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Broder on Politics

David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, June 6, 2008 12:00 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, June 6 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."

The transcript follows.

Archive: David Broder discussion transcripts

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Pittsburgh: If the Democrats make big gains in the Senate, will Lieberman switch parties? If Connecticut held the election today, would he be returned to office?

David S. Broder: Good day to everyone. I doubt that Sen. Lieberman voluntarily would switch parties, but there may well be a question if the Democrats next year will offer him membership in their caucus. I can't judge the Connecticut situation; haven't been there this year.

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Arlington, Va.: Thanks for continuing these chats despite taking the buyout. Obama's statement about an undivided Jerusalem remaining the capitol of Israel at the AIPAC meeting was well-received, but his back-tracking on his pledge ( see this Jerusalem Post story) seems to have been missed by most of the U.S. media. Did he just misspeak during his speech, did he go too far and display his lack of foreign policy experience, or did he just get caught pandering to an important Democratic voting group?

David S. Broder: It could have been any one of those three things, but my guess is that, with the rush of events at the end of this long contest, he probably did not review the staff-written speech as carefully as he should have. But it looked sloppy and amateurish.

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Bronx, N.Y.: Every four years we get this spectacle of the major presidential candidates trooping down to AIPAC to swear their unconditional love and fealty to Israel. Do you think this is a good thing? Will peace ever come to that region if the U.S. is simply a financial and military backer of whatever wealthy American backers of Israel say that this country needs? Has this relationship, as it has evolved in the past two decades or so, truly benefited the U.S.?

David S. Broder: I think there are many benefits to the United States from its relationship with Israel -- having a pro-American, democratic ally in that part of the world is no small thing. But we cannot subordinate America's interests in the region, which are larger than that, to an excessive sensitivity to Israeli government policy.

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Kingston, Ontario: I have two questions, Mr. Broder. First, is it a realistic option to think of Hillary Clinton on the Supreme Court? I'd think she'd be formidable there, but would that be seen as a good use of her talents and political capital? Second, does the GOP really expect to win any votes by blocking debate on climate change in Congress, as they seem to have done today?

washingtonpost.com: Senate Republicans Block Climate Change Bill (Post, June 6)

David S. Broder: If Sen. Clinton were interested in being on the Supreme Court, she certainly has the intellect and work ethic to do the job. But I never have heard her express such an interest. The Republican stance on the climate bill was not aimed at producing votes -- it was designed to keep the flow of campaign contributions running.

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Re: Your Response to Pittsburgh: Lieberman's re-election should be Exhibit 1 for not going on vacation after securing a political nomination -- especially for a relative newcomer to the scene.

David S. Broder: Is that what happened? I thought Lamont had sunk in a deeper pool of voters.

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Crestwood, N.Y.: So the Senate report -- supported by two Republicans -- supports the conclusion that we all reached several years ago, that Bush and Cheney used propaganda and ginned up intelligence to trick the country into war. If this is not an impeachable offense, what do you define as one? And if an impeachable offense is committed, isn't it the height of irresponsibility for the Democrats to put possible harm to their electoral chances (negligible, in my opinion) ahead of their oaths to the Constitution? How will history look back at this disgraceful chapter in both the executive and legislative branches?

washingtonpost.com: Bush Inflated Threat From Iraq's Banned Weapons, Report Says (Post, June 6)

David S. Broder: You'll have to forgive me, but I am reluctant to see every big policy dispute turned into a criminal or impeachable affair. There needs to be accountability, but there also needs to be proportionality. This country is engaged in two wars and has serious, serious domestic problems. To stop everything and attempt to impeach and remove a president who has less than a year to serve would not strike me as the best use of our energy. And for what? So Dick Cheney can be president?

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St. Paul, Minn.: Mr. Broder, thanks for chatting with us today and sharing your expertise. What do you think of Sen. McCain's call for town hall meetings with Sen. Obama? McCain obviously thinks that format will help him, but are there downsides as well (i.e. doesn't putting them on stage together highlight his age and Obama's vigor?). In general, how do see the complicated issues of age and inexperience playing out in the months ahead?

