Post Politics Hour: Weekend Review and a Look Ahead

Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 31, 2009; 11:00 AM

Every Monday, The Post's Perry Bacon Jr. takes your questions about the latest political news, and previews the week ahead.


Perry Bacon Jr.: Good morning. Welcome to the chat. Looking forward to your questions. Perry


Arlington, Va.: We found out last Friday that Rep. Rangel "inadvertently" left more than $500K off of his financial disclosure statements, including brokerage accounts, rental income, bonds and other assets. Added to his previous financial accounting and ethical "challenges", is this finally enough for Democrats in the house to force him out? If not, what ethical violations would warrant action by the Democratic leadership?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Rangel seems to have weathered the his various ethical storms so far, and he's in a very safe seat that is solidly Democrat. Republicans were focused on him much of last year and earlier this year, but the health care news I think has taken their focus off of him.


Floris, Va.: I don't recall former V.P. Gore or even Clinton sniping away at Bush during his first year in office, even after 9/11 which the Bush/Cheney administration failed to see coming even after several warnings. If there are no attacks on us by 2010 will the Obama administration be handed a legitimate campaign issue?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Gore was pretty critical of the administration in 2002 in the run-up to war, so I would say he waited a few more months than Cheney, but still spoke his mind. It's not clear to, in the instances of Gore or Cheney, why a person would stay silent if they truly thought the administration was making a huge mistake on a national security issue. I have read a lot about the merits of Cheney's arguments and I'm not sure of them, but his articulating them makes sense to me, even if it might be non-traditional. I don't think the Obama administration will tout "no attacks" as a big theme in 2010 or 2012, I think they will focus more on winding down the war in Iraq.


Azusa, Calif.: Greetings from the California fire siege. So former VP Dick Cheney is hot and bothered, yet again, by the Obama administration.

What else is new? Seriously, Cheney offers no solid defense of what the Bush administration did. Everything he says is geared toward the notion that if Bush/Cheney hadn't done what they did, tens of thousands of Americans would have been killed by terrorists, or some such. His schtick is getting old.

Perry Bacon Jr.: His message is consistent if not persuasive, as Cheney's poll numbers remain fairly far below Obama's. That said, I think you will continue to here Cheney and his daughter Liz defend the Bush administration's record.


Washington, DC: Hi Perry,

So even the Post's own ombudsman says that the paper's coverage of health care reform has focused way too much on politics and failed to explain the policy issues to the American people. How are you going to change your own reporting, in light of the ombudsman's conclusions?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think we've had excellent coverage of the some of the major issues. Ceci Connolly wrote an excellent piece about end of life counseling, Alex Macgillis has wrote several smart pieces about the public option and had a great outlook piece laying out the bills themselves. Joel Achenbach took a smart look at the legislative process to write the bill. Shailagh Murray wrote about some of the medicare reforms. Could we write more? Of course. But I think and Andy agreed, we have to cover the politics as well.


Fairfax County, Virginia: I'm proud to support President Obama and the Democrats (and interested Republicans, if any) in fixing our tragically broken healthcare system, which sets records for per- patient cost but not for good health or outcomes, and puts a lot of people at risk of no coverage at all. The more I learn about it, the angrier I get at the current "system," which I have watched deteriorate and decline throughout my life.

But I do feel like some history is being re-written. I didn't care about health care reform when I volunteered for Obama last fall -- why does everybody pretend now that I did? For me, last fall was about fighting climate change, ending the war in Iraq, stopping Cheney-style authoritarianism, and regaining our leadership in the world. So far we are 3 for 4 (climate change, the most important, is the worry). I am totally committed to health care reform, but the fantasy that all Obama supporters had health care as their top goal a year ago is getting irritating.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Interesting. I had not heard this view before. From covering his campaign, my impression was that moving past the Bush years, change/idealism, American's reputation around the world and then economics/health care motivated more people than climate change, but I could be wrong. I think health care, particularly in the primary, was a huge issue. That said, I think the notion that Obama was elected with a mandate to reform health care is overstated. He campaigned on it a lot, but I"m not sure voters were fixated on public option or health insurance exchanges during the race.


Northern Virginia: I was puzzled by seeing Liz Cheney on a journalistic roundtable on George Stephanopoulos this weekend. I enjoy having voices of the right and left like George Will and E.J. Dionne (both of whom were there) but she is the daughter of the man whose record re torture, etc., was being discussed. (She also, as usual, talked over everyone else including the host, much like the shoutdowns at town halls.) Isn't that a crazy conflict of interest, like having some loyal fan of Bernie Madoff present on a day when his case is discussed?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I watched her on Sunday. I think she's very articulate and well-read, but she's an interesting choice. She's more partisan than most of the guests, as E.J. Dionne and George Will both have established views, but analyze as much as they advocate. Is it a conflict? I'm not sure. She's very interested in the views of her father's tenure as vice-president, but I would say Karl Rove is similarly vested in defending the Bush administration record, so I don't have a problem with her being on. Maybe others do.


