Broder on Politics

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David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, October 5, 2007; 1:30 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, Sept. 14 at 1:30 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."

washingtonpost.com: Dreams of Cubs Nation (Post, Oct. 4)

The transcript follows.

Archive: David Broder discussion transcripts

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New York: I am shocked at the passiveness of this administration! The president's veto of SCHIP was sure to raise the obnoxious and poisonous calls from Reid et al that the president doesn't care about sick children. Why, when a bill could give government benefits to families making up to $83,000 a year, did the administration sit back and not go on the offensive? Is this White House too gun shy right now?

David S. Broder: Good afternoon everyone. I'm looking forward to our hour together.

In regard to the White House strategy on SCHIP, all I can tell you is that the people I've talked to in the administration -- and I've discussed it with both the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services at high levels -- seem very defensive. I think they know they are going against a strong tide of public opinion and pressure from some of their own Republicans in Congress. That may explain the tone you're hearing.

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Portland, Ore.: I'm afraid of Bush starting a war with Iran before leaving office. What can Congress do to stop this?

David S. Broder: I do not sense any ambition in the Bush administration for another war -- let alone challenging Iran, which is large and well-armed. Congress could deny funds for such a war prospectively, but I think it would be a questionable tactic, with significant repercussions in the world.

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Montreal: Mr. Broder, simply put, do you believe the administration has authorized what a neutral observer would consider torture?

David S. Broder: Sadly, I think the directives that are being made public could be interpreted to allow measures I would consider torture.

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Carlisle, Pa.: There has been a lot a fact checking on President Bush's veto statements this week. With so much of his rationale for vetoing called into question, how do you think this will play out? Will it change any votes to override?

David S. Broder: I doubt it. The polarization in Congress, especially in the House, is so strong it tends to override everything.

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Canton, Mass.: While discussing That Vile Hillary in your column the other day, you wrote (regarding Social Security) that "Russert knew better and corrected her math" during the MSNBC debate. But Russert has proven time and again that he doesn't know better and he doesn't know the math. He'd apparently forgotten his interview with Alan Greenspan a few days before:

GREENSPAN: Social Security is not a big crisis. We are approximately two percent points of payroll short over the very long run. It's a significant closing of the gap, but it's doable, and doable in any number of ways. Medicare is a wholly different issue ... we're going to double the size of the retired population, and by all of the analysis I go through in the book, it's very evident to me that we are not able to actually deliver on the Medicare we are promising.

Did you (apparently like Tim) not see that interview?

washingtonpost.com: Clinton's Game of Dodgeball (Post, Sept. 30)

David S. Broder: Actually, I did see the interview with Chairman Greenspan, and I had heard the same message previously from David Walker of the GAO and other experts. Medicare is a much larger problem than Social Security, but Social Security is also out of long-term balance. Senator Clinton's refusal to "put anything on the table" is not a helpful approach to that problem, in my view.

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Princeton, N.J.: New York has fallen for Administration lies. The limit on income would not change from the current policy. No state can go to $83,000 without approval from the administration. Only one state ever has requested it (New York), and they were denied. Does New York think that a family earning $83,000 in New York city with six children can afford $7,500 a year for health insurance premiums?

David S. Broder: As you point out, the $83,000 figure the president has used to justify his veto of the SCHIP bill is a figment of the imagination. The debate needs to be more serious than that.

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Montgomery Village, Md.: Mr. Broder, while Rep Obey's "war surtax" proposal may not have much support, the other part of his announcement about not reporting out the $145 billion Iraq "supplemental" bill until the president changes his policy seems quite intriguing. He indicated that the Pentagon has enough funding to last until March, so this is not "failing to support the troops." Obey is a very astute politician and knows the appropriations process inside and out. Will his proposal get much support? Will the president need it, or can he just dig his heels in?

David S. Broder: I agree with your assessment of Mr. Obey's skills, but so far his proposal has been treated coolly by the House Democratic leadership. I have a hard time speculating what the president would do were Congress to follow Mr. Obey's lead -- but it does not look likely it will come to pass.

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Arlington, Va.: I saw you in one of the early documentaries produced by Ken Burns on the Congress. You seemed actually to be in awe of the institution and somewhat amused by some of the characters that have sat there. Have you changed you mind over time?

David S. Broder: I don't remember precisely what I said to Ken Burns, but yes, I am in awe of Congress as an institution -- though not the way many current members are acting. I still find the congressional Record a source of entertainment, and I still love some of the characters up there -- for their individual eccentricities. But Congress as a whole has become far too bitterly partisan, and the Senate has lost its institutional self-respect, allowing individual members to hog-tie its proceedings.

