Post Politics Hour: Tea Party, Joe Wilson, More

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Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 14, 2009; 11:30 AM

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

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Perry Bacon Jr.: Good morning. Looking forward to your questions. Lots to talk about with Joe Wilson still in the news, the health care debate heating up this week and new poll numbers out about the President.

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Beachwood, NJ: Perry, Do you have an estimate, based on you and your colleagues reporting from the FreedomWorks rally on Saturday, as to what percentage of these people actually voted FOR Obama? I would think that would be a relevant fact to this story. O therwise, this rally just appears to be a bunch of rowdy people mad that their guy didn't get elected President/Congressman/Senator, etc. Remember this "grassroots" uprising actually began in March or about 60 days after Obama started his job. Your thoughts?

Perry Bacon Jr.: From talking to people ahead of the rally and the very nature of it, I suspect almost no one there voted for Obama. Does that detract from the importance of the rally? Not to me. We covered extensively the huge crowds Obama drew at events last year, where I assumed everyone was voting for him and we also covered anti-war protests back in 2002, where I'm guessing there were few Bush voters. The rally was important in that it was the one of the bigger shows of this anti-Obama movement that seems, interestingly, to be in some ways outside of the official Republican Party.

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Burnsville, Minn.: Among the questions asked in today's polls was are you a Liberal, Conservative or Independent. My basic definition of Liberal is: Open to progressive change; definition of Conservative: wants things to stay basically the same. My comment: When you ask a person if they are Liberal or Conservative ask them to define the word.

washingtonpost.com: Poll: Opposition High but Easing

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think these terms are pretty well-defined in the political context, but are still worth asking people about. I think there are lots of people in the country right now who consider themselves conservative (smaller goverment, low taxes, etc.) but are disaffected from the Republican Party, so I think asking about conservative is particularly important right now.

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Washington, DC: Is this the week where Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee finally get some press time?

Can you explain Max Baucus' reasoning behind the Gang of Seven later reduced to the Gang of Six? The gang of seven had 4 republicans and 3 democrats (all from small red and purple states). The gang of six, 'lost' Orrin Hatch of Utah.

What happens when the Democrats get to negotiate with Max? Some of them actually care about providing affordable health care (Jay Rockefeller), not just reducing spending on health care (Kent Conrad).

And isn't the lesson of 1994 that you shouldn't discourage your base? The Dems lost when their party partisans stayed home.

Perry Bacon Jr.: This whole notion of the Gang of Six runs health care, as I've said in these chats before, is wrong-headed. The committee will have a mark-up soon, and more liberal Democrats like Rockefeller will have plenty of time to push their proposals, as will conservative Republicans. And then the bill will head to the floor, where any senator can make changes. I think the lesson of 1994 is about not losing the middle, not about partisans. I happen to believe the number of liberals who won't back Obama in 2012 because he didn't back the public option or for that matter the number of House Democrats who won't vote for a bill without a public opinion is very low.

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Silver Spring, MD: Do you agree with Maureen Dowd that Joe Wilson's "you lie" shout was at least partially racially motivated? If so, what does that say about the thousands of right-wingers carrying signs and slapping on bumper stickers with the same phrase? Do you think most African-American's perceive the extreme fear-mongering towards Obama to be racist?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I haven't seen any polls of African-Americans on the issue. I saw Clyburn's critique of Wilson's comments. I"m skeptical of the notion Wilson's outburst or the general anger is racially-motivated. Don't we think there would be lots of conservative angst if Hillary Clinton would have won and would be pursuing a universal health care plan?

I think there is a strong core of conservatives angry not just like Obama but who were frustated with President Bush as well.

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Seattle: OK, I get it, neither "single payer" (the preferred option for many of us) nor the "public option" is going to pass, for a variety of reasons.

But, what would it take to at least hold a vote on these two proposals? Many many of us would like our lawmakers to go on the record, something we can keep in mind come next election day.

Is there anything the public can do to help bring this about?

Thanks.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I happen to think there will be a vote on the public option in the Senate and it will lose, but both in the Finance Committee and on the Senate floor, members can push such a vote. Since you live in Seattle, you could start by calling Cantwell or Murray's offices and demand they offer such a proposal.

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Re Joe Wilson apologizing in Congress: I understand that both President Obama and Vice President Biden have accepted Joe Wilson's apologies to each of them. But isn't the reason Joe Wilson should apologize in Congress that he offended and insulted Congress by his outburst last Wednesday evening?

Perry Bacon Jr.: My understanding is Wilson actually talked to chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, but the President accepted it. The House Democratic leaders said it was an offense to the institution of Congress, so I think that's why they want to censure him.

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Austin, TX: re: The number of liberals who won't back Obama in 2012....

