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Post Politics Hour: Wonky vs. Warm From the Bully Pulpit

Washington Post White House reporter Michael Fletcher answered questions from readers during Thursday's Post Politics Hour. Selected questions from the chat and a link to the full transcript are included below:

Austin, Tex.: When is "wonkish" cool? The more a pres. candidate sounds like they are discoursing with Charlie Rose (i.e. Obama, Biden), the more I'm inclined to vote for them. Yet, I also appreciate the misfortune of Gore and Kerry in this context. Besides Biden, who among the '08 Dem. field is inclined to appear wonkish? From a handler's point of view, how great of a liability is this?

Michael Fletcher: I think Senator Clinton can do wonkish pretty well, among others. In my opinion, a kind of fiction has taken hold among political handlers which says something like Americans are anti-intellectual and want their president to be a guy they can enjoy having a beer with. While there is something to that, I think people also respect really smart people. They just don't want to be talked down to by them. But that has translated into some candidates suppressing their smarts, or the appearance of being smart. President Bush always gets applause and laughter with his line at town hall meetings which goes something like this: "Adviser so-and-so was an A student and has a PhD; I was a C student. But please note who is the aide and who is the president." But even with that, I don't think wonkish is really a political liability, or at least it doesn't have to be.

Houston, Tex.: Mr. Fletcher, what message does Bush's comment "that, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq", on leaving Iraq, send to the current Iraqi government, to Iraqis and other Muslims opposed to the occupation?

Michael Fletcher: I think it just underscores what Bush has said all along: that he is absolutely committed to his Iraq policy. He has, essentially, staked his presidency and his legacy to it. And, right now, things are not looking good. I assume that the current Iraqi government, such as it is, supports that idea, for where would it be without the U.S. military presence? Iraqis and other Muslims, meanwhile, are likely divided. One point should be made, however. Not even the most optimistic pundits thought that the U.S. military would be completely out of Iraq by 2008, even before the president made that comment at his Tuesday news conference.

Helena, Mont.: Howard Kurtz's article today stated that many people he talked to who were at Bush's recent press conference said Bush had done badly yet the take on several news conferences was that he was confident and aggressive. I know that perceptions can vary, but how can they be so widely divergent? Shouldn't one or the other take have been prevalent and been the lead?

Michael Fletcher: It's tough to judge the president's performance at a news conference, particularly when you watch him seeking out an impression, the way we tend to do in the press corps. We see him in public fairly regularly, on average a couple times a week. Sometimes he's effective; sometimes less so. It is almost easier for people who observe him more casually to be left with a strong impression. In my mind, the president seemed a bit prickly, a bit out of rhythm and perhaps a little strained on Tuesday. One friend told me he appeared rattled, which was strong in my mind. But he also showed his sense of humor and expressed ideas that he had shared before. Given that, it is surprising that the assessments were not even more divergent.

Baltimore, Md.: Re the "wonk" question: I think this was at the heart of Bill Clinton's political genius. He could talk off the top of his head about very complex policy issues, yet make it sound like he was chatting with you while eating burgers at McDonald's.

As for Bush's comment about how our involvement in Iraq won't end with his presidency, I agree that's the case. But if I am doing advertising for Democrats in '08 -- and the Republican nominee is at all tied to this mess--I would simply juxtapose clips of what Bush said in '03 about how fast and easy the war would be with that very clip from his press conference.

By the way, the next time the President holds a press conference, I would like a reporter to ask him, "Mr. Bush, looking back, was it a mistake to stage the Mission Accomplished ceremony on the deck of that aircraft carrier, given that we have lost 2,300 American troops killed since that time?"

Michael Fletcher: I think you're right about President Clinton, who many call one of the most talented politicians of his generation. And the question you raise would be a good one for President Bush,who hates to admit mistakes. I imagine the president would use that question as an opportunity to say that the "mission" referred to on that ship meant toppling Saddam Hussein, not installing a stable and functioning democracy in Iraq.

Detroit, Mich.: Mr. Fletcher, Is there a sense in the administration that they are loosing their political capital, and if so they are entering a period of "lame duck" status?

Michael Fletcher: I think you heard the president say as much himself Tuesday, when he said he is spending his political capital on Iraq. Clearly, Republicans are going their own way in Congress now. Social Security private accounts did not happen, and the president now talks about (another) bipartisan commission to study the issue as if that would mark progress. Immigration reform, at least the kind that President Bush has spoken about with great passion early in his presidency, seems to be in trouble. Of course, the White House would never assign themselves lame duck status, but talk of hydrogen cells and more science teachers pales next to system-changing initiatives such as remaking Social Security and the tax code, which the president had advocated just a year ago.

