Broder On Politics
With David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist/Reporter
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2003; Noon ET
Just two days after weapons inspectors delivered their report to the U.N. Security Council about Iraq, President Bush delivered his State of the Union message to Congress and the American people. As expected, Bush reported on his foreign policy, saying Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has missed his "final chance" to avert war. He also proposed increased funding for drug treatment programs, mentoring programs and $1.2 billion to develop hydrogen-powered automobiles.
How was Bush's speech received by Republicans, Democrats and the American people? And in the midst of a growing field of Democratic presidential candidates for 2004, how will the president's address play on the political stage?
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and columnist David S. Broder was online to talk about the state of the union, the conflict with Iraq and the political landscape on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at noon ET.
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.
Washington, D.C.: Mr. Broder:
With all of your years of experience, what do you think the chances are that we are going to go to war with Iraq, and when do think it will begin? Thanks.
P.S. I have always enjoyed your work!
David S. Broder: I think the chances that we are going to war are virtually 100 percent, unless Saddam Hussein flees the country or is overthrown in a coup. I have no inside information on the timing, but the military preparations point to something by the middle of March.
Williamsburg, Va.: I do not believe that overall there is disdain or even strong support for Bush's war plans in Washington. How would you describe the atmosphere of national officials' support for Bush?
David S. Broder: There is a fairly sharp partisan divide, with virtually all Republicans supporting the president and Democrats voicing their doubts. But I do not think he is counting heads at this point, here or at the United Nations. I think he has set his course.
Shaker Heights, Ohio: I was a bit surprised that President Bush didn't take the opportunity to address how he sees his brand of conservatism benefitting minorities, especially after the Trent Lott fiasco. I don't think anyone expects him to come out and embrace affirmative action -- nor do I want him to -- but the continued silence he issues on what plan of action he has for ensuring opportunities for education and advancement for all people really makes me uneasy. Is he really that afraid to stand up to the same people Lott coddled throughout his political life?
David S. Broder: I cannot do anything but speculate about the absence of any discussion of minorities or race in the State of the Union. The president's support from the Republican base among conservatives and in the South is very strong. So the absence of any targeted message to minorities may reflect nothing more than its rather low priority on his agenda of concerns.
Philadelphia, Pa.: As a Democrat I am dismayed when I here people say that the Democrats don't have any ideas or a positive agenda. That may have been true during the 2002 campaign. But ever since then, congressional Democrats have made economic proposals. Also the presidential candidates have made speeches on national security and the economy as well. So why aren't some pundits giving the Democrats credit for proposing positive ideas?
David S. Broder: I speak only for one pundit, but I agree with your on the Democrats offering a clear agenda on domestic issues and I have made that point in a column that is scheduled to run tomorrow in the Post.
Roseburg, Ore.: This "healthy forests" program -- that's not the one where the administration lets logging companies thin out federal forests so there's less tinder around is it? The solution is not lessening forest fires, which renew and restore the environment, it's limiting development around national forests. Again we see the president talking about an environmentally hostile act as an environmentally friendly one.
David S. Broder: The healthy forests plan the president referred does call for thinning the undergrowth and smaller trees in the forest. I am incompetent to judge the debate on alternative plans for reducing the losses from wildfires.
Washington, D.C.: I thought Gov. Locke gave a very good Democratic response last night, but I fear (writing as a Democrat) that the party ceded all knowledge of defense and foreign policy to the Republicans by choosing a governor. The unspoken message I received was, "We don't know much about defense, but we do know about the economy, taxes, and social issues." Do you agree?
David S. Broder: Gov. Locke did deal with one defense issue -- that of homeland defense. But he did not pretend to be a military expert. The Democrats have people with that expertise, but obviously made a political judgment they wanted their response to focus on domestic and economic issues. That's their strong suit, so they were playing to strength.
Somewhere, USA: Dear Mr. Broder,
How the falling numbers of Bush's approval rate will embolden Democrats against him and how it will affect his tight grip of the Republican caucus? Once everybody faces the reality and recognizes that the emperor has not cloths on, what will follow? You are welcome to answer my first question with the second one removed. Thanks.
David S. Broder: As I've already discussed, the Democrats scarcely need to be emboldened. Since their loss in 2002, they have found a bit of courage -- especially on domestic issues. I see no wavering in the House Republican caucus. A few Republican moderate senators have expressed doubts about the economic recovery plan, and their votes may force White House concessions in that area.
