Broder on Politics

David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Monday, November 3, 2008; 1:00 PM

"I remember the precise moment when I became convinced that this presidential campaign was going to be the best I'd ever covered. It was Saturday afternoon, Dec. 8, 2007. ... Sen. Barack Obama had imported Oprah Winfrey from Chicago to make the first of her endorsement appearances. The queen of daytime television, professing her nervousness at being on a political stage, was nonetheless firm in her declaration: "I'm here to tell you, Iowa, he is the one. Barack Obama!" What was startling was that almost a year before Election Day, 18,000 people had given up their Saturday shopping time to stand (there were no chairs) and listen to an hour of political rhetoric. In the eight Iowa caucus campaigns I'd covered over four decades, I'd never seen anything like this. In fact, I'd not seen voters so turned on since my first campaign as a political reporter, the classic Kennedy-Nixon race of 1960."

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Monday, Nov. 3 at 1 p.m. ET to answer your questions about what has made this year's presidential campaigns so captivating, and to discussion the latest developments out on the trail.

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


Hamilton, Va.: Enjoyed your piece yesterday -- this has been quite a campaign. In a column last week you stated that the notion McCain would be an extension of the current administration was a falsehood. How? All the evidence I see is there is little difference between the two's policies. You also said again that if Obama had agreed to the town meetings that McCain wanted, the campaign would not have gotten so nasty. Nonsense -- it does not matter what Obama had done, Palin still would be around stoking the base. The consensus was that the town halls were to McCain's advantage, so why should Obama have agreed to them? A candidate does not have to go along with whatever idea his opponent advances -- that is why you have elections. What We've Learned About McCain (Post, Oct. 30)

David S. Broder: Good afternoon everyone. I look forward to the next hour's conversation.

I am sure you have plenty of company for your convictions, but I have to disagree. Mr. Bush and Sen. McCain are two very different individuals; it was not an accident that they opposed each other in 2000. As for the joint town meetings, I do not know which candidate they would have been helped, but the country would have benefited greatly, and I think it was a lost opportunity.


Canada Lake, N.Y.: Does anything about the way McCain ran this campaign surprise you? Did you expect a reprise of 1999-2000?

David S. Broder: Yes, I have been surprised. I think he is most comfortable and authentic as a reformer, and I think that aspect of his record was subordinated this year. I also expected him to make more of an issue of Iraq, but perhaps the economic collapse simply prevented that.


Baltimore: Loved your piece about this election. Are you optimistic about the awareness of today's under-30 generation? We're on the verge, after all, of electing a black man as president, and he beat a very capable woman to get to that point. Thanks.

David S. Broder: Yes, I think that most young people will see this election as a hopeful sign. I certainly hope that is their reaction.


Fairfax, Va.: If McCain loses, do you foresee him making a positive contribution as a senator? His best talking points during this campaign have involved his "across the aisle" senatorial record, and I'd like to hope that that would continue. But he never has seemed all that friendly toward Obama when I've seen them together -- unlike Obama, who seems to genuinely respect McCain.

David S. Broder: I think your perceptions about the candidates' personal relationships are correct, but McCain has warm feelings toward many of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate and I expect he would be a positive force there if the election turns out as most of us expect.


Naples, Fla.: After such a negative campaign, how does the President-elect unite the country?

David S. Broder: I think both these men understand the imperative need to do that -- and the winner will set about the task at once.


Racine, Wis.: Given all the facts you now know of both candidates and their standing on issues, what is your opinion of how the country will change under either of the candidates? What are the risks and benefits of Obama and McCain?

David S. Broder: That is really too large a subject to address in this brief question-answer format. I have tried in a pair of recent columns to say what I thought the campaign itself had taught us about both Obama and McCain. Suffice to say here that both are fundamentally different from George Bush, so the change will be large -- not just petty.


Bibliophile: Will you be writing a book about the 2008 campaign?

David S. Broder: No. But I will read with pleasure the book that my good friends Haynes Johnson and Dan Balz are writing together.


