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

Thursday, Aug. 2, 2001; 11 a.m. EDT

After seven months in office, the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll shows President Bush with a 59 percent job approval rating, coupled with doubts among voters about his policies and agenda. Meanwhile, Bush has had a good week with the House, reaching an agreement on the Patients' Bill of Rights and passage of his energy plan.

On the foreign policy front, U.S.-Russian relations show signs of broadening and changing as he discusses missile defense and nuclear weapons with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At home, a fight over a rock concert in New Hampshire illustrates continuing battles over culture and moral sensibilities. And proposed emphasis on early education for children by the Bush administration may not be all that emphatic.

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist David S. Broder was online to talk about politics on Thursday, Aug. 2.

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.

Springfield, Va.: Isn't all this poll nonsense a bit silly? I mean, yesterday a USA Today poll showed that Bush's numbers were slipping, while the Post poll today shows the exact opposite effect.

David S. Broder: The polling people tell me that poll results vary because of differences in question wording, question order. sample sizes and a whole lot of other things. One reason we do the face to face interviews along with many of our polls is that letting people talk about personalities and issues in their own words puts the poll numbers into context. I think our report reflects both what Dan Balz and I heard and what the poll found.

Washington, D.C.: It seems as though voters view President Bush through quite a different prism than Bill Clinton, giving Bush solid marks for job performance and personal favorability but questioning somewhat his policies in the latest Post poll. President Clinton carried low favorability but voters supported his policies and performance. How long can the high marks protect Bush from concerns about his policies?

David S. Broder: That is a very smart observation -- the two profiles are almost exactly mirror images. And I don't know how long the personal support can be sustained if disagreements with major policies persist.

Atlanta, Ga.: Why is the president taking credit for the tax rebate that is being mailed out to taxpayers this summer?

David S. Broder: Presidents always take credit for bills they sign, even if, as in this case, they did not support or propose certain features initially. Remember Bill Clinton on welfare reform, for example. And if they use the bully pulpit well, they usually get the credit they are claiming.

Arlington, Va.: Why did people think corporate interests have too much power in this administration? Did they give specific examples?

David S. Broder: The poll does not allow people to give specific examples. But in our face to face interviews, the industries that were cited most often were oil and gas, insurance and HMOs.

Greensboro, N.C.: You note in today's article the below-majority support for the Bush tax cut. Would it not be helpful to sort the respondents into two groups -- those who paid taxes and those who did not? To put the question another way, why should someone who has not paid taxes welcome a return of those taxes to those who paid them in the first instance? Would not he/she logically look for expanded government services that entail no personal cost?

And if that is so, why report as news a survey combining the two dis-similar groups (payers and non-payer) into one? It would seem to me better reporting at least to note what has been done.

David S. Broder: That is an interesting idea. Polling people tell me that the reason they do not do it routinely is that almost everyone pays taxes. Obviously some pay more income taxes than others, because of their incomes, but as you know, Social Security taxes start with the first dollar of earned income and sales and property taxes affect everyone.

Grosse Pointe, Mich. The Post has run an article today that points out the findings of a study to be presented to the Senate that President Bush's tax cut will cause a monetary deficit twice the size of the current social security deficit. How are the Republicans going to deal with this news if the study proves to be reliable? This would indeed be a problem for the GOP in midterm elections.

David S. Broder: If that were to prove true, it would certainly be a problem for the Republicans -- and a helluva problem for the country. Forecasts are tricky, and certainly beyond my capabilities.

Vienna, Va.: Do you think Putin was serious when he mentioned Russia's entry into NATO as a possible option if he cannot stop NATO's expansion? This would be a huge blow to Peking (Beijing) and a real feather in George W's cap if his administration could persuade Putin to do so, or at least present the idea to the Russian Parliament.

Guess it brings back the old saying: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

David S. Broder: NATO is evolving into something different than the alliance against the Soviet Union's aggressive threat to Western Europe that it was conceived to be. What that new alliance will be is an unsettled question. But if, for example, its major function should turn out to be to keep peace in the Balkans, it is possible to imagine Russia joining in the effort. As you say, who'd ever have thunk it?

Mt. Rainier, Md.: I was surprised -- and frankly dismayed -- that even the Republican-dominated House could accept the Alaskan drilling. And insult to injury, not even raise the light truck/SUV mileage limits. I thought the pols would have noticed that generally the public is quite averse to opening the ice fields and has no trust in the oil companies' assurances.

