Broder On Politics
With David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist/Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 18, 2001; Noon EDT
Journalism and business in Washington and worldwide lost a prominent voice this week. Katharine Graham, 84, chairman of the executive committee of The Washington Post Company, died Tuesday in Boise, Idaho, after suffering head injuries in a fall Saturday.
In the business of politics, the centrist Democratic Leadership Council gathered in Indianapolis this week, criticizing their party's approach to issues including religion and tried to put together a game plan for expanding support. Meanwhile, campaign finance reform stalled in the House last week over a procedural vote, and Senate Democrats are digging in their heels over school spending and other policy issues, plaguing President Bush's education plan.
Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist David S. Broder will be online to talk about politics and the legacy of Mrs. Graham on Wednesday, July 18, at noon EDT.
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.
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Encino, Calif.: Dave, my keen memory of Kay Graham goes back to late 1970 -- and it involves you. This was before she was the celebrated and sure-footed woman and media mogul she became. I telephoned you to ask if you thought she would entertain the idea of entering the "enemy camp" and accept an invitation to speak at the Republican Governors Conference to be held in Sun Valley in December of that year. I thought that such an "unexpected" invitation to speak to GOP state executives might intrigue her. You replied that she did not ordinarily do appearances like that -- but to call her and ask her. I did. She declined, graciously but shyly saying she would be overwhelmed to take on such an event. The next day she called me, apologizing for making a second call. She explained that she had second thoughts about her declination and she indeed would like to join us at the Republican Governors Conference! She added, "That is, if it is not too late and you have not already invited someone else!" I told her we would be delighted to have her. As you recall, she indeed did appear on a panel with Henry Luce III and Bill Sheehan of ABC News. She very much enjoyed the social interaction with Republican Governors and she made a wonderful contribution to our media panel. She learned GOP state executives were real people with real human interests -- and Republican Governors learned the publisher of The Washington Post was a real person with real human interests, too. I always felt that Sun Valley platform marked an entry on to a new national stage for her. How ironic that Sun Valley became her exit off of it as well. Regards, Jim Galbraith.
David S. Broder: Jim, thank you for that reminiscence. I wrote about her Sun Valley trip to the RGA in a tribute column this morning. It is available on the Web site. All the best, Dave
washingtonpost.com: Broder's tribute column: Backbone of The Post
Fairfax, Va.: I'm sure that Mrs. Graham wouldn't want any news about her to over shadow the public debates, so I'm going to ask my question about stem cells.
It seems to me, that the question that everyone is hinting at but no one wants to ask or answer is "When does human life begin?" Of course, there are many different answers to that question depending on the person you ask. But with that question now in the air, if not said quite yet, will it carry over and affect the ongoing debate on abortion?
David S. Broder: You are right in saying that the question of when life begins is at the heart of the debate on stem cells. But there are other pretty basic issues as well -- including the questions of political monitoring of science and the tradeoffs involved between concern for the embryos and the potential of life-enhancing cures. It is good the president is giving it such careful consideration.
Pennsylvania: The decline of print media (especially newspapers) due to cable, TV news and the Internet is well known. Given these realities, do you think it would be possible in today's media atmosphere for someone of Katharine Graham's stature who could have a similar guiding influence on the media as a whole?
David S. Broder: Yes, I think it possible for a publisher of her character -- if there is one -- to have great influence. Our TV friends, unfortunately, have seen their organizations subordinated to larger and larger corporate entities. But the independent newspapers -- or even newspaper chains -- still can set the mark, if their owners wish.
Plano, Tex.: As a loyal Democrat, I too have problems with the party's approach to religion. The Democratic Party has become far too weak in defending the most vital of American rights, the separation of church and state. The idea that the DLC isn't screaming for more separation offends me greatly. Is the DLC going to support Bush's believe that the armed services should pick and choose which religions to allow? If so, please leave the Democratic Party and don't come back until you remember what it means to be a American.
David S. Broder: I share your concern about blending church and state. But I do not know what you mean when you talk about the armed services picking your religion. Maybe you can help me grasp the point.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Mr Broder! Do see Rep. Waxman's probe of Karl Rove going anywhere?
David S. Broder: Not on the basis of anything that has emerged so far.
Dallas, Tex.: Will McCain get campaign finance back to the floor of the House for a vote, and how soon will it happen?
David S. Broder: I expect that there will be another opportunity for the House to vote on campaign finance reform, but I can't guess when that will be.
Washington, D.C.: Both you and Mrs. Graham have won Pulitzer Prizes. What does that mean to a writer? How does it feel?
