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The Post's David Broder on the Disputed Presidency

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Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2000; 11:30 a.m. EST

Gov. George W. Bush claimed victory after Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified Bush as the winner. Vice President Gore responded by challenging the official certification. When will this end? What kind of strategy can we expect from the Bush and Gore camps?

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and reporter David S. Broder is the author of a book entitled "Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns & the Power of Money," and has written extensively about primaries, elections and special interests. Broder joined washingtonpost.com on Tuesday, November 28 to talk about Campaign 2000. The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Arlington, Va.: Mr. Broder,
If Al Gore prevails, do you think his relationship with the military and its leaders will be strained because of his campaign's attempt to disallow large numbers of military absentee ballots in Fla.? If so, will the strain be greater than that experienced by the early Clinton administration?

David Broder: If Mr. Gore wins, I am confident the senior military command would accept his authority, as they always follow the direction of the Commander-in-Chief. The reaction of the lower officer ranks and the enlisted personnel is harder to gauge, but I think any president has the opportunity to make friends in the military, as he does in the public at large, by showing his appreciation for their service.

Princeton, N.J.: You mentioned in a recent column that the post-election stalemate made this the saddest Thanksgiving in decades. What would make it a happy Christmas? What is the best possible outcome that we could reasonably hope for? Besides a gracious concession speech that offers full support to the new president-elect, what is required to heal this political rift? Short of uniting behind a war, are we destined to four years of division?

washingtonpost.com: "A Cloud Over Thanksgiving" By David Broder (The Washington Post, Nov. 21)

David Broder: After the gracious concession speech that you mention, it would be important for the winner to show his understanding of two things: the frustration and disappointment of those who supported the losing candidate and the fact that the country is almost evenly divided in its partisan preferences. Personal diplomacy can accomplish the first goal; the second requires him to think carefully about the makeup of his administration and the agenda he puts before Congress.

Detroit, Mich.: Mr. Broder, a tough question but relevant to the fact that so many Black and Hispanic voters in Florida were harassed at the polls, yet their disenfranchisement was made far less significant by the mainstream media than the issues concerning over seas military ballots.

Do you think it not outrageous that there is only one African-American in the entire Republican controlled Senate and House? Why isn't this an issue in American politics? Does the answer relate to the above comments about Florida voters?

David Broder: The estrangement between the Republican Party and the African-American community is understandable, because of what happened in our politics and government between the 1930s and the 1980s, but it is not healthy for either side. Republicans ran--and strongly supported--two well-qualified African-American women candidates for the House in New York and Florida this year, but neither won. They have a lot more work to do on this front, and I think they know it.

Seattle, Wash.: Do you think we shall ever get a fair media -- a media where the listeners are more important than how much money the networks can make? Just imagine if the networks had said the race is too close to call. Don't you think that a lot of the hysteria on both sides would have been avoided and a fair end could have come to this election? I truly blame the networks and all the talking heads for doing everything to polarize this post election time. It is not of benefit to the country.

David Broder: There is no good excuse for bad reporting, and the networks failed not once but twice in their election-night reporting of the Florida results. ;I agree with you that their failure contributed to the resulting mess, but we have to acknowledge that a race this close would have generated controversy, even if every step had been reported accurately.

Baltimore, Md.: Do you feel that the near tie in votes between Democrats and Republicans is an indication that the country is evenly split between Republican and Democratic philosophies? Or does it indicate that a significant number of people do not feel that there is a significant difference between the two parties?

David Broder: In my view, the parties are not as polarized as they have been at times in the past; both nominated centrist candidates whose governing philosophies differed but were not radically opposed. I think the portion of Americans who vote are almost evenly divided between those two approaches, and I expect that many of those who did not vote do not see the differences between the parties as being that important.

Baltimore, Md.: If the roles of Al Gore and George Bush were reversed, with Bush trailing Gore, do you think that their actions and arguments would be similar to those we hear now?

David Broder: I expect that if the roles were reversed, the tactics would be reversed. Both sides are geared up to win.

Spokane, Wash.: Isn't there an intentional Constitutional tension between the concept of "majority rule" ("will of the people") and "the rule of law?"

If so, how can commentators or partisans correctly assail either candidate for staking out a Constitutional position and sticking with it until the tension between the positions is resolved?

