Post Politics Hour: President's Media Blitz, Value Voters, More

Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 21, 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. Obama's tv blitz, the president and his team vs. David Patterson, a big week for health care and in foreign policy, so lots to talk about. Looking forward to your questions. Perry


Ashland, Mo.: If most people are happy with their health care, seniors think Medicare is being attacked to pay for the uninsured, and young people come to conclude the premiums they must pay exceed the cost for care they may need (like social security), where is the constituency for reform?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think parts of these groups agree with what you're saying, but parts of them think their personal health care costs are too high, the uninsured is major issue, etc. so I think there are people out there backing reform, close to a majority of voters in fact. (Of course, some poll show close to a majority oppose health reform as well.)


San Francisco: Did Obama accomplish anything with the weekend blitz?

Perry Bacon Jr.: It's so soon we won't know anything for a while, as we haven't seen new polling numbers or the reaction of members of Congress, who usually get back from their districts/states later on Monday. That said, I thought his rhetoric on health care was the same things he's been saying for weeks. I don't agree with the notion he's overexposed, and I think repetition helps make your case. But he may be at a point where many Americans can recite his talking points. I think he was smart to play down the race issue, which won't help him.


Minneapolis, Minn.: The Values Voter Summit and the annual CPAC conference get a lot of high-profile coverage from mainstream media sources. Why is it that no liberal political gatherings get similar coverage?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I disagree. Do you remember how much the Daily Kos convention was covered in 2006 and 2007? Or the Take Back American conference in 2007? (Clinton was booed for her war stance) I attended those events, as well as this Values Voters Summit. One of my colleagues was covering the big labor event last week. The Republican events are very interesting right now because we always know what the Democratic agenda is, they run the White House and both houses in Congress. How the GOP is positioning itself is interesting and they, rightly or wrongly, seem very confident right now.


New York, NY: Thanks for the chat. What on earth do you think was behind the public humiliation of Gov. Paterson?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think they told him privately to get out and other Democrats have been doing that for weeks too, and yet he won't. I"m sure the White House precisely orchestrated this, but I'm sure they are wary of him running, as Patterson is extremely unpopular.


San Francisco: Do you think it was a smart move to avoid Fox News? After all, that is where most of his critics are. That's whom he has to convince.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think it would have been smart to go on Fox, although you can never forget the Obama political guys are pretty smart: they got a black man named Barack Obama elected president. I know Fox is very critical of Obama, but that's why you go on. Even if he doesn't convince anyone, he can make his case to people who are skeptical and maybe lighten or reduce and reshape their opposition.


Philadelphia: The overexposure meme is total nonsense. Barack Obama is topic A on every news and opinion outlet. Every issue becomes about him. He's inherently overexposed. The only question is whether he speaks for himself or lets others shape him.

It's funny that people who oppose his administration warn ominously that he will lose his potency if he spends all his time communicating with the public -- if that were true, wouldn't his opponents keep their mouths shut and let him do himself in? Right...

Perry Bacon Jr.: I agree. The president, particularly in his first year and a compelling one like Obama, is such as dominant figure in our culture he can't avoid being in the news. What I would say though is he's considered a great communicator who moves numbers in polls and can help convince wary Democrats to support him on things. If he keeps doing things like giving speeches to Congress and doing numerous tv appearances that don't move numbers, that's a problem.


Old City II, DC: Could you comment on the latest Research 2000 poll:

"Outside of the South of 82% of those in the Northeast have a favorable view of Obama (vs. 10% having an unfavorable view), 62% have a favorable view (vs. 31%) in the Midwest, and 59% (vs. 34%) have a favorable view in the West. It is only in the South, where 67% (!) have an unfavorable view of the president (vs. 27% holding a favorable view) that Obama appears to have a serious problem. Again, the regional distribution is quite dramatic."

Why no granularity when Obama's popularity is discussed. Shouldn't the argument be made that deep-South conservatives are -never- going to support a center-left President-- especially one with a "bad-guy" name--so to heck with 'em?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know what to make of these numbers. First of all, "favorable" is not the same as saying "I will vote for" this person. Obama didn't win 82% in many states, even in the northeast. I would say Obama doesn't just have some unpopularity in the South; he lost Missouri and Kansas in the general election and I can't imagine he win either of them now. The opposition in the South is stronger, but there are concerns about Obama in a lot of places outside of the South.


Annapolis, MD: From what I can tell, the President went on 5 shows and stayed on message. Each interviewer threw him a different curve and he came out OK.

So why the "Off his game?" headline? Because he didn't draw a large audience?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Why 'off his game" the NYT headline? It wasn't ours, at least in our news story on the issue. I thought he came out fine too, a little dull perhaps, but Sunday shows usually aren't super lively.