Bluffton, SC: From an article this weekend in the Boston Globe:"the Kennedy clan will have to reveal whether it wants to keep the seat in the family." Since when does a Senate seat belong to any family?! Didn't we have a war in the 18th century in part to get rid of hereditary peers?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the seat belongs to the voters of Massachusetts, and if they want to vote against a Kennedy that runs, they can. That said, I think if Kennedy's nephew or his wife runs, they would be favorites. One of the biggest factors in politics is name ID, particularly when the Democratic primary up there is likely to be in November or December, giving the candidates a very short time to gain attention and raise money. Having the last name Kennedy will be huge advantage. But remember a member of the Kennedy clan lost the gubernatorial race in Maryland in 2002, so nothing is guaranteed.


Las Cruces, NM: Hate to speak ill of the dead, but...

To what degree do you think Ted Kennedy helped poison the atmosphere in D.C. when he chose to accuse Robert Bork of wanting to foster a police state, kill pregnant women by forcing abortions into back-alleys, etc. Re-watching that speech this weekend made Sarah Palin's lies seem what degree do you think the left's shock at the low level of public discourse over the health care debate is a house built on a foundation of hypocrisy? And, how do we improve the quality of discourse when both sides are selectively outraged but willing to wallow in the mud to shore up their own, respective, base? He Remains the Man Many Love to Loathe

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think that Bork speech cuts against some of the praise over the last week of Kennedy's bipartisanship. To be fair, I think Kennedy's bipartisanship was one as much of working well with his GOP colleagues and being kind to them as substance, as he was one of the more liberal members of the Senate. How do we improve the discourse about politics? I"m not sure. Both sides need their bases for fundraising/activism, etc. and those bases respond a lot to anger and more divisive tactics. If you remember last August, the constant advice Obama received as his poll numbers were briefly down was to attack McCain in more and in more personal terms. (The houses thing, etc.)


Pittsburgh: With all the well-deserved bipartisan encomiums heaped upon Sen. Ted Kennedy following his death, re his effectiveness as a veteran legislator, I wonder if those aren't a compelling argument AGAINST term-limits (besides re-election, of course). No lawmaker, regardless of political persuasion, could acquire nearly such depth and strength of skills and expertise if confined to a comparatively brief tenure in a legislature, don't you think?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Well, let me argue both sides of this. Defenders of term limits could point to the vast numbers of people in the House and the Senate who have served there for decades but are involved in few bills, don't have nearly the acumen of Kennedy and because of seniority, block younger, smarter lawmakers from getting key seats on committees. Sure, you can say vote them out, but in reality, our system gives such strong advantages to incumbents (earmarks, pac contributions) that it's hard to be a 10-term House member unless they are caught embezzling money. The bad thing about term limits is that they would further empower lobbyists, who would even more than today have more institutional memory than anyone if you have term limits. People like Kennedy or Carl Levin or McCain have had distinguished careers in the Senate, and you would lose them with term limits.


Tuckerton, NJ: Perry, can you please explain to me why John McCain keeps showing up on these Sunday shows? He's not the minority leader or minority whip and he hasn't offered any new ideas in the way of legislation regarding healthcare. He's no longer a so-called "maverick" and his ideas were thoroughly rejected by the public at-large in November. As an informed viewer of these shows, I know what his answers are going to be, before the questions are asked. So what gives?

Perry Bacon Jr.: If the Sunday shows didn't allow anyone who gave predictable answers, who would be on? (Well, know that I think about it, Barney Frank is consistently interesting, but I"m otherwise unable to think of anyone politician who doesn't just recite talking points) McCain is one of the most well-known Republicans in the country still in office and Mitch McConnell, Jon Kyl, John Boeher, Eric Cantor and Mike Pence are all on all the time too (there are the House and Senate Republican leaders). I would love to see the shows have more activists who aren't in office and have more unusual views (Rachel Maddow was a good choice, Dick Armey, etc.)


ABC's Sunday "This Week" roundtable question: It seemed a conflict of interest for George Stephanopoulos to have Liz Cheney on yesterday's round table when they were discussing her father's views re Eric Holder's weighing of an investigation into some of the Bush administration's handling of prisoners arrested during the Iraq War and terrorism investigations, of "enhanced interrogation" -- and even whether waterboarding constitutes torture or is truly effective (Cheney declared it acceptable because she claimed it was effective at gaining information). Plus which, she was more inclined to interrupt the regulars and frequent guests (Will, Ifill, Dionne), shout them down or run on when the moderator was trying to cut her off in order to move on to another topic, as though she were on a cable political talk show.

