Broder on Politics

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David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, May 18, 2007; 12:00 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, May 18 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: Can Democrats Take Yes for an Answer? (Post, May 17)

The transcript follows.

Archive: David Broder discussion transcripts

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Boston: With his non-answer yesterday, the President fairly admitted he had sent Card and Gonzales into the ICU. Will the media follow-up and demand answers? How is it that two out three major networks have decided not to cover Comey's cinematic testimony? The American people look at the Bush years and see a trail of destruction. The media finally woke up this year, but still seems much less concerned. How will anyone take the news media seriously in two years when a Democratic president will be hounded for weeks on end for any misstep ranging from a gaffe to a minor misdemeanor?

David S. Broder: Good day to all who are joining this chat. To my friend in Boston, I do not share your opinion that the press has been giving president Bush a free ride. I think the coverage of the firing of the U.S. Attorneys has been aggressive and extensive, as it should be, and I think the White House will continue to be pressed for explanations of these serious issues.

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Anonymous: Two unrelated observations on things not stated in news stories of this week: In stories about Iraq and Blair's legacy, I have not seen any observations on the fact that Britain helped to create the current mess by drawing the boundaries of current-day Iraq, putting together long-bickering groups (it wasn't Blair who did it of course, but his country is dealing with its past actions in the area -- as is the U.S.). Also, many conservatives (e.g., Fox News commentators) seem critical of the new immigration bill, but I have not heard any of them seek repeal of the law that allows Cubans entering the U.S. to become legal residents upon setting foot on U.S. soil (the only ones who have this right, I believe).

David S. Broder: Britain's history in the creation of Iraq is exactly what you cited, but Blair and his government inherited that situation, just as we did, and hardly can be held accountable for it. Your point about the Cuban refugees is also correct, but I have not been watching TV coverage of this story, and I don't know how Fox or anyone else handled the immigration news.

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Washington: Re: "A Paper Trail toward Chaos," you repeat concerns expressed by some election officials about the ability to meet the deadline. Are you aware the Holt bill won't require most jurisdictions to do anything to their technology before 2010? Similarly, states such as New Mexico and North Carolina were able to change their voting machines commensurate with the requirements in the Holt bill in about 8 months, and a nearly unanimous bipartisan consensus of Florida politicians believes they can do the same. The Holt bill gives jurisdictions more than twice as long to accomplish the same. Is it your opinion that the rest of the country cannot achieve what New Mexico, North Carolina and Florida could, even if given twice the time?

washingtonpost.com: A Paper Trail Toward Chaos? (Post, May 13)

David S. Broder: As I said in the column you are discussing, I am not an elections expert, so I consulted those who are. I cannot dismiss the concerns expressed by so many of the state and county officials who run elections, or by the longtime director of the independent Election Center. Their concerns merit consideration in my view.

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Alexandria, Va.: David, as one who has played a significant role in writing the first draft of history over the past 30 plus years, how would you rate the presidents you have covered? Where are you on the "Bush is the worst President ever" debate that Rolling Stone started?

David S. Broder: I think President Bush's place in history will be determined by the outcome in Iraq, and I am not optimistic about that war ending well. Of the presidents I have covered, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan were the ones who most fully understood and exercised the powers of the office -- though often not for goals or policies I shared. Gerald Ford was the most straightforward of the presidents and Jimmy Carter probably the least effective.

I am working on a book about these presidents and the men who ran against them, and hope it will be ready for publication next year. I will save you a copy.

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Reston, Va.: Mr. Broder, it is always an honor and a pleasure to join in your chats. This question might be better suited for Howard Kurtz, but it just now occurred to me. Have the staff cutbacks at major newspapers impacted their ability to cover this administration? It seems to me that with so many scandals and potential scandals, it would be difficult for even fully staffed news organizations to really dig deep into all of them. Thanks!

David S. Broder: I think the answer is yes. It took two months of work by two very good reporters for The Post to do the story on the terrible conditions at Walter Reed Hospital. That kind of staff expenditure becomes more difficult as staff sizes are reduced, and many newspapers now have been forced to almost abandon that in-depth or investigative reporting. Fortunately, we still have the resources and the commitment here at The Post.

