Broder on Politics

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David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, December 5, 2008; 12:00 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, Dec. 5, at noon ET to answer your questions about the world of politics, from the Obama transition to the contested Senate seats to developments in the White House.

The transcript follows.

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."

Archive:David Broder discussion transcripts

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Takoma Park, Md.: Do you think Obama will use his political capital during his honeymoon period to push quickly for expanding programs to reduce the numbers of uninsured, or will he be so constrained by the financial meltdown that he'll only be able to make a modest "down payment" on health reform?

David S. Broder: I am starting a little early today because I must finish at 12:45 eastern time to make a 1 p.m. interview out of the office.

welcome, everyone.

I have been told that Mr. Obama may use an expansion of SCHIP--the children's health insurance program--as a "placeholder" for larger health care reform, but that he and Daschle are inclined to go for a "breakthrough" proposal in this Congress, not wait for the economy to right itself before they proceed.

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Columbia, Mo.: Lots of commentators are maintaining that the Obama picks show a "center-right" inclination, and are surmising that this means that he will not follow through on his campaign themes. I recall that those of us on the "center-left" consoled ourselves in 2000 that the Bush appointees were "moderates" like Colin Powell, Christine Todd Whitman, etc., only to find that they were either loyal foot-soldiers or marginalized, or both. What do you think the chances are that the Obama picks will be more liberal than their track records once they get in office?

David S. Broder: The economic policy team will undoubtedly break records in spending, because of the stark need to stimulate this failing economy. The national security team will have its hands full with Iraq, Afghanistan, India-Pakistan and other trouble spots, so I don't expect anything but coping mechanisms from them for a while. I always thought Obama's rhetoric about governing from the center needed to be taken seriously, so I have not been surprised by the appointments--except for Hillary Clinton, a surprise in terms of personal dynamics.

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Buffalo, N.Y.: Since many of Obama's nominations suggest continuity more than change in foreign policy, what are the chances that the U.S. will use the diplomacy card with Iran has only a ploy before a surgical strike at its nuclear and military facilities?

David S. Broder: I have heard nothing from the new team that supports that thesis. I think they will exhaust the diplomatic and sanctions route before contemplating any such step.

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Falls Church, Va.: Your column on state spending is a classic example of reporting only half the story. You failed to mention that the states that are in fiscal trouble today indulged in enormous budget increases during the boom years. By contrast, states that managed their spending more carefully in recent years are not facing fiscal disaster today. There is no reason why taxpayers in fiscally-responsible states should be obliged, through a federal bailout, to pay for the mistakes of the more profligate state governments.

washingtonpost.com: Addressing the States' Dire Straits (Post, Nov. 30)

David S. Broder: I don't know where you find examples of "profligate" spending. In my state of Virginia, two moderate Democratic governors working with a Republican lower house have passed prudent budgets, but now the bottom has dropped out of revenues and they are facing a need to slash spending. That has been the pattern across the country, as far as I can tell.

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Leominster, Mass.: Hi David, thank-you for taking my question.

Can you comment on the rather "under the radar" story regarding President-elect Obama's location of birth. Will the Supreme Court hear this case and if so what are the potential consequences ?

David S. Broder: I do not regard this as a serious controversy and I can't imagine it ending in the Supreme Court.

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Boston: As a financial analyst, I am not allowed to go on TV or be quoted in a paper without disclosing conflicts of interest.

However, on a daily basis I see and hear Sen. Shelby (R- Mercedes SUV), Sen. Corker (R-Nissan Pathfinder), and others with very big stakes in our auto bailout talks being allowed to spin their side of the story without any mention of their conflicts.

As a reader/viewer I know the bias that an official from Michigan brings to the table. Why do the other guys get off scot-free?

David S. Broder: You make a good point about the senators from states which have attracted large investments from foreign car companies. But it's commonplace for senators to reflect home-state interests without ever acknowledging that.

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Eugene, Ore.: If, at least figuratively, you put a gun to Congress's head, would it be able to tell you where and how the billions in taxpayer bailout money handed to the financial and insurance industries is being used right now? If not, why not?

David S. Broder: The answer is obviously no, and one reason is that the board of monitors has barely beguyn to function and another is that Congress is in the slack period between old and new, preoccupied with housekeeping matters.