Washington, D.C.: Have you heard any buzz about whether questions asked by participants in Bush's town hall yesterday in West Virginia were screened? They were such softball questions, so in line with what we all now expect from these events - and so different from the press conference of the day before!

Michael Fletcher: I don't know about yesterday's event, but I've been to others were questions were not screened but appeared to be "soft" nonetheless. I think that is to be expected. For one, people respect the president and the presidency, and do not want to be appear rude. Also, while people have strong feelings about many policies, they often do not know enough of the fine points to frame a really challenging question. In addition, I think people tend to focus on things they encounter in their daily lives, while much of what the president does is almost an abstraction for them.

Washington, D.C.: What is your analysis of how the press conference worked to stop the slide in the polls? That is the only reason for having a press conference this week. Or is Bush playing an end-game with his current array of advisers, who are increasingly in the news as potential scapegoats for the low approval ratings?

Michael Fletcher: No one thing is going to stop the president's slide in the polls, maybe other than hitting bottom. I think the best he can hope for is for the improvement he talks about in Iraq becoming more obvious to the American people. Besides the news conference, the president has been doing a series of speeches re-articulating his Iraq policy. While that may or may not help his political standing, I think it serves to underscore the importance the president places on the war's outcome. Interestingly, while many policy makers, Democrats and Republicans, disagree on whether the war was worth waging, they agree with Bush that there is now no other option but success.

Read the full transcript of Thursday's Politics Hour discussion.

Friday at 11 a.m. ET: Washington Post national political reporter and Washington Sketch columnist Dana Milbank hosts the Post Politics Hour. Submit a question or comment here.

Friday at 12:30 p.m. ET: Washington Post columnist David Broder will be online to answer readers' questions about politics. Submit a question here.

By Editors  |  March 23, 2006; 5:17 PM ET
Categories:  Fix Notes  
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Next: Campaign 2006: Last Week's Winners & Losers


google is the good search engine.

Posted by: Anonymous | March 30, 2006 3:11 AM | Report abuse

Abramoff Probe Widens to Murder

Sun, 26 Mar 2006 21:39:03 -0800

Boulis was killed in the midst of a bitter dispute over SunCruz, which he had sold in September 2000 to Abramoff and New York businessman Adam Kidan.

Was Abramoff involved?
[Posted By ShiftShapers]
By AP [Unattributed]
Republished from The Washington Post
Court Grants Request to Question Abramoff in SunCurz Slaying Trial

Fort Lauderdale, Flordia – A judge has approved subpoenas for former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and an ex-business partner to answer questions about the mob-style slaying of the owner of a gambling fleet they bought.

Abramoff and Adam Kidan have insisted, through their attorneys, that they know nothing about the slaying of Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis, who was ambushed in his car by a gunman in Fort Lauderdale a few months after the pair bought SunCruz Casinos from him.

A lawyer for Anthony “Big Tony” Moscatiello, one of three men charged in the 2001 slaying, wants to question Abramoff and Kidan, according to court documents. Circuit Judge Michael Kaplan approved the request Thursday, but the subpoenas had not been issued as of Friday.

Abramoff and Kidan are not charged in the slaying. Their lawyers did not return telephone calls or e-mails seeking comment Friday.

Posted by: che | March 27, 2006 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Che: I agree with F&B and Jake and others. Your stuff is something we all scroll down past trying to find a discussion item on topic to respond to. Perhaps you take your handle too seriously: you are NOT going to cause a revolution by posting to this blog. If you strongly feel otherwise I suggest a course of anti-hallucinogenics. You're (a) preaching to the converted and (b) boring everyone silly.

Posted by: Judge C. Crater | March 27, 2006 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Seriously, Che, you've GOT to stop this spamming. We all know how to surf the web. Besides, you never even post your own thoughts, you just post other people's work. Either put up (your own comments) or shut up.

Posted by: FairAndBalanced? | March 26, 2006 2:49 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Anonymous | March 26, 2006 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Exxon Exxposed
Wed, 22 Mar 2006 00:09:15 -0800
Throwing stones in glass gas stations
By Charlie Cray

Oil front group tries to trigger an IRS audit of Greenpeace

The Wall Street Journal reports that ExxonMobil is the key funder of a front group called Public Interest Watch which has been pushing the IRS to audit Greenpeace. Greenpeace says an IRS auditor told it that the PIW letter triggered the audit.

“PIW’s most recent federal tax filing, covering August 2003 to July 2004, states that $120,000 of the $124,094 the group received in contributions during that period came from Exxon Mobil.”

ExxonMobil has not only been one of the biggest funders of climate change denialists and other cigarette scientists , but also been one of the biggest funders of the American Enterprise Institute – you know, the neocon think tank that pushed the war that has nothing to do with oil. I guess I’m not surprised that the Journal says Michael J. Hardiman, a Washington-based lobbyist and public-relations consultant who worked at PIW “left in February 2004 to work in Iraq as a civilian employee of the Defense Department.” Shocked. And awed.