Of course it's going to be low. It's an empty threat - what are they going to do, vote for Sarah Palin?

Perry Bacon Jr.: This is my point.

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Payson, Ariz.: Perry, Thank you for taking questions this morning. Are any current reporters at the Washington Post old enough to have a sense of deja vu about the Dick Armey-led march in Washington D.C., Joe Wilson's outburst, and the Town Hall shout downs? I'm in my early 60s, and they seem all too recognizable to me. In the Civil Rights era, they were against voter registration, desegregating schools, and equality -- and the rallying cries then were states rights and sovereignty. The angry crowds are the same. The vitrolic shout downs are the same. The opportunists with political ambitions are the same. Even the when-in-doubt-call-it-socialism tactics have been dusted off after a generation of disuse. I don't think it is any coincidence at all that we are being revisited by the shame of a past era during the early months of the nation's first African-American administration. This is racism. It's just trying to hide behind a different set of names and excuses.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Lots of questions about this and the view that the protests constituted racism. There is lots of disagrement on this point, so but I just wanted to post this comment.

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Florissant Valley, MO: If your life depended on it, Perry, what would you guess the final health package will look like? Or will it pass in snippets, one piece at a time? Does Barack hgave at least the Dems sewn up yet? Thanks

Perry Bacon Jr.: My life does not depend on it, thankfully. My sense is some shrunken down version will pass, $800 billion, no public option, exchanges, some kind of language about the deficit, etc.

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Healthcare...: How can the group of senators still be called the "Gang of 6", when 2 have said they will not back anything.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I assume you're referring to Enzi and Grassley and they haven't said they won't back anything, although that might be true.

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Northern Virginia: Kanye West, Serena Williams, and Joe Wilson. Isn't it nice to see that being a total jerk in public transcends all racial, age, regional, and professional barriers? I think the three of them should go on tour in some way. Or dare I say it... reality show gold.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Have you ever listened to Joe Wilson? That could be a dull tour. But yes, all three were unusual moments, although Wilson's was more unusual, athletes cursing out refs isn't that unusual and Kanye is known for this kind of behavior.

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Columbus, Ohio: Was there an official count of the participants of the National Tea Party in Washington DC, Saturday?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I haven't see one, but it was a pretty sizable crowd.

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Baltimore MD: I think you have to ignore Joe Wilson's record to conclude that he's free of racial animus.

The most telling example--he blustered about how it was impossible that Senator Strom Thurmond (for whom he worked) could have fathered a child borne by an African-American woman. And then when the woman who resulted from that liaison proved it (and Thurmond admitted it), Wilson said she should have just kept quiet.

Also, I think you have to be wonderfully naive to not see racial overtones to Saturday's demonstration. Or was it merely a coincidence that everyone I saw in the news coverage was white--no Latinos, no Asian-Americans and no African-Americans. (I'm a 61 year old white male, for what's it's worth.)

Perry Bacon Jr.: Without getting deeply into Wilson's career, that the crowd was largely white is not surprising, the Republican National Convention had few people of color.

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Austin, TX: It seems to me that the Republicans' strategy at this point is to hope for (and try to foment) a "rebellion of the angry white males" in 2010. Kind of like 1994.

I don't see it happening. Do you?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Republicans want a rebellion of moderates, independents, conservative Dems, etc. which is kind of like 1994. will it happen? hard to know. It is almost imposible to know what the issues of the 2010 campaign will be right now. Who would have thought the economy would become almost the only issue by November 2008?

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Gang of Six, er, Four: I heard on the news that Senator Grassley was so intimidated by shouters etc. at his August town halls that they've caused him to back out of his support for the Gang of Six. Doesn't Chuck Grassley need to grow a spine here?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm sure that analysis of Grassley is exactly right, as I think as GOP opposition has gotten stiffer, it would have been harder for him to back the bill. That said, the anger he faced didn't exactly move him towards the bill. Grassley is behaving like every other politician, responding to polls, his constituents, etc. I'm not sure where these courageous politicians you speak of exist.

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re Austin: Of course liberals will continue to vote for Dems -- to the extent we show up at all. I probably will go to the polls regardless, but my motivation to give substantial amounts of money, as I have in the past, or to give my time and energy to help with canvassing and phone banking, is -quickly- evaporating.

Perry Bacon Jr.: This is what I think is interesting. I wonder if strong Obama backers in 2008 are affected by some of his moves to woo the GOP, like dumping the public opinion, and if that affects Democratic support in 2010 or 2012. The broader might be whether the enthusiasm from 2008, when liberals not only could dump the GOP but elect the first black president, could possibly be replicated.

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The real reason...: for Joe Wilson's outburst is the simplest reason: a week ago, had any of us ever heard of him? All he has to do is speak truth to power, and he's a household name.

