Broder on Politics

David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, September 26, 2008 10:00 AM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, Aug. 26 at 10 a.m. 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


Buffalo, N.Y.: The roller coaster this week got me thinking: If we assume the McCain/Palin ticket loses in November, will Palin become the de facto head of the Republican Party? It seems like her selection is a tremendous boost for the social conservative wing of the Republican Party, and she certainly appears to be a polarizing influence on the party itself. What would her emergence as a major player mean to the future of the party?

David S. Broder: Good morning, everyone. What a moment! I hope we don't have more calamities during the next hour together.

The question about Gov. Palin is intriguing, but I don't think we can judge much until we see how she fares in this campaign. In any case, under the circumstances you describe, her role as a potential party leader almost would certainly be challenged by some of those who contested the 2008 nomination with Sen. McCain -- Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee and perhaps others.


Greensburg, Pa.: I'm amazed that executive pay continues to be a stumbling block in the bailout. Is there really no one in the United States with a high degree of business acumen who would step up to lead a troubled business during this time just because it's the right thing to do, without a guarantee of making more money than God? Has it really come to this? Bush talks a lot about patriotism -- shouldn't he be calling on it now from the business sector?

David S. Broder: Good point. But this president has not called on anyone except the troops and their families for sacrifice.


Prescott, Ariz.: The House Republicans and McCain are acting in a deeply unserious and partisan fashion. It must kill you, knowing how much you favor bipartisanship over pretty much everything else. How badly are you going to chastise them on Sunday?

David S. Broder: I have not written my Sunday column yet, but if the impasse continues, I certainly will try to put the blame where it fits.


Ann Arbor, Mich.: Thanks for chatting in this busy season for you and all on The Post. Short phrases and misleading commercials have been the rule in this presidential race, despite the promises from both sides. Do you think there are any forces that might change strategies like this in future elections? It would be wonderful if candidates went back to talking with the press, answering questions rather than sparring through surrogates, and being straightforward.

David S. Broder: Amen. I share your frustration with the tawdry nature of this campaign. As you know, I thought McCain's offer of joint town meetings promised a better course, but now things have descended to insults and cheap shots. I once suggested that the newspapers boycott campaigns unless and until candidates agreed to regular press conferences, but that is not practical either, so I am stymied on how we change this dynamic.


Asheville, N.C.: I see a lot of commentary that Main Street needs to recognize its role in this mess. For a lot of us out here, this isn't about populism -- rich people versus average people. It's about values -- people who live within their means versus people (and a government) that refuse to. Combine that with an absolute lack of trust of politicians of all stripes, and so many bills are coming due at once that it makes my head spin. That's a long preamble for this question -- if John McCain really wants to help, why can't tonight's debate be turned into a national discussion on the bailout plan? Isn't building popular support for a plan -- any plan -- more critical than D.C. backroom echo chambers?

David S. Broder: You said a mouthful. It would be far better to have this discussion as scheduled than to leave people wondering what the next president will do about this mess.


Atlanta: Mr. Broder, is this bailout becoming just another political football? If so, that would be remarkable, and truly sad for our country. Could you share your unvarnished thoughts on the matter? Thank you.

David S. Broder: I am no economist, but I take the warnings from the Treasury secretary and the Federal Reserve chief very seriously. This is a time where action of some kind is better than inaction, even if corrective steps must be taken later. I hope Congress -- and the House Republicans in particular -- will deal with realities.


Anonymous: The House Republican proposal contains a suspension of the capital gains tax for two years, which they claim will help ensure participation in the "rescue" plan. Will they be able to pull off appearing as acting for Main Street when in reality they are protecting the wealthy?

David S. Broder: I doubt that that kind of fundamental change in the tax system will be part of any rescue plan.


Re: Town Meetings: You fell hard for the McCain excuse that it was Obama's decision to opt out of town halls that justified McCain's nasty, inaccurate ad campaign against Obama. Are you ready to buy his new line using the town halls as an excuse to skip the debate as well?

David S. Broder: No, that is not my position. I thought and think that the town meetings were a worthwhile innovation. I do not think that their rejection justifies false and misleading ads.


Seattle, home of Washington Mutual: Does yet another bank failure mean that McCain has to find another excuse to avoid a debate, or will he get a Bush Bounce after skipping the debate and insulting Americans who know that debates occurred during the Civil War, Vietnam and both World Wars?

washingtonpost.com: U.S. Forces WaMu Sale As Bank Sinks (Post, Sept. 26)

David S. Broder: I want the debates to go forward, but I have to question your history. The first presidential debates occurred in 1960.


