Post Politics: Post Politics Hour: Obama in Turkey, European Views of the U.S., More

Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Monday, April 6, 2009; 11:00 AM

Washington Post national political reporter Perry Bacon Jr. was online Monday, April 6, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss President Obama's European trip, his plan for Afghanistan, how his stimulus plan is faring back home plus the looming unemployment rate.


Perry Bacon Jr.: Good morning. I"m Perry, one of the Post political reporters. Looking forward to your questions.


Ottawa, Canada: As an outsider I have always been impressed with the idea that a current American President does not cast blame on his predecessor. This certainly was the case with President Bush taking the high road and not condemning former President Clinton. There certainly was sufficient material had Mr. Bush wanted to be vindictive. Current President Obama seems to have totally abandoned this tradition. He was cuddling up to the Europeans last week, all the while putting down former President Bush. I find this not only disparing to Mr. Bush, but it just seems like a cheap shot to score a few political points. This is the one major flaw I see in Obama's armour. He cannot simply keep blaiming the past administration for everything. I see too much of this back stabbing in my own country.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think I disagree with your premise that the current president always says nice things about the past occupant. The Bush White House, in its first year, did many things that implied criticism of President Clinton's tenure. Lots of Democrats feel President Bush damaged relations with some traditional U.S. allies in his tenure, so I'm not surprised President Obama has signaled a different approach. I don't think he directly criticized President Bush on this trip. He has blamed Bush for some of the country's economic woes, but I think that's almost required as a political strategy.


Germantown, Md.: With the probable Chapter 11 filing of GM and the possible Chapter 7 filing of Chrysler, just how fearful is the Obama camp of being tagged as the president who fired all those auto workers? What is the vibe about Obama now in those communities? What about the relationship now between the UAW and Obama? Lots of questions, I know.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think there's been some reporting, particularly in the Detroit papers, expressing some concern about how Obama is handling the auto industry. I know some of the Democratic members of Congress from Michigan I talked to up here have complained that Obama is treating the auto industry differently than Wall Street. I think Obama is carefully handling this issue and his the statements of he and his advisers emphasize 1. they want to make sure the U.S. auto industry doesn't die and 2. they want to protect the jobs of the workers in the industry, both in Michigan and elsewhere. I would be curious to see a poll of Michigan residents on whether they agreed with the firing of the GM Ceo.


Rockville: Everyone blames everyone, if directly or by surrogates. But it does not matter - what counts is performance. But people seem to see more change than I do. Is it the message that has changed or the style. I see more in style than in substance. But that is not to say I don't like the President's message. He has been quite good. His speech today in Turkey was moving.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Words matter and I think Obama's constant references on his international trip to "listening" are important to note. And on some issues, he is more in agreement with the Europeans than Bush, such as winding down the war in Iraq and closing Gitmo. That said, he is asking for more troops in Afghanistan and European countries to spend more on economic stimulus plans and hasn't found much support on those issues. It's not hard to imagine a President McCain having a similar agenda and not getting much backing from Europe.


Eustis, Fla.: What if anything is being done for "Main Street." When is Obama going to help us like promised? Really tired of being unemployed.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Obama would say the economic stimulus plan and the efforts to help the banks are aimed at creating jobs and putting money in people's pockets. That said, unemployment is continuing to rise for now, and this is a major issue for many Americans, not only those who can't find work, but those experiencing pay cuts.


Kinsley Op-Ed: I'm curious what an actual reporter thinks of Kinsley's op-ed this morning. I guess a writer trafficking in opinion, from a former life trafficking in political spin, wouldn't have concerns with his vision of how the reporting of news will adapt. It really bothers me, especially this bit:

"But will there be a Baghdad bureau? Will there be resources to expose a future Watergate? Will you be able to get your news straight and not in an ideological fog of blogs? Yes, why not -- if there are customers for these things."

I'm no fan of constant bailouts and don't think the newspapers should be on the government dole, purely as a conflict of interest - but his blase attitude towards the necessity of "straight" news is disturbing. Life After Newspapers

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think this is a very interesting piece, and I think everyone should read it. Yes, Kinsley is an opinion writer and paid to be provocative, but I can see the merits of some of his arguments. His final sentence is interesting "If General Motors goes under, there will still be cars. And if the New York Times disappears, there will still be news." I don't mean that just in the sense that the Washington Post will provide news instead of the Times, but I think there is a hunger for news from millions of Americans and people in the news industry have to figure out how to make enough money to deliver that news to people. But I worry about all the newspapers closing around the country and what that means for coverage, particularly of local government.


Rochester, N.Y.: Hey, Perry, glad you're here since you answer so many questions and don't dodge the tough ones. So here goes...

Evan Thomas of Newsweek wrote last week that:

"If you are of the establishment persuasion (and I am), reading Krugman makes you uneasy. You hope he's wrong, and you sense he's being a little harsh (especially about Geithner), but you have a creeping feeling that he knows something that others cannot, or will not, see. By definition, establishments believe in propping up the existing order. Members of the ruling class have a vested interest in keeping things pretty much the way they are."

