Post Politics Hour
Thursday, September 4, 2008; 11:00 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 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of politics.
Washington Post congressional reporter Paul Kane was online live from the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday, Sept. 4 at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest political news.
A transcript follows.
Paul Kane: Good morning, Bloomington, Minn., yes, that's right -- home of the Mall of America. That's where the Washington Post and washingtonpost.com, as well as several other media outlets are stationed, and I'm doing today's chat from here before heading down to the workspace by the arena in St. Paul. It's been a crazy two weeks, from Denver to here. The news cycle keeps burning quicker and quicker. And it appears today is no different, with major interest continuing to focus on previously unknown Sarah Palin. On to the questions -- pk
Falls Church, Va.: Now we've got a real great race for the White House! Fantastic speech by Gov. Palin last night. Can't wait to see how this all plays out with the voters in November -- this is the most exciting election in years.
Paul Kane: Yes, last night was exciting. I was on the convention floor next to the Alaska delegation, not far from the Palin family. Suffice it to say, Alaskans haven't had much to be proud about lately regarding politics and their state. Last night, Republicans, anyway, felt very proud of Palin. Her introduction to the ticket has added an energy level among conservative base voters that simply wasn't there beforehand, and I saw it live in person last night on that convention floor. A friend/source was backstage and saw McCain as the speech was happening. McCain called it "transcendent" or "transcendental" -- it was a little loud so my source wasn't 110% on the last sound out of McCain's mouth.
Paul Bunyan country: We know Palin is misleading us on the Bridge to Nowhere and the Canadian pipeline. That said, my favorite line of the night was about selling the plane on E-Bay. Please tell me that one is true.
Paul Kane: From an old NYT news story:
It grounded one governor and did not exactly fly off the shelf on eBay, but the jet that came to symbolize the troubles of the former Alaska governor Frank H. Murkowski has landed with a new owner.
A businessman from Valdez, Alaska, Larry Reynolds, paid $2.1 million this week for the state-owned Westwind II jet that Mr. Murkowski's successor, Gov. Sarah S. Palin, promised to purge from the state inventory when she ran against Mr. Murkowski last fall in the Republican primary.
Denver: The Obama campaign put out a very detailed rebuttal to Gov. Palin's speech last night. How will the press follow up? Will the press be reporting on details like that?
Paul Kane: The Sarah Palin story is not done yet, so yes, we'll be following up all sorts of leads and passageways into this story. Love her or hate her -- and at this very moment there does not seem to be much in between -- she's the biggest story of the moment.
Northville, N.Y.: I'm no fan of McCain, so take this for what its worth, but isn't he sort of trying to follow The Beatles on stage today? The base absolutely ate up the governor, and now he has to top her. Or something. Before, he only had to measure up in some way to Obama. Now he's got to throw red meat to the faithful. How does that help him with the independent vote? Tough balance.
Paul Kane: OK, this is where I have to tell people to calm down just a bit. She's the best story of the moment, but I don't think many people watched last night and wanted to see her as president right now. She's over-shadowing McCain at the moment only in terms of the focus of news stories. This is still McCain's convention, and that's what the crowd is there for. I expect a very raucous crowd tonight.
Dunn Loring, Va.: I understand that Post reporters rarely take questions with a conservative perspective but I'm hoping you can clarify your post yesterday that Gov. Palin slashed teen pregnancy funding. Could you give a true or false answer to the following question: Covenant House Alaska received more money from the State of Alaska in the 2009 budget than it did in the prior budget. If this is true (which it is), why did you characterize a "slash"?
washingtonpost.com: Covenant House Alaska Financial Information
Paul Kane: OK, this is the only question I'm taking on this subject, because it's a point of contention among conservatives. The legislature approved $5 million in funding for a group home that benefits single teen mothers and other troubled youths. Palin used her line item veto to reduce those funds to $3.9 million. Conservatives don't like the use of my word slash, because they contend that it was an actual increase in funds from the year before. I think if you simply read the entire post of that item it is abundantly clear in the reporting and writing what happened. My point is that we're arguing over the semantics -- "slashed" versus "reduced the intended increase". This is money that is going toward the construction of a new crisis center in Anchorage, fyi, which will benefit single teen mothers and other youths. Her action, knocking the funds down to $3.9 million, means it will take more time for the new crisis center to be built.
