Potomac Confidential
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Potomac Confidential

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Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, October 2, 2008; 12:00 PM

Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion by Metro columnist Marc Fisher who looks at the latest news with a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.

Fisher was online Thursday, Oct. 2, at Noon ET to look at the plight of the Republican Party in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, voting rights for college students, and the latest on the frozen children tragedy.

A transcript follows.

Check out Marc's blog, Raw Fisher.

In his weekly show, Fisher veers wildly from serious probing to silly prattle, and is open to topics local, national, personal and more.

Archives: Discussion Transcripts

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Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks.

Another big news day in Bailout City. The much-anticipated vice presidential debate is tonight, and of course it cannot possibly live up to expectations, but we'll be tuning in anyway (note, however, that the politically involved among us always overestimate the public's interest, as we did last week, when many millions fewer people watched the first Obama-McCain debate than had four years earlier, in total contrast to those expectations.)

Interesting, if somewhat predictable, response to today's column, in which Maryland congressman Wayne Gilchrest takes off against his fellow Republicans, his fellow members of Congress, and pretty much all Americans for our refusal to take serious matters seriously, and our addiction to comforts that we cannot afford. Democrats leap with joy at the sight of another Republican apostate, while Republicans accuse Gilchrest of sour grapes over his loss in this year's primary. It is indeed frustrating that we hear this kind of honest talk from politicians mainly when they are on their way out the door, but shouldn't we take what they say to heart, even if their words seem to come too late?

The story of the frozen children in southern Maryland is one of the more gruesome to come along in quite a while, and the questions coming out of that tale are all too familiar: Why was this woman allowed to adopt three children? What was in those home studies that the District's contractor conducted before approving her application to adopt? Why does the city and its adoption agencies cling so vociferously to phony claims of privacy, even after a child is dead?

On to your many comments and questions, but first, a bit of a contest, and the Yay and Nay of the Day.

The contest: A gift from the fabulous Vast Vault of Values goes to the reader who during our hour together comes up with the question for Sarah Palin that would be most likely to elicit from her any real sense of whether she harbors any self-doubt about her ability to be president, should that eventuality arise. She has shown in her two TV interviews over the past month that she has that beauty pageant contestant ability to talk around an issue without remotely answering the question. Is there a way to phrase a question so that viewers--including both her fans and her critics--might get a more real and accurate sense of what she is really capable of? Let's hear the one question you would ask that would most effectively get beyond the gotchas about specific information and instead give us a window onto whether she has the judgment to handle the job.

Yay to Congress for finally, after all these years, passing the funding bill for Metro, which could well give the transit system the dependable source of income it has needed for so many years. That won't solve the backups and breakdowns that the system now suffers from, but it will at least get Metro back on the road to a workable future with its ever-expanding passenger load.

Nay to John Deasy, the Prince George's County schools superintendent, for leaving the system in the lurch. Sure, he got a sweet offer from the Gates Foundation to take a job that surely pays a lot more and has real long-term stability. But school superintendents owe it to the students and to those who hire them to stay for at least a decent period of time. People of great talent, like Deasy, will always be much in demand, but they have an obligation to use their positions not merely to line up the next move, but to make a difference in the lives of the students.

Your turn starts right now....

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Purcellville, Va.: Great column today! If only more Republicans would speak out about how their party has changed and what they need to do to make it what it once was. Part of the change, I think, is showing the courage to stand up to the political organizations that portray themselves as religious (Focus on the Family, for example). Yet the mindset, as evidenced by John McCain's reversal on Jerry Falwell, is that support from these people is necessary to win. For me, the hypocrisy of these organizations is breathtaking, and it's what's keeping independent voters like me from even considering voting for the GOP.

washingtonpost.com: Gilchrest Unloads on Know-Nothing Pols and the Rest of Us ( Post, Oct. 2)

Marc Fisher: Alas, while you and I might lament the inability of politicians--even self-professed mavericks--to withstand the pressure to tack to the muddy center, it apparently works for them to leave their principles and passions behind.

Compare the muted and mealy-mouthed McCain of today with the frank and freewheeling McCain of the early campaign. Compare the cautious and almost passive Obama of today with the inspiring and daring Obama of the early primary months. These are transformations that many voters complain about, but these campaigns wouldn't have moved in this direction if they didn't have research showing that this is what voters want.

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Concerned Voter: Good Afternoon -- I think that it is good Mr. Gilchrest lost the primary. It seems he forgot that his job is to represent the people and what they want. If a representative's constituents overwhelmingly do not support a bill, then the representative should not either.

Marc Fisher: That's often the case, but not always. We do not have government by plebiscite in this country. The Founders, very much by design, chose a system that creates structures and spaces for elected representatives to distance themselves from the rabble and hold themselves to higher principles. Yes, the House is supposed to be closest to the people, and in fact, it is, which is why the House voted against the bailout and the Senate voted for it. But it is not only senators with their six-year terms (and remember, originally, they weren't even popularly elected) who are supposed to do what's right rather than what's popular. House members have a similar obligation, even if they are more susceptible to the whims of the electorate.

