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David S. Broder
David S. Broder
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Broder On Politics
With David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist/Staff Writer

Thursday, June 28, 2001; Noon EDT

One of the most powerful weapons in any politician's arsenal is rhetoric, and anecdotal information to illustrate a point -- such as the myriad of stories used to support each side of the debate on a patients' bill of rights -- can distort the real costs and consequences of any action. Yet to emerging democracies worldwide that look to the United States for leadership, such rhetoric holds meaning and value.

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist David S. Broder was online to talk about politics, legislation and foreign policy in the Bush administration on Thursday, June 28.

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."

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.

Providence, R.I.: Why has the Bush administration consistently put itself on the moral low ground with respect to public interest concerns?

Environment (Kyoto)
Consumer protection (patients' rights)
Public health and safety (arsenic)
Energy (pro nuclear)
Land rights (eminent domain)

David S. Broder: It may well be that President Bush believed he had a policy mandate, despite the closeness of the election. The positions he's taken were foreshadowed during the campaign, but now are drawing much more attention -- and controversy. They are scratching their heads at the White House and are concerned about the poll findings showing public disapproval of many of his policy stands.

Akron, Ohio: Just read Michael Deaver's new book on Reagan. It was great. I am a Democrat (not a Reagan Democrat) and I was surprised how good it was. I was wondering how you thought Reagan will go down in history. And where do the other recent presidents stand -- Bush I, Clinton, Carter and Nixon?

David S. Broder: I too enjoyed Mike Deaver's book. It does not pretend to be a balanced account but it is a very engaging portrait. My guess is that President Reagan will be a large figure in the history books -- both because of the military/diplomatic policies that helped end the Cold War and because of the domestic policy and budget decisions, which put the brakes on a long period of liberal/progressive government.

New York, N.Y.: 1. What do you believe are the prospects for Bush judicial nominees? Specifically Messiers Estrada (enthusiastically referred to in this paper by Ron Klain), McConnell (endorsed by professors Tribe, Sunstein and Amar -- hardly RNC mouthpieces) and Roberts (the recipient of a well qualified rating from the ABA -- although any lower rating for this highly qualified individual would have decimated their credibility)?

David S. Broder: I'm not knowledgeable enough to answer your question about individual judicial nominees. My guess is that the new Democratic majority will be cautious about picking fights over nominees unless and until there is a clear record on which to build an opposition case.

Arlington, Va.: Mr. Broder,

Given the shift in political climate and the incredible popularity in nearly every major poll of the patients' bill of rights, do you think that President Bush can afford politically to veto the Senate version of the bill if it reaches his desk?

David S. Broder: In the end, I believe President Bush will sign a patients bill of rights. But that will happen only after the House has passed its version and it has been reconciled with the Senate bill. By that time, I expect most, but not all, of the Bush objections will have been satisfied.

Washington, D.C.: Do you think the United States and China will clash militarily in the next 20 years?

David S. Broder: A good question, but I'm a reporter, not a forecaster. I do not believe such a clash is inevitable, but leaders have to make smart decisions.

Columbia, Md.: The Bush tax cut has all but wiped away any chance for real reform in education, defense or prescription drugs. However, these are the issues that Bush campaigned on. Do you think that the size of the tax cut will end up hurting Bush in the long run or will the American public, who is amazingly uninterested and uninformed in all things political, continue to accept the spin by the White House and the Republican leadership?

David S. Broder: I am not as cynical about the public as you seem to be -- folks are pretty smart. The ultimate judgment on the tax cut rests on how quickly the economy resumes a healthy growth. If that happens soon, Bush will claim--and people will probably believe--that the tax rebate and rate cuts played a part in it. And the resulting increase in government revenues will ease the budget crunch. At the moment, it certainly appears that spending on all the topics you mentioned will be restricted by the tax cut. My own view has been and remains that it did not deserve the priority that the president gave it and that the distribution of tax benefits was badly skewed toward those who needed the relief least.

Brookline, Mass.: What is your view of Bush's meeting with Putin?

I found the endorsement of Putin's soul a bit unsettling. Do more senior members of the foreign policy team share the president's view?


David S. Broder: I have the impression that the national security team -- and probably the President himself -- wish that Bush had found other words to express the warmth of his personal feelings after the first meeting with PUtin. As you may have seen, Bush subsequently told Peggy Noonan that he wished he had used the Reagan formula -- "Trust but verify" -- and said that was what he had in mind.

Annapolis, Md.: Many people complain that the news media have gone too easy on President Bush, for example not reporting enough about his unsteady performance in Europe (including his look into Vladimir Putin's eyes and soul). What's your take on this criticism?

