Post Politics: Public option, Fox News, more

Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 26, 2009; 11:00 AM

The Post's Perry Bacon Jr. was online Oct. 26 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the latest political news and preview the week ahead.

Archive: Post Politics Hour discussion transcripts


Perry Bacon Jr.: Good morning. Looking forward to the chat. The public option seems alive and well, so I think that should make some of our regular questioners here happy. The Chamber of Commerce and Fox remain at odds with the administration.


Tuckahoe, NY: Who is Dana Perino? What are her accomplishments? Why is her opinion on anything more important than, say, Mariano Rivera's? How do you get on the 'invite list' for these Sunday shows? It seems that media cronies like McCain or Lieberman would have to commit an ax murder to get thrown off it, while others also appear repeatedly for no conceivable reason. Simply lazy producers? Doesn't the phrase "Oh no, not him again!" mean anything to these people?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Dana Perino was the White House press secretary in the Bush administration, making her a fairly prominent Republican voice. She's also telegenic and articulate, which helps get her on tv. There are some people who are on Sunday shows more than their actual influence would suggest (say Sen. Claire McCaskill) because they are good speakers. I don't think producers are lazy. In fact, most Republicans will echo their party line, as well as Democrats, so you might as well have a compelling person making these points. My preference would be for the shows to book people who you can't predict what they're saying before they go on, people like Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, maybe Barney Frank. But each party's leadership would complain about this and it would be unrepresenative in some ways of most lawmakers, who take their party's line on most issues. Also, back to Dana, she at least adds a female voice, which is rare on some of these shows.


Boston: Did the CBS reporter who tracked the number of Obama's golf rounds also track the number of times Bush took off during the day (during the week) to go mountain biking in the hills of Virginia? A little more context might be helpful away from Drudge headlines.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I tend to think the whole debate on how much Obama plays golf or hoops is not very important. I think liberals overly focused on Bush's time being on his ranch during August in his tenure; their main critique was his policies, not how he spent his free time. Similarly, Obama should be judged by his policies and decisions, not his hours golf-playing. The NYT had a story about who the president plays sports with and where it's too male of a group, which is a subject people who work in goverment have brought up with me and i think is a more legitimate issue.


Floris, Va.: Perry, what will Fox do after they and the rest of the media wear themselves out exploring every nuance of the White House boycott? Seems to me that they'll be on the outside looking in for more than three years minimum and to paraphrase Martha Stewart, that's not a good thing. Yes, their base on the right will continue to watch but won't they lose independents and Dems?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I actually happen to think the Fox story is important, for a number of reasons. One, the media era in which many of us grew up, in which non-partisan news outlets dominated coverage, is historically unusual and could be threatened in some ways by the way the audience, particularly on television, is behaving. (Republicans watch Fox, listen to Rush, etc. Democrats watch MSNBC, listen to NPR) This in turn creates a very interesting dynamic for politicians about how to handle networks that are so identified with one party or the other. (Tim Pawlenty went on Rachel Maddow's show earlier this year. If you are an aspiring 2012 GOP candidate, is that smart?) If Democrats refuse to go on Fox and Republicans on MSNBC, does that only increase polorization? Even if this dynamic exists, should the White House reinforce it? Can the president really move us past petty partisan fights if he is taking on a network that in many ways is the leader of the opposition? Has he given up on a goal many would have said was a pipe dream from the beginning? One thing to note. Some surveys suggest large the majority of Fox voters are either Democrats or independents. They may self-identify that way, but Rasmussen had a poll last year suggesting 87% of Fox viewers planned to vote for McCain. Fox is important because it many ways it is the meeting place for the administration's opponents.


Oakland, Calif.: Good morning,

There has been a lot of talk about Obama not having women playing sports with him. Did previous occupants at 1600 get called out for this?

I am just going to file this under "because you are black the rules are different."

Perry Bacon Jr.: Our most recent presidents (Clinton/Bush) did more jogging and biking, which they generally did without large groups, so this presidential hoops issue is rather fresh, as Obama plays regularly. I think it has more to do with his youth, that's it's 2009, etc. than anything to do with race.


McLean: If you combine reports from the N.Y. Post and New York magazine:

Andrew Cuomo will challenge David Paterson for the Democratic nomination for N.Y. governor and will either defeat him easily or push him into retirement.

Rudy Giuliani will not run against Andrew Cuomo, because he knows he will lose. Any other GOP candidate will lose badly.

Giuliani's talk of running for governor has been mostly about helping his consulting business. He doesn't even talk about running for Senate.

Andrew Cuomo will be the next governor of New York.

Rudy Giuliani (a 66-year-old cancer survivor) will never run for office again.

