Post Politics Hour

Michael Shear
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Wednesday, August 27, 2008; 10:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest in politics? Start each day with The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 10 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post national political reporter Michael Shear, on the trail with the McCain campaign as it moves toward the Republican National Convention, will be online Wednesday, August 27 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest in political news.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Michael D. Shear: Good morning, everyone.

It's bright and sunny here in Sedona, Arizona where Sen. John McCain is doing some campaign filming, according to his advisers. Meanwhile, in Colorado, his Democratic rival is only one day away from the big speech.

So here we go. Ask away.


Richmond, Va.: Perhaps you can explain how this works. Hillary Clinton last night urged party unity, to put aside the feelings left over from the primary battle. And while Hillary might be able to do this because it is in her interest to do so if she wants either to run in 2012 if Obama loses, or she doesn't want to get blamed for hindering his win. However it doesn't seem from the reports at the convention that many of her supporters so easily can give up the feelings that she so intensely engendered, even to the eve of the convention. In short, Hillary has a political agenda to encourage unity, but it appears it is much harder for her supporters to let go. 'Barack Obama Is My Candidate': Clinton Urges Support, Calls for Party Unity (Post, Aug. 27)

Michael D. Shear: Let's start here. Lot's of questions about Hillary Clinton and her delegates.

The reporting from the convention floor would indeed suggest that her supporters are having a tough time putting the past in the past. But remember two things:

1) the people at the convention are the hardest core supporters, the ones who are so committed that they get elected to be delegates to the national convention. They may not be that reflective of the 18 million voters who cast ballots for her.

2) This is the moment of most intense disappointment for all of Clinton's supporters. You would expect her fans to feel sad/bitter at this moment -- the one they envisioned in such a different way. But as in poker, nothing matters except for what happens at the end. And it's likely that this day will fade as the intensity of the competition between Obama and McCain heats up. Then we shall see whether the hard feelings persist or not.


Baltimore: I watched all the speeches last night, and was struck by the number of really great one-liners I heard. What's your favorite one-liner/sound bite of the convention so far?

Michael D. Shear: As our McCain reporter, I've missed most of the smaller speeches. (Our travel schedule over the last 48 hours has been: Sedona-Phoenix-Sacramento-Burbank-Phoenix-San Diego-Flagstaff-Sedona)

But I can say I like a one-line you probably missed. McCain saying on Jay Leno's show that he is so old: "My Social Security number is 8"


Yorktown, Va.: Barack Obama's lawyers say the Ayers ad is "false, despicable and outrageous" and have called on the Justice Department to investigate the nonprofit group that produced it. But all the ad says is that Obama is friends with Ayers and that they sat on a left-wing board together. Which part is a lie? I haven't seen any actual refutation of the facts from Obama. Obama's heavy-handed approach is troubling -- he doesn't want to be linked to an unrepentant terrorist, which I understand, but using cops and lawyers to intimidate people for exercising their free speech rights? Scary.

Michael D. Shear: Here's a paragraph from my colleague, Jonathan Weisman, who has a very good story today on our front page about this ad.

The ad, financed with a $2.9 million donation from Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, a fundraising bundler for Sen. John McCain's Republican campaign, says that Obama has defended Ayers as "respectable" and "mainstream" and that he launched his political career from Ayers's home. The Obama campaign says the assertions are demonstrably false.

and another:

Ayers did hold a gathering for him in 1995 when Obama first ran for the Illinois Senate, and he later contributed $200 to his reelection campaign. But Bauer said that hardly constitutes launching the political career of a University of Chicago Law School lecturer and the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review, who had just published his first memoir, "Dreams From My Father."


Arlington, Va.: I'm very befuddled at John McCain's attack ad of how Barack Obama will raise taxes. The way I see it, in our current economy, we need to raise taxes in order to help set things right. Does John McCain think our intelligence factor is so low as to not understand this?

Michael D. Shear: Sen. McCain would argue strongly that you are wrong, Arlington.

He would point to economic theories and practical examples which say that lowering tax rates stimulates the kind of growth in the economy that produces more tax revenue, not less. And he would say that raising taxes, especially in an economic slowdown, depresses growth and leads to a downward spiral that is not good for the country.

Of course, that is a position that can fairly be debated, and has for many years.


Fortaleza, Brazil: The Dems do not seem to have been all that successful so far in identifying McCain with Bush's economic or even foreign policies the public opposes. These policies are unpopular, yet the Republicans do not seem to arouse a cohesive response when using their usual "we will spend less" line in the face of the more than $10 billion a month spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. And while there is a legitimate debate about who is more prepared to be commander and chief, just what policies each would implement, and which would be different from Bush, seems to get lost. Is is too late for the Democrats, as it usually is?

Michael D. Shear: A question from far away.