David S. Broder: Thanks for your question. I've written a column for Sunday praising the idea of early and and frequent town halls for the two presidential candidates. It would be an effective way to get some substance into this campaign, which it badly needs.

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San Francisco: How powerful is the Israel lobby? How many delegates/votes do they contribute. I was a bit disappointed to see Obama take the traditionally aggressive stance against Iran for the sake of pandering to an AIPAC audience.

David S. Broder: I can't put a number to it, but Jewish voters are influential through their participation in politics, both with votes and contributions.

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Northville, N.Y.: I just throw this out because I found it so funny: There was a recent article online making the comparison between Nixon's unfortunately dark and glowering appearance at the debates in 1960 and McCain this year. You see, many people now have high definition television, and his pasty color and skin issues probably will make him an unattractive visual counterpart to Obama at the debates. Cosmetics run our lives! Do you ever look at what our politics and government have become and wish you could "uninvent" things like television?

David S. Broder: No, in part because I have too many friends working in TV, and because I love watching baseball.

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Columbia, Md.: Considering McCain's extremely lackluster speech the night Obama cinched the nomination, do you think it is a good idea for him to propose going one-on-one with Obama in the "town hall meetings"? I don't think the comparison between their speaking styles would benefit McCain.

David S. Broder: McCain has done well in the joint appearances with other Republicans; better perhaps than Obama did in the Democratic debates? I can't judge in advance how they will do with each other, but I do think it will be substantive and in good spirit, and I welcome that.

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Keyport, N.J.: Mr. Broder, great to have you back chatting with us. What is your take on the beefed-up INS raids on immigrants who used false identification to gain employment? Dicey issue for either side, but sure to be an issue in November -- do you agree?

David S. Broder: All aspects of the illegal immigration issue will be debated this fall, but as you know, McCain and Obama have almost identical positions on the pending legislation.

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Connecticut: Speaking as someone from the infamous 2nd Congressional District in Connecticut (and as someone who actually voted for Lieberman when he ran against the now-disgraced former mayor of Waterbury, Phil Giordano), I can say, Lamont didn't lose because he "went on vacation" -- he just struck people as trying to buy himself a Senate seat, without any real experience.

But I also can say that the state, despite having a Republican governor, in 2006 created an (almost) completely Democratic congressional delegation. Rob Simmons lost to Joe Courtney, and Chris Shays -- who is not conservative, is very well liked and respected, and is on the right side of the sub base issue -- nearly lost his seat. I'm not sure Lieberman could survive if he became a Republican -- he already has alienated a lot of the people in the state because of his alliance with certain more conservative parties. The next election will be interesting to say the least.

David S. Broder: Good, I like going to Connecticut. I have grandchildren there.

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Washington: This scares me "I was a bit disappointed to see Obama take the traditionally aggressive stance against Iran for the sake of pandering to an AIPAC audience." Iran is the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism. They sponsor stateless armies that just basically overthrew the government of Lebanon, and have committed against against us in Iraq, Africa, South America, etc. Not to mention their negative influence in the Middle East peace process. Nobody is pandering to anyone. Iran -- the government, not the people -- is about as evil as you get in the real world.

David S. Broder: I agree: Drawing the line on Iran is not necessarily pandering to Israel. But how does one reconcile that speech with Obama's earlier statements on Iran policy? It certainly seemed different in tone.

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Northern Virginia: Let me see if I can get a two-fer question in here: What impact will a Cubs World Series win have on the vote in Illinois?

David S. Broder: The coming Cubs World Series will serve as a fitting prelude to the election of another Illinois president, and a few of us may sober up in time to vote.

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Wokingham, U.K.: Could the important thing about Obama's Israel speech be that he did not close the option of negotiating with (rather than simply threatening) Iran. Would that alone put a clear policy difference between him and McCain? Meanwhile, I suppose that the borders of what is called Jerusalem and proclaimed to be undivided can be defined in different ways.

David S. Broder: I like that theory. As President Clinton might say, it depends on the definition of Jerusalem.

