Broder on Politics

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David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, June 1, 2007; 12:00 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, June 1 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: Endgame Ahead (Post, May 31)

The transcript follows.

Archive: David Broder discussion transcripts

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Los Angeles: People often say they long for the "good old days" of journalism. Were the "good old days" really that good?

David S. Broder: Sorry to be late starting, but we had a computer problem here at The Post. Yes, the good old days really were good. Reporters trusted each other and shared information, and there was much more freedom in the interchanges between politicians and reporters. Fewer handlers, and fewer barriers. I don't think I sentimentalize about that freedom of communication, and I think it served the public well.

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Bronx, N.Y.: Mr. Broder, if there is a coup in Iraq and Maliki is deposed, how will the White House spin the surge strategy? Will any GOP support for continuing the war peel away if this happens?

David S. Broder: I'm not comfortable speculating about such a development, but if it occurred it clearly would shake the assumptions behind American policy.

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New York: Your column about the bipartisan effort to change the President's position on the Iraq occupation, being led by Lamar Alexander and Ken Salazar made no mention of the administration's recent announcement that the plan is to retain a large force occupying Iraq for "the next 50 years." At the Hill this morning, Mort Kondracke writes that this legislation is designed to provide a foundation for that permanent occupation. Did this issue not come up in your discussions? Is John Warner aware of these plans?

David S. Broder: I cannot speak for Sen. Warner, but the Iraq Study Group plan envisaged a residual American force in Iraq -- training their army and fighting al-Qaeda -- for an indefinite period. So that would not be inconsistent with what Alexander and Salazar are proposing.

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Scottsdale, Ariz.: Mr. Broder: Does your considered opinion suggest that the Democrats will be able to pass any significant legislation in this Congress? If not, why not? If so, which piece(s) will make it to the president's desk and what will he do -- sign or veto?

David S. Broder: They have passed one significant piece of legislation already -- the increase in the minimum wage. I think No Child Left Behind will be extended, and the children's health insurance program continued and expanded -- these will be signed. Immigration legislation is more doubtful; the House is inclined to kill it. Energy legislation will be watered down, as usual. The Iraq war consumes an enormous share of congressional attention.

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Richmond, Va.: With so many people running for president on both sides of the aisle I keep finding myself mystified about why second-tier candidates run. They end up spending a pile of money without a snowball's chance in Hades of winning. Has a second-tier candidate ever won the nomination?

David S. Broder: George McGovern was a long shot when he began. I can think of no others at the moment, unless you go back to the pre-primary days and count Wendell Willkie.

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Crestwood, N.Y.: Mr. Broder, this is one time I truly, desperately want you to be right. Why are you so sure that the war will start winding down in September? Might not the GOP moderates decide that the surge is showing signs of working, and decide to give it another six months? Wasn't the "time to show results" supposed to be May 2007 when the bipartisan commission released its report, and now it has gotten pushed back to September. Why can't it get pushed back again?

David S. Broder: It could, but the approach of the 2008 election really concentrates minds of politicians about the consequences of a continuing war.

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Rochester, N.Y.: Mr. Broder, in a 2003 column you mentioned you "suggested we invite Karl Rove to be one of the instructors" at the Salzburg political seminar in Austria. Now, according to testimony from Monica Goodling last week, Rove's assistant Tim Griffin was involved in "voter caging" -- whereby voters (typically minority voters) are sent mail while they are away from home and then taken off the voter roles if they fail to sign for the mail. This practice is illegal.

It also appears that Mr. Rove has been involved with pressuring U.S. attorneys to pursue bogus voter fraud cases (an act which also may be illegal). In light of these revelations, do you regret choosing Mr. Rove to be a representative of the best American democracy has to offer at the Salzburg Seminar? And do you think that Mr. Rove should have to testify before Congress about his (possibly illegal) activities?

David S. Broder: Mr. Rove was invited to the Salzburg seminar (along with other Republican and Democratic practitioners) to give an international audience insights into the emerging forces in American politics. He did exactly that, and I have no second thoughts about his role. Whether he testifies to Congress is not for me to decide. If he is subpoenaed, I assume he would appear.

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Arlington, Va.: Where would you rank the current president among those you've covered? And among all presidents?

David S. Broder: I'm not in the ranking business. I think Bush's reputation will turn largely on the outcome of the Iraq war, and, as you know, I have come to consider that war a terrible misjudgment and tragedy.

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Annapolis, Md.: I understand there is a fascinating Democratic candidate running for Senate in Oregon against Gordon Smith, a guy named Steve Novick, who is only about 4 feet tall. What do you know about him?

David S. Broder: I have read one article about him, but have never met him, and have no first-hand knowledge.