Boston, Mass.: Mr. Broder,
There were a few things in last night's address that caught me by surprise. The first was the mention of a research fund to look at hydrogen-powered vehicles. The second was the mention of a new anti-AIDS program. Do you see these two initiatives as standing by themselves or as part of a desire to make the U.S. appear as a "citizen of the world" and to deflect some criticism about the general label of unilateralism that is associated with this administration?
David S. Broder: I think those policies are commendable in themselves and also convey a message of caring about environmental and health issues that are of great concern outside the United States. Good policy and good politics.
York, Pa.: You keep your finger on the pulse of the general public. Do we as Americans have any idea of the long-term post-war involvement we would have to have in Iraq? And is Bush being candid with us about this?
David S. Broder: There has been little public discussion of what happens afterward in Iraq and what kind of long-term committment it may involve. Sen. Biden organized hearings on the subject in the Foreign Relations Committee last year, but I would have to say there has been very little to prepare the public for what is likely in store.
Fullerton, Calif.: Today in the Washington Post there is an article regarding the huge profits reported by Northrop-Grumman due to the sale to the United States government of products to be used in war. The article does not mention that George H.W. Bush is affiliated with the group that owns Northrop-Grumman, namely the Carlyle Group. Do you have an opinion regarding whether there is a conflict of interest when the president's father is involved with a company that is making profits from the sale of products of war?
David S. Broder: I am not a lawyer, but it does not seem realistic to me as a layman that a defense contractor would be barred from seeking government contracts because a former president whose son is president has a relationship with the ownership group. What are they supposed to do? Go out of business? Or are you suggesting that Elder Bush sell out his shares?
Rockville, Md.: The lobbyists and money have corrupted politicians with both sides at the trough. With Sen. McCain as the lone "straight-talker" who has actually tried to dos something about campaign finance reform, do you see any chance he would opt out of his party to and run either as an independent or with a moderate Democrat? Are there any other solutions to shaking up the two-party system so it behaves more responsibly?
I enjoy your writing. Thank you.
David S. Broder: I see no prospect that Sen. McCain would switch parties or become an independent. He is the Republican chairman of a major committee, after all. He plays an influential role in the Senate and would probably lose much of that leverage were he to bail out of the GOP.
Clarksville, Tenn.: Wasn't some of the speech like hearing guns and butter in overdrive? I don't think any American believes we can do all those things at that same time. President Bush compares the nation's financial situation to that of a family and even families can't do it all at the same time, we have to make choices: new car or fix the roof. We have to choose.
David S. Broder: You are right. We do have to choose. And the simultaneous choice of war and tax cuts is mind-boggling to me.
Washington, D.C.: Why is it that the print and TV media are so afraid to point out when the administration blatantly misrepresents facts? There have been several examples lately, most to support Bush's desire to go to war. It seems that if Bush said the earth was flat, and Democrats challenged this, the media would report it as "partisan bickering over shape of earth." What is your overall opinion on the coverage of the president?
David S. Broder: I think our White House reporters have tried conscientiously to "truth-squad" the statements coming out of the White House. But the president has a big megaphone and statements that he makes repeatedly tend to sink in, whatever reporters do.
Surfside Beach, Tex.: In precisely what way is Saddam a threat to the U.S.? What harm has be done us? What harm can he do us?
David S. Broder: Given his avowed hostility to the U.S. and its allies in the region, and his relentless pursuit of threatening weapons, Saddam Hussein is clearly a dangerous force to have operating in a strategically vital part of the world. You may question, as many do, the imminence of the threat, but the fact of his menace seems to me well established.
Baltimore, Md.: In Mayor O'Malley's radio response this past weekend, he argued that the president is shirking his responsibilities on helping cities and states adequately prepare a homeland defense. Mayor O'Malley argued that the frontline soldiers in the war on terrorism are actually the firefighters, police, transportation, and medical personnel, and that their needs have been virtually abandoned by Bush.
Was there any response to this criticism in Bush's speech last night?
Also, on a different note, do you see any frontrunners among the Democratic presidential candidates as of yet?
David S. Broder: The president did not respond to the Democrats' complaints about the lack of funding for first responders. Others in the administration have argued that all the money that can usefully be spent this year has been distributed, but that claim seems strikingly weak to me -- given the condition of state and local finances.
Leesburg, Va.: While I understand it may be difficult for you and other Washington journalists to think back 10 years, may I suggest that you, Mr. Broder, read again the Feb. 17, 1993 State of the Union Address given by then-President William Jefferson Clinton, less than one month into his presidency. This IS the substantive address the American people deserved last night, eh?
washingtonpost.com: FYI: President Clinton's 1993 State of the Union address.
