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David S. Broder
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Broder On Politics
With David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist/Reporter

Tuesday, March 26, 2002; Noon EST

An overhaul of the campaign finance system, one of the biggest political lightning rods of recent years, passed the Senate on March 20, ending the parties' practice of collecting "soft money" donations. President Bush pledged to sign the "flawed" legislation into law, while opponents of the measure promised to fight it in court as a violation of free speech.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and columnist David S. Broder was online to talk about the landmark bill, its effects on the electoral process and the upcoming 2002 elections on Tuesday, March 26.

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.

Boston, Mass.: Dear Mr. Broder:

Ron Brownstein's recent article in the L.A. Times suggests that the Democrats face an uphill battle this November, and that one of the reasons is that they have no coherent domestic policy to highlight the differences between themselves and the Republicans. Is this how you see it? If so, why do you think the Democrats are unable to forge a platform that will at least make them competitive (or perhaps make them winners) this fall? Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: FYI: In the Political Party Ring, It's Fearless Frodo vs. Pathetic Piggy (by Ronald Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2002)

David S. Broder: As usual, Ron Brownstein has it right. I would also commend to you the E.J. Dionne column which ran in The Post today. In it, he argues that by refusing to follow through on the logic of their own positions by calling for a suspension of further scheduled tax cuts, they have in effect muted themselves.

washingtonpost.com: E.J. Dionne's column: Tiptoeing Around Taxes (Post, March 26, 2002)

Washington, D.C.: Mr. Broder, is it an unwritten strategy of a political party (the Dems) in an election year to actually lay low, not publicize all the issues early in the year as this will give the opposing party material to work on? Is it generally wise, as in a horse race, to save your punches for the final stretch? I hear much about partisan politics reemerging, but am not really seeing any action. Are the Dems afraid to interrupt any pro-war spirit? I'm referring to Daschle's comment where he just raised some questions, not criticisms and was instantly knocked down for criticizing the president. Sorry for the multi-faceted question. Any thoughts?

David S. Broder: I don't think the Democrats have a strategy of laying low, except to make it clear that they support the broad aims of the war on terrorism. Nor would it be wise for them to do so. The public is largely inattentive to politics these days, so any communications strategy would have to involve a great deal of repetition to have any chance of success.

Vienna, Va.: This bill seems to me to be as much of a bogus and unnecessary piece of legislation as anything that has ever come out of Congress in my lifetime. First of all, since when does money ever decide the outcome of an election? Votes determine elections, not money. Once a person goes into a booth to vote, no amount of money on this planet can EVER force him or her to pull a given lever.

A die-hard Democrat, Republican, or any other party supporter is going to pull that lever no matter how much is spent in a campaign or to who that money goes. Even undecided voters are not swayed by money. To even SUGGEST that money can buy votes is an insult to one's intelligence. Now, of course, once a politician is in office, money CAN bribe him or her (Rostenkowski was a good example of that). But that is a whole other issue that is not the purpose of this bill.

Look at the huge amounts of money spent by Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996, Oliver North in 1994, and Bob Dole in 1996. All three turned up losers in spite of having handily outspent their opponents. No, money alone does not win elections, despite media attempts to prove otherwise.

I have a lot of respect for John McCain, especially for what he went through in Vietnam, but unfortunately, he and his supporters have really blown it on this campaign "reform" stuff.

David S. Broder: It is true, as you say, that money alone does not win elections. But without money, candidates cannot really compete for major office. Communication is very expensive in this country, and it is money that buys the tools of communication, direct mail, phones, and ads. That is a reality that I do not think can be ignored.

Annandale, Va.: Why does the contemporary Republican Party cling to the title "Party of Lincoln?" I see no evidence that former southern Democrats like Strom Thurmond and Phil Gramm have much in common with Lincoln, who, after all, was the ultimate proponent of federal power over states' rights. Am I missing something here?

David S. Broder: Republicans claim, and are entitled to claim, the Party of Lincoln title for the simple reason that he was the first Republican nominee to gain the presidency. Whether they are true to all his precepts is another question. But one would hardly expect the policies of a president facing a civil war to be wholly those of any party today.

Washington, D.C.: Under the theory that it's never too early to talk presidential electoral politics (particularly with the new rules that put a much higher premium on hard money), who besides John Kerry (and perhaps Al Gore) is seriously considering a run for the Democratic nomination? What do you think of the chances of a small state governor such as Vilsack, Hodges or Barnes, or Carper, who was recently governor?