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Mesa, Ariz.: I'm really tired of seeing political interviews on TV where the presidential candidate gets away with spouting rhetoric and bullet points for their platform, and does not answer the question. Why do the interviewers not insist on an answer to their question before moving on to another topic? I'm tired of this!

David S. Broder: I'm afraid that the reigning doctrine in TV journalism assumes a short attention span on the part of the viewer, and insists on quick-moving fast-changing talk. I think, with you, that slow and deep would be much better.

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Rochester, N.Y.: Glad you're back! I enjoyed your piece on the Cubs yesterday, but you neglected to mention the cruelest part of the story: Although the Cubs had a better record than the Padres, that year the Padres got home-field advantage so the networks could squeeze in another night game (this is when Wrigley still had no lights). The Cubs won both games at Wrigley and lost all three in San Diego. Talk about injustice.

Okay, now for my question ... you've been very critical of MoveOn and others for making what you regard as personal attacks. How are these attacks different from your own criticism of the Clintons, which often takes on a personal tone? You've used words like "dodgy" and "disgusting" here and in your column, describing Bill and Hillary. How is that different than MoveOn suggesting that Petraeus would betray soldiers by lobbying for more of a surge? Is an extramarital affair and or a bit of evasiveness at a debate really so much worse than misleading the public about a war?

David S. Broder: First, thanks for adding to my knowledge of that 1984 fiasco; I didn't know that's why we were stuck in San Diego for three final games. Damn.

Now, as to your question. I think my comment on Senator Clinton's debate performance as dodgy" was clearly a judgment about a particular event--a judgment, by the way, shared by many others. (But I must say, there's no evidence it hurt her standing with the public.) The comment about her husband's affair with a White House intern "disgusting" was, I would still say, well warranted by the circumstances. I think it cost Clinton two years of his presidency; it cost the country the best chance we ever had to fix Social Security and Medicare; and it also helped defeat Al Gore and elect George Bush. The ad accusing General Petraeus of "betraying" the country was a dreadful exaggeration of a policy argument into a personal assault on a man for whom I have, on the basis of two meetings, developed genuine admiration--a soldier doing his duty as he sees it under very difficult circumstances.

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Troy, N.Y.: Hi Mr. Broder. I would really like to learn your opinion on using tobacco taxes to fund SCHIP. Tobacco consumption by individuals below the poverty line is around 33 percent, with the nation as a whole around 22 percent. Tobacco consumption decreases even more with education. This seems like a regressive tax on the poor and middle class to pay for health insurance for some middle class kids. Should the Democrats be proud of this funding mechanism? Was something more progressive ever considered?

David S. Broder: I agree with you that cigarette taxes are a poor way to raise revenue; they are regressive. I would wish that Democrats would use the income tax to finance these programs. But there is a long history of "sin" taxes for social spending, so this is nothing new. And by far, the largest number of kids helped by S-CHIP are working poor families, not middle-class.

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Rochester, N.Y.: You write "but Social Security is also out of long-term balance." Could you be more specific? Are you referring to the fact that under relatively pessimistic projections, it will go under in 2048? It would be helpful if you would cite specific data rather than just repeating the Beltway mantra "Hillary is not serious about the serious problem of Social Security."

David S. Broder: I wish I had my Social Security file close at hand today, but you will have to be content for the moment with generalizations. Unlike Alan Greenspan, I don't carry all the data in my head.

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Burke, Va.: The anti-tax activists holed up in New Hampshire ultimately were captured by U.S. marshals who infiltrated their compound by masquerading as supporters. Do you think a similar tactic could be employed using real journalists disguised as Fox reporters to trick Bush into answering the question "do you consider water boarding to be torture"?

David S. Broder: It would be worth a try.

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Washington: David -- I have long admired your work. Couldn't someone make a somewhat clever campaign ad in which Clinton's answer to the question of whether she would root for the Cubs or the Yankees would figure prominently? To me that "answer" -- I would alternate rooting interests -- typifies her careful, calculating and ultimately "convictionless" posture. If she does not have the "courage" to say what team she roots for -- most likely because of some political calculation -- she really comes off as just another politician who is afraid to say anything. The folks I know in Iowa would probably respond very strongly if her feckless answer were broadcast repeatedly in an ad.

David S. Broder: I shared your incredulity at that non-answer, but somehow I doubt that baseball will be the driving force in this election.