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Fairfax Station, Va.: Former DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe has been talking about a run for governor of Virginia in 2009. How do you see his chances?

David S. Broder: I know he will have plenty of campaign resources, but I think he faces a tough challenge against two opponents for the Democratic nomination, both better rooted in Virginia, and a potentially strong Republican.

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Chicago: For Columbia, Mo. and anyone else concerned about how "right" or "left" the incoming Obama Administration leans -- with all the real problems facing this country and the world, please just thank your lucky stars that competent, effective people are once again filling these posts, whatever their personal politics. Think how much worse it could be, and has been. Thanks.

David S. Broder: A good message.

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Natick, Mass.: The CEO's from the automotive industry who are in Washington asking for money will promise anything to get bailed out. I don't think they really are capable of turning their companies around, particularly GM. It's CEO has run the company for a long time, ignoring the real world situation. (Hello, there's a war in the Middle East, isn't that where the oil comes from!) Under it's present leadership, GM is incapable of recovering. I give the best chance to Ford which is a better managed company. Chrysler has no chance but probably be sold either to Ford or GM. The cultural problem at GM of they know what's best for the public goes back many generations.

Do you think they should be bailed out? If so, what demands should be made for any such help?

David S. Broder: I think we cannot afford to let the domestic auto industry die. I say that as one with strong ties to Michigan, and many friends in that state. But I think it is equally true from a national perspective.

I hold no brief for the current management, and new leadership could well be a condition of any government bailout.

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RE: Boston: David, Yes, it's common for Senators to reflect their home-state bias without mentioning it, but it should not be common for the media to allow that bias to go unreported. Senator Shelby has assumed the role of the biggest critic of helping the US Auto manufacturers and there has been (unless I've missed it) reporting on the benefit competitors in his state would gain if Detroit fails.

David S. Broder: I agree.

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Health care Initiative: President Obama has been simply brilliant at maneuvering for a quick and successful strike at health care reform in this country. Firs he lines up a former Senate leader to get legislation through. Next he uses Change.gov to get hundreds of thousands of Americans invested in the change. He has his most prominent health care people kibitzing online with the average Joe!

Coming up are scheduled small events with millions of Americans talking about health care reform (again through Change.gov). Finally he has been so conciliatory and expansive towards the GOP that when they try to block him they will be turned into Newt Gingrich circa '95-96. This is a guy who really thinks at a high level both strategically and tactically.

David S. Broder: I agree.

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Minneapolis: Boston's questions wasn't about the Senators not disclosing their conflicts of interests (we expect them not to point such things out), it was about the media's failure to call attention to that fact.

David S. Broder: See above.

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Reston, Va.: Henry Waxman will replace John Dingell as Chairman of House Energy and Commerce Committee...Does Waxman's new job make it easier or tougher for President Obama and Congress to approve meaningful health care reform? And why?

David S. Broder: Both men are longtime advocates of health care reform, and either would be (or would have been) a potent ally of Mr. Obama.

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Raleigh, NC: Any insights on who Obama might name to the NY Fed?

David S. Broder: No clue.

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Delmar, N.Y.: With NBC about to announce a new moderator for Meet the Press, I was curious to your views about the current format as compared with the original concept. Currently I think the title of the show "Meet the Press" is a misnomer. It is now a one person interview show with the only participation of "the press" in post-interview discussions. As someone who has a longtime association with the show, which format do you prefer, and which provides more information to the public which I would think should be the primary purpose of the show?

David S. Broder: I liked the old format, and enjoyed the challenge of preparing questions for guests. But I do not consider myself an expert on TV formats, so I don't question the judgment of the producers who have opted for the new arrangement.

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Arlington, Va.: Thank heavens the President has a master's degree in business administration. Imagine how bad off we'd be if he was less educated? Seriously, have you ever seen, in such terrible economic times, a president so seemingly removed from leadership? (And that's not said disparagingly of the president, just seemingly.)

David S. Broder: I think President Bush is probably realistic in recognizing that his own credibility is so low that the country is better off with Hank Paulson as the visible leader on the economic recovery efforts. I doubt that Bush can be of much help at this point.

