Broder On Politics
With David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist/Staff Writer
Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2001; Noon EST
The aftermath of Sept. 11 finds Americans struggling with the image of the U.S. worldwide and the "public diplomacy" we undertake in an attempt to counter anti-American propaganda. Meanwhile, in the midst of recovering, voters went to the polls to elect Democratic governors in Virginia and New Jersey and a Republican mayor in New York City. It remains to be seen how people keep moving forth on both fronts in addition to "getting back to their lives."
Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist David S. Broder was online to talk about politics and government in the wake of Sept. 11 on Wednesday, Nov. 7.
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.: Mr. Broder --
In Virginia, Mark Warner ran as a centrist, not as a liberal. In New Jersey, Bret Schundler was just too far to the right and lost big. Doesn't this show that the voters want moderate/centrist political leaders, not someone from the left/right wing of the respective parties. Seems to me, the politicians in Washington should learn that lesson.
David S. Broder: I think you have hit the nail on the head. When there are serious problems facing the country, people want problem-solvers. And in our politics, those solutions are almost always found midstream.
Providence, R.I.: Do Texas conservatives own our political process? Many of the outlandish pronouncements of DeLay, Armey (inter alia) are so ungrounded, so intemperate and so antidemocratic as to require massive and outspoken rejection by the press. There is altogether too much indulgence by the press of what is nothing less than a right-wing putsch in the midst of war.
David S. Broder: I don't agree with your definition of the role of the press. Our principal job is to let people know what is happening in their government; armed with knowledge, people will make their own judgments. And, by the way, the phrase "right-wing putsch" with its overtones of Naziism seems over-the-top to me. Armey and DeLay were chosen by the majority of the House, elected by the people. I disagree with many of their policies, but I would not use that description of their politics.
Arlington, Va.: I know a lot of people from the Middle East, North Africa, and other countries use Hawala to send money back home to families in need.
These people have always distrusted big banks, and more importantly the fees Banks charge to transfer money. Also, Hawala networks can get money to the most desolate areas of countries that banks cannot reach and never intend to reach.
So now the U.S. is cracking down on Hawala, saying it funds terrorists. That would be equivalent to the U.S. banking industry being shut down because Timothy McVeigh had an account in one bank branch. Don't you think the U.S. is over-reacting? What will happen to the millions of people who can't get money easily overseas?
David S. Broder: I simply don't know enough to give your question a sensible answer.
Washington, D.C.: I can't help but think that the airline security vote is going to put a great big bullseye on Republicans who voted against it for next year's elections. Do you think the Democrats can capitalize on it enough to win back the House?
David S. Broder: The dynamics of next year's election are beyond my ability to predict. My hunch is that there will be a compromise on airport security. I hope it will happen soon, because, like many others, my job requires a good deal of air travel. Whether the eventual compromise will take the sting out of the House vote is hard to gauge. But people judge by results, and everyone knows the current system of airport security is sloppy, inconsistent and dangerous. So it better be fixed.
Washington, D.C.: How effective do you think Bloomberg will be in alleviating New York City's economic problems?
David S. Broder: My experience is that people who come in to tough executive jobs with no government experience have a hard time adjusting. In government, you can't issue orders; you have to persuade. And that is going to be a real test for Mr. Bloomberg, I would guess.
Arlington, Va.: Do you think there is any way that the Democrats can effectively remind voters that the economic situation was sluggish, at best, before Sept. 11?
David S. Broder: When it comes to the economy, I have learned that people make their own judgments, based on their own experiences and those of their friends and neighbors. They do not depend on government statistics or politicians' statements to find out what is happening. The slowdown in the economy was evident in many--but not all--parts of the country before Sept. 11. People know that.
Sparta, N.J.: How worried do you think the administration is about the Dem's wins in New Jersey and Virginia?
While the public is willing to give Bush carte blanche in the Afghanistan war, I don't think they are on domestic issues. Do you think the Republicans realize this or will they still try to push through partisan domestic policies using Bush's high approval ratings?
