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Post Politics: Sarah Palin, Gates, Senate, More

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Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 27, 2009; 11:00 AM

Post national politics writer Perry Bacon Jr. was online Monday, July 27 at 11 ET to discuss Sarah Palin, the White House, Congress and all the latest political news.

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Perry Bacon Jr.: Looking forward to the chat. Lots happening in politics this week, particularly on health care.

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Fort Bragg, NC: Governor Palin's words Sunday included a parting shot at the media: "So how about in honor of the American soldier, you quit making up things."

What is it that the media was making up (I assume by media she includes conservative and liberal commentators, not just print, radio and television)? And what does she mean by "in honor of the American soldier"? Should she just be saying "How about you quit..."

Perry Bacon Jr.: Gov. Palin has done lots of media-bashing, so I was not shocked. I wasn't quite sure about the soldier reference, but she has had lots of negative coverage. I find criticism of "the media" a little hard to define, as Us Weekly and the Post are both part of the media, but do very different jobs.

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unsurprised college student: Look, here's why health care reform isn't going to happen: Congress is full of old, out of touch and exorbitantly wealthy people who don't understand the realities of life for the average American citizen. They waste time contemplating resolutions on Michael Jackson, etc. but don't want to spend time working on legislation that could truly help millions of Americans. Maybe if they were stripped of their health care benefits until they came up with a viable plan, reform would happen. Thoughts?

Perry Bacon Jr.: In defense of Congress, they have debated health care for hours and did nothing on Michael Jackson. Would it help if members of Congress didn't have insurance or where in regular contact with people who did not? Maybe. I think President Obama is trying to make this very point; Congress is now approaching this issue with the urgency they should.

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a fellow Yalie: I see a LOT of bashing of Canadian health care on US news networks (full disclosure: I was raised in Canada). Have any of your fellow reporters even been to Canada? Most of us are very very happy with the quality of our care. Certain pundits (I'm sure you can guess which ones) pick up a dissatisfied Canadian or two and use them as examples of "how terrible the Canadian system is." News to me and news to many of my fellow citizens...but have fun paying higher health care premiums.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I must have missed all of the Canada-bashing. Are you watching lots of Fox News? I have been to been to Toronto, but I remained in good health while I was there and didn't test out the health care system.

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Silver Spring: Do you think that Palin is doing so much bashing (media, Hollywood, fellow politicians) that she is burning almost every bridge behind her? What is there for her to do other than write a whiny book?

Perry Bacon Jr.: President Obama frequently complains about press coverage, as did Secretary of State Clinton. Media bashing is not a career-killer. My guess is if she wanted to host a radio or tv show, she would have her pick. Her book will be reviewed in every paper in the country whenever it comes out. She could become the president of virtually any conservative non-profit in the country. I think she will be doing just fine, as long as her goal isn't elected office, which may be a challenge.

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Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Perry -- Thanks for taking questions today. Nancy Pelosi says she has the votes in the House to pass health care. Any basis in reality for this, or is she just cheerleading (which, of course, is part of her job)?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Look at her statement. She said when they have a vote, they will win it. Of course they will. She is the Speaker of the House, she gets to determine if the vote is this, week, in October and or next June. I don't think it was cheerleading, but in many ways it was meaningless statement. The majority party rarely loses votes on the Housee floor.

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Los Gatos, Calif.: Good Morning:

What do you think the chances are that Democratic Senators will vote to end a filibuster and then vote against a health care bill? Thus allowing it to pass without their vote. How much can Sen. Reid lean on his caucus to do this?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Once Franken won, that was the message Reid and Durbin gave the senators, always vote to end the filibuster (that requires 60 votes), then you can do whatever you want on the bill itself (which only requires 51 votes). The problem is the Democrats right now don't have 60, as it's not clear they can rely on Kennedy and/or Byrd to come to votes because of their health. And Ben Nelson has already he won't vote for cloture then vote against a bill he adamantly opposes. So this is complicated still I think.