On a broader view, why has ABC sunk to the level of inviting roundtable guests like Liz Cheney and Michelle Malkin -- the latter of whom declared flatly that extending unemployment insurance benefits just encourages the unemployed to continue their lazy ways and delay looking for work -- when both talkers are undeserving and unfit for the roundtable?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm not a spokesman for "This Week," but I assume the goal is to get people outside of the GOP strategists' world. I"m glad to see more women on these shows and voices from outside of the kind of Beltway establishment (Malkin). Yes, Liz Cheney did interrupt a lot, but that's her style.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Assuming there is no further need for the Obama Administration to negotiate with Republican Members of Congress on health care reform, what possibilities remain on the table where agreement could be reached between Blue Dog Democrats and the rest of the Congressional Democrats?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The Democrats will have to work with some Republicans in the Senate to get a bill done; I know there is talk of passing a bill with only the Democrats, I just have serious doubts about reconciliation being used to pass the bill and the desire of conservative Dems in the Senate to be party of a sharp party line vote. The Blue Dogs aren't watching closely what happens in the Senate Finance Committee; the House bill includes a tax increase they are wary of.


People like Kennedy or Carl Levin or McCain have had distinguished careers in the Senate, and you would lose them with term limits. : Sounds like just the ticket to me. Unless you think the Founders meant our political class to be a permanent one.

From your example above, would that be Senator Auto Bailout Carl Levin? Look at how wonderful that's all turned out. Perhaps turnover in the Congress would have enabled people to come to the top that would have (not could have) dealt with the meltdown of the U.S. auto industry before it became a Katrina moment.

Change. It's good for ALL of us.

Good session today.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Well, an argument for term limits.


RE: Liz Cheney: I disagree with Liz Cheney on everything and anything, but I don't have an issue with her being on these shows. The nature of booking the network Sunday shows is, they want people who attract eyeballs. Notoriety is one aspect of that, so being the daughter of the controversial VP- who was mention by name in two nationally televised debates- qualifies.

If Chelsea Clinton ever decided she wanted to do one of these roundtables? The phone would not stop ringing.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Yes, ratings do matter, but I happen to think she is a very smart as well. And you saw one of the Bush daughters just got hired to be on Today. The bookers would love Chelsea, who is I followed in the 2008 campaign for a day and also knows a lot about policy.


Boston: Responding to the Obama volunteer who asked why health-care was such a priority for Obama when it wasn't during the campaign. Didn't Kennedy more or less make Obama promise to push for it early in his presidency before he endorsed Obama? Obama needed Kennedy's stature at the time.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Obama was running to be the Democratic presidential nominee; promising to expand health care has been a requirement for winning that nomination for two decades. He had to talk about health care often well before the Kennedy endorsement. But I"m not sure all of the Obama volunteers are as invested in getting health care passed as they were in getting him elected. I was in Des Moines two weeks ago to go to town halls, and in the place where Obama had one of his biggest wins, conservatives outnumbered Obama backers like 10 to 1 at most of the events.


Washington, D.C.: At what point does the media declare somone an unreliable source and stop giving them a platform? I'd think that anyone who continues to spout inaccuracies and/or falsehoods, no matter their political leanings, would be banished at some point. Why do they continue to get platforms on TV and in print to keep giving out bad info?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't quite know who you are referring to. I think most writers, myself included, try to note in a story if someone is quoted saying something that is flatly wrong. It's not like falsehoods like the "death panels" thing grow from people declaring it on CNN. It stars on blogs, then gets to talk radio and people believe things before the more traditional media has time to look into the issue.


If the Sunday shows didn't allow anyone who gave predictable answers, who would be on?: Isn't it a journalists job to get these politicians to deviate from their script and try to get at the heart of the matter? During the Presidential campaign it was obvious (and McCain even admitted) he wasn't an expert on economic policy. So why interview him on issues involving healthcare and economic policy?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think those hosts on the Sunday shows do an excellent job of trying to get people off of their talking points, but some of the politicians/advisers are quite skilled at repeating their themes. John McCain, unlike say David Cutler (a health care expert at Harvard) gets to vote in the Senate, so yes, I do care what he thinks.


Term Limits: Well, I have a lot more respect for voters than you apparently do. It is up to voters to limit terms, not some amendment that tell us we will not be able to keep an effective legislator in office even if that's what we want to do. I find that people who are for term limits really do not respect voters or the wishes of voters at all. Remember, term limits (which for the most part is a Republican issue) were first broached when it looked like Republicans would never be able to take control of House of Representatives. Once the Republicans did, the issue of term limits became more muted. Now that they are in minority again, they are touting term limits (as well as fiscal responsibility, which is something else they like to tout when out of power).