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Laurel, Md.: David, we've seen in this election cycle an obvious move for state to move their primaries up, for the fairly obvious reason that no nomination has been in doubt after February since 1980. Two questions: Would anyone other than the political press be unhappy if the primary season lasted only a month? Is there a better model? Maybe one primary day a month rotated by region (a February in the South, Midwest in March, Far West in April, Northeast in May sort of thing)?

David S. Broder: I think almost everyone would be overjoyed if the campaign season were shortened. There are better ways, including the rotation system you described. The main goal should be to create long intervals between primaries, and voting on the first Tuesdays of March, April, May and June would do that.

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Washington: In your column this week ("A Paper Trail Toward Chaos?") you state that you relied upon "the man who knows more about the conduct of elections than anyone else in the country, the director of the Houston-based Election Center, Doug Lewis." What did others with similar or more experience in the conduct of elections, particularly those using electronic voting machines, say when you spoke to them? As you know, the foremost computer science experts on electronic voting all support the Holt bill, including Prof. Avi Rubin of Johns Hopkins University, Prof. Ed Felten of Princeton University and Prof. David Dill of Stanford University, as well as several election officials, such as Ion Sancho of Leon County, Florida.

David S. Broder: I will say again that I am not an election expert, but I think the people whose views should count most heavily are the front-line administrators who actually run elections. I respect the academic experts, but I do not count their opinions as heavily as those of people who actually run elections.

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Fairfax, Va.: In political terms, is it impossible for a politician to say we have to lose the battle in Iraq to win the war on terrorism?

David S. Broder: I don't think it would be impossible for a politician to say that, but he or she would have to say quickly what that means and why it might be true. It is not what you would call an obvious proposition.

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Rochester, N.Y.: Mr. Broder, I was very disappointed in your recent column attacking the new electronic voter bill before Congress. In particular, I found it odd that you cited your friend Doug Lewis as the nation's leading authority on electronic voting. You must know that the Election Center is considered very controversial by many, in particular because it takes money from Diebold. Moreover, Mr. Lewis has been involved with Republican politics for years. Didn't you owe it to your readers to identify Mr. Lewis a longtime Republican whose Election Center is viewed by many with suspicion? You mocked PFAW as "a liberal group" -- why no similar identifier for the Election Center (as a group with ties to Diebold)? Is this another case -- as with your numerous columns in defense of Karl Rove -- of you allowing personal friendship to get in the way of accurate, unbiased reporting?

David S. Broder: You are mistaken in thinking that Doug Lewis is a personal friend -- my only dealings with him have been on issues of voting legislation and practices. I do not know what if any connection he has with Diebold or with the Republican Party. I do know that the election center is an independent organization with active participation by Democrats and Republicans, and I know that his view of this legislation was shared by the National Conference of State Legislatures, by the National Association of County Officials and by many secretaries of state. These are not personal friends either, by the way.

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Minneapolis: Which do you think is the most troubling aspect of the story Comey told -- that Card and Gonzales evidently sought to take advantage of a very sick John Ashcroft; that they apparently were sent by the president; that the president authorized the continuation of the program without the certification of its legality by the Office of Legal Counsel and the Department of Justice; or that the administration pursued for two-and-a-half years a policy that, once it was reviewed by serious people like Jack Goldsmith and Comey, was deemed illegal and so troubling that they, Ashcroft and the Director of the FBI all were willing to resign rather than condone its continuation?

David S. Broder: You have summarized in one powerful paragraph all the things that make this sorry story so disturbing. The president clearly thought and acted as if he were above the law, or could bend it completely to his will. What happened was sickening, appalling on all the levels you describe.

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Washington: Mr. B: I was/am a little astonished by how many of the GOP candidates at the recent debate (save for McCain) seem so comfortable with the idea of torture and indefinite detention. It's all very macho. Not sure that is the kind of country we should aspire to be ... we'll start looking like Egypt. What's your take ... is pro-torture a good, unifying theme for the nation in 2008?

David S. Broder: No, I hardly think so. The Republicans clearly believe that a hard line against terrorists is to their advantage, but I think they are in danger of egging each other on to the point that they leave common sense behind.

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Ron Paul: I'm a Democrat and barely have heard of this guy and now I wish I watched the Republican Debate. He's the only guy on either side who actually has the ... er, guts ... to ask Americans to look at the big picture when it comes to the war on terrorism. Now he's immediately been vilified and his words twisted.

