Washington Sketch

Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, July 31, 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, July 31 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 chatters.

Apparently some of you have some thoughts you'd like to share about yesterday's Sketch on the premature presidency of Barack Obama. I don't know what the specific nature of the complaints are, however, because, as Daily Kos put it in a headline yesterday, "Dana Milbank is an Idiot."

I've decided to approach today's chat as a wine writer would.

Publications such as the Wine Spectator and the Wine Enthusiast rate wines on a scale of zero to 100, with 100 being the very best, world-class wines. Today, I am inaugurating the Whine Enthusiast, in which I will rate your whines.

Here's a rough gauge of my categories:

50 and below: Polite disagreement. These whines need to age and stew more because they do not have enough vinegar and sourness yet.

51-70: Sympathetic disappointment. These whines will express past agreements with my point of view but will take exception in this case. These whines, like all grievances, would benefit from some proper cellaring.

71-90: Righteous indignation. These whines will have distinctive characteristics, showing a deep and robust internal agitation. They come on strong and have a long finish but have some off notes of sour grapes.

91-100. Completely over the top. These are the very best whines, produced by some of the world's best whiners. They are ready for consumption immediately.

So, start pouring. The Whine Enthusiast is ready.


Red li, NE: OK, let's get this over with:

Shame! Tool of Rove!! Disseminator of Right-Wing slanders!!

Actually, I just thought the Obama-is-presumptious piece wasn't very funny, but not every day can be a dead parrot day.

If your column is the difference between an Obama victory and four years of that hideous grin/grimace thing, Obama didn't stand much of a chance anyway. But I'll still hate you. Shame!!

Dana Milbank:

Whine Enthusiast rating: 82.

This whine starts out very impressively, but it fades quickly. The whine producer seems to be one who favored Obama over Hillary but now does not like Obama to be the target.

But the whine is ultimately too light to satisfy the palate, merely concluding that the column "wasn't very funny" rather than a threat to civilization.


Pasadena, Calif.: Hi Dana, thanks for your chats, I really do appreciate the time you take to chat with us lowly non-Village People.

I really enjoy a bit o' the snark as much as the next fellow.

But I do wonder whether or not echoing a Rovian talking point, complete with misquote, is really your best starting point.

Or were you channeling ol' Turd-blossom himself in a New Yorker type satire that, as such things will, went over the heads of bumpkins like myself?

Be that as it may, keep up the (usually) good work!

Dana Milbank:

Whine Enthusiast rating 50.

This is so sympathetic as to constitute something other than a whine (and for that I am grateful, Pasadena).

But it does raise the question of a "misquote," so let's set the record straight on that one right away.

Under challenge is a quote in the story, and in an earlier post on the washingtonpost.com blog, The Trail, by my colleague Jonathan Weisman. We cite a witness to Obama's private meeting with House Democrats telling us that Obama said "this is the moment. . . that the world is waiting for" and "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."

House Democratic aides got up Thursday morning and decided that the quotes looked bad. While not challenging the quotations themselves, they said that the quotes were out of context. This is interesting, because our source ¿ who was among the people complaining about the quotes yesterday ¿ sent us the quotes in writing in an email Wednesday night.

Evidently no recording was made, so we'll probably never know the exact wording.


Maryville, Tenn.: Dear Mr. Milbank:

As a "reporter" for the Washington Post, you assume certain responsibilities to report truthfully and accurately, reflecting your own credibility and your responsibility to the reputation of your employer. You have FAILED in that responsibility!

In your article on Sen. Obama yesterday, you apparently chose to omit the full context of his quote in a purposeful and disgraceful mischaracterization of the MEANING of his words! Such "spin", such misrepresentation of his words is inexcusable! You obviously have an agenda of your own to try to tear down Obama and impune him with attributes which more accurately describe Pres. Bush, Sen. McCain, and yourself!

Surely you are acutely aware that words have consequences, and YOU, Mr. Milbank, are responsible for feeding the frenzy of insults, derogatory comments, false character assassinations hurled unjustly at Sen. Obama by the mainstream media today as a result of your OWN false and irresponsible reporting! This is the type of reporting Americans are simply SICK of, -- the kind of reporting that has caused needless and irreparable harm to so many in the past and is now causing harm to Sen. Obama! YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF!

Mr. Milbank, if you have one ounce of integrity and decency, you should APOLOGIZE privately to Sen. Obama and publicly RETRACT your incorrect and misleading statements and conclusions. Sen. Obama has run perhaps the most decent, intelligent, and HUMBLE campaign of any politician in many decades (I know, as I am much older than you!), and he does not deserve the low down, untruthful, and insulting inferences you made toward him!!!

Dana Milbank:

Now, THIS is a fine whine.

A sure sign of an accomplished whiner is the USE OF CAPITALIZATION in the whinemaking process.

