Broder on Politics

David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Wednesday, August 13, 2008; 12:00 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Wednesday, Aug. 13 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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Detroit: Did you or the Washington Post know of the Edward's story before it broke in the mainstream media? If so, why did The Post not pursue it? You would think when a major presidential candidate is making honesty and character an issue and putting his wife in the midst of his campaign, such a story would be legitimate to pursue.

David S. Broder: Good day to everyone. I'm looking forward to hearing from you. Speaking for myself, I was not aware of the Edwards story before this past week, and I was shocked as anyone could be at the news.

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Richmond, Va.: Does it annoy you that so much of the Democrats' convention is being turned over to the Clintons (two speeches, language in the platform that the campaign had some "sexist" bents to it, her supporters having large demonstrations without being reigned in)?

David S. Broder: No, it does not annoy me. I'm content to leave it to the Obama campaign to plan the convention as they wish.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hi David. Can you explain why Mike Huckabee is being disrespected by the media? They seem to be promoting Romney for vice president, when it's obvious that Huck would be a much better choice. McCain likes him more, he connects with voters, he's a great public speaker and his economic message resonates with voters, especially in today's climate.

David S. Broder: As you may know, I am a fan of Gov. Huckabee. I wrote a long time ago -- in 2007 -- that if the Republicans wanted to win in 2008, they would nominate a ticket of McCain and Huckabee. I haven't changed my mind.

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Richmond, Va.: I know that it is silly to be spending time on a scandal when there are more important things going on in Georgia, but what were John and Elizabeth Edwards thinking? If Mrs. Edwards really knew her husband had had this affair in 2006, how could she have encouraged him to run? Just bizarre.

David S. Broder: Good questions, but I haven't a clue as to the answers.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Mr. Broder, first congrats on your 400th appearance on "Meet the Press"! My question -- isn't Obama allowing McCain to brand him as "not ready to lead" early on, a brand that will, in my view, stick in voters' minds and be as hard to erase as the Swift-Boating of Kerry was?

David S. Broder: My impression is that the negative attacks have had some effect, but I spent Monday at the Obama headquarters in Chicago and I did not discern much worry there.

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Charlottesville, Va.: Most of the media is yawning at the accusation of bias in the disparity in reporting on political scandals. With Democrats like Edwards or Clinton (Newsweek refused to print Isikoff's story until Drudge broke it), you sit on the story until it's impossible to ignore. But the New York Times printed rumors of a 10-year-old McCain affair with only anonymous sources and no other corroboration. It looks to all the world like you actively are supporting Democrats. With Edwards, it's now apparent that the media happily spun lies about Edwards the Family Man when you knew he was cheating. Shouldn't we now view your glowing coverage of Obama with a jaundiced eye?

David S. Broder: There are a whole bunch of assumptions in your question. I was very critical of the New York Times coverage of the McCain "scandal." I have said already that I had no knowledge of the Edwards affair -- and was part of no "cover-up." And I think the coverage of Sen. Obama has been appropriately critical -- and admiring when it deserved to be.

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Re: Huckabee: You write "as you may know, I am a fan of Gov. Huckabee." Does that mean you support his national sales tax idea and believe that the earth is 6,000 years old? Or does personality matter more than policy, here as elsewhere?

David S. Broder: No. What it means is that I dealt with him for 10 years as governor of Arkansas and as chairman of the National Governors Association, and I admired his record in office -- especially on issues of education and health care that are important to me.

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Houston: Mr. Broder -- I am a large fan of your work, and consider you a balanced and insightful reporter. As such I was disappointed by your column regarding the negative campaigning by both Sen. Obama and Sen. McCain. You imply that, had Sen. Obama accepted Sen. McCain's town hall challenge, the tone of the campaign would have been different.

Why would you expect the tone to be anything different, based on the history of Republican presidential campaigning for the last 40 years? From Nixon in 1968 and especially 1972, to Bush the Elder's Willie Horton ads, to Bush the Younger's claiming of Republicans as the "party of American values," Republicans have campaigned by attacking the Democratic candidate and painting him as weak, liberal and un-American. Why would you expect this year to be any different?

washingtonpost.com: A Way Back to the High Road? (Post, Aug. 7)

David S. Broder: I wrote that because I know that John McCain is not any of the Republican presidents you cite. Talking this week with George McGovern, I was reminded that Richard Nixon refused to debate him in 1972. Contrast that with McCain's invitation to Obama for as many as 10 additional debates or town halls this year. As you know, Sen. Obama told me that he too believes debates make for a more substantive, less petty and negative campaign.