Arlington, Va.: Last night Governor Palin told parents of special needs children that they would have an advocate in the White House with her. I hope someone will ask her what she means by that -- i.e. does she support a specific agenda related to children with special needs? If so, what is it? And was she in favor of it before the birth of her fifth child?
Paul Kane: This is something I spoke about with fellow reporters walking out last night. It's a key area of federal funding for local education issues -- special education. Republican and Democratic congresses alike have not come anywhere near the level they're supposed to; from a quick Google search, it looks like the federal gov't has only covered from anywhere to 8-16% of the costs of special education in our public schools, despite laws saying it will cover 40%. This has been a burning issue to some parents who have children with special needs. Will be interesting to see how that community responds to Palin.
Southwest Nebraska: From out in this scarlet land, believe me, Palin's speech was transcendent and transcendental. Nothing bigger has happened since Christ rose from the grave. Not only was the experience card taken off the table with her nomination but so was the adulation card! Palinbots, anyone?
Paul Kane: Um, hey, Nebraska, calm down there buddy. A lot has happened in the last 2,000 years, you know, and I don't think the speech ended the experience questions at all. They're still going to be raised. If conservatives believe that her ability to deliver a "transcendent" speech at the highest level of pressure takes the experience card off the table, then it's also off the table with regard to Obama, because he's also delivered his share of transcendent speeches. Yet all I heard from Mayor Rudy last night was questions about Obama's lack of experience.
Trust me, this speech last night did nothing to take the issue off the table, on either side.
Alexandria, Va.: I have an idea for new regular feature for The Post: How about a "Hypocrisy Watch"? My goodness, there would be a treasure trove of materials just from this past week. Imagine all those "family values" advocates who previously condemned teenage pregnancies and now think its merely a "private matter." How about opposing earmarks unless their own community is helped by one? I'm sure that the Democrats also will fill a column or two, but this week truly has been stunning.
Paul Kane: In Palin's defense, I don't think having a 17-year-old pregnant daughter makes her a hypocrite. Indeed, I think conservatives see in that the opposite of hypocrisy -- they see the very embodiment of their values, someone taking what is an unplanned pregnancy and bringing the baby to term, marrying the father and raising the child in a warm and welcoming household. The earmark issue is quite a different tune, I'll give you that.
McCain's campaign has been woeful at explaining the narrative of when exactly Palin became an opponent of the "good ol' boys" club, because in her years as Wasilla mayor and early years as oil-and-gas commissioner she was very much a part of that club, even if she wasn't a boy.
Maple Glen, Pa.: Paul! Nice work! How much trouble will it be for Obama that Biden and Hillary (even though they're all now best buddies) both bashed his credibility when they were campaigning against him? Will the Republicans hammer on that mercilessly as the election draws near?
Paul Kane: Maple Glen, Pa. Gotta take a question from my hometown! I think you already saw ads up on the air the day Biden was announced as Obama's Veep, taking his words about how Obama wasn't qualified and then another ad (entitled "passed over", I think) criticizing him for not picking Clinton. This is a pretty standard tactic in campaigns when the nominee selects someone who he/she was running against in the primary. Had McCain selected Mitt Romney, Democrats surely had similar ads that they would have put on the air. By Columbus Day, however, I don't think we'll be focusing on these Biden statements.
Atlanta: What would you say are McCain's chances of running in 2012 if he wins in November? I'm thinking he won't be ... would Gov. Palin run then? Just curious. ... Her speech was great. I did not think she was attacking or whatever. She came out strong. I was okay with the speeches before her -- but those CNN commentators must have been watching something else, as they were all over those speeches as being horrible. I saw no such thing. They sounded horribly out of touch.
Paul Kane: For what it's worth, the crowd on the floor couldn't get enough of Mayor Rudy. They loved him bashing Obama. Not watching on TV, it's hard to judge how the speeches looked and appeared on TV, but the crowd went nuts for Rudy because he really offered them the political red meat by slamming Obama so much.
