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

Thursday, Oct. 18, 2001; 11 a.m. EDT

Since Sept. 11, politics has been anything but usual. As terrorism has taken over the forefront of people's minds, the partisanship that typically colors elections has taken a sideline. The bickering characteristic of both houses of Congress has quieted as President Bush's domestic agenda is overshadowed by the "war on terrorism." And now the anthrax scare has moved to the Capitol.

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist David S. Broder was online to talk about politics and government in the wake of Sept. 11 on Thursday, Oct. 18.

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.

Hod Hsharon, Israel: The U.S. constitution is the climax of liberal democracy and human rights. In the Sept. 11 aftermath, does the U.S. public expect that few laws or even the Constitution will have any amendments concerning to freedom of speech? For example, not allowing incitement that brings people to act violently? Or, is it correct to allow the denial of the Holocaust in favor of the freedom of speech, as permitted in the U.S. unlike countries in Europe or Israel?

David S. Broder: I feel certain that there will be no changes in the Constitution in response to the September 11 attacks. Legislation is moving through Congress to expand the government's rights to wiretap suspicious people and detain them in jail. We will have to be vigilant to be sure these new powers are not abused. There is always a temptation when confronting a secret enemy to cast aside protections for civil liberties, and we need to avoid that temptation.

New York, N.Y.: Mr. Broder,

This newly created position for Tom Ridge seems very vague from my perspective. From your knowledge, what does he oversee on a day to day basis? Does this Cabinet post have real teeth and does he have real authority over law enforcement agencies?

David S. Broder: Governor Ridge is holding a press briefing at this moment, and is saying that he does not have tactical, day-to-day responsibility for responding to terrorist threats. Rather, he has said, he is supposed to develop an overall strategy and work with the 40 some agencies involved to see that they are functioning well and in coordination.

Reston, Va.: Why would terrorists attack -Kenya-? I know they hit U.S. embassies there, but why attack Kenyans? Someone still upset by the Mau-Mau? I guess it's a good way to make lots of enemies in a hurry, if you want lots of enemies.

BTW, saw your name at The Onion. What's your wife think of that?

David S. Broder: I do not know the answer to your question about Kenya. My wife cannot believe the Onion item.

Allentown, Pa.: Are the FBI and other governmental agencies baffled or are ill-qualified to be able to combat bio, chemical warfare? Are we now being terrorized by terrorists from outside the U.S. or could it be U.S. militiamen who do not like the immense amount of power the federal government and Mr. Bush have taken in the past few weeks?

David S. Broder: My impression is that the FBI and the other security agencies are not ill-qualified to deal with domestic terrorism but that the dimensions of the problem are so much larger than they had expected that they are struggling to cope and catch up. The leadership of those agencies looks strong to me. I know nothing of any value about the sources of the anthrax attacks, and I do not want to speculate without any facts.

New York, N.Y.: Good morning, Mr. Broder.

I'm a leftie. I have been with the mood of the rest of the country for most of the aftermath of Sept. 11. I thought the Bush administration took the moral high ground through Oct. 7. I approved of the military response at first, and, like practically every one else in the country, was rooting for at least one bomb to land in Osama bin Laden's lap.

In the last few days, however, since the Red Cross shelter was struck, I've begun to grow uneasy with the length of time the military has spent raining bombs on Afghanistan for no clear purpose. I began digging into the history of American military strikes and found a disturbing report about our war in Iraq, which most Americans view as having been pristine and righteous, but which was in fact brutal toward the people of Iraq and of morally questionable motivation.

Americans have been asking themselves why the Arab and Islamic world hates us. The government can only lie to us and speak pretty propaganda -- about our indomitable spirit and love of freedom and justice--to distract us from the ugly, real consequences of our ignorant, self-serving foreign policy. The media can only repeat the government's lies.

My question to you, as dean of American journalists, is why Americans are so ill-informed about our government's actions in the world, and what can be done to create better informed public? Certainly the media's identification with the "American cause" is not in the public's best interest.

David S. Broder: The press has an obligation, especially in times like these, to give people as full and accurate a picture of the military and diplomatic operations as we can obtain. Because the Taliban has excluded outside reporters and we have little first-hand information about the effects of the bombing, that is difficult. But the Post this morning carried a report from one of our correspondents who had interviewed people in the refugee camps, who made the point that civilian casualties may be strengthening support for the Taliban, not weakening it. I agree with you that indiscriminate bombing is a dubious tactic, but I am not prepared at this point to say that bombing targeted on Taliban military installations should be stopped. The task of extracting bin Laden and his cadres will be difficult under any circumstances, and crippling the Taliban's ability to protect him seems to me a justified tactic.

Toledo, Ohio: Do you agree with Charlie Cook's recent suggestion that the Sept. 11 events may spark more interest in running for office ("giving back to your country")? Didn't Vietnam spark new office-seekers?

