Levey Live: Speaking Freely
"Levey Live: Speaking Freely," hosted by Washington Post daily columnist Bob Levey, appears every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time. It is a live, open-agenda discussion offering washingtonpost.com users around the world the opportunity to ask questions and discuss topics of their choice with Bob.
"Levey Live: Speaking Freely" differs from Bob's regular Tuesday noon Web show, which features newsmakers and Post writers. The Friday event is what talk radio folks call an "open mike" show, your chance to schmooze with Bob about anything in his column, in the news or on your mind.
Never fear, Levey is here live online his coffee pot bubbling merrily as he types to you from his palatial penthouse office high atop Babylon-on-the-Potomac.
Wheaton, Md.: I saw your column today about the mandatory seat belt law in D.C. You tried to be funny about this, but really what the hell right does the government have to tell me to wear a seat belt? Or a bike or motorcycle helmet? Next thing there will be a Federal Commission on Teeth Flossing and I'll get a citation for not brushing after every meal.
Bob Levey: The government resists murder in many ways, and this is only one of them. If you're too dumb not to protect yourself, I'm afraid Big Brother will have to do the job.
Alexandria, Va.: The NFL quarterback rating is based on many factors, except the most important factor of whether his team won the game. Do you think that this criteria should be added to quarterback rating?
Bob Levey: All of these individual, mathematical ways to rate players are a great big hoot. The only thing that matters is whether a team wins. Give me a quarterback who does the job when the chips are down. I couldn't care less if his passing percentage is 60.3 or 60.4.
Fairfax, Va.: Last week someone asked a question about the legality of using a Social Security number as an employee ID number. Since then, I've been wondering why it is we feel the need to guard our SS number the way we do. Could a crook really wreak that much havoc on our lives just by getting their hands on that number?
Bob Levey: Heck, yes. Haven't you heard about people who invent new identities for themselves by using someone else's Social Security number? They do it for all sorts of nefarious purposes to duck debts, to be able to use stolen money, to avoid child support payments. As with all frauds, it's you and me who ultimately pay, so it's very much in our interest to keep Social Security numbers (and credit card numbers) as private as possible.
Bob, I want to resubmit a question I sent in late in your chat on impeachment earlier this week. Then, you had expressed horror at the suggestion that members of Congress should consider public opinion in their deliberation on impeachment.
Bob Levey: I never said and don't believe that a member of Congress should ignore the public. But you can't have a government run by instant polls. We need representatives who trust their own judgment and will vote on the basis of it. Otherwise they'll spend all their time licking their index fingers and holding them up to the wind. Also, there's the matter of leadership. We need it, badly. When these dudes base every decision on polls, that's followership.
Germantown, Md.: Why impeach Clinton? He did not lie. He did not actually have sex with that woman. Essentially amounts to masturbation. Will we start asking politicians if and when they masturbated now? Why don't we keep all that dirty laundry out of politics and behind closed doors like our forefathers did it in the past. WWJD?? Jesus would forgive him like he did the adulterous woman. Tell that committee to examine themselves. Perhaps a bit of envy and jealousy going on? Clinton does not hurt kids. Kids all know adults lie ... after they learned the truth about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. Get real!
Bob Levey: Clinton did not lie? If anyone has OD'd on the tooth fairy, my friend, it's you. He admitted lying. So how can you say that he didn't do so? As for whether he actually had sex with "that woman," what would you call what they did together? Crocheting?
Kansas City, Mo.: Where do you stand on the impeachment issue?
Bob Levey: I don't think impeachment is the perfect answer here, because I don't really believe the founding fathers sat around by candlelight and said, "Hmm, let's see, we need to impeach a president if an intern performs oral sex on him." Clearly, the F.F.'s were thinking of behavior that affected the course of the nation. I've said from the first that he should resign. But if impeachment is the only legal redress here and it clearly is then let's impeach. Surely Clinton can't be allowed to escape with no punishment. Don't tell me censure is a better bet. It has no teeth. It may not be constitutional.
