Washington Sketch

Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, October 16, 2008 1:00 PM

Post columnist Dana Milbank serves as the capital's foremost critic of political theater in his Washington Sketch columns and videos. He was online live Thursday, Oct 16 at 1 p.m. ET to take your questions and comments about the things politicians say -- and the absurd ways they find to say them.

The transcript follows.

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Dana Milbank: Good afternoon from the courthouse on Pennsylvania, where the Ted Stevens trial has reached a climactic moment: his wife, Cat Stevens, had just begun to testify about the couple's sled-dog puppies when the judge declared a recess.

In other news, I hope you saw the latest Washington Sketch video, out today by the inimitable Akira Hakuta. Inspired by the Anheuser-Busch tent at last night's debate, we turned the debate itself into a beer-drinking game.

Questions on beer, puppies or other matters are now being taken.


Tuckahoe, N.Y.: Almost two years into the race, I've been at a total loss to understand the level of coverage we've been getting from the mainstream media. Now, with this amazing piece about The Beer Tent, the scales finally have fallen from my eyes. God bless you Mr. Milbank; now I understand. I think I will have another now.

Dana Milbank: I am glad to have provided this public service. May I suggest you use a funnel? (Actually, there is a legitimate question about why we all go to these debates only to watch them on TV in a building next door, but fortunately we won't have to ponder this again for another four years.)


Silver Spring, Md..: How is your head this morning? Thanks for the drinking game video.

Dana Milbank: Thanks for the concern. I got to my hotel at 1 a.m., but the Marriott in Melville, N.Y., on Long Island, informed me that it was oversold and had given away my guaranteed room; fortunately, I only had a few hours to kill before the flight back to Washington for the Stevens trial.

As for the suds, here's a little hint: Anheuser-Busch brews O'Douls. But I think Dan Balz was drinking the hard stuff.


Joe the Plumber: Joe the Plumber is thrilled that the candidates are finally listening to him. Joe the Plumber will not be talking to the press after today; all interview requests should go through Joe the Plumber's agent. Joe the Plumber will continue to talk about himself in the third-person until his demands are met. That is all.

washingtonpost.com: Joe Again? Say It Ain't So. (Post, Oct. 16)

Dana Milbank: Bulletin: Joe the Plumber is not a licensed plumber! And he doesn't make enough money for his taxes to be increased by Obama. Or at least he didn't make enough; the book deal and movie rights should take care of that.


Ocala, Fla.: Last night's debate illustrates perfectly what is wrong with the McCain campaign. As you note, Sen. McCain attacked with "apparent ambivalence." I, for one -- and I suspect that I represent millions of other undecided voters -- don't want a candidate to show "apparent ambivalence." We want real ambivalence.

Dana Milbank: Don't know how I feel about that, Ocala. I could go either way.

Actually most folks seemed to think McCain was attacking with more gusto than I thought he showed. Maybe it's just that the attacks were so scattershot he couldn't really focus in on his main point, which is that Obama is a dangerous lover of terrorists.


Speaking of beer: My son studied abroad in Paris for a semester, and now he's turned into a snob who only drinks French or Belgian beer. What should I do?

Dana Milbank: You're okay -- the Belgians are buying Anheuser-Busch. At the 2012 debates I expect we'll have mussels and fries with mayonnaise.


Chattanooga, Tenn.: I thought Cat Stevens changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Is Ted Stevens's wife a terrorist?

Dana Milbank: Seems to me she's not quite a terrorist, but definitely intimidating, the kind of woman Yusuf Islam might have sung about in earlier, happier days:

I'm looking for a hard headed woman,
One who will take me for myself,
And if I find my hard headed woman,
I will need nobody else, no, no.


Chicago: Hey Dana, there was a lot of man love in your video sketch today. I think I know why you titled your book Homo Politicus. I love that you don't embarrass easily.

Dana Milbank: No, no, that was last week. This week I was fed beer through a funnel by Shailagh Murray.


Private Killjoy, Reporting for Duty: Semi-serious question here. How did you feel when Sen. Obama specifically quoted the comments from your story from the Palin rally?

Dana Milbank: I had to shotgun an entire Bud when I heard that one!

Semi-serious answer: There was actually a second instance of the same "kill him!" line being uttered at a Palin rally in Scranton on Tuesday, according to the local paper. I don't think the candidates can be blamed for any one of these nutcases (nor do I think they're serious threats worthy of investigation by the Secret Service) but they do bear responsibility for the overall tenor of the rallies, which on many occasions has been grotesque.