Is it fair to say that the Washington Post is an establishment paper and that most of what is written helps prop up the existing order?

Thanks again for taking questions like these. Obama's Nobel Headache (Newsweek, March 28)

Perry Bacon Jr.: Not precisely sure how to answer this question. I will say having someone out there like Krugman is good for the democratic process; he's a liberal but sharply questioning the wisdom of the Democratic president on the economy. I will take pass on talking about the the "ruling class" and "establishment."


South Riding, Va.: How is Obama doing on the world stage? Not, how do American's think he is doing, but how do the people in the rest of the world view him. What do their headlines read when they talk about Obama? (Assuming they actually do talk about him.) We are still in Iraq, he talks tough about Afghanistan and I assume he will take a strong stance against North Korea. I don't see this side of Obama as that different from Bush (yet).

Perry Bacon Jr.: I haven't read a lot of international coverage of his trip, but the comments from Gordon Brown and others have been very positive about Obama. Foreign affairs is about policy, but also about symbolism and words, so I think Obama's approach and how well Europeans are receiving it is important even if American policy isn't shifting dramatically.


Pittsburgh: Responding to Ottawa, perhaps Canadians do not hear the extent to which Republicans blame Democratic presidents for our challenges. The Bush administration certainly blamed the Clinton tenure for 9/11 as well as what it perceived as a general moral decline in the US. More recently the GOP has been quite active in blaming Jimmy Carter for the housing mess. On another topic, Perry, do you see the police shootings here as well as the massacres in NY and Washington leading to any substantive reaction in Congress?

Perry Bacon Jr.: There's generally a reluctance among Democrats to push the gun control issue, as they worry it is a political difficult one for them. They view strong gun control measures as pushing away potential Democratic voters in the West, Midwest and South.


Mn,Chaska: Okay I am submitting the required Minnesota Senate Question today. The Republicans keep stating that the Franken campaign and the Democrats are stealing the election in Minnesota. Now I have been watching this recount extensively and here is my question.

How has Franken stolen or unfairly appropriated ANY votes? or Coleman for that matter. Neither campaign has had a final say on what votes get tallied( Yes their was a court decision giving the campaigns a little leeway on absentee votes but that has been effectively reversed due to the last lengthy court battle ).

So the canvassing board and the ECC have been the final arbiters of valid votes. These makeup of these boards and cases were composed of Independents, Democrats, and Republicans. Insuring no one had a partisan advantage. Instead they made strict adherence to Minnesota Election law the overriding standard. So again how did anyone achieve an advantage in this recount?

Isn't this more likely just a great example of a sore loser stalling because they did not like the outcome

Perry Bacon Jr.: I have to confess I follow the Minnesota race, but not every movement. At times, both candidates have complained about counting methods not reflecting their vote. The Minnesota process has been long and fairly non-partisan, so I"m not sure either man will be able to claim they were treated unfairly when this comes to an end.


Poplar Bluff, Mo.: Perry, thanks for the chat. If President Obama wants transparncy and accountability in the budget process, why has he not proposed an item veto or a balanced budget amendment? Thank you very much.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Obama has proposed some measures to limit earmarks, make sure bills are posted on the web days before he signs them etc. Not all this has worked, some of his bills have not been posted online several days before signing. On the balanced budget amendment, I actually disagree that balancing the budget is a top Obama priority, look at his budget proposal before Congress now. Balanced budget amendments usually require that you eventually well, balance the budget, and Obama is forecasting deficits for the next four years.


college student: Are Republicans at all concerned by one of the latest polls (I think Gallup) indicating that about 90% of people younger than 30 approve of Obama so far? I know many people my age are fiscally conservative (not that I think Republicans are truly fiscally conservative, although they say they are) and vote Democrat predominantly for social reasons. Maybe it's time for Republicans to move into the 21st century?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Republicans are concerned they are not winning the youth vote and are actively looking for ways to address this gap. You should look at some of the writing and critiques of the GOP by Meghan McCain on this subject (the daughter of the 2008 candidate) and Michael Steele has talked about this as well. Obama's appeal to young voters was strong during the campaign and I think how the GOP addresses the gap will ultimately depend on Obama's performance and the 2012 Republican candidate.


Arlington, Va.: Many Americans are outraged after hearing that Mr. Obama has, on his first overseas trip, made a point to denigrate America, and, by extension, Americans. I count myself as one of those outraged Americans.

Shouldn't the U.S. President defend his country while abroad? Does the fact that Mr. Obama was so quick to denounce and criticize America tell us something about how he really feels about this country ("Not God bless America, God da-m America")?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Lots of comments in this chat about how Obama has approached and spoken of the U.S. and its role in the world and I will just a post a few without my comments.