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More Re: Your Response to Pittsburgh: Yes, Lamont went on vacation for a week or so, which gave Lieberman time to plan and initiate his comeback. While we don't know what would have occurred had Lamont not gone on vacation, it seems likely Lamont would have improved his chances had he kept Lieberman on the defensive and not taken off as a reward for winning the real prize.

David S. Broder: Thanks for the additional information.

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New York: If Clinton doesn't become the vice presidential nominee, does that mean that this was her last best chance to win the presidency ... unless Obama loses? If he wins, she'd have to wait until 2016 to run again, and at that point would have to face the incumbent veep.

David S. Broder: I think after the events of this year, we ought to take a holiday from political prophecy. Whothehell knows what will happen next?

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Minneapolis: Aren't you ignoring the fact that McCain has backtracked significantly on illegal immigration? He said recently that he wouldn't vote for the bill he originally proposed.

David S. Broder: As you may have noticed, I tend to discount some of the rhetoric coming out of the candidates during the primaries. They often know better.

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Monmouth County, N.J.: Has the issue of public financing been resolved for both candidates, or is there still some questions about how McCain tried to skirt around some of that fancy legislation he co-wrote?

David S. Broder: The question of public financing for the general election has not been resolved. And the McCain campaign is still litigating issues from the primaries.

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Raleigh, N.C.: Good afternoon. One of the underlying issues in the Democratic primary was that older women thought this would be their last best shot at a woman president. My mother was inclined to vote for Hillary for that specific reason. But it seems to me that if Obama picks a woman, she immediately becomes the Democratic frontrunner for 2012 or 2016. Do you think such a pick would assuage the more alienated Hillary supporters? Or is their investment in the person, rather than the gender?

David S. Broder: I have only anecdotal evidence, but my impression is that many of the women who have been supporting Sen. Clinton would be pleased to see someone like Gov. Sebelius on the ticket.

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Rolla, Mo.: With each new revelation in the Libby-Plame affair I ask you whether you have changed your opinion that it was a "tempest in a teapot." Have you read Scott McClellan's book, and/or are you aware of anything in it that would cause to to reconsider your characterization of the incident?

David S. Broder: I have not yet read Scott McClellan's book, but the reports about it did not contain anything startling. President Bush is incurious? Really?

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Impeachment: But when they started proceedings against Nixon, we had both the Cold War and a far more bloody affair in Vietnam, and the vice president at the beginning was the laughable and unqualified Agnew. It didn't seem to stop the Congress at that time from doing their duty. What's the difference this time? Are the present representatives midgets compared to people like Peter W. Rodino? Or don't you think a president dragging us into war with Iraq under false pretenses is that big a thing? Don't we risk making this type of conduct acceptable for future presidents -- just like the failure to really punish Iran Contra came back on us later?

David S. Broder: How did Iran-Contra come back to haunt us later?

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Anonymous: Are you working on another book? How many books will they write about the 2008 election, do you suppose?

David S. Broder: Yeah. And a lot.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Pundits often say that the veep doesn't really make a difference in an election. But how true is this? In light of the racism and misogyny faced by Obama and Clinton respectively, I can't help but to wonder if Gore would have won without a Jewish running mate. If we have all these racists and misogynists, it would seem likely that we have plenty of anti-Semites -- and I'd guess plenty more than the number than made up the slim margin of defeat.

David S. Broder: That's a new theory of the 2000 election. Unless you think those Buchanan votes on the butterfly ballots in Florida were intended for him, I don't find much evidence to support that belief.

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Sloppy and amateurish?: Re: Obama's flip-flop on Jerusalem. I'm sorry, but I'm not buying that Obama's under-24-hour change of position is simply inadvertent sloppiness. He was so desperate to win over his audience that he placed himself to the right of the Israeli government. That's just plain political opportunism. Obama's speech was so fawning that it was not credible in the least -- particularly for somebody with his stable of advisors, both formal and informal. I doubt if 5 percent of the audience believed what he said, because they are old hands at hearing one thing at the AIPAC conference and another outside it.

David S. Broder: I was perhaps being generous. You interpret the speech as you wish.

