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Post Politics Hour

Washington Post White House Reporter Anne E. Kornblut.
Washington Post White House Reporter Anne E. Kornblut. (washingtonpost.com - washingtonpost.com)

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Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Monday, September 22, 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 in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

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Washington Post national political reporter Anne E. Kornblut was online Monday, Sept. 22 at 11 a.m. ET to answer readers' questions about the latest news from Washington and the campaign trail.

The transcript follows.

Get the latest campaign news live on washingtonpost.com's The Trail, or subscribe to the daily Post Politics Podcast.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts

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Anne E. Kornblut: Hi everyone -- thanks so much for joining today. Send all your questions on in.

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Malvern, Pa.: Hi Anne. What are the odds that (if McCain is elected) Sarah Palin turns out to be a lot smarter and a lot better than many people today give her credit for? While I thought it was a boldly craven pick, it may prove to be political genius in getting McCain elected. Do you think it also will prove to be genius in helping him govern? And if something happens to McCain, how would you envision a Palin presidency?

Anne E. Kornblut: Great question. I don't think anyone who's covered Palin for the past few weeks has any doubts about her political skill -- she obviously has done an amazing job of igniting excitement in the Republican Party and has survived (or better than, depending on what you thought) her first two interviews. But as to how she would be as a vice president -- or, if that scenario you laid out were to come to pass, president -- I think the public still is learning about her. Hopefully she will start to open up so that the public has a chance to make an informed choice.

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Re: Taxes and Truth: I'm posting early because my babysitter will be leaving soon and I want to get this question in: What responsibility, if any, do you think the media bears for correcting the mistaken but apparently very widely held view that Barack Obama wants to raise taxes on most Americans? In particular, why do you think we don't see articles with headlines like "Sen. Obama's Plan Will Lower Taxes on Middle Class" that both directly take on misinformation spread by McCain's campaign and explores the pros and cons of Obama's plan?

washingtonpost.com: The Fact-Checker: Taxing Promises (washingtonpost.com, Sept. 17)

Anne E. Kornblut: Thanks for the question. Certainly we all have covered this issue a lot -- in fact I suspect one reason some people even know there is a debate about it is because of the coverage -- but it's a fair point. For those who aren't up to speed: Obama's tax plan would raise taxes on people making more than $250,000, but cut taxes for 95 percent of taxpayers, especially the middle class. See our fact-checker's assessment, linked here. McCain has been saying the opposite on the campaign trail.

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Fort Myers, Fla.: Palin is said to have drawn 60,000 people to a rally in Lady Lakes the other day, but many local people estimate the crowd to be closer to 20,000. I've heard this disconnect often regarding Palin's stated attendance vs. her actual attendance. Is this common for all candidates?

Anne E. Kornblut: Oh, the crowd question! Let me state, for the record, that I'm terrible at estimating crowd size, so I can understand how the campaigns occasionally get the figures wrong. Having said that, the problem the McCain campaign has run into is citing official sources (such as the Secret Service) for their crowd estimates, when in fact the Secret Service does not keep such records.

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Palm City, Fla.: Where are Sarah Palin's tax returns? We were told that the campaign had them and they would be made public. When, right after the election?

Anne E. Kornblut: Thank you for reminding me about this. You are right, the McCain campaign said they would release her records, but have not -- nor have they released her medical records, as is standard practice. We shall ask again.

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Winston Salem, N.C.: Help us understand how the McCain campaign, which is not part of Alaska government, can control what the office of the governor of Alaska says and does? Why are they able to intervene in state politics? Is Todd Palin overstepping his bounds or role as First Dude? What does this say about the governor and her judgment? Thank you.

Anne E. Kornblut: If I'm reading your question correctly, then I think the answer is that the McCain campaign is able to help run Palin's communications shop on the ground in Alaska -- while not necessarily running the actual government of the state. Since she was picked, McCain has moved a team up there to keep an eye on things, and to make sure that investigative reporters don't run too amok with her record. As for Todd Palin, he certainly seems to have played a significant role in her stewardship, and some of the stories seem to raise questions about the proper boundaries of that. But "overstepping bounds" is probably a subjective call -- something that could change if Gov. Palin had a security clearance.

