November 21, 2014 1:00 PM EST

Welcome to TIME Subscriber Q&A, with TIME’s Washington bureau chief, Michael Scherer. He has a story in this week’s TIME about America’s New Anchor, Jorge Ramos of Noticiero Univision. His other stories can be found here.

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sacredh asks, Do you think that Jim Webb throwing his hat into the ring could signal interest in the VP job if Hillary gets the nomination?

From my time with Webb, he doesn’t strike me as the sort of guy who is all that comfortable toeing someone else’s line, and I would guess the Clinton camp would be worried, with good reason, that he might not follow marching instructions. There is another reason I would guess this is unlikely, at least at this point. If you read his announcement letter, he is pretty clearly positioning himself, like Obama did in 2007, as someone who can turn the page on the Clinton v. GOP wars of the past. On the issues, he is likely to campaign to her right.

Outsider asks, Thanks for bringing the feature back this week, Mike.

In your piece about the end of the post-partisan dream, you wrote:

Now we come to the final hours of this miserable season. It’s likely, though not certain, that when you wake up Wednesday, Republicans will control the Senate for the first time since 2006, give or take a recount in the West or a runoff in the South. But don’t expect that result to tell you much about the direction of the country.

Other than TV ads, how can anyone get the voting population to actually get at the polls? This election had the lowest turn out in a very long time. And how do you think the media played into the lack of enthusiasm for voting?

Since most people get their information via reporting, how do you think, or do you think, the media could help raise the level of concern regarding voter participation?

I tend to be a glass half full guy when it comes to Democracies: Large groups of people, even if sometimes ill informed, tend to be completely rational. How do you get people to the polls? You give them an incentive. Either a candidate they can believe in, or the prospect of political or economic change that they desire. As a rule, candidates in 2014 offered neither. It was a grim time, highlighted by the fact that gridlock in Washington has reduced everyone’s power to actually accomplish much of anything, and the voting public, a rational body, sort of gets that. Also people are upset, about the economic stagnation of their own lives and the childlike spectacle of their elected leadership. It will change when the conditions change, and a Presidential election, which inevitably ask bigger questions and bring bigger characters to the stage, will help that along, though I would not be surprised if 2016 turnout is far lower than 2012 and 2008.

What is the media’s role? To say what is happening, and explain what it means. I think people are interested in both, but I don’t think they will look to my opinion to decide whether voting is worth their time. For the record, I think everyone should vote, with the possible exception of those living in false democracies, where not voting can send a stronger signal than voting.

outsider asks, Hey Michael, in your piece about the end of Post-Partisan dream, you wrote:

Message control, in other words, has replaced governing.

This is absolutely true: Why do you think that more politicians aren’t called on doing that very thing when they are questioned by members of the media?

I think they are called on it, but they just keep repeating the soundbites. At some point, especially at the end of expensive campaigns, the voice of the journalist tends to diminish. We can say so-and-so did not answer the question, or does not actually have a plan to govern. But that is just an article or news report in a sea of endless television spots and direct mail pieces peddling balderdash.

deconstructive asks, Michael, how do you explain the disconnect over Obamacare between its unpopularity (in polls, media coverage, etc.) and its success (in numbers of people covered, etc.)?

Yes, I think this is quite simple. About 20 million have gained coverage under Obamacare, but this country has 316 million people. It’s a tiny fraction. For the people who have got coverage, or the millions more who have a chronic condition that is now covered or get coverage they could not get before, Obamacare is seen for the most part as a good thing. But most of us still get our insurance through our employers, and it is still more than we want to pay, and increasing in cost (though slower), and insurance companies are still difficult, and our wages are flat. Liberals support Obamacare because they are ideologically predisposed to think it is a good think. Conservatives opposes because they assume it is bad. And most in the middle don’t really understand what it does, or how it has done for them. Some are convinced it has harmed them. Thus, you get a sort of general discontent.

deconstructive asks, Michael, after our midterm election, how you explain the disconnect between populist issues winning in red states – especially the minimum wage – and GOP politicians winning in those states who consistently fight those same issues? Low voter turnout, especially among D’s and minorities, explains a lot, but maybe not this – are populist issues popular with conservative working class voters too?

