Broder on Politics

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David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, March 9, 2007; 11:00 AM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, March 9, at 11 a.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."

washingtonpost.com: 'Common Ground' Caucus: Four Leaders Seek Ideas -- and Civility (Post, March 8)

The transcript follows.

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Rockville, Md.: More of a lighthearted question here: I'm currently reading "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72" and am just curious as to whether or not you ever payed off the bet you lost with Mr. Thompson? [ed.: "1972: Broder bets Hunter Thompson $100 that Hubert Humphrey would win a crucial Democratic primary." ( link)]

David S. Broder: Good morning to all. Lighthearted or not, the question you asked keeps coming up. As I have said before, Dr. Thompson was in one of his drug-induced fantasyland trips when he imagined the $100 bet. I have never ever had $100 to bet with him or anyone else on politics. I save that folly for the race track, and then only with the wise counsel of my adviser, Jack Germond, and I always insist that he puts up half the money. He will confirm that WE made no such bet with Hunter, and I certainly would never do it on my own. Further than that, deponent sayeth not.

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New York: I would argue that the key moment of courage is not the passing of a firm timetable for pulling out of Iraq, it's what they do after Bush vetoes. The safest vote in the world is voting yes to something you know isn't going to be enacted, in this case because of a veto. Isn't the response after Bush's veto of the Iraq timetable the real test for the Democratic congress?

David S. Broder: It would be a real test if the measure ever got that far. But as it stands, nothing is likely to clear the Senate.

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Arlington, Va.: Hello David. Is the fact that Hillary Clinton is deadly boring reason enough not to vote for her?

David S. Broder: I doubt it. The country has had many boring presidents, and maybe people would be happy to have four years or eight years with no alarm bells going off.

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Kensington, Md.: It seems that among other insults, our wounded soldiers at Walter Reed are feeling the effects of Mr. Bush's Free Lunch Tax Act of 2003. Is anyone asking fervent Republican cheerleaders for both the war and the cut how they reconcile these two things?

David S. Broder: I missed the news of the Free Lunch Tax Act. Are you by any chance referring to the Economic Growth and Recovery Acts which have produced the 4.5 percent low unemployment rate and rapid revenue growths we're seeing now? I have heard a lot about them from the letters I get from my friends at the Republican National Committee.

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Arlington, Va.: In the Wall Street Journal the Assistant Secretary of State for Europe says the President opposes limitations some NATO countries place on what their troops can do in Afghanistan, saying that those caveats are detrimental to our collective effort and that he wants them dropped. This is the same President that files "signing statements" (about one for every 10 bills he signs), dictating which laws he believes he can disobey. That would seem to me to be detrimental to the Executive/Judicial collective effort. Is there an Administration hypocrisy in what the Administration wants to do versus what it wants others to do?

David S. Broder: In my present generous mood, trying not to be critical of the president while he is on a delicate diplomatic mission in Latin America, I would hesitate to use the term hypocrisy. Let's just say that there is room for reconciliation of the two principles.

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Rockville, Md.:"deadly boring..." I see that Arlington is busy this morning. But I agree, boring can be comfortable.

David S. Broder: I believe I sense a theme or campaign slogan being developed. "Vote for Hillary. Boring is Better"

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Washington: It seems that many states are jockeying for positions in the early presidential primaries. Where is the best place to find the current confirmed dates for primaries? Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: 2008 Primary Dates: Changes and Proposals (Post, March 9)

David S. Broder: You can find an up-to-date calendar on WashingtonPost.com, but remember that it changes almost daily. And don't forget to move your clock forward one hour tomorrow night. A full-service operation here.

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Seattle: I just got back from Europe and virtually every European I met wanted to talk about American politics. Basically they thought 2000 was a aberration (everyone can make a mistake) but were stunned that Bush was reelected by a greater margin, when most Europeans think he should be tried for war crimes (illegal invasion, Guantanamo, condoning torture). So while the U.S. perforce must lead on issues that may require force (say, Sudan) Europeans think Americans are too stupid and ignorant to be followed. Can any of the current candidates inspire trust in Europe?

David S. Broder: I treasure questions that include the word "perforce," because I try to use it in my own reporting for the Post, and some damn editor always eliminates it. Perforce, I have to say I don't know which candidate or candidates could meet the expectations of our European friends. Dennis Kucinich perhaps has the closest ethnic ties with some of them, but he may be a little too conservative for their tastes. John Kerry had relatives in France, but it didn't seem to help him much.

