Broder on Politics

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David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, February 6, 2009; 11:00 AM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, Feb. 6 p.m. ET to answer your questions about the struggles of the Obama nominees, the fight over the stimulus bill and the rest of the world of politics.

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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West Falls Church, Va.: Okay, so the Dems say that waterboarding is ineffective, illegal, and is now not an option due to the executive order. Based on yesterday's testimony, the new director will go to the president in cases of a "ticking time bomb" to approve extraordinary measures to get the facts out.

Pray tell what would be these "extraordinary measures" that aren't possible now, but can be later. And, don't say waterboarding.

David S. Broder: Good morning to all. I flunk the first question. I cannot tell you what kind of extraordinary measures Mr. Panetta has in mind.

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Detroit: I am astonished how poorly the WH, House and Senate press teams have been in selling the stimulus package. They have been getting destroyed by their Republican counterparts and losing the PR battle. Why hasn't Obama been taking his case directly to the American people by way of speeches in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, etc., with mayors and governors, esp. the Republicans who support the measure.

David S. Broder: The White House people tell me they have kept the focus in Washington because the decisions are being made on Capitol Hill. We should know within 48 hours whether that turns out to be a smart strategy.

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Payson, Ariz.: Mr. Broder,

Is the tenor of the debate over the stimulus bill an indication that the Republican party is mired in the 19th century and essentially has nothing new to offer in resolving the 21st century challenges they played a role in creating?

David S. Broder: There certainly have been many Republicans who fit your description, but the key group now are those, like Susan Collins, who are trying to figure out what makes economic sense and help build a coaltion to support that kind of measure.

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Rolla, MO: As an Obama supporter I didn't mind his post-partisan language during the campaign, it wasn't my preferred approach, but I wasn't one of those on the left railing against any sort of cooperation with Republicans. However, after the last week, I am beginning to think the fringe had it right. What more would you, Mr. Broder, have suggested the president do to be successfully bipartisan with this stimulus bill?

David S. Broder: In the past, when truly bipartisan measures are needed, presidents have convened or authorized a summit of leaders of both parties. That did not happen this time; instead, they relied on the regular committee process and the results are what we have seen.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Has there been any analysis on the reactions of the holders of our government debt? How much of the debt is being asked to be repaid, and are any foreign debt holders appearing to be either in any sort of panic?

David S. Broder: I am not aware of any panic among the foreign debt holders. They still seem to regard the United States as credit-worthy.

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Minneapolis: How about putting caps on the salaries of executives and managers of financial institutions that are insured by the F.D.I.C. for at lease the duration of the raised limits in coverage? Couldn't many institutions that have already received TARP funds under the previous administration then be retro-fitted with the caps?

David S. Broder: Such a step would take us even closer to piecemeal but overall wage controls. I think the history of such efforts suggests that you end up with all kinds of unanticipated and unwanted consequences. I think the suggestion in a NY Times op-ed to increase tax rates on the wealthy is a much better idea.

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Talbot County, Md.: As the Baby Boomers begin to retire and the nation already massively indebted, the welfare state is buckling and its ultimate collapse in the cards. As the Democrats constructed and actually believe in the welfare state, the American people trust them to pare back the welfare state more equitably than they do Republicans. Are the Democrats up to cutting back the welfare state in order to save it or will they put it off?

David S. Broder: One important Democrat, Barack Obama, has said just recently when he was here at the Post that he wants to tackle the entitlement issue--Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid--on his watch,not kick the can further down the road. Many of us will hold him to that pledge.

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The DeMint Amendment: After days of arguing against minor projects for not being "temporary or targeted," the GOP tries to vote for permanent tax cuts as the sole means of stimulus, which would be neither temporary or targeted. Does this show how un-serious the GOP is taking the recession/depression or is this the GOP playing partisan tactics for temporary advantages?

David S. Broder: I think Senator DeMint is a reflexive reactionary, whether the issue is taxation, immigration or almost anything else. He is part of the problem Republicans have when they let conservative Southerners set their agenda--the subject of my next column.

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New Orleans: What have you heard about Sec. Napolitano's plans to overhaul FEMA including the replacement of the Bush staffers who have held the recovery hostage in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas?

David S. Broder: I think FEMA is still very much a work in progress, with Napolitano and the White House trying to figure out what needs to be done.

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RE: Harisburg: U.S. debt has rarely been as desired. The rest of the world is an a bigger muck than we are and they need us to recover so that they may also recover.

David S. Broder: You are surely right that the world needs us to recover, and is hoping we figure out how.

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New York, NY: Mr. Broder, with your (and many others') column advocating for not investigating the Bush Administration's possible war crimes, can there be any debate that the prime function of our national media -- and the Post in particular -- is to urge that wrongdoing on the part of our highest government officials be concealed rather than exposed? What amazes me is that it's the exact opposite function of the one the "free press" long pretended (and still claim) to perform: to expose government secrets and hold government officials accountable for wrongdoing. Why this shift on this issue by you and other journalists?

