Broder on Politics

David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, February 10, 2006; 1:30 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, Feb. 10, at 1:30 p.m. ET to answer your questions about the world of politics, from the latest maneuverings on Capitol Hill to developments in the White House.

Broder has written extensively about primaries, elections, special interests and the business of politics. His books include "Democracy Derailed: The Initiative Movement & the Power of Money," "Behind the Front Page: A Candid Look at How the News Is Made" and "The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point."

The transcript follows.


David S. Broder: I'm delighted to have this opportunity to visit with you on the Post Web site. Let's get right to your questions. Dave Broder


Chapel Hill, N.C.: Thank you for taking these questions.

What do you make of the Republican's filling Rep. Cunningham's spot on the Appropriations committee with Tom DeLay. It seems to me to be evidence that they are not really taking the ethics issues seriously.

David S. Broder: I interpret the action as a sign of support for Mr. DeLay. The question of ethics reform will continue to hang over the Republicans until they pass meaningful changes in the House rules.


Aptos, Calif.: What are the ramifications of the record trade deficit on foreign policies, the ability to influence developments in places like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia? What effect will the continuing growth in deficit have on the American workers?

David S. Broder: This is a complicated subject, and I am no expert. But the continuing gap--along with the near-record deficits in our federal budget--strikes me as a warning sign of an out of balance economic/fiscal picture. We are not paying our way in world trade and we're obviously not paying the bills for the government.


St. Louis, Mo.: Much has been made of the critical comments made at Coretta Scott King's funeral. What does this really tell us about the scope and longevity of the so-called "Bush Bubble"?

David S. Broder: The funeral for Coretta Scott King was a mixture of very moving tributes and some political comments that, in my judgment, bordered on out-of-place partisanship. I thought it was very odd to hear President Carter going on at such length about how helpful she had been to his political career, as if that were one of her main achievements. But I think everyone has to make allowance for the emotions of the event, so I don't want to be too judgmental.


Fort Worth, Tex.: Why wasn't anyone ever charged in the Florida scheme to prevent thousands of eligible African-Americans from voting?

Wasn't this treason against democracy?

David S. Broder: I don't think the investigations established any criminal activity or anything that could properly be called treasonous.


Princeton, N.J.: What effect on the White House will revelations published today about Brown's testimony on hurricane help, Pillar's article on misuse of intelligence data, and Libby's testimony that he was told to leak...what effect will these have?

David S. Broder: All three are likely to add to the building political case against the competence and integrity of the administration. This is exactly why Republicans in Congress are nervous about the mid-term election.


Manchester, N.H.: Do you think N.H. will continue to have the first in the nation primary?

David S. Broder: Yes, I do. I have jokingly said to Bill Gardner, your great secretary of state, that I'm sure that somewhere in the Bible there is a passage reading, "And New Hampshire shall be the first of all states...."


Richmond, Va.: About the Federal budget, I believe the public is confused about a couple of issues. First, if 'earmarks' are eliminated the money still goes to the state but the requirement that it be used for a specific purpose is removed. Second, many times when politicians talk about 'cutting the budget' this means slowing the rate of increase in spending, say from 7% to 4%. Thus, a current budget of $100 would grow to $104 next year instead of $107 and so we would 'save' $3. Not that anything significant is going to be done this year, anyhow.

David S. Broder: You are exactly right on your second point--that many of the so-called "cuts" are actually reductions in rates of growth for a program. I'm not sure you are entirely correct about the "earmarks" question. Not all federal funds are distributed to states on a formula basis; some of the money is earmarked for specific projects. Were there fewer earmarks, that money would not be sent out of the Treasury.


New York, N.Y.: Regarding the Clintons at King funeral, I was struck by the difference in responses: Bill got thundering responses, while Hillary Clinton received only a tepid response to some canned and uninspiring remarks. Moreover, it appeared patronizing, as if Bill Clinton was sponsoring her. Do you think we can read anything from this? Also do you think Senator Clinton would stand any chance running against McCain?

David S. Broder: I was struck, as you were, by the contrast in the behavior of the two Clintons and the reaction to them. President Clinton struck, thought, exactly the right tone, but Senator Clinton seemed to me ill-at-ease in the situation and far less effective in conveying a sense of loss. I don't know how much this tells us for the future, but it suggests that she has not yet mastered the political arts at which her husband excels. Any Democrat, I think, will have his or her hands full if the Republicans nominate Sen. McCain.