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Anonymous: David: except for the fact that it was thirty years ago and McCain was not the object of national coverage at the time, how, realistically, is what John Edwards did any different than what John McCain did? My point is, if Edwards is to be rightly condemned as despicable and narcissistic, a cheat and a liar when it comes to his family, shouldn't McCain also be condemned unless he explains what he has learned from leaving his crippled first wife for his rich, trophy second wife?

David S. Broder: I prefer to judge politicians on their public records, rather than their private lives.

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Re: Speaking Fees: A few weeks ago, the paper's ombudsman, Deborah Howell, wrote a critical piece about your acceptance of speaking fees and the fact that you have spoken before groups that lobby Congress on several occasions. How much do think this revelation hurts your credibility? Personally, I find it difficult to take you seriously on any of the issues (like health care) where you accepted fees and accommodations from advocacy groups in the area.

washingtonpost.com: When Speech Isn't Free (Post, June 22)

David S. Broder: You certainly are entitled to judge my work by whatever standard you wish. I simply would point out to you that I have never accepted a speaking fee from a health care or medical group since I started covering that policy area 16 years ago.

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Follow-Up Answer: I don't know the etiquette of these online chats, but someone who called themselves a research scientist wrote in near the end of the earlier one with Michael Shear to ask if either candidate supports an increase (you could also call it a restoration) of federal support for research science. The answer is this: According to a report I heard on NPR yesterday, this is a genuine area of disagreement. Obama supports full funding at pre-Bush levels, maybe even more, which he casts in terms of global competitiveness on science and technology. McCain is not anti-science at all, but does see budget tradeoffs with national security, etc., and does not support such an increase in basic scientific research funding, simply because of competing priorities.

David S. Broder: Thank you. I hope those who were watching Michael with you read your contribution.

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Baltimore: Which candidate is appearing to be stronger in their statements on/approach to the Georgia/Russia crisis? At first I thought McCain definitely came across more presidential, but after reading both speeches I'm not sure. Your thoughts?

David S. Broder: McCain was quicker on the draw, because of his familiarity with Georgia, but I thought both senators gave appropriately strong comments.

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Baltimore: As I recall the story of the town hall debates, McCain demanded 10 town halls, Obama counteroffered with two town halls (one on Independence Day, one just before the Olympics) and McCain never got back to him. Sounds like one side wasn't interested in debating or negotiating, and it wasn't the Obama side.

David S. Broder: You certainly are entitled to your own interpretation, but I do not read the exchange as you do. McCain "invited" Obama to 10 town halls, he didn't demand" it. Obama delayed in answering and then offered two -- one on Independence Day and the other some time in August. Everyone I know regarded that as a brush-off -- especially the Independence Day offer. And that has been confirmed by Obama's declaration that he will do three debates -- and only three debates -- this fall. He has every right to run his campaign as he wishes, but I think he missed an opportunity to do something of value -- not only for this campaign, but as a precedent for future campaigns -- that could have been as important as the institutionalization of fall debates thanks to Kennedy, Nixon, and Jerry Ford.

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Knoxville, Tenn.: Mr. Broder, thank you for your time. I respect your long work in your field. Simple question: Will anything pierce the McCain "maverick" image and show him for what his voting record is, a true GOP conservative? I find his environmental ads offensive, given his voting record, along with his 'flip-flop' on torture, given his personal history.

David S. Broder: Since John McCain proclaims himself as a "Reagan conservative" at every opportunity, I hardly think it is a secret. I'm no fan of his negative ads, but for the reasons I just cited in the previous answer, I hold Obama partly at fault for the current tenor of the campaigns.

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New York: David, I am wondering something after reading Matt Bai's New York Times article about the new black politicians and The Post's recent Alec MacGillis story about Obama's challenge with older voters in Pennsylvania. Could it be that Obama doesn't see or recognize the racism in many of those who are "unsure" about him? According to Bai, it seems that younger black politicians don't view racism as the threat that their predecessors did; and some of the voters' comments in the MacGillis story struck me as racially based, not age-based. I'm just wondering if racism, however subtle, is at work, but we just don't want to admit it. Thanks.