David S. Broder: Vietnam did indeed produce a number of candidates, ranging from John McCain to John Kerry and David Bonior and Tom Ridge. I hope this struggle inspires people of similar quality to enter public service and seek public office--and this time, women as well as men should be in the group.

San Francisco, Calif.: I heard that Republicans in the Senate are staging a filibuster, preventing the Senate to do any work, because they are upset about judicial vacancies that they also failed to fill when they had the majority. Don't the Republican Senators realize that they are looking unpatriotic when they filibuster at this time of national crisis? Does it look like this filibuster will last long?

David S. Broder: There is a Republican filibuster on the foreign aid appropriations bill, triggered by frustration at the pace of judicial confirmations. While a few of those judgeship nominations were made while Republicans controlled the Senate, most of them have come since the Democrats took charge. This dispute is an echo of one that went on throughout the Clinton years, when Democrats sometimes tied up the Senate in an effort to force the Republicans to act on Clinton appointees. It rarely succeeded, and at some point, all these filibusters stop.

San Francisco, Calif.: Is Congress reexamining whether the continuation of billions of dollars in foreign aid to Egypt is justified based on the fact that this money appears to be fueling Egyptian resentment instead of gratitude toward the U.S.?

David S. Broder: So far as I know, there has been no serious challenge to the Egyptian earmark in the foreign aid appropriations bill. Egypt's support for the struggling Middle East peace process remains important to U.S. foreign policy.

Nashville, Tenn.: Don't we need a declaration of war so the civilian government can get things done?

I watch the congressional hearings with the INS and the response of the FAA to the Press Club. The inertia of the civilian bureaucracies in peacetime to organize, cooperate, overcome legislative hurdles and create effective intercommunicating databases to protect the population, economy and sovereignty looks insurmountable.

David S. Broder: The president has not asked for a declaration of war, and it would be difficult to know against whom such a declaration would be issued. For now, Mr. Bush seems satisfied that he can use his leverage as president to secure cooperation from all the executive agencies.

Pittsburgh, Pa.: Mr. Broder,

From what I've read, the three most likely culprits responsible for the anthrax mailings would be:

1. Iraq (which still has a very active biological weapons program according to most experts).

2. Al Qaeda or some other foreign terrorist organization.

3. A domestic terrorist group.

Of the three, the third has been discussed the least despite the fact that two members of Aryan Nation were arrested in 1998 in possession of anthrax and other biological agents and the contaminated letters were mailed to major media figures and liberal-to-moderate politicians (Tom Daschle, George Pataki) -- both of these groups are considered "enemies" by neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremist groups.

Why are political leaders and law-enforcement officials so hesitant to discuss a possible domestic source for the anthrax?

David S. Broder: I do not sense any reluctance on the part of government officials to consider the possibility of a domestic source of anthrax. But, for good reason, they do not want to point a finger of blame until they have solid evidence to support the charge.

Annandale, Va.: David --

Opponents of "peace keeping" or "nation building" operations often complained about the detrimental effect of "mission creep" on the military. It now seems that President Bush has set us up for the opposite problem -- defining an all-encompassing mission (the elimination of all terrorism wherever it exists) that cannot be accomplished no matter how hard we try. How long will he hold the support of Congress and the American people after al Qaeda is neutralized or eliminated, and is there any support, for example, for providing military assistance to the Russians in their efforts to combat terrorism in Chechnya?

David S. Broder: I fully agree with your point about the risk in overstating our goals and defining success in a way that guarantees failure. Other nations have been living with-and combating--terrorism for decades or, in the case of Britain and Ireland, more than a century. So we ought to be realistic about what can be accomplished. That does not imply that we should slacken our efforts to reduce or eliminate known sources of terrorism. I do not think it will be easy to eliminate bin Laden's network, and the cost of that exercise will undoubtedly make it harder to move the campaign to another nation, such as Iraq.

Alexandria, Va.: Hey, Mr. Broder, how are you doing? Have you heard any more on the Texas redistricting saga? If I'm remembering right, first it was going to give the Republicans a big advantage and the Democrats were all mad and then it flip-flopped and the Democrats were going to get most of their incumbent seats protected and the Republicans are all mad. Any final decision?

Also, do you know Robert Samuelson? What's he like?

David S. Broder: The Texas redistricting plan is being challenged in a law suit brought by the state attorney general before the Texas supreme court and by private plaintiffs before a three-judge federal panel in Waco. No final resolution is expected for some time.

Bob Samuelson is a very nice guy.

Baltimore, Md.: Mr. Broder, I have a somewhat personal question. In a column last month, you mentioned that the attacks on the Trade Center and the Pentagon occurred on your birthday. There was an implication of pain associated with that coincidence. Of course, many others feel the same including my daughter. Can you offer any advice for helping younger and probably more fragile sensibilities for coping with the incessant, and, of course, rather negative reference to Sept. 11 in news reports?

