Post Politics Hour

Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 29, 2010; 11:00 AM

The Post's Perry Bacon Jr. was online March 29 at 11 a.m. ET to take your questions about the latest political news and to preview the week ahead.

The transcript follows.


Perry Bacon Jr.: Good morning. Welcome to the chat folks.


NH: Hi, Perry,

As one of the "unreal" Americans who voted for the Democrats precisely because I wanted health care reform, I'd like to know how Sarah Palin got appointed to define who and who isn't a "real" American? Would you ask her how she got that power for me?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I will ask her in her next major press conference where journalists from everywhere get to ask her questions.


St. Paul: Hi Perry -- Thanks for taking questions today. Now that he's gotten health care done, what's the next big thing on the list for Obama?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Financial regulatory reform I suspect. He will also push for NO Child Left Behind reauthorization, some kind of energy legislation and more stimulus-lite jobs stuff


Washington, D.C.: Would it be fair to say that President Obama and the Democrats clearly have the political momentum right now, or is that a bit of an exaggeration?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I think that's fair to say. Remember that outside of the five million people in America who follow politics like sports though, Americans are focused on the economy, not health care.


Jumping the Gun Award: The winner? Chris Cillizza, in today's Fix, headlined "Business backgrounds are working for first-time GOP candidates." He comes up with a list of about four or five business execs running for Governor or Senator somewhere...none of whom have won an election yet. But those precious polls (God bless 'em, what did we do without 'em) show some of these people winning primaries or in a close race.

Yep, no doubt about it, those business backgrounds are working. Forget waiting for an actual election result or even primary results. Just declare them winners now.

Because after all, it was perfectly clear who was going to be President seven months before the election, right? Er, right?

Perry Bacon Jr.: On your last point, actually in April 2008, I thought it was pretty clear Obama would be president; a view I"m sure Chris shared at that point. Campaigns matter at that the margins, but most of the historical trends suggested Obama would win and he did.

I think Chris' point is that being a candidate from outside Washington could be helpful this year.


Indianapolis, Indiana: Ok. Has the narrative changed because of the health care success and Obama and the Dems are in a whole new position or does the health care issue mean little to voters (other concerns being more important) and the GOP has a huge upper hand going into 2012?

Perry Bacon Jr.: The narrative in the media has changed to Obama being successful in getting something done. I think to swing voters the economy is far more important than health care, a point polls back up. I think the GOP has the upper hand in this Novemeber, I think 2012 is too far away to figure out.


Laurel: "I will ask her in her next major press conference where journalists from everywhere get to ask her questions."

The way REAL politicians do.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Sarah Palin doesn't take questions, give policy speeches, cast votes or do anything most politicians do, but most people in politics would love to have the kind of influence she has.


Alexandria, Va.: As a Republican, I am somewhat comforted when I see Barack Obama, as shown by his surprise trip to Afghanistan, once again abandon his own misguided policies of cutting and running from our overseas commitments, on which he was elected and supposedly came into office to put into effect, but instead adopting those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, to keep our word and see our nation's pledges through, like a little child, following in the footsteps of his older and wiser father.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Obama campaigned on adding troops to Afghanistan, so not a switch there.


Rockville: The economy takes care of itself. We might as well use the weather to tell us who to vote for.


We do.

Perry Bacon Jr.: I largely agree with you, voters often decide who to vote for based on something (the economy) politicians have little control over.


Washington: I was impressed by Obama's combative tone in his speeches last week, sneering at and taunting political opponents. This isn't the "new tone" we thought he meant when he was campaigning. How can there ever be any hope for bi-partisanship when the guy with the biggest megaphone is gloating and taunting?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Sounds like you weren't really "impressed." I think Obama was calling out Republicans for their repeal pledge. I think he can try to be bi-partisans and still critique the other side, pledging a "new tone" is not a pledge to surrender.


Princeton, NJ: The health care debate has been horrible. Basic facts have not been discussed. How does our system of private insurance compare in quality and cost to the universal government run systems of other rich countries? How much is wasted by private insurers in overhead and compliance costs? How much is wasted on drug company "marketing"?

I read the Washington Post and the NY Times and these issues were never mentioned until way, way, way, too late. I wrote to Washington Journal on C-Span for years asking them to have on single payer advocates. Instead we got the head of the insurance lobby; we got people from extreme right wing thin tanks like the Galen Institute. We didn't get Seffi Woolhandler or TR Reid until way, way, way too late.