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New York: Before the willful deceivers have a field day in here, Connecticut exit polls were clear: Lieberman beat Lamont because two-thirds of Jewish Democrats crossed over to vote for him. This is a big canard being offered by Jews who vote Israel first, the U.S. second.

David S. Broder: Okay, I'm gonna let you guys fight it out. I don't have a dog in that fight.

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Fresno, Calif.: What significance do you see in the North Carolina 3rd District Republican primary, where Rep. Walter Jones was challenged on his Iraq position and won by 20 points? Jones has been a vocal opponent of the Iraq war in the past few years, and the district includes a very large Marine Corps base.

David S. Broder: I would say it shows he has a very strong hold on his district -- not a surprise.

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San Luis Obispo, Calif.: It is always such a privilege to be able to submit a question to you in these chats, Mr. Broder. If the issue-oriented campaign we hope for actually materializes, which two or three issues do you think will be decisive in the election? It is seeming increasingly clear to me that domestic issues -- health care and the melting-down economy -- will be critical. I do think the next president can do something about health care, as every other developed country seems to manage it better than we do, but of course the president's influence over the immediate economic future is exaggerated greatly in the public mind.

David S. Broder: I expect to see a great deal of focus on jobs, health care, energy and, of course, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Re: Illegal Immigration: You write "I tend to discount some of the rhetoric coming out of the candidates during the primaries." But when a candidate portrays himself as a straight-shooting maverick -- when that's what his entire appeal is -- shouldn't he get some flak for saying he was for it before he was against it, as McCain is doing with his own immigration plan?

David S. Broder: Of course, McCain and Obama should be accountable for their statements. But if I am trying to judge what policies they will pursue, I'm more likely to look at their voting records and their actions in Congress than their words at any moment on the campaign trail.

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Minneapolis: What are the standards you use for choosing which comments to disregard? How would you suggest that us -- as voters -- apply a similar logic? How are we to make the proper assumptions about when a candidate is lying or not?

David S. Broder: I'm with Reagan: Trust but verify. The best standard is to look at what the candidate did when he was operating in the real world, not just the campaign world. If you can see what values and forces are most important in making up his mind, then you have a pretty good basis for judging what he might do. It's not foolproof however -- I certainly was mistaken in my assumptions about George W. Bush.

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Redding, Conn.: Enjoyed your video piece on RFK. Seems to me that Obama, for all his claims to the contrary, is a '60s-type figure. Did you read George Packer's article in the New Yorker about how conservatives starting with Nixon successfully have played voters by hyping threats to our security? Do you agree with Packer's analysis, and do you think Republicans will be able to brand Obama as a threat to the established social order, our military strength, our national interests, mom, apple pie, etc.?

washingtonpost.com: The Fall of Conservatism: Have the Republicans run out of ideas? (May 26, 2008)

David S. Broder: I went part way with George Packer's argument, and I do think those themes will be used against the Democrats again this year. But in some ways, McCain is more of a throwback to Teddy Roosevelt Republicanism than he is an exemplar of the Reagan-Bush brand.

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Charleston, W.Va.: I found your earlier answer about Sen. Lieberman interesting. With his open support for Sen. McCain, does he have a future in a Democratically controlled Senate? I would assume he is attempting to secure a cabinet post in a McCain administration. Thoughts?

David S. Broder: That sounds plausible to me.

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Farmington Hills, Mich.: Mr. Broder, I completely accept your argument against impeachment at this time. I do feel, however, that the country needs Bush to answer for some of his dubious acts. He has made a real mess of things, to highly understate the current domestic and foreign U.S. situations. What can the American people do in terms of holding him accountable? Right now it looks like he will retire a millionaire and suffer no consequences, unlike a majority of the American people.

David S. Broder: It is certainly fair to lay the failings of the Bush administration at the feet of the Republican Party and its candidates. Beyond that, we probably have to wait for history to render its judgment.

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New York: Speaking of women on the ticket, what do you think of the rumors McCain might go to the business world and pick a woman as his running mate? (Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman are mentioned.)

David S. Broder: Certainly possible.

I have to go back to work now. Thank you all for joining in today.

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