Broder on Politics

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David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Tuesday, January 15, 2008; 12:00 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Tuesday, Jan. 15 at noon ET to answer your questions about the world of politics, from the latest maneuverings on the campaign trail 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: For a Neighbor, a Worrisome Drama in Pakistan (Post, Nov. 8)

The transcript follows.

Archive: David Broder discussion transcripts

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Edinburg, N.Y.: Mr. Broder, I have to laugh at the Bloomberg love-fest. Who do they think they're kidding? These aren't bipartisan politicians, they're has-beens. The Democrats are all conservatives who last were heard from stabbing Clinton and their own party in the back when they were trying to balance the budget in the '90s with no GOP help whatsoever -- where was the bipartisanship back then, and were you criticizing the GOP in the '90s? As for Bloomberg himself, a multi-billionaire in the mold of Perot, this guy has been a doctrinaire supporter of the Iraq War -- perhaps the leading one in the entire state of New York -- right from its inception, even going so far as to propel the Cheney propaganda about how the war is appropriate revenge for the World Trade Center! He has no credibility as a bipartisan politician, and the only thing bipartisan about him is that he's deserted both the Democratic and Republican parties in his pursuit of power. Hardly inspiring, and not persuasive to anybody.

washingtonpost.com: Bipartisan Group Eyes Independent Bid (Post, Dec. 30)

David S. Broder: Welcome, everyone. I look forward to your comments and questions. Let's begin with the Bloomberg one. You clearly have strong feelings about the mayor, and you appear to know him much better than I do. My impression is that he has been effective in his current job and in his previous private endeavors. The one thing I question in your comment is your assertion that the people who met with him in Oklahoma were people who sabotaged the Clinton presidency. I don't think that holds true for the principal sponsors from either Democratic or Republican parties. Most of them supported Clinton on fiscal policy, and on social policy as well.

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Portland, Ore.: Aren't former presidents expected to stay above the fray of politics? I know it would be difficult for Bill Clinton to stay out of his wife's campaign, but I find his actions from the past few weeks highly disturbing. Not only is he involved in the campaign, but he seems to be relishing slinging mud and triangulating the Democratic base. Is he damaging his legacy? I looked forward to this election because it would mean that George W. Bush finally would be going away. Now I am beginning to realize I hope the Clintons and their divisive politics also go away. I never thought I would say that, as I always liked Bill when he was president.

David S. Broder: Yours is one of several comments I have heard critical of President Clinton for his tactics on his wife's behalf. In New Hampshire I spoke with past Clinton supporters who shared the view you express -- that he had taken liberties with his support and used it for rather narrow personal ambition.

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San Diego: Mr. Broder, there has been tremendous speculation about how Hillary Clinton pulled out a victory in New Hampshire against the wisdom of the polls. Was it really her emotional moment, or is there another explanation? How did the operations of the Clinton and Obama ground games play in? Thank you.

David S. Broder: I don't think we yet know all the factors that went into Sen. Clinton's victory, but I give most of the credit to her backbone and courage in fighting off the sense of defeat that infected her campaign after Iowa.

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New York: Hello, Mr. Broder. I was just wondering if you still anticipate President Bush's approval rating will rebound before he scuttles out of office. Considering it just keeps getting lower and lower, what do you think it will take for people to change their minds about him and his presidency? To wit: Just 32 percent of Americans now approve of the way Bush is handling his job, while 66 percent disapprove; Bush's work on the economy likewise has reached a new low; and he shows no gain on Iraq -- despite reduced violence there -- with 64 percent say the war was not worth fighting, two points from its high.

David S. Broder: I remain of the view that President Bush's place in history will be determined largely by the outcome in Iraq. That was the biggest policy gamble of his presidency, and only if that country emerges in better shape can it be counted as a success.

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Atlanta: Hi David. Last week, Chris Matthews had Tom DeLay on his show, which made me wonder what his legal status is right now. Isn't he still under indictment in Texas? When is his trial scheduled? Why is his opinion remotely relevant?

David S. Broder: He is under indictment. I do not know what the trial schedule may be.

