Broder on Politics

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David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, April 13, 2007; 12:00 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, April 13, 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: Time for A Bargain On the War (Post, April 10)

The transcript follows.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina: I enjoyed your response to E.J. Dionne's article, which praised Birch Bayh's movement to cirumvent the Electoral College. Do you read the comments that readers post on the Web site? Are you ever dismayed that a mild, reasoned argument -- such as the one you put forward -- would generate such a visceral reaction?

washingtonpost.com: A Dubious Electoral Idea (Post, April 5)

David S. Broder: Hello again to my favorite group of readers. To answer the first question, No, I don't generally read the comments on the Web site. I limit my reading of the Internet so I can spend more time reporting. So I didn't see the reaction to the column on electoral college reform, except those comments, including a very good one from Senator Bayh, that came directly to my e-mail address.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Mr. Broder: At The Post, you work as a reporter, as a new analyst, and as a columnist. How do you differentiate these roles? When you call a source for an interview, do you clarify that s/he is being quoted for the purposes of a news article or for a column? Do you use the same notes for all these efforts? I am not writing as a critic (though I do have occasional complaints with your column), but as someone interested in the wall of separation between news and opinion. I think your news reporting does not stray into opinion, but how do you deal with your sources on this issue? Thanks.

David S. Broder: Until this year, the bulk of my work at the Post was as a reporter for the news side, and I rarely did an interview solely for column purposes. Now, the Post has taken note of my advanced age (77) and indulges me in being almost exclusively a columnist. But I still do occasional projects for the news side, and I let people know clearly, as I always did, whether I am working on a news swtory7 or a column. And I note that also in my notes on the interview.

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Princeton, N.J.: Re: Your recent column on what can Congress do about are armed forces, the following is listed in the Constitution under powers of Congress: "To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." In addition, the War Powers Act of 1973 requires the President to report to Congress at least every six months and get approval by at least 60 days after each such report. This has not been done.

David S. Broder: I see. In several articles, most recently at the time General Petraeus was up for confirmation for his Iraq assignment, I have urged Congress to insist on that kind of frequent reporting. Petraeus, by the way, will be back to brief Congress and the press toward the end of the month. I think he is upholding his end of the bargain.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Mr. Broder, do you agree with Fred Hiatt's defense of the fact that Liz Cheney's recent op-ed smearing Nancy Pelosi did not include the information that she is the daughter of Vice President Cheney? Mr. Hiatt indicated that the description of Ms. Cheney was meant only to offer her qualifications. Isn't it important to offer potential conflicts of interest or other notable reasons for the content of the piece, such as being the daughter of a very powerful Republican official who recently had made very similar attacks against Ms. Pelosi?

David S. Broder: I don't think many readers missed the connection of the two Cheneys. I think further identification of Liz Cheney would have been gratuitous.

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Keene, N.H.: How long can the Bush administration and the Dem-controlled Congress avoid an open discussion on the possibility/probability of imposing a draft to alleviate the Army manpower crisis? Isn't a draft imposing itself impelled by "circumstances beyond our control?"

David S. Broder: You may know that I have been an advocate of universal national service for many years. But the Pentagon continues to oppose a return to a draft and few members of Congress are eager to impose it over the objections of the uniformed services. I think these repeated, long deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are imposing an unfair burden on volunteers, but I do not see the will in Congress to restore the draft.

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Seattle: Mr. Broder, do you have any thoughts on the Duke lacrosse ruling? My first inclination when the story broke was to side the with the victim. As it stands, I still don't think the men are totally innocent -- but they weren't rapists. Feelings about entitlement and privilege aside, no young man ever deserves to be called a rapist if he isn't one. It's hard for me to say this, but I think those players were unfairly branded by many of your colleagues and I would like your opinion as to whether or not some comeuppance is due. So many opinion writers seemingly are loathe to point out their mistakes, and I think the quick judgment of those young men in Durham was a big one.