Philadelphia: Major League Baseball has agreed to delay the start of the Oct. 29 World Series game to permit FOX to carry Obama's infomercial. Do you expect that this will reduce Obama's margin in Philadelphia and its suburbs?

Dana Milbank: I hear he's also up against "America's Next Top Model" that night. Echoes of the Doric columns at Mile High stadium and the Grand Tour of Europe -- but the way Obama's looking now it seems nothing can hurt him.


San Diego: That whole "hug me" thing I saw you do was pathetic. However, really, did it work? I'm feeling lonely these days too.

Dana Milbank: Happy to help a reader. Send us a photo, San Diego, and we'll put it in the classifieds.


Waldorf, Md.: What was the deal with Shailagh's sunglasses? Please explain to her that the shades are worn the day after drinking. Send her to Balz, he can 'splain it.

Dana Milbank: A lot of Shailagh questions coming in now.

I think the sunglasses had something to do with a migraine, which in turn had something to do with the editors. But it was nothing a good quaff couldn't fix.


Washington: You get paid to drink beer with Shailagh Murray? Okay, I'll admit it: I want to be you.

Dana Milbank: Technically I also was drinking with Balz, because he was at the same table. Didn't want to play quarters though.


Sewickley, Pa: In politics, what amazes you more: Candidates who have affairs/inconvenient offspring/crushes on pages/bathroom encounters and think they won't get found out, or plumbers who aren't plumbers and think they won't get found out?

washingtonpost.com: 'Joe the Plumber' says he has no plumbing license (AP, Oct. 16)

Dana Milbank: Actually the best story of the week, and the must underappreciated, is that the guy who took over Mark Foley's seat in Florida is now in trouble because he bought off a former staffer who was also his mistress.


Arlington, Va.: The Secret Service has now labeled the "kill him" report as unfounded. Why isn't The Post giving this report as much coverage as the original false report received?

Dana Milbank: Glad you asked, because I saw this earlier. This is actually about the incident in Scranton, not the one in Clearwater, Fla., that I wrote about here.

I wasn't at the Scranton event, but I have to say the Secret Service is in dangerous territory here. In cooperation with the Palin campaign, they've started preventing reporters from leaving the press section to interview people in the crowd. This is a serious violation of their duty -- protecting the protectee -- and gets into assisting with the political aspirations of the candidate. It also often makes it impossible for reporters to get into the crowd to question the people who say vulgar things. So they prevent reporters from getting near the people doing the shouting, then claim it's unfounded because the reporters can't get close enough to identify the person.


Newtown, Pa.: Why did the moderators ask the same question in all the debates even thought it has been answered before in talking points (e.g. how have your priorities changed because of this down economy)?

Dana Milbank: I thought Schieffer was terrific. I suspect he repeated that question from the last debate because they are both being so transparently dishonest about it, suggesting that nothing major will change even though the whole fiscal world has come crashing down around them.


Autism?: Where did John McCain get notion that Trig Palin has autism, rather than having Down Syndrome? Or does he think once you've seen one mental handicap, you've seen 'em all?

Dana Milbank: Possibly McCain spent too much time in the Anheuser-Busch tent before the debate?


Evanston, Ill.: Who is Dana Milbank's favorite polemicist other than himself? Dowd, Hitchens, Krauthammer, Cockburn, Will, Morris, Meyerson?

Dana Milbank: Balz, but only when he's drunk.


Atlanta: Mr. Milbank, I feel you are the only one qualified to answer my questions. With 19 days left before the election, the mainstream media keeps trying to focus on issues. Who cares? What I want to know is, why was Sarah Palin wearing a polar bear pin? Doesn't she hate polar bears? Or does this pin represent a right-wing anti-polar-bear organization? Or has she flip-flopped on the polar bear issue and the pin represents a left-wing ACORN-type organization? You media types are obviously in the tank for McCain, or someone would have investigated this. Forget the economy, voters want to know Palin's relationship to the polar bear community and what this says about her character and judgment.

Dana Milbank: I believe that is not a pin but an actual endangered polar bear pup pinned to her lapel. It was taken from its mother in ANWR.


Washington: O'Douls?! And you call yourself a journalist! Someone take away his press pass.

Dana Milbank: You are right, of course, and I have no good excuse. I will do better tonight, I promise.

Okay, Ted Stevens is back in the courtroom, so I've got to log off and listen to the rest of the puppy story. Thanks for tuning in.


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