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Bellevue, Wash.: Good morning. It has always seemed to me that a presidential candidate's exact policy prescriptions bear little or no resemblance to what happens after the candidate is elected. This is why I pay more attention to character, leadership style, oratorical ability, etc. It really bugs me that the TV pundits continually attack me as flighty and superficial for concentrating on the "fluff." Just a comment.

David S. Broder: What you are watching is not "fluff" but the essential parts of presidential leadership. Your focus is not misplaced.

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Avon Park, Fla.: Why do news organizations still do national polls at this point during the primaries? They're not relevant now that voting has started. Donors decide whether or not to give to a candidate based on performance in previous states, not national polls. I also don't hear the news media letting the national polls shape how they cover the primaries; they're covering them based on vote tallies.

David S. Broder: I agree. The national polls are relatively meaningless once the primaries begin -- and of limited value before that.

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Washington: What is the difference between Hilary and McCain on Iraq? In one of the debates she said she would not promise to have the troops out by 2013 -- so how is she different on Iraq from the Republicans?

David S. Broder: Sen. Clinton has promised to begin redeploying troops out of Iraq as soon as she becomes president. Sen. McCain says any such promise is tantamount to admitting defeat. That is a pretty basic difference.

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Atlanta: Thanks for doing these chats -- I really enjoy them. Two questions: First, if you had to handicap the Clinton/Obama contest, do you see one or the other having an edge right now? I notice in the futures world, Clinton seems to be given the advantage. Second, I'm an Edwards fan, but it seems time now to be realistic. It doesn't require much insight to suggest that if Edwards dropped out -- especially if he endorsed Obama -- it would boost Obama's prospects. Given the slim-to-none chance now that Edwards will be the nominee, and the prospect that such a move would seem to promote the principles underlying Edwards's campaign and earn him a good deal of gratitude, why not do that?

David S. Broder: I cannot handicap an Obama-Clinton race to make one a clear favorite. Both bring substantial strengths to the contest. From a purely tactical point of view, Sen. Edwards may help Sen. Obama by staying in the race, at least through the South Carolina Democratic primary on Jan. 26. In 2004, Edwards won South Carolina with his support from white voters. Assuming that Obama will get most of the black votes there, Edwards could deprive Clinton of some white support.

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New York: Mr. Broder, some have have called for systemic changes like line-item vetoes, better governance of corporate influence, and electoral and voting reforms -- which candidate is most likely to bring about these kinds of changes among the Democrats? If Congress gains more Democrats, would that make a difference, or does the system require independents to make these kinds of changes? If this is the case, how could that come about? Thank you.

David S. Broder: I don't think you can get a categorical answer to your question. Republicans are more likely to press for a line-item veto than any of the Democrats. And the question of combating special interest influence is more difficult than any of the Democratic candidates wants to concede. Clearly a more independent Congress would help on the last point -- but that requires changing our system of campaign finance.

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Dallas: Mr. Broder, what is your take on Bush wanting to spread democracy in the Middle East, but being unwilling to confront Saudi Arabia, which has one of the worst human rights records around, and which recently flogged a rape victim? If he is so hell-bent on spreading democracy, why doesn't he push it with them instead of Iran?

David S. Broder: It perhaps has come to your attention that we draw large amounts of oil from Saudi Arabia and still have military bases in that country.

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Scottsdale, Ariz.: Mr. Broder -- illegal immigration, the War on Selected Terrorists, the subprime lending debacle, OPEC and the price of oil, the trade deficit, the falling dollar, the climate/environmental crisis, and decisions on how to succeed in Iraq and Afghanistan are all on the table for 2008. Which of these issues do you see as the primary cause for a Republican victory in November?

David S. Broder: It will not be the economic issues. The Republicans' best hope is that their nominee once again will be seen as the best bet to keep the country safe from attack.

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New York: How much credit/blame do you give to the media for the Clinton campaign's "sense of defeat," prior to New Hampshire? Seems to me, the New Hampshire vote was more a vote against Chris Matthews (and his "journalistic" ilk) than for Sen. Clinton. Any more soul-searching on the part of the media here, or has it "disappeared," after all those half-hearted mea culpas heard during egg-on-media-face day?