Kettering, Ohio: I have always welcomed your take on political relationships in the Capital, which I interpret as you feel there is way too much partisanship, which leads to ineffective government at best. Since over the years we as a nation have ceded government to the political class, do you think it will ever happen that politicians are removed from the scene, to be replaced by citizen-lawmakers, as I believe the framers of the Constitution envisioned? Or is that even a healthy thing? Thanks in advance!

David S. Broder: No, I don't think we will ever remove politicians from government, or separate politics from policymaking. I think government is a serious business, requiring skills, and politicians have some of those skills. But we can certainly expect them to keep in mind that their obligations to their constituents and to the country are of greater weight than any purely partisan motivations. It's the lack of proportion that is so disturbing these days.


Philadelphia, Pa.: You are a pundit, not a reporter. Why not admit how you vote so we have a lens to view you through ?

David S. Broder: Excuse me, but all of my work as a journalist is based on the reporting I do. I have never advocated the election or defeat of a candidate in any election, and I am too old to change that habit now. My vote, like yours, is a private matter.


Boise, Idaho: Any early predictions for President '08?

David S. Broder: Nope. I think we're in for a lively contest in both parties and I'm happy to sit back and watch it unfold.


Denver, Colo.: Can you feel the despair of ordinary citizens watching our government exacerbating long term issues (war on terror, budget deficits, health care, Medicare, Social Security). I haven't noticed this level of malaise since the 1970s.

David S. Broder: I have been hearing that distress in every reporting trip I've taken around the country in the past year, and have been writing about it regularly. It is particularly striking when the statistics say the economy is healthy. Much of it stems from Iraq, of course, but I also hear people's frustration with the impasse in policy on health care, the budget, energy and many other subjects.


P.S. from New York, N.Y.: Thanks for participating in this public forum. I wish our elected officials would do the same.

David S. Broder: Thank you. I really enjoy this give-and-take, and I'm sure elected officials would find it valuable as well.


Morgan Hill, Calif.: Why is that when defenders of the Bush administration on pre-war WMD intelligence claim "everyone thought there were WMD," interviewers never make the correction as follows: "everyone perhaps except Hans Blix and his team who were IN Iraq and reported that they could find no such weapons?"

David S. Broder: You make a very good point. In retrospect, those of us in the press should have given much more weight to the inspectors' negative findings than we did--and I include myself in that failing.


Jefferson City, Mo.: Many people credit Mr. Clinton as a superb politician. Given that he never received a majority vote for president, that his party lost the U.S. House and Senate, state governorships and legislative seats, his proposed health care plan was defeated, and welfare reform was largely a Republican product, what was superb about him other personal style, which is worth what?

David S. Broder: You are certainly correct that the Democratic Party lost strength--rather than gained--during the Clinton years. Nonetheless, it was a considerable political achievement for Clinton to defeat an incumbent president in 1992 and to win reelection in 1996 after his party had been repudiated in the mid-term election. Your comment on personal style seems to suggest it is not important, but I would disagree. The personality and communications ability of a president are important to the country and the world--as witness Ronald Reagan.


Silver Spring, Md.: Regarding Richmond and cuts in the budget vs. cuts in growth, it is also true that the President has proposed cuts, plain and simple, and in a program such as, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, he has proposed to take back money previously appropriated. Also, while "cuts in growth" may sound more benign, the fact is that the population is growing and necessary programs have to grow just to keep pace with the growth in population.

David S. Broder: I agree with you on both points. There have been some budget cuts proposed that are real cuts--I've written about one for the Sunday column in the Community Development Block Grant program, which is really important to cities, and the president wants to cut it by 25 percent. You're also right that slowdowns in spending, over time, can seriously damage programs because costs rise and populations to be served increase in numbers. That is what is at issue in Medicaid and Medicare right now.


Madison, Wis.: It seems to me that Russ Feingold is comfortable in his skin and speaks in a way that connects with voters...Is he underestimated, dismissed as a lefty candidate?

David S. Broder: He seems perfectly comfortable in his skin, from where I sit, and he makes his views clear--whether in hearings or in speeches. He obviously has found broad support in Wisconsin, but I can't judge at this point how much of a national constituency there is for his brand of politics. Howard Dean soared for a time, but as you know, came crashing down to earth when more Democratic voters began paying attention to the 2004 field of candidates. It takes more than liberal activists to win a nomination.


Cincinnati, Ohio: Evidence continues to mount that Vice President Cheney was directly involved in the outing of Valerie Plame. Given new revelations about his possibly authorizing leaks of classified material, could you see impeachment proceedings coming to bear against Cheney?