Columbia, N.C.: Are members of Congress who are now opposing the economic rescue plan sufficiently knowledgeable about the ramifications of not acting, or are they viewing the situation naively?

David S. Broder: I think they are responding to what they take to be public opinion at home. As with the immigration bill and some other issues, the talk-radio/populist reaction to this proposal is quick, loud and emotional -- and the House Republicans particularly are prone to give it great weight.


Hampton Cove, Ala.: This is a quote from Barney Frank in 2003: "These two entities, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are not facing any kind of financial crisis. ... The more people exaggerate these problems, the more pressure there is on these companies, the less we will see in terms of affordable housing." Why in the world would we allow this fool to be in charge of a $700 billion bailout?

David S. Broder: I don't think Barney Frank would be in charge of the bailout. He is one of several congressmen trying to figure out how to get out of this mess.


Anonymous: Palin's choice as vice president invigorated a part of the Republican Party, but what effect has it had on the party as a whole? Sarah Palin, one heartbeat away?

David S. Broder: As I said earlier, I don't think we can judge Gov. Palin's impact until we see her in more open, exposed situations, rather than the sheltered life she has led so far on the campaign trail.


Arlington, Va.: Did you ever think that in an election year you'd see the Democrats actually siding with the Bush White House, or the Republicans trying to block Bush legislation? What does this show about each party and putting aside differences in order to better the country?

David S. Broder: As I've said in earlier answers, I think the burden is now very much on House Republicans to step up to the challenge of this almost unprecedented financial crisis.


Washington: I know I'm in the minority on this, but honestly, I am perfectly happy to have the first debate moved a few days so that both presidential candidates can participate in hammering out a plan that we will have to live with for decades to come. Given the magnitude of the dollars and the potential effect on the economy, I can't think of a better use of their time and energy. If fact, I might not watch the debate if they hold it tonight, because I would have lost respect for both candidates if they put getting elected ahead of determining how to save our economy.

David S. Broder: It would not be terrible, in my view, to postpone the first debate for a few days, but the practical problems in a postponement are serious. What happens to Sunday night and Monday night football? I do think it important for the country to have this long exposure to the candidates answering thoughtful questions.


Scotia, N.Y.: Was reading "The Boys on the Bus," from back in the '70s, and you are quoted back then as being so disgusted with the artificial manner in which Nixon ran his campaign that you quit covering it. The integrity of our elections, in this view, was at stake, because there was no genuine expression of views by the candidate in a nonmanaged setting -- just made-for-television productions in front of hand-picked participants. You know, it doesn't look like things have gotten any better ... and there were no 529s, partisan cable shows or 30-second attack ads back then. I'd say it's far worse. You disagree?

David S. Broder: No, I don't disagree. The one improvement has been the return of presidential debates, which Nixon refused. And now those debates are in jeopardy.


Phnom Penh, Cambodia: If Senator McCain is busy in Washington, has it been suggested that he could send Vice Presidential Candidate Palin to the TV debate with Sen. Obama? If not, why not? If elected, she has to be ready stand in for the president at any time.

David S. Broder: That thought crossed my mind as well -- but I doubt that the McCain camp would agree.


Pittsburgh: It's really hard to trust anyone in this debacle. About 80 percent of us went along with the idea that war in Iraq would be quick and easy. Now Congress is flooded with calls from irate constituents who don't want a bailout. I'm not happy about it either, but I'd rather these decisions be made on some rational basis. Who do you see as the most knowledgeable among our leaders in the House and Senate?

David S. Broder: I think the senior Democrats and Republicans on the Banking Committees of the Senate and House have been working conscientiously on this. I have less confidence in the party leaders on both sides of the Capitol.


Candidates hammering out a solution?: Are either Sen. McCain or Sen. Obama on the relevant committee? Was it significant that the Obama campaign sent a Senate staffer with the candidate while the McCain camp sent a campaign operative to Washington?

David S. Broder: Neither senator is on the relevant committees. I don't know the significance of the accompanying aides.


Glen Allen, Va.: David, you're The Man! So, help me here, please. I'm listening to people like Sens. Shelby, Graham and Hatch, and they are against The Paulson Plan. The plan, as I understand it, is that three-page ditty with no oversight, accountability, reciprocity, etc. That's fine, everyone objects to that! But I thought we were well past this point. Even Bush's speech covered the elements that everyone had issues with. And the framework yesterday afternoon also covered these issues. So, what are the Republicans objecting to? What alternatives are they offering? Or are they still back at square one, objecting to a bailout in the first place? Enlighten us, please.

