Broder on Politics

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David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, August 3, 2007; 12:15 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, Aug. 3 at 12:15 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."

washingtonpost.com: A Setback For Civility (Post, Aug. 2)

The transcript follows.

Archive: David Broder discussion transcripts

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Eastern Shore Republican: A general rule of thumb is that that the party that is most united and has the better morale wins presidential elections. The Democrats have both morale and unity in their favor. On top of that, there's the war in Iraq and President Bush's role in splitting the GOP on immigration. Do Bush, Rove and the administration even acknowledge that they've put their party behind the eight ball in 2008?

David S. Broder: Good day to everyone in the chat room. No, I don't hear that kind of acknowledgment from anyone I talk to at the White House, but I certainly hear comments like that from Republicans in Congress and around the country, who are more objective about their situation.

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New York: Hello, Mr. Broder. Thanks for taking my question. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, I read that reporters use anonymous sources to "expose government malfeasance" and "gross abuses of power" -- which makes a federal shield law important. But these days, at least on the level of the national political press, anonymity is used in that way in a tiny minority of cases. In the vast majority of instances, anonymity has a far different and far less noble purpose -- to enable our most powerful political officials to spread pro-government claims, information and propaganda through the media without any accountability. Do you think those types of sources need the same protection as whistle-blowers -- and if so, why?

David S. Broder: You make a very good point. It is contrary to Post policy and to my personal policy to allow anonymous government officials to spread propaganda without attribution. That is very different from the whistle-blower situation; one is deserving of protection; the other is not.

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Re: Totally unprepared again ...: There is a report today that details a growing rift between the Bush administration and Saudi Arabia, which says, in essence, that Bush is angry with what it sees as Saudi Arabia support of Sunnis in Iraq. But wouldn't most experts in this region have predicted the Saudi's behavior? How many more instances can we have at how unprepared Bush was for this whole fiasco in Iraq -- and the consequences of his going it alone?

washingtonpost.com: Another Tour Ends Without Solid Plans On Mideast Peace (Post, Aug. 3)

David S. Broder: Saudis have been playing a complex game of politics in the Persian Gulf for a long time; and certainly the Bush family was as well briefed on their operations as any people could be. They must have decided to look the other way.

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Washington: Do you get any sense about whether President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney are privately favoring any Republican presidential candidates? I know sitting presidents tend to stay out of it during the primaries, but is there someone either of them are rooting for?

David S. Broder: If they have a favorite, they are cloaking their choice very well. I can't tell.

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Rolla, Mo.: Have you heard any prominent Republicans state that they fear the precedent being set by this Administration's "unitary executive" arguments and what it would mean under a possible President Hillary Clinton administration? As a Democrat even I am concerned that given the Clintons' experience of the "oversight" by Congress during the 1990s, she may well wish to keep some of the questionable practices of the current administration.

David S. Broder: Sen. Arlen Specter has joined many Democrats in challenging that doctrine, and I think other Republicans would echo those views if they thought as far ahead as your question goes.

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Re: John McCain: It's reported that McCain is changing his stance on immigration. How does his campaign handle the inevitable flip-flop, pandering and because-he's-down-in-the-polls questions that seems a given?

David S. Broder: If Senator McCain has changed his views on immigration, I am not aware of it. I talked with him on the night the Senate bill went down and he was unshaken at that point.

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Washington: Did you catch the president's comments yesterday? I don't like to get too caught up in the past or recriminations but I was surprised to hear him sounding so concerned about congressional spending. Why didn't anyone ask him what changed for him after six years of completely unrestrained government growth that he suddenly gets so worried about this? This turnaround was so shocking to me, I expected to read all about it in today's papers, but why the silence?

David S. Broder: What changed is that this Congress has a Democratic majority. And President Bush knows the Democrats are spenders; Republicans, by definition, are not.

