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Post Politics Hour: Feingold the Dems' Lone Ranger?

Washington Post congressional reporter Shailagh Murray answered questions from readers during Monday's Post Politics Hour. Selected questions from the chat and a link to the full transcript are included below:

Philadelphia, Pa,: The Philadelphia Inquirer provided a sensible discussion into the question of impeaching President Bush in yesterday's newspaper. It seems to me that outside the Beltway the issue of censoring and impeaching the President is being treated without national panic, but within the Beltway it is a radioactive subject that no one outside Conyers or Feingold will approach. My question: Is this something on which the public may be ahead of Congress?

Shailagh Murray: Thank you for this thoughtful question.

Remember a while back, when the public was starting to go negative the war, but no one in Washington believed it, and it was considered radical to even suggest we'd ever leave the place?

I am reminded of that moment as I see all these folks squirm over the censure idea. Contrary to what you might expect of people who are willing to run for office, politicians are generally risk adverse, and don't like being first on anything controversial.

Charlottesville, Va.: Do you have any information on how much correspondence and telephone lobbying is going on from constituents to their Senators regarding the Feingold resolution? I support the resolution and called both of my senators (who are Republican, so just to let them know...), but am under the impression that there is a huge groundswell among Democrats for their party to stand in solidarity with Feingold on this issue. I'm aware of the polls, but believe that people who support Feingold are quite passionate. What is your impression?

Shailagh Murray: I will start by saying this: I wrote a story about Feingold last week that resulted in the angriest, most passionate e-mail blizzard I have ever experienced. Clearly, this is an issue where blurry polls mask deeply held convictions on both sides, but particularly on the Left, where folks truly believe Bush is a war criminal.

That's a minority view. However, as Feingold points out, and I think he may be on to something, there has been a complacency in Washington since Sept. 11 that has extended with the Iraq war. Congress barely scrutinizes anything these days. Lawmakers in both parties are wary of undermining Bush when there are troops on the ground.

Talking to folks on the Hill, it is clear that the Feingold effort has touched a nerve in both parties. With Republicans, it exposes their great political weakness -- that they don't challenge Bush on anything. And Democrats are being pressed by their own base to stand up against Bush on this issue, to show they have backbone, and on the principle that in this instance Bush may in fact have violated the law.

Mclean, Va.: Is Russ Feingold of Russellmania the only senator who actually takes a look at what is going on and then acts as their conscience dictates? Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Barack Obama--none of these guys will even said Boo, unless it is a politically calculated, cameras on, Boo! that might somehow serve to keep them in Congress. This is why people believe the Democrats are the party of no ideas. The Republicans may be the party of bad ideas, and it is time for someone to stand up. Like it or not, Feingold did. What do you say about the lack of concrete ideas coming from the Democratic leadership?

Shailagh Murray: To be fair to Democrats, neither party has an interesting and fresh slate of ideas. The difference is that Democrats have been scampering around trying to assemble one for months, all very publicly, in their usual navel-gazing, disorganized way. Feingold is taking a different angle -- that people aren't looking for brilliant ideas these days, but for backbone and leadership. He, and a lot of others in both parties, believe that's what voters will be looking for in November.

Ann Arbor, Mich." Hello and thanks for this discussion,

In yesterday's Ombudscolumn, Deborah Howell wrote: "There's one big intangible in all this: a paper's connection with its readers. Readers who feel respected and who love their newspaper don't depart easily. If Post journalists write every story, take every photo, compose every headline and design every page with readers in mind, and the newspaper is printed well and delivered on time, The Post will be fine."

Is this meant to be ironic? If she means this, why does she not respond to reader e-mails and concerns, or respond disdainfully when she does? Does The Post have some plans to improve the reader-advocacy situation that she is foreshadowing? I think a lot of long-time readers have been turned off by her aloof approach to the ombudsman position and feel anything but respected and loving towards The Post.

Shailagh Murray: I thought I'd end with this comment, in defense of Deborah and to vent for just ONE MINUTE about the absolutely overwhelming volume of hate mail that floods our way when a story irritates the bloggers. Let's just say it creates a distorting picture. I know I speak for my colleagues in saying I love hearing from readers; like these chats, it's interesting and useful to know how people interpret stories and news events, and to hear ideas that occur to them in their reading, etc. Unfortunately, normal readers now share the stage (or at least the inbox) with people who, let's just say, aren't open to other viewpoints, don't read newspapers to be informed, and who are predisposed to thinking reporters are biased, ignorant, or worse. When I was a reporter years ago in Florida, I lived next door to a great family; the husband was a detective, the wife drove a school bus, and every story I wrote, I knew they would read. That was a very useful image to keep in mind. The media world is obviously in the throes of huge changes, and our "base," to put it in political terms, isn't so easily defined.

Full chat transcript.

Read Murray's story from Sunday's paper: Lawmakers Holding Solid Seats Spend as if They Were Shaky.

Tuesday at 11 a.m. ET: National political reporter Tom Edsall hosts the Post Politics House. Submit a question or comment here.

By washingtonpost.com Editors  |  March 20, 2006; 1:58 PM ET
Categories:  House , Senate  
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