David S. Broder: I agree completely with what you have said. The main fault lies with that renegade prosecutor down in North Carolina, but reporters and commentators who accepted the allegations as if they were facts and held those young men out for ridicule and abuse have a lot to answer for.

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Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: With Imus, the inside bombing job in the Green Zone, Anna Nicole's baby's father, missing Rove e-mails, Alberto Gonzales in the murder sessions, "this president" who doesn't want to be Commander in Chief anymore (i.e., new war czar), retired generals tell POTUS to stick it, Washington Nats falling apart, votes going on constantly in the Congress -- which is working five days a week now, hearings, subpoenas, et al ... here's my question:

How can you possibly get any sleep in a town that's belting out the news without letup? You might miss something if you doze off! And one more: with all the scandal-leaking between source and reporter, is it really crowded in that midnight parking garage that WoodStein inhabited during Watergate? Perhaps the city could arrange for street vendors to provide coffee, pretzels, and sandwiches. And The Washington Post. Thanks much.

David S. Broder: Let me reassure you. I am sleeping well, and the Nationals actually won a ball game last night. Hope springs eternal.

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San Francisco: Mr. Broder, thank you for joining us to chat today. Referring to your Washington Post colleagues' well-sourced article that the President is seeking a War Czar -- in your experience, sir, have you ever known a President to need assistance in the execution of his Constitutional duties in such a manner?

David S. Broder: My recollection is that FDR had "czars" that he deputized to run war production and other aspects of US operations during World War II. It is clear that the ultimate responsibility belongs to the President, but I don't gainsay him having whatever help he thinks he needs.

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Warrenville, Ill.: Mr. Broder -- observed from a distance, the situation in Washington seems to be degenerating day by day. The White House now claims to have lost untold e-mails apparently on official business (although not via the government's own computer systems). This last situation evokes memories of the eighteen-and-a-half-minute erasure of White House tapes back in the Watergate era. That erasure (never convincingly explained) seemed to erode President Nixon's standing considerably, if I recall correctly. The erasure seemed to further persuade people that Mr. Nixon could not be trusted to tell the truth, a conclusion that seemed to gain more substance day by day.

Do you think that the White House "loss" of these e-mails will have the same effect on Mr. Bush's credibility? Or do you think that his approval ratings are so low that they can't sink further? And how seriously can we take claims that the RNC's e-mail system is covered by executive privilege? (My guess: If this claim is litigated is that the Supreme Court will support the White House's position by a vote of 5-4.) Am I becoming cynical as a result of one revelation after another?

David S. Broder: The "loss" of the e-mails almost certainly will damage the President's already low credibility. In Nixon's case, the critical damage was the loss of support from Republican elected officials and Republican voters. That has not yet happened to Mr. Bush.

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Re: 77 years old: Sir, you may be 77 and The Post may ease up, but watch out, Daniel Schorr keeps a fair pace. I believe he has one or two years on you!

David S. Broder: Daniel Schorr is my role model. I hope to have half his smarts when I'm his age.

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Annandale, Va.: Surely the 77 was a typo. You can be no older than 67 (same as Don Imus). I like your measured approach to columns and issues. I guess I don't like change, as I support the electoral college even though no state has a similar system for governor.

David S. Broder: It's no typo. And, I'm like you in opposing change. I even hate it when my bank merges and changes its name, which seems to happen every six weeks.

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Boston: What is the best way for voters in future presidential elections to figure out whether a potential candidate will rely more on their beliefs (religious or otherwise) than rational analysis when making policy decisions? Do you think Bush's lack of analytical rigor or overreliance on his beliefs is his biggest Achilles' heel?

David S. Broder: The best guide to a potential president's future behavior is the way he or she has operated in the past. That's why we need to scrutinize their records and debrief the people who have worked closely with them. Even then, you can't always be certain. In Mr. Bush's case, we could learn from his Texas experience that he set a few main goals for himself and pursued them almost to the exclusion of anything else. But I have been surprised at how small his circle of advisers is and how resistant he is to hearing alternative policy views. I do think that has been a critical weakness.