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Bethesda, Md.: Do regular voters really know Joe Biden? I follow politics fairly closely, and I don't feel like I really know him. Will it be an advantage to have Biden kind of reintroduced to the voters?

Anne E. Kornblut: It's funny, Sen. Biden is one of the most well-known figures in Washington, having been around here so long, but he has taken something of a backseat in the past few weeks -- my friend Mark Leibovich at the New York Times described him as playing "fourth or fifth fiddle" in a piece over the weekend that you should read if you have not. Get ready for the vice presidential debate on Oct. 2!

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Menomonie, Wis.: Those are two great articles on this morning's Washington Post about the bailouts. Wouldn't it be a lot cheaper to just pay off the mortgage of every homeowner who is in trouble than to bail out these huge firms that basically have made their own beds? Thank you.

Anne E. Kornblut: Great point -- it would be nice if they'd pay off our mortgages, wouldn't it?

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Fossil, Ore.: Considering the economic mess our economy is in, is it wise to turn over the large amount of bailout moneys to the secretary of the Treasury with no oversight, nor any need to report to the Congress before December? After watching the decline and falling of the U.S., it would seem the first criteria for any presidential candidate would be to have their mental competency tested.

Anne E. Kornblut: I think that's one reason you're seeing a demand in Congress (and not just from Democrats) for a large degree of oversight in this bailout plan. One Obama adviser said to me last week when we were out on the road that, watching the markets, it is a pretty daunting job these days to be fighting so hard for the presidency.

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Orlando, Fla.: Where does the Republican Party stand with regard to Sarah Palin's record on the protection of Alaskan wildlife and Alaskan ecology? The cruel treatment of animals is of great concern to millions of people. Promoting the aerial hunting of wolves and bears, suing the government to delist polar bears and putting profits ahead of protecting the pristine Alaskan environment are not values that appeal to many voters. Some people are deciding not to support the Republican ticket after learning of Governor Sarah Palin's record regarding the treatment wolves, bears, moose and Beluga whales -- regardless of how they may feel about other issues.

Anne E. Kornblut: I do not know the answer to this, but if you don't mind, I'll pass along the question to my colleague Juliet Eilperin, who is an environmental reporter extraordinaire.

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Kensington, Md.: I keep asking, but haven't gotten an answer to, the following question. Apparently Gov. Palin and her aides used their private email accounts to hash out public business. It's fairly clear (to me) that at least in the cases of the firings discussions and the polar bear issue, this was done to evade public scrutiny of the policy process. (Palin later penned an "all is good" editorial that utterly flew in the face of her own scientists' findings.) Beyond this being an "improper" thing for a supposedly "reform-minded" governor to do, is it actually illegal? Was it illegal when Rove did it with the attorney firings? It seems like this ought to be a yes-or-no question. Thanks.

Anne E. Kornblut: Let me add to your frustration by saying I don't know the answer. My recollection is that it's not illegal to use a personal e-mail account for nonsecret exchanges; but that there is also no legal guarantee that those e-mails won't be subpoenaed in the event of an investigation. And certainly it does raise questions about transparency -- not to mention judgment and security, given how easily a regular e-mail address can be hacked, as we have seen.

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Valdosta, Ga.: Anne, re: last night on "60 Minutes," I thought it was strange that Sen. McCain said he would cut off sugar subsidies. Aren't the big sugar producers in FL almost all Republicans? I thought that was an odd comment, given that Florida is still in play, and seemed to go directly against the voters he needs to keep in his column. Your thoughts?

Anne E. Kornblut: I had that exact same thought. If true, it certainly presents an example of McCain's continuing to push against voters he needs...

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Austin, Texas: Hi Anne. What do you see the campaigns focusing on in the media this week leading up to the debate on Friday?

Anne E. Kornblut: Well, we just had a story meeting here, and got to thinking about this question ourselves. It is a pretty sure bet that the economy will continue to dominate -- and that both sides will try to lower expectations as Friday approaches. But because the main topic on Friday is ostensibly foreign policy, there probably will be continued discussions of Pakistan, terrorism and the meetings this week at the United Nations. Stay tuned...

