Post Politics Hour

 Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post congressional reporter Jonathan Weisman. (Julia Ewan - Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)
Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Friday, September 5, 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 latest buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post national political reporter Jonathan Weisman was online Friday, Sept. 5 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the latest political news.

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Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Jonathan Weisman: Well, that was a long two weeks, and really far more exciting than I was expecting. So let's get started, folks.


Waterville, Maine: Good morning,

Do most Americans really care more about personality than policy? I mean, folks are going gaga about Palin without really knowing what she actually stands for and how it will affect their life. I have to say this is very clever marketing by the Republicans (the moose shooting, sweet talking, reform toting ex-beauty pageant hockey mom with a hunky husband to boot) but it is also what make most people cynical about politics. At least Obama and Biden aren't afraid to talk about policy while the McCain crowd is all to eager to make it about biography. Your thoughts?

Jonathan Weisman: My thoughts are, if I could answer your question definitively, I would quit my job and become one of them high-priced political consultants. The Obama campaign is convinced that in a year of war, economic turmoil and general unhappiness, voters will care most about policy. They are paying attention. The McCain campaign believes having a likable, winning personality as running mate and a heroic old war hero will capture the voters' imaginations. They will fill in the blanks about what the McCain-Palin ticket will bring.

Ask me Nov. 5 who was right.


Heartland woman voter: How successful do you think the Republican campaign will be at enforcing Nicole Wallace's claim that the media will not be given access to Palin? Will the media push back if there is no opportunity to question her in a manner similar to the other candidates?

Jonathan Weisman: I'm sure the media will continue to ding the McCain campaign if Palin does not offer real interviews or press conferences. You will know. That said, I think that within a week, the narrative of the campaign will once again center on Barack Obama and John McCain. Sarah Palin is a great story and a fascinating element of this race, but the focus will be on the top of the ticket (with a brief exception for the veep debate -- but hey, can you recall one thing from the Dick Cheney-John Edwards showdown?)


Louisville, Ky.: Hello, Jonathan. Thanks for taking questions today. I heard earlier that McCain's team made an announcement this morning that Sarah Palin will not do unscripted appearances or interviews and will only deliver speeches. Is this true? I guess they have the option to do that, but what other options do people like me have to see her off the cuff and on her toes?

Jonathan Weisman: I have heard she's heading back to Alaska for a week after a few more appearances. But see above. I'm just not convinced the Palin story will carry this election.


Anonymous: Sen. Obama says a McCain Administration would not represent a change from Bush administration policies since Sen. McCain has voted in favor of Bush 90 percent of the time. Is this true?

Jonathan Weisman: The 90 percent figure is true, but I cover Congress. The vast majority of those votes are procedural, and virtually every member of Congress votes with his or her leadership on procedural motions.

That said, on the two fundamental issues of the campaign -- the Iraq war and economic policy -- McCain and Bush are indeed pretty much on the same page.


Oklahoma City, Okla.: We truly are in the video age . . . the comparisons to the acceptance speeches by Obama and McCain are heavily based on performance (oratory, style, etc.) when in fact when you compare the true substance behind the men (experience, past service) McCain is superior by far. As has so often been noted, Lincoln could never get elected toay -- high squeaky voice and all.

Jonathan Weisman: Neither could Martin Van Buren, 5 foot 7 and fat.


Pop Quiz!: You're a political reporter. You work for a news organization. The Gallup poll shows a seven percent Obama lead, the Rasmussen poll shows a five percent Obama lead, and the CBS poll shows a tie. What's your headline? (If you worked at the Politico, it would be: "Poll: Democratic bounce gone, race tied." And folks wonder why we distrust our political media!)

Jonathan Weisman: Washington Post answer -- we don't run stories on polls unless they are out own. That said, I tend to trust one-time polls with large samples more than tracking polls, especially Rasmussen, which is generally done with robocalls.


Chicago, Ill.: In McCain's convention speech, he said "Sen. Obama thinks we can achieve energy independence without more drilling and without more nuclear power". In Obama's convention speech, he said "I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power". Do you consider McCain's characterization of Obama's position on nuclear power to be accurate?