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Crofton, Md.: I just had a very similar conversation with a co-worker yesterday. Gilchrest touches on everything wrong with our country now, especially the issues of personal responsibility and polarization. Wayne Gilchrest for president!

Marc Fisher: Ah, but then, as you're seeing with both Obama and McCain, he'd come to believe that he must tack away from his passions and principles and instead adopt the mealy, middlebrow positions of all national politicians. This is the result of our campaign-industrial complex, the big business of elections, which smoothes out rough edges and buries heartfelt beliefs and any semblance of principle.

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Alexandria, Va.: Thank you for doing your piece on Rep. Wayne Gilchrest and his dissatisfaction with the Republican party. Was Sen. Hillary Clinton right when she told Matt Lauer "there is a vast right wing conspiracy at work in this country" when she was being interviewed on the Today Show during President Clinton's fall from grace?

Marc Fisher: No, she was being petty, egotistical and paranoid. There is a big difference between noting, as Gilchrest did, that his party is under strong pressure from its conservative base to move to a stricter and narrower ideological space and expanding that, as Clinton did, to the idea that there is some sort of conspiracy that controls the political discourse and direction of the nation. The former is a useful statement that can lead to a real debate and strategies to push back. The latter is a cry for help, a hopeless and selfish bit of rhetoric that only further demeans the political discussion in the country.

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Alexandria, Va.: Your article today is similar to something that I've been thinking about over the last few weeks. In light of the events with the bailout bill and the current presidential election, do you feel that the riff within the Republican party will eventually foster the creation of a more substantial third party in our political system.

Personally, I'm a Democrat but I think there is something brewing that may allow for another party to step up and create a new dynamic out of all the partisan deadlock and bickering.

washingtonpost.com: Gilchrest Unloads on Know-Nothing Pols and the Rest of Us ( Post, Oct. 2)

Marc Fisher: No, two centuries of American history teaches us that our system is structured to operate as a binary one. Third parties have played important roles in changing the debate or in forcing the major parties to shift perspective, but everything from the structure of Congress to the way in which candidates are selected focuses us on the two-party system.

On the other hand, our major parties change identity and ideology on a continuing basis, and in many ways, both parties are ripe for a change. By far the largest party in this country right now is the No Party. If you combine non-voters and independents who do vote, you've got a landslide victory. The party that shifts in a way that appeals to some of those who have long since given up on the Dems and the Repos alike will be the dominant party of the next era.

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Virginia: Hey Marc,

Any plans to talk to the Democratic woman who switched to McCain because of Palin? The latest poll numbers seem to indicate Palin is losing ground, particularly among independent women. Has she changed her mind? I'd just be interested in her thinking right now.

Thanks!

washingtonpost.com: Skepticism of Palin Growing, Poll Finds ( Post, Oct. 2)

Marc Fisher: I don't detect any movement on Lynette Long's part, and I should add that I continue to get a steady and quite strong stream of mail from women all across the country who have read my column about Long and write in to say "I am that woman"--that is, someone who switched from Hillary Clinton to McCain-Palin.

But as you say, the polls are now indicating that some of the bloom may be wearing off the Palin rose. I wouldn't bet on that being any kind of wholesale shift. In this election, as in the last two, it's all about the margins, as we have two blocs of voters who are pretty well set in their ways and preferences.

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Annandale, Va.: Marc,

Tom Davis was absolutely right a few months back when he more or less predicted that Gilmore would fail to make the Senate race against Mark Warner competitive. Davis a leading moderate understands the new politics of the state, which obviously Gilmore and others like him don't.

With that in mind (along with the string of Republican defeats statewide), is there any chance we'll see Tom Davis enter the fray for next year's governor's race?

As someone who would have proudly put both Davis for Senate and Obama for President signs in my front yard, I certainly hope so.

Marc Fisher: I can't see Davis running for governor. His own party would once again kick him to the curb. But he may well try to mount a challenge to Sen. Jim Webb, on the theory that it would be silly and self-defeating to put a hard-line conservative Republican up against a senator who is, in some significant ways, well to the right of his own party. Of course, George Allen is still itching for a rematch, so that could be quite a field in that race come 2012.