David S. Broder: I will try to reread that address after this on-line chat ends. I have no special recollection of it -- good or bad.
Boston, Mass.: In President Bush's reference to his policies regarding the parties that make up the "Axis of Evil," Iran, which is believed to have provided safe haven to a number of al Qaeda operatives, seemed to get off quite easy. What is your read on that?
David S. Broder: I think he realizes the United States has bit off quite a lot in tackling Iraq and does not need to push for a second showdown in the region at the same time. It is also the case that there are some positive signs, in terms of popular opinion, coming out of Iran.
Alexandria, Va.: What is going on with John Kerry? He seems to simultaneously support and oppose going to war with Iraq?
Where is his head at?
David S. Broder: You'd have to ask Sen. Kerry where his head is. His support for the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq does not sit well with some of the Democratic activists in Iowa and New Hampshire, so he may be trying to square things with them.
Philadelphia, Pa.: Mr. Bush noted that there are 30 million people infected with HIV in Africa, including 3,000,000 children. Yet his AIDS proposal will only provide drugs for 2,000,000 over five years -- and include only $10 billion in new funding over that period. Considering the amount of money that he is spending on a war with Iraq already, doesn't this program seem to be little more than a token effort on AIDS in Africa?
David S. Broder: I do not regard a $10-billion add-on to a $5-billion program as tokenism. The AIDS epidemic is an international challenge and I think the United States is setting an example with this pledge.
New York, N.Y.: Mr. Broder
Has President Bush pushed himself into a corner on Iraq? With his talk over the last few months about how much of a threat Hussein is to us, from a purely political standpoint, wouldn't anything short of war be a failure and may cost him some of his base support?
David S. Broder: He does not need a war. He does need to disarm Saddam Hussein - which means to him dislodging Saddam Hussein. He has made that goal so important an objective that he clearly would pay a political price for failing.
Pleasant View, Utah: It seems to me that there is a growing consensus abroad that the problems posed by Iraq, North Korea, et al, are really for the U.S. to solve as the lone superpower, and that other nations are reluctant to expend resources or economic capital to address these problems when they do not see themselves as the main target. If this persists, what do you see as the future of the U.N., NATO, and other like organizations?
David S. Broder: What is developing in Iraq clearly poses serious questions about the future of the United Nations and NATO. A split among the great powers on this issue would have long-term consequences. We are cleaving close to our regional allies on the Korean situation, so that front looks more benign.
Ireland: It seems to me that the imminent British "support" stems in fact from the puppy dog leadership of Blair who is intent on following Bush no matter what the cost. I feel that both leaders are concerned primarily with upcoming reelections and want to be seen to be doing something to distance them from any rivals. I am also fearful that this ploy will actually work. How supportive are the American public of a war with Iraq? Also, what do you think are the real motives behind Bush's campaign given all the opposition from the likes of China, France and Germany?
David S. Broder: I do not share your suspicions about the motivations of President Bush or Prime Minister Blair. Both men know the risks of war and the reluctance of many of their constituents to see such a conflict begin. Were they not convinced of the security threat posed by Saddam Hussein, I do not believe they would be going down this road.
Seattle, Wash.: What will we do with oil when we are through? If you think it's 100 percent likely that we will go to war, then shouldn't we be having this discussion?
David S. Broder: Yes, and we should also be discussing the future of Iraq, the repercussions for the region, the threat of retaliation against the U.S. and its allies and a lot of other legitimate concerns.
Kansas City, Mo.: You responded to an earlier question re: guns and butter that it is "mind-boggling" the president simultaneously is considering tax cuts and war. What would you have the president do? As a war-time president, he has shown uncommon leadership in bringing America from an invulnerable position post-Sept. 11 to reassume its position as the defender of peace and freedom. You also said the Democrats' strength lies in domestic issues, i.e., the economy and social programs. Bush would be derelict (and trounced by his critics)not to address the ailing economy with a jobs-creating package, even in times of war. My question is: what from the president's economic package do you predict will come out of Chuck Grassley and Bill Thomas' committees?
David S. Broder: On your general point, I think the administration has been living in a bifurcated world for some time; keeping a tax reduction program that was conceived in a period of vast surpluses and ignoring both the revenue slump and the vast costs of the war on terrorism. As a jobs-creating package, this latest one is conceded to be weak -- even by the new secretary of treasury. It is a long-term tax reform, and it may or may not be good policy for the long term. But short term, it adds to deficits and makes it hard to address the claims of states and locals for help on homeland defense.