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Rockville, Md.: Since Korea was the last time we disengaged from a war without winning and the public approved, it seems reasoned to use it as a guide in Iraq. However, some are jumping on the "stay 50 years aspect" and missing the point. But everything is just an excuse to attack the president, right? I am not even sure that they have the 50 year part right, but this smacks of seeing the trees and not the forest.

David S. Broder: We also left Vietnam without a victory and we have accepted that. However, Iraq is square in the middle of the Persian Gulf and the tensions and strategic stakes are much higher there.

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Princeton, N.J.: What about William Jefferson Clinton? Wasn't he a long-shot?

David S. Broder: No, I would not say so. Given the field of opponents he faced in 1992, Clinton deserved to be and was one of the early favorites.

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Houston: Re: Second-Tier Candidates: Jimmy Carter came out of nowhere in 1976.

David S. Broder: I think you can make the case that Carter was a long shot at the start of 1976, but not after the Iowa caucuses.

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Alexandria, Va.: It seems the talk radio and cultural conservative base of the GOP is strongly against the immigration bill. Yet they likely make up the predominant share of the 30 percent of the people who still support Bush. Now Bush and his surrogates are attacking the anti-immigration bill folks in much the same tone the administration has used on their other detractors. Rove never has been accused of being dumb, but this seems politically beyond stupid. What's your take?

David S. Broder: My take is that President Bush has been a consistent advocate of a liberal immigration policy as long as I have covered him -- going back to his days in Texas -- and I think Rove is carrying out the boss's orders.

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San Francisco: Are you excited about reading the Irv Libby sentencing letters after he is sentenced? About which letter-writer do you think we will be most surprised?

David S. Broder: No I am not excited. Are you?

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Silver Spring, Md.: Mr. Broder, yesterday's Washington Post featured an article in the Federal Diary on some presidential candidates' stands vis a vis the size of the federal work force. I know taking swipes at us bureaucrats is always good political fodder, but do these folks really expect that, underpaid and overworked as many of us are, eliminating more federal jobs really will make things better? And given that they're running for the job that heads the federal government, won't they need us to do their work after the election? Or will it all get contracted to Halliburton?

washingtonpost.com: The Candidates Sound Off on Government Jobs (Post, May 30)

David S. Broder: I'm with you. I get tired of the bashing of the bureaucracy and am skeptical of people who run for president by running against Washington.

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Denver: The Bush administration has vilified the Democrats for wanting to speak with Syria and Iran, as well as issues surrounding global warming. Now the Bush administration is speaking with Syria and Iran as well as starting to address global warming. What gives?

David S. Broder: It's called readjusting policy in the face of reality and in advance of an election. You can expect to see more of it.

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Good old days: How is it not better for both politicians and journalists to be under more scrutiny? Unless you're JFK or Dan Rather, that is...

David S. Broder: I'm for scrutiny, and I would argue that you learned more about the politicians when the conversation between reporters and politicians was freer than when it is managed by squads of public relations people guarding the candidates.

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Vienna, Va.: This isn't a joke question. Richardson the other day on "Meet the Press" told Russert that when he went to school in Massachusetts he became a Red Sox fan, but that he was also a Yankees fan. Now, you know that you can't be both a Cubs fan and a White Sox fan; and it's at least the same with the Red Sox and the team from New York. In a recent article you indicated that you felt Richardson was a breath of fresh air because he had fun at politics. The "fan thing" above would seem to be him trying to be all things to all people -- do you think that he can get away with it?

washingtonpost.com: Two Long Shots Liven Up a Race (Post, May 24)

David S. Broder: I watched the "Meet the Press" interview and thought Richardson did badly, not just on the baseball question but on many others where he appeared to be defensive and/or contradictory. It was not a good showing.

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Anonymous: Dear Mr. Broader: I wonder if you by any chance heard the interesting report on NPR Morning Edition this morning on the seeming politicization of the military by this administration. The upshot was, essentially, that the Bush Administration -- especially the likes of Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz -- made a concerted effort to sideline military leaders who would not toe their political line, and to promote those who, because of ideology or careerism, sucked up to the administration and embraced its goals. The question: in your long experience, is this situation any more significant in this administration than previous administrations? If so, isn't this a particularly dangerous development for both the military and our system of government?

David S. Broder: I heard the report and like you I was struck by it. I have no personal knowledge of the military promotion and personnel practices that let me judge its accuracy or compare it with past administrations, but I was glad to hear the reporter say that Secretary Gates is operating in a different, nonpolitical way.

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Hughesville, Md.: This latest tactic of the Bush-Cheney administration goes beyond the pale. I am referring to the attempt to purge visitor records from secret service files. The reasons they use for justifying this are laughable. They are our public servants and as such should be subject to public scrutiny, cased closed. The very idea that increased secrecy in our government is needed goes against any form of logic. It is interesting to note that the Republicans investigated visitor logs during the Clinton administration in their witch hunt. If the Bush administration is operating in a just and fair manner (which I seriously doubt) then they should have nothing to hide. Another case in which I would love to see full disclosure is Cheney's energy executive meetings. Again, he is a public servant representing the people of this country, and as such should disclose fully the transcripts of meetings held that relate to national energy policy. Any comments Mr. Broder? I know there as several groups trying to fight this in the court, but is Congress?