As for McCain, if he wins and his health allows him, he'll run in '12. We just don't ever have presidents bow out after 1 term. Doesn't happen in the modern era.
Atlanta: You think that "Ze-ro! Ze-ro!" chant will catch on?
Paul Kane: Let me tell what chant to listen for tonight: N-B-C, N-B-C!
Talking to folks who watched on TV, I don't think they heard that chant last night from the crowd. But when Rudy and Palin ripped the media, at least at one point, from some corners of the arena they started chanting NBC -- clearly, GOP voters feel that the coverage of NBC, more likely MSNBC, has crossed a line. True or not, it's an issue (and a chant) to keep your eyes and ears attuned to tonight.
Special Education: This is the issue that caused Jim Jeffords to leave the Republican Party and give the Senate briefly to the Democrats. It has not been a Republican priority. How much has Alaska spent on special education under Palin?
Paul Kane: Wow, great memory from this questioner. You're right, Jeffords was chairman of the committee that funded/oversaw the Education Dept, and this was one of the issues that prompted him to walk across the aisle. Again, however, it's incumbent on me to repeat: this has been the law for 33 years now, and only 12 of those years have R's run Congress. And all of that time this has been an underfunded program, so it's been bipartisan neglect.
New York: Paul, Mike Huckabee willfully lied when he claimed Palin's vote totals for mayor (combined 1,500) exceeded Biden's for President this year (77,000), but The Post ran Huckabee's quote without pointing out that it was a preposterous lie. Can't the newspaper do better than this?
Paul Kane: I'm actually on a guest computer here, so I don't have my regular access to Wash Post stories and blog items. But I believe if you go to our Trail blog on the campaign, you can find a post/story by Juliet Eilperin pointing this out. I know it was filed last night in the heat of the speeches. So, it's in our system. Did it make it into the print edition? No, because these speeches run right up till our deadline and we're just lucky to get any react to the speech into the story.
Anyway, I'm not sure what to make of these numbers. Frankly, Biden only got a few thousand votes in Iowa, then dropped out. I guess his name stayed on some ballots in other states and he got more votes after dropping out. But it's just a moot point, it's rhetoric, people. All in all, they both come from small states -- the first and last states, essentially.
Chattanooga, Tenn.: What's wrong with being a community organizer? I thought that government wasn't supposed to be the solution to all our problems.
Paul Kane: Hah, I see the point. Look, these conventions are filled with things that each side believes are outta bounds attacks. It's the job of the other side to counter them, or to launch another attack. Frequently, they decide on the latter. Speaking of which, here's a DSCC fund-raising letter/email that was sent out this morning under Joe Biden's name. Here's the first few paragraphs of it:
These are no ordinary times. This is no ordinary election. After eight years of John McCain supporting George Bush's failed policies, you can feel the American Dream slipping away.
Wages are shrinking. Groceries, health care, and filling up your car all cost more than ever. With every fiber of my being I know we cannot as a nation stand for four more years of this.
Barack Obama is poised for a historic and transcendent presidency that will unite this country and lead us to a better future. I couldn't be more proud to join his ticket. But our victory in November will not be complete unless the DSCC can also deliver the filibuster-proof Senate majority that can end the obstruction and help us turn things around.
This is the year we can pick-up at least 11 Republican-held Senate seats, more than enough for that overwhelming majority. It will not be easy, but I will do whatever I can to make sure the DSCC reaches their $4.4 million September goal and is ready for the last 61 days of this campaign. I'm coming to you for help, because I know it will take thousands of us - $5 at a time - coming together to meet this goal.
Click here to make an immediate contribution of $5 or more to help the DSCC reach its $4.4 million September goal. Take action now and a group of our senators will match your gift 2-to-1, effectively tripling your impact on Senate races nationwide.
New York: It seemed to me that, while the Democrats definitely beat up on McCain, they really focused on policy. Palin et al seemed to me mean-spirited at times, with very little substance. The parts of her speech where she defended her experience, though, were spot-on. But why denigrate Obama's resume when he hasn't criticized hers?