Laurel, Md.: Much as I like Sen. Obama and respect the campaign he's run, I can't help think that he'll disappoint a lot of people because he talked in vague terms that sort of imply a lot of promises he'll never be able to keep. Of all the elections you've covered, which (winning) candidate does Obama most remind you of, and how well did that candidate's actual presidency resemble his rhetoric?

David S. Broder: He reminds me most of John Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, both of whom struggled to govern with Democratic Congresses in office.


Rockville, Md.: You have covered so many campaigns, but as you yourself state, none like this one. If you could point to one thing that the American electorate should take away from this presidential campaign, what would it be? The Amazing Race: I thought 1960 was the best campaign I'd ever cover. But 2008 has that election beat. (Post, Nov. 2)

David S. Broder: I think each voter will have his or her own impression of this campaign; there can be no right answer to your question. I found much to admire in both the Obama and McCain candidacies, but the courage both showed in coming back from setbacks was particularly striking to me.


Bloomington, Ind.: Does a win for Sen. Obama nudge the Republican Party left?

David S. Broder: Initially, no. The surviving Republican members of Congress, from the safest districts and states, overwhelmingly will be quite conservative. What happens as they begin to contemplate a recovery strategy for 2010 and 2012 likely will open some opportunities to reconsider the party's posture.


Fort Wayne, Ind.: I confess to being a conservative, yet green, Republican. I'm dismayed that neither candidate has discussed environmental issues this election season, especially the tricky confluence of unchecked illegal immigration and our exploding birth rate (future overpopulation) among new and illegal citizens. What's your take on these subjects, and why neither man wants to discuss them with the American people? Thank you

David S. Broder: I am certain that the issue of illegal immigration will be back on the agenda in 2009, no matter who is president. It should have received more attention this year, but neither side saw an advantage in raising it, so the needed discussion did not take place


Sea: Do you think there will ever be a way to mend the Primary System with the bunch-up at the front, invalidated then re-validated states, and an earlier and earlier start? Have you already booked a hotel in Iowa for Nov. 9, 2010?

David S. Broder: No, I have not. And I would hope the parties might jointly attempt to bring some order and reason to the system.


Washington: Do you vote in presidential elections?

David S. Broder: Yes, of course.


Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: You say that this is the best election ever, however it seems to me that both candidates are making a great many promises that they will be unable to pay for. Furthermore, when pressed on how they intend to pay for their plans or what programs they intend to cut, they fudge or change the topic. Hasn't the media been complicit in this obfuscation by not demanding much more detailed budget plans from both candidates? After providing minimal critical coverage during the run-up to the Iraq war and the financial meltdown, the media again has failed to perform its duties properly in this election cycle.

David S. Broder: I agree that both candidates have overpromised, but I never have been convinced that pressure from the media is enough to force the candidates into a "realistic" discussion of budgets. The most we can hope for is a sense of priorities -- but I don't think we even got that this year, in part because neither candidate was prepared for the economic collapse that occurred mid-campaign.


Long Island, N.Y.: Mr. Broder, thanks for the chat. Sen. McCain likes to say that if Sen. Obama had agreed to the 10 town halls, the tone of the campaign would have been different? Considering the constant attacks of both campaigns for the last three months, do you think that would be true (e.g. would Gov Palin really have taken a different tone)? If you think it would have made for a less negative campaign, why?

David S. Broder: I think it would have been a less negative campaign, because -- as we saw with the three debates that took place -- the tone of the discussion is more serious and less accusatory when the candidates are standing side by side.


Bennett Point, Md.: As a conservative, I see this country falling into moral squalor and societal collapse with Obama intensifying the decline. Do you see conservatives turning their backs on politics in hopes that the country implodes? Most conservatives I know are hopeful of that conclusion.

David S. Broder: No, I am not nearly that pessimistic, and I don't have the sense from my interviews that most conservatives are ready to let things go to hell in a hand basket.


