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Post Politics Hour: Obama Meets Chavez, Cabinet Spending, More

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Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post National Political Reporter
Monday, April 20, 2009; 11:00 AM

Post national political reporter Perry Bacon Jr. discussed President Obama's trip to the Summit of the Americas and the latest news out of Washington.

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Perry Bacon Jr.: Good morning folks. Welcome to the chat. I'm perry, one of the political reporters.

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South Riding, Va.: I am confused. Obama has been pushing the idea that the government needs to spend money and stimulate the economy. Now he is asking his cabinet to find ways to cut their spending. Which is it, spend money or cut back spending?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the Cabinet will be looking for ways to reduce their overall budgets, but in ways that don't take away from direct goverment spending that could help the economy. Obama would probably say he wants to cut spending that is wasteful but increase spending on things that important. The question is always what is wasteful. Let's be honest here, $100 million is a tiny amount. Congress just passed a $3 trillion budget. I suspect Obama is trying to lay the groundwork for a very expensive health plan by saying his administration is committed to fiscal responsibility and showing that through this budget move.

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Northern Virginia: News hit this morning that the CIA used waterboarding 266 total times on two people. One was this guy who apparently had already told everything he knew and who wasn't as important as the CIA bosses (and White House) imagined -- a classic recipe for a torture victim, since there was nothing he had left to say to make them stop. Do you agree this changes everything? I can't believe Sen. McCain will be silent after learning the level of brutality and sadism involved in so many repetitions.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know that changes everything, as Obama's administration had already said they would not support waterboarding in the future. There is an interesting debate going on right now about the interrogation techniques the U.S. has used and whether disclosure of them actually makes a difference in terms of security.

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SoMD: Perry, regarding the negative press about our President shaking Chavez's hand....what was the man supposed to do? Turn away? Do we really want to continue the perception that our leaders are rude and divisive?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Lots of questions on Obama-Chavez. The president tried yesterday to dismiss the controversy by effetively saying what this reader did, a handshake is only a handshake.

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Alexandria, Va.: Why is Meghan McCain a Republican? She would seem to be more at home in a Progressive party. Her fresh ideas and open-mindedness are clearly refreshing and it's too bad that the GOP seems to be shunning her when they should realize it as an opportunity to bring more young people into their fold. Do you think she will ever change parties?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I have no idea is she will change parties. I'm pretty sure she has said she voted for Kerry in 2004, so not sure she's the most loyal of Republicans in the first place. I wrote a story about McCain's campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, declaring the GOP should be for gay marriage, the same stance Meghan McCAin has taken. For political reasons, that seems complicated, social conservatives are a very strong part of the GOP base and very opposed to gay marriage. Meghan McCain's, other ideas, mainly doing more to reach out to young voters, are things other Republicans are talking about but dont' seem to have figured out.

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Pittsburgh: If Hugo Chavez had gone up to George W. Bush when he was still president and presented him the same book, don't you think Bush would have behaved about the same as President Obama did this weekend? I don't understand why some conservatives think there's any significance to Obama's conduct in this incident.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'll post several of the Obama-Chavez comments.

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Alexandria: How can President Obama be criticized when 50 years of policy arguably has not been effective? At least he's trying to make new inroads and engagement seems like a viable option.

Perry Bacon Jr.: And another.

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Right wing manners: So if someone hands you a book you're supposed to take it and then smash them in the face with it? Wouldn't it have been much worse if Obama refused to take the book?

Perry Bacon Jr.: And another.

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Torturing : Why would the CIA have to waterboard KSM 183 times, especially if waterboarding is so effective at getting information? Glad he didn't know anything about a ticking bomb - they wouldn't have had the information before it went off.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I suspect you will have some congressional hearings to look into these interrogation measures.

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washingtonpost.com: Perry's story on Schmidt: GOP Urged to Rethink Gay Marriage

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Washington, D.C.: I have to give foxnews.com credit for an eye-opening headline: "Obama: Cut Budget by 1/35,000th". That certainly does put the move into perspective, doesn't it.

To what degree do you think that Obama is responding, in however a subtle manner, to the criticism that he is burdening future generations with excessive debt? I can't think of any other reason he would engage in what is clearly window dressing for a bloated budget.