David S. Broder: I think you may be underestimating Sen. Clinton's contributions to her own victory. That was an impressive four-day campaign she ran.

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Washington: Tears in New Hampshire -- real or fake?

David S. Broder: I was not there, but her emotion seemed genuine to me.

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San Francisco: President Bush is just two months away from Harry Truman's record of 38 months without majority approval, according to the new Washington Post/ABC News poll. Additionally, he's "strongly negative" by better than a 3-1 ratio in the poll. Care to speculate on exactly when we can expect that bounce? And do you agree with the White House that he'll end his term at 45 percent?

David S. Broder: I do not know when or if the president's approval score will improve. But I think, as I said before, that Iraq is the key for him.

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Burke, Va.: Mr. Broder -- several weeks ago, you wrote that the Republicans have a ready-made "integrity" ticket in John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Do you stand by that assessment? Who do you think would be on the Democrats' "integrity" ticket?

washingtonpost.com: Granite State Grit (Post, Jan. 10)

David S. Broder: I've seen no reason yet to revise my judgment about the appeal of a potential McCain-Huckabee ticket for Republicans. Democrats have many more options, and I have no special wisdom to share on that subject.

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Falls Church, Va.: When President Bush commuted Scooter Libby's sentence, Sen. Clinton stated that it was "another example that this administration simply considers itself above the law." Can't the same be said for the senator and her husband when they occupied the White House?

David S. Broder: Some of the pardons that President Clinton issued are at least as questionable, but Senator Clinton says she had no part in them.

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Helena, Mont.: I know you are intrigued by the idea of a third-party and especially Mayor Bloomberg entering the race for president. But let's assume Bloomberg did run and win -- who would be his constituency? Would he have to do what Bush is doing, make the presidency a unilateral office and fend off congressional and judicial balancing? Quite frankly I don't understand how having a third-party president gets anything done unless that president uses executive orders and just does what he wants to do. We have had that for past seven years and it is not appealing to me -- I value the checks and balances.

David S. Broder: I value checks and balances too. The best answer I can give you is the success that Gov. Schwarzenegger is having in California. He was elected, in effect, as an independent, and has almost no support from Republicans in the Legislature; yet has been able to parlay his public support into effective partnership with a Democratic legislature.

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Savannah, Ga.: Mr. Broder, do you think the Democratic voters currently deciding between Obama and Clinton realize that neither one of them will pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq -- and as a matter of fact that either would keep U.S. troops in Iraq into the indefinite future?

David S. Broder: I cannot vouch for what voters know, but both candidates certainly have made it clear that they contemplate a residual force of some size remaining in Iraq for considerable time.

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London: Sir, as an admirer of Lady Margaret Thatcher, we Brits are interested in your country's debate about whether Hillary is tough enough for the job. Do you think Bill Clinton is hurting her chance to be seen as strong enough on her own two feet to defend the United States? If Sen. Hillary fails to win the nomination, would it be fair to say that too much Bill took away the chance for Hillary to be the first woman president?

David S. Broder: I think you raise an interesting question. She has shown her strength in this campaign, but I also believe that the prospect of having two Presidents Clinton in the same White House is one that is troublesome for many voters, who know the American system of government does not allow for divided responsibility at the top.

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New York: Mr. Broder, we're hearing a lot these days from the GOP side about voter fraud. I was wondering if you could explain what all the hubbub is about here. Are there any instances of precinct voter fraud that successfully have been prosecuted in the U.S.? I know part of the attorney general scandal had to do with U.S. attorneys who wouldn't bring spurious cases to court and then were fired, but given that you are in the trenches of reporting, perhaps you can provide me with a good/recent example of this "voter fraud" we're all supposed to worry about?

David S. Broder: There have been allegations of such fraud in every closely contested election I've covered, going back to 1960, but proof almost always is lacking. I don't want to sound naive, but I think our elections are remarkably honest.