David S. Broder: It feels very good to be recognized by your peers. The best part about it is that you hear from almost everyone you've known any time in your life. So it is a great way of renewing lapsed bonds.
Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: Hey, how 'bout that FBI? Makes it easier for me to sleep at night knowing the FBI doesn't control our nuclear weapons arsenal -- we'd be able to buy them on E-Bay if they did! Will the new FBI director spend his time and energies attempting to rein in that bunch of outlaws and misfits or is he going to be another political operative [i.e., headlines] like the last loose cannon [no pun intended], Louis Freeh? Thanks much.
David S. Broder: The FBI people I've known over the years do not fit at all your category of "outlaws and misfits." But clearly there are serious management problems in that agency. The new director has an excellent reputation, so I hope he will restore the agency's performance to what it should be.
Great Falls, Va.: The Bush administration seems to be willing to concede a softening of its anti-environmental policies. Do you think this is sincere or just political maneuvering?
David S. Broder: There is a political component to almost every policy decision a president makes, and this administration is no exception. Clearly they recognize that they got off on the wrong foot on environmental issues and are trying to repair the damage. A good thing, too.
Arlington, Va.: Do you think that Bush's plans to offer amnesty to illegal immigrants will meet opposition from conservatives? This can't go over well with the GOP grassroots. The boys at the VFW in Prescott, Ariz., won't like this.
David S. Broder: I don't know the boys at the VFW in Prescott, but, as my colleague Tom Edsall wrote yesterday in the Post, there is strong opposition already being voiced from conservative Republicans on the amnesty for illegal immigrants issue. Another example of why being president is a tough job. You just can't please everyone.
Edsall story: Amnesty Proposal Is Huge Gamble for Bush (Post, July 17)
Washington, D.C.: Thanks for being online, Mr. Broder.
Question: Do you think Bill Bradley has any chance of standing above the Democratic crowd in 2004? And do you have any sense of whether he is likely to run again? It seems like his credible performance in 2000 would be an ideal launching post for 2004 -- if his spirit wasn't broken along the way.
David S. Broder: Bradley will stand above the crowd physically; only John Kerry approaches his height. His friends tell me that Sen. Bradley is interested in trying again. The Democrats will have a large field, it appears, and I think it is futile to speculate at this early time about favorites or front-runners. I am sure, however, that the Bradley spirit remains unbroken, despite losing to Gore in every primary.
Florida: Why isn't there more coverage of how the vice president's mansion is using 30 percent less energy now that Mr. Cheney is in, vs. when Mr. Al "Mr. Green" Gore was there? And that the A/C system installed in 1997 is inefficient (as reported by AP)?
David S. Broder: The reduction in energy use was reported, but not featured, in the stories I read. I was not aware of the air conditioning problem.
Carbondale, Ill.: Do you remember the first time you met Katharine Graham?
David S. Broder: Yes, I remember it very clearly. I was covering the Goldwater-Johnson campaign in 1964 for the old Washington Star, and she came out with Post reporters to see the campaign for herself. We had several informal, enjoyable conversations, for she was a real political buff. She also interviewed me before I was hired at The Post in 1966 -- another sign of her personal interest in politics and political coverage. She was a terrific person and a great publisher to work for.
Vienna, Va.: Is there any way that Gary Condit can save his political career?
David S. Broder: I have not been in his district since all of these stories surfaced, so I have no first-hand knowledge of his prospects. He clearly is going to face a tough challenge if he runs for re-election.
Carbondale, Ill.: Do you think that print journalism is heading in the direction of broadcast journalism (Fox News, Washington Times) vis-a-vis giving up any pretense of objectivity, to the point of becoming niche programming?
David S. Broder: No -- and I sure hope not. The newspapers that have survived the economic shakeout are, for the most part, those trying to practice good journalism, not cheapening the product. USA Today is a good example of the counter-trend: it's gone a long way from being a cheesy product toward producing very good journalism, and it is thriving.
Dallas, Tex.: Mrs. Graham along with Bob Strauss, Clark Clifford, Edward Bennett Williams and a few others was in many ways an "unelected power broker." With her death will these people still exist in political Washington on the scale they did while she was in her prime?
David S. Broder: I expect there will always be a role for such backstage brokers. You can see a younger generation of them in Washington already -- but they may not have the same charm as the ones who, sadly, are leaving the scene.
Bethesda, Md.: David:
The press has had wonderful tributes to this very private, public woman. What is Mrs. Graham's legacy to you personally -- not just as a great publisher, but to you individually as a journalist and person in The Post?