I do not know what will come out of committee, but at this point support for the dividend exclusion is lacking in the Senate.
Washington, D.C.: I do not share your confidence that Bush and Blair know the risks of war. Bush is being led to war by his father's friends, and evaded military duty when it was his turn to serve the country.
What makes you so confident? That he is in front of a flag at a podium with a presidential seal? I need, to use the popular phrase of the day, more evidence.
David S. Broder: We disagree. Bush is not being led by his father's friends. Many of them, such as Scowcroft and Eagleburger, have been raising strong cautionary signals. And I think you exaggerate when you say Bush "evaded military duty."
New York, N.Y.: I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Mr. Bush is promoting research into hydrogen power. I would have been even happier if it had been a larger commitment, since in my view our developing energy situation is a major concern and will only continue to grow in importance -- from plain availability to political implications of our present oil policies.
I'll take a program like this from either side of the aisle, but can you see where any of the Democrats (whose issue you would expect this to be) will be able to top this with something bigger or more imaginative? This was one area where I thought the Dems might be able to field the better proposal.
David S. Broder: I do not know what the Democrats may have in mind on the hydrogen power front. Research programs often grow as they move through Congress, and this one may follow that pattern.
Vienna, Va.: Mr. Broder,
I just read the '93 State of the Union Address:
It sure was a lot more positive and understandable I think to the average American on what their role was in going in the direction the president laid out. I didn't get that impression last night -- did you?
David S. Broder: Last night, the president suggested volunteer mentoring of children of prisoners -- a fine idea. But he is reluctant to ask any real sacrifice from the American people -- something I really regret.
San Francisco, Calif.: In the State of the Union speech, President Bush spoke of the need for "integrity in American business." A federal watchdog for this is the Securities and Exchange Commission. Its head, Harvey Pitt, resigned last November and his resignation was accepted by President Bush but Pitt still remains there long after it was time for him to go. What will it take to get Harvey Pitt to remove himself from the SEC in fact, and not just in name?
David S. Broder: Confirmation of a new chairman, Mr. Donaldson, who recognizes the public relations problem his predecessor poses.
Albany, N.Y.: It has been reported that prior to yesterday's State of the Union address lobbyists who support the president's agenda were given a briefing on the speech. Is this a common practice? Have other presidents briefed their supporters in advance of important announcements? Is the list of those who were briefed public?
David S. Broder: I am not aware of any public listing of those who were briefed in advance. The practice is common; those who attend are expected to lead the cheers for the message and the agenda. Some conservative columnists (not me) received a similar briefing.
Washington, D.C.: So the kid from the oil family wants to disarm the guy with most of the world's oil because the guy with the oil has changed from an ally to a threat in less than 20 years.
The American oil family supported the guy with the oil while he did horrendous things, but he no longer plays their game, so the time has come to eliminate his "threat"
What threat? Cooperation and oil sharing.
David, did you notice the news recently that Iraq has been bailing out the U.S. with oil for the last few months to offset the Venezuela situation? Iraq increased production to keep our oil costs down.
Who is the bad guy, really?
David S. Broder: That's too simple a theory for me. Oil is a valuable commodity, but this is about more than access to oil.
Fountain Valley, Calif.: Hi David, love your columns. I am a liberal Democrat from Orange County, Calif. To what extent are the Democrats considering filibusters to stop some of the more divisive parts of the Bush agenda such as the nominations of Judge Pickering and the massive tax cut Bush is proposing?
David S. Broder: Sen. Daschle has made it clear that he will not be reluctant to use filibusters to block Bush nominations and programs to which the Democrats object. He has not listed those targets yet, but I expect there will be many of them.
Indianapolis, Ind.: Okay, even though I like President Bush, I have to confess much of my ability to support the president's plans for Iraq stem form Sen. McCain's steadfast believe that it's the right thing to do. Am I the only one? Do you hear this from other people Mr. Broder?
David S. Broder: Yes. Sen. McCain's support is important to many people. And, given your address, I should add, so is Sen. Lugar's.
Newport, R.I.: Do you think that by taking out Saddam the stability of the area would be worse?
< B>David S. Broder: I don't know the answer for the long-run. But clearly there will be a substantial period where American forces will be heavily involved in trying to stabilize the situation.
This has to be my last answer for today. Thank all of you for participating.
That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.
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