David S. Broder: As I said in response to an earlier question, the House Republicans appear to be responding to the populist pressure from home objecting to a bailout of Wall Street. I have not seen enough substantive discussion of their proposed alternative to be able to judge whether it is practical, but Paulson and Co. apparently do not think so.


Stuart, Fla.: I seem to get an inordinate number of calls from political and other pollsters -- two in the past two weeks. Is this logical under the supposed random selection, or is there a list of people they keep polling?

David S. Broder: No, there is not such a "target" list. But living in Florida, the classic swing state, probably means that you are being polled often by many independent groups.


South Riding, Va.: Why don't U.S. senators and congressmen see themselves as people who can bring leadership and change to Washington? From the earliest days of the primaries, there was talk about Washington needing new leaders and someone who could bring change; the people talking were already in Washington, and in my opinion in a position where they could show that they have what it takes to lead their party and to strike agreements that cross the aisle. For some reason, they all thought that the U.S. only had room for one leader, in the Oval Office.

I don't know that I completely support John McCain and all that he stands for, but I do respect the fact that he was willing to go back to Washington and do his job and work to find a solution to the current problem. In my mind, that is what leaders do -- solve problems, not just talk about problems that need to be solved. Why couldn't Obama, Clinton, McCain and the others do this in a non-election year? I challenge all of our representatives to step up to the plate and be true leaders. Don't worry about party politics -- work to find the best short- and long-term solution to our problems.

David S. Broder: I agree. I would say this: As critical as I have been of Congress, it is only fair to note that the "Gang of 14" senators did avert an institutional crisis regarding judicial filibusters, and the "Gang of 10" senators is trying to frame a constructive approach to energy legislation. And the negotiations this past week by members of Congress and the Treasury did narrow the differences on the bailout plan


Bethesda, Md.: I feel like there has not been enough coverage of the crazy, astronomic compensation that the people running these banks made the last couple of years. Paulson walked away with $163 million for his last year at Goldman. That blows me away.

David S. Broder: I agree, but that is an issue for another day. It should not block action needed to avert a financial meltdown.


Raleigh, N.C.: Good morning. As I understand it, over the last few days, John McCain has been calling for more regulations in the financial industry. But now, the House Republican package involves deregulation, and McCain is backing that proposal. Is that a correct understanding? If so, how does Sen. McCain explain his change of position?

David S. Broder: I am not at all clear on the regulatory aspects oft the House Republican package.


Chantilly, Va.: What are the chances that the Democrats and Republicans can come together and create a solution to our current financial problem in a timely manner? Which party will be hurt more in the upcoming elections if they can't solve the problem?

David S. Broder: As we visit, I cannot judge the chances of agreement, but I think there are huge risks for both parties if no agreement is reached.


Washington: Can you shed some light on exactly what would happen if Wall Street ISN'T bailed out? What would be the consequences? Why would it cause a major economic disaster?

David S. Broder: This is far from my area of expertise, but the warnings are that without intervention, credit markets would dry up and all forms of commerce would be crippled.


Cheltenham, U.K.: Now that conservatives columnists such as Kathleen Parker have taken a negative view of Sarah Palin, do you think the counter of liberal media elites continues? It seems to be starting to balance out that both the left and right have issues and concerns about Ms. Palin's qualifications for the world stage.

washingtonpost.com: The Palin Problem (Townhall.com, Sept. 26)

David S. Broder: As I have said before, the testing of Gov. Palin lies ahead, and I think it well to reserve judgment about her abilities until we see her in less-guarded environments.


Olney, Md.: It's interesting that Prescott, Ariz., sees the House Republicans as acting "in a deeply unserious and partisan fashion." I'm a far-left liberal, and yet I'm surprised how much I agree with their hesitancy to absolve of much of their responsibility the banks that made such horrendous errors. If I invested all my money in one bad choice, can I get a do-over, too? I'd be willing to see my meager retirement fund take a huge hit if it meant that my tax money -- better spent on public transportation, the crumbling infrastructure and public education -- would not go toward rescuing the financial giants from themselves.

David S. Broder: Your generosity of spirit is admirable, but multiply your situation by millions of others and the risk to the nation becomes unsupportable. Our priority ought to be saving the economy, not exacting revenge.


