Post Politics: Sarah Palin, Kennedy Legacy, More

Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 11, 2009; 11:00 AM

Federal Eye blogger Ed O'Keefe took your questions about who is up and who is down in the world of politics and the latest news out of Washington.


Ed O'Keefe: Happy Tuesday and welcome to the daily Post Politics Hour, i'm your host, Ed O'Keefe, just back from a relaxing four days on the beaches of Massachusetts.

PLENTY of political and government news to keep our appetites met in the allegedly slow summer month of August. Let's get to it!


Washington, DC: I see that the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act made it out of subcommittee. I am assuming it will win committee approval soon. What's the "conventional wisdom" on its chances for passage this year? There seems to be enough bipartisan support in the Senate, but I have not heard much about it lately.

Ed O'Keefe: It did clear a House subcommittee and will now have to get voted out of the full House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. As I wrote a few weeks back, Republicans seem intent on raising discrimination concerns, arguing that the bill will not account fairly for the unmarried heterosexual partners (long-time, live-in boyfriends, etc.) of federal employees. Still, Republicans don't have the votes on the committee to block the bill. As for full House passage, it's likely, but again, keep an eye on what Republicans do or say to stop or at least raise concerns about the bill.


Washington, DC: Um, in light of Secretary Clinton's partial meltdown during a question overseas, was Dana Milbank's suggestion of a beer for her really that out of line?

Ed O'Keefe: Nice try. Next?


Boston: "There are no indications that Death Panels are currently on any legislation moving through Congress." That is a paraphrase of the WP front page on Sunday.

You know, this would have been a good time for the media to explain there really are "Death Panels." They are comprised of insurance underwriters and hospital administrators and they issue their bureaucratic death sentences every day in perfect anonymity.

The system that Palin and other "conservatives" are freaking out over is the one we have in place today. Just read the MD&A at the back of any health insurance company's Annual Report if you don't believe me.

Ed O'Keefe: One person's opinion... anyone else see Sen. Specter's town hall meeting earlier today? Anyone else want to send some Maalox to his reelection and press offices?


Yorktown Heights, NY: Inspired by Reagan and now Rush Limbaugh and the like, it seems that the far right has adapted this form of ultra-conservative libertarianism where the government has become enemy #1.

Where was all of this libertarianism when W. was president? Why didn't Ron Paul get more votes for President?

Ed O'Keefe: There was certainly conservative resentment with Bush policies in the later years of his administration, and it led to depressed activism and turnout last November. Paul never succeeded because while he could inspire the libertarian base and raise impressive sums of money, he could not seem to attract a wider appeal.


Saint Paul, Minn.: Hi Ed -- Thanks for taking questions today. I was with a group of friends the other day (all Obama supporters) and we were reminiscing about last summer, when Obama's election was far from a sure thing, and how we relieved we were that he was able to pull it off. Even so, though, there seemed to be a bit of melancholy in the air, disappointment that the world hasn't changed like we thought it would. In other words, he's just another president, trying to get things done, and finding out how difficult that is. Do you think this is a common feeling out there in the country? How much of a problem is it for the president, who's promised so much and finding it hard to deliver?

Ed O'Keefe: He's certainly starting to get the blame for the nation's woes, as expected, since he's the president. His honeymoon is over, and reality has set in for many people, like yourself, who anticipated big change very quickly. But he's only crossed the 200-day mark, he's had to deal with some significant economic concerns and continues to press ahead with health care reform and other matters.

Polling suggests people are frustrated, if not disappointed. How the White House and its Democratic allies weather August will likely set the tone for the rest of the year into next year's midterm elections.


New York: Ed, thanks for the chat. Seems to me that Obama learned the lessons of Clinton health reform too well: While he headed off opposition from reform's old enemies -- making deals with pharma, hospitals, AMA, insurers, etc. -- he clearly overlooked the power of the Internet in fomenting anger and fear among the ill-informed. My question is: When do they bring out Michelle to clean up their mess? Thanks.

Ed O'Keefe: Haha -- it may take something like that at this point.

But I think you've touched on something -- they covered their bases by getting the "old" opposition to sign on to reform, but failed to see the new realities of political discourse. That's odd, considering his campaign's ability to exploit online tools during the presidential campaign. Maybe we need to count this whole episode as another example of the difficulties of using online tools when governing?

Remember -- the White House has launched a new Web site, similar to the Obama campaign's "Fight the Smears" site -- designed to help supporters craft their messages to opponents of the plans:


Town Hall openness: Our lovely former president Bush never opened up his town halls to the general public -- participants were screened for entry to ensure they met conservative standards.

