Broder on Politics: Investigating Torture, Obama's Comments in Europe, More

David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist
Friday, April 10, 2009; 12:00 PM

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and Washington Post columnist David S. Broder was online Friday, April 10 at noon p.m. ET to answer your questions about the world of politics and his latest columns.


Richmond, Va.: We conservatives, yes -- I am one, have been eye-rolling over Obama apologizing all over the place on behalf of America. (Referencing his European tour.) Yet, is the conventional wisdom that such a "hat-in-hand" needs to be done in order to make progress? What do you feel is Obama's game plan in general by taking (sometimes) an apolgystic posture?

David S. Broder:

Good day to everyone. I'm glad to be back chatting. The first question is a tough one. I'm not sure whether President Obama's statements on the European trip were as much a strategy as a reflex. Like both his predecessors, who started out saying they wanted a "humble" approach to the world, he thought that acknowledging our own failings would perhaps lower the level of distrust. Whether they did or not I don't think we can tell. But I think the imperative now is for him to show strength and willpower, especially after the North Koreans and the Pirates have shown they don't put much stock in his strong words.


New York, NY: Regarding the many and unvarying reasons given by American pundits, press and pols for not investigating torture and other war crimes during the Bush Administration, I just want to raise the fact that Britain also has a financial crisis to deal with. They also have a "future," not just a past, to address. They also have faced, and still face, terrorist threats. Criminal investigations and prosecution would also be controversial for them and create partisan divisions. But they're still proceeding to investigate credible allegations of serious crimes on the part of their government officials. That's what the "rule of law" means. So what the heck happened to that quaint concept here in the good old U.S.A.?

David S. Broder: I'm not familiar with what the Brits are doing or if they have their own Abu Ghraibs to investigate. But I understand the reluctance to open a wide-ranging probe of past practices. It seems to me we are better off focusing on cleaning up the policies and practices for the future than trying to settle scores for past actions.


I'm being convinced: I voted for Obama, but always thought that it would be a stretch for his presidency to live up to his flawless campaign. Three month's in, I'm beginning to believe he may just match up to the campaign.

The final stimulus bill was basically what he had originally presented. The budget came through exactly as he wanted it. He went to one of those do-nothing G-7-20 meetings and actually came away with an accomplishment. His opposition has marginalized itself with its comical ineptitude. By Jove, I believe he will actually get health care done. What do you think?

David S. Broder: To start frim the end, I agree with you that he has a real shot at health care reform, tho it won't be easy. I would give him lower marks on the budget than you do, because it fails to address to need for entitlement reform or to suggest any realistic way of paying for all the programs he wants to start or expand. I think he has yet to acknowledge the need for more than the top 5 percent to make some sacrifices.


Re: "power and strength": You write "But I think the imperative now is for him to show strength and willpower, especially after the North Koreans and the Pirates have shown they don't put much stock in his strong words."

Let me get this straight -- you're blaming Obama for the pirate attacks?

David S. Broder: No, I'm not Blaming Obama for the pirate attacks. What I'm saying is that when you say as he has said, "there must be consequences" for aggressive acts, there must be consequences. You remember the boy who cried "Wolf"


Rochester, N.Y.: Although I am not generally a fan of bipartisanship for its own sake, I have enjoyed nearly all of your columns so far this year. They've been fair, which is all one can hope for.

Do you think that Obama has gotten a rougher handling from inside the beltway than his predecessor did? I seem to recall about a four year honeymoon for George W. Bush. Obama's lasted about two weeks, by my estimation. Do you buy into the idea -- put forward by Polk Award-winning journalist Josh Marshall -- that Washington is simply wired for Republican power? Wired

David S. Broder: I don't know Josh Narshall's argument so I can't judge it. I do agree that Bush had an easier introduction to office than Obama has had, but on Sept. 10 of 2001, he was struggliing politically, so it wasn't all that easy. It changed on Sept. 11 and remained changed, at least through the 2004 election.


Dumb question: When the ship's captain escaped from the pirates overnight, why didn't the US just fire on (blow up) the little boat the pirates were in? Is there any political reason for the US to hold its fire?

David S. Broder: It's not clear how long the captain was out of the little boat. I'd suggest waiting until the picture is clearer.