David S. Broder: I tried to say some of that in the column the Post published today. But beyond that, she was extraordinarily kind to my wife and me, including us and (on occasion) our children in events at her home and going well beyond the norm in expressing her admiration for some of my work. She became a friend as much as a boss, and I count myself lucky to have worked for her and Ben Bradlee.
San Francisco, Calif.: David, any sense of which political leaders (U.S. or foreign) that Mrs. Graham admired the most? The least?
David S. Broder: I cannot tell you who her personal favorites or unfavorites were, but her taste was very wide-ranging. For example, she was very much taken with Jesse Ventura when the governor came for coffee at The Post a couple weeks ago. She admired his frankness -- and that was a quality I know she liked in other people, whether she agreed with their views or not.
Reston, Va.: How active was Mrs. Graham in the leadership of the organization during the last few years? I know she had transferred the formal leadership of The Post to her son years ago. However, because she was otherwise in good health, and because of the topic of the conference she was attending, I wonder how well prepared The Post is for this news. What's going on in the building?
David S. Broder: She made very good arrangements for The Post to continue after she relinquished her role as publisher. The qualities she imparted to her son, Don, are a very important part of her legacy. I can't tell you how much of a role she played in the larger business and financial affairs of the company in recent years. But I know she was actively interested and engaged in what was going on in government and politics and how we were planning to cover it.
Albemarle, N.C.: Mr. Broder: Why have the Democrats not been able to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives since they lost control in 1994, and what are their prospects for doing so in the 2002 elections?
David S. Broder: As you know, the Democrats have made gains in the House in the last three cycles, but not enough to regain a majority. The Republicans have been smart in finding candidates who suit their districts and letting them tailor their votes to their own constituencies. They have consolidated strength in rural areas and most of the South and have been tough to dislodge in the suburbs. The likely effect of reapportionment and redistricting will be to make the Democrats' climb to a majority steeper in 2002. But we have no idea yet what the political climate in the country will be at voting time.
Mckinney, Tex.: Have you read Bugliosi's or Dershowitz's books on the Supreme Court's appointment of Bush as president? They utterly destroy all the arguments made by the Supreme Courts Gang of 5, leaving the strange argument that the Supreme Court had to act to prevent the U.S. Congress from fulfilling its constitutional duty as judge and jury on presidential election disputes to prevent a constitutional crisis. Unless one side of the argument was planning a military coup, what crisis could there be by following the Constitution as has been done so many times before?
David S. Broder: I have not read those books as yet -- just the reviews of them. Judge Posner has written a book arguing the opposite case, that the Supreme Court action was appropriate and well-founded. I expect this dispute will continue at least through the 2004 election, and I expect it to be rehashed with vigor whenever President Bush gets to make his first appointment to the Supreme Court.
Minneapolis, Minn.: First of all, I am sorry for your loss in Mrs. Graham. She is one of my few personal heroes.
Secondly, would you do me a small favor? Next time you pass Mr. Will, would you stick you tongue out at him for me, please? Thanks.
David S. Broder: No, I won't. But I hear what you're saying. Thanks.
Oakton, Va.: Bush's plan to grant amnesty to illegals here (mostly Hispanics), while of doubtful legality (he took an oath as president to ENFORCE federal laws, not waive them) makes enormous sense politically, and Democrats are going to be in REAL trouble if this comes to pass. Bush (and Republicans in general) are becoming more and more popular with Hispanics every day. This was one of the reasons Gore lost South Florida by every recount. The pro-choice position is hurting Democrats with the staunchly Catholic Hispanics. Do you agree with me (as a member of the media yourself) that this has not been emphasized enough in the press? Hispanics, unlike African Americans, are not historically attached to the Democratic Party, and they are growing in huge numbers, and will grow even more under Bush's plan. I can foresee the possibility of real trouble for Democrats.
David S. Broder: You are certainly correct that Republicans have targeted the Latino population and are trying very hard to increase their share of the Hispanic vote. We have carried a large number of stories about this, as have other papers, so it's hardly a secret. And the stakes are, as you say, very large.
Seattle, Wash.: If pressed, might Chris Shays use or threaten to use the "doomsday device" of shifting enough votes to reorganize house leadership around a reconciliation coalition of leftish Republicans and rightish Democrats?
David S. Broder: I think Chris Shays is very unlikely to lead, or be part of, any effort that would remove Denny Hastert as speaker.They are close personally and Shays is a very loyal Republican.
I am afraid this has to be my last question for this session. Thanks to all of you for the lively conversation.
That was our last question today. Thanks to everyone who joined the
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