The Whine Enthusiast gives this one a 94. Indeed, the only thing lacking in this whine is the charge that I am a racist, which I have noticed in some other whines.


Reston, Va.: You're just now noticing that Obama is arrogant? I could tell that from the way he carried himself during the debates.

That said, do you think the "arrogant" label will stick, or is this a flash in the pan story?

Dana Milbank:

Thanks, Reston. This isn't a whine at all so I won't give it a rating.

I'm hardly the first to write about Obama's over-confidence. As I wrote in the story, it's probably a bigger danger to him than John McCain is.

It's worth noting that I criticized the same traits when I saw them in President Bush in 1999 and 2000. Hopefully, some whine-makers will consider that, and realize that this is a potentially dangerous trait in a leader -- even if they agree with that leader's policies.

Fortunately for Obama, I don't think it's a fatal problem. He has a common touch, and could easily regain that if he gets out of his bubble.


Cape Lucy, Mich.: Did you ever consider what kind of affect your 'article' would have on the Obama family? Of course not -- you are just chasing the story. Forget his girls and his wife -- let alone the extended family. NO. Your ego needs satisfying and the only way you can get that is by taking down someone better then you. In this case it was Obama. But this does not raise you or lower him, it just cheapens you, and what's worse, the Post with it.

You would obviously prefer to criticize Obama and give "100-years-of-war" McCain a free ride. I am starting to think you may work for AIPAC -- as your interests are obviously aligned with theirs. Well, we will not stand by and let you denigrate Obama and with it this great nation of yours. Would that I had the way, I would hold you up as treasonous and see that you were punished without trial!

Dana Milbank:

Whine Enthusiast: 92.

This whine is enhanced by hints of anti-Semitic flavor, but ultimately it is unsatisfying, because the column had nothing to do with the Obama family.

When I take on President Bush (which was unpopular when I was doing it before 2003 but seems to draw far fewer whines these days) I do not worry about what Barbara and Jenna will think of it. _______________________

Oracle, oracle, what do you see: Is the reason we aren't hearing Bill Richardson's name being batted around for VP because he has (sorry, is rumored to have an alleged) Bill Clinton-esque problem?

The videos you did during the primaries saved my sanity during some particulary tough months at work. I salute you.

Dana Milbank: Thank you for this break from the whine tasting. I am getting a bit woozy.

I was wondering that myself -- Richardson fits the "grownup with foreign policy experience" label every bit as much as Biden and Bayh -- but he has dropped from the CW. It's worth noting that the CW may have absolutely nothing to do with the people actually under discussion in Eric Holder's office this week.______________________

gettysburg (ghosts of our nation, god love it!): you ever get the feeling that perhaps we are losing our sense of humor?

Dana Milbank:

I worry about it, Gettysburg, but I have faith in the resilience of the American funny bone. For years the right had been far angrier than the left, but this seems to have changed in the last few years, and that's probably a good sign about the health of the left, even if it's a bit tedious for equal-opportunity opportunists such as myself.


Boston: Wow, Dana, some people really can't take a joke, huh? And I'm an Obama supporter, but if anyone didn't see him last week and say to themselves, "Huh, he really does look like he's already the president, doesn't he?" then they really weren't paying attention. Just promise me next week you'll throw some of that over at McCain and you and I are still cool.

Dana Milbank:

The only thing that would stop me is my upcoming vacation, but you have my word that McCain will not escape, er, unscarred. We're already working on coverage plans for the Minneapolis Airport men's room during the Republican convention, right after we get done writing about the 5 different colors of locally harvested food required to be on each plate at the Democratic convention in Denver.


Washington, D.C.: Apart from Alaskans, oil companies, the hunting industry and their respective lobbyists, is a SINGLE tear being shed over the Stevens indictment?

Dana Milbank:

I think Byrd was about to cry. But he was kissing everybody's hand on the Senate floor so that may not be a good gauge.

In truth, the technology industry will have a lost a great defender in Ted Stevens, who found a way to explain the Internets to those of us who could not find it by doing the Google: It's not a truck. It's a series of tubes.


Addlesburg, Ga.: no whine here, dana - sorry. i honestly find your work amusing. but he comments from your story yesterday were by far much funnier then the story itself. now to my question - the two parties generally and the campaigns themselves must be paying people to infiltrate the different forums and blogs out there to push their points or play the exaggerated role of an opponent, no?

anyways, to those of us who still laugh, we salute you (tell weingarten you're funnier then he ever is/was).

Dana Milbank: Thank you Addlesburg. I actually tried to check the comments this morning on my story but couldn't find them. This is either because of a technological malfunction or more proof of the Daily Kos view that I am an idiot.


DC: Sorry not to whine.

How did VECO add a first floor to Ted Steven's house? It seems a rather impractical renovation. Was "The Chalet" on stilts and they walled it in or did they jack the whole thing up?