I understand how politicians could be bought, but how were these media organizations bought?

Perry Bacon Jr.: Many of the subjects were covered in the Post and Times, so I just disagree with you.


Obama and financial regulatory reform: I imagine a fair number of conservatives have been personally burned through the lack of sufficient financial regulation the past couple years. So how will Republicans be able to mount convincing opposition to Obama financial regulatory reform? (Ditto for Tea Partiers?)

Perry Bacon Jr.: Maybe you have missed this dynamic, but if Obama is for it, the Tea Party will probably be against it. (unless he's proposing massive spending cuts or something) And the financial regulation bill will add more goverment regulation of the economy, something which the Tea Party activists oppose.


Helena MT: I'm fascinated by the tea party movement inasmuch that so many are on Social Security (by age or disability) and Medicare but rail against the government debt and government intrusion into their lives. I know that the bank bailouts are one reason for the movement, but there doesn't seem to be support to rein in the banks so that the economy doesn't face that same threat again. I heard one woman in a call-in show on CSPAN say that the new health plan doesn't help people like her, her 18-year-old daughter will be without health insurance because she can't stay on her mother's plan, and when informed that the new plan will allow that daughter to stay on her mother's plan for 8 more year restate that the health care plan doesn't do anything to help her or her 18- year-old daughter. So reason and facts cannot sway some of these people, who are angry and determined to stay angry.

Perry Bacon Jr.: The Tea Party activists I talk to say largely we have enough goverment now, they don't want to add a health care entitlement. In view, a perfectly reasonable argument.


Cumberland, MD: Why is so little attention paid to the budgest gimmick of cutting Medicare spending and claiming to save it while using the money for a new entitlement?

Perry Bacon Jr.: You think you discovered this yourself? I think this has been covered quite extensively, maybe not phrased the way you did.


Arlington, VA: I am somewhat dubious of the healthcare polling. We see headlines that say 50% still opposed to the healthcare reform deal, yet when pollsters take the time to ask them about the specific provisions in the law the support grows by a great deal. So what do these "do you support or oppose healthcare reform" polls really tell us?

Perry Bacon Jr.: They tell you that health care reform/Congress Obama have become related in the minds of the public and if you combine the opponents of all three of those things, you can get over 50%. Most people don't know the details of most bills; most voters don't know the policy plans of candidates, I find this factoid you have offered not very helpful in explaining anything. It's a Democratic talking point, but I'm not sure what it shows. Well, it does suggest the Republican repeal movement will be a very uphill climb.


Rockville: Last I knew, public opinion of Congress was something absurdly low. Is passing the health care bill likely to transfer that low rating specifically to the Republicans for opposing the plan specifically because it helps many people and would represent a political victory for the Democrats?

Perry Bacon Jr.: No. My guess is Congress remains fairly unpopular but less so now that every day on the news is not about members cutting deals on health care. And the Repubilcan Party is already fairly unpopular, but as I have said over and over in these chats, the popularity of the Republican party is not really very important in a midterm election. Candidates matter. Republicans aren't popular in Massachusetts, but Scott Brown won overwhelmingly there.


The way REAL politicians do...: Come to think of it (and I am not putting her down), but is Palin a politician? She holds no office, has not declared she is running and essentially takes on the role of a republican (tea party?) cheerleader. I think she fits the bill as more of a celebrity, no different than a "Hollywood-type" who pushes one position over another (e.g. Sean Penn).

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't know if she is a "politician" or not, but she is very influential in politics. Would you rather be Rush Limbaugh or a Republican in the House or the other way, Rachel Maddow or a House Democrat?


Vernon, B.C., Canada: Perry, I think the person mentioning the Fix this morning was more referring to how media driven polls are used by the media to support their claims, and that conventional wisdom still rules in the media, you yourself said a few months ago that you would be surprised if blacks voted in the midterms because they don't typically. This era is not your typical "time," and it would be nice if some reporters at WaPo would get that, especially after the ridiculous "he said, she said" editorial about threats against Dem politicians.

Perry Bacon Jr.: What I said was I would be surprised if blacks or young adults voted at the levels they did in 2008 in 2010. Voter turnout in general is lower in mid-terms, so this was not a gripping insight. My point was that some House members who won in 2008 were aided by historic high black turnout, which I think might be there when Obama is on the ballot, but I think not when he is not. I do look at polls, I think they are worth exploring.