Washington, D.C.: Why don't cabs in D.C. have meters? I thought that it was a universal system. Really.
Bob Levey: Meters will arrive very soon, maybe by next year. I can't wait. The zone system always makes you feel as if the fare is whatever the driver says it is.
Bob Levey: Do I get to vote for neither? I think Leno tries way too hard, and Letterman is way too faux-hip. To me, funny is Jerry Springer. Do those people really exist or did some zonked-out madman invent them?
Rockville, Md.: No offense, but where do you get off acting like an expert on impeachment? You're a columnist for the paper, but not a political columnist. Or was politics once your beat?
Bob Levey: I did time on the White House beat and spent three years covering Capitol Hill. My scars are only now receding.
Washington, D.C.: How is the Children's Hospital campaign going? And how did you get involved raising money for this cause? Was one of your kids treated at the hospital or is this just your favorite charity?
Bob Levey: The campaign is going quite well so far, although we're only through 11 days of the eight weeks, so it's far too early to say with any confidence. I got into it because my predecessor, Bill Gold, did a similar campaign. I'm delighted to follow in his footsteps. The hospital is a wonderful place. As I always say, it treats the kid first and worries about the bill second. How many institutions of any kind can say that? Also, every kid gets the same excellent care, even if the public is paying.
Upper Marlboro, Md.:
Bob Levey: The big issue is that he lied about it while under oath. No one ever asked any other president about his sex life under the same circumstances.
Do you think it's un-Christmassy to buy a Furby for $30.00, then attempt to sell it for much more?
Bob Levey: Hey, profit is the name of the game in these United States. Shame isn't. Seriously, you'd better hope for a quick hit on Furbies, because the bottom has a way of falling out of markets for "hot" toys. Elmo was hot in November, cold by December.
Alexandria, Va.: Bob: I hope someone like you can fix this problem. There is a black Ford Explorer with Maryland plates that double parks three to four times a week on 12th Street NW I swear that car singlehandedly backs up the 12th street tunnel. I have to drive that way and its so frustrating that I have never seen that car get a ticket. What can a frustrated motorist do? I thought maybe a little public shame could help.
Bob Levey: Calling the police non-emergency number would help more.
Upper Marlboro, Md.:
Bob Levey: Does that make his mistakes right? I just don't understand this kind of reasoning. Don't you want the best performance out of a president you can get?
Bob Levey: Every mayor certainly has to keep one eye on Capitol Hill, because every mayor is dependent on the Hill for huge mounds of money. I'm with you on the lack of outrage in the rest of the country. It's really ignorance. Whenever I tell people outside the Beltway that D.C. couldn't even vote for president until 1964, I get: "Really?"
Washington, D.C.: You actually ADMIT to being a Jerry Springer fan? Tell us more, if you dare...
Bob Levey: I'm not a regular by any means, but I admit that I sometimes land on the show for three minutes or so, during click-arounds. It is brilliantly produced camp. I laugh at it the same way I laugh at pro wrestling because I know some poor daffy fools take it seriously.
Washington, D.C.: I'm going to miss Steve Twomey's column. How difficult is it to write a column compared to covering a beat? Is there a higher burnout rate for columnists than for reporters? Do you think you'll ever go back to reporting?
Bob Levey: I'm going to miss Steve as a columnist, too. He was very tart and excellent at identifying column subjects. It's much more difficult to write a column than to cover a beat because you have to report as hard as ever, then write with a voice. That can be very tricky and time-consuming. I don't know if there's a higher burnout rate for columnists in general. That doesn't seem to be the case at The Post. Raspberry and Causey are both past the 30-year mark. I'm coming up on 18 years of writing every day. As for whether I'll ever go back to reporting, I never really left. It's just that columnists handle the fruits of their reporting differently.