Blame?: As someone with friends from all over the world, but a heavy proportion from Europe, I think we underestimate our influence abroad. In particular, I think we underestimate how severely dissappointed people were in our leadership. Even my fairly conservative friends viewed the results of the past election as a fresh breath of air that would hopefully clear the stagnant rhetoric of the past 8 years. It seems to me that whatever sensibilities might be offended, far more are looking to Obama to demonstrate that the US has resumed it's status as a nation that at least tries to live up to its founding principles. It also appears, that he has, for the moment, been successful in this regard. Our former President says that History alone will judge him. That is one thing about which he is right. I'm just not convinced that he won't want to appeal that judgement.

Perry Bacon Jr.: And another.


Re: Ottawa: Ottawa writes "his certainly was the case with President Bush taking the high road and not condemning former President Clinton."

In fact, here is an example of Bush blaming Clinton:

"They looked at our response after the hostage crisis in Iran, the bombings of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the first World Trade Center attack, the killing of American soldiers in Somalia, the destruction of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole. They concluded that free societies lacked the courage and character to defend themselves against a determined enemy... After September the 11th, 2001, we‘ve taught the terrorists a very different lesson: America will not run in defeat and we will not forget our responsibilities."

There are many others.

Perry Bacon Jr.: And another.


Minneapolis: Hi Perry -- With all due respect to Ottawa's comment, I think it's also important to remember that members of the previous administration, less than three months into Obama's term, have engaged in an unprecedented effort to undermine the current president and engage in what I believe to be a desperate attempt to rewrite the Bush/Cheney legacy (Cheney being the leader of that effort).

Perry Bacon Jr.: I thought it was interesting David Axelrod was bashing vice-president Cheney yesterday for being too vocal. I'm not sure what to make of this. On one hand, it is unusual for the outgoing president or vp to attack the new president. On the other hand, Cheney is a well-known, influential voice on national security issues. If he genuinely feels Obama's policies are putting the country in danger, it would seem he has to speak publicly about that.


Florissant Valley, Mo: Morning Perry. Now here's a weird opinion. What if the stimulus and budget plans of Obama, if fully implemented, actually work? What if we are turning the corner? Couldn't that spell trouble? (Hear me out!) If, after the poor planning and excessive greed of Wall Street and yes the car industry, wouldn't it be too bad if the mess could be cleared up so quickly? Wouldn't that just encourage folks next time around to throw all caution to the wind, "knowing" that the govt will step in and fix things up? Maybe we should ALL suffer (not to make light of the 8.5 percent unemployed) a bit more and a bit longer? Thanks.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I read this argument recently but I can't recall from where. In some ways, yes, if the economy bounces back really quickly, the push to reform dramatically Wall Street and Detroit might be slowed. I don't think people will throw caution to the wind in your words because this economic mess has been so problematic for so many companies and workers. But yes, if the recession ended tomorrow, some of the reforms from Wall Street that some people are pushing for might not happen.


More on the news . . . : I agree that there is an increased hunger for news, but also believe that people hunger most for news that matches their ideological and political bent. People who like O'Reilly or Olbermann do so because those pundits confirm their world view. Would I want to rely on the incresingly opinion-driven "news" supplied by talking heads? Absolutely not. That's my fear of Kinsley's editorial. It's not that news will go away; it's that unbiased reporting is expendable.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think reporting will disappear; the Huffington Post covers major news events, even if they cover it from a liberal standpoint. HP is in fact hiring more reporters as we speak. I do worry about expensive kinds of reporting that may not happen in the future, such as Baghdad bureaus.


Vernon, British Columbia: Good morning, great article today by your colleagues, J.Cohen and J. Agiesta, laying out a poll of how Muslims are viewed in your country. While it wasn't shocking, it was sad to see that such a large percentage of Republicans polled have such an uninformed (or should I say ill-informed)opinion of Muslims, and the Islamic Religion. This perception of Republicans was furthered by Bush43's lack of international travel before being President. This is a definite indicator of insular mind set and could be a valid reason why the RNC has been repudiated by the voters. Maybe being Canadian I see this as a problem, and have to wonder 'cause Conservatives here in Canada and Britain aren't so exclusive and ignorant of minorities ways. Most in Poll Back Outreach to Muslims

Perry Bacon Jr.: This was a very interesting piece and worth a read. Not sure if it has much to do with the Republicans electoral problems though.


If he genuinely feels Obama's policies are putting the country in danger, it would seem he has to speak publicly about that. : I am sure Clinton wasn't a fan of what Bush did in office, but instead of being catty and divisive, he went on tour with 41 and raised cash for poor people.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Wasn't Al Gore one of the biggest opponents of the war in Iraq?


Look at Bush, not Cheney: Cheney and other members of the Bush administration have certainly been publicly critical of Obama. Bush, however, has been extremely gracious. I'm not a fan of his time in office, but he has said (while in Canada for his first post-administration appearance) that he disagrees with Rush and his ilk and that he wants Obama to succeed because he loves his country more than a political party.

Perry Bacon Jr.: more on Cheney vs. Obama.


Perry Bacon Jr.: That's all the time we have, thanks for the chat. Perry


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