Broder on Politics

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David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, March 30, 2007; 12:00 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, March 30, 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.

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: An Opening for Democrats (Post, March 25)

The transcript follows.

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washingtonpost.com: David Broder is just getting out of a meeting and will be here in about five minutes.

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Los Angeles: Thanks for taking questions and providing these wonderful forums. I'm a moderate Democrat, tilting a bit left. I alternate between fury that we invaded Iraq in the first place and despair over the situation we've helped to create. That said, I'm torn over the withdrawal issue and I rarely hear anyone -- either in the media or government -- discuss what our moral obligation is to well-meaning, peaceful Iraqis in light of the mess we've made of their country. I'd like your thoughts on this issue.

David S. Broder: Thank you for the thoughtful question. We certainly have a duty to Iraqis to help them cope with the mess that has become their country. The obligation is particularly strong to those who have helped us, but it extends to the country as a whole. We took on that responsibility when we toppled Saddam Hussein and now we have to fulfill it. But governing the country is the business of the Iraqis themselves, and they have to meet their obligations.

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Princeton, N.J.: But, David, Stockton got in trouble with Reagan because he told the truth and Gonzales got in trouble with Bush because he didn't lie well enough. Quel Difference!

David S. Broder: I disagree. Stockman got in trouble because he wanted to have it both ways--playing a loyalist to Reagan and telling Greider what a bunch of chumps he was working with. The two men are very different, but Gonzales also has tried to shift the blame to his associates--just as Stockman did.

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Raleigh, N.C.: How much of the fired US Attorney's debacle is about the Democrats going for the GOP jugular and how much is it about a potentially very serious breach of ethics by the Justice Department? Politics or ethics?

David S. Broder: I can't quantify it, but both are factors. The Justice Department has not been straight on this, and the Democrats do see political advantage in pushing the case.

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Pittsburgh: On the issue of the Iraqis who've helped us, is there any sentiment in Congress that we should be making it easier for them to immigrate? It seems to me that this is a fundamental moral obligation of ours, and something that the Democrats must address as they move toward withdrawal.

David S. Broder: Senator Kennedy has sponsored legislation that would open the way for refugees to come from Iraq in greater numbers, but so far the legislation has jot moved.

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Idaho Falls, Idaho: The other day the head of the GSA testified she had no recollection at all discussing how to use the agency to help reelect Republican candidates at a videoconference attended by herself and at least 40 other individuals. Is she going to get away with this? From your experience as a political columnist, is this administration worse than any administration in memory when it comes to politicizing and diminishing the importance of Federal agencies? I am appalled by the brazenness of their actions.

David S. Broder: I expect there are other shoes still to drop on the GSA investigation. This administration has been one of the worst, if not the worst, in turning the government over to political operatives and their interest group allies. Now that the investigations have begun, we will learn much more about their activities.

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Seattle: Remember your column about President Bush being on the verge of regaining his political footing? Isn't it about time you revisited that tidbit of political prognostication?

washingtonpost.com: Bush Regains His Footing (Post, Feb. 16)

David S. Broder: I remember that column well. It is time to revisit and revise. Stay tuned.

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Charlotte: What sport(s) did you play and high school and how much can you bench?

David S. Broder: I was the slowest guy on the track team. I can bench maybe five pounds...on a good day.

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Stroudsburg, Pa..: David --- I see a new era of citizen interest and participation in elections -- especially at the state level. Last year, Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature passed a late-night pay increase that so incensed the electorate that they swept out a number of long-time legislators, including Senate leaders. You are a close observer of politics at the state level -- do you see any trends going forward that would favor on or the other of the major political parties?

David S. Broder: I agree with you about citizen interest in state government. We are seeing able leaders in both parties in the states--some very impressive governors--but I don't think the trend is a partisan one. People are finding leadership in different places.

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Richmond, Va.: With so much focus, concern and support being expressed for our military men and women now, why do pundits and the news media never ask Presidential candidates of both parties who never have served in the military whether they regret that decision?

David S. Broder: That's a very good question. I will borrow it and use it, if I may.

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Falls Church, Va.: Dear Sir: I liked your column about Stockman and Gonzales. I understand that it's not exactly apples to apples, but a bit of history -- even recent history -- is nice to read these days. Because it seems so infrequently that we learn from it.