David S. Broder: I think President Bush has had a relatively benign press so far -- in part because there was exaggeration of his supposed limitations during the campaign and in part because the press, like everyone else, was emotionally exhausted by the pummeling of President Clinton, which, as you know, began early on and continued right up through his final day in office. Clinton did a lot to bring it on himself, but the pattern was debilitating to everyone, and I think many of us hoped we could avoid going through the same experience again.

Hamburg, Germany: Dear Mr. Broder,

Most politically and environmentally interested Germans/Europeans oppose strictly against the U.S. policy on environmental subjects, especially the Kyoto Protocol. Do you think that, as it seems to us, rejecting of facts and holding back off substantial changings in behaviours such as energy spending can lead to disturbances in American economics? I believe that if changes and innovations might be necessary in the future, American (environmental) technology will be much more behind the European one than it is even today.

Thank you in advance for responding.

Yours faithfully,

Christian Hoffmanns
Hamburg, Germany

David S. Broder: You raise an interesting point. But I am hopeful that market forces in the world economy will prod American industry and business to continue searching for ways to alleviate environmental problems without damaging the pursuit of higher productivity and greater efficiency. As you know, many companies have built the "green agenda" into their strategies already, and I think the forces pushing us in that direction are greater than any political administration can long delay.

Paris, France: There has been talk that the Dems seem to have nobody to run against Bush in 2004. Gore would be an odd choice, Hillary's negatives are way too high, even Gray Davis seems like a stretch with all his power problems.

If you were chairman of the DNC and it were up to you to talent scout, who would you/could you conceivably back to beat Bush? Daschle? Any chance George Mitchell could get involved?

David S. Broder: The Democrats, at this early date, have a surfeit of potential presidential candidates. Some will undoubtedly fall by the wayside, but in addition to those you mention, Sens. Joe Lieberman, John Kerry, John Edwards and I'm sure others are positioning themselves for 2004. By the way, I take Mrs. Clinton at her word -- that she is not running for president in 2004.

New York, N.Y.: Did you think the Bush interview with Peggy Noonan helped or hurt Bush's cause? Or did it make no difference?

David S. Broder: I doubt it will have much effect, but I thought it was interesting that he thought it necessary to clean up the bad quote in a place where his conservative constituents would see it.

Florida: Mr. Broder, with all due respect, if you feel the tax cut was not deserving of priority, what is? Campaign finance reform? Nobody except journalists care a whit about that and it does not do a thing for Joe Citizen personally. The patients' rights legislation? Who is to say that should be prioritized? What should, then?

David S. Broder: That's a fair question. My nominees would not be either of the issues you mentioned. I thought the president was right in giving high priority to education reform, where the federal government plays a limited but significant role. The larger challenges which clearly are federal responsibilities include energy policy, defense reform and, particularly, overhaul of the Medicare and Social Security programs, which are unaffordable in their present formats when the baby boomers retire.

Cumming, Ga.: What are the primary reasons the Democratic Party has done well coastally and in the Great Lakes, while the Republicans dominate the South and Midwest? Will the expansion of Southern cities make Democrats more competitive in traditionally conservative states?

David S. Broder: Thank you for a very good question. I suspect there are both cultural and demographic factors at work. The increase in Latino population on both coasts and the growing politicization of the African-American community are part of the reason Democrats have done well in the older metropolitan areas of the East and in California. You can see the same things in such Midwest states as Illinois and Michigan. But there is also a cultural divide in the country. As the Republican Party has become more southern, rural and Mountain West, in its base, its views on guns, abortion, school prayer and other social issues have created something of a backlash in other parts of society. There was an intriguing report this past week about the growth of minority populations in many suburban areas that also is part of the picture.

Jackson, Miss.: Mr. Broder, what do you consider to be President Bush's greatest strength and weakness for reelection in '04?

David S. Broder: It is way too early, in my judgment, to be doping out the election of '04. As the incumbent, Bush will have all the advantage of controlling the agenda more than his opponents can do. But he is also vulnerable to outside events and uncontrollable forces. Let's talk again in two years, and we'll both know more about strengths and weaknesses.

Portland, Ore.: Does any Social Security reform have a chance before the 2002 elections?

Do you think the Democrats will be willing to cooperate/compromise with a Republican president to reform their favorite program?

It seems to me that the Democrats probably sense (due to the close 2000 election) that Bush may be vunerable in 2004 and would postpone any Social Security reform until after that.

David S. Broder: It will be very difficult for the president to push through a major reform of Social Security. As his people know, they have a lot of explaining and a lot of reassuring to do before the public accepts the idea of converting part of Social Security into private savings accounts, and most Democrats will do their best to make that task even harder for Bush. I think the odds are against him today, but he seems committed to making the effort.

Gaithersburg, Md.: I've seen reports lately that the Bush "tax cut" has limited the availability of funds for new military spending. Given Bush's rhetoric during the campaign (basically blaming the Clinton administration for eight years of military neglect) and his need for missle defense, what would be the worst political move? 1. to raid social security and/or medicare to pay for military spending, 2. there are more cuts in social programs, 3. deficit spending, or 4. the help never comes.