David S. Broder: I am truly sorry that your daughter's birthday has been linked to the terrorist attack. At my age, birthday parties can be skipped without any sense of loss. I hope your family will continue to make September 11 a day of joy for the blessing of your daughter's arrival. Each year, she will be more capable of recognizing that we can mourn and be joyful without cheapening either emotion. Good luck.

Alexandria, Va.: I don't believe that just "understanding" the motivations of those who wish us ill will help very much. Do you think that there is any chance that the Middle Eastern leaders will take a serious introspective look into how their policies are hurting their own people?

David S. Broder: I do not know the Middle Eastern leaders and cannot speculate on how their minds work. The roots of that conflict are very deep and I would not be too hopeful that the emotions on either side will subside quickly.

Arlington, Va.: Some people are calling the House of Representatives "cowards" for closing down to sweep for anthrax. (New York Post headline: "Wimps") What do you think?

David S. Broder: I think they did what they thought necessary and prudent, and I would not second-guess their decision. Basically, they lost one work day -- today. They were not scheduled to meet tomorrow or next Monday, and they will be back on Tuesday. It's no big deal.

Question on bioweapons programs: Is anyone else other than me concerned that on the recently discussed list of these countries we suspect of having a bioweapons program in development, that Egypt is on that list? How can we justify supporting one country on this list with billions in foreign aid, while denouncing all the others (Iran, North Korea, Libya, Cuba and Pakistan)?

This strikes me as wildly hypocritical and I would like your opinion. Thank you.

David S. Broder: It seems obvious to me that the leadership in Egypt poses no threat to the United States or its allies. As I said to an earlier questioner, our aid to Egypt is based on the support it has given to the fragile peace process in the Middle East, and that is very much in the U.S. national interest.

Alexandria, Va.: I'm troubled by the idea that anything like the bombing strikes in Afghanistan can possibly be "clean." Who ever thought up this idea? Bombs will go astray, civilian targets will be adjacent to valid military targets, and this is not some science fiction game. Even a land war cannot be limited to military targets, as Vietnam taught us.

I was surprised for the attacks to begin so soon. Why do you think they started now?

But given that they are going on, we should say, "We don't want civilian casualties, will try to avoid them, but they are inevitable, and we are going ahead anyway."

David S. Broder: Once again, let me say that I agree that bombing inevitably will bring civilian casualties, and once again, let me emphasize that American reporters are not on the ground and cannot accurately estimate the extent of those casualties. But I do not agree that the start of the bombing was hasty. It took more than three weeks to have forces in place, and during that time, there was absolutely no evidence that bin Laden or the Taliban would relent without military pressure.

Alexandria, Va.: Pat Robertson has just gotten in trouble for declaring that Islam is not a religion of peace. This comes on the heels of his agreeing with Falwell on blaming gays, feminists and the ACLU for the bombings. Will these comments decrease his political influence?

David S. Broder: Yes. I think they already have had that effect.

Rocky Mountain West: About Texas redistricting, I've been following Mr. Edsall's continuing see-saw articles. One question that you impliedly answered, but I'd like a clearer answer to, if you can. Does the Texas Supreme Court have final authority over what "plan" has legal effect and is sent to the three-judge federal panel, or does the state district court have final authority?

That has never been clearly explained in any article I've seen. And if you assume that the partisan affiliations of judges has a material effect on this highly political decision, then it seems to be a very good and important question, because while the state district judge is a Democrat, all or nearly all of the state supreme court is Republican.

David S. Broder: Because Texas is under the Voting Rights Act, this issue will likely go to the Justice Department and to the federal courts for ultimate decision. As you know, the Supreme Court has heard a number of redistricting cases, and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has been the swing vote on many of them.

Burlington, Vt.: With what real seriousness of conviction is the House leadership opposing the federalization of airport security employees? Does it really believe that adherence to an abstraction justifies the continuation of the haphazard security practices we have suffered to exist?

David S. Broder: I think the House leadership is serious in its opposition to federalizing airport security, and I also think it reflects an ideological opposition to enlarging the government. In this case, I do not think their opposition will prevail.

New York, N.Y.: Where is Al Gore? As a man who knows something about government and foreign policy, his opinion should count for something. I've seen hundreds of people on news programs giving their take on this war and not one of them won the popular vote in a presidential election. So why has Al been so silent about offering advice and/or support?

David S. Broder: Mr. Gore has expressed his support for President Bush and his war on terrorism in a number of public speeches since Sept. 11. Gore has not been available for press interviews, but my guess is that he may feel this is not the time for him to be offering public criticism of Bush on the issues where they disagree.

I am afraid this has to be my last answer. Thank all of you for your stimulating questions.


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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