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

Tuesday, March 25, 2003; Noon ET

In the midst of the war in Iraq, the House and Senate fought over -- then passed -- the federal budget last week. How will the added expenditure of warfare and the costs of homeland security affect domestic priorities? The president's plan to seek an additional $74.7 billion to fund the war makes it clear that debt and deficit will be part of the economy for years to come.

How must the government balance the decisions of today against the demands and concerns of the future? Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and columnist David S. Broder was online on Tuesday, March 25.

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.

Cleveland, Ohio: Can you tell us about some of the things you are hearing privately especially from state level Republicans afraid to speak on the record? What are their states' financial problems and how they plan on dealing [with] them? I'm especially concerned about poor children. Our society has always made it possible so poor children could get out from under the poverty of their parents and have a better life. It's clear to me from your last article lot of people think we're losing that.

Is there a book for you in what you're hearing?

David S. Broder: Thank you for your questions. I am not planning another book at this time. Governors of both parties are very concerned that economic conditions are forcing them to cut health care and education and youth programs they know are valuable and produce good results. Some governors are raising taxes but many are trying to avoid that when their constituents are having a tough time.

Seattle, Wash.: Mr. Broder --

Thank you for all your years of reporting; I've been reading you since I was a kid.

My question is: Do you have any comment, or perhaps some contextualization, on Helen Thomas's recent remarks that President Bush is "the worst president in American history"?

Thanks, and please keep up the good writing. We need it.


David S. Broder: Thank you for your comment. Helen Thomas is a good friend but I think we have had much worse presidents than the present one. You can agree or disagree with some of his policies -- and I have certainly written of my disagreements -- but so far, the administration has been quite scandal-free. That has not been the case throughout our history.

Jackson Heights, N.Y.: Where are all the weapons of mass destruction which were used partially as excuse for war? With over 50 percent of Americans opposed, how do the hawks have the temerity to ignore their wishes? Their group have elevated to Napoleonic levels in their utter disregard for the American public.

David S. Broder: The question of where the weapons of mass destruction may be found lurks as an important one -- still to be answered. But I do not know where you got the information that over 50 percent of Americans are opposed to the war in Iraq. That was not the case on the eve of battle and it is decidedly not the case now.

Washington, D.C.: David, I love your work. How do you see the long-term effects of the cost of war and tax cuts on housing, education and healthcare programs?

David S. Broder: Thank you for your comment. The domestic programs you mention are in great jeopardy, with revenues shrinking at the state level and the Bush administration insistent on cutting taxes at the federal level, even as we wage an expensive war.

Somerset, N.J.: It seems to me that the Bush administration had a fairly clear goal of dismantling the federal government so far as possible. It seems clear to me also that they believe that, if they can just confine the costs of the invasion of Iraq to the military budget only, they can still achieve this objective.

But does anybody in the administration understand how untidily the costs of war will spill into every other budget in the country? States, to give one example, often require a balanced budget. That all of these states are already crying for taxpayer money from the federal government? That the government and its costs will immeasurably begin to sprawl outwards?

David S. Broder: You are certainly correct that the costs of war will impact more than the Pentagon budget. That is happening already. It is hard for me to figure out the rationale for the Bush administration economic policy. If, as you suggest, the goal is to "dismantle the federal government," then it contradicts such early initiatives as Leave No Child Behind or the addition of a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. Maybe they just think you can have your cake and eat it too.

Washington, D.C.: Mr. Broder --

Does it seem to you that this administration has the country under control? Just because this administration has been relatively scandal free doesn't make it a good administration.

David S. Broder: I certainly agree that the absence of scandal does not make an administration "good." I was asked to reflect whether this was the worst administration in history. By almost any standard, it is not.

Arlington, Va.: The president won a hotly contested election, but I have seen very few attempts to reach out to people who voted against him. It seems to me that he is playing rather completely to his base which would support him no matter what he did. Do you think that, other than possible euphoria over a victory over Iraq, the political dynamics of the country are changing in favor of a second Bush victory?

David S. Broder: I think the President's performance after 9/11 impressed many people who had not voted for him. The effect of the Iraq war cannot yet be measured and the economy is certainly a drag on him politically at this point. Where this will leave him for 04, I cannot guess.

