Broder on Politics

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David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, March 24, 2006; 12:00 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, March 24, at noon ET to answer your questions about the world of politics, from the latest maneuverings on Capitol Hill to developments in the White House.

Recent columns: Hope Comes to the Plate, (Post, March 23, 2006)

For Gates, A Visa Charge, (Post, March 18, 2006)

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.


Linthicum, Md.: Mr. Broder,

Will the immigration issue be the galvanizing issue for the 2006 and 2008 elections? It seems to me that it blends a multitude of concerns Americans have about job security, cost and quality of education, health care spending, the security of U.S. borders, terrorism and racism into one "super issue" for which no one seems to have an answer or a plan.

David S. Broder: I share your hunch that immigration is a growing issue in this country. I have been impressed with the spread of concern from the border states well into the interior. I also agree that many native Americans are ambivalent in their attitudes toward the new waves of immigrants, legal and illegal, which makes it a difficult issue politically. I hope that those who understand the traditions and benefits to this country from the generations we have drawn from abroad will prevail.


Lalaland, Calif.: If a country has three provinces with 60 percent of the population located in one province which experiences many daily deaths due to terrorism, would you deem that country to be safe because the other two provinces are free of terrorists?

David S. Broder: I assume that is a theoretical country to which you refer. Theoretically, my answer would be No.


Ontario, Calif.: David,

A recent NBC poll disclosed that nearly 60 percent of the American people "strongly" or "somewhat strongly" support "making the President's tax cuts of the past few years permanent." Do you think that in the face of this much popular support, the Democrats will be able to stand on principle and display the political will and unity necessary to defeat this questionable plan?

Thanks for you thoughts.

David S. Broder: The Democrats have not been unified or principled in their position on tax cuts up to this point, and I do not assume that they will be either this year. The fiscal profligacy of this government is stunning to me.


Santa Monica, Calif.: With all the missteps and scandals in the Bush administration -- the CIA leak, the phantom WMDs, the Katrina debacle -- why haven't the Democrats been able to make any inroads with voters?

David S. Broder: I believe the Democrats are paying a price for failing to give themselves any kind of a party policy mechanism. They have relied on their congressional leaders and Howard Dean to deliver their messages, and those folks have not been effective. Two years ago, I wrote that the answer to this institutional problem of a policy voice for the opposition party had been found in the late 1950s by Paul Butler, in the Democratic Advisory Council, made up of leading members of past Democratic administrations, governors and some able members of Congress. Dean refused to follow that model, and the party has paid the price.


Ontario, Canada: David,

Russ Feingold's characterization the other day of other Democrats as "run and hiders" for not supporting his presidential censure efforts seemed suspiciously self-serving. It probably furthers his own political aspirations by strengthening his position with much of the nominating base of the party, but does so at the expense of the party as a whole; which will end up seeing his "run and hide" comment Republican campaign ads!

What's your take on his public response to the reluctance other Democrats to endorse his plan?

Thanks again.

David S. Broder: Senator Feingold is following his own political course, as is the habit for Wisconsin politicians. He appears to believe that the Left of the Democratic Party controls its nominating process, but history suggests otherwise. The most liberal candidates have not fared well in New Hampshire or other key battlegrounds, as witness what happened to Tom Harkin, Bill Bradley and Howard Dean.


Cincinnati, Ohio: I often appreciate and enjoy your columns. What will it take before President Bush re-evaluates his Iraq policy and changes how he defines "victory" there? Is there the slightest possibility also that he will change the personnel advising him and executing his policies (esp. Rumsfeld) or are they too connected to his own instincts and loyalties for him to do that?

(Looking for some hope)

David S. Broder: I think it is possible we will see some new faces in the Bush administration, but I see no sign that the president is rethinking the basic direction of his policy in Iraq. Quite the contrary. He seems to believe that persistence is all it will take to bring success.


Orlando, Fla.: Here is a scenario that Senator Clinton does not run for President in '08.

