Episode 67, with guests Sandra Sobieraj Westfall, George Caudill, Dan Rosenthal and the legendary Matt Cooper



Sandra Sobieraj Wesfall, George Caudill, Dan Rosenthal and Matt Cooper are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton.
Original Air Date: August 18, 2012 on SiriusXM “POTUS” Channel 124.
Polioptics airs regularly on POTUS on Saturdays at 6 am, 12 noon and 6 pm.
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Show also available for download on Apple iTunes by clicking here.

On this week’s episode, as we cling to the remaining weeks of summer, a Polioptics Potpourri.

On Friday night, August, 10, as I was going to bed in the Catskills, the Twitters started buzzing that Mitt Romney would announce his vice presidential running mate the following morning in Norfolk, Virginia. Was it Governor Bob McDonnell? Could be. But then I remembered an earlier trip to Norfolk to see the excellent maritime collection at Nauticus, which now includes one of my favorite vessels, the Iowa-class U.S.S. Wisconsin, BB-64, the last battleship ever built for the U.S. Navy.

[Little known fact: U.S.S. Illinois (BB-65) and U.S.S. Kentucky (BB-66) were to join their sister ships Wisconsin, New Jersey, Missouri and Iowa, but were never completed. And a newer version of the battleship, the five vessels of the Montana-class (BB-67-71), were canceled in favor of the Essex-class aircraft carriers, a reality of modern warfare in World War II and beyond.]

To get a sense of how Hollywood put the Mighty Mo — the U.S.S. Missouri (BB-63) — back into action for this summer’s Battleship, check out the clip below.


I like battleships. But I digress. What was I talking about? Oh, yeah. Congressman Paul Ryan. Of Wisconsin. He was named Mitt Romney’s running mate a week ago. He had an excellent backdrop. It was a battleship. More on that below.

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People Magazine’s Washington Correspondent, Sandra Soberaij Westfall, knew that her publication offered the Romney team in Boston an excellent direct line to a huge readership, many of them women. If she could only get herself, and her photo team, into position, she would have the big get of the week, the first joint interview with Mitt and Ann Romney and Paul and Janna Ryan. She finally caught up with the two couples on their bus in North Carolina, an image that reminded me of another freshly-minted ticket 20 years ago.

Sandra’s piece, “The Honeymooners,” appeared quickly on newsstands, and offered readers the kinds of personal insights (how they raise their kids, what movies they memorize, workout routines, music on their iPods, reading lists, etc.) that other media outlets profess not to obsess over but nevertheless define water cooler chatter for the better part of a week.

Sandra joined our show on her way home from Iowa, having just finished a similar sit-down with the Obamas for a future issue. Sandra offers us a sneak peak of what’s in store for that piece as well. I first got to know Sandra in the 1990’s when she was covering the Clinton White House for the Associated Press, but her gig with People allows her a lot broader portfolio for her coverage.

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Moving onto our next guest, we caught up in Des Moines with my old pal, George Caudill, who succeeded me in the White House as director of production, fresh off a bus trip through Iowa with Barack and Michelle Obama as Ground Force One brought the president across the Hawkeye state in search of its six electoral votes which, according to George, are very much in play.

The Obamas leave Ground Force One in Iowa

Ground Force One, which debuted last year as a big black armored behemoth purchased for presidential transport by the United States Secret Service, now sports a jumbo-sized Presidential Seal on its side panel, which humanizes the vehicle a bit, but still strikes me as a far cry from the quaint old luxury liners of the Clinton-era bus tours.

As imagery began to flow quickly from the president in Iowa, it was good to see the White House and the Obama campaign making effective use of evocative Iowa backdrops such as corn fields (to demonstrate the devastating effect of the summer-long drought) and wind mills (to demonstrate the need to expand sources of electricity away from foreign oil) in their event production. And of course, no trip to Iowa during State Fair season could be complete without a range of OTRs (off-the-record movements) to show the lighter side of August campaigning.

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Then, for some more perspective into what it takes to bring the president around the country (and around the world), we welcomed into the studio my old friend, Dan Rosenthal of the Albright Stonebridge Group.

Dan used to be director of Advance in the Clinton White House, and now works with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Dan, like me a native of the Boston suburbs, stopped by SiriusXM on his way to Camden Yard, to watch what we thought might be the final nail in the coffin for the Red Sox 2012 season. It turns out that, behind Clay Buchholtz and in front of team owners John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, the Sox were able to turn back the Orioles 6-3.

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And batting cleanup: Matt Cooper of the National Journal. Matt’s a legend in DC journalism circles and also one of Washington’s funniest human beings. Matt was one of the original band of reporters covering Bill Clinton in 1992 and has put his mark on the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama as well. It was during the Bush years that his name became known far and wide as the recipient, along with many other reporters, of a leak in July 2003 from Karl Rove that Ambassador Joe Wilson’s wife worked at “the Agency” (and, no, it wasn’t the E.P.A.). Matt’s painful experience of being caught in the middle of protecting a source during a Federal investigation brought to the surface the strange mechanics of how Washington sometimes works and the collateral damage it sometimes inflicts. By 2007, Matt was finally able to make some light of the experience in an interview with Jon Stewart. Now, in our conversation five years later, the water under the bride allows him even more perspective.

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As we tick down the days before the Republican Convention in Tampa and the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, with Labor Day, the debates and the final stretch toward Election Day beyond, I think both campaigns are finally showing their stuff in the area of event production.

As I was careful to point out on the show, don’t take this as an endorsement of Romney-Ryan, but I thought Boston did a bang up job rolling out the ticket against the backdrop of the U.S.S. Wisconsin.

It had all the elements of a grand political event: the dramatic “walkout” down the ship’s gangway to a stage set amid the crowd. It had a sweeping, orchestral soundtrack, the great Jerry Goldsmith’s theme to Sony Pictures’ Air Force One instead of the usual well-known lyric-filled songs that, I think, often detract from the main image (President-elect Obama achieved the same effect on Election Night in Chicago in Grant Park, using Trevor Rabin’s theme to Remember the Titans). And Governor Romney and Representative Ryan were well-choreographed to step in front of the podium for a few seconds of waving to the crowd before Ryan’s speech began. This is the image that topped many newspapers around the nation the next day.

In the week that followed the Ryan announcement, both campaign stepped it up a notch.

I really liked the set created for President Obama at the Nelson Pioneer Farm and Museum in Oskaloosa, Iowa. The anti-ballistic armor to the left and right of the Blue Goose helps send the president’s message as well. Here’s a little background about how a stop like this gets put together.

And here’s Governor Romney at the Century Coal Mine in Beallsville, Ohio. The event is well lit; the podium placard helps to caption the message; even the coal miners, just off their shift, bring to the backdrop the lingering residue of their work on their faces.

Along with America’s hard-working farmers and coal miners, the Democratic and Republican advance men and women are earning their money’s worth this week. Keep up the good work!

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