Lansdale, Pa.: Mr. Broder, I’ve been waiting for an online chat to take the opportunity to thank you for your column on George W. Bush’s pre-war press conference. Your reference to the "economically cushioned" press corps summarized the frustration I feel when reading so much of the coverage of this administration. The economic disaster that has been building in this country for the past two years is sweeping more and more people into long-term unemployment or, for the luckier, jobs that pay significantly less, yet the members of the press who are in a position to question the policymakers directly seem oblivious to this mounting problem that the current budget, if passed, will compound.

washingtonpost.com: Step by Step to War (Post, March 18, 2003)

David S. Broder: Thanks for your comment. We share the same fear about the economic insulation of Washington and both the political and press denizens of this community. I've learned the truth of what you say by spending a good deal of my reporting time outside Washington.

Orlando, Fla.: How long will the press continue to let the Republicans borrow Social Security funds to fund General Revenues, the biggest expense which is now Republican tax cuts, without explaining this simple fact?

Borrowing Social Security funds for tax cuts impacts the next generation as well as those retiring.

David S. Broder: It is not the press that permits borrowing from Social Security to meet current expenses, including tax cuts. That is a decision by the elected officials of the government, repairable by the voters. The press has an obligation to let people know what is happening, and that is why I have written so frequently (and perhaps boringly) about the travesty of the current budget debates.

Wiesbaden, Germany: Mr. Broder,

How do you think the political relations between Germany and the U.S. can be repaired? Do the American people see the difference between the official German political leaders and the opinion of the "silent majority," which is on your side?

David S. Broder: Thank you for your comment. I am not sure that the distinction you make is one most Americans would understand. Rather, the impression we have is that Chancellor Schmidt and the governing coalition reflect broad currents of public opinion in Germany.

Washington, D.C.: Mr. Broder --

How have your views of the competence of this administration changed in the last two years? Thank you.

David S. Broder: That is a difficult question to answer in a few words. The critical decision-making in the administration takes place in the White House, not the Cabinet departments. I think the president has surrounded himself with a heavily experienced national security team and a much less experienced economic and domestic policy team. The real test of the first group is taking place right now in Iraq, and I think the long-term risks of that policy are very high. The economic and domestic policy, as I have said before, is very dubious in my eyes.

Washington, D.C.: Mr. Broder --

How much pressure does the White House -- e.g., Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove -- put on the press corp to tow their line, using access, etc.? How does this administration compare with past administrations regarding access, openness, etc.? Thank you.

David S. Broder: The efforts to "manage" the news in this administration are vigorous and consistent, but perhaps no more so than many other recent administrations. The Clinton White House leaked much more, in part because there was less discipline and less respect for the president, but all presidents try to put their stamp on the coverage. Reporters accept that there is a price to be paid for independence, but independence is what serves the public best. I should say, as an exception to my first sentence, that the "embedding" of reporters with military units has greatly increased the volume and timeliness of news from the war front.

Edina, Minn.: A Washington Post story (on 3/20 I think) reported that Mr. Bush's administration continued to say Iraq sought nuclear material from Africa, when the truthfulness of that info was doubted by the CIA.

The reasons for going to war with Iraq have taken on a "moving target" feel to them, causing me to think Mr. Bush's statements are as reliable as Mr. Clinton's, which weren't.

How do you evaluate the "truthfulness" of assertions for the war, for the tax cuts by our current executive branch? Are these guys sincere, or is it much worse than that?

washingtonpost.com: CIA Questioned Documents Linking Iraq, Uranium Ore (Post, March 22, 2003)

David S. Broder: I think the White House officials who made the decision on war with Iraq genuinely believed he was seeking or had achieved access to weapons of mass destruction. We will in short order have evidence from the war front confirming or rebutting that belief. I think they have been very disingenuous in describing and justifying their tax cut proposals.

Chicago, Ill.: Mr. Broder:

Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld have been incredibly "hawkish" since the beginning of the administration. In the wake of 9/11, the administration has seemed intent on placing part of the blame on Iraq. My question is, do you think that some in the administration, particularly Vice President Cheney, have been intent on waging this war since day one of their term?

David S. Broder: I do not know what was in their minds on Day One of the administration, but I believe that at least since 9/11, they have been determined to disarm Saddam Hussein, by which they meant dislodge.

Chicago, Ill.: Hello Mr. Broder,

A Tribune reporter wrote an article recently saying that Mr. Bush has been using nothing but fear to prod the nation into an unprovoked war. Now that the troops are in Iraq, we can wish nothing but best for them and all hope for a speedy resolution. However, many people are backing the war because they either believe Saddam was directly involved in 9/11 or he was Osama's weapon supplier. Should Journalists feel good about the Americans' misguided belief? If the Americans were better educated, a war could have been avoided if it were so unpopular. So should one hold American media somewhat responsible for the war death in Iraq?