Jonathan Weisman: No, Obama has been explicit in his support for nuclear energy, although his opposition to Yucca Mountain, while popular in Nevada, confuses the issue. Illinois, as you know, is a big nuclear state. I wouldn't expect a senator from the Land of Lincoln to be a No Nukes guy.


Sewickley, Pa.: Will the press back down now that the McCain campaign has accused it of sexism and liberal bias for asking about Gov. Palin's record in Alaska? I get the feeling journalists are still smarting from the failure to confront the administration and proponents of the Iraq war and consequently will not be bullied into accepting the news releases and talking points emanating from the McCain/Palin campaign. How do you see it?

Jonathan Weisman: No, we will not. We have every right to explore the record and history of the person one heartbeat from the presidency. The day after Biden was named, I did a long story on his support for the Iraq War resolution and how it complicates Obama's claim that he had the judgment to oppose the war from the outset and McCain did not. Stay tuned on Gov. Palin.


Vancouver, Wash.: I'm confused by Sen. McCain's speech last night. He seemed to suggest that he's the candidate of "change" -- and yet the GOP convention seemed to be all about the flag, patriotism, traditional values, interrupted by "USA all the way" chants.

He seems to now have switched to embracing almost all of Bush's policies and is running on his "character", not on specific programs that will get us out of this mess.

Your thoughts/comments?


Jonathan Weisman: My thoughts are there was a fascinating pivot at the convention. McCain had been running as the steady, experienced hand on the tiller, but the country's mood is not good. This week, with the naming of Palin and his speech, he's decided this is a change election after all. McCain has been at the forefront of big battles, on tobacco, immigration, campaign finance reform, judicial nominees, so he has a claim to his maverick label. But ironically, he did not dwell on any of those fights. He threw out the reform label to let you decide what exactly he will reform.


Re: Van Buren: Van Buren also ate arugula and windsurfed. So he'd have no chance today.

Jonathan Weisman: He was the thinking man's candidate of 1847.


Rochester, N.Y.: Glad you're doing this one! No one else takes as many questions.

First off, do you think the McCain campaign screwed up by not holding the Palin baby when he took the stage?

Second, what role do you expect Levi to have in the campaign moving forward? Is he the McCain-Palin secret weapon?

Jonathan Weisman: Dude, you are a genius. Levi needs to go out there and neutralize Obama's advantage with the youth vote -- among hockey players in Minnesota youth leagues. Can he vote?


Washington, D.C.: Gov. Palin's son is going to iraq for a year, she is going home to spend time with him for a week or so. After that...she will give interviews, a source told me.

Jonathan Weisman: I hope I'm on the list.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Jonathan, thanks for these chats. I live in a suburban neighborhood full of depressed Clinton supporters. They had been pretty down but have suddenly become animated in their support for Senator Obama now that Gov. Palin has been chosen for the veep spot on the Republican ticket. Women especially see an undercurrent with Senator McCain: His first wife was a swimsuit model. His current wife was a junior rodeo queen. His VP pick was a beauty pageant participant. Do you agree there is a certain demographic that may take a dim view of this? Also, how can the McCain campaign harp on sexism against the backdrop of cheesy "Vote for the Hot Chick" buttons displayed at the convention.

Jonathan Weisman: I too know women Hillary supporters who were mightily offended by the Palin pick and the suggestion that they vote their sex, not the issues. But then again, I have heard from Hillary supporters who just love Sarah Palin. The dueling reactions may just neutralize each other.


The Mansion: What was that mansion behind McCain at the start of his speech?

Jonathan Weisman: Ah, good question. We are looking into that. Word is, it was supposed to be Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC, home of our wounded warriors and a lot of mold. Instead, it was Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, Calif. Ooops.


And Don't Forget Buchanan!: Best presidential resume of all time. Also one of the worst presidents of all time.

Jonathan Weisman: Did you see Amistad? Great movie, underrated, and never have you gotten to know John Qunicy Adams so well.