Progressives have identified a few issues that are popular with lots of voters, but for which Republican politicians oppose. Minimum wage and pot decriminalization are two, which did well this cycle. But neither issue is a top issue for many voters, meaning it is not the issue that voters decide on when they choose their elected leaders. Those choices are made for other reasons, including their general satisfaction with the direction of their lives, the state and the country. This cycle had a huge anti-incumbent undercurrent because of those issues. Also, there a group of Republican and independent voters who vote in low-turnout elections for Republicans, even if they don’t mind pot and want higher minimum wages.

yogi asks, MS, does the pentagon release statistics on the sorties that are being flown in Syria and Iraq? What is the percentage break down of sorties flown by the US compared to the other allied nations supposedly fighting ISIS? (Perhaps this would be a good post by MT if the data is available).

Mark Thompson replies, “The U.S. is flying 85% of the air strikes since Aug. 8, according to the latest Pentagon data. The U.S. has flown 843 of them—459 against targets in Iraq and 380 against targets in Syria. Sixteen allies have flown 163 air strikes, including 102 in Iraq and 61 in Syria. U.S. officials also say U.S. planes are conducting most of the intelligence, escort and refueling missions.”

yogi asks, #AskTIME, MS, do members of both branches of Congress really believe their kabuki vote on Keystone XL meant anything to the citizens they serve? Why waste time on a vote, that Obama has said he would veto and there is so little time until they have another recess? Especially when Congress has more important issues like a budget and actual debate and vote on whether to wage war against ISIS.

Republicans use Keystone as a cudgel, looking to paint Democrats as ideologues who don’t care about jobs and the middle class. Environmentalists see Keystone as both a substantive issue, given the emissions that might be prevented by delay of Canadian oil development, and as a symbolic stand that could shift the conversation about fossil fuel development. As an electoral issue, the evidence suggests that it has been a winner for Republicans, similar to the way equal pay has been a winner for Democrats. It arguably helped the GOP in a number of races in 2014, when Democratic candidates had to distance themselves from the party. That’s why you are almost certainly going to see more votes. When Republicans talk about Keystone they are usually winning, which is not always true on issues that deal with global warming.

Sue_N asks, Seriously, how far can we expect to see the rampant obstructionism of the GOP go? How long can this government tolerate being shackled and kept from functioning? And, hey, while I’ve got your ear (eye, whatever), can we expect to see this oh-hell-no continue beyond Obama’s presidency? Yes, a lot of it seems personal, but the ugly genie of the Party of No has been let out of the bottle. When another Democrat is elected to the White House in 2016, are the shackles going to stay on?

There was a moment in 2005, when President George W. Bush decided to push hard on Social Security reform. His bet was that he could get some form of personal investment accounts by Democrats in the Senate by offering to bargain on other issues, like the long term solvency of the program. Instead the Democrats countered with: You get nothing. It was probably the right political move for Democrats, who cleaned up in the 2006 elections. Republicans did something similar after Obama came into office, and most Democratic strategists will tell you that it was probably a good short term political strategy. They now control both chambers. That said, there is now far more pressure on Republicans to actually come up with a credible positive agenda, which has not been much in evidence over the last few years, in part because the party is so fractious.

Your question could be, how long will rampant political polarization that punishes compromise and rewards obstruction continue? I would argue that this is more important. I don’t know the answer, but I can tell you some factors that would alleviate the pressures: less partisan redistricting after 2020 that allows for more competitive seats, population changes that make more Senate seats competitive, an improvement in the labor market that begin increasing wages broadly across the country, the emergence of a candidate or set of candidates that convinces a large share of the American people that there is a third way, or a shift in the national mood away from finding comfort in ideological extremes.

Sorry for the delay in getting these up today. There will be no Subscriber Q&A again next week, but we’ll be back in the first week of December. In the meantime, Happy Thanksgiving. And keep commenting.


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