Real Life Politics

Ruth Marcus
Washington Post Columnist
Wednesday, September 3, 2008; 1:00 PM

Washington Post opinion columnist Ruth Marcus was online Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss her recent columns and the latest news.

A transcript follows.


Ruth Marcus: Hi everyone. Wow, an incredible few weeks: two vice presidential nominees, one and a half-conventions, and a hurricane. Anything to talk about? I'm getting a bit of an early start because I need to leave a few minutes early.


Kensington, Md.: I've watched in amazement as the journalists at the Post have tiptoed completely around the issue of Sarah Palin's abstinence-only crusade in the wake of her teenage child's pregnancy. Do you think they have been cowed by the McCain campaign's efforts to make anyone talking about Bristol seem like a bully? I guess it's none of our business if Palin wants to bring higher fertility rates to America's teens this way. "Handmaid's Tale," here we come.

Ruth Marcus: Can't speak for my colleagues, but I don't think I've exactly been on tip-toes. Please see yesterday's column,

and this blog post.

A few more thoughts about Sarah Palin and her daughter's pregnancy. "We're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby," Todd and Sarah Palin said in their statement Monday. But of course, in the world according to Palin, Bristol would have had no "decision" to make: The choice of whether to continue with the pregnancy would not be hers to make.

Same with the governor's decision, after learning that her own baby had Down syndrome, not to have an abortion. That's a judgment I certainly respect, but it is not one that should be forced on any woman in that difficult circumstance. I had my children at ages 37 and 39, old enough that the risk of Down syndrome was elevated, as it was for Palin, and my doctor recommended amniocentesis. Had the results indicated any abnormality, I have little doubt that I would have made a different decision than did Palin. I have no doubt that such an agonizing choice should have been up to my husband and me, not to the government.

Which is where, of course, Palin would leave it. She opposes abortion in all circumstances, except to save the life of the mother. In other words, no exceptions for rape, for incest, for genetic abnormalities or in circumstances where the woman's health is seriously endangered. I respect the Palins' choices. I only wish they would show as much respect for others to exercise their own, free of government imposing it on them.


Washington: This is from Bob Novak's column today: "On the one hand, she shares McCain's loathing for earmarks." This is demonstrably false. I hate to burden this campaign with facts, but does reality count for anything anymore?

Ruth Marcus: Well, now she does. Nothing like a reformed earmarker.


Elmwood Park, N.J.: Now I get it -- when McCain ran that "Celebrity" ad, he wasn't ridiculing Obama by comparing him to airheads like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, he was paying him a compliment, because he's now gone right out and hired his own beauty-contest winner with a dysfunctional family to run with. I apologize to the campaign.

Ruth Marcus: I'm not a fan of the celebrity ad--I thought it beneath Sen. McCain--but I think this is a disrespectful comment, unnecessarily so. I've been pretty critical of Gov. Palin, but her looks have nothing to do with it, as far as I'm concerned.


Alexandria, Va.: As a Hillary supporter, I was considering sitting out this election when she was not put on the ticket. However, the selection of Palin has turned me into an ardent Obama supporter and I will vote for him enthusiastically. The thought of Palin a heart beat away from the presidency is unfathomable to me.

Ruth Marcus: It will be interesting to see how your Hillary comrades-in-arms react. Initial polls suggest they share your response.


Springfield, Mo.: John McCain wanted Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge as his running mate, and he was pressured into choosing Sarah Palin. If he can't call the shots in his campaign, how can he run the country?

Ruth Marcus: He called the shots. But he called them after listening to political advice. Not the first, or last, candidate to do so. Do you think Sen. Obama listened to political advice before he chose Joe Biden? I do.


Williamsburg, Va.: When was the last time a sitting president and vice president failed to attend their party's presidential nominating convention?

Ruth Marcus: Don't know, but probably not in the modern convention era. In that sense, kind of a stroke of luck for GOP.


Rochester, N.Y.: Good afternoon! Lots of chatter about the Palin pick, but Gallup and Rasmussen shows Obama getting 50 percent for the first time. Is there a cross-current between the media attention and how the public is reading the race at this point?