David S. Broder: As far as I can judge, the defeats in both Virginia and New Jersey were expected by the White House; that was one reason President Bush did not campaign there. Republicans don't think they will face the same problems in next year's congressional races, when most of their incumbents will be running--not new candidates. But they may well face the same problem in other governorships, where term limits kick in next year. And Bush has depended on other governors for much of his support in being nominated and elected.
Washington, D.C.: David,
Since the Republicans lost two big races yesterday and the White House stayed out of them for the most part, there are some angry Republicans out there. Do you think the White House strategy was calculated to maximize Bush's influence in the 2002 elections which will matter much more?
David S. Broder: I think the White House strategy was calculated to insulate Bush from personal association with two likely defeats. They saw it coming, and decided to step aside. I fully expect to see Bush heavily engaged in the 2002 races, where he has a great deal at stake in control of the House and Senate and of key state houses.
Washington, D.C. (but formerly Chicago's northside): On a personal level, how excited were you around mid- to late-July when it seemed certain (certain!) that the Cubs were going to win the pennant?
What happened? Where did our bullpen go? Why didn't the acquisition of Fred McGriff make a bigger difference?
And how do I convince my friends who are Yankee fans (and who are upset this week) that seeing your team in five of the last six World Series (and winning three straight) is pretty good -- a lot better than waiting patiently for the Cubs to repeat their NL title of 1945.
Wait 'til next year, David.
David S. Broder: I had planned my schedule to be in Chicago in hopes of seeing some late-season games. But, like you, I am confident next year will be our year. Just keep the injury jinx away, and we'll have a pair of starters as good as those guys in Arizona. And, by the way, wasn't it great that Mark Grace got a World Series ring?
Laurel, Md.: Speaking solely as a tourist, I love what Giuliani has done in New York City. And I almost never vote for Republicans.
Should this election serve as a call to the Republican party that they could possibly develop an urban branch made up of centrist problem-solvers, even though they might be a little out of step with the rest of the party?
David S. Broder: That message has been sent before, when Republicans elected John Lindsay in New York, George Voinovich in Cleveland, Dick Riordan in Los Angeles, etc. etc. But the national party has a hard time accepting it. The base of the party has moved South and moved rural, and urban constituencies are not at the top of the GOP target list.
Arlington, Va.: In New Jersey, McGreevey really beat up Schundler for his support for school vouchers. Do you think that his victory, coupled with the landslide defeats last year for voucher initiatives in Michigan and California, means the end for this issue?
David S. Broder: It does not mean the end for the vouchers issue, because there is a great deal of money and ideological fervor behind the campaign for vouchers. It will go on, whatever the odds.
Woodbridge, Va.: Mr. Broder,
I think it is about time for the politicians and the media to lay off of the security workers at the airports. I saw an editorial cartoon this morning that depicted them as clowns. The fact is that Sept. 11 occurred not because of the quality of the screeners but because of the lack of interest shown by the policy and regulation makers and those who provide the funds!
David S. Broder: I certainly agree with you that airport security workers should not be ridiculed. That is a tough, boring job for which they draw little pay. But the system is broken and it badly needs repair.
New York, N.Y.: Sy Hersh's New Yorker story about the Special Forces raid on Kandahar was denied by the Pentagon on Monday, then supported by reporting in the Guardian and Le Monde on Tuesday. Whom do we believe? If Hersh, why does it matter if the American people know the Special Forces failed a mission in Afghanistan? Isn't it up to the Pentagon or the administration to explain that one little battle may have been lost, but the war is far from over? Why can't the government be straight with us, even about events that have already happened and have no impact on what is going to happen?
David S. Broder: You are, I'm sure, familiar with the comment that in wartime, "truth is the first casualty." In every war in my lifetime, the military and their civilian bosses have tried to manage public opinion by glossing over troubles and exaggerating successes. We learned after the fact how many misses our "smart bombs" and precision weapons had in the Gulf war. This habit is unbreakable, and it is why we in the press fight for--with limited success--the best access we can get to the front lines of war.