Is there anything wrong with the chain of events?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Maybe you're being a bit cynical about Rudy, but I'm not sure you'r wrong. These predictions all seem about right to me.


Unasked Questions?: Why is this question never asked of our conservative legislator (Republican and Democrat)... and I'm wondering why:

"The health care bill with a public option has been shown to save Americans money and reduce insurance company profits. Which is your constituency?"

Perry Bacon Jr.: I wouldn't ask a congressman "which is your constituency" because I wouldn't get a real answer. The Republicans would argue this on ideological grounds instead of fiscal ones. (even if it saved money, it would involved the goverment too much in health care)


Silver Spring: Predictions for next week's elections: Bob McDonnell elected as governor of Virginia by a significant margin. Michael Bloomberg re-elected as mayor of NYC in a landslide. Jon Corzine re-elected as governor of New Jersey in a close three-way race. Bill Owens wins NY 23 in a three-way race.

I can't take way any particular theme here. Independent candidates will be doing well in three of these races, but they don't seem to have anything in common. Bloomberg is a liberal Democrat in all but name. Chris Daggett in New Jersey is a John Anderson Republican. Doug Hoffman is a candidate of New York's longstanding Conservative Party, backed by the likes of the Club for Growth.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think you're right. There will be lots of efforts to draw out bigger national themes here, but I"m not sure they truly exist. I have the sense there is a bit of both an anti-incumbent and anti-Obama momentum out in the country, but these elections won't prove it. The New York congressional race is in a traditionally Republican district, New Jersey is a fairly Democrat state. I do think this proves one point I've made in these chats for months, the numbers for the national Republican Party aren't going to stop good GOP candidates from winning. McDonnell focused on local issues, but I think smart Republican candidates next year will keep the Sarah Palins away from their districts and focus on fiscal conservatism.


Rockville, Md.: I could not get anyone to comment on your answer last week that the final Conference bill will look like the Senate bill that passes the Senate. You still confident there will be no "public option?"

Lyndon would have cooked up the Conference bill that he wanted, I suspect.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Well, I think the final bill will look the Senate bill, but it looks like it will include some kind of public option. Things change, looks like I was wrong on that one.


Re: Rudy: A pro-choice, pro-gay thrice-married Republican isn't going to get elected dogcatcher today on a statewide or national basis. End of story.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Against Patterson, I think Rick Lazio could win.


Bayville, NJ: What's the deal with Alan Grayson? It looks like his popularity among Democrats is going through the roof. Do you think there is a House Leadership post in his future?

Perry Bacon Jr.: In a word, no on leadership. I think he's becoming something akin to the Michelle Bachmann for the Democrats, a person saying blunt, occasionally odd things that the base loves. I think he's got a future, but more on cable tv than in leadership.


Tuckerton, NJ: Perry, there was a lot of buzz regarding Rep. Alan Grayson (Orlando, Fla.) and how his seat was now in danger after he publicly and repeatedly called out the GOP on health care reform. A lot of Beltway pundits said his seat was right for the picking and declared it a "toss-up" in 2010. Well, after scanning the Florida papers the past couple of weeks, it doesn't look like any of the top name Republicans in that region are lining up to take Grayson on. With that said, shouldn't this be a signal to other Democratic Reps to follow Grayson's lead when it comes to handling difficult issues such as health care reform? Your thoughts?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know much about Grayson's district and what his chances are there. I do think at times we in the Beltway consider caution the right way to win, even if it's not. Russ Feingold represents a swing state, but is one of the leading liberals in Congress, while Jon Kyl represents a pretty moderate state but is a leading conservative. I think voters respect politicians who are confident, but to a point. Rick Santorum is an example of how this can go wrong.


New York : As a working journalist for the Post, do you consider the reporters for Fox News to be "brothers," as Jake Tapper of ABC labeled them? Do you believe that the journalistic standards of Fox are as high, and as worthy of emulation as those of the Post, CNN etc?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Without getting into standards and ethics, I would agree Fox's news coverage and its personalities are more conservative than other outlets. There are some stories that Fox covered that we have covered as well (the ACORN controversy) and others we don't (we didn't cover the tea parties as they did.)


I think it has more to do with his youth, that's it's 2009, etc. than anything to do with race. : Plus the fact that Obama is so publicly committed to equality. Nobody ever thought George W. Bush gave a damn about women & minorities, so nobody looked at whether he was practicing what he preached as far as his private time sports were concerned.

Perry Bacon Jr.: President Bush, the person who pushed for an education law focused on equalizing educational opportunites for minorities and low-income children, took on his own party on immigration reform and appointed two black Secretaries of State, probably deserves a little more credit than you are giving him. Is it possible we can agree both presidents and all leaders in the 2009 should incorporate a diverse set of people in settings, whether it's state dinners or golf, that could affect their policy decisions?


