Post Politics Hour: Weekend review and a look ahead

Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 19, 2009; 11:00 AM

The Post's Perry Bacon Jr. was online Oct. 19 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the latest political news and preview the week ahead.

The transcript follows


Perry Bacon Jr.: Good morning. Lots of political news to discuss this week.


Ashland, Mo.: On health spending legislation, is it unusual for a president to be less than specific as to what should be in a major piece of legislation this late in the process? Don't legislators get nervous he will disclaim all the ideas the public rejects after the bill is signed?

Perry Bacon Jr.: There is some clamor on Capitol Hill for Obama to be more specific about what he wants, public option, what kind of proposals to raise money, etc. I'm not sure this is justified. Obama has offered details ideas on how to pay for the bill at times, only to be rejected by Congress. On both Social Security and No Child Left Behind, President Bush deferred some details to Congress on how those proposals would work, so I don't think it's that unusual. I actually think Obama has been pretty clear, he would prefer a public option but won't fight for one.


Dallas: Mr. Bacon, What does it say when there are so many that don't see Fox news as biased? Is it a rationalization their part? I watch MSNBC, however I acknowledge they're left leaners, and am grateful that often they can still criticize President Obama's administration, which seemed lacking during Bush/Cheney.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I haven't see the data you are referring to that suggests Fox viewers don't understand that network is more conservative than CNN. I would also suggest FOX was at times critical of President Bush or at least skeptical of some of his ideas. (immigration reform is one example) I spend a lot of time talking to and writing about conservatives; most I talk to seem quite aware Glenn Beck and Rush aren't in the center.


Tuckerton, NJ: Considering the majority of Americans want some type of public healthcare option and that 52-percent of Nevada residents feel the same way (as per latest Research 2000 poll), what on earth would prevent Harry Reid from including it in Senate compromise bill? Is he that politically tone deaf?

Perry Bacon Jr.: For whatever reason, some of the conservative Democrats in the Senate aren't wild about a public opinion. (I would suggest the politics of their states, where they have to get Republican-leaning voters, but I know you will cite more polls saying people in Louisiana want the public option. I assume politicians have a keen sense of their own electoral position and the moderate Democrats are weary of this for a reason, but I digress) I'm not sure getting the public opinion in the bill will really hurt Reid in Nevada.


Vienna, Va.: Are there any Republican presidential candidates creating buzz among conservative activists? How do you expect Romney to handle the "Mormon problem" this time around? Can Huckabee win over the business community?

Perry Bacon Jr.: My own view is Romney will be much better off having run already. The flip-flopping issue will be less dominant and I think in light of Obama, conservatives will be happier to pick the person they can win, even if it that's Romney. Conservatives activists like Huckabee, but I would watch what Mike Pence and Palin do the next couple of years. I really don't think Huckabee will win over the business/economic conservative crowd. Romney has done so well appealing to them, and I don't think Huckabee's brand of politics is shared by them.


Dull and duller: Perry, why is it that the predictable and boring storyline "The left should sacrifice the Public Option to save health reform" gets so much media coverage, but its opposite axiom "Congresspeople who support real health reform must demand a Public Option to make it work" is left for the policy journals and blogs?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think the storyline I've written is "liberals demand public option" and "White House won't push for public option." I think whenever a party in power seems lukewarm about an idea so many of its activists really like, it's worth writing about.


Santa Cruz, Calif.: When we look back on the health care debate a few years from now, I have the feeling we won't see it as having taken an interminable amount of time to pass some form of reform, given how many decades such reform has waited. If something gets passed by, say, a year from when Obama took office, it will seem to have been quite a success. Do you have any perspective on this? I find all this "he said he wanted it done by August!" criticism to be just silly.

Perry Bacon Jr.: To be fair, the president and his team created all of these timelines. That said, I think it will be considered a major accomplishment for the president if this bill passes. I would add one caveat though. I think he will get a increase in his poll numbers because it will be a big example of him getting something done. I don't know how permanent that surge in poll numbers will be though, because many of the health care benefits in the bill don't kick till 2013 and I think Republicans have been effective in casting the President as a big spender, whatever the facts about the deficit and spending under Bush. So yes, I think the angst of August will be forgotten if a bill passes. But I think the White House would be wise to focus on economic issues in 2010 to people excited to vote for congressional Democrats.


Boston, Mass.: Just taking a break from shoveling up here in Boston to ask what were the key talking points Rahm was projecting this weekend and how much traction did he get on them?

Perry Bacon Jr.: He touted progress being made on health care, said the President would not commit more troops to Afghanistan until the government there was more stable, either he or Axelrod attacked Fox News, those are the high points.


Fort Worth, Tex.: Mike Pence is running for president? Since when? What credentials does he have? What's his platform? Why are conservatives excited about him?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Pence has gone to Iowa, allowed his name into a straw poll at the Family Research Council for 2012 and generally made moves to keep himself in 2012 mix. Is he running for sure? I suspect. I assume his platform will be he's someone who is liked by both the economic and social conservatives. (Huckabee has trouble with the former, Romney the latter) I don't know what he has in terms of foreign policy experience, fundraising ability, name ID, etc. I don't think he's a favorite, only someone who is making some noise.