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Oakland, Calif.: Dear Mr. Broder, As an astute and longtime observer of national politics, what's your take on the political future of Sarah Palin? While it's true that she is widely viewed as a lightweight, she's also much admired by the Republican base, and that's a real factor. You once observed, rather oddly, that she did fine against Sen. Biden during their debate, so I'm also wondering if you today have the same view of her that you did two months ago.

David S. Broder: I have not changed my mind about the Biden-Palin debate. As I said during the last chat, I think Gov. Palin clearly has a future in the GOP because of her strong appeal to the religious right, which has become an even more important part of the Republican base as the party has shrunk. But she was poison in 2008 to independents and well-educated Republicans and has a lot of work ahead of her to overcome their opp0sition.

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Laurel, Md.: Who was the top vote-getter in the Democratic Presidential primaries who doesn't have a job in the Obama administration yet?

David S. Broder: John Edwards, but he is unlikely to be rewarded.

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Albany, N.Y.: All these government bailouts, loans, etc make me concerned that if the economy tanks even more and these bailouts don't work, that the loans won't be repaid and the government itself will teeter on the risk of bankruptcy. Does this make any sense?

David S. Broder: My financial betters tell me that it is virtually impossible for the government to go bankrupt. The worst that can happen is a flight from the dollar, eventually leading to revaluation.

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Anonymous: The "controversy" over Obama's location of birth is spread by conservatives on Internet blogs, etc. One posting in response to a Washington Post blog said that the Supreme Court IS going to rule on Obama's eligibility to hold office (obviously the court is not). Birth records aside, some people love to believe in conspiracies or, perhaps more accurately, like to believe they are somehow privy to important information not known to others (preferably inforamtion reinforcing their own political beliefs). People of all political persuasions engage in such frivolity. Now, if we can just get to a real controversy, such as Area 51 . . .

David S. Broder: Thanks for explaining a weird phenomenon.

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Bowie, Md.: Are there any politicians who have yet had the courage to say "What these bailouts amount to is creating inflation to increase the nominal value of all those houses that loans should never have been made against"?

David S. Broder: I haven't heard any such statement, and I'm not convinced that the public at large is to blame for what is happening now. When people are offered easy financing on home purchases, it's not a surprise that they take it. I hold the banks and mortgage lenders much more culpable.

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Princeton, N.J.: Did you see the article in the Times that showed there is no possible way to determine to determine the winner in the Minnesota Senate race? Every scientist will tell you that every experiment (like an election) has a margin of error and that if the result lies in the margin of error, the experiment gives no (zero, nada, zilch, ...) information. This is what happened in Minnesota (and in Florida in 2000).

The amusing thing is that being a progressive state, Minnesota has a way to deal with this problem. They toss a coin! What d'ya think about dat?

David S. Broder: I did see that opinion piece in the Times and found it persuasive. It could come down to a coin toss.

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Fairport, N.Y.: Not long ago, you said that the Bush administration had been an abject failure in nearly all regards. Has the economic crisis strengthened that opinion? And does this make you regret your more-or-less support for Bush in 2000? Does it make you rethink your negative appraisal of the administration that preceded Bush (Bill Clinton)?

David S. Broder: There are many authors in government of the current economic meltdown, both inside and outside ehe Bush administration. A couple points: I did not implicitly or explicitly support Bush (or Gore) in 2000; that's not my habit. And my criticism was not of the Clinton administration but of President Clinton himself, for throwing away three years of his second term for a foolish indulgence.

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Reston, Va.: What do you think is in Charlie Rangel's future, given the ethics...issues...that are coming up?

David S. Broder: Congress will be very reluctant to throw the book at the well-liked Mr. Rangel, but he probably faces some form of criticism or discipline.

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Rochester, N.Y.: I've enjoyed many of your recent columns. Do you have an opinion about the size of the Obama stimulus package? Many of your colleagues on the Post opinion page are stressing fiscal austerity, which others have lampooned as "neo-Hooverism." What are your thoughts?

David S. Broder: Everything I have heard indicates that the Obama team will err on the side of large rather than small. I think they are terrified that this meltdown could turn into a serious depression.

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Albany, N.Y. : I used to agree with you that, if Iraq reached a miraculous stage of recovery in say ten years or so, that Bush would be evaluated better than he is now. I no longer think so. Katrina, the devastating wars and universal scorn for this country that he caused, and this financial mess which has made Europe even madder at us than they were about the wars, are his legacy. If it wasn't for the tax cut and some good initiatives against AIDs in Africa, the cupboard would be totally bare. He's definitely in James Buchanan/Andrew Johnson territory.