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Arlington, Va.: The Obama campaign is slinging mud with the best of them. This is a stark departure from past Democratic presidential nominees, who always were hesitant to fight back and always appeared weak to the electorate. Why the change?

Anne E. Kornblut: I don't know, it feels to me like every four years both sides wind up slinging mud, and the degree to which it's perceived to be that way is fairly subjective. Certainly, though, Obama has said that he wants to stand up to the Republican "attack machine," and his advisers were wary of what happened to Kerry in 2004 when he did not push back against the Swift Boat veterans.

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Re: Medical Records: "Nor have they released her medical records, as is standard practice. We shall ask again." Given that Sen. Obama only released a one-page summary of his medical records, and refused to have his doctor answer questions about his health, perhaps you could also ask the Obama/Biden campaign too, if you want to be fair.

Anne E. Kornblut: Yes, absolutely, we have asked both sides. And for anyone who is keeping track, McCain let a handful of reporters look at his medical records for a short period of time earlier this year, but would not allow them to be Xeroxed or taken out of the room.

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Philadelphia: "I don't think anyone who's covered Palin over the last few weeks has any doubts about her political skill -- she has obviously done an amazing job of igniting excitement in the Republican Party." Okay, help me here. Political skill? Tell me one thing Palin has shown (other than her physical traits of being an appealing-looking woman) since being nominated that goes beyond a natural gift for public speaking, which may have been enhanced by her training as a sportscaster?

Anne E. Kornblut: Entirely good point., but two measures of political skill are the abilities to either get elected or get picked, and to draw crowds, and she is doing both. That is a separate question from having good governing skills, and we also will see how sustainable her political skills are as the weeks go on.

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Atlanta: I don't sense any effort from the McCain to lower expectations for Sarah Palin regarding the vice presidential debate. Is it too early for that, or are they just expecting the conventional wisdom (Biden will be mean to her) to carry the day?

Anne E. Kornblut: I don't know, but I surely will ask. Thanks for the thought.

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"Make sure that investigative reporters don't run too amok with her record.": How much is too amok? I personally would like to see a lot more amokness among reporters.

Anne E. Kornblut: Me too! I love amokness -- generally. I the McCain campaign, however, would like to keep investigative reporters (well, all reporters, in fact) away in a lockbox.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning. Well, not so good, obviously. Just to let you Beltway insiders know, people in flyover country are keeping up with the crisis on Wall Street, and my very strong sense is that, above all, we're looking for leadership. It would be great if Bush could give a speech like the one he gave to Congress after Sept. 11. And it would be great if Obama or McCain would propose something visionary and forward-looking, rather than reactionary and backward-looking. If either one could pull that off, he'd shoot up in the polls. Also, the coming debate on foreign policy seems really pointless right now. No question, just some comments.

Anne E. Kornblut: And thank you for them. Keep paying attention -- you're going to hear more from the candidates in the days ahead.

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Fairfax, Va.: Can we start some non-monetary betting pools here on Washington Post chats? Like, odds the public debt to the penny crosses $10 trillion before President Bush leaves office? It currently stands at 9,664,631,803,259.07. A little less than four months to go!

Anne E. Kornblut: Way more fun than the electoral college betting pool. Or depressing.

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Suburban Cincinnati: Good morning, Anne. Here is a more light-hearted topic: The Ohio Republican Party is bashing Joe Biden for his remarks about how the University of Delaware football team would beat (to put it politely) the Ohio State football team. While Ohio State will not win the college national title this year, to say that is like denying the Pope is Catholic here in Ohio. (I got a master's degree from Ohio State and yes, I'm a fan.) Here's the citation. I can appreciate loyalty towards one's alma mater, but this is kinda stupid for Joe Biden.

Anne E. Kornblut: But would it be worse if he pandered? This is a constant in politics -- every four years, candidates campaigning in New Hampshire suddenly become Red Sox fans. And none of them will admit to liking the Redskins. Where's the fun in that?

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"60 Minutes": Didn't McCain also say he'd cut the defense budget? That seems strange ... what does he say is excessive spending in the defense budget?

Anne E. Kornblut: If I heard the interview correctly, he did not specify what, exactly, he would cut in the defense budget. That struck me as a good point for a debate questioner to follow up on.