Silver Spring, Md.: I see that Tim Pawlenty is hitting the trail hard for 2012. Do you see any enthusiasm for him among conservatives? He is an evangelical, but much lower-key than Huckabee or Palin.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Right now, in the kind of informal 2012 campaign, lots of Washington strategists and consultant types I talk to like Pawlenty and think he's very smart and strategic and well-versed on issues. My sense is he's biggest problem is that he's not overly charismatic and many of his positive attributes are shared by Romney, who has a four-year head start.


Fox News: It's not simply a case of parroting the Republican right wing. Fox drives and shapes the news in ways its broadcast and cable competition do not. From the unrelenting editorializing of their "personalities" to actively promoting sideshows like the tea parties, they make no attempt a fair coverage. And admirable as they are, Shep Smith and Major Garrett are insufficient fig leaves.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think because of Fox's personalities, its approach to news and the lack of a leading GOP voice right now, FOX is in many ways at the leadership of what might be called the anti-Obama movement. Some of their beat reporters do excellent, straight-forward coverage like Major and Chris Wallace, but I think Glenn Beck and others certainly drive lots of attention. In some ways, the White House taken on Beck and therefore Fox is like them taking on Michael Steele and the RNC.


Helena, Mont.: I suggest that if Democrats want to get people "excited" about voting for them, they should play to their base the same way the Republicans play to theirs. No way are the moderates or independents ever excited - the lack of excitement is a reason they are what they are. So, Dems, play to your base!

Perry Bacon Jr.: I just haven't met this large class of voters who will stay home if the Dems don't push for the public option. If they exist in such large numbers in a community where they will truly impact next year's elections, I would love to go that place and write a story. Independents shifted to the Democrats is how Obama won and has such a huge majority in Congress. I think it's smart politics for him to focus on them.


Bucks, Pa.: re: Republican Presidential candidates

What about Santorum? Any traction there?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I happen to think with Huckabee, Romney, etc. there is very little room for Santorum. But maybe one of those guys doesn't run. And the election is three years from now.


Annandale, Va.: What is it with comments that most Americans want a public option? Conservatives say most Americans don't want a public option. Post poll page has a variety of polls with varying results and seems to indicate how the question is worded impacts results.

So what do recent reliable polls show?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I've seen reliable polls showing most Americans support a public opinion. I don't find this particularly useful information. Most members of Congress support a public opinion, it still doesn't guarantee passage.


I would watch what Mike Pence and Palin do the next couple of years.: Palin - Are you kidding? No way Palin even gets close to being considered for the the Prez nomination. No way, no how - anyone assuming otherwise is delusional. It will not stand up to any credible scrutiny. And please, leave out the whole she has a pretty substantial following with the base. In the words of Steve - it would be a disaster, and you Mr Perry know it.

Perry Bacon Jr.: The question was about which candidates' conservatives like. If she ran, she wouldn't win, but she would be a sizable threat to anyone who wanted to catch the Christian conservative vote in the Republican Party.


Pa.: OK, Perry...just what is the perception out there about Obama, now that we are, what, 10 months into his term? Those I've talked to (who didn't vote for him) say he is an "amateur"--talks good, but doesn't have the skills to do what needs to be done. Even those who did vote for him are a little shaky on whether he does, in fact, have the skills and backbone to do what needs to be done. I don't watch MSM (TV), so am curious as to what general opinion might be...thanks for any insight!

Perry Bacon Jr.: National Journal did a piece asking if Obama is tough enough, as the narrative has become from the left that Obama won't fight for things like the public option and on the right that he is too eager to negotiate with rogue leaders. I think it's way too early to render such a judgment. More importantly, I think presidents are ultimately judged by results. President Bush was aggressive and decisive in many portrayals in 2002; he was stubborn and uncompromising by 2007. His personality didn't change in the years in between; Iraq got worse and Hurricane Katrina happened. If unemployment is 12% next year, Obama will have a problem, whatever his personality is.


Cleveland: What's John McCain's standing among Republicans? I haven't heard many blame him for defeat in 2008, the way parties will often shift blame to unsuccessful nominees. I also notice that he and Romney seem to have made up -- do you expect McCain to endorse him?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I haven't seen national polls, but here in Washington, Republicans like McCain more. He's less of a maverick, taking liberal stands on some issues and now more one of the leading attackers of Obama. And he has valuable credibility on foreign policy and is a more familiar figure to voters. He's done a fundraiser with Romney, and they have reached some kind of detente.


Washington, DC: Is there any come-back for Deeds at this point, or is this a called race?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think there's still time. I think Deeds last hope is that even if Obama is not out with him on the road, the ground game and the blacks and young voters who turned out for Obama will also come out for Deeds. I have my doubts though.


