Broder on Politics

David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, November 9, 2007; 2:00 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, Nov. 9 at 2 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." For a Neighbor, a Worrisome Drama in Pakistan (Post, Nov. 8)

The transcript follows.

Archive: David Broder discussion transcripts


Troy, N.Y.: I'm a graduate student in engineering and asked some of the Indian students how they felt about the turmoil in Pakistan. One is even going home for a month in a week. It didn't seem to bother any of them. Why do you think that is? The optimism of youth?

David S. Broder: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm happy to be visiting with you. On the first question, I can't guess why your fellow students are treating the situation in Pakistan so casually. When I was in New Delhi last week, people seemed very concerned about it -- and I think they are right to be worried.


Rolla, Mo.: I find Sen. Schumer's statement about Mukasey being a "bulwark" against extremists within the Bush administration odd based on the nominee's answers to non-torture questions. It seems that among the many things the Bush years will be remembered for, our practice of torture may be the most shameful, and extreme. How can the senator negate the refusal to answer this one question on extreme behavior by answers to other questions about less extreme behavior?

David S. Broder: You would have to ask Sen. Schumer to explain his decision. I cannot speak for him, and I'm not at all sure I agree with him on this question.


Washington: Dear Mr. Border: thanks for the chat. Where are the religious leaders in the debate on torture? Have I missed them? Are they silent? Has the media ignored them? I can't recall seeing statements from the Catholic Bishops, James Dobson, Pat Roberts, Billy Graham, whomever talking about it. It seems like an odd debate -- especially the values-mongers -- to not be more involved in. And, if I haven't missed it, and they've been silent ... what do you think that says about the state of our values? Thanks.

David S. Broder: I share your puzzlement at their silence on this issue. Its moral implications look pretty clear to me.


Oviedo, Fla.: Love your chats. It makes you seem fresher and younger and even more appealing than when I got your view via printed in the dead tree edition. Am I naive in my hopes that a Hillary (or other Democrat) administration would be less blatantly political at the level of federal departments? Will there always be people seeking "loyal Bushies" a la the Justice Department, when they should be seeking qualified candidates? And then there were the election-time briefings via Karl Rove to what were supposed to be objective (at least at work) feds. Par for the course, or up a notch? My hope is that this was over the top. True?

David S. Broder: The best clue to the likely character of a Hillary Clinton administration is probably the Bill Clinton administration. That one had some very capable people in it -- I think of Bob Rubin and Donna Shalala., etc. -- but it was also a highly political operation, with people like Rahm Emanuel and George Stephanopoulos looking out for the president's interests first and foremost.


Wheaton, Md.: I'm a liberal Democrat who holds little passion for Senator Clinton as our nominee. I'm religiously agnostic, but have an deep admiration for the teachings of the real historical Jesus. I find myself -- to my mortifying chagrin -- looking at Mike Huckabee and wondering why the hell I wouldn't vote for him if given the chance. It's so refreshing -- if not downright shocking -- to see an evangelical Republican who's not outright hostile toward everything that Jesus actually preached. Do you think the Republican Party has any inkling what kind of "crossover appeal" they have sitting in their bigoted, warmongering little hands? (As a P.S., I saw through George W.'s "compassionate conservatism" instantly, but this one seems to be the real article.)

David S. Broder: I share your admiration for Gov. Huckabee and I've been pleased to see evidence of his growing support in Iowa. He is still a long-shot for the Republican nomination, and the criticism he's getting from some of the evangelical leaders is not helping him. But I admire what he has done at home, and I think he knows the issues of health care and education that I care a lot about.


Montreal: So the Republican minority have supported a veto override. Does this bode well for bipartisanship on other bills? Is there any hope the current Republican strategy of blocking as much legislation as possible will relent on issues seen as broadly good for the nation?

David S. Broder: I don't think you can take the override of the veto on the rivers and harbors bill as a sign of things to come. The partisanship likely will return when they take up appropriations bills or anything related to Iraq.


Washington: What do you think of the idea of the President empowering three trustworthy and patriotic members of the opposition party to sit in on all intelligence reports, with the stipulation that they would report nothing to the public unless the president used national security tools (e.g. warrantless wiretaps) for partisan political purposes (e.g. listening in on Democrats' meetings, or hacking into their hard drives)?

David S. Broder: I think that would be a useful arrangement, if you could ever persuade the president to support it.


