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Washington Sketch: Health Care, Jesus for President, and One More Thing...

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Dana Milbank
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, August 7, 2009; 12:00 PM

Post columnist Dana Milbank serves as the capital's foremost critic of political theater in his Washington Sketch columns, videos and blog posts.

He was online Friday, Aug. 7 at noon ET to take your questions and comments about the things politicians say -- and the absurd ways they find to say them.

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Dana Milbank:

Good afternoon, Sketchreaders.

This is my last official act before heading off to the beach for three weeks. I have, however, rented a place in North Carolina, so I can make the quick drive to South Carolina in case Mark Sanford has another emergency.

It's been an eventful week for the Sketch. Monday: a poorly attended public comment session at the EPA. Tuesday: The president and Helen Thomas's Chuck E. Cheesy birthday. Wednesday: A young widow painting a mural about healthcare reform. Thursday: Cash for Clunkers.

Let's see. . . am I missing anything?

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What a tradegy: Bring back Mouthpiece Theater, the classy sets, the unadulterated snark, the vibrant personalities. NOT having Mouthpiece Theater is worse than watching Nationals baseball or George Bush giving grammar lesions to Sarah Palin. I hope George Will chokes on the comparison.

Dana Milbank:

Ah, that was it. Mouthpiece Theater.

Well, at least we tried. We thought it was worth experimenting with a new format -- a regular video feature on set days of the week having fun with the political news of the day. But it didn't work, and that was pretty evident even before the Hillary image debacle. We were trying to squeeze it into our daily routines, writing and filming it while still keeping up our other responsibilities, in my case writing four columns a week and in Cillizza's case writing umpteen blog items a day. The thinking was if it took off we'd do more video and less writing.

But it didn't take off. That may be because we didn't give it enough focus to make it good, or it may be because we simply can't get away with that kind of satire in our line of work. Either way, it made no sense to devote energy to the video, which if we were lucky would reach people by the tens of thousands, and take energy away from the column, which on a good day reaches hundreds of thousands. It made even less sense when the video started to generate a great deal of protest and ridicule.

So, I hope you'll keep enjoying the Sketch in its written form. And if anybody has an idea about a video format that might work, please let me know. I think it's important in the newspaper business that we keep experimenting.

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good job: Just wanted to say, in all seriousness, good job on that piece a few days ago about the woman who lost her husband to kidney cancer and painted a mural. While some of the comments on your piece were truly callous, it's good that you wrote that - "in the beltway" pundits should keep people like her in mind when they squawk about how wonderful our health care system is...kudos.

washingtonpost.com: Washington Sketch: In Mural, Widow Paints a Plea for Health-Care Reform

Dana Milbank:

Thanks very much. The woman, Regina Holliday, is painting the mural in my neighborhood and used to work at a toy store nearby. I had originally suggested Metro do the story, but after I saw Regina standing with Harry Reid a couple of weeks ago, I decided I'd do it myself -- and I'm glad I did.

Yes, some of the comments about her were appalling. I had a similar reaction when people wrote comments criticizing a deceased journalist friend I had eulogized in an op-ed piece. I think people see the comments section as a blood sport, so I keep that in mind whenever reading it.

Conservatives complained about the piece because they thought Regina an unrepresentative anecdote. But I think she was fascinating, not just because her story is so compelling but because in the end she was prepared to abandon the "public option" even if it meant she would get no healthcare.

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Kingston, Ontario: Conservative commentators seem to think that the Democrats are already on the run over health care. Do you think that is right, or are they just trying to inspire the troops?

Dana Milbank:

The wonks I respect on this seem to think Obama will be forced to abandon the public plan option, but after that there's actually a great deal of agreement on portability, medical records, pre-existing conditions, etc. So yes, the Democrats are on the run over their plan, but I don't think that means all hope is lost for any healthcare reform this year. But, then again, I'm a hack, not a wonk.

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Boston: Hi Dana,

With all the action in Florida today it again makes me wonder if Gov. Crist will get a big boost from older evangelicals who will vote for him thinking they are voting for Christ? What are your thoughts on this?

Dana Milbank: I think you are trying to get me in trouble again.

