Washington Post's David Broder on Politics: Obama's Future Challenges, the Blair House Lodgings Flap, Palin's Recent Interview and More

David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, January 9, 2009; 2:30 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, Jan. 9, at 2:30 p.m. 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.

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."

washingtonpost.com: Straight Talking Again (Post, May 3)

The transcript follows.

Archive: David Broder discussion transcripts


washingtonpost.com: David Broder is running late and should sign on soon. Please stand by!


washingtonpost.com: This chat will now take place at 2:30 p.m. ET. Please come back this afternoon!


Asheville, N.C.: David, when the Republican Party outright declares the press to have, in principle, no special role to play in our society, treats it like just an "interest group," and abuses it by avoiding it, hamstringing its practices, and persisting in its own "PR" approach to its news, what can the media do about this?

David S. Broder: I think the best thing we can do is cover the news and not get drawn into feuds with politicians.


Tuckahoe, N.Y.: Pres. Clinton used to say that Democrats want to fall in love, while Republicans want to fall in line. If by this he meant that GOP presidents get slavish devotion from their Senators and Congresspeople, I think this is pretty much the truth. My recollection of Carter and Clinton is that they frequently got stabbed in the back by their own people, Carter by O'Neill et. al. and Clinton by Moynihan and Bob Kerry. Reagan and the Bushes seem to bat nearly 100% with their own guys, with very few exceptions. This is a generalization, I know, but the behavior of the Dems this past month, with Obama not even sworn in yet, indicates that Clinton's maxim is holding true: Obama's big problem is going to be with his own people. What do you anticipate here?

David S. Broder: I think Obama will have problems on both sides, because he is attempting to do so much so fast. But I think he will get the broad outlines of his stimulus package approved.


Brookline, Mass.: The 50-state strategy worked to elect Dems from places like Idaho and Alabama, and to get the Georgia Senate race into a runoff. Will Tim Kaine's DNC continue to fund the 50-state strategy?

David S. Broder: I think Governor Kaine will do whatever the president and the White House political team want done. It is not yet clear what signals they will give about the 50-state strategy.


Kettering, Ohio: Obama enjoyed largely favorable coverage from mid-primaries to the present, with "fawning coverage" used often to describe it. Although his stumbles with Richardson and Panetta were covered and disappeared from view, how long of a honeymoon do you think he will have with the press. What factors would serve to impact its length?

David S. Broder: I agree that the new president has enjoyed largely favorable coverage, but that is beginning to change, mainly because members of Congress are finding their voices and expressing their own views and criticisms of his politicies. Nothing unusual about that.


Richmond: As a lifelong democrat I am very excited about the Obama presidency. I am worried though that the egos of Pelosi and Reid are going to cause him real problems. They are ineffective leaders and neither presents themselves well behind the microphone. Is their any chance of new leadership on Capitol Hill?

David S. Broder: I see no sign of a challenge to either leader, and neither of them is about to step down.


Double Standard?: Mr. Broder: It seems to me that the president-elect is being held to an awfully high standard by the press, senators, the media, etc. (The stimulus will raise the deficit, Holder may noy be 100% perfect, etc.) In general, this makes me happy: I WANT my president to be held to a high standard. But I have to ask: where were all these critics from 2001-2006? Do you sense this as well?

David S. Broder: The perception of coverage, especially the comparison of one president's with the next's, is so subjective it can hardly be resolved. You are entitled to believe what you believe, but be aware that there are others who will see the situation very differently.


Kinston, N.C.: Mr. Broder, what do you anticipate will be the first major piece of legislation that President Obama and Congress takes up after the stimulus package?

David S. Broder: That is going to be an exhausting ordeal, and they may want to come back with something much simpler and less controversial, like continuing and expanding the state children's health care initiative which was passed by Congress and vetoed by President Bush.


Baltimore, Md.: Dear Mr. Broder, thanks for these chats. Thanks also for your "emperor has no clothes" column about Roland Burris. It is so abundantly clear that Burris is a lightweight that it is disturbing that he got as far in Illinois politics as he did. As with Burris, more and more when I read the news it seems that there are fewer and fewer serious people in elected leadership positions -- our selection process seems to reward many unadmirable talents and personality traits.

