Broder on Politics

David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, May 4, 2007; 2:30 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, May 4, at 2:30 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." Straight Talking Again (Post, May 3)

The transcript follows.

Archive: David Broder discussion transcripts


Chaska, Minn.: As a political pundit how do you calibrate your perceptions on mainstream America? The reason I ask this is based on your recent columns. My guess is your views (as a lot of the Beltway punditry) is very skewed. Poll after poll validates that American values align with progressive positions on such issues as the Iraq war, abortion, Social Security and even health care. In fact, it's not really the left-wing of the Democratic party's views that are being subverted by the Republican agenda, but mainstream America's views. So why keep insisting on bipartisan compromises when those views don't reflect the wishes of a large majority of Americans? Do we really need to be held hostage to the selfish interest of a minority in this country? Because that is where we are now.

David S. Broder: Good afternoon, everyone. I look forward to spending the next hour with you. This first letter from Minnesota challenges the conventional wisdom by asserting that the country overwhelmingly supports the liberal agenda, both at home and abroad. I have to disagree. I think the country is closely balanced, with a controlling group in the center that rejects extreme positions and seeks practical solutions drawn from the agendas of both liberals and conservatives. Most Americans I meet are not ideologues of any sort; they are practical people seeking practical solutions to real challenges.


Tucson, Ariz.: Why do you not see the politicization of the Department of Justice as a grievous threat to constitutional principles? Why does it not irritate you that selective firing of U.S. Attorneys who are investigating Republican corruption and mendacity is obstruction of justice and clearly illegal in all local, state and federal codes? Here in Arizona (as even the Wall Street Journal has reported in its non-ideological reporting side) it has been proven that U.S. Attorney Charlton was hindered by the DOJ/White House in his investigation of Rep. Renzi's corruption during a close election campaign. Charlton was among those fired. The same is true with U.S. Attorney Lam in San Diego investigating the corruption scheme around Rep. Cunningham. And so on. What happened to facts, informed skepticism and the stench of rot being superior to opinions and assertions?

David S. Broder: What makes you think I am not offended by the politicization of the Justice Department. I have written several columns about it, and have said that President Bush's tolerance of the incompetence of the Attorney General is inexplicable and indefensible.


Reston, Va.: Mr. Broder, you are my hero. What can you tell me about the "fair tax" that former Gov. Huckabee mentioned last night? Thanks!

David S. Broder: Thank you for the undeserved compliment. The term "fair tax" has as many definitions as there are people using it. I believe, but am not certain, that Gov. Huckabee favors some form of consumption tax, like the VAT, with exclusions for food and other necessities.


Baltimore: What would you say to try to regain the confidence of someone like me who has become increasingly skeptical of opinion makers like you because you have been so wrong so many times about the Bush administration and Iraq?

David S. Broder: I would urge you to view skeptically what any of us -- including myself -- say. We are very fallible. I certainly misjudged George W. Bush when he was a candidate, and that is not the only such misjudgment I have made. Not by a long shot.


New York: What is one single instance of incompetence on the part of Harry Reid that is of comparable magnitude to Alberto Gonzalez's mismanagement of the Department of Justice?

David S. Broder: Sen. Reid is not managing a large bureaucracy, as is the Attorney General. But in his role as the spokesman for the Senate majority, he has made more egregious mistakes than I think they deserve. I continue to believe they have abler leaders in their ranks.


Arlington, Va.: Hi David. Thanks for your column on the bipartisan outcome that nobody knows about. It's nice when we cooperate. With globalization, "high-end" scientific jobs will be subject to the same lowest-bidder competition as "low-end" manufacturing jobs. About the only work that can't go globally to the lowest bidder are jobs that must be performed locally, like babysitting and escort services. These may end up being the "high-end" jobs in the future.

David S. Broder: I hope you are wrong. But I realize I am in one of those rare jobs that cannot easily be exported, and that is why I pay particular attention to efforts to keep other good jobs in the United States.


Colorado: "I think the country is closely balanced, with a controlling group in the center that rejects extreme positions and seeks practical solutions drawn from the agendas of both liberals and conservatives."

That may well be, but given that you consider the neocon Joe Lieberman to be a centrist, and your column(s) about how John McCain and Lindsey Graham were going to save habeas corpus and block torture, maybe your antenna isn't as keen as it once was.

David S. Broder: Maybe they aren't, but, as Rumsfeld says, you go to war with the army you've got. And I have only one set of antennae.


Russell, Kan.: How does an intelligent person even come to the conclusion they could vote for a person that doesn't believe in science? I know there may be different ways of looking at things like evolution out there, but cold hard facts seem to elude some of these candidates. Do you think this will hurt them?

David S. Broder: Yes. I doubt that most Americans want to use the coming election to test the theory of evolution.