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Bolivar, Tenn.: Whatever strategy the White House's communication office is using to deal with "The Birthers", isn't working. My congressman, Marsha Blackburn, co-sponsored the so-called Birther Bill. Everybody at my office is on the scale of "Maybe there's something to this" to "We've got a Kenyan in the White House!"

Basically, if we were suddenly W.H. Press Secretary, what would you do to stop this moronic stuff. We all know it's moronic, but so where Swiftboat Veterans for Truth...

Dana Milbank:

Happy birther day!

I continue to be fascinated by this phenomenon. I wrote about it in December: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/12/08/AR2008120803446.html

I confess I am allergic to birther stories so I'm not following the latest. I think we could straighten all this out if we just appointed Ken Starr to investigate.

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Evanston, Ill.: My favorite media critic, Jack Shafer, defended you twice.

Dana Milbank: I am nominating him for the Pulitzer Prize. And a Nobel, an Emmy and an Oscar.

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Washington, D.C.: Jesus would be neither a Republican or a Democrat. He'd be arrested as an alien and deported back to Nazareth.

Dana Milbank: Oh, Jeez Louise. You're all trying to get me fired.

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Not the CNN Programmer, Honest: What do you think of this idea: we bring back "Crossfire" with co-hosts Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olberman?

Dana Milbank: In the Olbermann-O'Reilly war, I side with Campbell Brown.

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washingtonpost.com: O'Reilly, Olbermann Still Fighting

Dana Milbank: Nifty Kurtz piece on this today, btw.

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problem: Jesus could not be President because he was not born in the U.S.

Dana Milbank: Also he was not old enough to be president at the age of his death.

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Sanford follies : Jenny Sanford and sons are moving out of the Governor's mansion. It would appear that Mark's troubles are not over, and he may need his backpack again.

Dana Milbank:

Gotcha covered. I just checked on mapquest and Columbia is 415 miles from Duck, N.C. They say the time is 6 hours 55 minutes but I bet I can do it in 5 and a half.

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Sterling, Va.: Are there legit reasons to frown over the success of the Cash for Clunkers program or are certain conservatives just complaining to hear their own voices?

washingtonpost.com: Clash of the Clunkers

Dana Milbank:

While I was intrigued by Coburn's right-to-life argument for the clunkers, I think the Republicans felt it necessary to oppose any stimulus money. Problem is this seems to have been the most effective billion dollars of the whole 800.

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Kingston, Ontario: Do you think that Martinez, like a certain other person, has resigned to prove that he isn't a quitter?

Dana Milbank:

He eats therefore he hunts therefore he quits.

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Martinez: Why is Sen. Martinez resigning now? Surely the fallout from his vote for Justice Sotomayor can't have hit that quickly?

Dana Milbank:

It is intriguing that a good amount of the Republican support for Sotomayor -- Voinovich, Martinez, Bond -- came from the ones who are retiring, and therefore unafraid of, say, the NRA scoring the vote.

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Operation Repo: Has Senator Coburn organized a movement of shrill people to rescue Clunkers from the shredder?

Dana Milbank: I certainly hope so. The thought of all those unloved but still puttering automobiles being sent to the scrapyard, without even allowing for the harvesting of their parts, is, as Dan Quayle would say, heart rendering.

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Baltimore: Re Jesus running for President: Yes, Dana, he was not old enough to run at the time of his death but you're forgetting--he's the ultimate "Comeback Kid."

Dana Milbank: As a Jew, I am feeling a bit out of my depth here. Possibly I should consult Chuck Schumer. Yesterday, he inexplicably told the Post's Shailagh Murray that he was going to sprinkle her with holy water. He's evidently at the White House today, perhaps giving the president a dousing.

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not in Duck, NC: Are you in Duck? My vacation there got cancelled because of work, so I am protesting by engaging your chat.

Dana Milbank:

I KNEW there was one person still working in Washington; thank you for identifying yourself. I am not in Duck yet but I am so close to leaving that I can practically hear the quacking.

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Christie's (not to be confused with Christ's): Will you be covering the sentencing and appeals in the Dollar Bill sale saga?

Dana Milbank: You betcha -- October 30. I want the Boca Burgers.