San Francisco: Hello, Mr. Broder and thanks for chatting today. Three times this election cycle, the liberal "netroots" have staged countervailing fundraisers when establishment officeholders held lobbyist- and fat-cat-filled events: for Darcy Burner when George Bush visited Rep. Reichert's district; for Rep. Tom Allen when Joe Lieberman staged a D.C. event for Sen. Susan Collin; and this past weekend when Donna Edwards raised more than $100,000 opposite a Nancy-Pelosi-headlined event for Rep. Albert Wynn. Do you think this newfound online strategy will influence event-based insider fundraising during the rest of the 2008 election cycle? Will incumbents be afraid of stirring the netroots hornets' nest and therefore avoid these insider-type events?

David S. Broder:


Bethesda, Md.: Last night on PBS I heard an interesting but hypothetical discussion of the use of torture by the USG. One man kept bringing up the ticking-time-bomb scenario involving a bus of school children. The thing that I haven't heard advocates of such hypotheticals address is that the public has every reason to believe that waterboarding has already been used by the USG. I haven't heard about any ticking bombs or exploding school buses. If you allow torture, someone will use it, and they won't wait for the terrorists to plant a bomb on a school bus.

David S. Broder: I agree with you. That's why torture and related practices ought to be outlawed specifically.


Silver Spring, Md.: I am very interested in your views on David Brooks's defense of Ronald Reagan's trip to Philadelphia, Miss., at the start of his 1980 campaign. In today's New York Times, Brooks take issue with the description of the trip as an appeal to racists Southern voters. But because Reagan did use the loaded term "states rights" and promise to give localities more control over their schools, I don't think his visit can be seen as anything but racist. This seems like ancient history, but history seems to repeat itself in these campaigns. See the Willie Horton ads, and then Gov. Bush's speech at Bob Jones University. So I would like to know your views on this issue. History and Calumny (New York Times, Nov. 9)

David S. Broder: Your question sent me to the New York Times, which I had not had a chance to read. I have great admiration for David Brooks, and even greater trust on his main source, Lou Cannon. I think both described the sequence of events at the beginning of Reagan's campaign accurately. I have never written or believed that Reagan deliberately appealed to racial prejudice, but I know such prejudice existed -- and exists -- and still affects our politics today.


Denver: Recent discussions have swirled around the question of the legality of waterboarding. My observation is that the reason that there are so many questions and challenges to torture techniques is not because of the one possibility of eliciting information from top terrorists but because Rumsfeld and Cheney set a course after Sept. 11 to change the U.S. position on torture, which filtered down to Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and secret detentions -- and has done huge damage to America's reputation worldwide. Do you see the discussion around waterboarding as part of a bigger analysis of U.S. policy toward torture?

David S. Broder: It is clearly part of the larger debate, and the debate is one that Congress ought to settle with some definitive language and action.


Naive question?: Hi Mr. Broder. I know that states moved up their primaries and that the RNC will punish them by taking away delegates. The naive question is this: Why would the states do this if it costs them delegates (influence)? Thank you.

David S. Broder: They are moving up in hopes of gaining influence in the selection of the next president. I think the process is out of control, and I hope the parties will step in before 2012 to rationalize the system.


Troy, N.Y., again: I was curious about your philosophy on how a senator represents their state. Here in New York, the last poll I saw had 55 percent opposed to Gov. Spitzer's license plan. I would hope Sen. Clinton would represent the interests of her constituents as opposed to baffling me with what she was trying to say.

David S. Broder: As a general proposition, senators probably should consult the opinion of their constituents but not feel bound by it. They are elected for long terms -- six years -- as senators of the United States, and are expected to use their best judgment on big issues as they arise. Obviously, facing election, they ignore public opinion at at their peril -- but there may well be times they feel they should vote against the wishes of most of their constituents.


Detroit: Can you tell me why Fred Thompson is running for president? It's obvious that his heart is not in it and he looks tired and bored on the campaign trail. This is probably the worst run campaign that I have seen in a very long time. Another Voice in the Choir (Post, Oct. 11)

David S. Broder: He says he is running because of his concern about the long-term financial and military security of the country. I agree with you that, so far, he has not made a compelling case for himself.


Pittsburgh: How much compromise on SCHIP is necessary for its supporters to cobble together veto-proof majorities in both houses?

David S. Broder: I think they are close now to finding that common ground on SCHIP. It should not have taken this long.


