The Live Fix with Chris Cillizza

Feb 19, 2010

Every Friday, The Fix goes live, as Chris Cillizza discusses the latest news about Congress, the Obama administration, upcoming elections and all the latest political news.

Sorry for the delay in getting this chat started. I, and the rest of the world, was watching the start of the Tiger Woods apology.

Nothing terribly surprising. On the verge of tears but has not broken down yet. "My behavior has been a personal disappointment."

With that out of the way -- whew! -- let's get on to politics. I just reported that Brad Ellsworth, the Congressman from Southern Indiana, has decided to run for the seat of retiring Sen. Evan bayh.

It's a good recruit for national Democrats although still an uphill race.


Let's get to it!

Did Bayh's retirement stem from a undisclosed medical condition?

I don't think so.

I take Bayh at his word. And that word is that he was sick of serving in the Senate, sick of the lack of productivity legislatively and sick of the partisanship.

Remember that Bayh has been in the public spotlight almost since birth and in elected office since he was 30 years old.

After more than two decades in that life, it sounds like he just wanted to try something else.

Chris, Have you heard of any other "shoes dropping" re. retirements among the Senate D caucus? Thx

Well, in truth, we didn't "hear" about Byron Dorgan or Bayh until moment before they happened...

That said, the two names regularly mentioned as potential retirees are Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. Both are behind in polling despite less-than-stellar fields on the Republican side.

But, sources close to Lincoln and Reid insist that despite those polls, both incumbents are committed to running. And, we believe them.

Things change fast in politics, however, and in a political climate as volatile as this one that maxim is especially true.

How do you define "political" for a political movie? Does Citizen Kane count? Primary Colors?

I would say both count. Political, by my definition, would be a movie that has some significant character or storyline that has to do with a politician or political party.

Make sense? And let's hear some suggestions!

Didn't get the Fix's take on the Civil Right's Concert last week. I thought Dylan (again) surprised everyone by his performance, but I would have preferred another song other than "Times", but, you have to admit Smokey Robinson's voice is amazing.

I thought Dylan's version of "Times" was just so good. And Mrs. Fix, no huge Dylan fan, said his voice sounded not bad.

Not a politics question, but about a quarter of commenters on these chats hail from Beantown. Yet, yet I have not heard a Post writer thank Bostonians for coming down there and clearing out your snow! (Good thing we no longer get snow up here, lets our snowplow drivers go south for winter) I've come to you with this plaint, because you more than anyone else should know that a Bill Simmons piece is not a Bill Simmons piece without gratuitous mention of something about the Hub.

Does it get any more gratuitous than this?

Hub Fans bid Kid Adieu:

The retirements of Birch Bayh's son and Ted Kennedy's sons reminds me of those scenes from gangster movies where the gangster's sons decide not to follow in their father's footsteps. I have been in the business for a quarter century and the attitudes of those in the business, and of the public, have changed dramatically. When I entered, people on the Democratic side wanted to end a war or improve the improvement or fight for civil rights while people on the Republican side wanted to preserve American values and defend democracy against communism. Today, I see little ideology and a lot of money: money just to get elected and money dictating what policies move. There is so much money, and a generation of new staffers totally attracted to money, that the atmosphere has changed tremendously. I believe the public has figured this out and they do not respect politicians as much as they did, especially in the pre-Watergate era. I know this is more of a comment, yet, I ask, how do you see staff and politicians and the public viewing the atmosphere of politics today as compared to a few decades ago?

There's NO question there is less partisan cooperation and that people on opposite side of the aisles are far less likely to be friends than in past decades.

I've heard that explained as due to the boom in plane travel -- members can now get home every weekend -- or just from the fact that the bases of the two parties have grown more dominant.

Whatever the reason, it's clearly true.

Maybe it's just me - Do Simpson & Bowles remind you of Statler & Waldorf from the Muppets? Could have been the curtains in the background...

Alongside Obama is (L-R) Vice President Joe Biden, commission vice chair Erskine Bowles and commission Vice President Alan Simpson.

It's time to light the lights!

I heard a rumor about John Mellencamp running for the Indiana Senate seat. Please say there is something to this?

I don't think so.

Ellsworthis likely to enjoy much of the party establishment backing -- much to dismay of people like Rep. Baron Hill who wants to run statewide sometime soon.

Of course, when you're middle name is "Cougar", all things are possible.


There's been some talk of George Packer's take down of horse race political journalism. It's particularly damning to read his examples of what horse race political journalism might look like if applied to Afghanistan or the financial crisis. So my question is this: What's your response? Obviously this is kind of what The Fix is, more political than policy, and obviously there's a place for it in the political journalism world (I'm an avid reader, and a big fan, but I'm curious). Do you ever worry that by casting everything through the "how it plays" or "messaging" prism, that you're ignoring policy differences (and policy-related objective truths) in pursuit of this horse race-type coverage that is more about "the game" than actually governing?