David S. Broder: Thank you for your comment. I'm glad that column made sense to you.

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Anonymous: I haven't seen too much analysis on Sampson's testimony yesterday. Do you think his testimony was damaging, or do you think this is the way the administration will defend itself -- by arguing that the distinction between underperformance, politically or otherwise, is an artificial distinction?

David S. Broder: It was damaging to the attorney general's contention that he was largely unaware and uninvolved in the firings. But the argument that performance standards include political loyalty is irrefutable--as a generalization. It does not, however, condone political interference in prosecutorial decisions.

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Burlington, Vt.: Why do the pundits rate the untested Obama and Hillary so highly when John Edwards seems poised to have the best chance in the early contests of Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina?

David S. Broder: I agree that it would be a serious mistake to underestimate Edwards' chances. He has no special ties to New Hampshire, but he is very well positioned in the other three early states. I will be surprised if he is not a factor in the race next winter.

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Whitefish Bay, Wis.: Why do you believe there was minor coverage of the Arab Summit, especially the condemnation of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on the "occupation of Iraq". This is a leader who is a close ally of the Bush Family and his words were very blunt. He also cancelled a state visit to the U.S. recently. Now, the Summit did not accomplish much that the Israelis will live with, but they are discussing the issue to help with the most critical issue we have ignored.

David S. Broder: The Post wrote extensively on the cancellation of the king's visit and I read a long story in the Times about his speech at the Arab summit. I don't think the story was neglected everywhere.

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Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Is the British-Iranian hostage standoff a U.S. situation/problem? If so, how, exactly? Tip for the British allies: pressure China to deny Iranian entry to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing if Iran "doesn't play ball." Plain old-fashioned hardball. Thanks much.

David S. Broder: I think the US is supporting British efforts to free the crewmen, but I don't know how deeply we are involved.

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Washington: Interesting that some politicians and others say that we need to have policies to support our soldiers who are fighting and dying in Iraq to protect us. Makes it sound like the soldiers all volunteered en masse, like Spanish Civil War volunteers, to fight there. All soldiers are, of course, duty-bound to go where sent, but don't our armed forces exist to support policies, rather than policies existing to support armed forces? It makes it sound as though the moment as a President sends one soldier to fight overseas, all debate on the decision should stop and we should go full-bore ahead.

David S. Broder: You have it exactly right, I think. Debate is essential, and so is action--we have seen more of the former than the latter here in Washington.

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Re: David Stockman: His book "The Triumph of Politics" was riveting -- even for me, who voted for Mr. Reagan twice! I've learned my lesson about supply-side economics, and your current piece about the Pew poll results seems to suggest I'm not alone. People just don't seem to believe in "trickle-down" anymore, do they?

David S. Broder: I think opinion is beginning to shift, but tax cuts are still popular enough that Democrats are reluctant to talk about the need for more revenues.

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New Orleans: As an independent voter, I'm amazed that so many conservatives are willing to overlook the past less-than-conservative positions of candidates like Giuliani and Romney, and I'm also amazed that the vague pronouncements of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have not been more detrimental to their candidacies than appears to be the case. I truthfully can say that not one single candidate on either side holds much appeal for me -- I hope more candidates come forward. Bloomberg, anyone?

David S. Broder: You are not alone in your dissatisfaction with the choices presented by the two parties. I think the potential for Mr. Bloomberg or someone else to run as an independent candidate is very tempting.

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New York: When we thought we had "won" the Iraq War we spurned offers from some major European countries to work on rebuilding Iraq. It was a "to the victor belong the spoils" mistake. Why is there never any consideration given to a major summit involving Iraq's neighbors and those same European countries that would seek to address the future? Obviously, we have no good ideas.

David S. Broder: Exactly that was one of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group under Baker and Hamilton, but the administration has declined to move on that and other suggestions from that source.

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Kensington, Md.: In the spirit of the Final Four, who do you think is better at defending the high post -- George W. Bush or Vladimir Putin?

David S. Broder: I would have to go with the short guy. Putin is more likely to see his chosen successor elected than Bush is.