New Rochelle, N.Y.: Palin came across as shrill and extremely sarcastic in her speech on Tuesday. As a female, it annoys me that people are shying away from saying it because it may sound sexist -- she was shrill.

Jonathan Weisman: Now New Rochelle, if you could move to Denver or Richmond, Barack would love you.


Belair, Md.:"Jonathan Weisman: No, Obama has been explicit in his support for nuclear energy..." You see, this is exactly what angers me about these campaigns -- especially when (and I'm sure it is true of both sides) they each say "I'll be a straight talker..." or "We need to end this partisan rancor..." This kind of misrepresentation of the opponent's position only confirms my belief that this rancor is not likely to end any time soon. Why is honesty so hard to use when campaigning? If your position on a subject is one thing and your opponent's is something else, say it like it is. I get so turned off by these misrepresentations.

Jonathan Weisman: Luckily, in this wonderful Internet age, there's so many ways to check the facts. Our own FactChecker, Poltifact, Edjumigate yourselves!


Dunn Loring, Va.: Could you explain why, in your first response, you characterize the McCain campaign as relying on biography while the Obama campaign is advancing policy? How is promising hope, with no supporting specifics, a policy? For example, could you give me one example of a federal program that he intends to reduce or eliminate to pay for all his promises?

Jonathan Weisman: Ah, I didn't really mean Obama was relying solely on policy. His acceptance speech did have a long (and I thought kinda boring) section on the policies of an Obama administration, and at every campaign stop, he talks at length on tax policy, health care, etc. But Obama is not relying on biography. His schtick on change and hope are the stuff of a movement, but they are not propelled by his upbringing in Hawaii.


And don't forget Grant - One of our greatest military heros : and one of our worst presidents

Jonathan Weisman: Yes, but Washington did give up his military commission -- and the presidency after two terms, perhaps the most important event of our democracy.


Kensington, Md.: In regard to McCain's claim that he and Palin represent "change," you might want to give your readers a link to Tom Toles' cartoon in today's Post. As is often the case, Toles' one panel take is worth more than a thousand words.

---"Watch out, Mr. Bush! With the exception of economic policy and energy policy and social issues and tax policy and foreign policy and Supreme Court appointments, we're coming in there to shake things up!" Toles Cartoon

Jonathan Weisman: Good ol Tom. OK, I'll add the reference. But in McCain's defense, he and Bush are not exactly best buds, regardless of that big hug.


Washington, D.C.: I thought it was funny when Hillary Clinton was going around telling everyone Obama couldn't win, because her own negatives are so high and she'd incite such venom from the Republicans if she were the candidate. So here's a fun question for you: If Clinton had ended up as the nominee, what sort of race would we be seeing right now? What kinds of differences would we see?

Jonathan Weisman: I'm sure it would be nasty. You would have ads on Whitewater, cattle futures, "shoulda, coulda, woulda." But then again, you might not be seeing the Democrats scrambling to shore up the votes of white working class women voters. My hunch is, the Democrats might actually be holding a more comfortable lead. But I could be wrong.


Seattle, Wash.: What's your take on a Southern Republican Congressman calling Obama "uppity" but using the Alberto-Gonzalez defense (ignorance) over the racial implications of the insult?

Jonathan Weisman: Having grown up in Atlanta, very near where Rep. Lynn Westmoreland grew up, I can say pretty unequivocally that there is no way a native Georgian could not have known the racial context of that word. Georgia in the 60s and 70s was a study in black and white (it's much more diverse now), and racial subtexts were everywhere. I do not buy his defense.


University Park, Md.: I don't get it. McCain worked so hard to get to the point where he is now. Last night, he had the opportunity give the speech to sweep everyone off the floor like Palin, Clintons and Obama. Instead, McCain fell flat.

What was the mood of participants at the convention after the speech?

Jonathan Weisman: I have a confession to make: I didn't go to St. Paul. The Post sent its three-person Obama squad to Denver, its three-person McCain team to the Twin Cities, and a core political group to both.