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Richmond, Va.: I see a lot of the pundits talking about how any health care changes would hurt small business. From where I'm looking there is no way I'd even consider starting up my own business since I could never get health care insurance for my family since my wife had cancer. Doesn't this hurt the economy when people who might have good ideas can't pursue them because a health problem could bankrupt them? Has that angle even been brought up?

Thanks.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I am sorry about your wife and her illness. I think the two issues you are bringing up are a big part of the health care debate actually. One, Obama and the Democrats want to make it easier for people who have illnesses like cancer to get health insurance and one way they propose to do that is to stop insurance companies from denying anyone who has a pre-existing condition. The Democrats also want to set up something called a health care exchange where you can buy a health care if you work at a small business or unemployed or self-employered. Republicans worry these exchanges will mandate health coverage in ways that will drive up costs, particularly for people who are younger and healthy.

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Anonymous: In an interview with Fox News, Rush Limbaugh said that there are no great moderates, since moderates wait for eveyrone else to state their views before deciding. Not sure if I'd heard such a strong defense of extremism since Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign. Making the GOP more moderate would not be a good idea. Would you expect to hear a contrary viewpoint from anyone in the GOP (e.g., Michael Steele)?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Olympia Snowe and Lindsey Graham talked about the importance of respecting moderates after Specter defected to the Democrats. I would say in deeds, if not words, the GOP is quite eager to have more moderates. In terms of getting candidates to run for the Senate, Republicans wanted Specter and they succesfully recruited Crist in Florda and Mark Kirk in Illinois, who voted for the climate change bill. Not sure Rush represents the party on this.

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Northern Virginia: Based on your earlier answer it seems like Sen. Ben Nelson, who represents a tiny percentage of Americans, is in the driver's seat in the Senate. Please, if possible, tell me why that's an exaggeration on my part or alternatively why that is a good thing. I find it tremendously disheartening. Nothing against Nelson, but I don't want him in control of my future when I have no way to vote for or against him.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Ben Nelson, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and a few other liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats will have a lot of influence over health care reform, like the Blue Dog conservative Democrats in the House. This is not particularly unusual, Collins and Snowe had a lot of power in the Bush years and earlier this year on the stimulus. The Blue Dogs have effetively stopped Democrats from pursuing any gun control measures this year.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: The average length of service for a White House Press Secretary is 18 months. Do you think Robert Gibbs will leave earlier or stay longer? What will Robert Gibbs do with himself afterwards since he seems so put off by punditry? Any thoughts on the replacement (before you say it's too early, Sarah Palin 2012 talk is all the rage right now)

Perry Bacon Jr.: to make sure I my calls get returned, I will not speculate on this sort of thing, except to say Gibbs seems to be enjoying the job. My colleague Michael Shear wrote a piece a few week about how exhausted people at the White House are, but people I talk to over there seem excited about working on all these big issues. Gibbs' deputy, Bill Burton, is well-regarded from what I hear.

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Re: Old Men In Congress: Since the collective "we" voted for these old men, who else can we blame but ourselves ?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Unless you live in Nebraska, you didn't vote for Ben Nelson. I think lots of people in New York didn't vote for any "old men" this year who are Republicans, and the voters of Texas didnt' send many Democrats. So I see no harm in criticizing members of Congress you don't like. It's the American way in fact.

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Scotia, NY : We are constantly told that Pelosi has a low approval rating, as do Reid, Boehner etc etc. What's the point of such a poll, since there's probably no Congressional leader who would fare well in terms of national popularity, and its totally irrelevant to their chances of re-election in their own jurisdictions? Was Gingrich nationally popular? Tip O'Neill? Did it matter at all?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I largely agree with you. The leader of a party in Congress is usually a fairly partisan person, that's how you get the job in the first place. They're usually focused on getting bills through Congress, not positioning themselves for White House runs. I find this whole "who is the Republican leader" discussion baffling on these same lines. Congressional leaders don't try to have great personal poll ratings, so of course Boehner is not as popular as President Obama.