Asheville, N.C.: You wrote in your column of April 26 that Senators in both parties (indeed, a long list of them) were dissatisfied and embarrassed, etc. about Harry Reid. What Democratic senators were on that long list? What was your source? Do you stand by what you reported in that column?

David S. Broder: Yes, I do. The senators will have to speak for themselves, but his record speaks volumes.


Minneapolis: Why, in your view, does every member of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate disagree with your characterization of Harry Reid's leadership?

David S. Broder: Since I would never question their motives, I have to assume that they spontaneously and simultaneously chose to express their confidence in their leader on the same day last week. I have a copy of their letter, with all the signatures, and it is going up on my wall. A semi-historic document to pass on to the grandchildren, as a testament to what a dope their grandfather was. I love it.


Arden, N.C.: Mr. Broder, you stated that you would revisit your Bush bounce column. We haven't seen it yet. Is it coming any time soon?

David S. Broder: The column for Sunday is an effort to explain why Bush has a tactical advantage over the Democrats at the moment, but why it is unlikely to last. That's my best effort at an update.


Job Exporting: What makes you think your job cannot be exported. There aren't any reporters elsewhere? No one can write about U.S. politics from somewhere else?

David S. Broder: I think it would be as difficult for a reporter in India or China to cover American politics as it would be for me to cover, from Washington, Indian or Chinese politics.


Vienna, Va.: David: Instead of just pummeling you, I'd like to ask you a question regarding the views you've stated in recent columns and how they might reflect on last night's debate. What have often been considered progressive stances in the past (opposition to the war, opposition to excessive invasion of privacy for "national security reasons," support of gay rights, etc.) seem to be more acceptable to "mainstream America" according to polls, something not always reflected in statements made by pundits and columnists, yourself included. With that in mind, aren't the GOP candidates losing the war in winning the battle for their nomination by continuing to support the occupation of Iraq, supporting creationism, opposing gay rights, etc.?

David S. Broder: I think Republicans are on the losing side, and the wrong side, on all of the issues you mention, and I think they will pay a price for it in the coming election.


Anonymous: Your anti-Reid column was thoroughly unconvincing. It struck me as a rather desperate attempt to maintain your "pox on both their houses" shtick, the other side of your ever-present "bipartisanship is the answer" coin. Why is it so hard for you to admit that Bush is, in fact, a uniquely bad president who has led the Republican party into a ditch that no blue-ribbon commission of respected elder statesmen from both parties can save us from?

David S. Broder: Perhaps because I have come to have deep respect for the wisdom of the American people, who, in 2004, chose to reelect George W. Bush as president. I have been very critical of his policies, economic, diplomatic and military. But I am unwilling to assume that I am so much smarter than the voting public that I will dismiss as worthless someone they have chosen as president of the United States.


Des Moines, Iowa: What do you think of McCain getting Eagleburger, Schultz, and Scowcroft on his team? Does that really make up for his lack of diplomatic experience, and do you think he will pick one of them for VP? Or will he reach outside of the standard white guy for some diversity on the ticket?

David S. Broder: My guess is that John McCain, who is 70, would want a younger person as his running-mate, and that would likely eliminate any of the three men you mention.


Kennett Square, Pa.: Mr. Broder, your affected bemusement at the letter from the Senate Democrats is beside the point. You claimed widespread dissatisfaction within their ranks over Sen. Reid, yet you just ducked a question as to exactly who those "dissatisfied" are. You seem to be saying that if you, David Broder, believe they should be grumbling over Senator Reid, then they must be. Fifty Senators say otherwise. Why should we believe you instead of them?

David S. Broder: I think you should believe anyone you choose to believe. I would encourage you to judge Sen. Reid and anyone else by your own standard, and not be swayed by another opinion. I felt free to give my opinion on his performance, but I do not insist on anyone else adopting it.


Dick Cheney: Any thought's on your colleague's not-so-veiled call for my impeachment? Richard Cohen: A Case Against Cheney (Post, May 2)

David S. Broder: I am not in favor of impeachment proceedings against the vice president. I would far rather debate his policy views that haul him up on charges.


Anonymous: What is your take on Ron Paul's debate performance?

David S. Broder: Dr. Paul was, I thought, very effective in the debate. He has a clear, consistent philosophy, and he presented his views well. I do not subscribe to his philosophy but I respect his consistency and clarity.


Washington: Could you please, for those of us who missed it, give us three or four concrete examples of what Senator Reid has done that were big mistakes? I, for one, do not count his saying that if we continue on with out current policy in Iraq that the war is lost, but for the sake of argument that can count as one.

David S. Broder: I am not engaged in a continuing campaign against Sen. Reid, so I will not repeat the examples cited in my column of instances in which he has apologized for his words or put his colleagues into a position where they must devise labored explanations of his remarks. The record is there for you to judge.