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Crestwood, N.Y.: Mr. Broder, I'm starting to get a feeling about this Fred Thompson, that he might be the GOP's answer to "the Democratic Hamlet": Mario Cuomo. Is it possible that he really doesn't want to exchange his current very comfortable life for the "joys" of running for national office -- and then, heaven forbid, the killing job of being president of this zoo? From what I've been reading, he didn't seem to enjoy his senatorial term very much. Isn't running for president the most unpleasant experience imaginable, even for those who crave the job with every fiber of their being? How do you read this?

David S. Broder: I cannot pretend to be a mind-reader when it comes to Senator Thompson. But I know he walked away without regret from a safe Senate seat in Tennessee, so I have decided to take a wait and see attitude toward his presidential candidacy. When he says he is running, I will believe it.

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Oostburg, Wis.: As someone who has seen lots of Washington politicians come and go, is it possible that Bush is so intransigent in his views and policy decisions that he would jeopardize his party's chances in 2008 and beyond? Are there any similar parallels in the last 50 years or so in the American presidency?

David S. Broder: Presidents have a hard time coming to grips with big policy failures. Lyndon Johnson carried forward for years in Vietnam after his own doubts about the war were very large indeed. Richard Nixon fought against the Watergate cover-up exposure to the bitter end. Both led their parties to ruin.

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Washington: Although they were appointed by Republican Presidents, Justices Stevens and Souter often take the more liberal position in their decisions. Justice Kennedy occasionally joins them, in particular ruling to uphold Roe vs. Wade. My question is, do their loyalties reside with the Republican Party that appointed them, or the Democrats, who they might be more ideologically in tune with?

David S. Broder: Again, I cannot claim to read the minds of these men, but I think they would say they followed the law, the Constitution and the precedents, rather than worried about the partisan positions on these issues.

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Arlington, Va.: Mr. Broder, regarding the "civility" of Ray LaHood, it matters little what one's manners are if -- as in the case of Ray LaHood -- one votes to support the corrupt and immoral policies of the Bush/Cheney regime. Polite or not, his departure from public life only can be viewed as a positive step. Unless, of course, you approve of the horrible policies that Ray LaHood voted in favor of.

David S. Broder: Your comment is all too typical of the degeneration of politics in our day and age. Because you disagree with the policies of the Bush administration, you are prepared to trash the character of a conscientious legislator who happens to disagree with you. That kind of moralizing judgment that consigns all who disagree to the fires of hell is what is wrecking our politics.

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Westwood, Mass.: What are the odds that FBI Director Mueller has notes from other meetings related to the NSA wiretapping program (including his critical one-on-one meeting with Bush to walk through Mueller's legal reservations)? It sure seems like Mueller knew he was on dangerous ground with this administration that would one day come to public light, and he wanted a good record of the issue and his actions. Would it make sense for Conyers to request Mueller's notes from any meetings regarding the NSA wiretapping program (and what's the deal with his strange wording to describe the "NSA program that has been much discussed")?

David S. Broder: I don't know the answers to any of those questions, but you might want to bounce them off of Sen. Leahy and the Judiciary Committee Democrats and see if they can follow up your leads.

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Northampton, Mass.: "David S. Broder: What changed is that this Congress has a Democratic majority. And President Bush knows the Democrats are spenders; Republicans, by definition, are not."

Mr. Broder, respectfully, you must have been sleeping the past six years as Republicans ran everything, because we went from running a surplus to a deficit while they were in charge. Don't confuse the Republicans of the past with the ones we have now -- things change.

David S. Broder: I was being facetious. I guess I should label my efforts at humor, but I thought it was obvious that I had tongue in cheek.

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Kettering, Ohio: Good afternoon Mr. Broder! I lament the loss of bipartisans as you noted in your column yesterday. However, do you have faith that the American electorate will demand better of its leaders in the future? I don't think either party can expect to go too many more cycles of bitterness, name-calling, mediocrity and do-nothingness before its throws the bums out. I think Americans can smell a rat as well or better than any other. If the Dems and the administration think prefer to refuse to work with the other, and the perhaps inevitable Democratic win in 2008 allows the Republicans to think they have cover to not cooperate with the Dems, I think they surely will be wrong.