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Boca Raton, Fla.: You said "the Republicans' best hope is that their nominee will once again be seen as the best bet to keep the country safe from attack." Given that there is no way to remain "safe from attack," aren't the Republicans relying on false hope and fearmongering?

David S. Broder: No, I disagree. I think the public wish to reduce the threat of another attack is both prudent and understandable, and the fact that we have gone more than six years without such an attack also suggests it is not illusory.

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Re: Schwarzenegger and Bipartisanship: And because of this "bipartisanship," California is entering a worse economic pickle than they had with Gray Davis! Wouldn't partisan fighting and bickering that leads to true compromise be better than simply having every "bipartisan" politician drive toward the center or risk being labeled an evil partisan? Our country has run on a two-party partisan system for hundreds of years! Why should that change now?

David S. Broder: The bursting of the housing bubble had more to do with California's fiscal problems than anything Schwarzenegger has done. I am not opposed to two-party politics, but when partisanship reaches the level it has in Washington and blocks important action on so many vital issues, you have to look for ways to break free from its constraints.

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Richmond, Va: I understand that 35 percent to 40 percent of the culinary workers union in Nevada is made of illegal aliens; what controls are in place to insure that these folks don't participate in the caucuses on Saturday?

David S. Broder: I don't know if your estimates are at all accurate and I don't know what procedures have been put in place to qualify people for voting in the caucuses.

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Birmingham, Ala.: On the race debate, how to the Democrats manage to ignore the failure of Southerners like Robert Byrd, Fulbright and Gore Sr. to supporting the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Why not mention how President Eisenhower had an impact on the rights of black citizens by sending federal troops to protect the Little Rock Nine?

David S. Broder: I'm not at all sure that history has been forgotten. I certainly remember what President Eisenhower did, but I would like to check the record on Al Gore Sr. I do not recall him as an opponent of civil rights legislation.

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Arlington, Va.: None of the candidates has a realistic proposal to save Social Security from bankruptcy, and no one seems to be asking them for one. Do the media have their head buried in the sand along with a majority of the American public?

David S. Broder: That's a bit of an overstatement. Fred Thompson has described in detail a proposal to balance the Social Security system, and both John Edwards and Barack Obama have indicated a readiness to raise the cap on Social Security earnings taxes in order to reduce the looming deficit.

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Ferguson, Mo.: G'day Mr Broder. What's your current take on the nomination timeline? When do you think we reasonably can expect the Democratic race to be decided? Morning of Feb 6? And what about the Republicans? Might McCain wrap it up by then or soon thereafter? If so, what will you guys (not to mention all Americans) do with your time between Feb. 5 and first week of November?

David S. Broder: I think it is likely but not certain that we will know the nominees on Feb. 6, and I think the general election campaign will focus on the many big differences between the parties on both foreign policy and domestic affairs.

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San Francisco: Mr. Broder, I'm a fan of your columns, but only because they give me a clear sense of what tactics the Washington establishment will use to attack and undermine the progressive movement within the Democratic party. Can you do anything to dispel my belief, shared by hundreds of thousands of other readers, that you are a Republican partisan who uses the canard of "bipartisanship" to attack the progressive movement? Thanks for your response.

David S. Broder: I think you will make your own judgment on my work, but I think your interpretation would astonish many Republicans who hardly regard me as their agent or spokesman.

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Reading, Mass.: Isn't it more the so-called "conventional wisdom" of the pundit class that is declaring Romney out of the nomination fight if he loses Michigan than reality on the ground for a well-funded candidate? How soon the lessons of New Hampshire have been forgotten.

David S. Broder: Gov. Romney has invested heavily on three states -- Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan. If he fails to win any of them, it is hard to see where else he can pin his hopes. That is why Michigan is so important for him.

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Houston: Mr. Broder, why is everyone making such a fuss about President Clinton campaigning for his wife when all of the other candidate's wives are campaigning for them and have been a strong force in their campaign? In my opinion, this is a pretty ridiculous argument that he should back off when all of the other spouses are speaking loud and clear.