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Annapolis, Md.: Speaking of Todd Palin. Since the big row over Hillary's involvement with the health insurance issue during Bill's years, how will Gov. Palin be able to have Todd sit in on her meetings as vice president if elected? I am beginning to think that, as suave as she seems to be, she would not be able to do as well as she has as governor of Alaska, if she does not have Todd.

washingtonpost.com: 'First Dude' Todd Palin Illustrates Alaska's Blend of Private and Public (Post, Sept. 22)

Anne E. Kornblut: My understanding is that there are security constraints when it comes to the White House/OEOB -- Sen. Clinton, for example, did not have national security clearance, and did not sit in on the most top-secret meetings. So there is little question that Todd Palin would have to play a different role here than in Alaska.

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Rolla, Mo.: The one candidate on either ticket whose positions we know the least about will be protected by the format in the sole vice presidential debate. The McCain campaign all but admitted this was because Biden is an experienced debater and they didn't want her at a disadvantage. However, there are clips available of her gubernatorial debate, where she seems a skilled debater. Doesn't this really boil down to protecting her lack of knowledge vs. her inexperience in debating?

washingtonpost.com: Format of Biden-Palin Debate Sets No Limit on Subject Matter (Post, Sept. 21)

Anne E. Kornblut: Fair question. I have gone back and listened to a lot of Gov. Palin's old debates from when she was running for governor, and there is no question she performed very smoothly.

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Taxes: It's so funny how taxes again have become the major issue for the GOP. I guess it's all fundamental. My mother attended an Obama rally in Florida this weekend; two planes flew overhead with banners that read "Florida is McCain/Palin territory" and "Raising Taxes is Not Patriotic" Wise way to spend their campaign funds?

Anne E. Kornblut: I wonder how much those planes cost? And what was the goal -- to scare off Obama supporters? In all seriousness, often there are protestors from the other side outside rallies -- as a show of force -- so that does not surprise me. We saw a plane with a pro-Palin banner in Nevada two weeks ago, as well.

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Fairfax, Va.: The last McCain's rally in Northern Virginia was hugely successful. Do you think the GOP will regroup and capture more women's votes in Northern Virginia?

Anne E. Kornblut: I'm not sure if this was the same one you were referring to, but I was at the one in Fairfax (Van Dyck park) a few weeks ago, and you are right -- it was very well-attended. It is too early to predict how Virginia will go -- stay tuned -- but certainly that event gave the Republicans hope that the Obama inroads may not be as great as they appeared.

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Washington: I'm just laughing at the people who are foaming at the mouth at Todd Palin's involvement in Alaska -- they're the same people who had no problem with Hillary Clinton including her eight years as first lady as part of her "presidential experience." Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, folks!

Anne E. Kornblut: And another view...

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Menomonie, Wis.: Me, again. Fairfax has a great idea! And the loser can pay off the winner's mortgage!

Anne E. Kornblut: Yes. Count me in.

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Northern Virginia: Is Barack Obama as terrible at debates as the current conventional wisdom suggests? If so, how did he win the nomination?

Anne E. Kornblut: I don't know exactly where the conventional wisdom stands, but certainly Obama advisers felt that against Sen. Clinton in all of the debates during the primary (how many were there? 23?), he did not do as well as he could have. While debates are important, and Obama clearly held his own, they were not the only factor in helping him get the nomination.

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Olney, Md.: These are sort of related: Why does the press not care about who hacked into Gov. Palin's e-mail account? It is, I assume, a crime. To me, it is similar to the press's lack of interest in who actually said "iron my shirts" to Hillary Clinton, and who actually wrote the apparently forged memo about President Bush. Not one reporter ever has figured out each of these three puzzles. Why do I get the feeling that because each one of those things may have been done by what might be called Democratic operatives, the press appears to not care?

Anne E. Kornblut: Okay, this is funny. If we don't care, then why are we covering it? By my count, we've had stories on both these issues in the paper pretty much every week. This reminds me of when people complain that an issue hasn't been in the newspaper -- but then you ask where they heard about it, and they say they read it in the newspaper.