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Northville, NY : Won't it be hard for Palin to get coverage now? So what if she makes an outrageous speech to a right wing think tank in August, or follows it up with a rabble-rousing talk to an anti-abortion group? Isn't it old news, or rather, non-news, now that she's out of office and without any apparent base of power?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm not sure the Post will cover every speech she gives, but she will get coverage. The media as a whole is a business and Sarah Palin gets ratings/hits/views, so I expect she will get covered. And as long as she remains a possible 2012 candidate, she will deserve some coverage. I'm written about Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney this year. But I do hope the breathless and constant coverage of her ends.

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Re: Gates-Gate: I am a huge Obama supporter, but I am worried. I feel as if the incident with Gates just won't die, and might have a profound effect on his present clout and future presidency --one of those seemingly little events that become huge -- a so-called "defining moment." I am so sorry Obama trapped himself in that "stupidly" word (though I believe he was speaking straight from the heart, drawing a picture white people like me could never understand), but having said that, there seems to be a shift in the air. Over the weekend, for example, I heard it said that Obama would now lose the working-class male vote, though I can't remember if he ever had it. Do you get a sense there might be permanent damage in this incident?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think he ever really had the working-clas male vote, and it's a shrinking part of the electorate anyway. That said, as you could tell Friday, Obama didn't feel like he expressed himself well in that moment. Will it be a defining moment? It's too soon to say, but I suspect not. Why? Because it doens't reinforce anything people already think about Obama. I don't think people view Obama as overly-focused on race/racial profiling. "Mission Accomplished" became a moment for President Bush because it symbolized his failures in Iraq and his team at time not realizing them soon enough. The controvery last year over John McCain and the number of houses he had become a big issue, rightly or wrongly, because of the perception he was a wealthy man who might be out of touch. I think we in the media tended to assume Hillary Clinton and her husband had ulterior motives at times when they didn't because of the 1990's experience. I think this will be limited for Obama.

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Buffalo, NY: John Cornyn evidently thinks he doesn't need the Texas Latino vote as he sheds crocodile tears to wash away his adverse stand on Sotomayor, and that he won't be much noticed when he calls India a "threat."

But is Cornyn really this invincible?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think he's not up for relection again till 2014, i dont' think that vote hurts him much.

Who will remember?

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there are no great moderates: I think like a football team, you might have a few great players in the House or Senate, but you need to field a team of role players, and that is a lot easier when you have 60 players on the bench instead of 40.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think both parties would have rather have large majorities with some moderates than being in the minority. Being in the minority leaves you with little power. Although you can tell from the look on Henry Waxman's face when he deals with the Blue Dogs that being in the majority has its own challenges.

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Boston: So when the President invites you down to the White House for a beer who pays for the travel costs? Is there a bar at the White House? Does it have good TV choices to catch, say, a Sox game?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I wonder how this will play out. I know the White House has a nice tv and a theatre, as they invite members of Congress there to watch games with the President. And I"m sure you can get a beer there. Let me check on the travel costs. I would love, love to be in this meeting if it ever happens, although I suspect the officer would be nervous, but not Gates, who already knows Obama and is a professional lecturer.

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Since the collective "we" voted for these old men (in Congress): Ahem, Maine and California voters haven't elected any male Senators in quite a few years!

Perry Bacon Jr.: Great point!

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Re: Northern Va: It is galling to most people that folks like Baucus (who has the support of 300,000 voters) Conrad (100,000 votes) and Ben Nelson (380,000 votes) are the biggest determinants of whether we finally reform health insurance. These guys are getting $5 insurance bucks for every one voter they represent!

Perry Bacon Jr.: People have complained for decades small states have as much power in the Senate as do large states. Blame it on the Founders.