Dana Milbank: Excellent question -- and something that occurred to me. Yes, I believe they jacked up the house and then put in a whole new first level. Would seem to me they'd be better off just starting over with the whole thing. But I guess they do things differently up there in Alaska. Stevens had VECO do a lot with "heat tape," which is unknown to me but apparently prevents ice dams from crushing your roof.

Another question worth pondering about Stevens: Prosecutors put his haul at around $250,000. Why didn't Uncle Ted demand more? Duke Cunningham got millions.


Tampa, Fla.: Do you worry that the new editor of the Post will decide to get rid of gossip columns like yours and focus on actual journalism?

Dana Milbank: Whine Enthusiast: 85

Subtle and disarming.


New York: Mr. Milbank, how DARE you? Don't you know that Barack Obama is perfect? PERFECT! Nary a thing wrong with The ONE! Mistakes? Misspeaks? Gaffes? Misbehavior? Bite thy tongue! Anyone who dares to suggest even the hint of a hangnail is an IDIOT and needs to be cast out of civilized society. You, Mr. Milbank, are NOT the one we are waiting for!!!

Dana Milbank:


90 points. I'd give it more but I doubt the whinemaker's sincerity.


Baked Alaska: Is it true that, behind the scenes, Ted Stevens wasn't the really really nice guy he appeared to be?

Dana Milbank: It has been alleged, but he'll always be my Uncle Ted. Plus, you have to love the way he ogled and flattered my friend Trish Turner of Fox when she tried to question him yesterday.


Bowie, MD: Milbank you must admit at some point that you intentionally butchered Barack Obama's words to sell papers (and maybe put a little scratch in your own pockets from the GOP).

Using your quote creator, God told the Jews: in Exodus 20:13: Thou shalt... kill.

Kind of changes the message a bit huh?

You lied, and you lied intentionally. As a Republican who is very, very tired of being lied to, you sir are not helping one bit.

Dana Milbank:

Whine Enthusiast: 96.

This is about as complex as a whine can get. I recommend cellaring it for a while and hopefully it will make sense after a while.


Indianapolis: Dana, As one who had much more respect for your opinions before reading your piece yesterday, I was shocked to read your unfair critique of Senator Obama. Yesterday's column says much more about you than the Senator. You've exposed yourself to be the lonely, overweight, repressed, ugly kid in the schoolyard that is insanely jealous of all the friends the more popular kids seem to have. Because you can't get attention you obsessively desire by being outgoing, energetic, playful or just fun to be around you lash out with your writing at the others with character flaws you have deemed they possess because they wont play with you. Grow up.

Dana Milbank:

Whine Enthusiast: 89.

But I've lost 10 lbs, Indianapolis!


Funny, Va.: Just a comment...

I always think it is funny that someone will complain that Obama is misquoted or quoted out of context and then, in the same sentence, refer to McCain's "100 years in Iraq" statement.

Can't wait for the commentary on the conventions!

Dana Milbank:

Yes, a good comparison. In both cases, a charitable listener would suspect that the speaker probably, kinda-sorta didn't mean it that way.

(It should be noted, if it hasn't already, that nobody is questioning the accuracy of the Obama quotes, only the context.)


Re: "You've exposed yourself to be the lonely, overweight, repressed, ugly kid in the schoolyard that is insanely jealous of all the friends the more popular kids seem to have"

I'll be your friend. You want to go bowling?

Dana Milbank: I'll probably roll a 36 like Obama did.

Wait, WAIT! I'm KIDDING. Obama would never roll a 36. He only bowled three frames. And he did it with his eyes closed. And the alley was warped. And the pins were nailed to the ground.

Oh, dear, it's too late. Here come a whole new round of whines.


Whine: Dana Priest is prettier than you. And funnier.

Dana Milbank: But I am fatter. Still, I'll rate you an 83 for effort.


Ocala, Fla: Your Obama Sketch went far below navel-gazing. By the stench emanating from the page,, I can only surmise that it is the product of a colonscopic examination, done with your own head. Your anatomy most closely resembles the Leyden jar.

Dana Milbank: Wine Enthusiast:89.

Very rich, with chocolate overtones.


Hubris, Va.: Dear "Mr." Milbank: HOW dare YOU say THAT Obama had his staff ARRANGE a briefing? YOU are CLEARLY "racist" for IMPLYING that Obama is not "CAPABLE" of setting UP his OWN briefings! How does the "Post" PERMIT such bias?????? I am APPALLED and AM "cancelling" my subscription WHICH will be difficult AS I read "ONLINE" for FREE.

Dana Milbank:

Whine Enthusiast: 100.

This isn't a whine. It's the nectar of the gods.


Dana Milbank:

Ok, thanks for tuning in everybody. I hope you will keep reading as I take on politicians of all stripes. And keep those whines fermenting for next week.


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