You have been an observer of politics longer than I have -- is my sense that the talent pool in government more diluted these days just the crotchetiness of advancing middle age? Is there a way to improve the incentives in our system for our leaders to lead, or are we condemned to endure crises before long-term and unselfish behavior get rewarded?

I do have hope for the new administration but am not at all optimistic about what lies ahead.

David S. Broder: I don't think the talent pool is running dry; I'm impressed by many of the new people coming to Washington and state government. They arrive despite the partisanship that burdens everything, and I think they have a shot at changing that atmosphere.


Columbia, Md.: What are the chances that Tom Vilsack won't get confirmed for the Dept of Agriculture? There is an Internet campaign to stop his confirmation. I signed the petition, but I don't know if it's actually going to do any good.

David S. Broder: I would be astonished if Gov. Vilsack were not confirmed. I think he is a good man.


Charlotte, N.C.: I think Obama missed a chance to show that he means what he says about "new politics" during this Blago fiasco. He should have come out for a new election to fill his vacated seat. We all know that the reason Democrats in Illinois did not approve one was they were afraid of losing the seat to Republicans. If Obama had said, "due to the circumstances, the people should choose the new senator and I am sure they will elect someone I can work with regardless of his or her party affiliation," how "new politics" would that have been? Your thoughts?

David S. Broder: I agree completely, as you will see in my Sunday column.


Germantown, Md.: As a long-time (I mean, experienced) observer of politics and politicians, what is your opinion of Obama's political skills?

David S. Broder: He is as complete a political leader as I have seen for a long time. He inherits a very, very difficult set of challenges but I think he has a shot at making it work.


Arlington, Va.: The Los Angeles Times is reporting that newly-revealed documents show that Holder was much more involved and supportive of Clinton granting clemency to 16 members of FALN, a violent Puerto Rican nationalist organization. The son of one of the victims is quoted as saying that Holder "supported and pushed for the release of terrorists." How much trouble is Holder's nomination in?

washingtonpost.com: Eric Holder pushed for controversial clemency (The Los Angeles Times, Jan. 9, 2009)

David S. Broder: At this point, the expectation is that he will face vigorous questioning, but I don't hear many senators suggesting that he won't ultimately be confirmed.


Columbia, Md.: Why doesn't Gov Patterson of N.Y. appoint a minority to the Senate instead of Ms. Kennedy? Given the lack of diversity in the Senate and the over-representation of political family dynasties, it would be an intelligent decision to try and better represent the diversity of the U.S. population in "the world's greatest deliberative body".

David S. Broder: Gov. Patterson faces many conflicting pressures when it comes to the Senate seat, but his first objective has to be finding someone who can be elected in 2010 and help him gain a full term.


Elmwood Park, N.J.: Mr. Broder, in your post-election column you indicated that this was the most fascinating and interesting presidential campaign that you had covered. The Right wing looks at it differently, arguing that the media is guilty of class bias against Ms. Palin and favoritism for the 'liberal' Mr. Obama.

My feeling as to the first part (the second part is argued against the media in every election and will never be resolved) is that no one in the media raised questions about the ability to articulate ideas, or about the intellectual command of political and world affairs, on the part of Nixon, Obama, Reagan, Clinton, LBJ, or any other presidential candidate who came, not from privileged backgrounds, but from working class or poorer backgrounds. Mrs Palin, to me, was off the charts, and not remotely comparable to past candidates in this regard. By my subjective standards, she was not nearly as qualified for this high position as the others that I mentioned, and it is amazing to me that people argue otherwise. (I felt the same way about the obscure one term Congresswoman that Mondale picked for improper symbolic reasons, and about Dan Quayle, who was a mediocrity in the mold of a Harding). What do you think history will conclude about McCain's decision in the year 2008 to pick the Alaska governor for VP?