David S. Broder: The House decision on Alaskan drilling, even in the scaled back form in which it passed, is unlikely to be approved in the Senate. I am doubtful it will be in the final bill that reaches the president.

Boston, Mass.: For one who's been on the beat a long time, didn't the picture of a Southern Baptist president being lectured by the Pope on stem cell research strike you as delicious irony?

David S. Broder: Sure. But given the personalities of the two men -- an assertive Pope and a President who hopes to accommodate -- it was not unexpected.

Peoria, Ill.: In polls about policy and agenda decisions, many of the issues involved are those that many of the responders are not concerned about on a personal level. Do you think that their responses are prompted to some extent by the opinions they see expressed (or implied) on television or perhaps in the papers?

David S. Broder: Undoubtedly that is correct. And that is another reason why I believe so much in doing the face to face interviews along with the polls. It enables you to judge which issues evoke real emotions and strong opinions and which do not. In our interviewing last week, for example, it became very clear that the stem cell controversy is one that has seized the public's interest -- unlike many other issues which really don't reach beyond the Beltway.

Miller Creek, Iowa: Dear Mr. Broder, if the Patient's Bill of Rights dies in the House/Senate conference as a result of this "agreement" between Norwood and the White House, who will take the blame for its failure? And will it continue to be an issue in 2002? Thanks.

David S. Broder: I cannot tell you who would be blamed if the bill dies in conference. But clearly, were that to happen, the issue would be back on the agenda in 2002.

Washington, D.C.: Hey David,

I am a journalism student at the University of Maryland, and I have heard you are teaching a politics and media class at the university. What are you going to be focusing on, and how can I sign up?

David S. Broder: The seminar this fall will be on political reporting. You have to ask the staff at the journalism school how they are handling applications. I have no part in that.

Woodbridge, Va.: Have you gotten any reaction from the comments made last week by Barbara Olson about former the president's mother?

David S. Broder: I have not had anyone talk or write to me about her comments. But I gather that my colleague Lloyd Grove, who reported them, has had an earful of critical comments.

Mt. Rainier, Md.: I grant you the Alaska drilling probably won't get past the Senate. But in that case, why not get your environmental credits cheap and vote against? Or are they trying to impress the oil companies with their diligence?

David S. Broder: Reporters are poorly positioned to judge the motives of politicians, so I cannot tell you why members of the House voted as they did. There was heavy lobbying on both sides of this issue and political risks and rewards whichever way you voted.

Washington, D.C.: I am an Independent voter and I strongly feel that this president is more conservative as president than he was on the campaign trail, which in my opinion is a fraud upon the electorate.

How does Bush position himself to the center and not appear fraudulent as he does on the issue of patient rights. Which until the Democrats took over in the Senate, patients' rights was not even on Bush's radar screen.

David S. Broder: You are right that the White House was not pushing patients' rights as a presidential issue, and they have been slow in reacting to the challenge the Senate Democrats laid down. I disagree with you, however, on the "fraud" charge. As I have written previously, when Bush called himself a compassionate conservative, it was clear which was the noun and which was the modifier.

Clifton, Va.: The battles on culture are basic to any policy-making, but neither media nor politicians clarify things by thinking polls and specific questions on issues are the way to get to understanding why people are not very happy with the way things are. How can the media facilitate integrated thinking by analysis that breaks things down into specific topic? Why, for example can one not understand that environment is a topic that goes beyond saving plants and animals, or cutting greenhouse gasses etc.? Environment is the base upon which all our lives are lived. How do we get politicians to understand that the current mass extinction is now and will continue to affect our economy and continual population growth and economic growth continues to negatively impact our economy and the continued pro-growth, increased consumption continues to make our citizens less sustainable and more materialistic and unhappy? Interviewing experts on foreign policy, economics, religion, etc., cannot possibly bring integrated thinking. Just ask people why they are unhappy or what they do and don't like about life in America and then put it together in some integrated way and then get a president who is open to reform without catering to corporations and special interests and we will get to the core of ideas that could be made into good U.S. policy. Or is that too naive?

David S. Broder: In the voter interviews we do, we hear two sets of cultural critiques: One is the form you advance very articulately. The other takes the form of statements that our behavior is becoming coarser, our morals worse, or values shabbier. There are certainly many people who put more stress on those underlying trends, as they see them, than on particular issues. But the issues often reflect or symbolize those questions, so asking about them is not irrelevant, at least in my view.