Ono, Pa.: Is it possible for one political party to be absolutely wrong? Or must both sides always compromise?

David S. Broder: There are times when one party has a much better grasp than the other on the country's needs or the demands of history. But when you have a 51-49 Senate and a closely divided House, the only way to legislate is by compromise and searching out consensus. When the voters swing one way or the other, then perhaps one party can move an agenda by itself. But not now.


Cortez, Colo.: For what it's worth, I agree with you about Sen. Reid. That signing ceremony was cringe-inducing, and holding the funding bill until the anniversary of the "mission accomplished" ceremony made me livid -- and I am on the Democrats' side in the opposition to the war in Iraq. I would like to see some effort made to resolve the issue without abandoning the Iraqi people. I am disgusted that we invaded their country and are now unhappy with them for not living up to our expectations.

David S. Broder: I'm very grateful for your comment and can say "amen" to all your points. We have to deal with the consequences of the decision to invade Iraq, and meet our responsibilities, including the protection of those whose future we undertook to determine.


Orlando, Fla.: Mr. Broder: What do think is the future of opinion writing, considering the effects of the Internet?

David S. Broder: Clearly, the Internet will enable many more voices to be heard, and that is a great thing for our country. Any other consequences are less important than opening up the spectrum in this way.


Minneapolis: Do you believe there is a scenario in which the President would be able to raise his approval ratings back up into the normal historical range (meaning 45 percent or higher)? If so, what is it?

David S. Broder: If the new tactics in Baghdad and the addition of 20,000 troops actually reduce the level of violence in the country, and if the Iraqi politicians take advantage of the lull to compose their differences and form a functioning government, then the president could have a comeback. But I think the combination of events is highly improbable.


Washington: Other than yourself, who are the best columnists in the business today?

David S. Broder: I have a great fondness for my colleagues at the Post such as Eugene Robinson and E.J. Dionne, Jr. And I am a big fan of David Brooks at the New York Times.


Dallas: Mr. Broder: It is my view that much of the conservative GOP opposition to immigration reform comes from the unspoken belief that most Latino immigrants, when and if they become citizens, will vote Democratic. If, as a prime example, Texas, becomes even a "purple" state -- or even a blue one -- there may not be another Republican president for a very long time, and the GOP knows this. Your thoughts, please?

David S. Broder: You may be right if you are referring to the calculations of political strategists. But among the voters, I find the opposition is rooted more in the culture shock of having numbers of new people, speaking a different language and living in a different culture, suddenly appearing in neighborhoods, towns and schools. It is, in short, a transition problem, and many of us have trouble making transitions.


St. Joseph, Mich.: Having been around Washington for some time can you recall a previous administration that engaged in a campaign to replace the existing professional staff of federal agencies to the extent of the current one?

David S. Broder: I think this administration has been unusually determined to place its own political allies in key jobs throughout the bureaucracy. And the practices are now being uncovered.


Cary, N.C.: How does the GOP's belief in the Unitary Executive square with its traditional belief in "states' rights," as the states are deprived of effective representation in Congress? Would Yoo or Addington say that it bolsters states' rights, particularly the right of the states' congressmen to pack their bags and go home?

David S. Broder: I am no expert on the theory, but I think it would be hard to square with the idea of states rights or a federal system of government.


Little Rock, Ark.: "But I am unwilling to assume that I am so much smarter than the voting public that I will dismiss as worthless someone they have chosen as president of the United States."

Did you have these thoughts when it came to Bill Clinton?

David S. Broder: Yes.


Philadelphia: The picture flashed by so fast last night -- whose hands went up in response the question (paraphrased) "does anyone here not believe in evolution?" I agree that a middle coalition actually run the government in the end, but it seems like on both sides the partisans choose the candidates for President. Whose zealots (the Democrats or the Republicans) are the bigger obstacle this time?

David S. Broder: I can't answer that question. I don't use the term zealots; it implies an irrationality that I am reluctant to ascribe to any significant group of voters.


The Truth: A simple question: For the record, do you believe Alberto Gonzales is telling the truth about the firing of the eight U.S. Attorneys? Please answer directly.

David S. Broder: He has told so many different stories that it is impossible to tell what he really believes. As I have said before, he has taken complete responsibility and professed complete ignorance about the reasons for them dismissal. It is a sorry spectacle.


Minneapolis: Generically speaking, do you think it would be preferable for the 2008 election to be won by a member of Congress or a Governor? Who stands a better chance of making the necessary changes to our government and political culture?

David S. Broder: My preference is for governors; I think running a government is good training for running a government. I also recognize that the current president makes that presumption harder to sustain.

This has to wrap me up for today. Thank you, Sen. Reid fans, and thank everybody else, too.


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