On conventional wisdom, politics is not random, and elections are often decided by the state of the economy, the partisan make-up of a district, the president's approval rating, etc. I think much of that data is very helpful.


Can We Stop, Please?: About 8,000 people showed up to a super hyped Palin event in Nevada and all three cable infotainment channels showed up to cover in its entirety. All the big papers covered it. The chatter was non-stop. And yet, this is a group of nobodies and sore losers who lost an election by huge margins, and still has no path to victory. How should the media treat them?

The same way you treated the 3x larger group that marched on the capitol for immigration reform: ignore them completely.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Well, the Post covered the immigration rally. Sarah Palin is a major political feature and Harry Reid is the Senate Majority Leader, so I think that event was interesting and worth covering. And i think covering political losers is worth covering, because often today's losers are tomorrow's winners.


You missed the point with that earlier question: It's not that the actual nuts and bolts of the healthcare bill - along with the dispassionate, relevant experts we saw in the final days - weren't covered in the Post or the Times, it's that the coverage came FAR too close to the "end." And, I'm sorry, Perry, but one helpful article here or there calmly laying out facts about the bill couldn't overpower the excessive "horse race, he-said she-said" nonsense we see so much of. I'm not saying that's not worth covering as well, I think a lot of people feel like it's an overload.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Go back and read the stories Alec MacGillis, Amy Goldstein and Lori Montgomery wrote during the process. I simply reject this notion we didn't cover the legislation and what it would do in detail.


I think Chris' point is that being a candidate from outside Washington could be helpful this year. : Right, but given, Wall Street, car companies, Enron, insurance companies, etc do you want a business man?

Perry Bacon Jr.: A good point. One that was explored in Chris' piece.


Los Angeles: In your mind, is Rachel Maddow the same as Rush Limbaugh?

I am not interested in whether you think to conservatives, but you, do you think Limbaugh and Maddow are the same?

Perry Bacon Jr.: No. My point was being a commentator on the news with a defined base and having that kind of influence can be as powerful or more powerful than having a seat in Congress, particularly if you are a young House member with little power.

Rush and Maddow do different things, in part because they have different audiences.


Coral Gables: "Would you rather be Rush Limbaugh or a Republican in the House"

Your somewhat leading question is a pretty sad commentary on the general population of the country don't you think?

Perry Bacon Jr.: I don't think so. I think Mike Huckabee has actually said he enjoys hosting a show on FOX and this is one reason he may not run for president again. The point was being a political commenator can give you the power/influence of someone in politics without having to fundraise, give policy speeches, etc. This is the route Palin is taking now.


A Shift in Focus: I remember earlier this year, the administration said that they were going to give 100% of their focus on jobs, jobs, jobs.

Aside from the relatively small jobs bill that was passed, I haven't seen them turning their focus to jobs. Was this "renewed" focus lost in all of the coverage of the HCR bill?

Perry Bacon Jr.: They have a jobs measure already and are working on more. The challenge is not spending lots of money, as Americans are wary of the deficit.


Cumberland, MD: What makes some people claim that the rage over Health Care will die down when people learn more about it? The more I learn about it the angrier I am.

Perry Bacon Jr.: Just posting this.


Arlington, VA: I think what my "factoid" proves is that if the media did their jobs and called out the lies and fear-mongering of the politicians with regard to what was actually in the heathcare reform plan that more people would actually say they support it. Instead we get the usual horserace, who's up-who's down reporting about winners and losers and no real education. And we get the right-wind radio and TV pundits spewing one lie after another with very little to push back against them with the truth.

Perry Bacon Jr.: My view is that a lot of people are looking to confirm views they want to believe through media, so a person who is conservative would rather hear Rush on the health care bill than read the Post, even though we have more objective facts about the bill. We are having a large national experiement on this now. CNN has more reporters and I would submit better, more non-biased news than MSNBC or Fox. It is consisently lower in the ratings; as CNN fact-based news programs are watched much less than opinion based shows.


College Park, Md.: What do you about Christiane Amanpour taking-over at This Week?

(Hint: I'm giving you an opening to write nice stuff so you might get booked on the roundtable)

Perry Bacon Jr.: This made me laugh. She is brilliant of course,but honestly as I wonder about having more foreign policy on a Sunday show.


Perry Bacon Jr.: Thanks for the questions folks.



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