There seems to be some agreement among top Democrats, even, that their message out of this convention is somewhat muddled. I heard James Carville say on TV yesterday that if there is a message out of the convention he doesn't know what it is. Of course, as a top Clinton supporter, you might want to take what he says with a grain of salt.


Lewisburg, W.Va.: Sen. McCain touts the benefits of nuclear power. I would really like someone to do ask follow-up question about where he proposes we build such plants, and what we do with the waste? There is much NIMBY around this issue -- how would he handle that?

Michael D. Shear: Good questions.

As to where we build the plants, Sen. McCain does not say. He says only that the permitting process should be speeded up, which presumably means that it would be easier for the electric utilities to pick locations without so much of the opposition.

As to the waste, he says frequently that the U.S. should reprocess spent nuclear waste, something that is controversial here but is done in other places, like France


Reading, Pa.: Michael, is it your sense that McCain has chosen his running mate, or is vetting still going on ?

Michael D. Shear: At some level, the vetting goes on until the moment that the pick is announced. Having said that, my sense is that McCain has settled on a pick, though he has said publicly a few days ago that he's not yet made the decision. I expect it will happen this Friday.


Fairfax, Va.: So how about Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer? Rocking out with the bolo tie. He even had President Clinton impressed when they cut away.

Michael D. Shear: Gov. Schweitzer offered a dynamic speech and has now become the talk of the blogs. That, in a nutshell, is what a prime-time speech can do, if you make the most of it.


In order to form a more perfect bumper sticker?: Barack (six letters) Obama (five letters); (six letters) Biden (five letters). John (four letters) McCain (six letters); Mitt (four letters) Romney (six letters)

Michael D. Shear: I'm not sure what this is saying, but maybe our crack Live Online readers can crack the code...


Baltimore: Is it realistic to expect that Obama will receive a poll bounce from the Democratic convention? Given the protracted primary season, 24-hour cable channels, the Internet, and the seven(!) hagiographic Newsweek cover articles on Obama in the past year, we can't say that the convention is the first time the public has heard about Obama. If anything, the public is starting to get tired of the media's constant Obamarama, as the Pew poll indicated. Kerry didn't receive a bounce; what's your prediction for Obama?

Michael D. Shear: While it's true that Obama has received record coverage on television and in papers, it's also true that many Americans pay little attention to that coverage until the election is closer. So the conventions are often the first real time that millions of voters tune in.

As for a "bounce" in the polls, this year may be difficult for Obama because the GOP convention comes immediately after the conclusion of his own. And Sen. McCain is expected to announce his vice presidential nominee on Friday.

McCain aides, in a bid to ratchet up expectations, suggested they thought Obama would get a 15-point bounce in the polls. (The idea being that anything less would be a disappointment.) I suspect it will be less.


Youngstown, Ohio: My favorite part of the night was Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC pushing a 79-year-old woman who already had said she was supporting Obama into telling Andrea how sad she was that Hillary had lost. Andrea's plaintive "why are you crying?" was touching. I thought Hillary's speech was a pretty ringing endorsement, but the media is going to keep pushing this Democratic rift meme aren't they?

Michael D. Shear: See my prior response about last night being the moment of disappointment for many Hillary Clinton fans.

I think the media will very quickly move on to other issues once this convention is over.


Quick reviews: I've been listening to the convention on the radio. Mark Warner was what I expected -- he never will light the world on fire with his oratory, but he was smart to pick a topic that focused on the future, given his entrepreneurial background. Still, I suspect people who do not know much about Warner may have been disappointed. On the other hand, Brian Schweitzer was a complete, welcome surprise. Finally, while I think that both Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton gave wonderful speeches, Kathleen Sebelius was somewhat disappointing. She has a nice, "soothing" voice, but she seemed a bit overwhelmed by the floor noise, and I wonder if her speaking style is suited better for smaller events.

Michael D. Shear: Thanks for the analysis.

As a former Virginia reporter who covered Warner for four years, I was not surprised by his speech. He has never been an attack machine. It's just not in him. In some ways, it's too bad for him that the convention developed in a way that Democrats were looking for red meat just at the time that he spoke.

But for his own political future in Virginia, it was probably a very good speech. Remember, his shtick is being the centrist Democrat who can reach out to and work with Republicans. If he were to stray from that and look like a typical, partisan Democrat, it would complicate his chances to win the Senate seat.


Newark, N.J.: So let me get this straight: Obama wants the Justice Department to investigate because -- and I'm trying not to laugh here -- the ad said he launched his career at Ayers house when all he did was hold his first campaign launch party at Ayers house? Man, talk about splitting hairs. Won't this just make more people aware of the close personal relationship between the two? And the fact that Obama (or his surrogates) are blocking access to the records of their time working together? Everyone knows those records are locked up in the Richard Daley library, which means they're about as safe as a drunk girl at a frat party.