David S. Broder: The other Democrats who are traveling actively in anticipation of possible presidential campaigns include Sens. John Edwards and Joe Lieberman, Rep. Dick Gephardt and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. I think it is difficult--but not impossible, as Bill Clinton demonstrated -- for a small-state governor to compete on even terms.

Washington, D.C.: Mr. Broder,

The welfare reauthorization debate is heating up, with both parties and the White House introducing various proposals. Marriage incentives have proven contentious, but what else do you think will frame the debate in this important election year?

David S. Broder: Marriage incentives will be one issue. The others include the level of funding, especially for child care and other supplemental services; the stiffening of the work requirement; and the provision of job training for those moving from welfare to work. Other issues include moving beyond the welfare mothers and trying to reach the fathers of welfare children, and the issue of poverty for those who have only recently left the welfare rolls. A big debate ahead.

Reston, Va.: How can news organizations like the Post credibly denounce the influence of special interest groups in national politics when big media itself is a special interest group which wielded significant influence on this legislation in terms of campaign air time?

David S. Broder: No question, the media business, like many others, plays the lobbying-influence game in Washington. I have written repeatedly about media companies' lobbying against free or reduced cost time for political ads -- and even though the Washington Post Company owns TV stations in several markets, I have not been censored, reprimanded or made to feel uncomfortable for expressing those views. I salute my company for that.

New York, N.Y.: Why is the most dangerous third rail of politics no longer Social Security, but rather any analysis, information or viewpoint that questions the extremely close U.S. support of Israel? Those who point out or offer a differing analysis of blind U.S. support for Israel always are hammered by Israel's supporters, both Jewish and goyim. It leads us to a foreign policy where Israel's interests determine U.S. policy, not our own interests. And now we are confronting the problem where the larger U.S. desire to build a coalition against Iraq is being frustrated by Israel's UN resolutions (242 et al) breaking treatment of the Palestinians. Is this too hot a topic to touch? People are talking but the press and politicians are shunning an open debate. What can be done?

David S. Broder: I have to question your premise. The critics of U.S. policy in the Middle East have been plentifully represented on the opinion pages and in the news coverage of the newspapers I read. And, as you surely know, the debate about the Sharon government's policies and actions is a lively one within the Jewish community in this country.

Alexandria, Va.: Why is it that the same "activists" who decry any attempt to limit taxpayer funding of cow dung "art" are the same ones who support "campaign finance reform" that curtails the First Amendment? I guess their support of First Amendment absolutism is selective. What a bunch of hypocrites. Do you agree?

David S. Broder: I hadn't thought of the contrast you draw, but it makes a striking argument. My own view, expressed in many columns, is that the prohibition on advocacy groups of all kinds using their own funds for issue ads including candidates' names in the period before an election is a serious infringement on First Amendment rights. The courts will now have an opportunity to rule on that question, but I am very uncomfortable with that part of the McCain-Feingold bill.

Dallas, Tex.: Do you care to comment on the concern over media bias in view of the variety out news sources available?

David S. Broder: Only to say the obvious: The more sources of information available, the better. The Internet is a blessing in that regard.

Philadelphia, Pa.: I read your column about Sen. Tom Carper and the stimulus, but I wasn't sure if it was meant to be derogatory. Can you explain?

washingtonpost.com: Column: No Stomach For the 'Stimulus' (Post, March 13, 2002)

David S. Broder: Heavens, no. I was praising him for cutting through the celebratory rhetoric of his colleagues and telling his constituents what I regard as the truth. I sure hope that message was clear.

Annandale, Va.: First the attorney general made a broad reference that critics of the administration were giving "aid and comfort" to the enemy. About a month ago, my representative Tom Davis made the same charge about Sen. Daschle specifically. This seems way out of line, and yet I have not seen a response from the Democrats or any comment in the media. Are the Republicans getting a free pass of this?

David S. Broder: Both comments were rebutted by other Democrats and the rebuttals were echoed in editorials I read. As they should have been, in my view.

Alexandria, Va.: I am concerned that campaign finance laws will prevent me from criticizing political candidates on my Web sites.

Do you know if campaign finance laws will regulate my ability to call for the defeat of a politician?

David S. Broder: What you do on your individual Web site is not affected by this bill. Only if you spend substantial sums to disseminate your views in advertising would you be impacted.

Falls Church, Va.: How much effect do you think President Bush can have on the 2002 elections by campaigning for Republican candidates?

David S. Broder: The president can certainly help Republican candidates raise money; he already is doing that almost every week. In close races for the Senate or House, an appearance by the president close to Election Day can spur turnout and boost the Republican candidate. I do not think he will have much effect on the elections for governor.