David S. Broder: My impression is that there is an undercurrent of racism in some of the comments I have heard from voters about Sen. Obama. But overall, I think he minimizes this reaction by his statements and actions, and I have seen evidence from his Illinois Senate campaign and several of this year's primaries that it may not be a crippling problem for him.

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Northern Virginia: I think the town halls decision was a clever tactical maneuver in the political chess game between candidates. It would have worked if Obama had become the nominee in February or March, but becoming the nominee on June 2 left him with a huge to-do list between then and the convention. After having his schedule completely dictated by primaries right up to that point I think he really needed the latitude of a wide-open calendar, not a weekly event to get to and respond to as McCain wished.

I am content that both candidates have held numerous town halls on their own, both in other campaigns and in this one, and will have regular debates in the fall (one, I believe in a town hall format). I don't think that Obama declining McCain's gambit on this means Obama is "going negative." Negative campaigning -- meaning smears, slurs, and racial or age-related code words and images -- is an entirely separate topic unrelated to schedule issues.

David S. Broder: Thank you for your eminently sensible response. It was my impression that if Sen. Obama had accepted the concept of joint town halls, Sen. McCain was perfectly willing to negotiate the number and timing. I also believe both men are right in saying that the spillover effect of the joint appearances, early on, would have been to minimize the resort to negative ads and picayune fights.

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Chicago: Hey David, congratulations on your 400 "Meet the Press" appearances. Given the military, economic and diplomatic support we give Georgia, would Georgia launch the invasion of South Ossetia without getting some sort of green light from Bush/Cheney? Has any reporting shed any light on why the Georgians felt so emboldened as to attack South Ossetia?

David S. Broder: Thank you for the congratulations. I'm sorry to disappoint you but I cannot shed any light on the Georgians motivations or the role, if any, of the U.S.

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Surfside Beach, S.C.: The issue of nationalized health care seems to have receded into the background. As a member of the working poor, I feel this issue is closely tied to the economy, because when you are surviving on $500 a week, any illness means that you automatically are behind on your rent, etc. Why do the Republicans consistently give the impression that you can be treated at the ER for no cost? That bill must be paid at some point, otherwise you can't get any credit, or even a lease to rent an apartment. Is it possible for us to vote for a referendum in order to go to not-for-rofit health are?

David S. Broder: You make a very good and important point. I know of no way to institute national health care by referendum, but when it has been attempted in California, it has been voted down.

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Princeton, N.J.: Explain why Obama's restriction to three debates gave McCain the right to run vicious negative ads that are also false (see FactCheck.org).

David S. Broder: Senator Obama made the same point in the interview with me published last week. I don't see it as a "right" to run a negative campaign, but I do believe that joint appearances reduce the likelihood of such personal attacks.

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London: What is your read on the accuracy of Ron Suskind's most recent allegations that the Bush administration fabricated documents to press the false Iraq-Sept. 11 connection?

David S. Broder: I have no evidence that would support such a claim.

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Presumptuous presumptive: I wonder where the line is for being presumptuous? Sen. Obama was pilloried by some for speaking too 200,000 Germans in a broad American speech which was light -- appropriately, to me -- on policy. This week, we have yet another country bolstered by promises of support by a President Bush (Bush Sr. encouraging the Iraqi Shiites comes to mind), and Sen. McCain comes out with increasingly bellicose statements. I do not agree with still-president Bush on much, but he is president and I feel that in the middle of a crisis, McCain's statements were presumptuous and less than helpful. Do you disagree?

David S. Broder: No, I do not. I thought both senators McCain and Obama were careful in their reactions to the Georgia crisis to make it clear that they were speaking as individuals, not presuming on the president's prerogatives. And both were essentially reinforcing President Bush's own message to the Russians to cease and desist.

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Boston: What would you advise Obama to do in response to negative advertising? Ignore it, as John Kerry did? Respond? Is it your opinion that Obama is initiating the negativity?

David S. Broder: I don't have any advice for politicians. But from the voters' perspective, negative ads become much less important and influential when the candidates are talking substance--as would have been the case in the town meetings.