David S. Broder: You make a very strong argument. It is still my belief that Iraq, his biggest gamble, will have more to do ultimately with his reputation than anything else.

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New York : The other thing about these Senators whose states have given sweetheart deals to foreign auto companies to locate there is that there seems to be no hint of irony when they present themselves as the preservers of laissez faire purity. Does this mean that South Carolina is going to demand that BMW return all the tax and other financial sweeteners that they gave them to put the car plant in that state? Incredibly, it seems that many in the GOP, at this early stage of the problem, are going to start emulating Herbert Hoover as their model for dealing with this coming depression. The car controversy is just the first indication of this. If Obama fails, some of them see that as their ticket to revive the party.

David S. Broder: I don't know what motivates the senators we have been discussing, but I disagree with their view that nothing should be done to help the domestic auto companies. That is really cutting off your nose to spite your face.

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Atlanta: it doesn't matter where Obama was born -- his mom was a citizen, he's a citizen...get over it.

David S. Broder: Thank you.

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Detroit and Banking: I wonder if people opposed to the automaker bailout are equally concerned with the lack of oversight for the banking industry, who who were supposed to use their bailout money to unfreeze lines of credit. The Big 3 would be at least a little more able to help themselves dig out if their customers could actually secure loans.

David S. Broder: Good point.

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Re: Area 51: Okay if President Obama comes clean with the American people on what is going on at Area 51...that will be Change We Can Believe In!

David S. Broder: It must be a full moon, given the direction this morning's chat is taking. Could we return to Earth, please?

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Alexandria, Va.: In your first draft of history, how would you rate this President Bush in your rankings of President that you have covered?

David S. Broder: That is hard to answer. In terms of personal qualities, I would rate Jerry Ford very highly; in terms of effectiveness, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan. This president is not high on either count, so he probably comes in toward the bottom.

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Ellicott City, Md.: It seems to me that the airline industry is another money losing industry that is probably more important to the US economy than the auto industry. Why shouldn't they go to Congress for a bailout? More importantly, how do we get away from suicidal "too big to fail" companies?

David S. Broder: I personally think airlines belong further back in the line than newspapers and media companies. We need information at least as much as we need to fly around. To be serious, the airline companies appealed for help and got it after 9/11, and certainly have a claim on our assistance now if they need it.

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Rockville, Md.: Acceptable error range?

Good grief!

These are votes. You count them. You declare a winner.

No wonder I dislike the Times.

David S. Broder: Unfortunately, there are votes and votes. Paper ballots proved too much of a challenge for some voters in Minnesota (as they do in other states) so the winner of this Senate election really may be beyong deciphering.

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Re: 2000 election: You write "I did not implicitly or explicitly support Bush (or Gore) in 2000; that's not my habit."

Let me rephrase my question: do you regret not being more skeptical of Bush when he was a candidate? In retrospect, wasn't your acceptance of the uniter-not-a-divider stuff a bit credulous?

David S. Broder: I have often said that I badly misjudged George W. Bush. I did not see him as someone with a radical agenda at home or abroad, and I can certainly be judged credulous for translating his work in Texas and his campaign rhetoric into a belief about the kind of president he would be.

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Ocean City, Md.: Have you seen Michael Moore's suggestion that for the amount of money the big 3 are asking, the federal government could actually own them? The CEO's of these failing companies would then be replaced, and (similar to WWII when the companies were told to make planes and tanks) the manufacturing could focus on primarily producing fuel efficient cars, as well as public transportation (trains and buses). Do you think this is at feasible/possible, and would congress ever consider something like this as an option?

David S. Broder: I am not a big fan of Michael Moore economics, and I see no possibility that Congress will adopt his ownership model.

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New York : Lyndon Johnson popped up in the news yesterday, when one of his tapes, where he was referring to Nixon's intervention through Ms. Chennault in 1968 in the Vietnam Peace talks, as "treason." Flaws and all, LBJ was a remarkable man, and probably the president who changed America more during my lifetime than any other, unless you're old enough to have been alive during the New Deal. Have you read any of the Robert Caro books?