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Downtown DC: Hi Marc-

Nice piece about Rep Gilchrest. But before we wail too much that there's no "Lincoln or FDR" today - there was no Lincoln or FDR as we know them in 1860 and 1932 either. Both Lincoln and FDR were quiet on specifics until they were inaugurated. FDR called for a balanced budget and rejected some of Hoover's proposals (like a bank holiday) that he immediately adopted once he was sworn in. Lincoln was mostly quiet on southern succession in the winter of 1860-61, while he waited to take office. The thinking is - if you want control the agenda to start your Administration, you don't want to be tied to the previous guy's policies. Nice article on it at Waiting to Lead (or Not) ( The New York Times, Sept. 27)

I'm not saying that McC or O will turn out to be the next FDR or Lincoln - but the confluence of a weak, lame duck prez, the end of a close campaign, and an economic crisis make a low-key approach to the crisis by both candidates understandable.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--Good point. But what voters saw in both Lincoln and FDR was superior judgment and a clear record of being thoughtful and passionate about principle. That's why I continue to argue that whatever your ideology, we have been given the gift of two high-quality choices in this election. In both cases, Obama and McCain are the candidates in their parties who presented the most flexible, informed and realistic approach to the deep and scary problems that this country faces. Sadly, neither has maintained his tradition of truth-telling into the general campaign.

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Yay of the day: My yay of the month, goes to Jason Campbell. Your article was so lovely. I have thought about the Berry family several times since reading that article. Young Jason Campbell is wise beyond his years. I am a decade older than him, and have too lost someone to cancer. What he did for that family was truly special. And it will forever be a part of Ms. Berry's final time here, that will bring smiles to the faces of those she left behind. Definite Yay for him.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--this is a reference to Sunday's column on Campbell's call to a woman who was dying of cancer. Many thanks to all the readers who responded so favorably to that column; the Berry family is deeply grateful for all your kind words.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: Although it wasn't deemed newsworthy by The Post, do you have any thoughts on the Virginia teachers union sending out an e-mail asking all teachers to wear blue on Tuesday as a sign of support for Obama, and in the same e-mail advising teachers to sign up unregistered voters including "some who might be in your class"?

Marc Fisher: I haven't seen that. If true, that would be disturbing indeed. Teachers who discuss politics in class should be commended if they are asking questions and stretching the kids' ability to take in the news and analyze what's happening. But teachers who bring politics into the classroom in an effort to influence the voting choices or preferences of their charges are abusing their authority.

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Alexandria, Va.: Marc -- whatever happened to the Metro Food Gestapo? Metro is filled with trash, fast food wrappers, empty coffee cups. I asked a station manager why they aren't stopping people carrying in fast food. Their answer, "Because they aren't in the act of consuming the food." I'm not saying the old way was perfect, but the current results speak for themselves. If the place looks like a stye, people will treat it as such.

Marc Fisher: I'm with you. I'm generally not one for zero tolerance, but in the matter of Metro's food and drink policy, I liked both the result--a remarkably clean system--and the message--this is one public space where people are going to be held to a standard of decency and respect. Would that our public libraries took the same attitude, rather than acting as de facto homeless shelters.

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Arlington, Va.: Marc, As a journalist on the inside, what's your take on the controversy concerning Gwen Ifill writing a book and hosting the VP debate? From the title and publicity put out by both the publisher and author it certainly sounds like a pro-Obama book to me. As a WP.com employee (she regularly hosts chats on this site) what restrictions does The Post place on Ms. Ifill or any other employee who wants to write a book or be on TV?

Marc Fisher: Gwen Ifill worked at The Post many years ago as a reporter, and a damn good one at that. While she does occasional chats here on the big web site, she is not an employee.

But I don't see any problem with her hosting tonight's debate. First of all, while Obama is a character in her book, which apparently profiles several new-generation black politicians, the book is neither a bio of the senator nor in any way an authorized account. So she's not in league with him financially or contractually, and knowing her, she isn't going to be shy about criticizing him or portraying him in full. Second, he's not debating tonight, so if there were any question about her having a friendly relationship with one of the candidates, that's a moot point in a vice-presidential faceoff. McCain yesterday issued a statement very supportive of Ifill, and that should quiet the grumbling on this issue.

It's a journalist's job to cultivate sources in the area they cover, so the fact that Ifill has interviewed Obama--and of course McCain too--should help her in her work and therefore help viewers as well. The fact that neither Ifill nor any of the other folks who are interviewing Palin these days have any previous experience with her is mainly an advantage for Palin, because the reporters don't know what kinds of questions she's good at deflecting or diffusing.

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Bowie, Md.: Deasy ups and walks out on PG County Schools and the kids. Good move for his career, but a huge setback for PG despite Jack Johnson treating it as just another news line for the day.

Jack has been laying low as of late...not involved with the shooting of the Mayor's dogs, little face time with the press, etc.

I think he wants to finish his term under his desk with as little drama as possible, and definitely no jail time...seeing how Keith Washington went out.

Marc Fisher: There does seem to be a similarity between Johnson's last years and the last months of the Bush administration. Both have lost the public's trust, both have become nearly invisible, and both seem less involved in their jobs. And because of the voters' buyers' remorse, neither can help much with choosing a successor.