Ruth Marcus: I don't think we know yet. Is that Obama's convention bounce? Is it Palin related? I am trying not to spend too much time focusing on nightly tracking polls, and more time on the essentials of what the candidates are saying, and what their backgrounds tell us, because there are so many twists and turns between now and election day.


Great Falls, Va.: Thanks for being a breath of fresh air on a male-dominated op-ed page. I agree on the surface that Bristol Palin shouldn't be a campaign issue -- but, it's her mother who has made her one. She's a teenager, and teenagers do things they regret. They don't all involve premarital sex, either. But after you've got first hand experience with your policies totally not working, what the heck are you thinking by wanting to impose your morals (or lack thereof) on the rest of us? If the schools don't have sex education, half the country probably won't get any at all, because most parents probably don't want to discuss it.

I don't have a problem with a super-mom running for high office -- really I don't. With those family issues, though, I'd expect her husband to be "Mr. Mom" 12 months of the year, not the month or two he's not working the oil fields or hunting. A man in her position with those family issues almost without a doubt would have a stay-at-home wife.

Ruth Marcus: I think that her husband has taken a leave from his job, since she became governor, I believe. So the first dud is Mr. Mom, also.

And thanks for the compliment!


Princeton, N.J.: Recently I have disagreed with many of your position -- e.g. on Iraq, Social security, etc. -- but your answer to the first question was magnificent! Perhaps you also can comment on Palin's attitude toward science. After all, how can a person make reasonable decisions on energy, atomic weapons, global warming, etc., if they believe the earth is 6,000 years old?

Ruth Marcus: Please see today's editorial about her substantive positions. I don't know that she has said one way or another whether she believes in evolution, but she has talked about creationism being taught in schools. Not so different, as far as I can tell, from some of what McCain has had to say.


Washington:"But her looks have nothing to do with it, as far as I'm concerned." I am pretty sure that Gov Palin's skin, highlights and glasses worked at least 40 percent in her favor to be selected as the vice presidential candidate. Image, anyone? Hello?

Ruth Marcus: Right but the commenter was suggesting that we should think less of her for her looks. Not buying that, and I do think it's sexist.


Bronx, N.Y.: Have you read one single media report about Gov. Palin that has been sexist in any way whatsoever? Putting aside the dead-certain fact that she would not be in this position if she was a white male (okay, unless she was named "Kennedy" or "Bush"), I don't see any media bias at all. If anything, she's getting a free ride on all the other stuff that's popping up that has nothing at all to do with teenage abstinence, or lack thereof, such as her firing of "disloyal" employees and her questionable political affiliations, to name but two. So I don't see where they can complain, except as a political tactic. With Hillary, it was all about fashion, hair, crying, etc., etc. -- by some of the same people who are now complaining!

Ruth Marcus: I'm not sure I would use the word sexist, but I think the fact that the nominee is a mother with five children, as opposed to a father with five children, and two with particular needs at that, plays into our reaction to and discussion about the selection. Do we think differently about a mom who takes on this challenge than a dad? Should we? I think the answer to the first question is definitely yes. Palin's selection has sparked a vigorous national discussion about juggling work and family, and when/what should give way. Is that sexist to talk about? I don't know, but certainly it is a conversation we would not be having were she a man.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: What is your take on the projections of the electoral college vote and the advantage Obama has at this point? Do those things usually play out, or are they like Super Bowl winners picked before the first game is played?

Ruth Marcus: I think it is going to be very close. The electoral map is different than previous years, the number of battleground states somewhat bigger and the possible permutations therefore more numerous. There are states up for grabs in the Rocky Mountain West as well as in the usual Midwestern corridor, and, as I said before, so many things could happen between now and then anyone who thinks this Superbowl is fixed in advance hasn't spent enough time in Vegas.


St. Paul, Minn.: Okay, hard as it is, I'm going to ask for a completely objective opinion from you on the Palin vice presidential pick. Do you think Senator McCain had any idea what a firestorm he'd light off (I mean in volume of attention, not necessarily criticism)? I know he wanted to attract attention with a surprise pick, but do you think he had any idea just how huge the chatter would be?

Ruth Marcus: I'd guess he did expect a big hoopla about the pick and I'd suspect he's pretty happy with that. Has anyone been talking about Barack Obama in the last few days?