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Cameron, N.C.: Re: An ability to draw crowds as a political strength. Are we back to the celebrity questions again? How many people would go to listen to Palin (Sarah not Michael) at a football stadium?

Anne E. Kornblut: It's a good question, and a legitimate one. What are the lines between celebrity and political skill? Is Gov. Palin skilled simply because she was picked? All are worth exploring, and are what makes this election such an interesting one.

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Ombudsman: Anne, maybe you could shed some light on what the ombudsman said about your piece on Palin's address to the Alaska Air National Guard. You could have pushed harder for dropping a quote? What does that mean?

washingtonpost.com: Two Stories That Pushed Some Buttons (Post, Sept. 21)

Anne E. Kornblut: Not sure what the confusion is here, but I'll go ahead and post this, and you can write back with what you did not understand?

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Fairfax County, Va.: Question(s) about the bailout. Sorry if it rambles, but obviously there's plenty to confuse. So we give Treasury a blank check to bail out the investment industry, which unless I'm really dense means we've just added to the deficit, so we're not paying for it because our children and grandchildren et al are. Too bad we can't reclaim the millions of dollars in bonuses these idiots received over the past several of years. So why is it such a big deal that the Democrats want to limit the compensation of the managers working the bailout? I have to assume they're not saying they want to pay only $50,000 a year. Anyone who gets to stay should be happy they still have a job. Let Congress decide down the road if someone deserves a bonus or not.

Anne E. Kornblut: A fair point. I'm just going to go ahead and post this idea.

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Hartford, Conn.: I've been a business writer and editor for more than 10 years and I'm still having difficulty getting my mind around some details of the financial news. Are the campaigns concerned that they really can't make a case for themselves in 10-second sound bites, or will they be content to be demagogues for the next six weeks?

Anne E. Kornblut: I've been wondering the same thing -- it's one reason you saw Obama put up a two-minute ad (a lifetime in political television) just talking straight to the camera about his plan.

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Halifax, Nova Scotia: Hi. With all the political excitement south of the border, you may not know that your neighbors in Canada also are in the midst of a national election. This is one of the rare instances where the U.S. election is more interesting than our own, so it may interest you to know that Canadian politicians are having a difficult time getting voter attention. The good news is that our election, from the writ dropped to voting, is over in 38 days. My question to you is, should we Canadians be offended that Sarah Palin built up her foreign relations credentials by pointing out the view from Alaska to Russia, rather than telling Charles Gibson that Alaska shares a wicked-long border with Canada?

Anne E. Kornblut: I had not even thought of that. On the other hand, Gov. Palin counts Canada as one of the four foreign countries she has visited, so you can take heart in that.

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Prescott, Ariz.: This bailout plan is a joke. If these firms are in such a mess, why are most of them still paying dividends? If they need the cash so bad, why don't they cut back on their own extravagances first? And why doesn't anyone mention that Paulson has a very "Bushian" track record? A year ago he was saying that the subprime mess largely would be contained. Heck, just a month ago he was telling anyone who would listen about how strong our banking system was. No blank checks.

Anne E. Kornblut: I'm going to go ahead and post this and a few other bailout-related thoughts because I won't have time to answer all of them, but they're provocative. Here is one.

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Olney, Md.: Not to grouse too much, but when Sen. Obama spoke at the Nissan Pavilion after winning the primaries, much was made of the fact that is was a huge place and a big rally, but it was only half-full -- about 10,000 people. When he has had low crowds, that was smoothed over; when Gov. Palin has nearly 60,000 people in a less-populous part of the country, that is minimized and barely reported on by the press.

Anne E. Kornblut: Again, let me ask: Where did you hear about the 60,000 crowd? From the press? I rest my case.

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Norfolk, Va.: So, Palin gets to meet with world leaders this week at the U.N. Do you think those meetings will be scripted and/or that the world leaders will show deference?

Anne E. Kornblut: I think world leaders tend to show deference in person, don't they? It's reporters who are rude, in case you've forgotten. As for the substance of the meetings, we will all be very curious to get readouts of them afterward, to hear what was discussed.

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Baltimore: The law limits the president's salary to $400,000 per year. That looks like a fair upper limit on salaries at any company that's asking for a federal bailout. Is what they do really that much more valuable than what the president of the United States does?