Washington, D.C.: Have you seen Wards's sales commercials on TV? It's a blasphemy towards Santa Claus! I can't stand watching that scrawny guy in a Santa Claus suit dancing non-stop like an idiot. Arrggg.
Bob Levey: Since when is Santa an ecclesiastical figure? No, I haven't seen the ad. Sounds like something out of a Springer show. Is the scrawny guy having an affair with an elf, or a reindeer?
Bob Levey: About 25 minutes left in today's festivities. Keep 'em coming.
Washington, D.C.: Say it ain't so. Joltin' Joe DiMaggio in a coma. Your thoughts about this great figure in sports?
Bob Levey: He'll never die even when he dies. One of the greats. Maybe the greatest.
I was under the impression that after the November elections, the Republicans were leaning toward NOT impeaching Clinton. Didn't they say that they got the voters' message "loud and clear?" Now, the sentiment is toward impeachment. What gives?
Bob Levey: What gives is that political winds shift, and they seem to have shifted quite noticeably since the elections. I never understood why so many people thought the Democrats "won" the elections, by the way. They picked up a few seats, but they hardly ran the table.
Washington, D.C.: Do you consider yourself a conservative?
Bob Levey: I don't do labels. I'm very conservative about some things (national defense, personal behavior) and very liberal about others (religious freedom, personal expression, absolutely no restraints on the First Amendment).
Washington, D.C.: You've probably been asked this before, but are you and your family taking any precautions to deal with Y2K? Are you stockpiling food and water? Buying a gun? Building up a cash reserve? I am considering doing all this but don't know if I'm being foolish or just prepared for the worst.
Bob Levey: All I plan to do is to be sure I have a good book in my pocket for when I'm stuck in an elevator for days. Seriously, doesn't this Y2K mania seem absurd? Armies of geeks are working on this "problem." Surely they will solve it. And if they don't solve it the second all signs of it occur, well, they'll have to put in a little overtime. I can't begin to believe that civilization will simply stop.
Denver, Colo.: Could you please tell how the movie "Wag the Dog?" was made? How long did it take to make this movie? When was it released? How were the actors picked? Who was the screenwriter? Who supplied the plot? How does this correlate with the current news breaking story date of Ms. Lewinsky? Does this seem strange to you that everyone knew the plot of the movie and written a movie before about upcoming current events?
Bob Levey: Never saw it and know nothing about how it came to be. I have time for about one movie a year. For 1998, it was "Pleasantville." My kids talked me into it. It was dreadful as I'm afraid most of them are.
Fairfax, Va.: Bob, I'm sending you a plea ... please help me figure out what Metro is doing to the parking situation in Vienna. Last week reserved parking spots appeared in the lots, but since almost nobody has any idea how to get one, they just sit there empty except for a few people who decide to risk towing. It seems that if you get there after 7:30, there are no spaces these days and now with these new reserved spaces it looks like it's going to cost $20 more a month just to get to work. Isn't public transportation supposed to make my life easier?
Bob Levey: You answered your own question. You'll get a space if you pay more for it. I don't expect that to make you bust out in smiles.
Gaithersburg, Md.: Help me on this one, Bob: My wife has been seeing a psychotherapist for a couple of years (mostly, I think to help her live with me!). She's never been hospitalized and has never been on any medication for her mental health. But she refuses to recover the shrink's fees by using our health insurance! She's afraid the information that she's been seeing a therapist will somehow harm her in the future. Our insurance plan won't pay unless the doctor fills out a fairly damned invasive form that discusses my wife's condition, future treatment, etc. What would YOU recommend in a case like this? Forget about collecting half the benefits she's entitled to out of fear, or get real (my opinion.)