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washingtonpost.com: Redskins' Jason Campbell Comes Through for a Lifelong Fan ( Post, Sept., 28

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Anonymous, please: I was a Medevac pilot in a SW State for several years before moving to Maryland and taking a similar position a few years ago. In my former State, we performed a number of tests to determine whether an accident victim needed our services. While we erred on the side of caution, a victim who was coherent, whose vital signs were within specified ranges, who could move his or her limbs freely, who did not complain of serious pain or breathing difficulties, and who otherwise passed a preliminary physical and mental evaluation was transported by ambulance, rather than by copter, to the nearest medical facility. Some refused any treatment whatsoever. I would say that, in well over half our calls, our services were not needed. Only once in 7 years did later developments indicate we should have flown the victim to a shock-trauma center, and that person nevertheless recovered fine.

In Maryland, the reverse is true. We sometimes have to physically force victims who seem and look fine, and who insist they are fine, into the helicopter. While I'm not privy to this information, I believe many, if not most of these victims are released within 24 hours. We once flew a terrified little girl with no visible injuries, whose parents could not fit into the chopper. The child screamed the entire way, and I believe the mental trauma of that experience will long outweigh whatever benefits (none, to my way of thinking) the medevac provided.

Everyone is heartsick over the accident that took 4 lives last weekend. The fact that it was night, and raining, makes everything more complicated. Still, I'm hopeful that the ongoing review will led to fewer flights, saving money and making life easier to accident victims and medevac personnel alike.

washingtonpost.com: Md. Families Mourn Deaths of 4 in Helicopter Crash ( Post, Oct. 2)

Marc Fisher: Fascinating post. This reminds me of the debate over police SWAT teams and the extent to which they get used simply to justify their continued existence and expense.

Buying new toys and tools for government, or for a private enterprise for that matter, is often only a guarantee that some new definition of need will be concocted to justify the expense.

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Calvert County: What are your views on tightening adoption regulations in light of the tragic case recently discovered in Southern Calvert County. I have real fears that this is going to make less people eligible to adopt and more kids lost forever to foster care. But clearly, something went horrifically wrong in this case. This truly seems to be a situation where lots of good and bad could come from reactions to this unspeakable situation.

Marc Fisher: Excellent question, and one I am now struggling with as I report a future piece. There is a tendency in social services to overreact to each tragedy as if it reflected deep and broad problems in the system, and sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't.

In this case, as in so many others, our ability to discern what the real systemic problems are is severely limited by the system's refusal to divulge key information. The circle the wagons mentality in adoption and child services is so pervasive that it often looks like the system knows it has done wrong, and that's not necessarily always the case.

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Eastern Market, D.C.: Marc, what are your thoughts on D.C.'s hiring noted architect David Adjaye to design two new libraries? At first I thought, wow, this is exciting, but how can they afford him in these fiscally challenging times? Then I read the money has already been budgeted, this should not increase the required funding, which sounds too good to be true. So, being a b=natural cynic a/k/a realist, I'm not sure I believe this. But then, I still like the Van der Rohe design of the main MLK library, which many people now seem to hate. So, good use of funds or not? What's your call? Thanks.

Marc Fisher: This is an exciting bit of news, not because Adjaye is my favorite architect--I've only seen a couple of his works--but because it has the potential to send the message that the District is getting serious about fixing up--and equally important, reimagining--its libraries. On first read, hiring the fancy pants architect doesn't look like it will add significantly to the cost of these projects. Of course, the proof will be in the building and the extent to which the original budget is blown. But if they stay within budget, it's hard to see how this could be bad.

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re: do you have any thoughts on the Virginia teachers union sending out an e-mail asking all teachers to wear blue on Tuesday as a sign of support for Obama: No such e-mail. This is a lie spread to discredit both the teachers' unions and Obama.

Marc Fisher: Ah, it sounded suspicious. Thanks.

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Vienna, Va.: The first group of people Gilchrest blames for the country's woes are evangelical Christians. Replace "evangelicals" with "Jews" or "Catholics" and you'd be calling him a bigot. But since few people who cover politics today have ever sat foot in an evangelical church, or tried to understand such churches as anything more than a political force, this kind of bigotry gets a pass.

Marc Fisher: That's silly--let's say Gilchrest had been talking about abortion policy and blamed Catholics for influencing the way his colleagues voted. That wouldn't be bigotry, either--it would be his view of how votes were influenced. Similarly, if he had blamed Jews for persuading his colleagues how to vote on a Mideast issue, we'd have published the quote just as we did in this case. The act of publishing the congressman's words does not in any way imply that I or the paper agree with him, but it's surely our job to reflect what people say and to provide perspective and information to help readers put those views in context.

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Washington, D.C.: There were independent Republicans like Connie Morella in Montgomery County (8th Md.) and Wayne Gilchrest in Kent County (1st Md.) that have been voted out of office.

Does this mean that the Republican party will become a minority party?