David S. Broder: I agree. The secrecy issue is a real one -- and has been abused badly by this administration.

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Rockville, Md.: "Face of reality..." The reality of public opinion. Not always right, but important for an election, to be sure.

David S. Broder: The election is a reality, and public opinion is always a factor in politics, as it should be.

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Re: Good old days...: In the "good old days" we had a diverse suite of press outlets, independent broadcasters and news presses that today no longer exist, having been gobbled up by corporations that can be counted on to parrot the corporate line, and that avoid investigative reporting when possible out of cost concerns.

We also had an important and overlooked rule in broadcasting that guaranteed "equal time for opposing opinions." Those five words were eliminated by the FCC, and the opportunity for slanted coverage, equating and presenting opinion with/as news while brashly claiming fairness (Fox News) was born.

The era of "talking to ourselves in the mirror" has eliminated reason, fact-checking, contemplative reasoning in lieu of partisanship. It is how talking heads blatantly can lie, obfuscate, and warp important discussions away from facts and into opinion that stand in for facts unchallenged, because we have a one-way conversation today. Want real discussion? Re-institute the "equal time for opposing opinions" rule.

David S. Broder: I agree with you on the equal time rule, but your broader point about the disappearance of detached, aggressive reporting is one I would dispute. You can find whatever you want in the new media mix, but there is plenty of serious reporting available to those who want it.

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Westchester, N.Y.: Mr. Broder, you mentioned Bill Richardson's poor performance on "Meet the Press." How in the world did he think that he wasn't going to be confronted with prior inconsistent statements by Russert? Don't you think that the system today is constructed in such a way that at least a little underhandedness, a little Nixonian deceit, is a requirement for running the government -- and that plain, honest and unscripted candor is a positive disqualification for the presidency?

David S. Broder: No, I don't think that candor is a disqualification for high office. All of us have to face up to mistakes and contradictions in our records, and I think acknowledging them is not just acceptable but honorable.

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Riverdale, N.Y.: If the American people were permitted to vote on Rep. Paul's non-interventionist approach to foreign policy, as opposed to the bipartisan consensus policy of maintaining troops overseas to exercise our control of the Middle East, which policy would win the poll?

David S. Broder: I don't know the answer to that. It would be a good question to poll.

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Philadelphia: Do you know Seymour Hersh? He has been quite right about everything he has reported about this administration and the war but he can only be seen in The New Yorker, a magazine that is usually categorized as "liberal." He was first to talk about the White House Iraq Group and the stove-piping and cherry-picking of intelligence. He also reported before NPR did this morning about the marginalization of the military leaders who don't toe the line. Shouldn't Mr. Hersh be given more credit and maybe a shout-out from some colleagues for being so spot-on in his reporting?

David S. Broder: I have read Sy Hersh for years and I admire his digging. I think there have been times when he has pushed his conclusions pretty far beyond the evidence, but I salute him for what he has done on the Iraq story.

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Franklin, Tenn.: Mr. Broder, do you see the recent initiatives by the Bush Administration (large increases in Global Aids funding, calls for reduced CO2 emissions among the major industrialized nations) as something akin to a boxer, having lost the majority of rounds during a fight, suddenly sending a flurry of punches at the end of the round/fight to try and salvage a win on the judge's scorecards? Thank you for your work.

David S. Broder: I like that comparison. May I borrow it, with proper attribution?

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Monterey, Calif.: Hello, Mr. Broder. First, considering the dwindling political support for a protracted 100,000-plus troop presence in Iraq, by what date do you think our troop strength in Iraq will be below 50,000, and on what do you base your prediction? Second, does the Bush administration appear to be making a serious effort to totally close the Guantanamo detention facility?

David S. Broder: I have no information that would let me answer your first question. I do not see a serious effort by this administration to shut down Guantanamo.

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Boston: What will be the greatest strategic threat to the U.S. in the next decade: al-Qaeda, Russia, China, Iran, others? How should the next administration shape its foreign policy in light of your prioritization of these threats?

David S. Broder: Those are very large questions. I think all of the challenges for the next president will be large, but the first step may be to repair the alliances so that we don't have to face them by ourselves.

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Re: Long-shot nominees: Dukakis?

David S. Broder: No, I recall Dukakis was the early favorite in New Hampshire and then did surprisingly well in the next round of southern primaries.