David S. Broder: It does not represent any such shift. What it represents is a recognition that when we are figting two wars and struggling with the biggest economic mess in 75 years, other issues are more important.

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New York, NY: I've been watching the GOP parade on CNN, and it really irks me. Why does nobody ask them why, no matter whether the country is economically doing well or doing badly, their advice is always tax cuts? Also it would really be great if somebody, somewhere, could ask them why they think anyone should take them seriously on these issues considering the mess we are in today. Do you have any idea why these questions are not being asked? Will you ask them that question, Mr. Broder?

David S. Broder: I have asked that question and will continue to do so.

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Washington, DC: Is the press on its way to crowning Susan Collins the new face of the Republican party? She solves the Hillary and Sarah failures plus the RNC's face is a black man now. Thoughts?

David S. Broder: I don't think one senator can be the face of a political party, but Susan Collins is doing good and important work now, which reflects much better on the Republican Party than many of her colleagues.

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Joe the Plumber/GOP Economics Expert: What's your reaction to the GOP selecting as its intellectual leaders Rush Limbaugh and Joe the Plumber? Can you have meaningful dialogue in such circumstances?

David S. Broder: I've heard Rus and Joe called many things. But "intellectual leaders"? You kiddin' me?

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" I have asked that question....": What is their answer?

David S. Broder: Republicans tend to argue that lower taxes spur economic activity, and say that's what will pull us out of the recession. I think that is too simple an answer/

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Rocky Mount, N.C.: What's your take on the Californian budget crisis?

David S. Broder: I have not had a chance to visit Sacramento this year, so I'm not on top of it But it's pretty clear that the combination of Prop 13 and the two-thirds vote requirement to pass any budget has left the state crippled.

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Binghampton, N.Y.: Do you think that if we had been in the same economic position we're in now while Bush had been president that he would have pushed for a stimulus bill similar to the one Obama is pushing for? I'm no lover of Bush but my gut feeling is he would. Do you think the reaction from Republicans in Congress would have been totally different with Bush pushing for the same bill?

David S. Broder: I don't know what a President Bush would have done, but we do know that when he pushed for a smaller stimulus bill a year ago, he ran into a lot of resistance from his fellow-Republicans.

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Helena MT: "What it represents is a recognition that when we are figting two wars and struggling with the biggest economic mess in 75 years, other issues are more important." What this represents to me is if you screw up the country really bad, then you get off scot free. Eventually, the media is going to rehabilitate the Bush people who got us in this mess - to some extent, they already have, witness that Cheney is offering advice, Karl Rove is a regular on cable news, and Andy Card is there to offer his fashion crticism. If we can't prosecute them because of more pressing issues, I just wish we would pour scorn over them. Such as, when talking about John Yoo, always placing "torture advocate" in front of his name.

David S. Broder: I've long believed that shunning is very effective way of dealing with miscreants; I thought that about Richard Nixon and was dismayed when he was invited to be a commentator on public affairs after his resignation.

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Hell's Kitchen, NYC: Bi-partisanship only works when both sides come to the table and negotiate in good faith. The House Republicans got a third (!) of the House stimulus bill devoted to questionable tax cuts (their answer for everything the past 8 years, as we know), but that's not enough. Obama tried. He did his part (more than he should have.) But, to what end? Republicans obviously don't want better policy. They just want to play politics with our future. They don't seem to understand the precarious situation we're in. Or, maybe they don't care?

David S. Broder: I think there are Republicans and Republicans. What is happening right now in the Senate is separating the sheep and the goats.

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Greenbelt, MD: Why is requiring the federal government to spend stimulus dollars on American made steel (for example) protectionism? I can see it if they imposed that on business, but frankly, if my government is spending money, I want it spent within the U.S. whenever possible and I think most people would feel the same no matter what nation they are from.

David S. Broder: That is a plausible-sounding argument, but in the real world, when one nation puts up barriers to trade, especially a big and powerful nation like the U.S., it invites retaliation, and we stand to lose badly if an international trade war breaks out.

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Sunny California: I'm a strong Obama supporter but he's moved way too far to the right for me.

David S. Broder: I'm sure he will be disappointed to hear that, but I think he is governing very much as he campaigned.

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Dunn Loring, Va.: Could you explain what Obama has done to make the stimulus plan "bipartisan"? Yes he met with some Republicans but has he implemented any of there recommendations (except cutting contraceptive funding). Indeed, when asked yesterday, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs could not name a single Republican idea that Obama agreed to include in the stimulus plan.

David S. Broder: I would urge you to wait until we see what emerges from the SEnate before deciding that Obama has rejected almost all the Republican ideas.