Marc Fisher: The Republicans are already well on their way to becoming the minority party in Virginia--we now have nearly a decade of election results showing that trend. And the GOP in Maryland is in danger of becoming even less of a factor than it already is. But long term, I have no doubt that the party will shift to become more welcoming for centrists--it will have to for its own survival.

Now, on to a selection of your entries in today's contest--your proposed questions for Sarah Palin tonight:

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Wheaton, Md.: Gov. Palin,

You state that you are a fiscal conservative; is that the principle you applied as mayor of Wasilla to balance your budget when you continued the practice of making rape victims pay for their own rape kits? As a follow up, did you routinely bill residents for police and fire calls, say like, getting cats out of trees and false prowler reports, or were they covered under your budget line items?

Marc Fisher: Argumentative and unlikely to elicit anything other than a cute laugh, a quick denial, and a winning story about how she saved some lost pet.

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Palin question: What actions would you take in response another terrorist attack on home soil? Would those actions change depending on the nationality of the attacker, i.e. Russian vs. Pakistani?

Marc Fisher: She'd glide right over part 1, but part 2 is intriguing. I can't immediately figure out how she'd respond, and that's always an indication that the question might have some promise.

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For Governor Palin:: Governor Palin, what would you do if, as president, you were awakened at 3:00 a.m. and told that, God forbid, an Iranian missle had just been launched in the direction of the United States?

Marc Fisher: Careful--sensational questions may shock the audience but they're generally easy for candidates to disarm.

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Question for Sarah Palin: If you were to suddenly become president in January 2009, which 3/5/however many people would you choose to help you learn quickly what you would need to know to become an effective president, and why?

Marc Fisher: I like that--usually candidates answer that one with a short list of very obvious names, the Jim Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Warren Christopher types, but in her case, it might be a more intriguing or revealing response.

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Palin Question: When did you set your sights on a national office?

Marc Fisher: Most likely, she'd go cute on that one, but it could prompt something.

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Question for Palin: What is heavier, a pound of bricks or a pound of feathers?

Marc Fisher: Ouch!

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Columbia, Md.: Gov. Palin. In the event you have to assume the presidency, when you sit behind the desk in the Oval Office, who would be the first person you call, and why?

Marc Fisher: I'm not a fan of what I call Jesus Questions--the kind of "Who is your favorite philosopher?" query that just opens the door to the candidate getting all sweet and misty about his adoration for his Lord and savior. But I do like this sort of question that requires a bit of creativity on the candidate's part-- a lot of college admission essay questions use this technique, and it can indeed prompt answers that give real insight into someone's character.

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Question for Gov Pal, IN: Governor -- as an example of your executive leadership qualities, please give us a sampling of some people who would be on your short list for cabinet positions and the qualities that make them stand out to you?

Marc Fisher: More of a gotcha in Palin's case, but it sure would be fun to watch her struggle through that one, much as she flailed about when she was totally stumped by Couric's question seeking the name of even one Supreme Court case.

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Palin question: Governor, Sen. McCain said this week that he has called upon you for advice several times of late. Can you tell us on what topics you gave him advice? Can you tell us on what did you base that advice?

Marc Fisher: Another potential stumper, though easily deflected ("Mine would be a confidential relationship with the president, so that he could always trust the advice I provided.")

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Governor Palin question: Governor Palin,

As a younger worker, I am concerned that social security will not "be there" when I retire; that, in effect this just amounts to yet another tax I pay.

How would you revamp social security so that our seniors don't fall through the cracks, yet, those that are very wealthy aren't abusing a system by drawing benefits when they don't truly need them?

Marc Fisher: She'll want every senior to live in security and she'd do everything possible to protect them.

And you'd wish you'd asked something else.

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Question for Palin: I know most people don't like these questions in interviews, but I find they provide insight:

What area(s) do you find to be your biggest weakness(es.)

A similar type question is: name a time when you failed and discuss why you think that was.

Marc Fisher: Somehow, I think that one could really work with Palin. It's a classic beauty pageant type question, so she'd know how to dance around it, but there's at least a chance she'd bite.

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Contest: My question for Sarah Palin is:

Maybelline or Cover Girl?

Marc Fisher: Hmmm, is this our winner?

I'll come back to the contest at the end of the show, so keep the questions coming, but now, let's return to some other topics:

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4th Congressional District: I have long admired Congressman Gilchrest for his principles and his thoughtfulness. But I must also acknowledge his continued service, despite losing in the primary election -- unlike Albert Wynn who quit on his constituents.

Marc Fisher: Yes, though if you check the Gilchrest web site or call the office, you'll find that he's winding down operations and much of the staff has already moved on. That's the nature of the beast. A lame duck is a lame duck.

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Leesburg, Va.: You said: "Sadly, neither (McCain nor Obama) has maintained his tradition of truth-telling into the general campaign."