I can't say what the mood was in the hall, but the fact is, John McCain was never going to give the kind of stemwinder that Palin, the Obamas and the Clintons give. He had already shown he is not so great in set-piece speeches and you can't teach a 72-year-old that new trick that fast.


Washington, D.C.: Palin gave a speech dripping with scorn and disdain, and then the next night McCain gave a speech saying he wants to end partisan rancor. Is he really aiming at low information voters?

Jonathan Weisman: I think he believes the voters ultimately are choosing between John McCain and Barack Obama. Palin fired up the base, which would never vote for Obama but might have stayed home in November. McCain was reaching out to the true undecideds. Who knows if they were watching either speech?


Boston, Mass.: I can't believe nobody has said anything about the green screen (turned blue screen). Colbert is going to love it!

Could that really have been an accident? Don't they run through the TV optics ahead of time?

Jonathan Weisman: See above. It's actually worse than just the coloring. That green screen was apparently the lawn of Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, Calif., and was supposed to be Walter Reed Medical Center (which doesn't have much of a lawn at all).


Lanham, Md.: Will you be asking Sarah Palin about her efforts to have certain books banned from the public library when she was mayor?

Jonathan Weisman: If she gives us an interview.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Do we have anymore information whether it is true or false that Sarah Palin was listed as a supporter of Pat Buchanan when he ran for President under the Reform Party in 2000 (not counting her support of him in previous years, but 2000 is important for Republicans as some Republicans supported another candidate) and whether, when she spoke to the Alaska Independence Party, if she was just greeting them or if she was ever sympathetic to their goal that Alaska succeed from the Union (something that might upset some of the Lincoln Republicans)?

Jonathan Weisman: The McCain campaign has pretty much refuted the notion that she was ever a member of the Alaska Independence Party, but I think her hubbie really was. As for Pat Buchanan, it's the Buchanan camp's word against hers, and with a secret ballot, I think people will believe her.


Boston, Mass.: I agree that McCain was never going to give a great speech. Given that, why did they make the speech so long? I think it was longer than Obama's.

(Also, did the campaign really try to make McCain's speech start at 9:11? Pleas tell me that is just a rumor)

Jonathan Weisman: That is just a rumor. Puhleeze. I actually think they wanted the speech to be shorter, but it got off to a clumsy start because the crowd wouldn't quiet, and he was interrupted a number of times, often appropriately, sometimes not.


Princeton, N.J.: Now that Alberto has been shown to have exposed ultra classified documents and it appears that he will get off scott free, will the Republicans lay off Sandy Berger? Since nothing is secure if your communications is compromised, the documents Alberto was careless with are the most important ones we have (except perhaps for Palin's college records).

Jonathan Weisman: Since Sandy Berger seems to be nowhere near Barack Obama, I think he's a non-issue. As for Alberto Gonzalez, what's striking is how little interest there seems to be in this story. Nothing is shocking anymore.


Chicago, Ill.: As a McCain-Palin supporter I watched McCain's speech last night and was somewhat disappointed by his lack of energy -- he looked his age. However, I wonder if this was maybe part of a broader "rope-a-dope" strategy. Knowing that he can't compete against Obama oratorically, deliver a solid but low key speech in order to lower expectations for the debates and perhaps create a sense of overconfidence in the debates. Then, use debates and advertising to pound on Obama's lack of seasoning and experience.

Jonathan Weisman: I don't think it is strategy. It is necessity. I do agree that the debates are absolutely pivotal. Frankly, I'd imagine the bar is pretty low for Obama. He needs to be quick and credible as a president and commander in chief. McCain needs to bury Obama. That's the dynamic that was set up for Bush and Gore in 2000, and it did not work in Gore's favor.


The facts on the ground...: Jonathan -- Your paper is reporting yet another jump in the unemployment rate, Woodward says we spied on the Iraqi prime minister, troop cuts might be delayed...all factors which would seem to favor Obama, and yet he's barely ahead in the polls and an unknown governor from Alaska whose sole foreign policy credential is her state's proximity to Russia could tip the race to McCain, 72 years old and a part of the Washington establishment for the last twenty years. Discuss.