Anne E. Kornblut: And a lot of money to anyone. That's a good point.

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New York: I've had a chance to read the Bush administration's proposed legislation, and I don't like it one bit. If I understand correctly, basically Congress would be giving the Treasury Secretary the unfettered, unreviewable authority to spend $700 billion (and no doubt much more) in taxpayer money as he sees fit. Is that correct, or is the smoke coming out of my ears obscuring my view?

Anne E. Kornblut: And another view...

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Hacker?: Can the person who figured out how to get access to Palin's email even be called a "hacker"? Seems to me that no specialized knowledge of computers was necessary. Heck, even John McCain could take a stab at the questions needed to reset the password, and maybe he'd even find success.

Anne E. Kornblut: I know, this has me wondering whether I need to come up with more creative passwords of my own.

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"We're looking for leadership!": Can I step on some toes this morning and ask, is there anyone more clueless than someone who says "we need leadership!" We've had leadership -- bad leadership. It took plenty of leadership to deregulate the banking industry. It didn't make it a good idea. It took plenty of leadership to take us to war with Iraq. It didn't make it a good idea. We don't lack for leadership in this election; both of our choices have a clear visions and a clear direction. What we lack, frankly, is voters who take that decision seriously.

Anne E. Kornblut: And another...

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Sugar: Just an FYI on the sugar thing -- the governor of Florida just bought out the biggest sugar refiner in the Everglades, so they're kind of out of the picture now, or will be soon. Not that the business ever was sustainable without a massive subsidy anyway, but it's more or less shutting down.

Anne E. Kornblut: Thank you. That's right -- I'd forgotten about that, from a few months ago.

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Re: Obama and Debates: Early on I was for Biden. When it came down to Sens. Clinton and Obama, it was a toss-up for me. His debate performance one-on-one with Sen. Clinton was what swung me in his favor. It seems there were a lot of folks like me, regardless of the perception that she is a better debater.

Anne E. Kornblut: That may be the case, and thanks for making the point.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Where is Al Gore during this campaign, and why isn't he stumping for Obama?

Anne E. Kornblut: I think he is doing his own thing -- his environmental work -- but I'm sure you'll see him before Election Day. The last time I saw him was during the Democratic convention.

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Florissant Valley, Mo.: Given the current inability of even economic experts to get their hands around the government bailout, is there any chance that either McCain of Obama will be able to make an intelligent evaluation, or even take a stand for or against the plan? Seems to me that both would be well-advised to "support the administration" and keep their ammo dry.

Anne E. Kornblut: And another...

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Boston: Re: "Candidates proposing a forward-looking and visionary plan." The problem with this is that no matter how wonderful the idea was, the other party would have to oppose, making it a partisan and never-ending fight. (I can't imagine either party saying: "You know, that's a great idea and will totally save the economy. My candidate doesn't know what he's talking about." Electoral suicide!) We need something to pass quickly, so it will be worked out behind closed doors and announced as bipartisan.

Anne E. Kornblut: And another great one...

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Bluffton, S.C.: I'll be voting for John McCain in November in the hopes we can stop the march toward socialism, but it may just be a Pyrrhic victory. If he wins, his supporters will be called racists, there will be four years of McCain-bashing editorials and op-ed pieces, not to mention negative reporting in the mainstream media, a Democratic Congress will make his life miserable, the entertainment industry will thrive on mocking him and Sarah Palin, and Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews will be screaming even louder. Alas, Alack!

Anne E. Kornblut: LOL, talk about seeing defeat in victory! I think one thing is clear -- there are going to be upset people no matter who wins.

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Princeton, N.J.: But surely there are issues which are taboo in the U.S. press. I had to go to the foreign pres to get an account of the breakup of McCain's first marriage. If his POW story is indicative of his character, why isn't this episode also indicative? The most poignant fact I heard was when Carol was told she never would walk again. She said she had to be able to walk to greet John when he came home. She went through years of pain therapy, but she did it. The outcome is history.

Anne E. Kornblut: Your point is taken.

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Anne E. Kornblut: Noontime -- thanks so much for joining today. See you again soon! Enjoy the debates, and your week.

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


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