Granted, any lie is wrong, but who is the bigger offender in your opinion? There's such a conscious effort in the media that whenever something negative is said about one candidate, something negative must be said about the other, along the same line. Where does the objective truth come in?

Marc Fisher: There's plenty of objective truth to be had in examining both of these guys, and we're pumping out dozens of stories on every possible aspect of that, but on this matter, the salient point for me is that both McCain and Obama are disappointing in their rush away from the themes and personality traits that got them to this level. Strictly mathematically, I suppose McCain has made more and stranger switches of positions as he reached out, first to his party's base and now back to a broader public. But then again, as a longterm senator, he had more of a track record to revise and extend.

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Life Imitates Art:: In its waning season, it was fascinating to watch "The West Wing" chronicle the path of a moderate Republican (played by Alan Alda) to his party's nomination. And to watch him battle with those on the far right of his party. Interesting dilemma, particularly when it came time to pick his VP and kept being turned down because he was pro-choice. I'm not in Gilchrest's district, but always liked the voice he brought to our delegation.

Marc Fisher: I haven't seen the show--my daughter is the fan in our house, and she keeps telling me it has real-world applications. I'd rather see the summary memo on that than sit through the show.

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McCain on Ifill: Well Marc, now today McCain has come out saying he wished "they had picked someone else" and that "life isn't fair." He is propagating this myth that Gwen Ifill is less than the professional that she is and has demonstrated in previous debates.

Marc Fisher: Sorry to hear that.

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Washington, D.C.: As I walk around the Farragut Square area I see all these buildings being remodeled where the wall facing the street is almost entirely glass (or is entirely glass). In light of how trends come and go, is it safe to say in 2020 we will look at these buildings and say "ugh, that is so 2008."

I know I look at some of the office buildings around here and think they are so 1970.

Marc Fisher: Architecture is a more expensive art than fashion or painting, but it is similarly subject to fads and trends and schools of thought.

In about 10 to 15 years, those same buildings will be gutted or demolished, most likely to return to some version of the concrete boxes that are now so out of fashion.

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C-Span Nerd: Last night on C-Span they reran the debate between Bush and Ferraro in 1984. I was struck not so much by the specifics of what they were saying or their positions, but how unscripted they seemed compared to today. They really seemed to be THINKING as they spoke (not always with good results) instead of the debates we see today, where every question just cues up a preplanned response. It was really interesting to watch -- it doesn't seem that long ago yet it looked so much less acted out than today's debates and forums.

washingtonpost.com: Bush-Ferraro Debate Excerpt ( YouTube)

Marc Fisher: So much slower, so much more thoughtful and so much more detailed--it's really instructive to go back to debates from the 60s, 70s and 80s to see how much more substantive and yes, unrehearsed, they were. That's why the art of the question has become so much more important--it's the only chance we get to try to pierce the practiced result of all those debate prep sessions, focus groups and opinion research that the campaigns do. Once again, it's the campaign-industrial complex at work.

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Arlington, Va.: Do most D.C. area residents realize that they make enough income to fall under Obama's plan to raise federal income taxes and payroll taxes? Our incomes in this area are high enough that many of us making $80k or more will see a tax increase. The folks making over $250k will pass their tax increases on to the consumer since many run small businesses. So we all pay. Raising taxes in recession is never smart. its the rich that create jobs and middle class whose spending maintains them.

And my bro who is CPA always refers to any tax legislation passed by Congress and signed by a Prez as "The Accountants and Tax Lawyers Full Employment Act"

Marc Fisher: Perhaps, but as long as you're localizing, also note that the bailout, while intended to benefit the entire nation, is most likely to provide all kinds of bonus help to our region, in the form of new jobs, new bureaucracies, a shift of the financial capital and expertise from New York to here--really a big and good deal for the D.C. regional economy.

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"I'd rather see the summary memo on that than sit through the show": Sadly, I am starting to feel that way about this election. I know it sounds bad, but I just want it over already.

Marc Fisher: A whole month and a bit still to go.

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Washington, D.C.: We're currently in the process of adopting internationally and let me tell you, the amount of paperwork, FBI clearance, local government clearance, references, medical checks, employment checks, financial analysis, etc., that we have to go through is just about unreal. But I realize it keeps the system safe.

Do I want someone looking over my shoulder every 3 months for the next 18 years watching how I raise my kid? No. But I do think the recent situation with these poor girls is terrible? Yes.

I'm just not sure where the balance is between not terrorizing good and stable families for the rest of their lives (which I might add, can't be good for the kid if they always think they could be removed at any moment) and keeping innocent kids safe.

Marc Fisher: The adopting parents I've spoken to this week find the intrusive questioning annoying but absolutely necessary, and they are amazed and appalled that someone like the mother in the freezer story could have gotten through that process.

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MEDEVAC in Maryland...just a thought?: Just a thought (and maybe a story for you to look into Marc),

When an ambulance picks you up for an emergency; your insurance (or you, if you don't have it) usually foot the bill.