Perry Bacon Jr.: We can debate the term "bloated" but as my colleague Michael Flechter wrote this morning, this move is as much about message as policy. $100 million is a tiny reduction, but Obama does want to signal he recognizes concerns about government spending.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Perry -- More of a comment here than a question. While it's great that Meghan McCain and Steve Schmidt are showing how the Republican party needs to change, it seems to me that they're largely preaching to the choir. I mean, how big a risk is it to come out (as it were) in favor of gay marriage in front of the Log Cabin Republicans? When somebody makes a speech to more conservative Republican group (CPAC?) about this issue, then it will be a big deal. The problem is, that's not going to happen.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Well, I think Steve, a political consultant from California, gave that speech in Washingto knowing it would get major attention and probably some criticism. I think it was a bold move for him. That said, I dont' see the party taking that stance. Schmidt and Meghan McCain are to the left of President Obama and Harry Reid on this issue, as the latter two both say marriage is between a man and a woman.

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Wasteful Spending: "I suspect Obama is trying to lay the groundwork for a very expensive health plan by saying his administration is committed to fiscal responsibility and showing that through this budget move." Cynical much, Perry? Obama has always said he opposes wasteful spending and has mentioned some sacred cows - such as the ag bill - that he would be willing to cut. Seems to me the fiscal responsible Dems are more welded to their dogma than your stereotypical fiscal responsible Reps, who are principled when out of power and spend like drunken sailors when in power.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Obama has proposed some ideas, such as cutting subsidies to agriculture firms and limiting deductions for charitable donations, that would really reduce spending and/or add goverment revenue by hundreds of billions of dollars. My point was today's move is not that large. And I do think the administration wants to start framing the health reform in terms of not costing the government money but creating future savings, although the initial health reform costs are very high.

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Sarah Palin question: Doesn't the fact that for even a moment when Sarah Palin first discovered she was pregnant last time -- then when the test results revealed the fetus had Down syndrome -- that she considered (before rejecting the option) the possibility of abortion, prove that Palin is not truly pro-life enough?

Hasn't her admission proven that she believes a woman should have the right to make the decision herself to terminate a pregnancy?

Isn't Palin being inconsistent here?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Ruth Marcus, one of our columnists, made this point today. Palin's comments were interesting. A more charitable view might be that she was acknowledging that in America women do have the chioce to have an abortion and she decided against that, something she would probably advise any woman to do, since she opposes abortion. But I will be interested if Palin describes her situation the way she did there ever again.

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washingtonpost.com: Obama to Order Cabinet To Identify Budget Cuts

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Indianapolis: Re your comment to St. Paul, forgive my cynicism, but I'd guess that Obama only says marriage should be between a man and a woman because he doesn't want to deal with the fallout from the right-wing loons.

When gay marriage becomes legal, Obama won't be criticizing the decision.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I suspect you are right re Obama, as he did not criticize the gay marriage decision in Iowa. I don't think the only people who are opposed to gay marriage are political conservatives, an anti-gay marriage initiative passed in California in November.

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Re. Steve Schmidt: Whenever a Republican pol or pundit does or says the right thing w/r/t gay rights, it's invariably because they have a personal experience with the issue. Steve Schmidt's sister's an out lesbian. And while I don't fault Steve for taking being vocal, I'd like one day to hear a Republican without a gay family member take this stand. Plus it would have been nice to hear during the election, when he had some power to make changes.

Perry Bacon Jr.: At this point, you're holding Schdmit to a higher stand than most Democratic politicians.

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Claverack, N.Y.: Wondering if you saw John Harwood's piece in NYT this morning- a GOP adviser, believing that calling Obama's policies "socialism" isn't working, has taken to calling it "economic fascism".

What does it say when your party logic is "The extreme rhetoric isn't working because it isn't nearly extreme enough."

washingtonpost.com: Harwood: But Can Obama Make the Trains Run on Time?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm not sure what it says. I'm not a language expert, but I wonder if most people associate fascism only with Hitler-Mussolini and therefore calling Obama's policies that seems extreme. I don't know if most Americans really know what socialism is. More broadly, the real argument the Republicans I think are losing and I've seen some polling support this is on why are they opposing Obama." Voters, helped by Obama aides making this point, seem to think some of the GOP opposition is highly political instead of principled. That's something REpublicans need to change. And they are not doing a great job of proposing alternatives and getting that message out, which the GOP says is partly because the media is obsessed with Obama.