David S. Broder: I've read all the Caro books, and particularly admired the last one, about Johnson's Senate years. You are right in point out how much he changed the country--for better and worse.

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Reston, Va.: Yesterday's WaPo chat with a GM VP could be summed up as "our cars are great, and the banks got their money...where's ours?!"

Please tell me that the people making the case for the Big Three are doing a slightly better job than this person!

washingtonpost.com: The Big Three: Counting on Aid

David S. Broder: I didn't get to see the chat, so I can't comment on that. I thought their testimony yesterday was a lot better than the earlier version.

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New York: A professor from University of Chicago, Sebastian Gay, talked about saving them for the sake of saving a symbol of US culture but forcing them to forge alliances. Do you think it would work?

David S. Broder: I don't claim to know what the structure of a revitalized auto industry should be. I think that question is probably better left to the marketplace.

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Flint, Mich.: The root problem with the Detroit Three is the legacy costs. UAW retirees pay NOTHING. No premium, no co-pay -- no incentive to prioritize their health care.

I'm all for keeping them out of bankruptcy, but Congress has to hang tough for a while until there are concessions along those lines.

David S. Broder: The UAW has already offered substantial concessions and probably knows that more will be demanded ot it. I am not for driving workers or retirees into poverty as a condition for helping the companies.

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Riverdale, N.Y. : Looking back, my take is that the selection of Cheney was the biggest flaw. If Bush had picked someone like Tom Ridge for VP, we might have seen a lot more of that Texas governor that no one felt was particularly reckless or threatening. That would have given greater scope to Powell, that's for sure. Oh well.

David S. Broder: That's an interesting point. I have resisted the theory that Cheney has been the secret driving force in this administration, but Bart Gellman's reporting certainly shows how widespread an influence he wielded.

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From Minnesota: Regarding the senate race here, some of the ballots were not filled out properly, i.e. an "x" written instead of filling in the oval, or circling the name. If people aren't smart enough to fill out a ballot correctly then their vote really shouldn't count anyway. Harsh I know but really people, learn how to vote.

David S. Broder: That's why I like the touchscreen machines such as we have in Virginia. They eliminate some of the vagaries of handwritten ballots.

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St Paul, Minn.: Go to mpr.org and take a look at some of these "disputed" ballots. Some are truly indecipherable, like filling in an oval halfway between the names. Others are pretty clearly for one or the other, and yet they are challenged to make a case.

David S. Broder: Thank you.

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LBJ: Have you listened to any of the recently released tapes from 1968-69, which cast him in a somewhat more sympathetic light? He is another president brought down by an unpopular, unwinnable war. However, he did manage to pass the Civil Rights Act and had a strong career as Senate Majority Leader as part of his legacy.

David S. Broder: Vietnam was a tragedy for all concerned, but LBJ was an extraordinary leader on domestic affairs, and, as another reader said a few moments ago, really changed the country in profound ways.

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Seattle: What do you think of Caroline Kennedy as a candidate for Hillary's Senate seat?

David S. Broder: I have no idea if she is interested, but she would be welcomed to the Senate/

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Follow-up on "Home State interests": I think that you expect a Senator, Governor or other official talk up their state's interest. What is troubling is that the loudest and most prominent voices against a bailout all come from states that represent foreign automobile interests...and that interest is not as obvious as someone from Michigan talking up Detroit; California and movies; or Florida and beaches.

David S. Broder: I think that point has been well made by several of you who joined the discussion today.

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Washington, DC: Having seen firsthand the dynamic leaders of the 1960s...Robert Kennedy, John Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., what do you make of Obama being compared to these figures?

David S. Broder: Barack Obama's contributions to this country are just beginning; his achievements so far are almost entirely measured in his remarkable political rise./ I don't think we can begin to measure him against other historical figures until we see what he can achieve in office.

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Re: Leominster's Comment....: You said that you cannot imagine the birth certificate controversy ending up in the SC. I hope you are right. But it is troubling that Clarence Thomas has agreed to look at it.

Speaking of imagination, before 2000, would you have ever imagined an election being decided in the SC? One never knows what will happen...

David S. Broder: You are certainly right that one never knows what will come next. But for me, an interview is next, so I must sign off now. Thank you, everyone.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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