Perry Bacon Jr.: lots of wilson comments.

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Bethesda, Md.: What is the anti-Obama rally based on? What he has done in office? What he might do? Just not liking him?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Obama himself would argue he's pushed a lot of things in these first eight months, the stimulus, education reform, climate change, health care, more troops in Afghanistan, etc. There is a lot of like or not like.

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Stewartstown, PA: Why is American politics so thin skinned? In many countries, leaders get heckled and insulted in their legislatures all the time. Why was what Wilson did a big deal?

Perry Bacon Jr.: it was unprecendented in the United States to shout at the POTUS like that.

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Wilmington, N.C.: FYI THERE WERE THREE HISPANIC SPEAKERS AT THE RALLY , there were two African American speakers of importance. There were two African American politically inclined entertainers there also. There were black and Hispanic people in the crowd also.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Yes, this is true and a good point.

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Arlington, VA: "The House Democratic leaders said it was an offense to the institution of Congress, so I think that's why they want to censure him. "

Congress has many, many more problems for its respect as an institution than people yelling things out of turn.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Another Wilson comment.

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The Protesters: They do realize they lost the election right? And by a pretty significant margin?

Perry Bacon Jr.: And more on the protesters.

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Racism at the Protests?: No. No. NO! Don't believe any of those signs we carried!

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the vast majority of the signs had little to do with race, but posting this comment.

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Rockville, MD: Perry, it looks like we have "Joe the Martyr." Doesn't he benefit more if he can keep the story on him rather than the substantive issue of health care reform? How quickly can the House Democrts discipline him and be done with it?

They gave him a chance to apologize on the House floor and he didn't. What's the fallout if they follow through? Or if they don't? Does the House become even more boorish the NEXT time a president speaks to them ?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think any member wants to face the kind of attention Wilson is getting, so I don' think this will happen again. I don't quite understand his insistent on not apologizing on the floor nor the Dems trying to censure, I think both sides would be better off getting attention on another issue.

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Pittsburgh: If one assumes that the real purpose behind President Obama's health care speech Wednesday night was to increase support chiefly among Blue Dog Democrats, as well as a few moderate Republicans -- and their constitutents, who might be inspired by the speech to contact their Representatives and Senators to urge them to support Obamacare -- is there any measure yet of how effective this has already been, or is likely to be?

Perry Bacon Jr.: On one hand, the Dems on the Finance Committee seem to be moving a bit more to hurry up in the wake of the speech. On the other hand, all of the GOP comments, even from more Obama-friendly people like Collins, Snowe and Corker, have been fairly negative. I think the real question is will the speech move public option, because that will affect Blue Dogs and I think the polling is inconclusive so far on that.

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Columbia Missouri: Courageous politicians are often voted out of office. Which is why the supporters of health care are closing the intensity gap. We can't expect that our people will be any different than their people. After all, they're politicians first.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I agree on both your points. Public option and Obama health care supporters haven't matched the intensity of the opposition, and members of Congress tend view intense views as critical, because people without intense views, show up to town halls, rally their friends and neighbors, give money, the kind of backing a member needs to win reelection.

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Boston: In the face of incredible polarization in the U.S., what unifies us as a country right now?

Perry Bacon Jr.: This is a very interesting question. I think people are united in politics at times, such as on in the aftermath of Sept. 11, but politics is often divisive at others times and has been since the day of Jefferson and Adams. I think most people actually agree the United States, whatever its problems, is one of the best places in the world to live. I think we have our traditions that bring people together from July 4 to Christmas to the Super Bowl. I think that television and protests and the Wilson thing obscure the reality that many members of Congress are friends with people on the opposite side of the aisle.

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Non-Apology: What a hypocrite. Wilson "apologizes" for his excess of patriotism and whatever then essentially calls the President a liar, anyway.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think Wilson's comments on Fox yesterday made him any new Democratic friends, but he wasn't looking for any either.

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Las Cruces, NM: I would like to applaud the coverage post-Joe "You Lie" Wilson for actually showing that there were no provisions in the proposed legislation that prevented illegal aliens from participating.

That said, it would be more expensive to "ghetto-ize" such guest workers to the emergency rooms for medical care.

But, it was refreshing to see conservative viewpoints taken as more than just rabble-rousing. And, the Post's coverage shows, that from some legitimate viewpoints, Obama was lying. Don't you think the "no dime"..line was a lie, also?

Thanks

Perry Bacon Jr.: My colleague Alec Macgillis wrote a piece on this subject that largely backed up the president's view that the bill won't help illegal immigrants, while noting that Democrats didn't back GOP efforts that would make it even harder for any illegal immigrants to collect any benefit from the bill. I don't think Obama was lying as such, although he didn't give the most complete phrasing of those provisions.

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

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