While neither man may reflect integrity in their philosophical position, it seems the underlying Constitutional tension deserves - even requires - resolution.

David Broder: The rule of law is clearly the central idea of the Constitution. Majority rule--or the will of the people--is probably a more valued concept today than it was in the 18th Century. But there is a tension, and we're seeing it tested now.

Mexico City, Mexico: It is said that in a democratic system each vote has the same value for the final result. However, under the current election in the U.S., a vote posted by a resident of Florida has a higher weight than a vote of a resident of the other state. Therefore, it seems appropriate to be sure that the votes in Florida should be counted with total accuracy. What do you think? When would the votes of any American citizen have the same weight, independent of the state of residency?

David Broder: The system for electing the president set forth in the Constitution does not guarantee that every individual vote have equal weight. That would be the case if we had direct election of the president. In fact, the presidential election is the cumulative result of 51 separate votes to choose electors in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The number of votes per elector varies widely from state to state--as the Constitution mandates.

Washington, D.C.: Against the polls and pursuing a hyper-legalistic strategy with no thought of exit while rallying the party leaders because he believes -- correctly or incorrectly -- that he can eventually prevail in the Senate, is Al Gore re-fighting the Clinton impeachment?

David Broder: The partisan lines certainly resemble those we saw during the impeachment battle. But of course impeaching and removing a president is--and should be--more difficult than settling an election dispute.

Washington, D.C.: Bush ran as a Washington outsider and his first appointments are people who served in his father's cabinet. And it is dubious that Cheney or Card are typical "outsiders." Do these appointments show that Bush will govern just like his father did, and just as successfully?

David Broder: It is not unusual for any newly elected president to turn to people who served in the last administration of his party. But my impression is that George W. Bush is quite a different personality than his father. If he becomes president, I expect to see at least as many differences in approach as similarities.

Daytona Beach, Fla.: What challenges face Jeb Bush in governing Florida after the election finally is decided?

David Broder: I'm no expert on Florida politics, but my impression is that Gov. Bush has tried to keep his distance from the recount disputes. If he is drawn into the battle, say, by the intervention of the Florida legislature, I expect it would have a bigger impact on his 2002 campaign.

Herndon, Va.: Do you think that there will be election reform out of all of this mess? It is a ashame to have all of this technology available to us, and yet we are relying on someone looking at a "pregnant chad."

David Broder: I would hope that something could be done to help states and local jurisdictions finance more modern voting and vote-counting equipment. But I do not expect to see a uniform ballot format or uniform equipment across the country.

Washington, D.C. Considering the major political divisions this election has generated, can the new Congress pass any major legislation -- for example, Social Security or Medicare reform?

David Broder: The policy differences on Social Security and Medicare are not so great, in my judgment, as to make compromise impossible. But the politics of the situation is very difficult, with both parties jockeying for position to break what is, in effect, a tie in the makeup of Congress. It may take at least one more election--in 2002--to do that. And maybe more.

Nashville, Tenn.: Mr. Broder: Do you expect to see this happen again in 2004? The system in every local community in America is so confusing and full of legal-loopholes. Potential candidates from now on out will surely realize that they can drag the process out IF they have the funds to pay the lawyers.

David Broder: I certainly hope we won't face this again in 2004. Elections this close are rarities, so there's no reason to assume it will be this tight again in four years.

Bellville, Tex.: When will the media ask Al Gore why he is only searching in Democratic precincts if his objective is to count every voter's vote?
There is an obvious heavy hypocrisy in his pleadings, and the media ignores the obvious question.

David Broder: I made that very point in a column in The Washington Post today. It would help the situation if both candidates would come off their campaign spin and start leveling with the American people.

Cincinnati, Ohio: Given the inflammatory recent comments of Tom Delay, do you think that bi-partisan harmony can be easily created if he remains in his current GOP leadership position?

David Broder: Mr. DeLay is proudly partisan, but he is hardly alone. I think the roots of partisan friction in Congress go deeper than the personalities of individual leaders and can be found in the extremely close balance of power and the motivation on both sides to keep or seize control.

Gambrills, Md.: Would you agree that the level of polarization between the two political camps today, the obstinacy they display in dealing with each other, and the generally negative and antagonistic tone of the political debate today, are all the legacy of the turbulent 60's? It seems to me that a breakdown of civility occurred back then, not just with the anti-war movement itself, but with all that the movement triggered, including the resurgence of the political right as a reaction to the excesses of the left. Is this too much of a generalization, even though it seems to explain a lot going on today?