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Fairfax, Va.: In your response to Princeton you say about Bush's use of the $83,000 figure that "the debate needs to be more serious than that," as if the idea that Bush et al used that figure knowingly to mislead people is inconceivable to you. This is a terrific example of how you give Bush a pass on his deceptions. There is a big difference in characterizing his statement as unserious versus fallacious. Perhaps you know that?

David S. Broder: I had already said it was false. I also think it is not serious.

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Detroit: Why is that so many political analysts seem to be insisting that Obama in particular has to create fights with Clinton in order to win? When he doesn't go for the much-hoped-for-and-hyped knock-out in debates, etc., it's treated as a major disappointment. Obama's less-hostile and more-productive way of dealing with people and issues is what his supporters would consider a much needed strength, not a weakness as so many in the press imply. Personally I'd like to see him conduct any future (hopefully presidential) debates with the same thoughtful and direct manner. I think he'd win with the public, if not the press! Thank you.

David S. Broder: Thank you for your comment. I have not recommended any tactics to Senator Obama--I'm not in the business of advising any candidate, nor do I think I have the wisdom to be a campaign manager. Senator Obama is campaigning as he chooses, and that is as it should be. Reporters should cover campaigns, not try to stage-manage them, in my view.

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Centralia, Fla.: Your conservative New York Times op-ed colleague writes about the collapse of the GOP: "Suburban, Midwestern and many business voters are dispositional conservatives more than creedal conservatives. They care about order, prudence and balanced budgets more than transformational leadership and perpetual tax cuts. It is among these groups that GOP support is collapsing."

Is he right? And is there a corollary for the Democrats, say maybe on immigration or...? Thanks -- great chats!

David S. Broder: I have great respect for David Brooks, as I told him when I saw him at a Fred Thompson speech this morning. His op-ed was fascinating, and I think is a plausible explanation for the disaffection which he and I have both noted among old-time conservatives. David has a sophisticated, philosophical explanation; most of them are not that articulate about their reasons, but the disaffection is real.

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Richmond, Va.: How far do you think the Republicans will take the Ethics Committee investigation into Craig? Even though the GOP was hoping the threat of an investigation would embarrass Craig into resigning, it appears he is not going to, so won't it just keep the issue out there? And what part will the Dems play? Would it be or not be in their interest to go along with an investigation?

David S. Broder: The Republican Senate leadership is in a quandary about Senator Craig, and I don't think they know yet what to do about a situation that most of them wish would just go away.

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Canton, Ohio: It seems to me the field of presidential candidates from both parties is very broad but not very deep. I have great difficulty believing I'll ever be enthusiastic about any one of them. Your thoughts on our choices?

David S. Broder: I am not quite as gloomy as you are. I think there are some talented people on both sides, but no one who has yet put together a compelling or complete view of what his or her presidency would be. That is partly because the fields are very large; partly because Iraq has occupied so much of the debate. But remember, we have more than a year before we must vote.

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Richmond, Va.: David, thanks for taking my question. Do you have any sense as to whether there might be a hidden Republican women's vote in support of Clinton in the general election if she gets the Democratic nomination? If so, in which swing states, if any, do you see it having the biggest impact?

David S. Broder: I don't know the answer to your question. Senator Clinton enjoys strong support among Democratic women in the polls, but I have seen no evidence yet of such a phenomenon among Republican women.

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Rockville, Md.: Flag pin or not? Who should wear it? Does it matter? I have some, but I hardly ever wear them.

washingtonpost.com: Obama Stops Wearing Flag Pin (AP, Oct. 5)

David S. Broder: I do not wear jewelry or adornments of any kind, so I have never had to decide on a flag pin. I do not judge people by what they wear on their lapel.

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Prescott, Ariz.: Is it worth pointing out that Republicans tried to sell us a Social Security plan that the experts said did absolutely nothing for long term solvency and added about $1 trillion in long-term costs to Social Security? And just to get this straight, if Clinton putting nothing on the table was not very helpful, can you tell me how preferable a plan that actually harms the long-term forecasts would be to you, compared to a non-plan?

David S. Broder: Thanks for your question. I was not a supporter of Bush's version of individual accounts. For the reason you stated--it adds to the long-term financing problem. I favor individual accounts as add-ons to social security.

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Helena, Mont.: Say that a Democrat is elected president and the Senate is Democrat about 55-43 with two independents. A Supreme Court vacancy occurs and our Democrat nominates a left-winger to replace him/her. Do you think the Republican minority will filibuster?