Trenton, N.J.: Roger Ailes for President? Where do I sign up? Just one thing: he was born in America, right?

Perry Bacon Jr.: According to Wikipedia, Roger Ailes is from Warren, Ohio, kind of the perfect place to launch a White House campaign. But why would he take the pay cut?


Rush and NPR: The problem is that you--and others in the mainstream media--tend to promote the notion of symmetry between what liberals listen to and what conservatives listen to. I've listened to both Rush and NPR. There is no symmetry between the two.

That fact lies at the heart of why so many people disagree when someone claims that Fox and MSNBC are merely opposite sides of the same coin. MSNBC (minus Scarborough and Pat Buchanan and others) tends to be liberal in the evenings. Fox tends to be unabashedly pro-Republican all day long. There's a huge difference involved.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I agree that Fox is more conservative than MSNBC is liberal, and surely Rush is very partisan, while NPR is not. I was more referring to the audiences they draw. I worry and I think this health care debate has illustrated this point, that people no longer go to the same sources of information as they debate issues. So you have MSNBC/Huff Post readers debating Rush/Fox people, and they can't agree on basic facts, so it's hard to have a real debate on the values behind their various policy positions. I think political discussions are a lot of fun, but i find them less enjoyable lately, because lots of people I meet at political events are so one-sided that if you slighlty questiion their position, their instinct is not to debate the merits of your point, but to cast you as as liberal or a conservative. I love these chats and like the questions, but i worry as notice 1/3 of them are from poeple demanding Congress pass the public option, it suggests a very high percentage of this audience is liberals. My own modest proposal would be for more of the conservatives reading this to check to our MSNBC more and the liberals to at least listen to Rush once or twice.


Why would Ailes take a pay cut?: For that matter, why would Rudy or Palin either?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Rudy would like to president, he ran after all. I don't know if Palin does. Of course, lots of people would love being president. The marathon of running in many ways screens out both good and bad potential candidates.


Fredericksburg: Lots of folks see Mitt Romney as the Republican front-runner for 2012. But how does he overcome the "Mormon problem" that was such a killer in 2008?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Republicans tend to pick the next guy in line (Bush 1988, Dole 1996, Mccain 2008) and I would aruge it's Romney's turn and he's doing a great job in the pre-campaign period. I think he will be always be vulnerable to an evangelical in places like Iowa, but I think he can work around that this time. Remember, he also faced three nationally known figures (Thompson, Rudy, McCain) in 2008, all of whom cut into his fiscal/security conservative vote. This time, the strongest figures (Palin, Huckabee) will more in the social/cultural conservative group.


The Media Era ...: " which many of us grew up, in which non-partisan news outlets dominated coverage"

See, this is why FOX has an audience. Most of the media is very liberal and fools itself into thinking it is unbiased. While the "offical" position of an indiviual media outlet may be one of neutality, the editors and reporters fool themselves into thinking the are being unbiased by asking the occasional hard question. But it's the choice of stories to cover and deciding what questions to ask that skew the coverage. And they're all too close and inside the echo chamber to realize just how liberal they are.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I understand this sentiment and while I don't agree with it, I hear it often.


McLean, Va.: "I think he's becoming something akin to the Michelle Bachmann for the Democrats, a person saying blunt, occasionally odd things that the base loves." Maybe you need to send this note to George Will. Will: The Bachmann burr

Perry Bacon Jr.: Bachmann has become quite beloved by conservatives, she has the right mix of at solid conservative credentials, good camera presence and a occasionally outlandish comments that annoy liberals and therefore rally conservatives to her. She could have a career as a a kind of female Rush if she gets bored on the Hill.


Silver Spring, Md.: Under the health-care plans being considered, would I be able to: not purchase health insurance and instead pay the "fee" (which I would assume would be much cheaper, correct?). Then, when I need medical care, I then go and purchase "insurance." When my medical needs have been met, I cancel my insurance, pay the "fee" and repeat?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I suppose you could. I assume at some point in this debate, there will be more pressure to make the mandate stronger.


Rockville: "Things change, looks like I was wrong on that one."

Not as wrong as I was.

That was a shift that few could have predicted. I think you had more right than I did. I thought the House would rule.

Thanks for the answers - they gave me something to think about.

Perry Bacon Jr.: The public option shift was dramatic and in many ways, I don't quite know what happened. I think we may have misstated the strength of the opposition to the public option in the first place, but i think the members changed their view on this as well.


Perry Bacon Jr.: Thanks for the questions folks. Take care.



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