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Falls Church, Va.: Why was Imus hung out to dry when Rush is just as bad, if not worse?

David S. Broder: Since I don't listen to either one of those gentlemen, I can't judge which is worse.

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Washington: So, any thoughts on the President's refusal to discuss Iraqi war funding with Congress? It sure looks to me like Democrats are ready to negotiate while the GOP is sticking with a "my way or the highway" game of chicken.

David S. Broder: I don't follow you. The invitation to talks on Iraq policy came from President Bush and was originally rejected by Sen. Reid and Speaker Pelosi. Later, they recognized their mistake and now the meeting will occur next Wednesday.

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Ottawa, Canada: How unusual is it for former generals to turn down a president's request to assist him in a time of war? Would you agree that it sends out a very negative signal for those who are involved in the war?

David S. Broder: I think it is very unusual; I can't think of a similar instance, and it clearly signals a lack of confidence in administration policy.

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Washington: Since Fred Hiatt's own stated op-ed policy is to disclose family relationships and other conflicts of interests (he laid it out in a column in January 2005), don't you think a Post reader living outside of the Beltway might have reasonably concluded that this op-ed contribution was written by someone who coincidentally shared Dick Cheney's last name? Before blowing this one off, consider that not all of us have been closing following politics for as long as you! Thanks.

washingtonpost.com: The Rules of Punditry (Post, Jan. 29, 2005)

David S. Broder: I am not a spokesman for Fred Hiatt, and I encourage you to raise the issue directly with him if it is important to you. But I would repeat my own view that the relationship between the two Cheneys is pretty obvious, wherever a reader happens to live.

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Anonymous: Sir: Do you think the media gets so wrapped up in polls numbers and salacious gossip that the real fact the America's brave sons and daughters are shedding their blood in Iraq and Afghanistan is somehow being lost to the public?

David S. Broder: Speaking just for myself, I don't think the sacrifice of our servicemen and women and their families is ever forgotten.

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Bridgewater, Mass.: Good afternoon. Do you happen to remember whether those e-mails that got Ollie North in so much trouble were on the White House server that we all now know is supposed to preserve everything? They had all supposedly been deleted, it seems I recall, and where apparently recovered with no problem. And going even further back, the Supreme Court that told Nixon to hand over those tapes -- was it a "Democratic" court, or was everything less partisan in those days?

David S. Broder: My recollection is that Oliver North's e-mails were on White House computers, not Republican National Committee equipment. The Supreme Court that ordered the release of the Nixon tapes had more Republican than Democratic appointees, so partisanship did not enter into the verdict.

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Princeton, N.J.: Mr. Broder, the trouble with the electoral college is that it is basically unfair. A vote in Wyoming should not count 13 times as much as a vote in California. Simply by subtracting two from the number of electors of each state we could make the vote fair. This also could be implemented by states appointing electors to the candidate who would win if the college were so modified. What is your objection to this?

David S. Broder: The proposal you make is different from direct election of the president and presents fewer problems for someone like myself who believes strongly in the federal system. If this were done by constitutional amendment, I might support it. But it is worthy of serious debate, and I don't think you get that kind of debate if it is done simply by agreement among a dozen legislatures.

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Helena, Mont.: On the Imus issue, I think there is a difference between a rap song that talks about anonymous women and a person addressing specific women. What Imus did was way out of line, and using gangsta rap to excuse him is also out of line. I was so disappointed in Tom Oliphant, Howard Fineman and Howard Kurtz in their responses.

David S. Broder: I see no excuse for what Imus did -- whether it is rap music or something else. What he did was obnoxious.

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New York: Privately, are rank-and-file Democrats that happy with Speaker Pelosi? I have heard a number of comments from senior-level folk on the Hill that I still speak with that seems to indicate pleasure, but a "we can do better" tone. Am I misreading something? Also, who do you think is the Democrat leadership's best friend in the administration? Thanks.

