. We'll see.
My colleagues say they don't hear much about Claire McCaskill. And the consensus seems to be that Obama would run into difficulty by picking a woman who is not Sen. Clinton. But who knows? Maybe there could be a surprise.
Seattle, Wash.: The News outlets are filled with Veepstakes talk, but if you were a betting man, would you put money on either of them announcing before or after the Olympics begin?
Michael D. Shear: My conversations with Republicans and McCain officials suggest that they are wary of announcing their choice during the Olympics, since there are so many events that could steal the attention of the media.
Since the Olympics end the day before the Democratic convention begins, that would seem to argue that they would do it before the Olympics.
The Democrats seem less worried about the possibility of conflicting with the Olympics, but the schedule for both is really kept very secret.
Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Michael -
I understand that Post reporters do not create the headlines for the articles they write, so I was wondering what you and Dan Balz thought of the headline for your article that appeared in today's paper regarding the McCain ad? It seems rather weak to me and could even be read to suggest that the allegations in the ad are true.
washingtonpost.com: McCain Charge Against Obama Lacks Evidence (Post, July 30)
Michael D. Shear: Interesting.
I think the headline accurately reflected the story, which said that there was no evidence to support the claim that Obama decided not to visit because he couldn't bring the press.
St. Paul: Hi Michael -- Thank you for taking questions today. The illegal activities of Monica Goodling and her crew have been in the news the last few days. Can the Obama campaign get any mileage out of that, or is it not that helpful, given that he's running against McCain and not Bush? Can he argue that with another Republican administration we're only going to see more of that same politicization of government, or is that going too far out on a limb? My sense is that there is severe "Bush scandal fatigue" among voters right now and he's best to just let it sit there, but what do you think?
Michael D. Shear: My sense is that you will see Democrats, and Sen. Obama, continue to try and get mileage out of the president's low popularity. He says frequently, for example, that he disagrees with "Bush-McCain" policies, attempting to link the two together in the minds of voters.
I do agree, however, that there is a certain fatigue out there, and that there's also anger and frustration with Congress. You can see that the Republicans are trying to capitalize on the extremely low approval rating for Congress by trying to link candidates to Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Reid.
Charlottesville, Va.: Hi, Isn't it a little misleading to refer to Kaine as a "one term governor" as though that were a shortcoming? All Virginia governors are one term, by our constitution.
Michael D. Shear: Aha. An astute reader. It is true, all Virginia governors can only serve one consecutive term (in theory, they can leave and come back.) But that doesn't take away from the fact that he has only that much experience. From the perspective of Obama and his foes, Virginia's constitutional limitations are of little concern.
Michael D. Shear: Gotta go jump on a conference call.
See everyone next week.
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