David S. Broder: Perhaps it is because none of the other spouses carries the prestige of being a former president of the United States.

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Kansas City, Mo.: After reading the story on Afghanistan in the Post today I have to wonder if Afghanistan should be the true test of Bush's legacy. Also why didn't (or doesn't) any Democrat ever come up with a "Finish Afghanistan First" plan?

washingtonpost.com: Allies Feel Strain of Afghan War (Post, Jan. 15)

David S. Broder: Afghanistan was a far less controversial decision than Iraq, and has entailed far less cost to U.S. standing in the world.

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Tonsberg, Norway: Please be honest -- what are the chances for Barack to be the president of U.S., and what would you advice him to do so that he could win the nomination?

David S. Broder: I don't advise candidates, and as I've said before, I find this Democratic race much too close and competitive to hazard a guess on the outcome.

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Charleston, S.C.: Will the Republican establishment stand by and watch two rogues potentially win this race? After 2000, I have to wonder if we will see some dirty "tricks" to undermine either the Huckabee or McCain ticket. Does this do more harm than good to the Republican Party?

David S. Broder: The Republican establishment has had a hard time identifying its candidate this cycle, so it may not be in a position to block a nonestablishment challenger.

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Hillsborough, N.C.: What is your opinion on the lawsuit in Nevada filed by the teachers union, which would prevent some people from caucusing?

David S. Broder: I have not been in Nevada, but it strikes me that this comes very late in the day to be taken seriously.

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New York: In Nevada, you need to register to vote. Once registered, you need a signature match to actually vote. Same in most states. This worry about illegal immigrants voting is just racist fearmongering hooey, in my opinion. Unless they're citizens they can't register. Unless their signature matches, they can't vote. Simple as that!

David S. Broder: Thank you for clarifying the matter.

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New York: Mr. Broder, thank you for mentioning the importance of foreign policy for the GOP in 2008. On that issue, what is the likelihood of McCain or another nominee to select Secretary of State Rice as their vice president because of her strength on foreign policy and international relationships for the next Republican White House?

David S. Broder: I think that is possible, but even among Republicans, there is considerable sentiment for change from the Bush policies, and Secretary Rice clearly is identified with those past policies.

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Reality Check: Birmingham, Ala., was a bit disingenuous there. Everyone knows that Lyndon Johnson pushed for and signed the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960s, and that he remarked at that time that he had just lost the South for the Democrats for a generation. Sure enough, all the segregationist Democrats became Republicans, and there is still a core of white supremacist constituency in the GOP today, not in the Democratic party. David Duke was yours, not ours. Anyway, these aren't the same parties as existed in the '60s. Scranton, Rockefeller and Eisenhower never would survive a Republican primary today.

David S. Broder: Your history is accurate, and the change you describe is very real.

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Rockville, Md.: I keep hearing about how the Republican candidates all dislike Romney. Why is that?

David S. Broder: He is viewed as opportunistic.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Re: Al Gore Sr. -- he voted for the Civil Rights Act, and his Tennessee constituents repaid him by throwing him out of office. Just to set the record straight.

David S. Broder: Thank you. That part of the earlier question did not jibe with my memory.

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Arlington, Va.: As a liberal Democrat in the Washington area, I want to convince the man from San Francisco that Mr. Broder is definitely not a Republican partisan.

David S. Broder: Thanks for giving testimony.

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Boston: Can you explain superdelegates? Why does Democratic party use them while the Republicans do not in primaries?

David S. Broder: The superdelegates were invented to assuage the hurt feelings of elected and party officials who found themselves shut out of conventions in 1968 and 1972 when anti-Viietnam forces won the primaries in their states. Republicans never felt the need.

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Re: Arlington: Do any of those Social Security proposals have a realistic chance of being passed into law by Congress during the next two to four years? Because Congress took three extra months to pass an annual budget, and ducked the looming issue of Alternative Minimum Tax creep, my bet would be no. Shall we wager lunch at your favorite hot dog stand?

David S. Broder: You're on. In four years, anything is possible, even Social Security.

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

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