David S. Broder: I think there is some criticism of Speaker Pelosi from other Democrats for some of her high-profile ventures, including the visit to Syria, but I hear of no move to replace her. On your other question, Democrats in Congress are very high on at least three Bush administration officials -- Josh Bolten, the White House chief of staff; Henry Paulson, the secretary of treasury, and Rob Portman, the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

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Fredericksburg, Va.: In your years of reporting on presidential politics, what other administration has reached the level of haplessness being experienced by the current White House? What other administration in history? At this point (Iraq, Katrina, World Bank, Prosecutors, e-mails, etc., etc.) am I unjustified in thinking we're in for an absentee executive branch for the next two years?

David S. Broder: The Carter administration foundered early and by this stage was experiencing problems as unsettling as those besetting President Bush. As you remember, he failed on re-election in 1980. That could happen to Republicans in 2008.

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Springfield, VA.: Why is the firing of Imus getting 24/7 coverage, while the 90-day extension of combat tours for more than 100,000 Americans generates barely a notice? Cable TV and most papers are killing any chance they have for growth by focusing so much of their coverage on the meaningless, while ignoring or downplaying the substantial.

washingtonpost.com: 'This Is Tough News': Soldiers and Their Families Brace for Extended Tours (Post, April 13)

David S. Broder: I agree that the extension of tours is much more important news. It was Page 1 in The Post yesterday and a good follow-up story about its impact on families is in the paper today.

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Liz Cheney: I disagree with you. Cheney is a semi-common name. Had I not been at a computer reading the column, I wouldn't have been able to Google the name and confirm my suspicions.

David S. Broder: It's clear that many of you out there wanted Liz Cheney identified as Dick Cheney's daughter. I think her title and name identified her sufficiently, but I encourage you to take your case to the proper authority, Fred Hiatt.

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"Gainsay": I just learned a new word. Thank you.

David S. Broder: Glad to be of service. I like the sound of "gainsay". Sort of like "ginseng."

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Alpharetta, Ga.: May I say that I'm skeptical of the "unite the country" message? I think it's worthy and fair and has its virtues, but George W. Bush used it, and polarization has gotten worse, not better, in his Presidency. Bill Clinton was supposed to be a "New Democrat" and he got high approval ratings, but left the country in 50-50 mode electorally. It seems a solid first step would be to restore civility, rather than making this dramatic pledge that probably won't work out.

David S. Broder: I'm for restoring civility. Any ideas how to do it?

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Clinton, N.Y.: I disagree about identifying Liz Cheney. Her work wouldn't be appearing in The Post if she weren't the daughter of the vice president, and The Post should say so. I don't see other people in her position getting their columns in the paper. Those little descriptions of the authors at the end of a column are meant to give readers an idea of what an author's qualifications are -- in the case of Liz Cheney, it's because she's the daughter of the vice president.

David S. Broder: I disagree. State Department officials often write for the op-ed page of The Post, as do members of Congress. She is a State Department official and I think the identification of her was proper.

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McLean, Va.:"I don't think the sacrifice of our servicemen and women and their families is ever forgotten." I ordinarily would agree with you, except that today Jonathan Weisman in his chat said he had recently attended a town hall meeting for a Republican Congressman in Reading, Pa., and in 90 minutes, no one asked a question about Iraq. I find that astounding and deeply disturbing.

David S. Broder: I am astounded too. Iraq has been a topic for voters every place I have been.

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Re: Supreme Court: I have never thought of the Supreme Court as a partisan body, no matter who nominated the individual justices, until now. Do you think the fact that there are only two justices appointed by a Democrat currently on the court makes it more partisan? I think John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito are more partisan than other justices have been, to the detriment of the country.

David S. Broder: I think we ought to wait for the rulings that come out this June before trying to categorize Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. And now I must thank everyone for participating in the Liz Cheney edition of the chat. Talk to you again soon.

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