She gets re-elected to the Senate in '06, has millions in the bank, the Democrats take over the Senate and elect her Majority Leader on the condition that she not run for President. Her fundraising skills and PR abilities could keep the Democrats in control of the Senate for a long time. As a President she would be very divisive but as leader in the Senate she could accomplish things.

Far-fetched or possible?

David S. Broder: Possible, but since the senator keeps her thinking to herself, it is very hard to judge the odds.


Portland, Ore.: Why have major news organizations like The Washington Post failed to do extensive investigative front page reporting of the Downing Street memo minutes that allege that pre-war intelligence was fixed to fit the Bush administration's policy of invading Iraq?

David S. Broder: I wonder about the assumption behind your question. The memo was thoroughly reported and examined when it first came to light. What else is there to know?


Laurel, Md.: I'm surprised there isn't more news coverage of the trove of Iraq documents that have recently been declassified.

Now that reports of them are not only found on right-wing blogs but the few right-leaning bastions of the MSM, I'm starting to believe they're at least possibly correct.

How did the U.S. acquire these documents? A variety of sources in Iraq, or are they mostly from one (potentially biased) source?

In them, there are at least third-hand reports that Saddam and al Qaeda collaborated on the 9/11 attacks. Isn't that a major news story?

David S. Broder: I am not familiar enough with the documents to judge their authenticity or their significance.


Arlington, Va.: Jeff Birnbaum and others in the post have reported that a recent decision in a federal appeals court, which requires a new burden in determining an 'official act,' could impact cases brought again public officials who accept gifts or payoffs in the course of their public duties. How do you see this decision impacting those congressmen implicated in the Jack Abramoff scandal? Will this technicality get Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, and their Republican cronies off the hook?

David S. Broder: What you refer to as a technicality strikes me as being an important criterion. It should be necessary for the prosecution to prove the quid pro quo if they want to make the case that a public official has violated his oath of office. Let's wait and see what the evidence shows, and not try to prejudge these cases.


Fortaleza: The White House gives the impression that Bush is willing to talk about Iraq with those who might disagree with him. Sounds like a real give and take, except that Bush described himself as "The Educator in Chief." Is he as willing to change his views based on what he hears in such discussions as he hopes his audience is willing to change their views based on what they hear, or is he a teacher imparting "truths" that the students (audience) need to learn?

David S. Broder: As I said a moment ago on another question, I see no sign that the president is rethinking his basic approach to Iraq. I wish it were otherwise, but I don't see it.


RFK Stadium: David, I very much enjoyed your column on baseball this week. Can we look forward to seeing you at RFK this season?

David S. Broder: Damn right. I've got nine games coming up.


Plano, Tex.: With all the interest in 2008, I'd like your opinion on it from another angle. Jimmy Carter left office after what was perceived as a failed presidency. He has gone on to accomplish, arguably, more than any other president in his post-president days. Given that GWB's presidency appears headed towards the same fate, can you speculate on Mr. Bush's post presidential years. Will he lobby to be baseball's commissioner? Or will he aspire to loftier goals?

David S. Broder: The president says he is eager to get home to Texas, but obviously he will have many opportunities open to him after he retires. I think he will want to spend some time on sports and fitness, but I can't guess about the rest.


Purityville, Miss.: Last week, world media was agog at the prospect of Iran converting from the dollar to the euro.

On March 20, Iran converted to the euro - and, not a 'peep' out of that same world media.

What changed?

David S. Broder: I have no idea.


San Juan Capistrano, Calif.: Do you believe that the report to be produced by the Citizens' Health Care Working Group (Wyden and Hatch legislation in the MMA) and submitted to the president and Congress will have any impact in moving forward the process of health care reform?

David S. Broder: I would like to think so. The crisis in the health care system is obvious when you look at what it is doing to family budgets, to business's bottom line and to the budgets of state and local government--let alone the fact that we have millions living uninsured. The need for action is obvious--but so are the difficulties of finding a comprehensive solution. I hope this report will be a spur to action.


Bolivar, Tenn.: I am not a Republican, but have many friends who are - some well-connected. I am hearing that many outside the beltway - both conservatives and moderates - are very frustrated with the President. What challenges does that present for the remainder of his presidency? What difficulties does that pose for Republicans both in the mid-term elections and in 2008? and What opportunities does it offer Democrats?