Franconia, VA: President Obama said there was a reflexive anti-Americanism by Europeans that had to stop, just as our occasional dismissiveness toward them had to stop. The people who hate him have decided to white out the fact that he called out old Europe on its anti-American rhetoric. I'm really disappointed to see you fall for that revisionist take on reality, as in your first answer. I despise the GOP thugs (Rove, Limbaugh, and "friends") as latter day Joe McCarthys, but I respect your judgment.

David S. Broder: You are certainly correct that Obama "called out" the Europeans for their reflexive anti-Americanism in that one speech. But it's also the case that he several times went out of his way to acknowledge past errors by the U.S.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Settling Scores: I actually don't see it so much as settling scores as a warning to the future. Perhaps if there was a deterrent in place, we would not have the situation where some politicians feel above the law. Just because Nixon said it's legal if the president does it, it must be true. I think that while the pardoning of Nixon helped in the short-run, it caused irreparable harm in the long-term.


David S. Broder: Yours is a perfectly legitimate point of view. But I have become convinced that there is not much learning that takes place from one administration to the next; otherwise, we would not have repeated scandals and coverups in Washington. So I think we're better off putting our focus on the policies (and people) a new president is putting into place.


Bemidji, MN: Mr. Broder,

When am I going to get my adequate representation in the Senate? The MN Supreme Court should be the end of this, right? Does Former Sen. Coleman have the option to take this to the US Supereme Court? I can't see where they would have the authority to rule on what is clearly a State Issue.

David S. Broder: Dear Bemidji: Your hockey team did you proud, even though they came up short last night. My sources tell me that Senator Coleman has the right to take his case into the federal courts, but they question whether Republican donors will want to finance such an appeal, given the long odds against its sucess.


when you say as he has said, "there must be consequences" for aggressive acts: But he didn't say "the U.S. must administer these consequences." I found this a refreshing change, a signal that we Americans are no longer going to insist on being the world's policemen...and no longer pick our targets for political or economic reasons (hey, North Korea doesn't have any oil; that's why the Bush administration ignored it).

David S. Broder: I agree with you that collective action is preferable to unilateral sanctions or retaliation. But you saw what happened when the North Korean missile test was taken to the United Nations. Wimps. And when an American vessel is seized on the high seas, it behooves us to take steps against the pirates. We don't want to establish a pattern of backing down from challenges, or they will grow more frequent an more serious.


Rule of Law: But, if we don't investigate and try people who commit high crimes, then we really can't say we are a nation of laws and not of men, can we? I understand not wanting to tie Obama up in prosecuting say the torturers - but Obama won't be doing it personally, it will be someone in the DOJ. Again, it comes out that the GOP "get out of jail card" is what the Washington establishment wants - can't try Republicans for their illegal behavior because then you would have to recognize the illegal behavior of Republicans and where would your holy bipartisanship be then?

David S. Broder: Again, I understand and acknowledge the desire to punish wrongdoers and hold people accountable. But in the current circumstances, I think both the White House and the Justice Department have bigger fish to fry.


Green Bay, Wisconsin: If laws have been broken by high government officials, should they not be held responsible? To use the "boy who cried wolf" analogy, if the law isn't upheld for ALL of us, isn't there a pretty good chance that future government officials will figure they can get away with whatever they want? Until we answer for our past, we can't recover our national soul; our integrity as a nation of good. And David... how can bipartisanship ever be acheived when one side says "our way or no way"?

David S. Broder: I hope my previous answer will deal with at least part of your question. As for the rest, bipartisanship is certainly impoissible if either party take a "my way or no way" attitudes. That is the death knell for any accomodation.


Giving Bush Credit: Last Fall it seemed that he had quit his job. However, I think it should be mentioned that Wells Fargo's historic earnings are one of the first visible signs that TARP is working. If other major TARP recipients are able to do half as well as Wells (which has always had the best management) we could start to see credit lines open up.

David S. Broder: I hope you are right. I am no expert, but I too have heard that Wells Fargo is a well-managed bank.


Beating the Bipartisan Drum: Hi, Mr. Broder. You've been on the "bipartisanship" ship for a long time now, and I just wanted to give you another view. People who have lost their jobs and are struggling with health care costs and the prospects of a struggling retirement don't actually care if Republicans and Democrats fight over how to fix it. Only in the beltway bubble is there some expectation that everyone is going to agree. The rest of us would prefer that our politicians stand up for what they believe in and try to do what they promised. Apparently we have more faith in democracy than the Post's columnists and editors do ... which is thoroughly unsurprising.