Madison, Wis.: When Sen. Daschle made some mild criticisms of the war, Republicans responded in seemingly well-orchestrated outrage, culminating in Rep. Davis's charge that Daschle was giving aid and comfort to the enemy. This echoed Ashcroft's similar accusation against those who questioned the tribunal plan. The demonizing of dissent as, in essence, treason, hasn't been seen (except for some incidents from the Nixon White House) since Joe McCarthy. Yet both the opposition and the commentators are treating these comments as politics-as-usual. What gives?

David S. Broder: As I said to a previous questioner, I read rebuttals of those comments from many Democrats and saw them echoed in newspaper editorials. As I said earlier, I think the comments were over the line.

Fairfax, Va.: In your travels around the country, have you detected genuine enthusiasm among Democrats for any prospective presidential candidate? -Any- one?

David S. Broder: No, not yet. But most people, thank goodness, are not worried yet about the candidate they will support in '04.

Silver Spring, Md.: The caller from Arlington who questioned the "party of Lincoln" should keep in mind that it was the Democratic Party and the "solid Democratic South" that implemented segregation, Jim Crow, and the Ku Klux Klan for many decades, NOT the Republicans. Republicans today, unlike them, have nothing to be ashamed of.

David S. Broder: A good point, but also selective in its review of history. It was the Republican Party in 1964 which nominated a man who voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And it was the Republican Party which welcomed a good many former segregationist Democrats, such as Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, to its ranks. Thank goodness, neither party is in that mode now.

Washington, D.C.: Mr. Broder,

Last night Bill O'Reilly the most popular TV talk show host criticized Hillary Clinton yet again for her dishonesty on Whitewater, the hasidic Jews voting in New York, and other things. His point is that basically this Democratic hopefull is dishonest. I happen to agree with him, but do you think this will doom her chances? I mean he has a lot of listeners throughout the country. Thanks.

David S. Broder: I am not one of his listeners, so I can't judge the impact of his views. Apparently he has been on her case for a long time, and it did not impede her election to the Senate nor does it seem to affect the respect she has gained from colleagues in both parties.

Fairfax, Va.: The answer to Annandale's question about if the Republican Party of today is still the party of Lincoln is: yes, it is. And the main reason why is that like in the 19th century, the Republicans of today still believe in the treatment of all persons as equals. Just as Lincoln presided over a long Civil War to free the slaves. The whole system of segregation and Jim Crow laws was engineered by DEMOCRATS, not Republicans (southern Dixiecrat Democrats, to be sure), but NOT Republicans. So now, because they once discriminated against minorities in the past, the Democrats have gone overboard today by discriminating against white males by setting "quotas." Republicans never really discriminated against anyone in the first place, so they don't try to practice reverse discrimination today like the Democrats do to try and "undo" it.

This is why more and more African-Americans and other "minorities" (especially Hispanics) are becoming Republicans today. Sorry, Democrats, but that is the truth.

David S. Broder: I've already commented on the history part of your question, so I will not repeat that. As for the claim that growing numbers of minority groups are voting Republican, the evidence is very shaky. I would like the see what brings you to that conclusion.

Indianapolis, Ind.: In fairness it should be pointed out the Sen. McConnell lobbied other senators heavily to get amendments he felt were unconstitutional. This was reported in the April 6 edition of Time magazine. I'm sure this mag is available at any library.

McConnell is quoted as saying "this amendment is so unconstitutional, please vote for it." So there was a lot of trickery going on with that bill. It says a lot about or current state of government and the poor (in my opinion) of our senators.

David S. Broder: As I wrote at the time, some of the amendments offered by Republicans in the House and Senate gave hypocrisy a bad name.

Vienna, Va.: Dave,

Wouldn't you consider Lieberman to be the de facto front-runner now? Especially with Gore pretty much out of the picture? He is conservative enough to appeal to the public at large, and a race of him against Bush could be a real contest. Which, after the 2000 mess in Florida, is all we need again.

David S. Broder: I don't think you can call anyone a front-runner for the Democratic nomination at this time. Thankfully, we have a lot of time before we have to start attaching that label. Personally, I believe that is why God invented New Hampshire -- so we would know who a front-runner is. But, of course, Bush and Clinton both lost New Hampshire in their first campaigns. God may not be perfect.

Fairfax, Va.: Re: Rep. Davis and his "aid and comfort to the enemy" comment; that was made, if I recall, in his capacity as a national GOP leader, rather than as my own representative in Congress.