David S. Broder: To my knowledge there is no tesimony or claim so far that Vice President Cheney offered Valerie Plame's name to any person outside the government. If he is implicated in Scooter Libby's alleged leak, I expect that testimony to develop during Libby's trial. But talk of impeachment strikes me as unjustified at this point.


Ontario, Calif.: David,

Thanks for the chat. On the Blix and WMD issue, my recollection is that he was on record as having believed that Saddam had them, and that Saddam was much less than cooperative with the inspection team. Also, isn't there a growing school of thought that the WMDs were moved to Syria during the pre-war build-up, as one his top generals has written about, and as the Israeli's and some in the U.N. have long held?

Thanks again!

David S. Broder: Without going back and checking the clips, my recollection is that Blix said that the UN had found evidence of illegal weapons programs in Iraq earlier after the First Gulf War, but was uncertain about their continuing because Saddam Hussein forced an end to the inspections. I have no reliable information on the theory that weapons were transferred to Syria.


Boise, Idaho: Residing in one of the reddest states in the Union, I am surprised and disappointed at the lack of engagement of the citizens. We are engulfed in a deadly, expensive war, an assault on our environment, cuts to social programs, potential constitutional violations, and the growth of lobbyist influence in policy. What makes this era different from the Vietnam era? Why the disinterest and loyalty to what seems to be a highly divisive, incompetent government?

David S. Broder: As you may recall, much of the energy of the Vietnam-era protests came from the college campuses, and was fueled by the draft. When President Nixon suspended the draft and substituted the all-volunteer army, I remember being struck by the overnight falloff in protests of the war. I think the fact that the Bush administration has insulated most Americans from the immediate effects of the war--not only avoiding the draft, but not imposing any rationing or raising any taxes--has deadened public response. But it is still worth noting that surveys consistently show an erosion of confidence in, and support for, the conduct of the war.


Fredericksburg, Tex.: At the age of 76 I can remember the action to change the Presidential office to two terms as a kind of reaction to FDRs being elected four times. I disagree with the two term limitation and believe it weakens and changes the nature of the second term of a president of either party, I think Bill Clinton should have been able to run for another term and that George Bush should also, and that in having this ability the whole dynamic of the second term would be changed. What do you think?

David S. Broder: I am opposed to term limits. I have argued this issue for years with my friend George Will. I think term limits have weakened Legislatures where they have been operating. Personally, I would support repeal of the two-term limit on the president, but I do not think there is much momentum in that direction right now.


Houston, Tex.: I teach college history, and on a recent assignment I asked my students: If you were one of the Framers, what would you change about the Constitution? Several of the responses had to do with the balance of power--and of those the consensus was that Congress has too much and the Executive Branch not enough. "The President should have the sole power to declare war." "The President's veto would be final." "The people should be able to elect a president as many times as they want" (I pointed out that term limits were not part of the original).

My question is: When will we see some reporting about how the "post-9/11 worldview" is shaping the way our young people view the government?

David S. Broder: Your findings are very interesting to me--and disturbing. I would speculate that they reflect the loss of public confidence in Congress and the generally poor reputation of legislative bodies at all levels. I believe strongly in what former Senator George Mitchell of Maine liked to say in his speeches, namely, that democracy began when the Parliament in England achieved its status as an independent and influential part of the government. Mitchell pointed out that there had always been strong executives, by whatever name they were called, but that the people's voice was heard only when they were able to choose an independent Legislature. I hope you find ways to convey that lesson to your students.


Fincastle, Va.: Paul Krugman, in his book THE GREAT UNRAVELING, states that the right-wing movement which controls the administration and congress, is a "revolutionary movement whose leaders do not accept the legitimacy of our current political system." Do you accept this? And if you do, do you think this lies at the heart of the current acrimony in our political system? Thank you.

David S. Broder: No, that strikes me as a considerable exaggeration. The fights that are taking place--over secrecy, executive power, etc.--are very serious, but I don't think it necessary to impute to those on the other side a lack of belief in our system of government. Let's fight it out on the real issues--not some large conspiracy theory.


Term Limits?: David Broder is against term limits? Please explain.

David S. Broder: Term limits infringe voters' sovereignty. They rob legislative bodies of their institutional memories. They weaken the Legislature as compared to the Governor. They probably increase the influence of lobbyists, who have a greater store of knowledge than the legislators themselves. Experience has shown they do not curb ambition or careerism in politics, but simply shuffle people from one office to another. Those are some of the reasons I oppose them.


David S. Broder: I have enjoyed this conversation and thank all of you who participated. I'll be back in a couple weeks. Dave Broder


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