Los Angeles: You wrote: "But it was also a highly political operation, with people like Rahm Emanuel and George Stephanopoulos looking out for the president's interests first and foremost." These two had posts in the White House. As much as I might not like Rove, he mostly held political positions, which is fine. But it is the spreading of politically connected people throughout this administration that is worrisome going forward. My fear with the next administration, Clinton or not, is that the worst of the Bush tendencies -- secrecy, spying on Americans, the use of torture (rendition was Clinton policy) -- will not go away easily. Have you found presidents likely to give up something won by a predecessor?

David S. Broder: I would hope -- and I believe -- that spying and torture and other illegal activities are not on the agenda of the next president. I hope that the disgrace that surrounded the Justice Department in recent years shows the next president the importance of its being clean, professional and lawful.


Lake Forest, Calif.: Good afternoon ... I think Gov. Richardson could win the general election with less difficulty than the top-tier Democratic hopefuls. What do you think, and why do you think he has been unable to break into the top tier?

David S. Broder: Bill Richardson is an attractive candidate and a delightful human being. It is difficult for a governor of a small state -- remote from the main communications centers -- to command national attention. but he is making friends wherever he campaigns.


Fairfax, Va.: As an advocate of diminished partisanship in our national political discourse after six years of partisan conservative rule I am curious as to what you think of Prof. Marty Kaplan's case against the "idiocy of national unity." Prof. Kaplan says the American people want lawbreakers brought to justice and accountability restored. Can you cite any opinion polls that support your position that the American people want to ignore what has been happening? If the press doesn't hold Bush accountable and the people's congressional representatives won't hold him accountable in the House and the Senate, aren't we condemned to repeat the sorry history of the past six years?

David S. Broder: Marty Kaplan is an old friend, and I am reluctant to disagree with him -- but in this case I do. If you and he mean by your comments that you would like to see impeachment proceedings against President Bush and/or Vice President Cheney, I strongly disagree. The criminalization of policy disagreements is costly and unnecessary, and the last thing we need right now are more internal battles, yielding nothing.


Why would the states (move up their presidential primaries) if it costs them delegates?: Because they figure they can then make a big stink at the convention and get their full delegation representations back? They could play for the court of public opinion that the innocent citizens of those states were being deprived of their full voting rights.

David S. Broder: They may try for the sympathy vote, but they won't get it from me.


Washington: Regarding Huckabee's candidacy, the man does not accept the theory of evolution! Can we really afford another four years of a resident who is ignorant of -- if not antagonistic toward -- science? Will the media explore Huckabee's views on science, such as whether he believes the earth is roughly 5,000 years old -- as many fundamentalists believe? Sadly, I think the answer to both questions is "no."

David S. Broder: I know people who rule out Gov. Huckabee because of his view on evolution. I do not, and I do not find any hostility to scientific research in his record or his philosophy.


New York: Will you and the media ever apply as much scrutiny to the Giuliani marriages as you have done to the single Clinton marriage?

David S. Broder: I plan to leave both subjects alone.


Lafayette Hill, Pa.: You said earlier in this chat that "I have never written, or believed, that Reagan deliberately appealed to racial prejudice." Do you believe his use of the term "welfare queens" to not have been a deliberate appeal to racial prejudice?

David S. Broder: Welfare as an issue was always racially tinged, and so the term "welfare queen" had racial overtones. But the welfare system was also a legitimate subject for debate, and as you know, it was President Clinton who finally signed a major overhaul of that system into law.


Rochester, N.Y.: I liked your column from India a lot! My question is about this country, though. Current conventional wisdom is that voters care about issues -- like the war in Iraq, health care, immigration and so on -- whereas the media cares mostly about the personalities and personal lives of candidates (the Clintons' marriage, John Edwards' haircuts, etc.). Is it healthy to have such a disconnect between the interests of the voters and the interests of the media? Perhaps the media is right that Hillary Clinton's laugh is a better indicator of her abilities than her policy proposals, but if the public is more interested in policy proposals, shouldn't they get more coverage?

David S. Broder: Yes, I agree with you. And I am told that the same point will be made Sunday by The Post's ombudsman, Deborah Howell, in her column in the paper.


Re: The man does not accept the theory of evolution!: Well, there are lot of fundamentalists out there who agree with him.

David S. Broder: I know, and as one who believes in evolution, it does not bother me that some of my fellow citizens disagree. I think the country can live with that disagreement.