David S. Broder: The options you outline are all pretty bleak, but probably the worst one politically would be to tap into funds set aside for Social Security and Medicare. What we are likely to see is a stretch out of the promised defense reforms, keeping the initial costs low and hoping that a robust economy generates more revenues in future years.

State College, Pa.: At the present time, what do you see as the prospects for the Democrats to take the House, and retain the Senate, in the 2002 elections? Also, whom do you regard as the front-runners (at this admittedly early stage) for the Democratic nomination in 2004?

David S. Broder: I have no idea who to call a front-runner for the Democrats for 2004. That is why God created the New Hampshire primary -- to answer that question. As for 2002, we won't know the odds on the House switching until we see the redistricting decisions being made this summer and fall. Republicans need to build a firewall of gains from redistricting to have a decent chance -- if public attitudes remain what they are now. The Senate looks to me like a tossup, with almost equal numbers of vulnerable seats on both sides.

Portland, Ore.: It seems to me that the Bush administration found itself on the losing end of the politics of the energy problems here in the west.

Was holding out against all price controls just plain unrealistic? (Even the very high one that FERC imposed.)

I also question his meeting with Gray Davis where the governor used all the press attention to pummel President Bush about price caps. It seems to me the governor was playing smart politics, smarter than the president.

David S. Broder: I agree with you that the administration has been slow on the uptake on the energy problems and has found itself, as a result, playing catchup from a defensive position. The compromise on limiting energy prices was available much earlier, but was rejected because it violated free market principles. As someone wisely said, there are times you have to rise above principle -- as the administration now has done.

Washington, D.C.: With the author of some of the anti-Anita Hill stories saying that he lied following reports that the Clinton staff may not have actually trashed the White House on the way out, does the right-wing propaganda movement risk losing credibility by not bothering to ascertain the truth before ranting and raving? Or do they do it that way because it works? Is there any public backlash to false reports or is our attention span too short to desire any correction to the news?

David S. Broder: I believe there is a price paid for spreading false rumors, but I have to confess I have no idea when if ever to believe that Mr. Brock is telling a straight story. He has lost credibility as far as I am concerned.

Miami, Fla.: If signed into law, do you believe the section in the McCain/Feingold barring unions, corporations, etc., from broadcasting commercials 60 days before election day will be found in violation of the First Amendment in federal court?

David S. Broder: I am not a lawyer, so take my opinion with a large grain of salt. My hunch is that an outright ban on "issue ads" mentioning a candidate's name in the pre-election period would be found to violate the First Amendment. A requirement that such ads be treated as if they were campaign ads, with limitations on financing and disclosure of donors, might have a better chance of surviving judicial scrutiny.

Andover, Mass.: I wonder how popular the so-called Patient's Bill of Rights legislation really is? I realize internal polls must show it is popular, but how deeply does that popularity go? I believe a good case could be made against it, arguing that it will enrich trial lawyers, injure some employers (even if it is only 6 percent of companies after the compromise), and result in reduced numbers of people insured, all for the privilege of suing everyone in town for big bucks. Oh, not to mention that most people insured via their company will see rises in premiums. I would like to see the Republicans and the president argue these points forcefully and vocally, taking an aggressive tone while playing up perhaps the House Bill. But I do sympathize with them. They will get absolutely NO help from the mainstream media. Your last article was refreshing to read however, as you seemed to bemoan the fact that this issue has been presented one-sided, but alas it is the exception and not the norm.

David S. Broder: Thanks for the comment on the last column; I wrote it because I thought the press commentary on the bill was one-sided. Republicans in the Senate have made all the arguments you advance, but so far they have not budged public opinion very much if at all. The HMOs are the target of choice, for the moment, but the real problems in our health care system lie much deeper -- in the incredible waste in the system and in the massive numbers of people without health insurance. Those problems will be there after this "remedial" legislation is law. And it would be better if we in the press were reminding people of that fact.

Boston, Mass.: Is the IRS still planning on spending $30 million to mail notices of the tax rebate?

Who authored those letters anyway?

Also, what would have happened had a Democrat decided to do this?

David S. Broder: The plan is to send out the advance notices. I don't know where the idea originated, but it obviously came from the administration. It's sure a strange way to spend $29 million or whatever the cost.

Stockholm, Sweden: Mr. Broder: Do you see the Bush administration's foreign policy being driven by any discernible central themes?

David S. Broder: I think the administration foreign policy is still a work in progress. But that should not surprise us. The world is a more complicated place than campaign rhetoric allows, and every time there is a change of government, we go through the same struggle for coherence.

I am afraid this has to be my last question for today. I look forward to the next chat.


That was our last question today. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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