Post Politics: Obama Economic Address, More

Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post White House Reporter
Tuesday, April 14, 2009; 11:00 AM

Discuss the latest news about the Obama administration, including today's speech about the economy, with Washington Post White House reporter Michael A. Fletcher. Fletcher was online to take your questions Tuesday, April 14 at 11 a.m. ET.


Michael A. Fletcher: Good morning, everyone. This is Michael Fletcher filling in for Ed. Let's get started.


Annapolis, Md.: Just curious, as a serious Post journalist have you been assigned any stories about the Obama dog? Do you feel all the coverage is warranted or just silly compared with what's going on in the world right now?

I am a huge Obama supporter but am tired of seeing stories about the WH gardens, Easter egg hunts, Fergie singing at the WH, and what good pets Portuguese water dogs make.

Michael A. Fletcher: I've escaped dog coverage duty--at least so far. As trite as these kinds of issues can appear, I think they are driven by a lot of reader interest. Things like pets--or vegetable gardens, or live-in mother-in-laws--help define the president and his family in the public mind. The stories sure seem well read. So, given that, I have to say the coverage is warranted. But let me add, they should not be done to the exclusion of covering more serious issues. And they're not--at least not here at the Post.


Kensington, Md.: Am I the only one who finds it irritating and childish when the media (and the public) assigns credit or blame to a president for the outcome of a small-scale touch-and-go military operation on the other side of the world? I'm a huge Obama supporter, but he is no more a hero because the waves held steady as our Navy sharpshooter took his aim than Jimmy Carter was a goat because an unexpected sandstorm jammed the helicopter engines during the 1980 hostage rescue mission. Does the media truly have no idea how irrational (and unrealistic) this hero/goat assignment practice is?

Michael A. Fletcher: No comment there. But it is our common practice. Think of the instant analysis after political debates about who "won." Remember Al Gore's eye roll? What did that have to with the substance of his answers? But did it say somehting about his personality? Rightly or wrongly, these incidents often come to define presidents, and I don't think it is just because of the media coverage. It probably speaks to the few windows we get into their decision making. In this case, Obama could have said we're not going to do something that risky. Or he could have done what he did--I think that says something, even if it doesn't say as much as we often make it out to.


Florissant Valley, Mo.: Morning, Michael. I can't tell you how pleased I am that the Obama administration is at last loosening the 50-year-old death grip on Florida's Cuban American community. Like one or two other groups I could name whose loyalty to the US takes second place to their culture, this group of exiles has exerted far too much influence not only on U.S. policy but on our presidential elections: the year 2000 was the most glaring. Thanks

Michael A. Fletcher: They're not loosening that grip too much. Granted, the Obama administration is rolling back some of the Bush-era restrictions and allowing telecoms to go in, if they can cut a deal. But nearly a half century after they were imposed, the trade embargo and travel restrictions (for most Americans) continue. Is it because they have proven to be effective policy? Or is it because of some (most likely) dated notion of good politics in Florida?


C'mon Annapolis: Those stories aren't because of Obama...they arepart of the standard WH reportage since time immemorial. Everyone knows Fala, Buddy, Millie, etc. etc.

Michael A. Fletcher: Pretty good memory there. I had to google Fala...


suburban Cincinnati: Hello, Michael, greetings from Cincinnati.

Two things:

Since President Obama is going to speak at Georgetown this morning, I am curious if there is blow back from Catholics who object to his speaking at Notre Dame. After all, Georgetown is a Jesuit university (though from this distance, I'd call it nominally Catholic.)

I'm not opposed to his speaking at Georgetown (or Notre Dame, for that matter.) I'm a practicing Catholic who is ardently pro-life and objects to Obama's new policies on abortion. But I believe in the "free exchange of ideas" as Jefferson put it.

Michael A. Fletcher: I haven't heard about any blow back to the Georgetown speech, but for all I know there could be some protesters out there right. But I would venture to say if there are, it is nothing major. It is even unclear how big the Notre Dame protest will be when the president gives the commencement address there next month. I suspect that, like you--and Jefferson, most people believe in the "free exchange of ideas."


Chicago: So Cuban-Americans are now allowed unfettered access to Cuba, but all other Americans are not. What exactly is the legal basis justifying this discrimination? I really can't think of any other situation where American citizens are treated so disparately based upon their ethnic background. It's offensive. Thanks.

Michael A. Fletcher: Interesting point.


Dogs and Presidents: Nixon's famous Checkers speech. Checkers was a dog.

Michael A. Fletcher: There you go. That's another one. And let's not forget Socks, the Clintons' cat.


RE: Miami Cubans : The death grip may not be completely loosened, but any small step is good move. Their special power in Miami needs to be diluted. Here in Miami, this is big news that there is change in the policy.