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Wokingham UK: The Republicans do seem to be raising an immense storm of anger, at least among themselves. But do they really have an alternative policy? Another way to get the economy back on its feet?

Perry Bacon Jr.: If you watch the Sunday shows, the Obama people are no longer arguing the GOP has "no ideas." Now it's they have "no ideas" or "the same old tired ideas." I don't know what's more tired, Republicans calling for tax cuts or Democras for expensive health health care programs, and I suspect voters just want something to help them get through this recession, whether the idea is tired or not. The Republicans proposed an alternative stimulus and an alternative budget and I suggest you take a look at those things. Since umemployment keeps rising, hard to say Obama or the Republicans have a great handle on the economy right now.

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an anti-gay marriage initiative passed in California in November. : Give me enough money and I'll get an anti-evolution initiative passed in California. Or for that matter, an anti-apple pie one.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Anti-gay marriage ballot measures have passed all over the country, so not sure this is a California issue.

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Richmond, Va.: It seems there is a big break between the social conservatives and the less so in the GOP. The Dems have the same issue with fiscal conservatives. Do you think there is an opening yet for a third party? Maybe one that's fiscally conservative but socially progressive? It seems like the parties have held hostage by the radical wings who show up during primaries.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Not really. It's just so hard for a third-party to do well that you risk losing every election if you have a GOP of social conservatives, a GOP of economic conservatives, and the Democrats. But I think there is room for economic conservatives who are social liberals, such as Bloomberg, Arnold in CA, and Crist in Florida. And Speaker Pelosi seems quite happy with her populist, socially conservative members from the Midwest and South that helped make her speaker in the first place. I think the leadership of both parties is trying to curb the instincts of its bases, but that's tough. You see Specter is facing the kind of primary challenge Lieberman did in 2006.

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Media Obsession with Obama: The GOP may be right about that, it's an opinion issue after all. However, the GOP is still over-represented on the Sunday talk shows, and their dominance on the evening cable news is quantifiable. They have the microphones, they just don't have the message.

Perry Bacon Jr.: My point is while they say "no" very clearly, I'm not sure the "no, but" is coming out clearly from the GOP in terms of what they would be for. Part of this is the political climate. Since Republicans are always for small government, they will always have a tough time during a recession, when people want more government to help them pay bills, make ends meet, create jobs. If the issues shift away from the economy, this might help Republicans.

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Fairfax County, Virginia: I have to disagree with you that Palin won't say this again. There's a reason the pro-life crowd applauded her comment.

Compare this to Barack Obama's passage in his Dreams memoir, talking about the one time he was tempted to take heroin and didn't. Both Obama and Palin understand that acknowledging their own past human weakness and the temptation to do something they consider wrong only strengthens their position today.

I'm pro-choice myself and I deeply resent the way that Americans with a particular religious view of when the soul enters the body have tried to make their beliefs into the law of the land. But it's dangerous for pro-choicers to assume Palin stumbled. She is scary good at what she does. Unfortunately.

Perry Bacon Jr.: A good point that this narrative may have only increased her appear with people who are opposed to abortion. Sort of she was tempted, but stopped herself.

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Franconia, Va.: I wonder how the other leaders at the summit feel about Chavez hogging the camera and hijacking the hoped-for coverage of their individual moments with Obama (similar to the G-20 and NATO coverage, where Obama had time and photos with so many leaders one-on-one). I am guessing each of them was hoping for a little moment in the sun with Obama with a nice photo and Chavez seems to have stolen it, especially with his book stunt. If so, it seems his regional standing was more harmed than helped by what he did.

Perry Bacon Jr.: more on chavez-obama.

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Leesburg, VA: Socialism is quite literally on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum than Facism. How can anyone with a shred of intellectual honesty try to switch gears like that?

Is the GOP basicailly admitting that they have no idea what any of these words mean, and are just throwing stuff out there to see what, if anything, sticks?

Perry Bacon Jr.: For a brief response, socialism seems to be the word used up here in Washington by official Republicans, while fasicm I first heard about during the tea party stuff.

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Perry Bacon Jr.: Thanks for the chat folks. Take care and have a great week. Perry

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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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