Charleston, SC: Perry,

Watching Meet The Press on Sunday, I was struck by Obama's calm and confident demeanor and deft answers to some pretty tough questions. He seemed very magnanimous regarding the racism charges by President Carter and others. He didn't comment on the motivations of his opponents even stating that we are all Americans and these types of discussions( the role of government in our lives) have been occurring since the beginning of the republic.

He was immediately followed by Boehner and Graham. Graham was given the opportunity to condemn Joe Wilson's behavior and proceded to say that the President was confrontational in his speech to the joint session. Essentially, saying that he brought it on from Wilson. Which side will benefit from these types of exchanges? It seems there is much anger on the right but is there as much in the middle? Who are the republicans talking to with the confrontational rhetoric?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Maybe you missed it, but Obama's speech at the joint session had many suggestions his opponents were lying or misleading the public. You may or disagree with the attacks on the health plan, but Obama's speech to Congress didn't exactly bring people together. He has not used that kind of rhetoric since then. Boehner didn't strike me as angry, more oppositional and I thought Graham sounded like himself. Does Obama project better than those two? Yes, he's the president, he won a national election, I"m not shocked he seems more confident than members of Congress. I"m not sure the relative anger of Obama or the Republicans matters in this health care debate, as people are more focused on the policy is my sense.


Herndon, VA: I don't agree with the decision to avoid Fox News but I read somewhere that Chris Wallace referred to the Obama Administration as the biggest bunch of crybabies he's seen in 30 years. This sounds like the spoiled girl crying because she didn't get invited to the prom and makes me reconsider that it wasn't such a bad idea to stay away. Is there any precedence for a Sunday host referring to an active administration this way?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Yes, Wallace was very pointed and I don't recall an anchor saying that kind of thing before. But it might help Wallace get another interview.


Obama on Fox News: Once I heard that Obama decided to make the Sunday am news shows EXCEPT for Fox News, I decided that I wasn't going to watch him at all. He wants to talk to me, he comes to my house. Otherwise, I'll take my current views into the 2010 midterms. Personally, I think he's being petty and short-sighted by slighting conservatives, but his choice.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Well, you sound like you may have already decided who you are voting for in the 2010 elections.


Anywhere, USA: Doonesbury - Daily Dose

This week's Doonesbury looks like it's going to target my life. Does anyone have any research out on the accuracy of senior citizens' understanding of current issues, and how that might connect to their watching and listening habits?

Eg, whether those who listen to AM Talk radio are filled with conspiratorial fiction presented as fact, and thus angry as all get out? Thanks, I'll hang up and listen to your response.

Perry Bacon Jr.: My guess is seniors who listen to conservative talk radio are already Republicans and on an issue like health care, this group would be hearing and perhaps repeating the attacks on the Obama plan from Rush and others. The big question is what seniors in the middle are doing, and my sense is they are wary of the reform effort and are skeptical that the president describes as "savings" in Medicare won't seem like cuts to them.


Philadelphia, PA : "(Of course, some poll show close to a majority oppose health reform as well.)"

As I'm sure you're aware, the polls are extremely self-contradictory. If you look at views on health care in times when change is NOT being proposed, 70 percent think it needs reforming. That's the operative number, the number of people who will be happy if you make an effective change. Now in the process of change there's a tremendous amount of noise based on misinformation and uncertainty. The only time you'll be able to tell if the change was popularly appreciated is when all is said and done -- years after enactment.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think polls conducted outside of the legislative process matter much. They're like polls of Romney vs. Obama right now. When issue are being debated, people are aware of the competing claims made by both parties, etc. those numbers reflect a more realistic political dynamic. Remember all of those polls early in the year showing strong backing for the so-called public opinion? Once Republicans really engaged that issue and started attacking the public opinion, it of course lost backing among Republicans/conservatives and some independents. Before issues are engaged and debated and in the public eye, polls often don't illustrate much.


Re: Old City II: Even more interesting in those polls is the disdain for the GOP throughout most of the country. In the Northeast, Midwest and West support for the GOP is polling in the single digits and low teens. If I were a GOP leader I would be very concerned about the message we are sending most of the country.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Most of the Republicans I talk to are aware their brand is in trouble. I think those Republicans correctly would say perceptions of Bush and Cheney influence voters more than how they view Boehner or Cantor. Remember, when voters go the polls next year, it's not Boehner v. Obama or Romney vs. Obama, it's a guy who says he wants to slow Obama's agenda and work in a more bipartisan way versus a guy (or gal) who says they want to support Obama's agenda but also work in a bipartisan.


New York: Perry, thanks for the chat. I heard a speaker at the "values voters" meeting this past weekend (on the radio; I wasn't there) who bemoaned the perception that conservatives "aren't for working people," and that they would have to do something about that. Was this problem addressed in a substantive way?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know if it was addressed at the conference, but the Republicans argue their proposals to reduce government spending, limit bailouts, etc. help the average American. The president says the stimulus, his budget and potentially health care reform will help the average American. this is debate that is happening everyday in Washington.