I have  never presented the Fix as anything other than what it is -- a blog about campaign and politics written by a political junkie for political junkies.

There is LOTS of great coverage of issues in our paper and on our website and I encourage people to read all of that. But, I think to assume that ANY policy decision -- or any decision -- is being made without an eye on the politics is patently absurd and wrong-headed.

The Fix covers one aspect of the political process.  But, damn is it a fun one.

My Bill Simmons thought of the week for you: He has what he calls "the Tyson Zone." A grouping of athletes who have been involved in such bizarre behavior and said such outlandish things, that, a la Mike Tyson, you could believe anything you heard about the (i.e., if someone said Tyson wrestled a lion on TV, you'd believe it). We need the same for politicos. We need a Tyson zone, and we need you to create it. I propose calling it the "Michele Bachmann zone", a grouping of persons who act so oddly and say such crazy nonsense that any store you heard about them would be believable. In the spirit of bipartisan comity, we could call it the Bachmann-Stark zone. I nominate Rahm, Rush, and DeMint for immediate entrance. My real question: Marco Rubio is beating Charlie Crist in the primary. Can Big Ken Meek (the Othella Harrington of the Dem Party) beat Rubio or is that going to be a 10 point race?

Again, just an outstanding question.

I love the Tyson Zone.  My member this week: Pete Domenici Jr., the son of the New Mexico Republican Senator, who is running for governor.

After delivering one of the worst announcement speeches ever, Domenici Jr. admitted that he had done marijuana and cocaine in the past. Um, not good.

I, too, am more of a book person, but Primary Colors and The American President get my vote.

Good ones. Primary Colors is the rare one that will make Fix list of best political books AND movies.

I have heard a lot about Sen. Bayh being fed-up with the partisanship on Capital Hill. Now that he no longer has the pressures of re-election, Do you think he may air out some of his grievances with the Senate for the public to hear?

He has already started doing interviews after his decision, he made clear he was very unhappy with the lack of progress on major legislative items.

If Bayh wants to stay in public life -- and maybe even run for president down the line -- my guess is that he will position himself as a middle of the road voice between the two warring parties in Washington.

Of course, as I wrote earlier this week, being in the middle of the road ideologically is a recipe for disaster in a presidential race.

See, Chris, the problem is that Mellencamp would have to explain why he dropped the Cougar, then added it again; that's like saying he voted for something before voting against something, and we just can't have that in the Senate. On the other hand, he sorta is already on the public payroll since his songs show up in Chevy truck commercials once in a while, so there's less paperwork to process, I guess. But realistically, Val Kilmer and his fossil collection have a better chance of winning New Mexico than Johnny Cougar repping Hoosiertown.

Of course, the "Cougar" controversy.

I can see the negative ads now: "John Mellencamp changed his name. What else has he changed?"

Do you recall of any time when someone announced they would not seek reelection only to have a change of heart and then end up running? If so, did they win?

The one that jumps to mind is Arizona Rep. John Shadegg (R) who announced he would not seek re-election in 2008 but reconsidered days later. He won.

But, Shadegg announced he was retiring at the end of this Congress -- again. So far, it appears to have stuck.

Give us a total! By the end of the current filing season, how many total Dem Sanators, Dem Reps, and Republican same will have opted out of their races? Will their successors be any different in mood, attitudes, politics? Thanks

My guess is that retirement in the House wind up somewhere in the low to mid 40s.

On the Senate side, the 11 retirements are the most since 1996 so I don't think there will be many more. Maybe one (or two) surprises?

With all of the talk about Delahunt's possible retirement and his involvement or lack thereof in the prosecution of Dr. Amy Bishop (in a story that is getting weirder and weirder), does his district move up the ladder as a possible Republican pickup?

I think Delahunt's days are numbered...retirement is the rumor I keep hearing.

Whether the seat is competitive or not depends on what the candidate fields on both sides look like if Delahunt does step aside. 

Democrats have a far deeper bench in Massachusetts but Scott Brown proved anything is possible.

So why do you think Brad Ellsworth is a good recruit for Indiana Senate? Here is my take: This is a year for outsider/populist campaigns. Ellsworth is a Blue Dog, and nobody with a vote likes Blue dogs right now. Blue dogs are among the most insider-ish groups in Washington, as their funding is largely connected to lobbyists, especially for hated industries like Insurance and Finance. Nominating Ellsworth is a grave misreading of the mood of the electorate.

Interesting point.