David S. Broder: I do not know what history will conclude about Governor Palin but I heard from and met a large number of independent voters who could not accept her credentials and therefore voted for Mr. Obama.


Wokingham, U.K.: The British press is carrying rather conflicting views about how Obama views the Middle East. Will we see continuity with Bush or some distinct change, such as readiness to talk with Hamas?

David S. Broder: Obviously Mr. Obama is carefully cloaking his approach to the Middle East but I doubt if he will engage in direct talks with Hamas while hostilities are still under way.


Washington D.C.: Hey David. I enjoy your columns and look forward to reading them in the new year.

It is rough out there in the job market unless you work for Congress. Their annual raise kicks in. Should I be like most everyone else and be outraged by this even though it will only be something like an extra 2.5 million dollars that will be spent?

David S. Broder: Whatever your feelings about Congress, you are entitled to feel them and express them. I am more critical of their failure over many years to address the country's most pressing problems than I am of the salary they receive.


Wye River, Md.: In a recent column you derided the Republican Party for being too southern and too conservative. When can we expect a column deriding the Congressional Black Caucus as being too socialistic or the Democratic Party as being too left-wing and too culturally permissive?

David S. Broder: You will see a reference to the Congressional Black Caucus in Sunday's column on the Blagojevich-Burris situation. I'll leave it to you to judge if it is adequate.


St. Paul: Mr. Broder -- Thanks for taking my question (or more of a comment) today. It seems to me that most of what's taking up space in the newspapers and on TV re: Blago, Burris, Panetta, Reid, etc. etc. falls into the category of inside baseball. You in particular do a marvelous job of covering it, but given the gravity of the economic situation which is hitting more people everyday (my spouse has been out of work for four months now and there are no other possibilities in sight), the public is starving for real and concrete action that is truly going to make a difference. Everything else is a distraction. Thank you.

David S. Broder: I applaud your comment. It is very hard for those of us who claim no economic expertise to advise the politicians what they should be doing. But I agree with you that everything else fades to unimportance compared to this economic disaster.


Virginia: "He should have come out for a new election to fill his vacated seat."

I'm quite shocked that you would agree with this because it is in essence against the law. Would it have even been legal to have an election when the law calls for an appointment? That's changing the rules in the middle of the game. That it would have been changed to his disadvantage is irrelevant.

What if Blago was a Republican and Obama called for an election to replace the appointment? The GOP would cry bloody murder, and Obama would look pretty bad. If they want to change the law for the next time there's a vacancy, that's fine. But don't make up new rules. That ain't kosher.

David S. Broder: I understand your view, but it strikes me that the real need was to find a way for the new senator to look legitimate in the eyes of the voters, and I believe a special election would have assured that.


Plaquemines Parish, La.: Since he's so skilled with bus transportation, shouldn't New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin be given the duty or organizing all the buses coming to Washington for the Inauguration?

David S. Broder: Is he available?


Winnipeg, Canada: As someone who has seen a presidential transition or two, what is your opinion of the flap about the Obama family pre-inauguration accommodations? Are supporters of the Democrat party being over-sensitive for complaining? Or is it the other way, White House staffers being insensitive and tone-deaf when it comes to an opportunity to be gracious with the opposition? I don't recall a similar event happening before, but you've been closer to events. It seems to me to put both President Bush and President-elect Obama in an awkward position: Obama can't complain without looking like a whiner, and Bush can't alter the guest arrangements witohut admiting a mistake -- and we all know how willing he is to do that.

David S. Broder: I think it's a complete non-issue. The Obamas are comfortable fixed at the Hay-Adams and Blair House is being used as planned.


Boston: David, among the many areas that the U.S. backslid on over the past eight years were science and technology. Our Internet and wireless systems are now primitive compared to the rest of the developed world and large swathes of the developing countries. Does the Obama stimulus address our shortcomings in technology infrastructure?

David S. Broder: The president-elect says that is part of his program, but we have not seen the details as yet. I apologze, but I have to go back to work now. I will try to carve out more time next week. Thank you.


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