Northern Virginia: Check that, Springfield:
Mark Warner ran as a "Conservative."
Perhaps, in Virginia, he is viewed by Republicans as "moderate."
Sadly, Mr. Broder, there is no room in the Old Dominion for a Democrat with a capital "D". Don't you believe this state needs to join with Maryland and the Mideast Region to progress in the 21st century?
David S. Broder: As you know, Virginia and Maryland have had fundamentally different political cultures from their very origins. They will likely never swap or merge identities. Past Democratic governors like Jerry Baliles and Chuck Robb have advanced some progressive policies in the conservative climate of Virginia. Warner will have a tougher challenge, given the makeup of the Legislature. But a skillful governor can do a lot in Virginia, and it will be an interesting test to see what he can accomplish.
Bethesda, Md.: It seems to have been decided by/in the press that only federal government employees can adequately provide airport security, and that to think otherwise means you're acting in a partisan manner or are beholden to the lobbyists. This is obviously not the case; it's a matter of hiring good employees, training them well, and making the job attractive (pay, benefits, opportunity for advancement, etc). The government isn't uniquely capable of providing any of those. Why doesn't the press report that it's an issue that intelligent people can differ on?
David S. Broder: I agree completely with your statement. It is a legitimate debate. The key to this problem is recruitment, training and opportunity for advancement. Providing that is more important than the question of who signs the paycheck. It's also important that the decision be made soon, because the current situation is not working.
Silver Spring, Md.: Mr. Broder, do you think the Republicans generally and President Bush in particular have fallen into a trap of thinking that the 90 percent approval rating for President Bush means the country supports him personally, as opposed to support "THE President"? How long do you think this level of support can be sustained?
David S. Broder: My impression is that the support recorded in the polls is partially for the office of President, the single rallying point for the country, and partially for George Bush's personal conduct. Both could erode. If this is truly similar to the start of the Cold War -- "a long twilight struggle"-- we ought to remember that the United States, to its credit, sustained that effort under presidents and Congresses of both parties for 45 years, achieving a historic victory. But we should also remember that there were periods of intense division during the Cold War and that Democrats lost the presidency because of two wars fought in that span of time -- first with Korea and then with Vietnam. It is highly likely there will be partisan divisions again during the war on terrorism.
Daly City, Calif.: Do you think the Bush administration will succeed in their attempt to quash release of presidential papers?
Do you feel this was motivated primarily by a desire by Bush and members of his administration to whitewash their pasts? If so, what do you think they have to hide?
David S. Broder: I can't tell you what motivated the executive order, but I agree with those who view it as an unnecessary and unwise barrier to discovering historic truths.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Mr. Broder,
I'm wondering what your impression is about the alleged erosions in our civil rights since Sept. 11 as a result of recent legislation, executive orders, etc. I worry about it a great deal, to be honest, particularly when I read stories like the one on the front of the WP business section today about investigators just showing up at offices and demanding to see files without having warrants, etc.
David S. Broder: Once again, if the Cold War is an apt analogy for the war on terrorism, we would be well advised to be vigilant about civil liberties. The Cold War spawned not just McCarthyism but the kind of paranoia that led a great liberal like Hubert Humphrey to sponsor and pass a bill outlawing the Communist Party. I am sure our committment to civil liberties will be tested again, and I am proud that the Post in its news coverage and editorials is shining a bright light on practices that need scrutiny.
Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C.: Mr. Broder,
How do you think the election of Warner will affect public works projects for the region, Metro and transit in general?
Do you think cooperation between the three regional governments will change or perhaps improve?
David S. Broder: Those are good questions, but I think we will have to wait some months for answers. Warner appears to be sensitive to the transportation needs of the region, which is a hopeful sign. But it's too early to tell how he and Glendening and Williams will play.
Fairfax, Va.: Do Bloomberg's and Warner's victories mean that we'll see more rich businessmen run for office? What do you think about that?
David S. Broder: The pattern of self-financed wealthy candidates is now so well-established that I see no reason to expect it to change. By the way, that is a pattern beyond the reach of McCain-Feingold, should it ever become law.