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Re: Good Old Days: I agree that it is still possible to find good, aggressive reporting, but it is getting harder to find with all the junk journalism out there. Maybe the problem is that there is so much more noise out there it's getting harder to find the actual news, and what news does get reported gets buried in "spin-machines."

David S. Broder: I agree that the variety of voices and choices, especially on the Internet, makes it harder to sort out the wheat from the chaff. But the effort is worthwhile, and the goodies are still there to be found.

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Albany, N.Y.: You wrote in a recent column: "Warner is torn between his loyalty to the president and his deep anxiety about events in Iraq. And as a former Navy secretary, he has an acute awareness of the price America's fighting men and women are paying for the policy mistakes there." Where do you think Warner's loyalty to the nation comes in? It seems that Warner, Lindsay Graham and McCain have been more interested in protecting this president on torture, rendition, Geneva Convention than they have in protecting our Constitution and laws.

David S. Broder: I think that's an unfairly harsh judgment on all three of those men. To take but one example, McCain challenged the president directly and strongly on torture, and I think John Warner and Lindsey Graham are doing exactly what they think the national interest requires. You can question their judgment without impugning their motives.

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Boston: As a Yankee fan living in Boston, I can tell you, you cannot be a fan of those two teams. It's not even in the same universe as Cubs/White Sox. I actually get more respect for staying a New York fan in this town. You just can't go from one to the other. It's like trying to convince Republicans you used to be pro-choice but are now pro-life -- you will get absolutely no respect from either side.

David S. Broder: I think you speak with authority on all those topics. As a Cubs fan, I agree.

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Equal Time: That rule was coded in the '30s when the FCC was in it's infancy and there were fewer than 100 media outlets available. Now there are hundreds of thousands of ways in which opposing viewpoints can be aired. It's quaint and unnecessary in this day and age.

David S. Broder: I know there are many outlets, but I also think there is a value in hearing both sides of a question on the same outlet.

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Winnipeg, Canada: Recently I read a report that American soldiers are finding Iraqi army ID on slain insurgents. Today I read a report about Prime Minister Maliki worrying about coup attempts. Then there's the increasing frequency of rocket and mortar attacks in the Green Zone. Should we be worrying about American forces being overrun? Even an unsuccessful coup could cost hundreds or thousands of lives, and could make a mockery of a planned withdrawal.

David S. Broder: Iraq is a dangerous place, and I suppose the possibility of a coup may exist. But I think it is foolish for me to speculate about it from this distance.

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Chicago: Was Mr Bartlett pushed, or did he jump? In reading The Washington Post article today, it sounded as if he truly is leaving voluntarily rather than other "resignations" we've read about in the Bush White House.

David S. Broder: My information is that Dan Bartlett left at a time of his own choosing.

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Washington: Will you be attending the upcoming Democratic and Republican debates in New Hampshire? What news do you expect to come from them?

David S. Broder: I'm going up to Manchester on Sunday for the Democratic debate, but I have an assignment on Monday in Washington, so I will watch the Republicans on TV.

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Richmond, Va.: Given that the divide between Bush and his base on immigration seems particularly intense, have you heard how the GOP presidential candidates are handling the issue?

David S. Broder: They are divided. McCain supports the bill, which he helped frame. Romney is critical of its provisions. Giuliani is ambivalent.

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Rolla, Mo.: This week we learned specifically that Valerie Plame was indeed covert at the time of her outing. Each time new information such as this comes out regarding the Valerie Plame/Scooter Libby affair, I post the following question to you on this chat, thus far to no avail: "Have you seen anything that would cause you to change your previous characterization of the Libby affair as a 'tempest in a teapot' "? I sincerely hope you will share your current thoughts on this.

David S. Broder: I still find it a sideshow compared to what is happening in Iraq or on immigration or the other serious policy issues.

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Lake Forest, Calif.: Good morning. Did you read Eugene Robinson's column this morning? I noticed the column was No. 1 in the most-read-articles list. In your opinion, is there anything the Democrats can do to get former Vice President Al Gore to run for president? Thank you for your time.

washingtonpost.com: An Egghead for the Oval Office (Post, June 1)

David S. Broder: I read and enjoyed Eugene Robinson's column, as always. I would differ with him on the priority attached to sheer intelligence as a quality for presidents. Jimmy Carter was highly intelligent, but lacked the political and personal skills needed in the presidency. Ronald Reagan was perhaps less of an intellect, but a far more effective leader.

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Anonymous: Bush has called for talks that will hopefully result on greenhouse gas limits by about 2050. Let¿s not rush things. Why not 2060? Talk about forward-thinking. I hope you will revisit this pledge in 2050 and let us know if things turned out well.

washingtonpost.com: Bush Proposes Talks on Warming (Post, June 1)

David S. Broder: I will certainly be back to you in 2050 -- if the doctors find a way to keep me going. But I've got to sign off for now.

Enjoyed visiting with all of you.

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