Rockville, Md.: I hope you'll answer local questions as well as national ones today.

What do you think of the upcoming race in Montgomery County's District 8? Do you think Connie is in for the race of her life or do you think she should retire gracefully to avoid the nasty battle that is sure to take place between her and Mark Shriver?

David S. Broder: I believe Rep. Morella has said already that she has no intention of retiring, and given her electoral record, I expect she will put up a real battle to retain her seat.

York, Pa.: Your column about the Bush-Putin relationship seemed a bit starry eyed for you, even granting that it is a necessary move. Don't you, given that nations deep cultural and economic issues, think that we need to lower our expectations about their ability to "modernize," and that recent history justifies this?

David S. Broder: I rather like being called "starry-eyed." Certainly more than some of the other adjectives that are applied. Sure, Putin is an unproven leader, and I agree with the report from which I was quoting that the U.S. must be attentive to developments in Russia and judge its policies accordingly. But a democratic, open Russia is so much in our interests that I think we are wise to support the effort, as long as it seems to be moving in that direction.

Cincinnati, Ohio: Does it strike you that, looking at the polling data, as Bush gets low marks both for his handling of the environment and energy policy, that he seeks drilling in ANWAR to solve our energy problems? Does the administration have other information we don't know about?

David S. Broder: The Bush energy policy is clearly not poll-driven. You can argue whether it is economics or ideology or constituency pressure that moves him to the choices he has made, but it is obvious that there are political risks for him in going that direction.

Ames, Iowa: As long as we're talking local, what's your feel about Warner and Kennedy-Townsend in their respective races?

David S. Broder: I think we've got to wait a while for the Virginia race to take shape. Maryland is basically a Democratic state, so the Democratic nominee probably starts out with an advantage there.

Arlington, Va.: I'm not sure you can answer a question about the Virginia governor's race, but here goes.

What is Mark Earley's relationship to the NAACP? I hear he's a member of the group. I believe that represents a major change for a GOP candidate in the state, but I don't know if Earley toes the NAACP line. For instance, does he favor affirmative action? His Web site says nothing about this as far as I can tell.

As for his opponent, Mark Warner, I heard on a WAMU talk show that he once was a missionary. With what group, I wondered? What are his religious convictions? His Web site says ... nothing.

David S. Broder: I do not know the answer to either of those questions.

San Antonio, Tex.: If the president's Patients' Bill of Rights goes up, and is defeated by the Democrats, how much of a hit do you think they'll take from the Republican spin machine to people who won't know the difference between the two bills?

David S. Broder: Once again, my crystal ball is too cloudy to know what the public reaction will be to things that have not happened--and may not happen.

Urbana, Ill.: How do you suppose the overall approval rating would have been affected had the general question been asked after the specifics?

David S. Broder: Obviously, I don't know the answer, but the president's ratings on several of the specific areas were enough lower than his overall score that it might have been dragged down a bit.

Crofton, Md.: David, another David -- this David Remnick -- in this week's New Yorker has a wonderful article on the Putin-Bush meeting. Shouldn't Bush have been more forthright in his differences with Putin, specifically the war in Chechnya?

David S. Broder: I share your admiration for the Remnick article. I think the only real value in summit meetings lies in the opportunity for candid exchanges. Otherwise, why bother?

Troy, Mich.: Although the numbers in the "no opinion" column are close, one notes that the largest percentages of responders held no opinions about a patient's rights, prescription drugs, and campaign finance reform. How does this bode for those looking to use those items as their key issues in 2002?

David S. Broder: It may offer a clue to the role those issues will play in 2002. But people tend to take sides as issues are actually being debated--in Congress and in campaign ads. So I would not make any judgment at this time about how big or small they may loom 15 months from now.

Takoma Park, Md.: Am furious over lack of leadership in Congress, White House, or the Supreme Court for that matter, on election reform. It seems an affordable, consensus solution has emerged. Why are the politicians backing away from this? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

David S. Broder: I agree with you and have discussed the subject in a column that will run in Sunday's paper.

Wayland, Mass.: How many more years will it be before the Democratic Party acknowledges that either benefits will have to be cut or taxes raised in order to sustain the Social Security system?

David S. Broder: This will have to be my final exchange for this session. I think the Democrats are running a risk in seeming to deny that the Social Security system needs repairs. You can argue about what year the problem will arrive on our doorsteps, but it will arrive. And the sooner we start making the necessary adjustments, the better.

I'll see you all in a couple weeks.


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

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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