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Brooklyn: I've asked this of several Post chats, but can't get an answer.

How is Gregg bartering for a his vacant seat any more legal than what Blago did? Gregg is putting demands on a decision that he's not allowed to make. Why is it okay to demand a Republican take his place any more than if he were to demand money?

Is this serving at the pleasure of the President?

David S. Broder: I think there's a pretty clear difference. Blagojevich was looking for a personal benefit, if the allegation is true. Gregg bargained for his party not to suffer an immediate disadvantage from his decisiion to join the Cabinet. He could have been criticized as being selfish if he had sacrificed the party to satisfy a personal ambition. I don't think he can be critcized for doing the reverse.

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Prescott, Ariz.: With all this talk about people like Daschle and Geithner having to pay back taxes I would like your opinion. Do you think that companies that "move" their companies to a P.O. box in the Cayman Islands solely to skimp on paying their U.S. taxes are tax cheats?

David S. Broder: They may not be violating the law, as Daschle and Geithner apparently were, but they are taking advantage of a loophole and cheating on their obligation as an American company.

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Albany, N.Y.: I've liked many of your recent columns, which show a real sense of perspective about the supposed missteps of the Obama administration, namely that they are nowhere near the scale of the missteps of the Bush administration. The one about Daschle and Gregg was a good example.

Are you concerned that some of your colleagues in the media don't share your sense of perspective? Many seem to be writing about nominees' tax problems and the fight to get the stimulus passed (which will ultimately prevail undoubtedly) in breathless tones that should be reserved for graver matters like the Iraq war and Katrina.

Do you agree? And why do you think this is?

washingtonpost.com: The Daschle and Gregg column: A Cabinet Loss and Gain (Post, Feb. 5)

David S. Broder: As an old geezer, I have one consolation: the persepective that comes from having seen a few scandals before. By comparison, what we're dealing with is hardly a federal case.

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Princeton, N.J.: But isn't the governor of New Hampshire obligated to pick the best person for the job, be they Republican, Democrat or Socialist?

David S. Broder: I know the governor of New Hampshire, who is a fine and conscientious guy. I'm sure he thinks that the woman he chose will serve well in the Senate and that Democrats stand a good chance of winning the seat in two years, which they would not have had if Sen. Gregg had remained in the Senate.

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For Dunn Loring: The Republicans want tax cuts and very little else. Sen. John McCain basically pitched a tax-cut-only proposal the other day and it was voted down on party lines.

Only tax cuts with no spending is not a valid idea, and that kind of obstructionism should be rejected.

David S. Broder: The Senate agrees with you, and, for what it's worth, so do I.

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Evanston, Ill.: Does Howard Dean have a chance at HHS or does Rahm Emanuel still hate him?

David S. Broder: I think President Obama has other options that would fill the HHS job better than Governor Dean.

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tax cuts: You can give as many tax cuts as you want to businesses. They aren't going to increase production till there is an increase in demand.

David S. Broder: That's pretty basic economics.

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San Jose, Calif.: The President needs to publicly embarrass the Republicans crying "pork" by pointing out all the Republicans' pork spending.

Why are we building the F22 and F35?

David S. Broder: I don't think that "so's your old man" argument gets you very far.

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The Good Old days : What politicians from the '60s and '70s do you miss? Do you get the feeling that people like Johnson and Goldwater, when faced with a financial melt down like this, would have locked a bunch of key leaders together in the room, and beaten them all up until they had something that would get 70 votes? Or am I romanticizing the past?

David S. Broder: No, I don't think you are. The weakness of the leadership in the Senate has been a complaint of mine for two years now, and I think we're seeing it again. The White House can't intervene on this, but Obama is the victim.

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New York : So who would you pick: Lebron James or Kobe Bryant?

David S. Broder: I just wish we we had one of them playing for the Wizards.

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Blago/Gregg distinction: The difference is that the voters chose to put a Republican in that seat for 6 years; appointing a Republican to fill out the term respects that decision.

David S. Broder: Agree.

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Sewickley, Pa.: With the employment figures today we have the final report card on job creation during the Bush administration. Just 417,000 private sector jobs were created in eight years. During the previous administration the economy grew by 20,569,000 private sector jobs. Yet the GOP seems to be dominating the debate over the stimulus plan. What gives?

David S. Broder: A good point. But don't give up hope yet. The Senate procewss is still unfolding.

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Blago/Gregg: The voters of NH did not vote to put a Republican in that seat, they voted to put Sen. Gregg, a Republican in that seat. The point of the agreement to replace him with another Republican was to put aside the cynical nonsense that his selection was merely a ploy to achieve a 60 vote veto proof majority. Good intentions are not appreciated, even recognized in today's Washington.

David S. Broder: Sadly, you are right. And sadly, I have to go back to work now. Thank all of you for a stimulating hour.

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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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