I would say Ellsworth is a pretty good recruit because he has a proven record of winning in a very tough district, is telegenic and gives off the sort of "common sense" approach to government that people seem to crave right now.

I agree with you that this is an outsider political climate but there weren't a lot of great options for Democrats. Jim Schellinger, who ran and lost a Democratic gubernatorial primary in 2008, was a possibility but might have been seen as too risky.

That's the conundrum in andidate recruiting. Do you go with a known entity who might be subject to being attacked as an insider? Or an unproven outsider who could implode?


I hate this new format. That out of the way, is there any grain of truth to the rumor that Biden's out in 2012? It seems like it's one of those "if you say it enough, people will buy it" deals, but I thought the same thing about the Tea Partier statements from last summer. If it were true, I would hate it more than I hate this new format (which I hate a lot).

Thanks for the thoughts on the new format!

And, on Biden, no. There are forever rumors that Biden is going to be replaced by Secretary Clinton but there doesn't seem to be any there there.

Why, "All The President's Men," of course! Aside: Which actor would be the most realistic choice to play YOU in a film? Nicolas Cage, perhaps?

Who would play me in a movie? People say I look like Chris Klein, which, to my mind, isn't much of a compliment.

I would love John Cusack to play me. Of course, all of this is predicated on the idea that a movie would be made about me.  Which, of course, it won't.

Tony K mentioned you on his show as a possible guest. But I guess you got bumped for Tucker Carlson. Is being mentioned on ESPN radio one step closer to the homeless man's Bill Simmons?


Mr. Tony mentioned me as a possible guest. WHOAH. Huge.

I can only assume TK reads these chats and so: "Tony, the answer is yes. Any time. ANY"

As for my Simmons quest, I remain undaunted by him not having any idea who the hell I am.  To quote C. Montgomery Burns: "Climb the ladder, Monty".

I am the tortoise in this ;)

I'm hearing that Health Care might go through the Senate on a Reconciliation vote. Might its chances be improved by calling it a "Reconcillizziation"?

Putting aside the mispelling of Simmons name, this is a genius question.

"Reconcillizziation" has a nice ring to it. Plus, all those "z"s will throw opponents off.

Too bad for you last night. The Texas Governor's race seems like it's been a dud. Is Hutchinson actually just a poor campaigner who's been coasting for reelection based on the state's conservative title?

Cuse was the better team and deserved to win. A special note to Hoya fans who couldn't go the game: WHY would you seel your tickets on stub hub so that Cuse fans could scoop them up and turn Verizon Center into a quasi-home game? WHY!

As for Texas, I totally agree. it's like when you bought some huge firework as a kid but when you lit it, it just fizzled out.

KBH still has a little time but she hasn't done much to change the dynamic yet so her allies can't be optimistic. This question reminds me that I need to do a post on what the heck happened to KBH. Look for it next week.

I would endorse the choice of All The Kings Men, although Robert Penn Warren repeatedly said that Willie Stark isn't Huey Long and the book's not about politics--The best political novel that hasn't appeared yet is The Gay Place by Billy Lee Bremmer, a novel about a thinly veiled Lyndon Johnson character by somebody who used to work for him

The Gay Place is definitely on the list. Fix super-producer Andrea can you link to my list of best political books?

For the hopelessly out of touch among us, who the h*** is Bill Simmons?


He is the "sports guy" on ESPN.

Basically, he writes a kick-ass column (and records a similar podcast) that offers his various theories, ranking and other random stuff about sports and culture generally.

It's really, really good stuff. Even if you don't like sports.

Re: Delahunt and Scott Brown: I wouldn't overstate the "Scott Brown proved anything is possible" meme. If you are of a certain age, picture Wally Cox or Don Knotts. Picture that guy in a pickup truck and a barn coat, uttering Scott Brown's lines. It just doesn't work. Brown's a tall, good-looking, well-spoken guy who radiates confidence. Republicans at the national level got wind of him a few weeks before the election and started funneling $$ his way. He has something like 6 mill *left* *over*! All because he looks and sounds like a star. I wouldn't read any more into it than that.

Fair point. I have always argued that looks matter A LOT in politics.  People disagree but if looks matter in every other facet of life, why wouldn't they matter in politics.

I mean, how do you think I got this chat ;)

Maybe it's just me but that homeless man's Bill Simmons joke is getting pretty tired and it sort of seems a mean spirited swipe at homeless people -- wise up guy.

I mean, come on!

Also, last I checked, we hadn't made the chat mandatory -- despite my demands to do so.

Look, you state openly you are just about process, but the entire Post is much too much process and little about content. Health care is a prime example where all content is hidden away in some blog. For example, have you ever seen an article which discussed the waste in private health insurance--high overhead and vast compliance costs?

