Post Politics: Sarah Palin, Al Franken, Russia, More

Ben Pershing
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 7, 2009; 11:00 AM

Discuss the latest news about the Obama administration and the world of politics with Ben Pershing, who writes the daily Rundown for The Post's Political Browser. Pershing was online July 7 at 11 a.m. ET.


Ben Pershing: Good morning, all. Michael Jackson's memorial service is today, and I don't care. Or rather, I care far more about politics and would rather talk about that. So why not ask me some questions? Let's begin.


Bowling Green, Ky.: Hello, Ben. Thanks for taking questions. I watched the Sarah Palin interview with Diane Sawyer this morning. Palin said that if she was in the White House she would be protected from legal investigations and ethics complaints by the "Department of Law". Could you elaborate about this White House agency? What sorts of things does the Department of Law do for Obama?

Ben Pershing: The "Department of Law" is a super-secret government agency designed to protect the president from embarrassment. It's so secret I probably shouldn't write about it.

Presumably, Palin was referring to the Justice Department, which doesn't really defend the president from much beyond his official duties (i.e. a Guantanamo detainee suing the president to win his release). The White House counsel does, though it always depends on what the president's alleged transgression is.


Richmond, Va.: First, and upfront. I am no Palin supporter, in fact, I was shocked at her nomination for vice president -- but I have been more shocked at the nonstop (since Friday), cover to cover media/oped/opinion coverage of her resignation speech. I am almost ready to concede that she has a point about the media. PLEASE let me in on the secret of what prompts such coverage for someone who, it appears, most people dislike and think is a joke? I am sorry, I just don't get it.

Ben Pershing: First, the public appears to be endlessly fascinated with Palin. Just look at the most-viewed articles on almost any media site and you will see Palin stories near the top. So on one level, the press is giving readers/viewers what we think they want.

Second, the Palin resignation was a genuine surprise, and so it was the very definition of news -- something both important and unexpected.

Third, Palin's resignation was also something of a mystery. Do you really understand why she did it? I don't. She's given lots of different explanations that don't necessarily add up. And given that she is/was a real candidate for 2012, it's definitely been worth exploring whether her decision has or hasn't crippled her chances.

So there are plenty of explanations for all the coverage beyond just the idea that the media is obsessed with tearing her down. Go read Rich Lowry's column today on He's not exactly a liberal Palin-basher.


Boston: The Fix had a Republican quote suggesting Franken vote against the Democrat tide on an issue he believes in to show his Republican colleagues that he is not a partisan hack. Would this help his effectiveness in the Senate for his constituents and, if so, what issue is he out of step with his Democratic colleagues? Morning Fix: Senator Al

Ben Pershing: That was a good point by The Fix, though I'm guessing that if Franken does decide to vote against his party on a major issue he will do so to the left, not the center. I'm not sure how excited Republicans will be if Franken holds out for a more liberal alternative on a major issue. Climate change and health care could both provide opportunities for Franken to make his mark this year. On climate change, liberals worry that the final product will have too many concessions to the energy industry, and on health care, liberal worry the final bill won't include a "public option." I could see Franken giving his leaders a tough time on both issues.


Palin quits: It's a tough time to be a gov - state budgets are hurting. Then she whines about negative media coverage. I'm not sure she's ready for more national coverage - it's not a pretty game. As we say in the South - "If you can't run with the big dogs, stay on the porch."

Ben Pershing: That's definitely one of the strongest arguments I've seen for why Palin's decision hurts her chances in 2012. If she's tired of the media scrutiny and the pressure, I think everyone can sympathize with that. But if she can't take it now as governor, how would she be able to deal with it as the Republican nominee for president?


Re: Why Palin quit ...: Only some people have said outloud that Palin quit for the money she can make -- gets only $125k as governor. In the land that made making money a priority, how strange is that? All the thousands of words analyzing her resignation speech and wondering what the resignation "meant" is so silly. It's the money -- someone showed it to her, and she jumped. Oh, and the media's obsession with this woman are part of the people who did, indeed, show her how much she could make.

Ben Pershing: Money could definitely be part of it. Palin herself said she has big legal bills to pay, and while she and Todd seem comfortable, they probably would like to be rich. Most people, if they had the opportunity to become wealthy the way Palin now does, would take it. If someone offered you the chance to quit your job and instead make a couple of speeches per month at $20K-50K per pop, wouldn't you do it? As long as she doesn't become a lobbyist or something ethically murky I don't think that particular aspect of her decision will hurt her chances in 2012.


Arlington, VA: Do you agree with Bill Kristol that Democrats and the Republican establishment are terrified of Sarah Palin? She does have an almost messianic following. I even heard one pundit claim that if she were President today, Iraq would be completely terror-free and we'd be pulling our last troops out in victory, the economy would be growing by at least 10 percent per year, and health care legislation that insured everyone without increasing costs would already have passed. Is everyone scared of Sarah Palin, or is this just wishful thinking from her supporters? The Establishment's Palin Panic

Ben Pershing: I don't think Democrats are afraid of Palin. I think they believe she is a deeply flawed candidate who would lose badly to Obama if she were the nominee in 2012. As for Republicans, I think many in the party establishment believe the same thing -- that she is a flawed candidate. Yes, she has a grass-roots following that threatens the powers-that-be, but so what? It's not like she differs from party leaders on any of the major issues. If they believed Palin would help them win back the White House, they would get behind her in a second.


Deadhorse, Alaska: Yesterday, Sarah Palin told the Alaskan Daily News that several elected officials have left abruptly to pursue a higher calling. She cited Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who both left their jobs to accept positions in the Obama Administration. What are the odds that Palin's next surprise announcement will be a position in the Obama Administration?

Ben Pershing: Well, President Obama is still in Russia today, so now would be the perfect time to announce Palin as his pick for ambassador there. As we learned during the campaign, Palin is an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.

As for the examples of Huntsman and Napolitano, Palin's analogy would make more sense if she really were leaving for another government job. But she's not.


Chicago: What odds do you give for passage of the Energy bill (in the Senate) and Health Care legislation?

Ben Pershing: Gambling is illegal. Or at least, it is where I'm sitting right now. If I had to hazard a general guess, I would say that health care has a better chance of getting through the Senate than the climate change bill does. They're both difficult but the latter bill will be trickier to reach consensus on, in my view. And Obama wants health care more, so he will throw more of his considerable weight behind it.


Seattle: Regarding the salons that the Washington Post proposed, I'm puzzled as to why lobbyists would pay $25K to attend. Don't they have easy access to politicians and policy makers anyway (that is after all their job). Was this really all about lobbyists getting access to influential journalists?

Ben Pershing: Lobbyists and policy makers definitely don't need to pay that much money to get access to journalists. I'm not sure what the logic would be for a lobbyist to pay to sponsor one of these (now cancelled) events. But I would guess that the prospect of spending time in a small, informal setting with policymakers was more attractive than doing so with journalists.


Boston: Does Sarah Palin's resignation put Ann Coulter into the "loser" column? The networks and cable shows are now going to go to Palin for the "conservative" opinion, rather than Coulter. Will this force Coulter to be even more controversial in order to get face time on the air?

Ben Pershing: I don't know what this means for Coulter, but I also don't think Palin will necessarily become a go-to conservative pundit. I think she and her advisers are still formulating her future media strategy, but I'm guessing that if they want to preserve her aura as a Republican heavy-hitter and leading 2012 candidate they won't let her do too much TV punditry. They'll pick and choose their spots.

_______________________ Due to a combination of time constraints and site-wide technical problems, Ben Pershing is no longer available to answer questions in this Q&A. Thank you for your patience and participation.


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