Obama and the Dems are actually opening up their discussions, but instead of seeing any honesty about this in the media, I just hear about how lots of people (bussed in by clearly anti-reform groups like Freedomworks) are "angry."

Why can't you tell the truth about the crazies at these town halls? Also, isn't it relevant to note that those of us who want health care reform the most (the under 50s) also have JOBS unlike the old people who don't want reform and can obviously attend?

Ed O'Keefe: Your last point is a good one: Regardless of how one feels about these issues and the town halls, keep your Eyes on the audience: In my observation, I see mostly seniors, who have the time to spend 90 minutes or more at a town hall meeting. You see few young people, young parents with children or others who might not have the time, for whatever reason. These town halls are also happening during peak vacation season, when families are likely away from home, or preparing to send the kids back to school.

Just saying...


Boston: I just finished watching Arlen Spector's town hall. Basically a best-of highlights of insanity from the internets. But Spector didn't seem to know how to push back on any of it. Why aren't Congresspeople prepared for these totally predictable questions? (For example, the White House is not trying to collect the names of people spreading misinformation about health care reform. They are trying to collect the misinformation itself, so they know what sort of things they need to correct in speeches and Web sites. And don't get me started on death panels.)

Ed O'Keefe: Specter's reply to many of those questions seemed to be, "There's no bill yet in the Senate." Not true, since various committees are working on various bills. What he means to say is that there's no final version for him to consider. Specter's not directly involved in the health care negotiations, and likely hasn't taken the time to read the specifics, which is probably a sensical move since the current specifics are likely to change, and he may calculate it's better not to get buried in the weeds until he needs to vote on a final bill.

I think what's caught lawmakers off-guard is the amount and intensity of the opposition. They seem unprepared in some cases -- but it's a healthy reality check for them and I generally welcome these types of forums and discourse.

What we should encourage however, is lawmakers that are willing to rise about the shouting and emotion and educate his or her constituents. Educating the voters, or at least providing information is arguably as important.


Germantown, MD: Quite interesting this health care debate. For someone who's main attribute seems to be his speeches, the President doesn't really seem to be very convincing regarding this debate. I for one would like to hear a "honest" discussion regarding what people might gain and lose. Also what the ADDITIONAL COSTS will be. People are scared regarding such a big change and Obama doesn't seem very good at the specifics to this point or there are items he knows will be hard for people to swallow. Time for him to recalibrate again.

Ed O'Keefe: Yeah let's see how he handles himself this week at the various town halls scheduled for him.


your role: I feel the profession of journalism, once a critical part of our democracy, has collapsed. How do you view your role. There are no death panels. Period. As a reporter, when covering the issue, should you not come out and say the Palins and Gingrichs are just flat-out making up absurd claims?

Ed O'Keefe: Do your own Google search folks, reporters are refuting Palin's claims, you don't need me to repeat it for you.

I'm not one of The Post reporters who regularly covers health care, but I've seen plenty of news reports that explicitly refute Sarah Palin:


MSNBC's "First Read" blog: "Palin and other critics are wrong."

ABC's "Political Punch by Jake Tapper":

" of government bureaucrats forcing euthanasia upon seniors -- and, now, children with Down syndrome -- because they're not productive members of society are not part of any reasonable debate on the facts of the matter."

Associated Press: "No such 'death panel' has been proposed."


Re: Saint Paul: If people are "melancholy" or saddened or frustrated I don't get it. The expectation that 'change' (however you envision that) doesn't happen overnight. I voted for the guy too, but to think that somehow from (late) January to (early) August, things were somehow magically going to "get better" given the situation our country was in is fantasy. People need to remember that these interests competing for the change the president wants have been entrenched in D.C. for ages -- this is a marathon, not a sprint -- and the "other side" loves nothing better than to hear people get frustrated and essentially give up if they can't "win" in a matter of months. What we need is people with some perseverance, willing to go the distance, and not stop, whine and complain because D.C. didn't get totally reshaped in a couple of months. My two cents.

Ed O'Keefe: Amen.


Arlington, VA: Could you refresh my memory? Didnt the Republicans get shouted down and called fascists when they called the anti-war protesters "Un-American?" It seemed vocal dissent against the war was ok, but against the health care proposals it is un-patriotic.

Ed O'Keefe: This is a good point -- political parties raise concerns about those raising concerns as another way of making their point. It's a tactic that I hope ends so that we can all focus on the actual issues instead.


North Manchester, Ind.: After going through nearly three hours of paperwork to take advantage of the Cash for Clunkers program (to trade a perfectly well-maintained pick-up that some poor family could have made great and long term use of) is there any wonder why people would not be concerned about government involvement in personal health decisions? That old adage about those who can't, teach, should be changed to those who can't, become politicians.