I just disagree.

Ezra Klein writes detailed posts about policy every day. And, we have written any number of stories about the policy implications of the health care bill.

It's entirely possible that you would want more but to say we haven't wrriten about the content of the bill is demonstrably wrong.

Chris, first time caller - long time reader. My vote for best political movie is the documentary Street Fight chronicling the Cory Booker vs. Sharpe James race for Newark Mayor. I have to say, after watching I have had a long time political crush on Booker. What do you think his chances are for the 2012 nomination for Governor in New Jersey?

"Street Fight" has been mentioned many times and is definitely going on the list.

I think Booker probably has the right of first refusal against Chris Christie in 2013.

Hey didn't she say she was going to give up her Senate seat? Has that happened yet? Is anyone pressing her on when she is going to go through with it? I like the new format, btw.

She said she will resign after the March 2 primary no matter what happens.

I am skeptical that if she loses she will follow through on that pledge. But, we should know in a few weeks.

Go back to the old chat format. That is all.

Rock on!

Is Boxer in any real trouble? I know she's not as popular as Feinstein, but neither Fiorina nor Campbell seems to be able to mobilize SoCal social conservatives, a very important constituency (ask Prop 8 followers...) for Republicans to win statewide office. Fiorina is running more as a business-type with funky ads, and Campbell is a libertarian academic. What kind of coalition could either build to beat Boxer?

Boxer is only in real trouble if the political climate nationally continues to erode for Democrats.

There are two schools of thought about who would be better against her in the fall.

The Carly Fiorina camp argues that Boxer will be very well funded and the only chance you have of beating her is to nominate someone who has the personal wealth to stay competitive in the cash chase.

The Tom Campbell argument is that people are looking for someone with the experience in state and federal office to get things done.

Time will tell.

Looked like KBH was angling for the Texas Gov to Repub Prez Candidate route... that all gone if she's bounced?

Yeah...I don;t think you can run for president after losing a Republican gubernatorial primary two years before.

Now, if Perry wins (and beats Bill White in the fall), I do think there is a genuine chance he runs for president -- trying to be the "tea party" candidate.

The Russia House starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Sean Connery and Roy Scheider is a dramatic cold war spy movie filmed on location in the Soviet Union before its dissolution. It raised a interesting point that questions (i.e., the list) one side asks about weapon capabilities of the other side reveal more about what the asking side doesn't know (or weaknesses). Did Republican leaders reveal weakness or fear by immediately asking President Obama to scrap current healthcare bills, show proposal(s) 72 hrs ahead of time and promise to forego using reconciliation before attending the healthcare summit? Negotiations 101 likely suggests the preferred negotiating strategy is not to show all cards before negotiating (on TV no less).

Good one. Thanks!

Do you have any progress to report in your quest for a new Live Fix HQ?

Thanks for asking. The plan was to try out Jammin java in Vienna this week but various childcare issues got in the way so I am at my house instead.

But, JamminJava and I are on a collision course next week. Let's hope it works out. This chat needs a sponsor aka I need free coffee.


Totally agree about the looks factor. We should note also that a woman with a centerfold in her past wouldn't stand a chance of being taken seriously, and the charge against her would be undoubtedly led by the women who got their jobs as news readers based on their looks. (I can say this; I'm female.) However, the good Senator's comment about flying planes into Federal buildings ("Everyone hates paying taxes" or something to that effect) seems a tad on the cavalier side, don't you think?

I think Brown's comments are evidence that he is VERY new on the national stage...and should show people talking about him as presidential candidate that they are getting WAY ahead of themselves.

For the way this town actually works - media, lobbying, etc. - the movie has to be "Thank You for Smoking." It was a satire that failed only because of how close it came to reality.

Another great movie (and a better book).

"Prayer for a City" by Buzz Bissinger is fascinating. Ed Rendell let some college graduate (who has since gone on to become a famous writer) follow him everywhere during his first term as Mayor. I understand this book did not sell many copies, but it may be the best personal observations of a Mayor book ever.

And of course Buzz Bissinger wrote the original "Friday Night Lights" book which is responsible for the best show on television.

Thanks for joining me!  We made it through an hour with only one mention of Tiger -- not bad.

Next week we'll take the Live Fix chat on the road to Jammin Java in Vienna. Let's hope they have the welcome wagon out for the ole Fix!

Have a great weekend. And spread the word on the chat!!!


In This Chat
Chris Cillizza
Chris Cillizza writes "The Fix", a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House for the newspaper and website. Chris has appeared as a guest on NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and CNN to talk politics. He lives in Virginia with his wife and son.
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