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Attack Ads: Mr. Broder, I get what you are saying about the overall positive contribution debates make in a campaign, but I must point out that the primary debates hardly were "civil" on either side, and the 18 debates Obama attended and participated in sure did not decrease the negative/personal attacks from the Clinton campaign, right?

David S. Broder: Right. But if you noticed, when things threatened to get out of hand, as in South Carolina, the next debate cooled the atmosphere and put a lid on the attacks, at least for a while.

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Political Scandal: Hello -- I actually regard reporting of political scandals as an important means of evaluating a candidate's judgment. Edwards's affair was a huge lapse in judgment. President Clinton's was as well, but he was fortunate to already have won re-election by the time that story broke. That is why such a revelation is important, regardless of the fact that it is a "personal" issue for the candidate. Does judgment in such issues matter less than judgment in, say, foreign affairs?

David S. Broder: You make a very good point. As a strong critic of President Clinton for lying about his actions, I certainly agree with you. But I also think voters are wise in the way they make their judgments. They were obviously skeptical about Sen. Edwards this year; hence, his failure in the early primaries. And they probably made the right judgment in "sentencing" Clinton to finish out his term as President.

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Chaska, Minn.: Do you think Michael Mukasey is doing the right thing by refusing to prosecute those who broke civil service laws in the Justice Department?

David S. Broder: No, I do not. I can understand his reluctance to turn the guns on his own subordinates, but the need for accountability overrides that, in my view.

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Boston: I am curious about why people get so excited about town halls. As someone who follows campaigns, do you find that the questions are much better then in a regular debate? The lack of ability to follow up if the candidate squirms off in another direction is a huge liability with them, in my opinion. I would love a table discussion where the candidates just spoke with each other a given issue for 45 minutes or so.

David S. Broder: A table discussion has many advantages, I agree. But the virtue of town halls is that voters ask about things that really matter to them, and that is rarely the tactics of the campaigns. And having both candidates present cuts down on filibustering and evasions.

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Oviedo, Fla.: My vote for Hillary Clinton was not counted in the primary. Thanks for saying NoBama should consider her and saying it recently. I guess it is a done deal she isn't "it," but I think she should be -- and 18 million people agree with me.

David S. Broder: I'm sure you have company, but my impression is that she will not be offered the vice presidency.

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Crystal City, Va.: One of Sen. Obama's early statements on the Georgia-Russia conflict called on the U.N. Security Council to take action to stop the Russians. Does he not understand that Russia holds a veto on Security Council resolutions? Even if a resolution could be passed, the U.N. is just a corrupt gas bag with no power to enforce or do anything.

David S. Broder: I expect that it slipped his mind; he was, after all, on vacation.

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Anonymous: Mr. Broder, I also want to offer congrats on the "Meet The Press" record and perhaps put you on the spot by asking who you think would be a good choice as host? To give you some wiggle room, you can offer more than one name.

David S. Broder: Thanks. I have no idea what NBC will do, but I thought David Gregory handled the round table Sunday very well.

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Northern Virginia: I recently re-read Robert Reich's book "Locked in the Cabinet," which is a great analysis of the obstacles to change in Washington, many of which still familiar. It bears re-reading! Not surprisingly, Reich despised Dick Morris's role in advising President Clinton. After a sex scandal causes Morris's downfall, Reich describes how Morris's former deputy takes his place with the same tactical line of advice. I absolutely was floored to learn on re-reading the book that this junior guy was Mark Penn. I realize I'm late to the party with this discovery, but did the Dick Morris approach to politics continue on among the Clintons through the voice of Mark Penn, or do the two men now disagree?

David S. Broder: I am not a friend of either man, and I have no idea what their relationship is now. I don't admire their approach to politics.

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Re: What were John and Elizabeth Edwards thinking? : My two cents: I don't have the insights on how any other couple works out their issues, but answers have been provided and the public basically is saying "your answers are not acceptable, more information must be provided." It has been said we don't get the government we want, we get the government we deserve. This level of scrutiny will continue to keep away anyone really qualified. Why volunteer for this treatment?

David S. Broder: I can think of dozens of examples of good men and women in both parties who endure the scrutiny because they live upright lives and take their public responsibilities and personal obligations seriously. We are not short of such characters.

I have to go back to work now. I've enjoyed our session.

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