Thank you for your insights.

David S. Broder: I hear the same thing from many Republican friends, and that message has been delivered to the White House in many forms. It obviously has created problems for the president in emboldening members of his party to challenge his judgment on spending decisions, on a Supreme Court choice (Harriet Miers) and on the security considerations in the Dubai port deal. It also causes problems for Republicans in the mid-term election; they were in much better shape when they felt, almost unanimously, comfortable in supporting President Bush on all his policies.


Fairfax, Va.: Although the Republican congressmen and Senators are now distancing themselves from Bush on some issues, are they not still responsible, being in the majority, for the lack of requiring accountability of George Bush and the incompetents for the last five years? I'm not sure why this isn't a talking point for Democrats.

David S. Broder: The Democrats are attempting to make that point by emphasizing charges that this has been a rubber-stamp Congress. But as on many other things, their voice has been muted and ineffective.


Charlottesville, Va.: The Democrats have been playing defensive politics for the last five years not just because they are the minority party but because they don't have faith that a 'liberal' message is a winning message.

Now that Bush's poll numbers are so low, and Republicans are swamped in scandal, at least some Democrats are getting aggressive (e.g. Feingold). Is this going to catch on or does the Democratic Party have an institutionalized fear of Republicans?

David S. Broder: I don't think the Democrats' problems stem from fear of Republicans as much as they stem from a lack of a coherent leadership and message structure of their own. As I said in answer to an earlier question, the answer to their dilemma is there in their own history from the late 1950s, but they have not shown any eagerness to apply the lesson.


Anonymous: Republicans are in favor of fiscal discipline, even a balanced budget, right? They seldom if ever mention the $6 monthly cost of the Iraq war in such discussions. One may be in favor of the war, oppose it, or be in between, but surely the staggering sums being spent there affect our economy. I've not heard the president say, "We're spending a huge sum there, but it's important, so we're going to have to tighten our belts to pay for it. Everyone will need to sacrifice." Sacrifice personal liberties, okay. But sacrifice money, as in fewer tax cuts? Wouldn't that be political suicide?

David S. Broder: I am not an authority on political suicide. But this is the first war in American history fought without any call on the American people for sacrifice--even in the form of taxes. I think we are paying a high price for this failure--and our children and grandchildren will pay a higher price as the bills come due.


New York, NY: We have in the White House a public relations president. I have never seen a President who seems to be in constant campaign mode, trips, speeches, rallies, etc. It's as if Ogilvey & Mather is running the country. Is this unusual for someone entering the "home stretch" of his presidency?

David S. Broder: It is all a matter of degree, and this president, because of his political weakness, has spent more time trying to shore up support around the country than others have been forced to do. I do not criticize the decision because I think it is forced on him by political circumstance.


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Broder, you're a tribute to good journalism. Thanks for doing this chat. I'm wondering if you can expound a bit on your views of Jesse Helms? Gene Robinson quoted you this morning and I found it unusually, though probably justifiably, harsh.

David S. Broder: I have no wish to renew my criticism of Senator Helms. I wrote harshly at the time of his announced retirement, because I was bothered by the tone of many other comments about him, which portrayed him as a kindly, avuncular figure, a pal of Madeleine Albright's etc. That was one aspect of his personality, but I thought it important to remind people then how he had come to office and the kind of campaigns he had run--and they were, sadly, racist in tone.


Bradenton, Fla.: While I don't totally approve of the new "pre-emptive strike" doctrine from Bush, I can certainly understand its reasoning. However, do you think President Bush has done his own doctrine of "pre-emptive strike" irreparable harm and what do you think is going to happen the next time he invokes it with the American people and Congress?

David S. Broder: It would be very difficulty for President Bush to persuade the country to support another preemptive strike, whether against Iran or any other country, after the experience in Iraq. It calls to mind the fable of the boy who cried wolf.

I have to stop now and do an interview. See you all in another two weeks. Many thanks.


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