Bob Levey: I think your wife's concern is legitimate. Shrinks I know say they are routinely bludgeoned into providing private patient records to insurance companies. The bludgeoner is some clerk who needs to fill out a form. I'll be damned if I want a clerk deciding how much private data about me ought to sit in some master insurance computer. By the way, shrinks are fighting back by refusing to take notes during sessions, so they have nothing to surrender when Mr. Clerk asks. I can't give you useful financial advice because I don't know how badly it's pinching for your wife to pay out-of-pocket. But I hate the idea that she wouldn't feel free to see a shrink, or free to tell that shrink the whole truth and nothing but the truth
Silver Spring, Md.: What do you think of Bill Bradley's chances for president? What do you think of the man himself?
Bob Levey: Slim chances because he's already late to the fund-raising game, believe it or not. As for the man himself, great jump shooter. Subtle sense of humor. Would have to persuade people that he'll do what other candidates can't. That may be too tough an order.
Burke, Va.: I hear a number of people saying the November election results sent the message that the American people want the Clinton "mess" solved by censure and get on with running the country. Don't you think the message sent was, "Get on with the impeachment proceeding ... whatever it takes ... do it now ... then get on with what we sent you to Washington to do for us, the American people."
Bob Levey: Sure, but no voter sent a message that read: "Ignore serious crimes committed by the president." I can't believe the country wants this swept under the rug.
Arlington, Va.: What book are you reading these days? What book or books do you recommend to friends?
Bob Levey: Just finished a terrific biography of Elvis Presley (didn't have a great jump shot). Title was: "Last Train to Memphis." I always recommend serious fiction, can't wait to read the latest Tom Wolfe.
Alexandria, Va.: I'm at college now, so I haven't been able to keep up with your column. I was wondering if you ever printed up an article talking about the staff at the Library of Congress. I was the one who sent the letter requesting that you do.
Bob Levey: Haven't yet. Will soon. Don't study too hard.
Washington, D.C.: I have developed a system for reading TWP every day first The Reliable Source in Style section and other Style articles; then, obits and other Metro articles, etc. Do you have a system for reading the paper? What article/column do you read first?
Bob Levey: Well, I do check out this guy Levey every day. It's a habit I recommend to both friends and enemies. My personal daily dance: I skim the section fronts, read the first eight paragraphs of whatever interests me, make sure they published the right Levey column on the right day. Then I go back to the front page and read straight through.
Bethesda, Md.: I went downtown yesterday to see the van Gogh exhibit and luckily got there early enough for an immediate entry pass. Still I couldn't help but wonder about the large number of (mostly homeless) people who were obviously in line to try to make a profit. Are they evil scalpers or enterprising businessmen?
Bob Levey: Homeless people always panhandle where there are crowds. I haven't heard of any ugly or untoward incidents outside the van Gogh exhibit.
Bob Levey: I'm a big fan of stability, so I see nothing wrong with gay marriage. If it encourages two people to take a relationship seriously, and to make a commitment to one another, what could be wrong with it?
Washington, D.C.: Which group of friends, from high school or college, end up being life-long friends? I was always told high school. What do you thinK?
Bob Levey: I'm close to some of each, but in different ways. High school friends have more bad stories to tell about me, so I have to be more careful around them. College friends knew me only when I was broke and skinny.
Bob Levey: You'll never catch me blessing people who break the law. Who gave you the right to speed? Don't tell me I'm being "impractical." It's guys like you who cause 37-car smashups.
Listening to C-Span yesterday, it became obvious that John Conyers is stupid. He couldn't read a prepared statement without stumbling over those simple words. In light of the above, how could someone like him be elected over and over. Is it a reflection on his constituency?
Bob Levey: Conyers is stupid like a fox. Don't sell him short.
Bob Levey: You took the words right outta my mouth. Thanks!
That's it for today. Many thanks for joining us. Be sure to catch "Levey Live: Speaking Freely" each Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time. And don't forget our Tuesday edition of "Levey Live," from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. This Tuesday's guest will be Ben Baron, an expert on SAT tests and college admissions. Your questions, as always, will be welcome.