Jonathan Weisman: It shows that a lot of Americans remain uncertain about voting for Obama, whether it is his experience, his race, his name, the persona the Republicans have foisted on him. If the nominee was someone like, say, Mark Warner of Virginia, I think the gap would be far greater. But even Obama acknowledges he is asking a lot of the American electorate.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: When McCain said he wasn't going to become president to leave big problems unsolved... I'll admit, I was positive he was going to mention Social Security and whatever they're calling privatization these days (what was the last one, "opportunity accounts of mass destruction"?). Is that part of the McCain agenda dead?

Jonathan Weisman: You picked up on a broader pattern, identify the problem, pledge to fix it, but don't necessarily tell us how you'd fix it. I think partial privatization of Social Security might be part of McCain's thinking and he would discuss it with the Wall Street Journal edit board or the Club For Growth. But he's not going to propose it, and for good reason. It didn't fly with a Republican Congress. Why would it with a heavily Democratic one?


Arlington, Va.: McCain should have picked Ann Coulter. Oh, wait he did.

Jonathan Weisman: Oh c'mon.


Bethesda, Md.: Jon - Any polls out indicating a "bump?"

Jonathan Weisman: CBS came out with a poll yesterday showing the race tied. The Rasmussen daily track has Obama leading by two points. It's not so much that McCain got a bump as he may well have erased Obama's bump.


Chantilly, Va.: There's been a lot of talk about the massive numbers tuning into the speeches by Obama and Palin. Any word yet on how many people were watching McCain?

Jonathan Weisman: Not yet, but we should have that by the end of the day.


Anonymous: Now that Jackson Browne and Heart have complained about the GOP using their music without permission, is it possible they will start ASKING FIRST? Other than Toby Keith, are there ANY creative people in the USA who are pro-Republican?

Jonathan Weisman: This is a recurring theme every four years. The Republicans just don't want an all-country, Ted Nugent soundtrack.


2000 Debates: Are actually one of the most interesting moments for media criticism. Following the debates the media and the public generally believed Gore had trampled Bush. But the next morning GOP operatives started pushing around the "Sighs" and other purported Gore gaffes and that became the new reality. These guys haven't been in power for 26 of the last 28 years because they don't know how to alter reality.

Jonathan Weisman: I disagree. I was at those debates, and when Al Gore started badgering Bush on his position on "Dingell-Ganske," I knew all hope was lost. That was a reference, by the way, to the Patients Bill of Rights, not that 99 percent of Americans had a clue what he was talking about.


Walter Reed, MC: Please, please, please tell me you are joking about the Walter Reed mix-up. I thought the production of the RNC was amateurish before, but if this is true?

You have a convention focusing on service to our country, and that praises the sacrifices of our military, and the person putting together the montage can't tell the difference between a middle school and a nationally known Army medical center?!

Jonathan Weisman: We are double-checking, but it appears to be true.


Alaska Independence Party: I shudder to think what the reaction would have been if Mrs. Obama belonged to a party advocating secession from the U.S. Will there be more scrutiny of the activities of this group?

Jonathan Weisman: Sure will be.


No interest in Alberto story: How can you gauge if a story is popular or not?

Jonathan Weisman: Even the liberal bloggers haven't been hawking it. I guess Gonzalez is old news.


Rockville, Md.: Just for the record, Toby Keith endorsed Obama...

Jonathan Weisman: Thank you for setting the record straight.


Northern Virginia: I am an Obama supporter but really think it's kind of adorable, at worst, that the Palins have ties to the Alaskan secessionist movement. Hasn't anyone here ever vacationed in the Florida Keys, a.k.a. the Conch Republic? There was apparently genuine political unhappiness in the Keys as they felt their special needs were ignored by the Florida state government. So local civic leaders talked about seceding from Florida to become the Conch Republic --which, being Florida, has since dwindled into a tourism slogan. Hard to see the harm in this kind of local venting.

Jonathan Weisman: You may be right, but there is a hint of real, heavy-handed anti-Americanism in the pronouncements of the AIP, not just a, "hey dude, let's secede" kinda feel.