David S. Broder: That's a lot of supposes in one scenario. I have no idea what Republicans would do under the circumstances you imagine.

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Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: The way Hillary's teams are playing in the post season, she won't have to make a decision as to which to root for. So, which presidential contenders are supporting Colorado or Cleveland or Boston? Those are your winners! Thanks much.

David S. Broder: I think that points to Kucinich and Romney. How does that grab you?

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Re: Hillary and baseball: Isn't it common to root for one team in each league? I am a Red Sox fan in the AL and a Cubs fan in the NL. If they played in the World Series I'd have to go with the Sox, but in football -- where I root for the Niners in the NFC and the Pats in the AFC -- I really would have to alternate quarters if they played in the Super Bowl. I just can't see how that's strange. Why is it worth remarking on -- that Hillary likes one team in the AL and one in the NL? I'm the one who wrote in earlier about the lights in Wrigley, so I think I've proved by sporting bona fides here.

David S. Broder: You certainly have proved your expertise. And now I know that you have twice as many favorite teams as most of us, who stick with our hometown teams or the one we grew up rooting for. I'm happy you have found happiness with multiple loyalties. For me, it's one team and one wife.

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Anonymous: Sir: Kudos to President Jimmy Carter -- even at 83, I'd vote for that peanut farmer over the whole crop of folks running today .

David S. Broder: Please do not encourage him to run. We have enough candidates now.

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Mount Rainier, Md.: Mr. Broder, the president has finally gotten out the veto pen, instead of using signing statements to circumvent laws he doesn't like or agree with. Do you think this is a real sea change in how he intends to govern, or is it just another feint to keep the electorate, Congress and the courts from recognizing how much power he has seized for himself and his office these past six years?

David S. Broder: The White House says there may be a bunch more vetoes coming on appropriation bills that top his budget. I think he's discovered a new tool, and intends to use it.

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Minneapolis: If Al Franken should win the Senate race in Minnesota, do you believe that his humor and bluntness will help reshape/negate some of the "hubris" that is coming from the right wing political spectrum?

David S. Broder: No. One senator would not have that effect.

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Boston: Regarding the New York Times article on "severe interrogation methods": How can so few unelected administration lawyers have so much unchecked influence over a fundamental value of our country (whether or not we torture prisoners)? How can the same executive branch use unchallenged secrecy rules and national security claims to keep the legislative branch and judicial branch from providing a check and balance to the five to 10 people setting this policy (including Bush and Cheney)? Setting aside the key questions of morality and democratic checks and balances, does this policy foment more future terrorist plots than it purports to stop today (never mind the false leads) and undermine key moderate Muslim and other international support needed in the "war on terror"?

David S. Broder: I think all the risks you list are real, and what makes that kind of awful policy possible is a supine Congress and a lawless administration. The Republicans let things go unchecked for six years, and the country is paying a price for it.

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Bill's "diplomatic role": David: The Clinton campaign has been very careful to tiptoe around the question of "what's Bill going to do if Hillary wins?" Now he's saying he would foresee a diplomatic role after she said he wouldn't likely play a policy-making role. Is that really believable? After all, there are four people alive who know what it takes to do this job and he's one of them. Who wouldn't have him on hand to help with policy? Couldn't this actually backfire on her -- and frankly, doesn't it open the door for questions about their marriage (if they were really close, wouldn't she openly have him by her side)? Sorry to go there, but it's going to happen sooner or later...

David S. Broder: My own feeling, strengthened after reading Carl Bernstein's insightful biography of Hillary Clinton, is that Hillary and Bill are inseparable--both in marriage and in politics. She has been a full partner in his presidential decision-making and I have to assume he would be a full partner in hers. I don't think you can separate the two.

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Brookline, Mass.: Mr. Broder, a few weeks ago Katie Couric mentioned that NBC had pressured their journalists to tamp down criticism of the Bush administration. Last night MSNBC's Chris Matthews said that the Bush administration had leaned on him to reduce his critiques of their actions (or lack thereof). Very prominent conservative commentators have called for very bloody ends for employees of the New York Times in particular and "mainstream" journalists in general. How has this concentrated attack on the media shaped news coverage, and more specifically shaped the decisions the decider has made?

David S. Broder: Speaking only for myself, I can tell you I have felt no pressure from the White House and would not respond if I did. I have been lobbied by White House officials, to look sympathetically at their point of view, but I don't consider that pressure. So I have no complaints.

This has to be my last answer for today. Thanks for joining in. Dave Broder

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