McCain and the debate: David: Given that you have known him for many years, does John McCain have any particular expertise, experience or leadership ability to apply to the negotiations to settle this financial crisis? Enough to justify keeping him from attending the debate?

David S. Broder: As to expertise, no. There have been times when his example and leadership have served to bring people together -- immigration, filibusters, etc. -- but this may not be one of them.


Boston: Mr. Broder, in your opinion, should the debate tonight go on?

David S. Broder: Yes.


Rockville, Md.: Mr. Broder, your reaction to the following: Most Democrats believe they are the party of government, and are more likely to be willing to make a deal even if it's not the optimum; most Republicans are hostile to government and would torpedo a deal rather than (take your pick) compromise their moral beliefs or lose a political advantage.

David S. Broder: That may be true, but this "deal" is more about the private economy than the government -- and I'm surprised that Republicans are willing to run such a risk.


Crystal City, Va.: Do the democrats in both the House and Senate have the votes to pass the bailout proposal without the support of House Republicans? Why not do so and call their bluff? Either negotiate in good faith, or we'll pass our version of the bill and Bush will sign that.

David S. Broder: The Democrats believe -- and justifiably so -- that this is a national problem, and both parties should share the evident risks in committing such a vast sum to an uncertain fate.


Fairfax, Va.: You stated several times during this chat that you're reserving judgment about Gov. Palin until you see her take a more active and public role in the campaign. But what if that doesn't happen between now and Election Day?

David S. Broder: It will happen in the Oct. 2 debate, and as she travels with a large and increasingly impatient press corps.


Waukesha, Wis.: With all these bank failures, is it still legal for me to trade my chickens for food?

David S. Broder: Yes, but drive a hard bargain.


First presidential debate was 1858: According to this article, Lincoln-Douglas was the first presidential debate.

David S. Broder: Nope. Lincoln and Douglas were candidates in Illinois, not running for president.


Anonymous: McCain's position is "no bailout deal, no debate." Will he follow through on this promise and allow an Obama 90-minute infomercial viewed by tens of millions?

David S. Broder: I don't know.


Baltimore: Okay, so McCain says he needs to go back to Washington to fix this problem and wants to suspend his campaign. But he doesn't get involved until the last minute and his campaign offices are still open and running. While he's in New York in the morning yesterday everyone thinks a bill is going to pass, but when he gets back to Washington the bill falls apart. Did this just backfire on him big time?

David S. Broder: So far, little good has resulted from McCain's intervention or Bush's summit. But the story is still continuing today.


Re: Consequences of not reaching a deal: One thing that I don't think has been explained to the American people is that, although relatively few people directly invest in the market, many do so indirectly. If you have a pension, it's invested in the market. If the market crashes on Monday because no deal has been reached, kiss the pension goodbye.

David S. Broder: You are right. That's why this is really important.


Washington: Mr. Broder, have you found any consensus among independents and undecideds with regard to Palin's recent mediocre interview? I believe this might foreshadow her performance in the upcoming vice presidential debate.

David S. Broder: I doubt that many people are following the Palin interviews, with everything else that is going on. The debate between her and Sen. Biden will have vastly more influence.


Tuckahoe, N.Y.: Doesn't this look like a replay of the (successful) right-wing radio response to McCain's bipartisan immigration plan, which he embarrassingly was forced to disown?

David S. Broder: Yes. I made the same point in response to an earlier question.


Lawrence, Kan.: Do you sense that the financial crisis will lead to a serious rethinking of how we regulate industries in this nation? Or will it be back to the same political split after we get past this mess?

David S. Broder: I think this has the potential to be a game-changer. What emerges from the next Congress is unpredictable, but I think the chances of systemic change are much greater now.


Springfield, Va.: How is allowing bad decisions to have bad consequences exacting revenge, exactly?

David S. Broder: Bad decisions already are having bad consequences. I sense in some of the comments a desire to really punish the bad guys on Wall Street.


I realize you're too young to remember this, but ...: what do you think FDR would have done in the present economic circumstances?

David S. Broder: As I wrote in a column the other day, in 1933 it was FDR's voice that was heard, calming the nation. Unfortunately, George Bush at this point has lost so much credibility he cannot fulfill that role.


Fairfax, Va.: Does it appear to you that we may be on the verge of a meltdown of the U.S. political system with its inability to act on the financial crisis, if that is what happens? How will the November election change all of that?

David S. Broder: I don't think the political system will melt down, but we are seeing it severely tested. And those who fail this test will be punished, I would think, in November.

I have to go back to work now. Thank all of you for participating.


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