Annapolis, Md.: Bloomington's great question about the future GOP makes me ask the parallel question: What will Obama's Democratic Party look like? Is he building a new coalition around young people, technocrats and people of color? Will he draw off any blocs that were reliably "Reagan Democrats," such as working ethnics or middle-class Catholics? Or is he basically recreating the New Deal FDR-LBJ coalition?

David S. Broder: Those are great questions, but I would suggest that we wait for tomorrow's voting and the data from the exit polls before we attempt to answer them.


Towson, Md.: What do you think the candidates couldn't or didn't say during campaign that the new president will need to say soon after taking office?

David S. Broder: The winner will have to address really tough questions: How to manage the inevitable withdrawal from Iraq, how to confront Iran's nuclear ambitions and how to right the economy and prevent or shorten the recession. It is a daunting agenda.


Springfield, Va.: Mr. Broder, thanks for your years of great writing. I attended my first ever political rally on Saturday. I was disgusted by the lack of respect and patriotism displayed by members of the press at the event. During the pledge of allegiance I noted that 90 percent of the press and cameramen did not participate, continued chatting on cell phones, reading papers, etc.

I understand if someone from a foreign paper does not want to participate, but I expected some show of respect from the press corps -- especially those from the U.S. I've seen drunken college students at football games show more respect for the flag. Have you noted similar boorish behavior by your colleagues?

David S. Broder: I cannot condone their behavior, but I should point out that some of those phone conversations may have been necessitated by their work responsibilities. I know how time-pressured reporters can be when out with candidates.


Los Angeles: If Obama wins, do you think he will move to the center? Will he "postpone" tax hikes for social programs, and will he repeal capital gains rates, etc.? Thank you.

David S. Broder: I don't think we can guess about such decisions until we see the size of his victory and the scope of Democratic majorities in Congress. He will need to know that before he can formulate a strategy for legislative policy.


Herndon, Va.: Re: The vague promises and lack of detail from the candidates, I think a large part of the problem there is how quickly events overtake today's talking points. The situation has changed dramatically since Obama announced his campaign, and has changed so much in the past six weeks. If I were a candidate, I'd say this is what I want to do, and come January I'll see what I can do.

David S. Broder: As I already have mentioned, the economic collapse in September caught both candidates (and many of the rest of us) unprepared, and made it much more difficult for them to define the actions they would take if elected.


Fairfax, Va.: Which candidate are you voting for?

David S. Broder: That is not a proper question for a political reporter to answer. I am not an advocate for either one or either party.


Oak Park, Mich.: With the government more powerful than ever as a result of the bailout, I dread the prospect of one party winning 60 seats in the Senate, an overwhelming majority in the House, and the presidency. Will this bring us as close to monarchy as we have been since independence?

David S. Broder: Whatever the partisan makeup if the White House and Congress, there are almost certain to be institutional differences that constitute a form of checks and balances. I think the concern about one-party government is legitimate, but so is the concern about partisan gridlock. In the end, the critical thing is whether elected officials recognize that there are some issues that require national solutions, not simply partisan answers.


New York: You can't do everything, so what, in your opinion, would be the paramount initiative by a President Obama? Medical reform first? What about a President McCain?

David S. Broder: I think either of them will have to address the short-term economic and fiscal challenges, then turn to the structural problems, including health care.


Long Island, N.Y.: Do you encounter many conservatives like Bennett Point, who see an Obama presidency as the end of America?

David S. Broder: Even with the campaign passions at their height, I have not heard many conservatives express such gloomy forebodings.


Providence, R.I.: In your opinion, what was the single biggest decision each of the two candidates made during the course of their respective campaigns?

David S. Broder: The choice of the running mate. The decision by Obama to forego public financing.


Early Voting: Early voting has been a smashing success pretty much everywhere in Jacksonville, Fla., more than 46 percent of registered voters already have voted early or by absentee ballot. The Supervisor of Elections told me he expects that with lots of absentees coming in today, it'll be 50 percent before the polls even open tomorrow. Can we expect everybody will have the change to vote early by 2012? It simply no longer makes any sense not to see it in every state the District of Columbia.