But why is it that so few – with the exception of Michael Klare, Chalmers Johnson and Kevin Phillips – are willing to confront the phenomenon of American “petroimperialism” head on?

Anyway, the Journal reports that Greenpeace was given a clean bill of health. So it can go back to doing what it does best – exposing Exxon’s campaign to wage war on the truth about global warming.

But what about Exxon?

How much did Exxon pay in taxes last year – when it rendered an extraordinary profit of $36 billion from ordinary Americans, mostly by constraining refining capacity to drive up prices.

That’s before they got another windfall from Bush’s $14.5 BILLION in tax breaks and incentives for the energy industry. Trickle up economics is working in Dallas, or as they say at the Times, a rising tide lifts all bonuses (and few cries of “windfall tax” in Congress): Energy industry CEOs’ (the same guys who wouldn’t be sworn in before Congress) median compensation has been jacked up 215 percent since 2002.

For Exxon CEO Lee Raymond the take in 2005 was a total of $25.8 million in compensation.

What else makes me think the IRS might wanna audit Exxon? Well, gee. ExxonMobil has seven subsidiaries incorporated in the Bahamas and one in the Caymans.

How much oil is there?

How much money did Exxon park in these offshore havens and claim they were reinvesting in oil and gas exploration to get some obscure tax deduction or deferment before Congress passed a tax amnesty for corporations that want to repatriate their profits? Was any of it used to pay bribe in places like Kazakhstan? Oh no, could be, after all, companies that participate in corrupted dealings do themselves no favors.

Oh, and what about ExxonMobil’s reserve reports? Are they accurate. After all, Dow Jones reported last year that of the large oil companies, ExxonMobil put up the greatest resistance to a new rule that changed accounting policy for reported reserves.

I could go on and on for days and account for about bejillionth of the hot air that Exxon puts out each year. Anyone see the 60 Minutes story about how Exxon was behind the White House quashing of NASA’s top climate scientist? It had a great clincher:

“For months, 60 Minutes had been trying to talk with the president’s science advisor. 60 Minutes was finally told he would never be available. Phil Cooney, the editor at the Council on Environmental Quality didn’t return 60 Minutes’ calls. In June, he left the White House and went to work for Exxon Mobil.”

Another Bush Cheney crony with no respect for the truth leaves government to go to work for Exxon. Gee, somebody hook up a generator to that well-oiled revolving door. Better yet, maybe it’s time someone did something serious. You know, like Oil Change’s proposal to force a separation between oil and state.

Posted by: che | March 26, 2006 7:54 AM | Report abuse




Posted by: che | March 26, 2006 5:05 AM | Report abuse

che. stop.

Posted by: Jake | March 25, 2006 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Video link:

Charlie Sheen: 'Challenge Me On the Facts'
Actor's first response since media firestorm over 9/11 comments

Paul Joseph Watson & Alex Jones/Prison | March 24 2006

Charlie Sheen has responded publicly for the first time since the media firestorm over his comments by challenging his detractors to debate him on the evidence of 9/11 and not issues relating to his personal life.

"I am an American citizen that loves my country and as a citizen with my passion for this great country I demand that I be challenged on the facts not on immature behavior from twenty years ago," said Sheen.

"If they continue to attack me personally it only gives credence to our side of the argument."

Sheen elaborated on how developments during the course of the week had unfolded and his reaction to them.

"All I can say is wow! Wow! this has been some kind of week I can tell you."

Sheen tipped his hat to A.J. Hammer and CNN's Showbiz Tonight for having the guts to cover the story and give 9/11 skeptics a balanced platform on which to discuss the issues. He called the CNN poll showing around 82% support his stance on 9/11 an "inspiration" and "staggering" but Sheen also outlined the fact that he was not entirely surprised by the outcome. Sheen said he was encouraged by the support shown on blogs and message boards across the Internet.

The poll directly contradicts a line of attack used on a Hannity and Colmes piece Thursday night which claimed that Sheen's views didn't reflect the mainstream of America. If we are to treat an 82% majority as the mainstream then that accusation is completely fraudulent.

Sheen addressed the attack pieces generated from his comments.

"The majority of them, in fact 90% of them, were attacking me personally, were attacking my credibility, were attacking my observational or talents of insight or observance and what they did not attack is the specific points that you and I raised, the points that generate the most controversy about the events," Sheen told the Alex Jones Show.

"For anyone to have any kind of opinion on something that warrants an opinion I guess you have to be squeaky clean."

Sheen made the point that the hit pieces singled out his quotes relating to his first reaction to 9/11, and in particular the suspicious collapse of the buildings, but deliberately avoided the hardcore evidence he later presented, making him appear uninformed when in fact he had documented why he had serious doubts about the official story.