David Broder: I endorsed your theory of generational conflict within the baby boomers in a column about two weeks ago. Many of the disagreements I believe do have their roots in the unresolved battles of the 1960s--a decade that divided that generation as much as the "greatest generation" was united by the Depression and World War II.

Monterrey, Mexico: Greetings. In retrospect, is there anything else Vice President Gore could have done immediately after the election. That is, he could have accepted the automatic recount or he could have asked for the manual recounts. Were those his only two options? Could Gore have, for example, immediately asked for a statewide recount, which would have included extra votes for Texas Gov. Bush as well as for Gore, and which would have, for me, added more credence to his claim that he only cares that all of the votes are counted correctly. Thanks very much.

David Broder: Gore (or Bush) could have asked for a statewide hand recount before the deadline for such a request expired, and I think we would have been a lot better off than we are today.

Annandale, Va.: Mr. Broder,

Two questions regarding Vice President Gore and his contesting of the Florida presidential election results: first, has Mr. Gore ever lost an election in his political career (or even run a closely contested race); and second, what are the real dangers of his dragging out this election instead of conceding with grace and dignity? I think most of us have read recently about how Nixon decided not to contest the election results in his much closer bid against Kennedy back in 1960, and he ended up getting elected 8 years later. Should Mr. Gore have used this example in the chance that, if Mr. Bush is deemed the winner, he will still have a political future?

David Broder: Mr. Gore has never lost a general election, but he was defeated in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and withdrew gracefully after finishing third in the New York primary that year. Clearly at his age, he has the potential of running for president again, and his way of handling this situation--assuming he does not win--will have a great influence on public attitudes toward a future candidacy. He is probably well aware of this, but seems focused on achieving the victory he believes he won Nov. 7

Los Angeles, Calif.: Mr. Broder, you said earlier that if the vote counts were reversed, the parties' maneuverings would be reversed, as both sides are playing to win. I'm inclined to agree, but am concerned that this effectively sanctions bitter combat anytime there is a statistical tie in an election. While the combat may be an inevitability, isn't there some hope for increased civility and rationality as opposed to rancor and spin? Do you think other candidates might have been less acrimonious than these two?

David Broder: We cannot know, of course, how other candidates would have reacted to an election this close. But we all know that people who enter politics tend to be highly competitive, so I expect we might have seen the same thing if it were, say, John McCain and Bill Bradley contesting.

Ottawa, Ontario: Mr. Broder, can you expand on the thought that Gore is and has always trailed Bush in the PR campaign -- i.e. the post-debate spin, the post-election spin and now the court spin. In other words, Bush's PR team is that much better than Gore's. Thanks.

David Broder: I'm not sure I agree with your premise that the Bush team has always been ahead in the public relations battle. I thought the Gore side struck first with the election day complaints about the "butterfly ballot" and many Republicans have said publicly they though Bush was playing catch-up for most of the first week of the post-election battle.

Miami, Fla.: Does the election mess in Florida affect how the U.S. media will monitor and comment on elections in other (less developed) countries, such as Haiti? Given that Florida is as much a "basket case" as Haiti, should it provide more perspective in commenting on other elections?

David Broder: It probably should make us more understanding of other nations' election problems, but I'm not sure we will become less judgmental.

Washington, D.C.: What was with that "conference" call. Every time I start to lean to Vice President Gore's view that a recount is warranted, he does something to remind us that he thinks that we are a bunch of idiots. When we can see thru that silly charade so easily, it makes me think that his contest is just another charade.

David Broder: So you think it was odd to fly the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate from Washington to Tallahassee so they could make a phone call of support to Gore and Lieberman in Washington, D.C.? So did I.

Andover, N.J.: With all the increasingly negative elements of national elections, how can we ever change the system so qualified, non-professional politicians will want to run for office?

David Broder: It was worries like yours that prompted me to write the column that appeared in The Post on Sunday about the members of the House freshman class. They are an impressive group, so I am less concerned about good people shunning politics than I would be otherwise. It is the system--not the people in it--that is cause for concern.

VA: Will a Republican-controlled White House, House and Senate make it easier to pass legislation? Before, opposing parties in control of the White House and the House/Senate helped with the balance of checks and powers.