Vienna, Va.: I would like to ask you, Mr. Broder, and all the people complaining about the issue of who controls airport security: what makes you think the federal government can do any better than private industry? I have been a federal employee for 27 years. I've seen some outstanding people and I have also seen a lot of deadheads. But in private industry you can at least get fire your deadheads. You can't in the government because of political correctness and the overly restrictive OPM laws. I think the Republicans are correct to oppose this -- at least until we determine just who really CAN do the job better.
David S. Broder: I have never worked for the federal government, except for two years in the Army, so I would not challenge your 27 years of experience. Organizations reflect their leaders and respond to the incentives that are provided. The current private security company managers and the current save-a-buck incentives clearly do not provide incentives for the kind of airport security we need. Getting the managers and the incentives right is more important, in my view, than the question of who signs the paycheck.
Falls Church, Va.: More on your response to the earlier question on the economy. I agree that generally people judge the economy by how they themselves and their friends/family are "doing." However, I also know that good reporting by papers like the Post which address complex issues like the economy makes a difference. Especially now when we are all having a difficult time remembering life before Sept. 11, I think it is incumbent on newspapers and TV news to remind us that the economy has been slowing for some time now.
Reporting is more than just "telling todays news" -- it seemed like you used to know that.
David S. Broder: I agree. And the charts and stories we have been running almost always look back before September 11.
New York, N.Y.: Highly likely that there will be partisan divisions?! Aren't we already seeing the forced unity start to crack? Look at the argument between Gray Davis and the FBI over the terror alert out West; the argument over who controls the rehabilitation of lower Manhattan, even between Pataki and Bloomberg; not to mention the increasingly partisan bickering over the usual stuff in Congress.
David S. Broder: You are dead-right. That was not a very courageous prediction on my part. The divisions are beginning to show.
Another Cubs fan: Watching Grace and Gonzalez win the World Series, I almost -almost!- felt like I was watching my favorite team. It is a great thing for Grace to finally come out on top.
Note to the other fan: don't hang out with Yankee fans. It's too depressing.
David S. Broder: I have a worse problem -- a Brooklyn-residing son who has become a Mets fan.
Duluth, Minn.: How would you view the Carlyle Group and the co-players in its profits -- the Bush family investments and participants, the bin Laden family interests and all the big boys, old Republicans like Carlucci, Baker, etc., so incestuously entwined in this mega global group?
The escalation of this present war, from surgical strikes (often missing the target) to carpet bombing -- who profits here? Certainly such escalation has a goal but what is it and can it be achieved for whose benefit?
Where will this nation go next? How will we be perceived if we add Iraq to our non-precision bombing targets? The world will not view us as victims anymore, that's for sure. I am sorry but I've lost faith in the process now evolving and hope we are not getting mired down in a situation that will be more tragic than our present fears?
David S. Broder: If your suggestion is that the Carlyle Group or some other multinational firm is calling the shots in Afghanistan, I would reject it. American commercial interests obviously have shaped and will shape our policies, but I do not think we're picking bombing targets to serve some financial goal.
Washington, D.C.: What does the election in Virginia do for/to Republican party chief Gilmore?
I would think it would be a major embarrassment a la Gore not carrying Tennessee.
What are your thoughts?
David S. Broder: It's a black eye for Gov. Gilmore. His budget policies proved to be unpopular even in some Republican areas. I don't think he can alibi his way out of that fact.
Silver Spring, Md.: Should the American people be worried about the lack of foreign policy experience that President Bush has in the midst of the current crisis? While the Secretaries Powell and Rumsfeld are capable foreign policy experts, President Bush seems very uncomfortable and that discomfort is felt by a good many Americans.
David S. Broder: This has to be my final question for today. I have not heard anyone who has dealt with him since September 11 suggest that President Bush appears to be over his head in this crisis. The results of his policy choices remain uncertain, and he will be judged by those results. But his conduct has betrayed no lack of confidence.
Thank you all for your good questions. I look forward to our next chat.
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the
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