David S. Broder: I agree with you. I think public opinion is near the boiling point at the spectacle Washington politicians of both parties are making of themselves, and I think 2008 can see a political explosion as a result.

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Portland, Ore.: Hi Mr. Broder -- your colleague Mr. Ricks is quoted today on NPR's "Here and now" as saying in Iraq there are no good options and that U.S. troops probably will be in Iraq through the next president's term. It seems to me that there is some disconnect between what the American people voted for in the last election and our current "surge" and future outlook there. Your comments, sir?Thanks.

David S. Broder: Tom Ricks has the best grasp of the military situation in Iraq of any reporter I know, and I take his views very seriously. But domestic opinion in this country is not static, and the pressure to reduce forces will continue to grow. I do not believe we will have anything like 150,000 troops in Iraq in the fall of 2008.

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Cincinnati: Mr. Broder: Thanks for taking my question. Do you have any opinion on the chaos that erupted last night on the House floor when a vote incorrectly was called and the vote count was changed after the gavel came down? Thank you.

David S. Broder: What happened on the House floor last night was reminiscent of the worse moments of Republican control. Democrats should be embarrassed by that comparison.

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Princeton, N.J.: This is a news policy question: Do you believe that when a politician makes a mathematically false statement, The Post (reporters, not columnists) have an obligation to point that out? As an example, in 2000 we were told that the group of married people paid more taxes than they would if they had been allowed to file as single -- the Marriage Tax Penalty. Fifteen minutes at bls.gov and an eighth-grade math education would have shown this was false. Because reporters did not do their homework, we got an unfair tax bill that was simply bad policy.

David S. Broder: Factually false statements should certainly be corrected in news stories, no matter who is uttering them.

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Ottawa, Canada: I agree with you that there has been a general loss of civility in politics. However, given the types of policy choices presented by the Bush administration, such as starting a war or not allowing stem cell research, isn't it nearly impossible for an opposing politician to not be angry with those on the other side? It's a lot easier to disagree about taxes and remain civil, is it not?

David S. Broder: Of course issues are important, and passion is justified. But make the argument on the issue--and leave the character attacks unspoken. Whether it is taxes or stem cells or war, there is plenty to argue about. But we don't need to be sliming the opponents.

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Portland, Ore.: Mr. Broder, I am confused. First Sen. Clinton criticizes Sen. Obama for suggesting he might use military force against targets in Pakistan, then she tweaks him for noting that he would not use nuclear weapons in the assaults she just criticized. I guess her thought is that if she criticizes everything Obama says it raises doubts about his foreign policy experience, but I think the exchange suggests that Clinton has no substantive policies of her own to offer and is only reactive, and that she must be worrying that Obama is gaining traction with his foreign policy pronouncements. What is your take?

David S. Broder: I think the Clinton campaign is a little confused. They think it's January of 2008 not August of 2007. A little quick on the reflex, I would say.

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Savannah, Ga.: Mr. Broder, do you really believe President Bush will reduce troops in Iraq before he leaves office? I simply don't believe he can do it without repudiating everything his administration believes in -- and he won't do that, will he?

David S. Broder: The president has the upper hand for now as commander in chief, but the forces are gathering in Congress that may well curtail his freedom of action in coming months.

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Washington: I generally agreed with your comments about LaHood and the decline of civility. The counter-argument I've heard from Republicans, however, is that Bob Michel-style leadership (gracious disagreement, not sharpening differences) brought the Republicans 40 years of minority status in the House. It was only when the Gingrich insurgents challenged the basic tenets of the Democratic majority that they gained power in 1994. If so, why would either party risk being seen as acquiescing when in the minority?

David S. Broder: That's a reasonable argument, and I think the case can be made that Bob Michel's generation of Republican leaders had been beaten down to the point that they were not putting up much of a fight against the Democrats. But Newt Gingrich claimed more for the Contract with America than the evidence supports; Democrats lost the election of 1994 as much as Republicans won it, and almost everyone says that the aftermath of that switch was an increase in poisonous partisanship that has continued to this day.

I've enjoyed the discussion and now must go back to work. Thank you, everyone.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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