"I was vilified for expressing my feelings about what I saw and I was demonized for expressing my gut reaction to what I saw."

Even so, both Dan Rather and Peter Jennings' gut instincts were that the collapse of the buildings looked like controlled demolition so Sheen is hardly on a skinny branch in simply stating what common sense told him at the time.

"When they pigeon-hole me into the tin foil hat wearing conspiracy knuckle-head brigade they don't mention those quotes by Peter Jennings and Dan Rather," said Sheen.

Sheen responded to the claims made by National Geographic producer Nicole Rittenmeyer aired by CNN on Wednesday night. Rittenmeyer insinuated that her conclusions on 9/11 were credible simply due to the fact that the series she produced had high viewing figures.

"This woman based all of her credibility on the ratings that the show received and I find that ludicrous because what that speaks to is people's interest. Whether you believe the official story or you're curious about an alternate viewpoint so she kind of shot herself in the foot talking about 'this is the base of my credibility', 'this is why I'm right, because a lot of people watched it', you know I could say the same thing about the reaction to my comments this week....but I'm not saying that I'm just here to remind people that the only credibility that I need is what I have and that is as an upstanding taxpaying American citizen who loves his country and who refuses to stand by as this level of insanity is blanketed over obvious truths."

Sheen reiterated his main focus as being on what caused Building 7, which wasn't hit by a plane, to become only the third steel building in history to collapse from fire damage (the other two being the twin towers). Photographs taken prior to the building's collapse show minor fires before it falls in a textbook demolition fashion.

"If there's a problem with Building 7 then there's a problem with the whole damn thing and guess what? There's a serious problem with Building 7," said Sheen.

Sheen demanded that Larry Silverstein, the owner of the WTC complex, explain what he meant when he told a September 2002 PBS documentary 'America Rebuilds' that the decision was made to "pull" the building, which is a demolition term for deliberate implosion.

"When someone makes a statement like that I think it warrants a follow up response," said Sheen.

"In fact you know what I'll come right out and say that I'm personally requesting a direct answer from Mr. Silverstein about what he meant....give him my number tell him to call me I'm just curious. Tell him to call CNN tell him to call somebody because you cannot make a statement like that and not follow it up, and not back it up and not explain it."

"Anyone that cannot view this as a controlled demolition, I would have to say that their chair was not facing the television. Anyone that can look at this and say 'yes, that is a random event caused by fire' really needs psychiatric evaluation," said Sheen.

Sheen challenged the mainstream media to run a poll on Building 7 asking if viewers believe from video evidence that the building was brought down by means of controlled implosion.

Sheen again underscored his challenge to his detractors to debate him on the evidence and not idle gossip about his private life and his family.

"I ask that they look at the evidence and they debate myself, yourself, people that support us on those specific issues. Not about me personally, not about what they think about me personally not about what they think they know about me personally, just about the facts. I issue that challenge."

Sheen expressed his excitement at the response that his stance received and hinted that this was only the beginning of the journey.

"It feels like you and I have started the revolution and God bless America," said Sheen in closing.

Posted by: che | March 25, 2006 12:53 PM | Report abuse

When is the American people going to wake up and understand what truly is happening to our way of life?

Whatever happened to the old adage, "Buy American, because the job you save may be your own"?

When are we going to understand that when we buy products produced in Communist China that we are doing nothing more than supporting the policies of this rogue regime and that we are paying for the huge military buildup?

At some point, these decisions being made will come back to haunt us in ways that will make Saddam look like a choir boy.

Posted by: Charles Mason | March 24, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Here's another attempt at linking to the Salon article:

Posted by: WaPo Subscriber-but for how much longer? | March 24, 2006 10:13 AM | Report abuse

The Post online just hired a new blogger as a sop to the conservatives. In addition to calling civil rights leader Coretta Scott King a Communist, he’s also a serial plagiarist. For proof of this assertion just take a look at this Salon article .

Shame on you.

Posted by: WaPo Subscriber-but for how much longer? | March 24, 2006 10:11 AM | Report abuse

CNN Poll Shows Three-Quarters Support Sheen

Prison | March 24 2006

At time of press Showbiz Tonight's CNN poll shows 75% plus support Charlie Sheen's comments on 9/11. This figure is rising and we expect it to go higher before the poll closes.

Click here to vote yes and support Charlie Sheen.

Posted by: che | March 24, 2006 9:02 AM | Report abuse

As every election is to some extent a referendum on the incumbent's weaknesses, wonkish may be cool in 2008. The public will hopefully conclude that competence and intelligence are pre-requesities after two terms of this ridiculous presidency.

Posted by: Intrepid Liberal Journal | March 23, 2006 5:38 PM | Report abuse

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