In any case, it was stupid and beneath him, and I made that perfectly clear in an email sent to his office. People need to let their Reps know if they feel this way, that we aren't going to send our troops to risk their lives so that we can let politicians try to trample dissent in this country.

Besides, I wonder what the GOP would be saying if the same actions in the war were being overseen by a President Gore?

David S. Broder: Good for you for speaking up.

New York, N.Y.: Mr. Broder, your reply was not very satisfying, as you say Sharon's policies are a matter of active debate in the Jewish community. Exactly, but what happens when a non-Jew openly questions why the U.S. should support Israel with $3B per year, waive prohibitions on their illegal use of U.S. planes and helicopters against Arab civilians (both Christian and Muslim), firing on churches, smashing ambulances with tanks, and so on. Our national interest is OIL, not protecting one ethnic group over another and irritating the oil producing countries in the process. Israel is said to be the only democracy in the region, but that's only true if you ask Israeli Jews, not Israeli arabs. The emperor has no clothes, and the press only allows comments around the edges of our policies, and politicians are afraid to open up the debate we need to improve our self interested policy formation. But that's taboo.

David S. Broder: We basically disagree. I have refrained from writing about Middle East policy, as I have never spent one day in that part of the world, and my rule is not to opine on subjects where I have done no reporting. But I read the papers and clearly there is a debate taking place about U.S. policy in the region.

Springfield, Va.: Isn't it fair to say that the passage of this legislation will result in an increased influence by the media upon national politics, by at least partially muzzling competing voices?

David S. Broder: I think the bill may increase media influence at the margins. But its larger effect, if the provisions I think are of dubious constitutionality are knocked out by the court, may be to increase the volume of spending by interest groups on independent advocacy campaigns, at the expense of the political parties themselves. That would be an unfortunate consequence, aw far as I am concerned.

Republicans or Democrats: I think that Republican discrimination of gays and lesbians is ongoing and very well documented (as well as for some Democrats too). But I digress. This is the problem with partisan politics and why average Americans dislike it so much. The selective memory or inclusion of policies and issues to bolster the image of one's party. The truth is that the two parties serve as loose groups organized around generalized themes of "more" or "less" government and really composed of diversity of thought and opinion. Is this how it will always be?

David S. Broder: Your description of the political parties is the classic one of political science, and it is largely accurate, I believe. History, local tradition and, of course, personalities also shape the character of parties...but I think in general you are right.

Indianapolis, Ind.: Some of these Republicans from Virginia have missed the so-called agenda of the GOP that is geared toward talking to death the concept that private activities of consenting adults (in the privacy of their bedrooms) can be legislated away.

I say so-called since these morality issues are only mentioned to drum up votes and motivate a certain catagory of voters Republican voters (Christian Conservatives). They have no interest in really legislating these morality issues since it is all a rouse to get the true believers to the polls and they (GOP Leadership) know full well a lot of what the are pushing for are out and out invasions of privacy and unconstitutional and I say this as a Republican. So much for "the party of Lincoln" and respect for the constitution.

David S. Broder: I have to disagree with you. You are certainly right that some Republican candidates use the "morality" issues to attract votes, but there are others who believe they should be at the center of our politics. I disagree with many of their views, but I credit them with being sincere in their beliefs.

Baltimore, Md.: Why is it such a shock that Bush and company would turn to energy giants to formulate energy policy? If you have to formulate a health care proposal, I would assume you would consult with health care professionals. OK, maybe he could have included environmental groups at some of the meetings, but I'm not losing sleep at night thinking that oil and gas is dictating energy policy in this country. Can you give me a run-down of who Cheney should be talking to?

David S. Broder: Cheney is under no obligation to consult with anyone in formulating energy policy. But if he is going to consult, it would be prudent for him to hear the views of a variety of interests, if only for the reason that all of them have allies and advocates in Congress, where the policy decisions will ultimately be made.

Alexandria, Va.: Mr. Broder,

President Bush stunned everyone two weeks ago by announcing a proposed $10 billion increase in foreign aid over three years. Tying it to performance seems like a good idea, if not an original one, but do you have any ideas as to where this came from?

Also, the administration originally stated it would increase by $5 billion, then came back with the higher number. Any theories on that?

Thanks and keep up the great work.

David S. Broder: I do not. A good pair of questions, but not one to which I know the answer.

CFR and the Constitution: It's not like anyone was hiding the fact that the advocacy group spending restrictions are of dubious constitutionality. Two questions:

1. Are there any principled arguments that this is not the case, and that said restrictions are constitutional?

2. If not, how on earth can a rep or senator (or the president) assent to a patently unconstitutional bill. That very concept makes me ill.