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Minneapolis: During the 2000 campaign, you lauded the selection of Cheney as Bush's running mate. I'm wondering if and how your appraisal of Cheney has changed since that time?

David S. Broder: Cheney has surprised and disappointed me. But not as much as the man who picked him.

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Crystal City, Va.: With the nominations for both parties likely decided by early February, what will candidates do to keep our interest for the next five months until the boring and meaningless conventions occur?

David S. Broder: I thought we had established that by 2008, Americans may want to elect a REALLY BORING president. That being the case, the candidates will spend those five months delivering exactly the same speeches as they have for the previous 15 months. And you'll be surprised how fast the time will fly.

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Princeton, N.J.: If you remember, Cheney picked Cheney. So your answer is a wonderful paradox!

David S. Broder: You got it. Wonderful paradoxes are my specialty -- especially when I don't have a good excuse for past misjudgments.

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Washington: What are your thoughts on Sen. Edwards' skipping the Fox presidential debate? Isn't part of governing dealing with people that you don't necessarily agree with?

washingtonpost.com: Edwards to Skip Nevada Debate Hosted by Fox (Post, March 7)

David S. Broder: I am surprised at his decision, but I understand that the sponsors are having trouble lining up other candidates for these ridiculously early debates.

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Oxford, Miss.: So I've been flipping between your chat and Lyndsey Layton's chat and have noticed something disturbing. For a few minutes you answer a handful of questions and then it's all radio silence for a few minutes while Layton answers question. Back and forth, the pattern continues. So I see one of two reasons for this:

1. The Post has cut back on spending and you two have been forced to share a computer

2. You're the same person.

David S. Broder: You guessed it. Lyndsey and I are the same person, or people, because The Post is economizing and giving every reporter two names and two beats to cover. Please do not tell too many people our secret -- or my secret, if you prefer. Lyndsey/David

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Washington: You seem to know the political landscape so well. What book(s) are you reading?

David S. Broder: I just finished two books -- a biography of Gerald R. Ford by Douglas Brinkley and (in manuscript) a memoir by Rep. David Obey that will be published this fall.

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Madison, Wis.: In reference to your column yesterday, I have been reading through the years how Republican Congress members have become more conservative and that moderates like Robert Dole have become increasingly rare. The roundtable you discuss sounds like it eventually may become a place where liberal and centrist Democrats amicably can settle their differences, but I don't see a rush of Republicans intending to join in. Is there really a future for more civility in Congress?

David S. Broder: I hope so, and the leadership of people like Senators Dole and Baker will encourage more Republicans to join the dialogue.

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Boston: Why does The Washington Post care about the FBI issue today? President Bush has a specific signing statement that permits the FBI the freedom to do as it did. Only Charlie Savage of The Boston Globe seemed to care about it at the time it was written. The President has spent six years setting up a system where he has the power to go above the law. You and The Post did not care while he was creating the culture of lawlessness. I would strongly suggest you look the other way now.

washingtonpost.com: Frequent Errors In FBI's Secret Records Requests (Post, March 9)

David S. Broder: I admire Charlie Savage's leading the way on coverage of the signing statements, but the story was also extensively reported in the Post and other papers. The news from the Justice Department yesterday was significant, I thought, and should have been reported.

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Granger, Ind.: Not a question but a statement: I am not interested in Hillary's candidacy because I do not think the presidency of the United States should be passed back and forth between two families (especially these two).

David S. Broder: Yes, but what about the national need for a REALLY BORING president? If she proves to be, as some say, the most boring candidate out there, doesn't that override every other consideration, including your anti-Whiggery sentiments?

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Washington: Figure I'm too late, but what the heck ... I know that the "layoffs" of U.S. Attorneys is unprecedented. However, there is history that, while not at all similar in import, is relevant: Nixon's firing of Archibald Cox. Certainly by the letter of the law, Nixon was allowed to fire Cox -- but nobody, not his own AG or deputy AG, not Congressional members of his own party and certainly not the American people, thought that it was a kosher move. How do you like the comparison?

David S. Broder: I like the comparison. I remember the Saturday Night Massacre very well, and it certainly was not Kosher. The only nonpolitical Justice Department I know was run by Ed Kevi for President Ford -- and the voters made the mistake of ending that administration prematurely,

And now, prematurely or not, I must end this chat. I think it has been historic in setting a goal of making sure the next president and presidential campaign are both really boring.

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