David S. Broder: I think the press has done a good and thorough job of making the point that there is no evidence of a link between Iraq and 9/11 and between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Charleston, S.C.: Are any economists making predictions to you about how the market will respond to the tax cuts, and supplemental to pay for the war? Won't there likely be another supplemental in about 90 days?

David S. Broder: I can't tell you what the speculation may be about the stock markets. There is a good deal of skepticism among economists about the effect of the proposed tax cuts on the overall economy. And, yes, it is very likely this is not the only war-related supplemental appropriations request we will see.

Hialeah, Fla.: Good morning.

I DO support our efforts to remove Saddam by force and replace him with a regime more to our liking.

That said, I also think President Bush's theme of establishing a democracy in Iraq was hooey and he knew it. We'll replace Saddam but never establish democracy over there.

I believe he was trying to make the whole thing more palatable and was trying to give cover to the members of Congress whose support (financial and otherwise) he wants.

Which leads to my conclusion: had he simply said, "Saddam is bad, we need somebody in there who will support us," would he receive the financial go-ahead.

Thank you.

David S. Broder: I share your belief that it will be extraordinarily difficult to create a stable, democratic society within the borders of Iraq -- a nation which has no tradition of representative government and is home to three distinct and antagonistic ethnic/religious groups.

Washington, D.C.: Mr. Broder,

What role, if any, do you believe that Karl Rove has in the execution of this war? Thank you.

David S. Broder: I am not aware of what role, if any, Karl Rove is playing in the war decisions.

Moderate-Left Coast, Calif.: Dear Mr. Broder,

I'm an avid reader of your work. What do you make of the widening gap between California and much of the rest of the country, especially the federal government? Most of our congressional delegation are voices crying in the wilderness (my congressman opposed the war). The administration has given us short shrift on so many different issues, it's clear that they've totally written off California. Despite national poll results, virtually nobody I know here supports the war, not just my friends, but also the bag boy at the grocery store and my dental hygienist. It seems that California interests and views are just irrelevant right now at the national level. Given the large number of our national leaders who hail from the old Confederacy, I find myself joking about passing an ordinance of secession! But seriously, isn't this regional divide and the resulting alienation out here in California dangerous for the country?

David S. Broder: Californians, like other Americans, espouse a variety of views on the war. But when I visited the state three weeks ago, I had the same sense that the perspective from that side of the country was one of people who feel they have lost some of the influence and attention they have usually enjoyed in Washington, D.C.

Vienna, Va.: I really think that it is the intent of this administration to obligate as much money as possible to DoD while reducing the cash flows into the Treasury. One potential outcome of this would be a strong, right-wing, talk-radio reinforced mantra shouting that the American way to deal with the budget crisis would be to sacrifice social security.

Then, ironically, those who really need Social Security would put their efforts into supporting all Congressional work to scale the program back.

What a shame that a civilized, beautiful country like ours is unable to envision a society whose goal is to maximize the quality life for all; rather than create a brutish, dog-eat-dog climate targeted at generating and preserving small pockets of enormous wealth.

David S. Broder: It is hard for me to imagine that anyone who is in touch with public opinion in this country would deliberately set out to undermine Social Security or Medicare. That would be a prescription for political defeat.

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

Your earlier reply was that this administration has been quite scandal free (so far). That may appear to be the case, but not really. Richard Perle is a huge conflict waiting for the press to really expose and inform the public about his Global Crossing/Pentagon/China/national security conflicts. Thomas White, Secretary of the Army, should definitely have resigned for the insider trading appearances (or actual) in Enron stock, 300+ phone calls, as well as his role as a senior executive at Enron Energy & Trading, which was a huge fraud and market manipulator in California. Bush himself violated security laws by not filing his Harken Oil stock sales within 30 days, and on and on and on. Harvey Pitt, William Webster, Janet Rehnquist delaying the Florida audit report, etc. If Democrats (I am not one) had done these things then this would have been front page and talk radio 24/7. How can you say they are scandal free? The list is long but the concern is given no sunlight. That comment is not very judicious.

David S. Broder: None of the cases you mention involves an action taken by a government official in his or her official role. We're talking apples and oranges here.

Collinsville, Ala.: Mr. Broder: Have your read Michael Lind's "Made in Texas" and Barry Hankins' "Uneasy in Babylon"?

The two together with a little research by The Post and others, given Mississippi's collusion with fundamentalists on the Southern Baptist Convention's Peace Committee in 1987, should again put his nomination in jeopardy.

Any early thoughts on Pickering Round Two as it intersects the culture wars?

David S. Broder: I have not read the books you mention. The Pickering nomination will certainly be a controversial one when it comes up.