He's clearly a threat to the mainstream in general and GOP establishment in particular. What are the odds we'll see any kind of coverage about Paul? I've been reading about him on the Internet and he's obviously a mixed bag of tricks, but he's sure as hell more interesting than almost anybody else the GOP is serving up, and clearly his own man.

David S. Broder: He is indeed his own man, and has remained so, even while serving as a Republican for many years in the House. He is a Libertarian, which means, among other things, that he has a clear, consistent philosophy that he applies to every situation. The libertarian position -- because it is unyielding -- is shared by few other conservatives, few Republicans and even fewer Democrats. Reporters who know this also know that Mr. Paul is likely to attract a dedicated following, but not a terribly large one.

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Washington: The Post's page one article, "Disclosure Forms Show Wealthy Lot Of Hopefuls," shows that almost all of the candidates for the presidency are millionaires. Newspaper reporters, teachers, policemen, social workers, public-interest lawyers and firefighters do not make -- I won't say "earn" -- nearly that amount of money. What does it say about our democracy when, in order to raise enough campaign contributions to run seriously for the presidency, you must be a millionaire yourself?

washingtonpost.com: Disclosure Forms Show Wealthy Lot Of Hopefuls (Post, May 17)

David S. Broder: That's not the conclusion I draw. I think a person without personal wealth can compete for the presidency, if he or she has enough backing. What the wealth of the candidates shows is something else: In America today, the premium on brains is large enough that most smart, professionally trained people, when they reach middle age, are comfortably well-off. Not just politicians, but lawyers, doctors, accountants, business people, etc.

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Bridgewater, Mass.: The EU-Russia meeting seems to have broken down entirely as the result of a whole raft of conflicts. Are any of the candidates paying any attention to our (the West's) relations with Russia? With all those hydrocarbons, and the current price for them, Russia's becoming pretty self-assertive these days.

David S. Broder: I have not heard any serious discussion of U.S.-Russian relations so far in the campaign. I share your belief that it is important -- and will become more so.

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Anonymous: Sept. 15, 2006 you typed about Clinton: "When a president loses his credibility, he loses an important tool for governing -- and that is why I thought he should step down." Do you think Mr. Bush retains credibility enough to govern effectively?

David S. Broder: I think that is seriously in question. But Vice President Cheney would have less, so that option is not really available.

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Fast track ... not so fast: Your endorsement of handing fast-track authority to Bush was historically inaccurate (all previous Presidents did not have this -- Clinton lost it in 1994 and it was not restored) and frankly frightening. Given Bush's contempt for worker's rights and the environment I don't want him negotiating any international trade deals without considerable supervision. Frankly, during yesterday's presser when the Brit reporters were suggesting Blair should go sooner I kept wishing Bush could go with him. I think we've all had it.

David S. Broder: It's clear where you stand. I think the country would pay a price for taking the United States out of a lead role in international trade negotiations, but if you think any change is inevitably a change for the worse, then I understand where your anger and opposition come from.

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Cold New England: Regarding the immigration bill, will there be time for the people to read it and debate it before the Senate votes? It seems absurd that we're having to debate the merits of a set of talking points, instead of the actual legislation.

David S. Broder: The bill is long and almost indecipherable, but its main provisions are clear, and I think there is time for debate and discussion before any final action. This issue will be before Congress for a long time.

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Seattle: If I understand the immigration bill right, illegals would have to pay $5,000, exit the country and then apply for citizenship with waits up 8-13 years before re-entering. Does that seem like it will lure illegal immigrants out of hiding?

David S. Broder: I don't think the bill is designed to "lure" anyone out of hiding. It is designed to provide a path that does not now exist for those living here illegally who want to become citizens to do so. It is an arduous path, but it is a way of getting there -- if they want to go.

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Cambridge, Mass.: The immigration deal between a handful of Senators and President Bush is getting a lot of attention, much of it negative. Do you think being associated with this, and seen on stage with Sen. Kennedy, is the death knell for John McCain's hopes of winning the Republican presidential nomination? It seems like really bad press for him vis-a-vis Republican primary voters.

David S. Broder: I don't speak for Republican primary voters, but I doubt McCain's work on immigration is a death knell for him. His position has been clear for a long time -- like it or not.

I have enjoyed this chat and now I have to go back to work.

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