John Dickerson takes your questions about how Obama can really change politics.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Nov. 7 2008 6:40 PM

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John Dickerson takes your questions about how Obama can really change politics.

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Is it actually possible that the seemingly large number of conservatives who believe this don't see the hypocrisy in supporting a party that for years has had absolutely no tolerance for divergent opinions? Or is this just rhetoric? It would seem that this very attitude—you're either wish us or you're [insert insult here]—is one of the major contributing factors in the increasing rejection of the modern Republican Party.

John Dickerson: The with us or against us mindset certainly hurt Republicans both as it applied to policy (don't bring me your differing opinions) and politics (govern from the right not the middle). But the left has plenty of people who demonstrate the identical behavior, interpreting all comments in their most nefarious light, allowing no intellectual cartilage for the normal give and take of conversation. All comments that aren't deeply critical of George Bush are seen as a sign of cluelessness and any criticism of Barack Obama is seen as racism or mindless conservatism. Fortunately president Obama has a more supple mind.

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Boston: Re: Bipartisanship. I'd love to see Sarah Palin invited down to testify at a congressional committee about energy issues. We would benefit one of two ways—either we get lots of useful information from an energy expert and prove that Congress is going to be taking all sides seriously, or Palin is shown to be an absolute moron even on the issues that she says she knows best (useful for the American public during any '12 decisions).

John Dickerson: Perhaps we could bring some dancing bears too. Sarah Palin claimed a variety of things 1. that she had deals with Russia 2. That she opposed the bridge to nowhere 3. that she was an energy expert. These weren't gotcha questions she failed to answer. These were stands she took on her own. All three were either wrong or severely lacking.

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No cable talking-heads?: How could Obama make that happen? Sure, it cheapens the political discourse, but there is that whole "free speech" thing. Attempts to control the media wouldn't go over very well.

John Dickerson: sorry if I was unclear. He meant that politicians should not go on the shows. He could easily not allow his staffers to go on cable.

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No salary: I understand that this scenario is unlikely in a country where you need substantial personal wealth to run for office, but I'm thinking back to Truman. He didn't have a lot of money, and his salary was used to stock the larder and cover the not-inexpensive costs of running the White House. He couldn't have gone without a salary. Has the financial structure changed, in that the president no longer is expected to cover carrying costs of the White House?

John Dickerson: I wasn't suggesting that every president go without pay. What I was suggesting is that in this early period of the next several months Obama could do a few symbolic things. One was to go without pay for a few years or perhaps his entire administration because a) he's calling on everyone to sacrifice and b) he's plenty wealthy.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm wondering if you had a chance to read John Boehner's opinion piece in the Post this morning. From the looks of it, it doesn't sound like the Republicans are willing to compromise on anything. It looks like their strategy for the next four years is to obstruct as much as they can. Will this work for them, and will the public support them?

washingtonpost.com: Republicans' Road Back(Post, Nov. 7)

John Dickerson: I haven't read it yet. I've heard about it though. I think this is a negotiating posture. A) He wants to look like he's being tough for his own base and B) the only way you get a compromise from the Democrats is if you set your opening position as extreme.

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Edinburgh, Scotland: John, I very much like your reporting in Slate and also the Gabfest with David and Emily. Barack Obama's victory was watched with great interest and much enthusiasm around the world (for example, my brother-in-law and his best man, both from Edinburgh, were over campaigning in Virginia). Polls also showed that almost every other country in the world was strongly in favour of an Obama victory. The historical nature of his candidacy and presidency, as the first African American on a major party ticket and now also to enter the Oval Office, have created more interest, enthusiasm, hope and expectation.

My question is, is this level of excitement and enthusiasm—coupled with the very difficult economic problems he will face—almost inevitably going to lead to a sense of disappointment or frustration if improvements cannot be seen quite quickly in the country's progress, or if the new president's agenda gets mired in protracted bartering or the resumption of "normal" partisan service in Congress? Are there any quick, essential and/or popular steps the president-elect could or should push through that will have a recognizable impact and help maintain the sense of momentum and enthusiasm for him and his administration? Thanks.

John Dickerson: I think the Obama team knows about this inevitable sense of disappointment and they're working on it by not promising too much. In his victory speech Obama was clear to make this point. I think some of what I suggested in the piece goes some way towards doing what you suggest to the extent that it fulfills an obama promise from the campaign in a way that can be done quickly and without spending any new money.

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Chantilly, Va.: Actually I'm not sure it's legally possible to give up pay—Mark Warner tried doing the same as governor here, but it wasn't legal, so that went out the window.

John Dickerson: That might very well be true that there's a legal prohibition to giving up your salary. But presumably he could donate it.

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Blech again: I'm sorry, my point wasn't very clear. I just think we should be more worried about holding Obama accountable for achieving the things he has promised the American public than about the way he achieves them. If it takes reaching across the aisle, fine. If, however, it doesn't, that's fine too. Focusing on style over substance is in part how we as a country let Bush get away with being so incompetent at pursuing/achieving what he promised.

John Dickerson: In general you're right, we want sensible policy above all else. But Obama ran his entire campaign on changing the style of negotiations and conduct in Washington. It's that set of campaign promises that I was trying to think through.

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Pittsburgh: What do you anticipate will be among the first bills passed by Congress and signed by President Obama? Those they passed before but that were vetoed by Bush, like S-CHIP?

John Dickerson: S-CHIP is an interesting question. do you do it now to put points on the board or do you save it to be the first part of a healthcare package to help the bigger legislation pass? We don't know yet. I think Rahm, before he was hired, was in favor of doing SCHIP now. Wonder what he thinks now that he's on the other side of the fence.