Ed O'Keefe: Anyone has the right to raise concerns that the way Congress and the White House handled Cash for Clunkers bodes ill for handling of health care reform. But -- it's probably best to not compare the details of an economic stimulus program for the auto industry with a massive overhaul of the nation's health care system.


RE: "People are scared regarding such a big change and Obama doesn't seem very good at the specifics to this point or there are items he knows will be hard for people to swallow.": Repeat after me. There are 5 different bills (3 in the House and 2 in the Senate - 1 of which isn't actually written yet). Each has different specifics on all the big issues that will eventually have to be smushed into 1 bill. At this point Obama can't talk about the specifics because he simply doesn't know what they will be. He can only talk about general principles and his preferences.

Ed O'Keefe: Yes, good point. Another reason why it's difficult for lawmakers to come up with good answers -- because they don't have them yet.


New Paltz, N.Y.: Eunice Kennedy Shriver has died. I read a 1960 profile which stated that she "generally credited with being the most intellectual and politically minded of all the Kennedy women."

Considering Caroline Kennedy's lackluster intro into politics and the scandals of her cousins, will the Kennedys of today still be relevant to national discussion?

Ed O'Keefe: That's a very interesting question that I think we'll start to be able to answer following the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy. I don't have any information to suggest it's imminent, and in on way am advocating for his untimely demise, but let's watch and see which of his children or nieces and nephews emerges to carry their parents' and aunts' and uncles' legacy. Certainly Caroline Kennedy and Maria Shriver are high-profile advocates and leaders outside of politics, Maria's brother Mark (I believe) runs Special Olympics, Patrick Kennedy, the senator's son, is a Rhode Island congressman, and his other son, Joseph, may emerge as his Senate replacement.

Have no doubt -- the Kennedy legacy will continue. In what form, and to what extent, remains to be seen.


Denver, Colorado: Mrs. Clinton's reaction to the question in Africa seems to have been both revealing and sub-par for a US top diplomat abroad. Is she struggling as Sec. of State because of her husband's profile?

Ed O'Keefe: Perhaps, but I sense it had more to do with jet lag. You go visit seven countries over 12 days about 4 time zones ahead of your normal one and then get back to me.


"a bit of melancholy in the air": I'm an enthusiastic Obama supporter, but sheesh, he always was going to be just "another president". The man's only been in office barely 8 months, and I think he's made quite a bit of a positive change in that time. I'm more frustrated with the Dems on the Hill who can't seem to stand together to support anything he's doing.

Ed O'Keefe: One person's opinion...


Right wing rhetoric: One amusing thing about all this is the rhetoric being used by the right wingers attending these town halls. First Obama is a socialist, then he's a communist, then he's a dictator cum fascist, and now he's a Nazi. Can't they just make up their minds as to which particular slur is most appropriate? Sounds like these people need some history lessons - commies and Nazis aren't quite the same thing...

Ed O'Keefe: Folks, let's focus on the substance and not on the semantics or rhetoric please.


Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus?: Re "Secretary Clinton's partial meltdown during a question overseas," I saw the questioner who asked SOS Clinton what her husband thought as being inherently rude and sexist.

Ed O'Keefe: Folks --

"State Department officials said the student approached Clinton afterward and told her he had meant to ask what Obama, not Bill Clinton, thought about the Chinese loan. A senior Clinton aide said that Mrs. Clinton assured the student not to worry about it."

If he did indeed mean to ask about President Obama's opinion, that's appropriate, because it makes sense to ask a country's top diplomat what that country's leader thinks of an issue.


Omaha, NE: Am not sure what to think about Palin. Do I get all angry for her "this is evil" Facebook post, or applaud her for her more recent post calling for calmer heads and an end to the name calling? Yes she's totally hypocritical, but she's the only conservative voice I've heard criticize the mob-like demonstrators. I'm all conflicted, so right now I'm just grinding my teething and glaring at her.

Ed O'Keefe: Palin has generally provoked conflicting emotions, which makes it very difficult to determine her future plans.


Honeymoon over?: Sorry, Ed, but in one man's opinion, I never saw that the mainstream media gave Obama much of a honeymoon.

Ed O'Keefe: Well, that's one man's opinion.


New Haven, Conn.: Joseph P. Kennedy II, the potential senator from Mass., is the eldest son of Robert F. Kennedy, not Edward M. Kennedy.

Actually, you might keep an eye out for Joe's twin 20-something sons, Matt and Joe III. They were very active in the Obama primary and presidential campaign.

Ed O'Keefe: Oh goodness, you're correct!


Ed O'Keefe: Folks, that's it for today, thanks for joining in. And check out my blog, The Federal Eye, when you get a chance.

Until next time, - Ed


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