Michael A. Fletcher: I can imagine. It will be interesting to see what follows this and how Obama perceives the politics surrounding loosening the embargo. For now, I'm sure, we'll hear all about leverage. But one has to wonder if leverage hasn't yielded much in terms of democratic reforms since 1962, why will it in the future? And for all its problems and its lack of democracy and lack of resources, Cuba has done remarkably well providing education and health care to its people. Also, although we are always treated to picures of 1950s-era cars on the streets of Havana, the place also has Mercedes and Fiats and other vehicles on the road, just one sign that the rest of the world does business with the Cubans.


Bethesda, Md.: "...Obama's new policies on abortion."

Michael, what "new policies on abortion" is this poster referring to? I wasn't aware of any, but I could have just missed them.

Michael A. Fletcher: I think the writer means Obama's reversal of the so-called "Mexico City policy" prohibiting U.S. money from funding international family planning groups that promote abortion or offer referrals about abortion services. Probably, the writer is also referring to broader "life issues," including the Obama administration's reversal of restrictions on embryonic stem cell research.


Re: Notre Dame: I don't understand how people can possibly protest Obama speaking at Notre Dame because of his views on abortion when we heard no such kerfuffle about previous presidents who support the death penalty.

Michael A. Fletcher: Interesting point. I'll put it out there for comment.


Wokingham UK: There have been signs recently of a slight rapprochement with Iran. Will that development be stopped in its tracks by the likely severe sentence on an Iranian-American journalist or is that sort of thing to be expected and taken in one's stride?

Michael A. Fletcher: I doubt that it will freeze whatever thawing we've seen in a realtionship that has been frozen on hostile for 30 years, but I also doubt that it will "be taken in stride." But maybe if the journalist is convicted after her closed-door trial, there will be some exchange for Iranian officials detained in Iraq. Hard to know. So stay tuned.


Re: Notre Dame: Nor, frankly, have we heard much about Condi Rice speaking at Boston University while being pro-choice. This is pure kerfuffle for kerfuffle's sake.

Michael A. Fletcher: There you go.


Journalistic Shorthand: Seems to be journalistic shorthand that the Democrats - no matter the issue - will not resort to military action. This was in full view this past week with the hijacking of the American flagged ship in the Indian Ocean - Obama was going to offer the pirates tea and try to negotiate, but will not be "firm" and "strong". Wonder when the journalists and others will understand that Obama means it when he says he won't allow his (or others') emotions to dictate his actions?

Michael A. Fletcher: I don't know that the coverage of that incident would be much different if the president were a Republican. Let's face it: pirates, Navy SEALs, synchronized sniper fire--those are pretty dramatic elements. Trust me, if the thing went awry the president would be shouldering a lot of blame, rightly or wrongly, and whether or not he or she was a Democrat or Republican.


Washington, D.C.: The students and others protesting President Obama's commencement speech aren't interested in being logically consistent or reasonable. They're interested in making a political statement, not about fostering a "free exchange of ideas." Like the liberal law students at UVA who are protesting Judge Wilkinson as their commencement speaker, the Notre Dame protesters aren't interested in hearing different perspectives or learning anything. They're only interested in having their voices heard and silencing others with different, or in their terms "offensive," viewpoints. Enemies of free speech are enemies of free speech.

Michael A. Fletcher: Also, the protests are being fanned by outside groups.


Re: Notre Dame: Pat Buchanan and Laurence O Donnell had a spirited discussion on MSNBC last week. Pat could not answer the question that the Popes have opposed US capital punishment policies.

Michael A. Fletcher: Interesting.


Washington: Minor point but Boston College, is the Catholic school, not Boston University.

Michael A. Fletcher: Fair enough. And I should have pointed that out, being a BU grad myself.


Washington DC: As a refugee from a Cuba less than 10 years ago I think it is scary how well the Castro regime propaganda has infiltrated the US populace. Let us not forget all the attrocities that have been committed on the island by this mans tyrannical regime. Although I am happy that it will be easier to visit my family now, it does not mean that I will go. For one, there is a great posibility that my visa will be denied by the Cuban Interests Section here in DC.

I would urge the people to not demand change for change sake and instead to learn more about what Cuba is really like before forming an opinion.

Michael A. Fletcher: You make a good point. At the same time, I know people who grew up in Cuba pre-Castro, under Battista, and they describe a life with extremely unequal chances,depending on your station. Now, they don't revere Castro, but they understand why he was swept to power and they respect some of the changes he has made. So, no doubt, there are valid arguments on all sides of this issue.


Boston, MA: Hi Michael,

Do our actions with regard to Gitmo treatment and trials weaken our moral position in protesting the treatment of the journalist in Iran?

Michael A. Fletcher: Seems like if the US detains people without charge, without real due process and with secret evidence and the like, it makes the moral position harder to maintain.


Michael A. Fletcher: Time's up. Gotta run. As always, thanks for participating.


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