Kingston, Ontario: Ms. Marcus, re: the uptick in funding for the McCain campaign after the Palin announcement -- doesn't this suggest that there are plenty of people out there who are keen to treat this election as a renewal of the culture war? These donors looked at Sarah Palin and saw a gun-owner, a fundamentalist Christian, a pro-lifer, a skeptic on climate change, and the rest of the shopping list. Because these people all hate government, the thinness of Palin's government experience is actually a plus for them, not a minus. So my question is, do you anticipate two months of culture wars?

Ruth Marcus: No. I don't think this is a GOP convention like Houston 1992, which launched a culture wars campaign. I think the McCain campaign is delighted to have energized the GOP base and unlocked their pocketbooks, but I don't think that will be the campaign message.


Scotia, N.Y.: Palin, Palin, Palin. I don't care if she's the second coming of Eleanor Roosevelt, Madame Curie, Mother Theresa and Catherine the Great combined -- how does it help McCain that no one is talking about him? Isn't he the one running for president?

Ruth Marcus: But we're talking, among other things, about Sen. McCain's judgment. And there was a lot of McCain talk at the convention last night.


New York: The FBI's chief spokesman, John Miller, says Rick Davis baldly lied to the Post's Editorial Board, of which you are a member, when he said Palin was subjected to an FBI Background Check. Will The Post report this prominently in the news sections of the print edition, or will Fred Hiatt block this in the interests of covering for McCain?

Ruth Marcus: Fred Hiatt, for whom I work, has nothing to do with the news sections of either the print or the on-line edition, so he could not block this "in the interests of covering for McCain" if he wanted to. Which he doesn't. Out of curiosity, did you think this editorial was "covering for McCain?"

Ruth Marcus: Fred Hiatt, for whom I work, has nothing to do with the news sections of either the print or the on-line edition, so he could not block this "in the interests of covering for McCain" if he wanted to. Which he doesn't. Out of curiosity, did you think this editorial was "covering for McCain?"

Ruth Marcus: Fred Hiatt, for whom I work, has nothing to do with the news sections of either the print or the on-line edition, so he could not block this "in the interests of covering for McCain" if he wanted to. Which he doesn't. Out of curiosity, did you think this editorial was "covering for McCain?"

Ruth Marcus: Fred Hiatt, for whom I work, does not control the news sections of the print or on-line editions, so he could not "block this in the interests of covering for McCain" even if he wanted to. Which he doesn't. Did you think this editorial was covering for McCain?

Continuing Deception

Mr. McCain's ads on taxes are just plain false.

Sunday, August 31, 2008; B06

THERE IS a serious debate to be had in this presidential campaign about the fundamentally different tax policies of Barack Obama and John McCain. Then there is the phony, misleading and at times outright dishonest debate that the McCain campaign has been waging -- most recently with a television ad.

The two candidates have very different positions on taxes. Mr. Obama wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and cut them substantially for low- and middle-income taxpayers. He would cut taxes for more households, and by a larger amount, than Mr. McCain, who would give the greatest benefits to wealthy households and corporations.

These are disagreements rooted in divergent views about the role of tax policy: the importance of reducing inequality versus the importance of encouraging investment. Mr. Obama has the wiser and more fiscally responsible of the plans, on balance, but this is by no means a one-sided debate between evil, tycoon-hugging Republicans and good-hearted Democrats. Higher taxes do have consequences for the behavior of both individuals and corporations. Listening to the candidates debate and defend their actual plans would be a useful exercise.

Instead, the McCain campaign insists on completely misrepresenting Mr. Obama's plan. The ad opens with the Obama-as-celebrity theme -- "Celebrities don't have to worry about family budgets, but we sure do," says the female announcer. "We're paying more for food and gas, making it harder to save for college, retirement." Then she sticks it to him: "Obama's solution? Higher taxes, called 'a recipe for economic disaster.' He's ready to raise your taxes but not ready to lead."

The facts? The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that the Obama plan would give households in the bottom fifth of the income distribution an average tax cut of 5.5 percent of income ($567) in 2009, while those in the middle fifth would get an average cut of 2.6 percent of income ($1,118). "Your taxes" would go up, yes -- but not if you're someone who is sweating higher gas prices. By contrast, Mr. McCain's tax plan would give those in the bottom fifth of income an average tax cut of $21 in 2009. The middle fifth would get $325 -- less than a third of the Obama cut. The wealthiest taxpayers make out terrifically.