Romney: Romney flip-flopped on TARP like 2 weeks ago. He favored it in 2008 and is attacking it now. Despite your protestations, the flip-flop thing isn't going away.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know what he said about TARP, but I think becoming an anti-TARP is smart politically if you're a Republican candidate. And I would argue switching positions on TARP is easier to explain than changing positions on abortion.


compromising on the public option: There have been hundreds of articles written suggesting that over 50 supporters of the public option should be "pragmatic" and cave to the demands of the 5 or 6 Democrats and Lieberman who don't want one. Why don't we ever see articles suggesting that the "no public option" minority of Dems should be pragmatic and accept one component they don't like of a bill they all claim to support?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't call for people to be more "pragmatic" in my articles and my non-columnist colleagues don't either. I wish the public option advocates would stop acting if the media is at fault here; seems to be they should take this issue up with congressional Democrats and the president.


Fox viewers unaware of bias, look @ WaPo comments: "suggests Fox viewers don't understand that network is more conservative than CNN."

Mr. Bacon, Take a look at the online comments on the Fox article today. Indications fox is the only fair news source gives one pause about their viewership, or justifies my original question.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I see. I think there are some people on the right who only watch more conservative outlets. (there are some people on the left who behave this way as well) I think they define "fair" as agreeing with their views.


Fairfax, Va.: Palin just seems too wild and raw to be President. Maybe a term or two as VP would settle her down.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I would suggest her changes of being elected to national office are almost nil.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Religious questions for 2012:

Can Huckabee expand his appeal beyond evangelicals?

What can Romney do about voters who won't pick him because he's a Mormon?

Pawlenty was raised Catholic and became an evangelical. Will that cause a problem among Catholic voters?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Huckabee is touting his fiscal conservative credentials loudly these days; I just think Romney has more credibility on those issues. I don't think Romney can win over voters who don't like his faith, but he did pretty well in 2008, I don't think that's a barrier to him winning the nomination. I think it's too soon to know much about Pawlenty's prospects based on his faith.


Empirical Observation: Back to whether or not Fox is perceived as biased. I have long noted that conservative questions directed to journalists will often take them to task for being biased to the left if they say anything even remotely favorable to Dems. I infer that they are not asking these same questions about right leaning bias because they simply regard those comments as being fair and balanced. Could it simply be that the skewed news on Fox is simply seen as being the unbiased truth by it's viewers? I am absolutely sure you could say the same thing, in reverse, about MSNBC.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think it's been more popular on the right and for a longer time, to attack the press as being liberal. There are now people who are more active in saying the press is too conservative, but that's a more recent phenomenon. I have often had conservatives wary of talking to me at events after I say I work at the Post; this never happened at the dozens of Obama or Clinton rallies I attended last year.


Boston: "I assume politicians have a keen sense of their own electoral position and the moderate Democrats are weary of this for a reason, but I digress"

I realize we don't want to be crass. But these small, poor state Senators are also being lavished with cash by interests who benefit from preserving the status quo or not competing with a Public Health Insurance plan. Add to those gifts and incentives a great deal of media coverage and one could be led to think their opposition is not so motivated by their keen understanding of their state--most Senators know they have a 95% chance of getting re-elected no matter what.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I suspect Senate reelection rates are less than 95%. I don't have a list of the top members of Congress getting money from the insurance industry, but there are plenty of members who get money from health care companies who also support the public option. Some of the Blue Dogs live in districts McCain won by 15 points. They live in places where voters are more conservative, and the Republicans have branded the public option, rightly or wrongly, as a major liberal initiative.


Northern Virginia: Perry, you wrote "I haven't see the data you are referring to that suggests Fox viewers don't understand that network is more conservative than CNN." Look at the very recent, very interesting, and fairly solid Freedom Corps research on conservative Republicans. It's a Democratic- linked research group but the methodology looks good.

Relevantly, one part of the report says that conservative Republicans (about 20 percent of the American electorate) believe "that they possess knowledge and insight that the majority of Americans - whether too lazy or too misguided to find it for themselves - do not possess. A combination of conservative media outlets are the means by which they have gained this knowledge, led by FOX News ("the truth tellers"), and to a lesser degree conservative talk radio. Their antipathy and distrust toward the mainstream media could not be stronger, and they fiercely defend FOX as the only truly objective news outlet."

Perry Bacon Jr.: I have heard about this study but not read it in full.


would stop acting if the media is at fault here: But the media is at fault. They have never looked at the enormous waste of private insurance overhead and compliance cost.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Do you read the Washington Post? Lots of stories have been written about failings of the insurance industry.


Funny: "I would also suggest FOX was at times critical of President Bush or at least skeptical of some of his ideas. (Immigration reform is one example)..."

I challenge you to find the least bit of skepticism from FOX News in the first five years of the Bush presidency.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I guess the last three years of Bush's term don't count. I don't watch Fox super closely and was on the campaign trail then, but there was plenty of conservative angst about the bailout and immigration reform.


Helena, Mont.: Please help me understand why Democratic senators - such as Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln - would even consider joining the Republicans in a filibuster. If they want to be Republicans, they should change parties and go to the other side. But having them in the Democratic caucus and in leadership positions should impose a duty on them to support the leadership on cloture votes, as a minimum.

Perry Bacon Jr.: My guess is they won't back a filibuster, but if you're a Democrat, 60 is much better than 58 in the Senate.


Perry Bacon Jr.: I'm out of time, but thanks for the chat folks.


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