I imagine the same is true with a medevac. Is it possible Maryland has a policy "encouraging" patients to be medevac'ed so they can cover there (now substantial) gas bills for the helicopter?

This does not appear to be outside the realm of possibility...

Marc Fisher: Certainly worth exploring....

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re: I continue to get a steady and quite strong stream of mail from women all across the country who have read my column about Long and write in to say "I am that woman" -- that is, someone who switched from Hillary Clinton to McCain-Palin. : W. O. W. I will never understand how a person who claimed to support HIllary Clinton's beliefs NOW claims to think McCain's beliefs are better than Obama's. I don't care how much e-mail you get, I don't believe it. Something in the equation is wrong. I think they're conservatives writing fake letters hoping to sway stupid people. No thinking person who agreed with Hillary's agenda would think McCain will help them more than Obama. It is not logical.

Marc Fisher: Sorry, you may not like it, but these are real cases and not any organized campaign. It's not just anonymous emails I'm talking about, but many people I've found out in neighborhoods doing random interviews.

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Grasonville, Md.: Maryland's first congressional district will indeed be a fascinating race. Rep. Gilchrest was defeated, not by a moderate conservative, but by a far-far-far-far-far right wing conservative, the only member of the Maryland House of Delegates to vote against expanding insurance coverage to poor children and only 1 of 2 to vote against requiring insurance companies to cover certain cancer diagnostic tests. The Annapolis Capitol, hardly a liberal bastion, endorsed Rep. Gilchrest in the primary, calling his opponent "dangerous" and worse. I can see why he's going a bit crazy over this one. I am, too! However, even with the Maryland Republican Party in disarray, I'm afraid this right-wing kook will be in the U.S. House of Representatives next year. Eastern Maryland really is different from the rest of the State, which is why I wonder if I made the right move to come here last summer.

Marc Fisher: I haven't spent much time in the district this fall, but my sense is that the race is pretty close, and those who are watching it closely say that although there is a structural advantage for Republican Andy Harris, Democrat Frank Kratovil has a real shot. We shall see.

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Washington, D.C.: This is a very D.C. specific question, but any thoughts on the fact that Fenty's 2 school aged children both go to private school? It is fairly infuriating to me, and lessens my confidence in the D.C. schools. If they aren't good enough for Fenty's kids, why are they good enough for mine?

Marc Fisher: I don't see why the mayor's choice about where to send his kids to school should have any bearing on your decision about your kids. Is his choice a vote of no confidence in the schools? Sure, to one degree or another. He could have security most in mind, or he could be paying attention to kids' special needs of one sort or another, or he could simply believe that the system is subpar. I'd pay more attention to where the system's principals and teachers send their kids--that's a far better indicator of quality.

As always, I add this disclaimer: I send my kids to private school rather than the D.C. public schools.

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Washington, D.C.: Marc, Whose victory do you think would dramatically increase the possibility of Americans electing a female president? Thanks!

Marc Fisher: I don't think either choice would have any impact on that inevitability. You could try to game it out and say that if McCain wins, then Clinton is more likely to prevail four years hence, but you could also argue that if Obama wins, one major barrier will have fallen, making it easier for the next to drop.

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NW Washington, D.C.: I ask this jokingly but when will the 1st shot of the second American revolution be fired?

Gilchrist words are not some anomaly. They are words spoken in the privacy of our homes all the time. This country is divided. Having lived in the south and recently moving back to the D.C. area, political D.C. is really out of touch with the rest of this nation. Folks have recently marveled at how in a weird twist of irony the left and right wings of both parties have in effect worked together to block the bailout. Well, haven't the extreme right and left wings of both parties effectively blocked or botched any and every thing for the last 20-years at the county, state and national levels. Be it anti-taxation or save the whatever animal, tree, etc., the political slant is a guise of anti-progress, be it restrictive conservatism or loose liberalism.

Marc Fisher: Nicely said, though I can't imagine any of that general frustration with the system leading to any wholesale changes.

Time is short, so let's get back to today's contest. Here are a bunch more of your questions for Sarah Palin:

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Annapolis, Md.: Since Palin can't seem to recall any Supreme Court decisions maybe the question should be. Can you name our 9 Supreme Court justices?

Marc Fisher: She would correctly get angry and use that question to bash the media, always a winning move.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Question for Governor Palin:

"How serious will you take your duties as vice president in your role as the Chair and Constitutionally mandated Overseeer of the Nation's Governors Economic Committee, or the ONGEC?"

There is no such thing, but if asked she would probably give a generalized answer about how she, as a former governor, looks forward to an active role in the ONGEC. The media would have a field day over her taking an active role in a fake committee.