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Prescott, Ariz.: Riffing off the unsurprised college student, I don't think Senators or their staff put up with the nonsense the rest of us who DO have insurance put up with. I bet when a Senate staffer calls and asks for permission to get an x-ray on their ankle, out of network (e.g. because they tweaked it hiking at the Grand Canyon), the person on the other end of the line sees that they are on a congressional plan and approves it. The rest of us get the runaround for at least a couple hours and get the runaround again when the bill comes and get to make another couple phone calls.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I"m not on the Senate health plan so I have no idea. I think the Senate and the House is aware many people dont' like the current health care system.

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To Ft. Bragg: Sarah Palin asksm "So how about in honor of the American soldier, you quit making up things?"

Palin is using a logical fallacy here to try to convince people that it's unpatriotic to publish any criticism of her, valid or not (since she contends that any criticism of her can only be "made up"). The tragedy is that some folks actually buy her flawed sophistry.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Don't agree. We tend to overpersonalize these issues. The people who like Sarah Palin tend to be conservative, pro-choice, for small goverment, i.e. Republicans. The people who dont' like her tend to be Democrats and indepedents at this point. It's about her political views; I don't think people rally to you because the media bashes you; they were with you already and ignore the media coverage because they like you.

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In defense of Congress: Do not think it was the larger point, which is - You sit there with your gold plated tax payer funded healthcare system....and ignore those who have none. Somthing does need to happen, and it could if they buckled down and did it, making it a priority, one they seem to not feel the urgency for since they already have the gold standard - FOR FREE.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I hear this argument in different forms a lot; Congress would not vote for war if their kids were in the military is another version of it. It's simply hard to know.

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Franconia, VA: Just a compliment to you. I really liked it that the question re small business, which mentioned the person's wife's cancer, elicited a response that started "I am sorry about your wife and her cancer."

So many questions and comments in the healthcare debate weave in a point about a personal circumstance like that, and all too often it goes unacknowledged, like this is tough political stuff and they shouldn't have feelings. Expressing your sympathy was a pleasant grace note and exception. Thanks.

Perry Bacon Jr.: A rare and shocking thing for a chat, so I will not this. Thanks, Franconia.

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Baltimore: Sarah Palin stated that one of the reasons why she resigned is because, having only one year left as governor she would be a lame duck. Does she advise all lame duck governors to resign when there is one year left in there term?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Lots of people have pointed this. Tim Pawlenty, who is also a lame duck, is actually doing lots of the political speeches while at the same time being governor. It's Sarah Palin, she does things differently as we have all seen.

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Pittsburgh: When my clock-radio clicked on early this morning, NPR was playing an audio-clip of part of Sarah Palin's remarks yesterday re stepping down as Governor of Alaska, and her future. Although I was still too groggy to focus on the exact words, I was startled by Palin's tone of voice, which at times spiked very high in pitch and sounded terribly stressed, almost hysterical (to me). Has any expert ever studied what this attribute of speech can tell us about what a person is really thinking and feeling? I found it most disturbing.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm sure someone has but you may be in the wrong chat to learn about that.

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Detroit: When is it expected that the attorney general will make a decision regarding a possible independent prosecutor to look into possible detainee abuses of the Bush administration? (If it is positive, any idea who might be such a prosecutor?)

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know, but my colleague Carrie Johnson has been breaking news on this subject, so I suspect we will learn from her.

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Philadelphia, PA: What gives with the "birther movement"? They have no point. The media needs to squash this every time. It is a reaction from racists who can't accept the fact that a black man with an arabic name was overwhelmingly voted in to the office of POTUS. As a white woman I am sickened by the amount of face time the lunatics receive. The man was born in Hawaii, period. End of story.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the media has repeatedly said they are wrong, both during the campaign and more recently.

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Perry Bacon Jr.: Thanks for the chat folks. Have a great week.

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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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