Perry Bacon Jr.: another view on term limits. I was simply laying out the pluses and minuses.


Tampa, Fla.: Pittsburgh made a great point on term limits. I'd like to emphasize what bitter experience has taught us in Florida: Lobbyists do not have term limits.

Lobbyists in Tallahassee love term limits because it makes it far easier to force legislators to become beholden to lobbyists. By the time a new legislator develops any real independence, he or she is gone. That's why the Florida Senate, which is populated by term-limited former members of the Florida House, is less susceptible to lobbyists than the Florida House.

Perry Bacon Jr.: and more on term limits.


Why not Palin, then?: Someone just asked, "The nature of booking the network Sunday shows is, they want people who attract eyeballs."

Then why don't the Sunday morning politicial talk shows book a lightning rod like Sarah Palin? I believe she's between jobs nowadays, and with all those kids could probably use the money.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I would think they have surely asked. She must be saying no. I think it would be a huge get for one of the shows.


Columbia, Missouri: The Bork speech: I challenge all those folks who are upset that Kennedy spoke his mind and persuaded his colleagues (including a few Republicans) to vote against Bork. What did he say that was substantively wrong? Bork would have voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, allowed public schools to require creationism taught alongside evolution etc.

Instead we got Kennedy, and then Thomas. The former was the deciding vote in Casey, and the latter is distinguished by his indistinguishness. Ted, you did okay on that one.

Perry Bacon Jr.: There's a view that it makes sense to vote against SCOTUS nominees for purely political reasons; i.e if you are pro-choice, why would you ever for someone who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade?


Gore v. Cheney: Gore may have been critical in 2002 in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, but putting aside the merits of his arguments vs. the merits of Cheney's current arguments, Gore was his party's nominee for the White House and he actually won the popular vote. I'd say he had a bit more standing.

Cheney, conversely, had a very indirect role in the 2008 elections.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Cheney was a big factor in the 2008 elections actually, anger at him helped motivate Democrats. I don't mind Cheney speaking, but I"m in journalism, so perhaps that makes sense. I always think the best way to combat someone who you disagree with is to make a counter-argument not question why they should/can make their case.


"a few month later?": That's hyperbole. Cheney began criticizing Obama in early spring. Gore's first criticism came in the fall of 2002. More than a year by any measure.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Lots of anger with Cheney.


I don't quite know who you are referring to.: There are literally zillions of examples. People like Jim DeMint and Rick Scott get tons of inches in The Post.

My question is why The Post keeps repeating myths like "tort reform reduces health care costs" without checking them out?

Perry Bacon Jr.: My colleague Phil Rucker wrote a good piece on Jim Demint. I don't think we spent "tons of inches" letting him make false claims. I think these issue are a bit more complicated than "false" versus "true."


Washington, DC: Er, the auto bailout worked, dude. Car manufacturers re-hired a lot of workers, and sales were up for the time that the "cash for clunkers" program was around.

Chillax, man, we have term limits already - it's called Election Day.

Perry Bacon Jr.: another comment on term limits.


The myth of incumbent political-office security: Gee, it's sure not helping Arlen Specter. Opponents in his own long-time party turned against him, with a strong ultra-right candidate in the GOP primary. So now he's a Democrat, and has at least one viable opponent in next year's Democratic primary. So I don't think incumbency's such a sure thing any more. Nobody holds a figurative (or otherwise) gun to voters' heads forcing them to vote for incumbents, you know.

Perry Bacon Jr.: something like 90% of House members when reelection, so I think incumbency helps. Yes, that said, people lose every year, and I think Specter is in real trouble.


"...the constant advice Obama received....": Did he take that advice and run with it, or not? Who was giving him this advice? Liberal partisans? Political/campaign advisors?

Perry Bacon Jr.: There were a lot of liberal partisans in August 2008 calling for Obama to change tactics then against McCain and now they want him to change his approach on health care, be more detailed, take on the GOP more, push Congress, etc. I don't know if any of that will work, but I will be curious how the administration operates this month.


Hereditary Seats: I wouldn't read too much into Kathleen (Kennedy) Townshend's loss in MD. There wasn't much "Kennedy" evident in her campaign (or Lt. Gov. tenure). Without the Kennedy connection she wouldn't even been a candidate.

Perry Bacon Jr.: My point was there is a chance a strong candidate in Massachusetts could defeat a Kennedy, but I doubt it.

_______________________ Rucker on DeMint: S.C. Senator Is a Voice Of Reform Opposition


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