Paul Kane: Obama hasn't really had the chance to criticize her resume, but I'm sure he will. Hey, let's face it, I was at Invesco Field in Denver last Thursday, and I was kinda struck by how forceful Obama went after McCain and his experience/judgment. So, let's be fair on both sides, Democrats, mostly Obama actually, really went after McCain last week.
Springfield, Va.: So, Obama is going on Fox with O'Reilly tonight, and the mayor of Detroit chooses today to plead guilty -- is this a plan to divert coverage away from McCain? Where will the unemployed mayor get the $1 million to pay his fine?
Paul Kane: Yep, the mayor's resigning. End of an era, and he was such a bounty of stories for the Detroit media. They'll miss him.
Falls Church, Va.: So, is it now going to be standard practice at The Post to identify the speechwriters when a politician gives a speech, or just when the speaker is a woman? Or just for the Republicans?
washingtonpost.com: Palin Comes Out Fighting (Post, Sept. 4)
Paul Kane: Um, not sure where you've been getting your news for the past couple decades, but the speech writing story has been a staple of politics for a long time.
That's the first hit you get when you Google "obama speech writer". After that there are more stories on Obama's speech writer. This goes back basically to the '60s and Ted Sorenson with JFK. Standard journalistic practice to write profiles and features about speech writers.
Florida Right-Winger: Well, in one night I've gone from tepidly voting for McCain to embracing this ticket. I can see why the left is so afraid of Gov. Palin -- she's strong, smart and not afraid to say what needs to be said. Now, if we can only get the sexist liberals to stop making snarky comments about her hair, we could get back to the real issues, like who exactly pays a "community organizer," and whether it is taxpayer money.
Paul Kane: Well, let me just say this about the focus on her looks: Conservatives are even more focused on that part of her bio than anyone else. Best button I saw in the hall last night, proudly worn by many conservatives: THE HOTTEST VEEP FROM THE COOLEST STATE
A pic of Palin sits smack in the middle of this.
Evanston, Ill.: How do you think the "drill, baby, drill!" chants will play outside of the Republican National Convention bubble?
Paul Kane: I'm not sure this chant has legs, because it's kinda complicated. It sounds awkward, and, unless you're into the oil business, I'm not sure what people think it means. I think a simple "drill, drill, drill" would be more effective. But that's my own take.
Bell Lane, Pa.: Your experience at the convention last night sounds incredible. As a mere TV viewer, I often wonder what it must be like to actually be present for a political convention. Perhaps a light-hearted question, but is it as fun as it looks, or is there a lot of standing around and waiting? What's going on up in the concourses? Is it like a big game, what with the wild selling of souvenirs, hot dogs, pop corn, and $8 beers? What goes on for you when TV land is exiled to commercials?
Paul Kane: Man, the home town crowd is reading this chat. Everything you just described -- a lot of standing around and waiting, a lot of excitement and energy like a big game, people out on the concourses -- yep, that's what it's like at these conventions. Except no beer sales, none. On the floor, it's always kinda crazy. Lots of pushing and very crowded and Secret Service ordering people in all sorts of different directions. But the GOP convention floor seems much better, less crowded, than the Dem convention.
Paul Kane: Ok, folks, time for me to get moving to head down to the arena for tonight's big speech. Should be interesting to see how the crowd reacts to McCain, and, don't forget, it's the season debut of the National Football League. I think Eli and the NYG will handle the Redskins tonight, but then by midseason my Philadelphia Eagles will be in control of the division.
PS -- Kickoff is 7:07 pm EDT, with the average game lasting 3 hours and 3 mins. What happens if it goes to overtime? Does NBC not show the speech? I don't know the answers to those questions. OK, see you in 2 weeks back here, when Congress will be back in session. -pk
washingtonpost.com: Upcoming discussions from the Republican National Convention today: RedState editor Erick Erickson at noon, Post political theater critic Dana Milbank at 1 p.m., "The Conservative's Handbook" author Phil Valentine at 2 p.m. and "Los Republicanos" author Leslie Sanchez at 4 p.m.
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