Maui, Hawaii: Could you please explain how Colombia and the Philippines are slated to receive billions of dollars in U.S. war-related aid? I could understand Turkey and Jordan, but Columbia? Why?

David S. Broder: Colombia has been receiving U.S. aid to combat its drug industry and the continuing insurrection against its government.

Akron, Ohio: You state that the press has demonstrated that "there is no evidence of a link between Iraq and 9/11 and between Iraq and al Qaeda." This appears to be in direct conflict with the administration's education of the public and that this and the search for "weapons of mass destruction" is why we are in Iraq. Is this a correct understanding of things?

David S. Broder: Administration officials have suggested at times there may be a link between the Iraq regime and al Qaeda, but the evidence has been very shaky -- and the press has made that clear. I am unaware of any efforts by the administration to link Iraq to 9/11. The argument has been that Saddam Hussein might acquire or possess the ability to inflict greater damage, directly or through a terrorist organization.

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

Regarding who's the worst president, you said there are much worse ones. However, Helen was talking about the presidents she has covered. Please be reminded that personal scandal does not impact the future of the country. The biggest scandal will be leaving the country in a much worse shape than the one a president inherits. By this standard, do you think any president, at least the ones Helen covers, has done a worse job?

David S. Broder: I would not venture at this point whether President Bush will leave the country in better or worse shape than he found it. Internationally, the U.S. suffered setbacks during the Carter administration; and domestically, the U.S. incurred staggering debt during the Reagan and Bush I years.

Pittsburgh, Pa.: Is it normal for the White House to approve and change the quotes of reporters' stories, and if not, why are you allowing this White House to do so?

David S. Broder: It is not normal, and the Post does not permit such a practice.

Baltimore, Md.: How common is it for an administration to refuse to reveal the expected fiscal costs of a major initiative, such as a war?

Before the war started, the spin was we don't know what the war will cost, and then, shortly after the war starts, the administration gives Congress the bill for $75 billion (as a start).

There is a certain feeling that this was a political ploy all along. It's as if the administration is saying, "Well, our sons and daughters are fighting and dieing in the desert now. You want to refuse to pay for it? Go ahead, we'll remember in November."

David S. Broder: The unwillingness of the administration to estimate at least an opening cost for the Iraq war while the House was debating the budget was wholly unjustified in my view. It makes a mockery of the budget process.

Baltimore, Md.: Howard Dean didn't set out to be the antiwar candidate, but that's the role he's fallen into. Is his candidacy now inextricably linked with that stance (i.e., if the war goes well, he's finished)?

David S. Broder: Governor Dean has been outspoken on the Iraq question, but that is not, as you point out, his whole campaign. I would think he will be judged, as the others are, on his whole candidacy.

Washington D.C.: Isn't is irresponsible for the president to push for tax cuts when the country is fighting a war it can't pay for and the economy is in such trouble?

David S. Broder: That is my view, and I have made that argument many times in my column.

Parkville, Md.: You mention the Medicare prescription drug coverage proposal as an example that Bush is not trying to dismantle the federal government as much as possible BUT:

(1) That was merely a promise made to woo elderly voters.
(2) Bush has "delivered" on that promise with a proposal that would require the elderly to dump Medicare for private insurance HMOs if they want coverage. That looks a lot like dismantling to me.

David S. Broder: The original Bush proposal would have made drug benefits available only through private coverage. He was forced to abandon that approach by Republican criticism and strong Democratic opposition. Now, he would provide at least a minimal drug benefit to those who stay in conventional Medicare.

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

Your reply about non-government conflicts is baloney. The Tom White phone calls took place after he became Secretary of the Army, as well as his sale of Enron stock. Perle is obviously under contract with Global Crossing because of his Pentagon influence (see today's New York Times article). If John Sununu could be dumped over using a government limo to go to a stamp show, why not Perle, White, and all the other on the job acts and appearances of Bush administration misbehavior? Monica was not on the job either, but it all blew up before Bubba lied on the job about "that woman." Please.

David S. Broder: Hello. "Monica was not on the job either"??? Where do you think they met? Where do you think the trysts took place?

Milwaukee, Wis.: We're losing so many jobs in the heartland, and this war isn't helping anything. What do you think is the best way for us to turn around the economy and get job growth in our cities?

David S. Broder: I would think that any tax cuts ought to be targeted to working Americans, not the wealthy, and that funds should be made available to state and local governments so they do not have to lay off people and cut programs.

I'm afraid this will have to be my last response for today. Thanks to all of you


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

© 2003 The Washington Post Company