John Dickerson was online on Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers about how Obama can be a different kind of president by trying to bridge the partisan divide in politics. An unedited transcript of the chat follows.
John Dickerson: Hello everyone. Sorry I'm a little late. I'm happy to be here.
St. Simons Island, Ga.: Mr. Dickerson, I very much have enjoyed your column in Slate during the campaign, and hope you cover the Obama administration. I don't object to any of your six suggestions (embrace McCain, appoint Republicans, work without pay, increase transparency, have an inaugural event outside Washington, and meet with diverse religious leaders), but after reading David Brooks's column this morning, I can't help but wonder why—after winning in a landslide—the Democrat is supposed to adopt a Republican-friendly administration, in personnel as well as policy and tone.
I know Obama is supposed to be a new type of politician, but won't this potentially undermine the progressive policies he wants to implement? And while I agree that he could use McCain's help in the Congress and that there are certainly smart Republicans who could provide valuable advice and expertise in his Cabinet, do you really believe the religious right ever would embrace Barack Hussein Obama?
washingtonpost.com: Change I Can Believe in(New York Times, Nov. 7)
John Dickerson: I think Obama can fulfill his promises to be a new kind of politician and pursue his progressive policies. Arguably if he brings in Republicans, even just to listen to them, it gives him cover to do something considered more to the left. But primarily the reason he should do these things is that he campaigned relentlessly for 21 months on the idea that he would bring change in these areas.
San Luis Obispo, Calif.: Is it too hard to follow JFK's political wisdom? Why not make energy independence and universal health care 10-year projects? This would enable industry and financial markets time to adjust to a new world, and delay the inevitable political repercussions for the next five congressional terms.
John Dickerson: I think that makes good sense. Perhaps that's what Obama will do. He's already done it on oil independence. I'm not sure what the 10 year horizon would be for healthcare. Surely his promise of near universality will take longer than his first term, despite his promise during the campaign to knock it out in four years.
Newton, Mass.: Will he back off from pushing divisive stuff like signing Freedom of Choice Act to focus on the economic issues that were a big part of his mandate? Can he get diverted to social issues like "don't ask, don't tell" as Clinton did when it's still "the economy, stupid!?"
John Dickerson: Everything we've seen so far suggests Obama is focused on the big issues first. My guess is that he'll move slowly on other fronts.
Rosleand, N.J.: John: I have enormous respect for you, which makes it awkward to point out your idea that Obama "work without pay" is perhaps the single worst idea I have ever heard with regard to the presidency. The presidency is a job already filled with far too many corrupting temptations. If you take away their salary—and make no mistake, if Obama were to lose his mind and take your advice, it would become politically impossible for any future president to take a salary—inevitably there will come a day when a White House occupant will say "screw this—this is the most important and stressful job in the world, I do it well, and I deserve some frickin' compensation." And they'll self-justify finding some sub-ethical, sub-legal way to supplement their personal income, they'll get found out, and it will do irreparable harm to the office.
John Dickerson: I'm not convinced. Your doomsday scenario requires too many ifs to make the case that this is self-evidently a bad idea. 1)The no salary policy has to stay 2) the future president would have to be corrupt 3) the future president would have to find ways to feed his corruption. Maybe all that can happen but it doesn't seem destined to.
Anonymous: Do you think anything will be done about robo calls? Sen. Feinstein has a Robcall Privacy Act and there is talk of adding political calls to the Do Not Call registry.
John Dickerson: Not sure. They were a spectacular failure this election so that's probably the thing that will kill them fastest.
Alexandria, Va.: Now that we have elected an African American president, how long do you think it will be until we elect a woman president?
John Dickerson: Sarah Palin would like the answer to this question. Maybe 8 years if Hillary runs again.
Baltimore: How can Obama improve participatory democracy? His campaign rhetoric was all about empowering ordinary citizens, and he used the Internet well as an organizing tool. Can he now provide channels for ordinary citizens to influence government action by contributing their energy, talent, feedback and policy proposals?
John Dickerson: I'm not sure how he could but he's working along these lines. I'm not sure what they've got going but you can bet it'll take advantage of the community organizing principles he put to use in his campaign.
Obama's text message strategy?: I think there are millions of us who signed up to get text alerts from the Obama campaign during the election. Do you think he'll keep that line of communication open through the transition and at the White House? What a great way to signal the direct connections he wants to keep with citizens—but I haven't heard anything at all about what the campaign's next steps are for all those numbers they already have gathered.
John Dickerson: I bet they'll keep the text messaging lines open though they'll have to use it wisely. too many text messages and he'll just become president spam.
Fairfax, Va.: Having closely followed the past two presidential races, we've seen the more secretive, more closed-off from the press campaigns end up the winner. That's a pretty big incentive to keep the press at a distance. The sound bite culture we inhabit gives no incentive to actually think about the issues we face, and the label "flip-flopper" for changing one's mind—even for good reason, like when the facts change—discourages politicians from compromise. To me, it seems like all the incentives are on less transparency, and more glibness and stubbornness. And the media reinforces that system. What say you?
John Dickerson: I like Obama's call for everyone to get off cable. He talked about this at the end of the campaign arguing that cable bicker-fests only distort the political conversation. I wonder if he'll follow through. I think president Obama could meet the press halfway—frequent press conferences or at least sit-downs with the press—in a way that would offer some transparency without giving in to the sound-bite frenzy.
Yonkers, N.Y.: Hurray, hurrah, how wonderful we Americans are! Buy the whole country another beer. ... Except that the guy who ran perhaps the most perfect campaign we've ever seen, against a guy who ran a hate-fest, who also was weighed down by the most despised president in our history in the midst of a recession, won by a thumping 52-46. Not 60-40 or 62-38—52-46. In parts of the South, Obama got only a small percentage of the white vote. I'm not even throwing in the Palin disaster or the war. Lots of people in this country were looking for a reason—any reason at all—for why they should support McCain, and very little was required. McCain didn't even have to give one positive reason why he wanted the job. You can have my champagne—I don't see what's so jolly about all this.