Washington, D.C.: Care to speculate a little about Lieberman's future? Will he be the odd man out after this election, when nobody wants him?

Jonathan Weisman: The Democratic leadership has officially declared there will be repercussions. My guess is, if the Dems end up with, say, 57-58 Senate seats, they have a strong majority without him but not 60, He's stripped of his chairmanship. But that doesn't mean he will join the GOP. That would be the end of his political career in Connecticut, if it isn't over already. But remember, if McCain wins, Joe is in the cabinet.


Washington, D.C.: It's kinda late in your chat hour, but I hope you take this question -- when are we going to hear more about Ms. Palin's pastor, who appears to be indistinguishable (save for skin color) to Rev. Wright, whom the Republicans beat up Barack Obama over? This is something which should be on the front page -- everywhere.

Jonathan Weisman: Remember, it wasn't the media that started the feeding frenzy on Rev. Wright. It was conservative activists, compiling and feeding YouTube clips and beating the drums. Democrats and liberals have not mounted a similar campaign.


Evanston, Ill.: Hey Jon, The guy from had a chat on hear yesterday. He claimed Bobby Jindal was offered and declined the Vice Presidency. He said to Google when I asked for a source. Can you confirm this at all? Has in been reported somewhere credible?

Jonathan Weisman: Pshaw. If that were true, we'd know it. I fear it is not.


Anonymous: When does Dennis Miller give his speech?

Jonathan Weisman: When the party's over, la, la, la. Hey, maybe he could do the soundtrack.


Alexandria, Va.: Any chance Biden will bow out and Obama will pick Clinton as the running mate? A Hillary Clinton-Sarah Palin debate could be a pay-per-view money maker for both sides -- it would be epic!

Jonathan Weisman: Not a chance


Re: McCain's take on Change:7 of 9 Supreme Court Justices are Republican picks, they held the House and Senate for 6 of the last 8 years and the White House in all that time. Will the media be pressing McCain to be specific on what exactly he plans to change and how? I recall dimly that McCain was criticizing Obama to be specific in his acceptance speech (which he was).

Jonathan Weisman: I think I did today.


Conch Republic: Not to be persnickety, but the Conch Republic was never serious - they seceded, declared war on the US, surrendered and applied for several million in redevelopment aid within one televised speech.

Jonathan Weisman: Thank you, Jimmy Buffett.


Sourdough, Alaska: Movie of Palin's Compelling life story: "GOD'S WILL HUNTING"

Jonathan Weisman: That's good. But they love her up there, no?


NYC: Hey, Jonathan - has there been any blowback about the video the RNC used of the Sept. 11 attacks? I thought it was pretty distasteful, to put it mildly. Before this is dismissed as liberal umbrage, my brother-in-law (who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald) was killed that day. I'm just glad that none of my husband's family saw it.

Jonathan Weisman: There have been complaints on the Internet, but since it didn't make primetime, I don't expect much.


Has-Been: Has-beens like Jackson Browne and Heart complain about the use of their music being used by the Republicans for publicity. Does anyone in their right mind think that because a Jackson Browne song during a rally or convention means that Jackson is endorsing John McCain. Now if the music was played in between a boxing match with Darryl Hannah and Jackson Browne, I could see the connection.

Jonathan Weisman: No, but it gives them a chance to make some news and promote their candidate.


Washington, D.C.: The thing that surprised me most last night was the video before McCain spoke. Say what you will about him, he has a very compelling personal story. My husband -- a hugely patriotic military man -- was prepared to be choked up with goosebumps. When it was over, we were both like Wha...? It was so cheesy and just...not good. I know that doesn't really matter but still, we were surprised. it could have been so much better.

Jonathan Weisman: Ya know, I agree completely. I just told a colleague I thought they should have ended the convention there. It was great. I have known all those stories for years. My old editor at the Baltimore Sun, Bob Timberg, wrote a fantastic book on them, The Nightingale's Song. But it is still very powerful.

On that note, au revoir, ya'll.


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