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Mel hearts Sonia: Sonia likes Mel, but she just couldn't be seen around town with a sitting Senator.

You heard it here first!

Dana Milbank: I think Politico is already running with it. . .

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Health Care Townhalls: Why don't the dems just call in the Cambridge Police? They seem well versed in disorderly condcut and would ensure the peace is kept.

Dana Milbank:

This is why people come to the Sketch chat: practical solutions to real-world problems.

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A friendly tip to the Democrats in Congress: Friends, once you get your hearing back after being screamed at by irate, incoherent senior citizens, take note of a few things. Unemployment appears to be dropping and with each passing day, more money is being distributed on construction projects through the stimulus package.

By November 2010, people may not really think it's such a bad idea to let the government run something. You know, like health care.

So calm down a little, look deep in your soul (it's still down there, seriously, look again and you'll find it) and go ahead and pass a health-care plan.

Dana Milbank: More advice!

I feel like a political Carolyn Hax.

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Boston : Watching the Town Hall protests it looks like many of the protesters are in the Medicare demographic. What is up with that?

Old folks hate Obama? We got ours now lets close the door behind us? They are really running scared of the secret seniors euthanasia program?

Dana Milbank:

It's because Obama told them to take the "blue pill" and now the poor old fellows are overdosed on Viagra and feeling very aggressive.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Rush Limbaugh compared Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler yesterday. This received practically zero reporting. Why?

Dana Milbank:

Because we are too busy reporting that he is a socialist painted to look like the joker.

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Lexington, Ky.: Bets: Who will retire first, Helen Thomas or Robert Byrd?

Dana Milbank: Hannah Montana.

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Nondescript Cubicle, MD: Please count me among the legions (we must number nearly half a dozen) of fans of Mouthpiece Theater who are heartbroken to see it die at such a young age. I thought it was getting better with each new episode. The Hillary bit made me gasp a little, but it was edgy funny, and I'm a fan of Hillary Clinton.

I think your other video oeuvre (you have an oeuvre!) is good, and I enjoy your columns. Maybe this is a question for Carolyn Hax, but does that say something bad about me? The comments following yesterday's article about MPT were not particular warm. Okay, they were downright hostile. Do all those other people know you in real life or something? Or are you just misunderstood, an acquired taste, a sense of humor that isn't approachable for the masses?

Why do I think you're funny when so many other commenters do not?

Dana Milbank: I think the problem is you took the red pill instead of the blue pill.

I would like to think that nobody who has ever written a nasty comment about me knows me in person. But who knows? Maybe my editor has been posting them under pseudonyms.

For what it's worth, I am from a Hillary household. My wife and five-year-old daughter went to protest at the DNC event during the Clinton-Obama delegate fight. My daughter came home chanting "fifty states, not forty eight!"

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Fairfax County, Va.: I think your best next step after ringing down the curtain on Mouthpiece Theater is to have an absolutely wonderful vacation devoted to all things non-DC. Then one day six months from now I'm confident you'll have a brilliant new idea that uses the strengths of video that don't exist in print. Being a word person myself I'm not sure what they are, but I shall await the new notion in full confidence.

I am picturing cutting over and and over to an unchanging (though moving) scene such as rippling grain fields, ocean waves, squirrels running around idiotically, factory continuing to turn out gas-guzzling cars, matched against hyped-up Washington rhetoric about how everything will change immediately as a result of some program, and your voiceover to link the two. In other words, ironic use of stock footage rather than talking- head on-camera use of another pundit, however much I like him. But who knows.

Dana Milbank:

I think the less my face appears on camera, the more attractive the product will be.

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Hartford, CT: Wasn't a huge fan of Mouthpiece Theater, but I admire you guys for trying. AS for all the people who pooped on it -- what risks have they taken lately?

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." Samuel Becket, a playwright so bad he forgot to write the title character into one of his plays.

Dana Milbank:

Appreciate it, Hartford. The Becket line brings to mind the words of another prophet, Michael Kinsley, paraphrased by the aforementioned Shafer as "if you don't risk going too far, you probably won't go far enough."

So I will endeavor to fail again and fail better. But first . . . to the beach! Enjoy the rest of the summer and I'll be back with you in September.

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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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