David S. Broder: A fair shot--and well said. I'm still reeling from the punch. As you will see in the Sunday column, I have no problem when disagreements are clearly expressed and well justified--as they were, for example, in the budget debate. But the history is very clear: when tough issues like civil rights in the 1950s or health care now are being tackled, you have to persuaded at least some of the people in the opposition to engage and you have to welcome their ideas in order to gain broad public acceptance of the outcome/


Good ideas: Obama said he would listen to Republicans when they have "good ideas." Have they had any yet?

David S. Broder: See above. We better hope Republicans have some good ideas on health care and we better hope Obama is listening/


desire to punish wrongdoers and hold people accountable.: But how about a commission just to find out what they did so we can figure out how to stop it. We don't have to have convictions.

David S. Broder: I think the "truth commission" idea of Senator Leahy is a very promising one, provided procedures were fair and the duration reasonable.


Re: Pirates: Who cares what the Pirates think, Mr. Broder? They've had like 15 consecutive seasons of losing records! How do you like the chances your Cubbies this year?

David S. Broder: This year is definitely the Cubs' year. They get to play the Nationals here in four games, so that's practically a guarantee of a pennant.


Pittsburgh: Three generations of my extended family started out as Republicans. My husband and I are in our 50's, my niece and her husband are in their 30's, and our god daughter is in her 20's. None of us can envision going back to a party that characterizes us as socialists, communists, fascists or whatever the current ist is. How will the GOP rebuild when the folks with the loudest voices and biggest microphones continue to insult the voters who have left them? On a sad note, I wonder if the murder of three police officers here will have a lasting effect outside the borders of Pennsylvania. Cable tv and talk radio seem designed to do one thing: make us hate one another. Too cynical? Do you see anything hopeful in the news business or are we doomed to exploitative infotainment?

David S. Broder: Thank you for what you have said so well. The REpublicans won't recover if their loudest voices are the people hurling epithets at the Democrats. As for the news business, it has never been shakier, but the people like my publisher, Don Graham, and your editor, Dave Shribman, are doing their damndest to figure out an economic model that works and that finances responsible--and therefore expensive--enterprise journalism.


Financing Coleman: I thought long ago it became less about Coleman winning and more about the numbers in the Senate. Is that worth financing?

David S. Broder: I can't answer that. I don't have a dog in that fight, as Howard Baker used to say.


Laurel, MD: I find your answer to the person who questioned the lack of interest in investigating torture and war crimes during the Bush Administration unacceptable.

How exactly is investigating and if necessary, prosecuting criminal acts that the Bush Administration committed "settling scores for past actions?" Is it not our duty as the United States to investigate and prosecute those who violated our laws and possibly misled and lied to the American people about Iraq, torture, illegal eavsdroping, etc.?

How sad that upholding and enforcing the laws of our great country is now considered "settling scores."

David S. Broder: Your motives may be pure; I accept that you simply want to know the truth and let the chips fall where they may. But I run into a lot of people here who really want to see Bush--or, even better, Cheney--standing in the dock, struggling to stay out of the slammer. I remain of the view that we have better things to do.


Alexandria VA: Isn't it ironic that about 3 questions so far have been about "the rule of law" and that Bush and his people should have been investigated and punished? How come no one seems to remember that in 2001, President Bush wanted to swipe the table clean in spite of the massive push to go after Bill Clinton for the alledged selling off of pardons? Isn't it just more likely that no incoming administration wants to be dragged down into the bad behavior of the former presidents but go forward to set their new agenda?

David S. Broder: Yes. I think you've got it exactly right.


What did he really say?: I'm honestly trying to piece together what Obama really said in Europe (versus what pundits on both sides said he said) and the only thing I saw was Joel Achenbloch's post, which was very funny but perhaps only showed one side.

Can you point me in the direction of someone who is a critic of Obama's behavior abroad who can similarly support his views with the president's actual words?

David S. Broder: You might try Charles Krauthammer/


Houston TX: Do you remember that during the impeachment of Bill Clinton, former president Gerald Ford said that in hindsight, he was correct in giving Nixon the pardon? So with New York, and Gaitersburg, and Franconia wanting the head of President Bush, are they really ready to have Obama's first term sidelined by the TV trials of George W. Bush, and all those naughty Republicans day afte day?

David S. Broder: Amen. And goodbye for today. I'm going back to work. Enjoyed the conversation as always.


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