The country can't afford the tax cuts either man is promising, although Mr. McCain's approach is by far the more costly. We don't expect either side to admit that. But neither side should get to outright lie about its opponent's positions, either.


Charlottesville, Va.: I disagree that we wouldn't be having a discussion about some of Palin's personal choices if she were a man, or that other people's families weren't an issue. Gov. Mark Warner deferred his bid for the presidency because of his still school-aged children. No presidential or vice-presidential candidate that I know of (in recent times) has had a pregnant teenager in the family, but if there had been a pregnant teenager it definitely would have been discussed.

It was discussed (and whether it should have been discussed was briefly made an issue) that Cheney's adult daughter -- someone who had worked in public as an advocate for gay rights - was gay. Some of these facts were brought up in order to underline possible hypocrisy issues. I think it's fully fair to discuss the fact that Palin has certain policies regarding family issues that would require people all over the country to make the decisions that she has, and for us to question whether we would like to have the results that she has. I would prefer a different path, and I hope that I can hang on to the laws that allow me to take one.

Ruth Marcus: There might be a discussion, but nowhere near as anguished and animated.


Fairfax, Va.: I think you may be taking Palin's comments the wrong way. I am pro-choice, but also pro-adoption. In response, I often am told that no one is really pro-abortion, it's just that they want to be able to have the difficult choice available. Palin has said she doesn't believe its right to ever choose abortion, but that does not mean she thinks they should be made illegal. It's two very different points.

Ruth Marcus: I'm sorry but I believe you're incorrect. She has said that abortion should be illegal except to save the life of the mother.


Washington: Do you think the claim of Palin's "executive experience" is one that the McCain camp will continue to promote? It seems pretty flimsy that they equate her position on the city council and mayor of a small town with the type of experience required to be vice president or president. Governor of Alaska is indeed impressive, but let's be honest, it's not quite on par with California, Texas or Florida. Give me Obama's, Biden's or McCain's "non-executive" experience any day.

Ruth Marcus: Yes, they will continue to promote the executive experience argument. If not that, what? And being a governor is a big deal. You're right, though, that it's a small (population) state with some different issues, budgetary and otherwise. In addition, her tenure is pretty short. But I don't think that means we wont keep hearing about it.


Virginia Beach, Va.: Ruth, as for thinking differently about men and women, family responsibilities and public life -- don't you think John Edwards's decision to continue to run for president after Elizabeth was diagnosed with incurable cancer provoked a similar firestorm of questioning and criticism?

Ruth Marcus: Well, I wrote a column criticizing it.

But the reaction was nowhere near what it would have been had it been the candidate herself who was will.


Do we think differently about a mom who takes on this challenge than a dad?: But all the articles that I've seen address her role as a politician-mom have been written by women. The first thing that my wife and my mom told me when they heard the announcement last week was that they couldn't believe a mother would put her special needs 4-month-old in this position. Is that sexist?

Ruth Marcus: Well, as I said, I don't think sexist is necessarily the right word for it. How about: gender-implicated? And definitely I think it is women who are having the strongest reactions.


Detroit: I'm sorry, but I believe you are incorrect. Gov. Palin has said that abortion should be illegal in all cases, including in cases of rape or when the mother's life may be at risk.

Ruth Marcus:

Exception for the life of the mother. Not for the health of the mother.


Washington: I am a strong Democrat, but after last night's speech by Lieberman (and before that, the vice presidential pick) I am depressed and feel that it is pretty much over. Partisan Democrats may hate him, but Lieberman's speech was successful. I watched that and I thought "uh oh" ... if I found myself agreeing with what he was saying, imagine what everyone else thought. That place at that time was pretty much all that Lieberman had left, and he poured all of his energy into it, and it came off well. This -- along with the Palin pick -- was (at least in this "news cycle") the two master strokes. And if McCain wins, these two decisions (Palin as vice president; Lieberman to give the speech to sweep everyone in) partly will be why. It's a dumb game, I think, and the Democrats -- being somewhat thinking beings -- cannot win it.