Kansas City, Mo.: I was intrigued by the question posed above by "San Francisco" about competing fundraising events. On my screen, however, I don't see an answer next to your name. Is that a technical glitch, or did you simply want to let the question stand without comment?

David S. Broder: A technical glitch. What I wrote was that I don't really know how fundraisers will react to this development, but, like you, I find it very interesting.


Woodbridge, Va: I know you have written several times about the 2008 election being too long; but do you think Helen Thomas may have had a point when she told Tim Russert it was a good thing, because by the time of the election we will know all there is to know about these candidates? I am not a big Thomas fan, but I think she is right on this one. Frankly, if the 2000 campaign had been as long as the 2008 campaign, President McCain would be about to retire and the world would be a much better place.

David S. Broder: I think some learning takes place along the way, but stretching the process out over two years makes learning harder, not easier, I think. Too much time is wasted on trivia, and the big points get lost.


Difficult for a governor of a small state, remote from the main communications centers, to command national attention: Oh, I dunno. Clinton and Carter managed somehow.

David S. Broder: Both of them understood they had to connect to networks of people outside their home states well in advance of running for president. Carter left the Georgia governorship and spent all of 1974 traveling the country on behalf of other Democrats. Clinton became the leader of the Democratic Leadership Council, its national spokesman, and the head of the governors' association. He built a national platform for himself. Richardson did not do those things.


Anonymous: Who would you say is in a better position right now: Rudy Giuliani -- with leads in the national polls, high name recognition, and seemingly having overcoming a lot of voters' doubts about his ability to appeal to social conservatives -- or Mitt Romney -- with leads in the early states, concerns about his authenticity and religion, but social-issue stances more in line with the base of the party?

David S. Broder: I think Romney has a slightly better chance, with Iowa leads and strength in New Hampshire. But I think the Republican race is still very fluid, and I do not assume that John McCain is out of it.


Elkhorn, Wis.: Other than a few farmers, we've had few presidents with primarily a business background. Herbert Hoover is the only one that comes to mind. Why do you think this is, and does being a businessman hurt Romney?

David S. Broder: I suppose that lawyers have a propensity for politics, but should point out that the current president, George W. Bush, had a business career before politics. I do not think it hurts Romney that he is also a Harvard MBA, and his success in managing a private investment firm and the Utah Olympics is part of his resume that he talks about.


Hearne, Texas: David, why can't it be told that this administration is allowing this economy to go into the tank. They have made their buddies more money than they can use. Why is that it looks like they are trying to break the bank? We have said you can break the laws of this country and nothing will happen to you all who work in this White House.

David S. Broder: I think the economy is shaky, and that will be a big problem for Republicans if a recession happens next year. I can't join you, however, in blaming everything on lawless behavior by this administration. Where they are wrong, I think they should be criticized, but that indictment is too broad for me to accept.


Follow up to Fairfax, Va.:... I'm sure most would agree with you that the criminalization of policy disagreements is not appropriate grounds for impeachment. I think Fairfax is tapping into the sense that issues such as our apparent practice of torture and wiretapping in derogation of the Fourth Amendment aren't "policy disagreements" but something much more serious, and are concerns that to a certain extent transcend party lines. I'm not in favor of impeachment (it was partisan enough the last time around, I can't imagine it would improve this time) but at the same time, what does it say as a country if you let such basic rights slide? Not real sure of the answer on that one.

David S. Broder: This has to be my last question, and it is a good one to go out on. I think you fight them every step of the way when they are wrong, and you try to get Congress to block the actions you think improper. But I don't think the next step is impeachment. That is a radical remedy that ought to be saved for times you really need it.

Thanks to everyone who participated.


Washington: I don't really have a question but wanted instead to share my new hero -- the Iowa waitress who supposedly got stiffed out of a tip by the Clinton campaign. Despite NPR and Drudge reports, it seems that a tip was in fact left at the diner and, in response to a New York Times reporter's question, the supposedly stiffed waitress had the following lovely quote, which I think we should all take to heart:

"You people are really nuts," she told a reporter during a phone interview. "There's kids dying in the war, the price of oil right now -- there's better things in this world to be thinking about than who served Hillary Clinton at Maid-Rite and who got a tip and who didn't get a tip."

This is from this morning's New York Times. I wonder how often reporters hear this type of thing and neglect to include it in their coverage. Clinton Gets an Instant Chance to Wield a New Weapon (New York Times, Nov. 9)

David S. Broder: One more comment. To the waitress in Iowa: Amen!


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