Marc Fisher: This one appeals to the prankster who resides deep in my soul. I love it. But of course no proper journalist would ever do it. Which is why it's so sad that the campaign is keeping Palin under such tight wraps. In past decades, the kind of reporters who could and would pull such a stunt might actually get access to a candidate--a Hunter Thompson at a press conference, perhaps.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Sarah Palin: As the possible first female vice-president of the United States, how have your qualifications prepared you to represent women in government leadership? What makes you more qualified than, say, Pelosi, Condoleezza Rice, etc.? Secondly, how would you combat claims that your lack of experience is detrimental to the future of women in politics?

Marc Fisher: She's answered the qualifications question a couple of times, and she just runs through the mayor/governor thing. I don't think it would advance the ball much.

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Palin: Gov. Palin, can you identify one policy issue in which you agree with Senator Hillary Clinton's position?

Marc Fisher: It would be a stumper, for sure.

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Contest: Governor, what specific actions would you enact to deal with issues in funding Medicare as the baby boomers become eligible? Given that you will not raise taxes, and cut taxes to the wealthy, how specifically can you address this issue - while not making our deficit exponentially worse?

Marc Fisher: This would elicit her attempt to explain trickle-down economics, which would be enjoyable for all.

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Question for Palin: Governor,

North Korea poses a very grave nuclear threat, due to the inherent instability of the regime and presumed health of Kim-Jong Il.

What concrete, quantifiable plans would you undertake to insure that this nation does not pose a nuclear threat?

Marc Fisher: She'd pronounce this to be important, vital and something that John McCain has the experience to handle.

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Question for Palin: Did your daughter ever ask for birth control?

Marc Fisher: Go for it--but be prepared for her to toss it right back at the snotty reporter who got personal with her.

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Anonymous: Gov Palin: you've stated your family has issues like everyone else. Given your personal views, what was your reaction when you found out your daughter was pregnant? Did it affect your values and beliefs? What was the basis for giving consent in your daughter marrying the father of her child?

Marc Fisher: Something along these lines is probably worth a try, at least in the context of a question about abortion and the government's role in shaping families.

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Palin question: Which do you prefer as a newsource: Newsweek or People?

Marc Fisher: Too easy. But she already got stumped on a question about her sources of info. It might be fruitful to ask about books or writers who've influenced her politics, but you run the risk of her treating it as a Jesus Question (see above.)

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Question for Palin: Governor, can you explain, and please be specific, how the rescue plan will help improve the economy for Americans on Main Street? Can you detail how the financial crisis that began on Wall Street could mean Americans losing jobs and being denied needed credit for new cars or homes?

Marc Fisher: I'd love to see both of them asked to explain in one paragraph the roots of the financial crisis. Not as a gotcha, but because I'd really like to see our leaders have to explain this stuff to us, because right now, none of the existing officeholders seems able to do so.

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Get a Life: Governor Palin: Don't you find it odd that folks are still preoccupied with you, despite the fact that evidence exists that people don't vote for a presidential candidate based on the running mate and despite the fact that economic experts state that a bailout is the only thing standing between soup lines as THE future dining choice for many Americans?

Marc Fisher: Ok, you made your point.

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Palin Question: John McCain supports an expansion of nuclear power plants. Would you support a nuclear power plant in your home town of Wasilla?

Marc Fisher: I like it.

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Another Palin Question:: Govenor Palin, if the call of duty arose for you to take the Oath of Office, would you support Alaska's secession from the United States?

Marc Fisher: She'd dance around it, so it's not worth taking the time in a debate, but if she ever held a news conference, it would be a good one.

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London, U.K.: Ms. Palin,

You have frequently voiced your opposition to earmarks. Yet, under your leadership, the state of Alaska is considered a welfare state because it takes in more money per-capita for earmarks than any other state of the union. Will you please explain this discrepancy of your rhetoric verses your actions.

Marc Fisher: She'd likely try to define herself out of the category, but I like the spunkiness of it.

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Arlington, Va.: Bud Light or Miller Light? Taste great or less filling?

Or what type of ammo do you prefer for hunting deer and elk? And what about you Senator Biden? And your favorite firearm?

Marc Fisher: Good ones.

Ok, now, here's our final contestant, which also happens to be one of our two winners:

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Palin:: If you became president and were holding your first state dinner, who would lead in your first dance, yourself or the first gentleman?

Marc Fisher: Of course, she'd say Todd would, but it's a fun question. More seriously, our other winner is one that I would usually dismiss as cliched and unproductive.

It's this one from earlier in the hour: "Name a time when you failed and discuss why you think that was."

In Palin's case, it just might produce something new and revealing. Not a gotcha, but a question with the potential to provide insight into how she thinks and who she is.

To the authors of the two winning questions: Please email me your particulars and I'll get a prize out to you in today's mail.

And thanks to the many of you who posed questions that I just couldn't cram in today. Tonight, the real questions.

Thanks for coming along--more on the blog tomorrow and every day, and in the column on Sunday.

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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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