David S. Broder: I think the movement to allow early voting is certain to spread. Whether it will reach all 51 jurisdictions, I do not know.


Arlington, Va.: Wow, Bennett Point, Md., really doesn't take the McCain campaign's motto, "Country First" to heart. His candidate looks like he's going to lose so he wishes that the United States disintegrate. How patriotic?

David S. Broder: As I said, I have not heard such pessimism from many conservatives.


Cambridge, Mass.: What is the strategy behind having a campaign's affiliates go on Sunday morning shows to talk up the idea that their party is going to win in a big swing state like Pennsylvania? It seems to me that doing so would only have the effect of keeping (lazier) potential supporters at home, because they assume that their side will win the swing state.

David S. Broder: My guess is that the Republicans' goal in talking about their hopes for Pennsylvania was to motivate voters there and elsewhere to believe that John McCain is very much in the race for president. When people believe a candidate is sure to lose, there's not much motivation to vote.


Delaware: If Obama wins, who becomes Senate Foreign Relations committee chair?

David S. Broder: Chris Dodd of Connecticut is next in seniority to Joe Biden on Foreign Relations. He would have to decide if he wanted go give up his Banking Committee chairmanship to take it.


New York: Do you believe turnout will be as high as everyone is predicting? And will the Bradley Effect, if it does indeed exist, have as little influence as many experts have said in the past few weeks?

David S. Broder: I think turnout will break records and I am optimistic that the "Bradley effect" will be minimal.


Houston: I know how much you admire and respect Sen McCain. I know that it is a genuine feeling. But I cannot help thinking that you may be giving him a little too much credit regarding the town hall/tone of the campaign issue. I think Sen. McCain has displayed a desperation to win-at-all-costs (almost) -- even to his bipartisan reputation. I am surprised that you still advocate for him when many other objective observers say that the McCain 2008 campaign has been a grievous departure from the McCain brand established in 2000.

David S. Broder: I respect your views and know they are widely shared, but you must remember that in 2000, McCain was running only in party primaries where -- as we saw on both sides this year -- differences tend to be rather muted. Given the stakes in this year's general election, I was not surprised that it got pretty rough. But after Obama turned down the joint appearances, I do not fault McCain for going after him without restraint. I thought some of the charges -- the association with Ayers, for example -- were ludicrous and I think the voters saw that, too.


Early voting: The images of the long lines at polling places across the country last week both exhilarated and saddened me. It is thrilling to see such heightened interest in participating in our electoral process. But it is frustrating and disheartening to know that many people are paying a real cost in time and lost pay for the chance to exercise their right to vote. Do you think this election will prompt states to undertake realistic preparations for elections, so that more polling places are set up and more people are allowed to vote on weekends or by mail?

David S. Broder: Yes, I am pretty confident that secretaries of state will get the message -- or be voted out of office.


Alexandria, Va.: Some far-left supporters of Obama claim that Obama's centrist rhetoric is an illusion, and after the election we will see the real, far-left Obama emerge. I dispute that, which is why I voted for Obama absentee. Is there any area where Obama's post-election rhetoric will differ from what his rhetoric is now?

David S. Broder: I do not think it likely that Obama will turn out to be a secret leftist. More plausible to me is the possibility that he will be pushed by Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to take positions more liberal than his own inclination.


Edina, Minn.: Re: The McCain campaign, do you think the race would have been different had Mike Murphy or someone else led the campaign? How much is it the campaign vs. the candidate in your view?

David S. Broder: The candidate is at least 90 percent of the equation.


Munich, Germany: I am still baffled by the turn that the McCain campaign took to the base of conservatism. I was naively hoping that we would see an even more historic campaign, with McCain also looking forward rather than using the politics of fear. What happened? What was the calculation that led to this decision?

David S. Broder: I cannot mind-read. In the aftermath, we will learn more about the debates and discussions within the McCain inner circle.

I must go back to work now. I've enjoyed this and look forward to doing it again.


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