Ruth Marcus: I think Lieberman's speech was definitely a watershed for Lieberman--it's hard to imagine him back in the Senate Democratic luncheon after that--and I thought it was a heartfelt plea for McCain, but I also don't think it was a game-changer.


Kensington, Md.: Ruth, have you heard of this new business venture cropping up in strip malls? Drive-through vice presidential vetting. I just thought you'd want to know about it, and maybe pass the scoop along to your colleagues there. GOP Vetting Emporium (YouTube, Sept. 3)

Ruth Marcus: Ha ha ha. I'm responding this to flack for Dan Balz's excellent story this morning reporting that the McCain campaign learned about Bristol Palin's pregnancy just the day before the nomination was announced.

_______________________ Aides Say Team Interviewed Palin Late in the Process (Post, Sept. 3)


New York: Hi Ruth. The GOP has trotted out its favorite whipping boy (and girl) -- the press -- but I think it brought on its own problems. When the press questioned Gov. Palin's experience, her defenders issued a barrage of foolish talking points -- proximity to Russia, head of National Guard, etc. This wackiness rightly piqued even more questions. Last night, PBS's Gwen Ifill posed the experience questions to two GOP congresswomen, and they responded thoughtfully and intelligently -- without the idiotic spin. It was a breath of fresh air. Thanks.

Ruth Marcus: Good for them. I missed Gwen's interview--though I am a loyal NewsHour viewer back home--but I am really looking forward to her moderating the vice presidential debate. What a fortuitous choice! (Full disclosure--my friend since 1984, my first day as a Washington Post reporter, when I walked in the door of the Prince George's County bureau.)


re: Palin's "experience": How are Republicans able to argue that Palin has more experience than Obama with a straight-face? I have heard the talking points, almost as if straight from a memo, but it has become a farce. If McCain picked a head of cabbage, we would be seeing similar arguments, I'd wager.

Ruth Marcus: I'd like to see the cabbage spin!


Baltimore: Hi Ruth -- thanks for the chats. I am an independent voter who thought McCain went over the top when he criticized Obama for putting political ambition over what's best for the country and held himself up as someone who would never do that. Now he goes and picks what appears to be an unqualified running mate based on her appeal to the religious right and possibly to disaffected Clinton voters. Am I the only one who thinks McCain (who seemed great to me up to about 2002) put politics above country in this choice?

Ruth Marcus: Pretty confident you are not the only one :)


Syracuse, N.Y.: I know the GOP can't show anxiety over Sarah Palin's so-called "Troopergate," but how much of a problem does it actually pose if Mr. Branchflower finds her to be at fault?

Ruth Marcus: It could be a big problem if she is found to have done something wrong, but (call me naive) I've got to believe that this one at least was vetted with some care.


Minneapolis: Welcome to the Twin Cities! Do you think the McCain campaign is surprised to be in damage control mode this week, rather than getting their message out?

Ruth Marcus: Thanks! I like the Twin Cities, wish I was getting a little more chance to see more of it, rather than the inside of a hotel room/filing center. I think the McCain campaign is relieved to be having a convention at all, given Gustav. But, yes, probably more damage control, especially on the thoroughness of the vet, than expected.


Minneapolis: Isn't there something to the criticism that Springfield raised, though? Last week in Denver, we saw folks in the media accusing the Democrats of "small tent" politics on abortion for the Bob Casey incident that happened 16 years ago! Now, you have McCain essentially being forced into picking a vice president by the Republicans playing "small tent" politics on abortion.

Ruth Marcus: I think the Democratic party learned a good lesson from the Casey incident. And the Republican party is in a different place, though I find it similarly incomprehensible to imagine an anti-choice Democratic vice presidential nominee.


Re: Lieberman's Speech: View from the peanut gallery, but ... Lieberman gave a speech last night? Where? Also, was there any surprise or twist in his speech? My view has been that he said what everyone expected him to. How much impact can the expected really have?

Ruth Marcus: Hi peanut gallery. I think watching the former Democratic vice presidential nominee endorse the Republican presidential ticket eight years later is pretty dramatic. But again, not huge impact.


Ruth Marcus: Everyone, this was a great chat. I need to cut it just a few minutes short, but I enjoyed all the questions, and look forward to the next time. Lord knows what could happen by then!


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

© 2008 The Washington Post Company