David Broder: The division in Congress is so close that almost any major legislation will need support from members on both sides of the aisle. That may be difficult--if not impossible--to achieve in this environment.

Mt. Rainier, Wash.: My father, an intelligent and well-read man, recently declared that all Democrats are corrupt and dishonest (to his Democratic daughter no less!). I feel like this kind of hostility and abuse is growing between people of different convictions -- and not just because my father is grumpy!

David Broder: My e-mail and phone calls include a lot of extreme judgments such as your father voiced, so I know what you mean. But most of the voters I interviewed during the past year expressed their weariness and disgust with partisanship for the sake of partisanship. I hope their common sense prevails in what is clearly a contentious atmosphere.

Albany, N.Y.: Mr Broder: Why wouldn't it be correct to refer to Mr. Bush as president-elect? Even if a challenge has been submitted?

David Broder: Mr. Bush has not yet claimed to be the president-elect and given the closeness of the election results and the continuing court challenges, it would probably be presumptuous for the press to start using that title or description.

West Bloomfield, Mich.: What roll will John McCain play in the next 2-4 years?

David Broder: Senator McCain intends to be active, both as a proponent of campaign finance legislation and as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. His role in Republican Party politics obviously depends on the outcome of this election; it would probably be greater if Mr. Gore wins than if Mr. Bush is elected.

New York City, N.Y.: What is the obligation of networks such as CNN to show even amounts of time between Bush and Gore? Frankly, they spend a lot more time on Gore, and John King sounds like a Gore spin doctor.

David Broder: I can't answer for CNN and I have not been monitoring their time allotments. But I know John King and regard him as a very even-handed reporter.

Paris, France: Should Katherine Harris have stepped down from her position, since she chaired Bush's Florida campaign and is clearly partisan?

David Broder: It seems to me that the credibility of the Florida canvassing board's decisions would have been greater if avowed partisans had removed themselves--as Gov. Jeb Bush recognized when he did just that. But the secretary of state's position is an elective post in many states, and managing elections is one of Ms. Harris's responsibilities.

Washington, D.C.: Have the events of the last three weeks changed your view of politics in this country, making you more cynical or (conversely) more optimistic?

David Broder: The events of the last three weeks have not made me more cynical, but they have saddened me. I ;thought both candidates and their chief representatives had an opportunity--maybe a duty--to come together quickly and agree on a procedure to recount the Florida votes and agree that once that was done, they would accept the result. The longer this goes on, the less the chances of the winner being regarded as legitimate.

Las Vegas, Nev.: If Bush wins this election, will he have to face the next 4 years with on-going lawsuits or will this all end once he is president?

David Broder: I certainly hope the lawsuits will end when the electoral vote is affirmed by Congress.

Bethesda, Md.: Would it ever be appropriate for the press to decide NOT to report a story out of a refusal to be manipulated? For example, where the story is created for the sole purpose of the publicity it will generate? There are so many examples of this in the current election controversy, but it happens in calmer times, too. I have a feeling that the press reports everything, with the excuse that the creation of the story is the story.

David Broder: Many events are designed simply to generate publicity, as you correctly point out, and the press has to use its judgment in handling them. My own feeling, like yours, is that we often are too easily manipulated by people who know how to jerk our chains.

Midland, Mich.: Mr. Broder,
What do you think the chances are of seeing some meaningful campaign finance reform should either man become president?

David Broder: The chances of passing the McCain-Feingold bill have improved with the Senate results. Whether that is "meaningful" reform is a different question. Regulatory schemes aimed at shutting down specific routings of money into politics have not been very successful in the past, given the pattern of court rulings in this area.

Ithaca, N.Y.: I was a bit stunned when I saw clips of the Republican demonstration in Miami against the recount that took place last week. The image of tie-bedecked middle age white men pounding on glass windows really unnerved me. It unsettled me more about the Republican actions than anything else. What are your thoughts on this behavior?

David Broder: I'm not much in favor of demonstrations inside government buildings, whether they are done by middle-aged white guys or long-haired hippies. It seems to me the appropriate place for people to demonstrate their feelings is on the streets or in parks, not in the corridors or rooms where public officials are trying to do their jobs.

washingtonpost.com: That was our last message for The Post's David Broder. Thank you to David and to all who participated.
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