Mannington West Virginia: "I think it would have been smart to go on Fox, although you can never forget the Obama political guys are pretty smart: they got a black man named Barack Obama elected president." Why do you have to inject race into your comments? If there are race issues intermixed with political opisition to Obama's policies, it is only because jounalists like yourself keep beating us over the head with the fact that Obama is not just our president but our black president.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think journalists are beating anyone over the head about race. I actually would not have guessed people viewed the Obama anger as racist until Clyburn, Carter, etc. said so. At the same time, I have lots of relatives who have Obama pictures, postures, etc. up in their houses, collect magazines and papers about his election, etc. They didn't do this with Bill Clinton or George W. Bush. Electing a black president was important to a lot of people, a real milestone and it would be crazy not for the press to discuss what happened and how it impacts his governing. But the point I was making earlier was more about the strength of his political team.


Floris, Va.: Hope you won't find this distasteful, Perry, but Vice President Cheney and other members of the Bush White House constantly say that they kept us "safe for eight years." Actually, that administration kept Americans safe for less than eight months, until September 11, 2001. So now that Barack Obama has kept us safe for ten days longer than that, does he have bragging rights?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Maybe so, but I don't think you should keep you tv on waiting for that press conference.


Re: New York, NY reply: Is this what you meant to say?: "I'm sure the White House precisely orchestrated this..."

Perry Bacon Jr.: meant to say "I"m not sure."


Skeptic USA: " Even if he doesn't convince anyone, he can make his case to people who are skeptical and maybe lighten or reduce and reshape their opposition." Your quote reminds me of those who believe there's hope of a bipartisan insurance/health reform, all evidence to the contrary.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't agree. Yes, I think bi-partisan health care reform is very unlikely. But politicians who confront their strongest critics can benefit, I thought one of Obama's best interviews last year was with O'Reilly. And every minute Fox is replaying their interview with Obama is one they are not doing a story on ACORN's connections to Obama.


Re Old City III: If I was Boehner and McConnell, I would realize those polls aren't about Bush and Cheney. They are specifically asking about Boehner and McConnel and they are at 20% nationwide (v Pelosi at 40% and Reid at 35%) and in the single digits everywhere other than Dixie. The problem is not with the GOP past, it is with the GOP present.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Poll numbers of congressional leaders are largely irrelevant besides Reid, as he is running himself. Pelosi was not super popular in 2006, when Democrats ran away with the House or last year. Gingrich was unknown in 1994 except for opposing things.


Silver Spring, MD: The President is promoting the idea of requiring all citizens to purchase health insurance. Putting aside whether or not this is a good idea, in reading the Constitution, I cannot see where We The People have given the Federal Government the power/authority to do this. Since I've seen no debate on this in the MSM on this, my question is: Am I missing the article in the constitution? (If so, can you cite it?) Or have we reached a point where "we can't let the Constitution get in the way of a good idea"?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm not a constitutional scholar, but I find this issue being raised interesting and prevalent in conservative circles outside of Congress. I assume Congress would cite the same authority it does for Social Security, Medicare, etc. for health care. That said, I've heard this argument a lot in recent weeks.


Rockville, MD: Did the folks who had a problem with Obama not going on Fox News feel ok about Cheney conducting most of his interviews on Fox News only?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I have no idea. have not asked. Cheney when was in office did lots of interviews in places beyond Fox, although I don't recall if he did MSNBC.


re: Minneapolis: Don't we know what the Republicans agenda is as well - tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think it is now less government, no bailouts, etc. but I see your point.


Richmond, VA: Re: Wallace getting an interview.

I don't think you'll ever see Wallace get an interview with this president now. It would be like giving in to the cry-baby taunt and I think Obama tries to operate above that level.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Wallace is known as a good interviewer and he's one of FOX's leading voices, so I think he will probably do an interview with the president again.


Decided who to vote for in 2010: I get a kick out of someone suggesting they aren't going to vote for Obama because he wouldn't go on a single FOX show. I can't remember Bush getting interviewed by anyone EXCEPT Fox and the right-wing radio sycophants for like the last 4 years of his Presidency. Obama has already done FOX once, despite the advocacy they've decided to become engaged in. Obama also sat down with right-wing radio host Mike Smercomish. That would be like Bush sitting down with Rachel Maddow--would never happen!

Perry Bacon Jr.: Bush did lots of interviews outside of FOX, but I can't recall what he did with MSNBC, although MSNBC wasn't as left as it is now till the end of his presidency. That conservative talk show hosted voted for Obama if I recall correctly. I always think politicians should comfort their critics in the media, but maybe I"m just dying to have the president go on Rush.


Perry Bacon Jr.: Thanks for the questions folks.


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