David S. Broder: There are principled arguments that these provisions are constitutional. I suggest you consult the Web site of the Brennan Center at NYU, or the writings in the Post and elsewhere of Elizabeth Drew. They maintain that by allowing groups to do issue advocacy with "hard dollars" raised for that specific purpose, the constitutional requirement is met. I disagree, but it is certainly an arguable position.

washingtonpost.com: FYI: Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

Atlanta, Ga.: I would agree that this bill is a violation of the First Amendment. However, the Supreme Court has allowed the abridgement of civil rights if there is a "compelling state/governmental interest." Do you think the court will apply this concept in the case of campaign finance reform?

David S. Broder: I do not know, but that is the proper venue in which to decide a constitutional question.

New York, N.Y.: Given the complexity of ideas being debated nationally, the expertise of politicians at spinning, and the proclivities of the U.S. populace to not want/have time to carefully explore issues in depth, can't the press do a better job of simplifying positions and effects by the parties and candidates? Example: The "fuzzy math" debate of Bush vs. Gore (or GOP vs. Dems). A simple chart with an income/expense statement showing monies going out and coming in for each party's proposals, and the underlying assumptions, maybe in a couple of columns side by side for easy comparison. Or maybe a consistency chart, showing major flipflops in policy statements of candidates, elected officials, etc. The current prose just lets pols from both parties off the hook.

David S. Broder: Yes, we can and should do a clearer job of defining the policy differences. As for flip-flops, I think the press is generally alert to those. See Dana Milbank's story in today's Washington Post.

washingtonpost.com: Milbank's story: Policy Changes? What Policy Changes? (Post, March 26, 2002)

Fairfax, Va.: What do you see as end-game in the fight between the executive and legislative branches of the government? I know President Bush is trying to restore some power to the executive. But if the Congress is unified in what they want, then the Congress will win any fight hands down because that is the nature of the system.

What is the president trying to accomplish by annoying both parties on the Hill?

David S. Broder: He would say he is trying to preserve the powers of his office. But, as I have written, I think he has chosen poor ground for such a fight in GAO vs. Cheney, and in declining to let Tom Ridge testify.

Indianapolis, Ind.: What do you think will be the economic impact of the tariffs on Canadian lumber and overseas steel? Is it good politics that is also good for the economy in the long run?

I didn't think tariffs did much back in the Reagan administration but I wasn't paying much attention to politics than; I was too busy trying to keep a job. I got laid off twice during that era of "morning in America."

David S. Broder: My column tomorrow deals in large part with the steel tariff issue. It says that imposing these tariffs may be one of the worst decisions President Bush has made.

Laurel, Md.: Even assuming there's no actual political scandal involved, is Enron going to be a problem for the Republicans simply from an economic policy perspective?

The basic tenet of the Republican Party since at least 1980 has been "let business operate as freely as possible, and they'll create wealth from which everyone benefits."

The trickle-down aspect of this policy has been at least questionable from the outset as income disparity has grown since 1980, and here comes Enron to provide a perfect example of a few wealthy executives making lots of the money at the expense of many middle-class investors.

Are voters likely to rebel against Republican economic theories that aren't holding up to reality for the non-wealthy?

David S. Broder: So far, all the evidence suggests that Enron is a business-financial scandal, not a political scandal, in the eyes of the public. But because Republicans traditionally are identified as the favorite party of big business, it could become a problem for them. The Democrats have not yet found a way to implicate the administration in the wretched acts of the Enron executives, but they will try.

Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: I haven't voted in a national election since 1980. As an electrical engineer and veteran I can analyze and understand what doesn't work. Representative government just doesn't act swiftly and efficiently enough when heavy lifting is necessary [Sept. 11, anthrax, airport security, Enron, campaign finance, et al]. Does anyone keep records on the growing numbers of Americans that have permanently tuned out of national elections? Are our numbers growing strongly or we just a noisy blip in election statistics? Thanks much.

David S. Broder: What a sad commentary that someone like yourself has given up on representative government. My fear, supported by declining voter turnout, is that there are many more like you. I would urge you to reconsider your decision. Not all politicians are charlatans or knaves; most, in fact, work hard at trying to improve the country, according to their lights. If you don't support those who make that effort, you consign our government and our country to the worst. Please reconsider.

This has to be my last answer for today. Thank all of you for your stimulating questions.


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

© Copyright 2002 The Washington Post Company