Michael D. Shear: Here's a comment that's representative of a few that we've gotten this morning.

I suspect we will be hearing more about Ayers in the months ahead.


Boston: Does John McCain team realize that we are a celebrity-addicted culture and love our celebs for any and all causes, or is he jealous that he's not the biggest celebrity in the race? He has a history of being quite the camera hog.

Michael D. Shear: Yes, McCain's attack on Obama for being a celebrity is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. McCain has appeared on Leno 13 times, by his own count. That's more than a lot of Hollywood celebrities, I would venture.


Columbia, Md.: Obviously, the Post has assigned various reporting staff members to cover the different campaigns, including sending you to cover McCain, and others to carry Obama and Clinton. How much input did each of you have into who you cover? I respect that reporters try to be objective, but there's a part of me that wonders if the selected assignments have any basis in the reporter's own views.

Michael D. Shear: Its a good and valid question, Columbia.

I had very little input, actually. I was chosen to cover the Republicans in February of 2007. At the time, my colleague Anne Kornblut had been hired to cover the Democrats from the NY Times, in part because of her experience covering Sen. Clinton at that paper for more than a year.

In the succeeding months, we've added people to each side, but I can assure you the assignments have nothing to do with our personal views about one side or the other and everything to do with logistics and schedules and trying desperately to keep up with the amount of time it takes to cover these candidates.


Washington: Oh, to heck with national politics! How much fun is it to be mentioned in an Onion story!? Hope you're recovering from the skunk spraying. Obama's Hillbilly Half-Brother Threatening To Derail Campaign (The Onion, Aug. 13)

Michael D. Shear: Ok, I have to answer this one.

I was indeed mentioned in the Onion, a satirical newspaper that pokes fun of the news by writing fake articles. For some reason, they pulled my name out of a hat and decided to use me as the butt of a joke.

It's depressing because I got more email from old college friends when my name appeared in the Onion than I have received as a reporter for the Post for almost 16 years.

Oh well.


Re: Ayers Ad: Is Obama damned if he does, damned if he doesn't in this case? If he does respond forcefully, he risks drawing bigger attention to it. If he doesn't, he risks being "Swift-Boated." Given that the McCain campaign and its allies have no problem with running fast and loose with the truth (as exhibit A, see the newest McCain ad attacking Obama regarding Iran), I think he's making the right choice in not letting the lies and distortions gain deep traction without response.

Michael D. Shear: This is certainly the opinion of the Obama advisers, who are mindful that Sen. John Kerry's advisers took the opposite approach with the Swift Boat ads, hoping that they would go away since they were being played in very few markets and not wanting to give them free publicity by making a big deal about them.

We'll see whether this approach works any better than that one


More McCain Coverage Please: Over and over I read Kurtz and the ombudswoman saying The Post is unfair to McCain in terms of amount of coverage. I agree -- if Barack Obama was at 45 percent in his home state and had to spend resources campaigning there, it would be a front-page story for a week!

Michael D. Shear: As the McCain reporter for the Post, I can tell you I'm working very hard to get as much coverage for you as I can.

Stay tuned.


Charles Town, W.Va.: Why is it that the right wing swifties get covered so much by the MSM, but we hear nothing about the "Vets against McCain"? How many people know that McCain was ordered not to take his early release from Hanoi, that it was a standard policy of first in, first out?

Michael D. Shear: Part of the answer, I think, is that the McCain campaign has not responded in any way to the Vets against McCain. In fact, when I've asked McCain whether he worries about them, he says that he does not. If the McCain campaign signals that they are taking the group seriously, and produces response ads to counter them, I suspect you will hear a lot more.

As to the question of McCain's refusal to take early release, that is definitely part of his bio, and people who have been listening to his stump speech recently would certainly know it. But that will be part of McCain's mission at the convention -- to tell that story to a wider audience.


Obviously, the Post has assigned various reporting staff members to cover the different campaigns: Even assuming the utmost professional journalistic objectivity with respect to their own political leanings, don't reporters sometimes come to respect or disrespect the candidate they follow based on that person's ethics or personal decency (or lack thereof)?

Michael D. Shear: I suspect they do. But our job is to put aside whatever opinions we have about the people we cover and write as objectively as we can. That's always our goal.

Thanks everyone. Time to get back on the trail. See you in a couple of weeks.


_______________________ Upcoming conventions discussions today include a chat with three D.C. region delegates (11:15 a.m.), a Reliable Source take on the party scene (noon), a writer for The Root on Michelle Obama's and Sen. Clinton's speeches (noon), a look at the Democrats and National Security (1 p.m.), and an MTV News convention correspondent (2 p.m.).


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