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The Sampson testimony:"But the argument that performance standards include political loyalty is irrefutable -- as a generalization." True, but in this case we don't appear to be dealing with generalizations -- has anyone in this administration explained what criteria were being used to determine that the fired attorneys failed to show proper "loyalty" to the President's core beliefs? Did anyone inform the attorneys that they needed to do a better job in these areas? Without clear answers to these questions, the more logical interpretation seems to be they wanted attorneys in these jobs who would indict the proper people at the right time, which is wrong.

David S. Broder: I agree on all points. No one has explained the firings and in the absence of any explanation relating to job performance or loyalty, the suspicion arises that it was linked to specific prosecutions--real or imagined..

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Pearl, Miss.: Dear Sir: I appreciated your recent column about my friend William Winter, the former governor of Mississippi. Why is more not written about this exceptional man in the national press?

washingtonpost.com: Mississippi Healing (Post, Jan. 16, 2005)

David S. Broder: Thank you for the comment. Governor Winter is as modest as he is idealistic--and we in the press are too prone to ignore those who just quietly lead by example, as he does.

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Pickerington, Ohio: This is a follow up question to Idaho who asked "From your experience as a political columnist, is this administration worse than any administration in memory when it comes to politicizing and diminishing the importance of Federal agencies?" Do you sense that this politicization of the federal agencies will now become routine in administrations from here on out, or do you think the consequences the Bush administration is experiencing are sufficient to deter future administrations from pursuing a similar course?

David S. Broder: The tendency is probably present in every administration. It takes a vigilant Congress and a vigilant press to weigh against it.

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Independent Candidates: Whenever an independent presidential campaign is mentioned, why doesn't anyone point out the difficulties of actually running one? I remember Ross Perot and his Reform Party -- they were not on the ballot in all 50 states. It takes a lot of footwork and effort to get an independent on the ballot in the 50 states. I will believe that Unity08 and Bloomberg and whoever else is running as independent is viable when I read about petitions are being signed in the states to have the name on the ballot. Otherwise, it is all wishful thinking.

David S. Broder: You are right about the barriers to such a candidacy, but as Perot and Nader both demonstrated, they can be overcome. It takes time, money and effort, but it can be done.

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St. Louis: Do your foresee legislation to either enact immigration reform to reduce illegals and/or to increase defense spending to enlarge services strength becoming law this year? If domestic so-called sleeper cells are a by-product of the War on Terror, then what about addressing domestic issues that would perhaps ameliorate internal dissent?

David S. Broder: Those are hard questions. Immigration will be difficult again in this Congress, and the window for action is pretty small--it almost has to be this year, if at all. I think the first steps toward enlarging the armed services will be financed in this year's budget, but it will take several years to reach the manpower goals.

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Marietta, Ga.: Daily we are reminded that the next presidential election is right around the corner. As time goes by, political ads will become meaner and dirtier. The Swift Boat ads have been proven false, well after they did all that damage during the last election. They affect all of our lives by changing the election results. Why aren't these false ads subject to libel laws?

David S. Broder: The courts are understandably reluctant to enter into political campaigns, and the ads typically distort and exaggerate, rather than outright lie, so legal remedies aren't available. The feeling among politicians is that you have to answer the ad yourself, not wait for someone else to help you out.

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Sewickley, Pa.: What would it take for Bill Richardson, governor, diplomat, former cabinet officer, to get some traction? Will allegations that he's a little to "touchy-feely" stick?

David S. Broder: Gov.. Richardson has done well in most of his recent speeches. He hopes for a breakthrough, perhaps in Nevada, that would catapult him into serious contention.

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Cheyenne, Wyo.: With the primary process being condensed into essentially a 30-day bubble in early 2008, do you think there is a higher potential for the nomination to be undecided after "Super Duper" Tuesday, with too few delegates left at play after the early rush but before the convention, making the April-September period potentially just prologue to a brokered convention on either side? Second, how much fun do you think that would be?

David S. Broder: A brokered convention is certainly possible, but I think it's unlikely. Instead, we'll probably have a drastic and sudden winnowing of the field, and the survivors will slug it out on Feb. 5. And be broke and exhausted at that point.

Speaking of which, I am out of time for today. Thank all of you for joining.

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