Broder On Politics|
David S. Broder
Washington Post Columnist/Reporter
Tuesday, June 10, 2003; 11:00 a.m. ET
Which Democratic candidate is best positioned to challenge President Bush in 2004? How does Sen. Edward's relative inexperience affect his presidential campaign? What factor will the economy play in the election?
Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and columnist David S. Broder was online to discuss Sen. John Edwards, the 2004 campaign and politics in general Tuesday, June 10.
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.
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Hi Mr. Broder,
Really enjoyed your piece on John Edwards. In terms of not only the Democratic field, where do you think he stands? He's charismatic, there's no doubt about it, and with $7.4 million in the bank he's formidable. But his numbers are so low in New Hampshire right now, and I can't help but think that for all the charisma and earnestness he's pretty green. Do you think he's more likely running for vice president this time around?
David S. Broder: Thanks for your comment on the Edwards piece. You are correct that he is polling pretty low in Iowa and New Hampshire now, but most of the people who will vote in those early delegate contests have not spent 15 seconds thinking about their choice. I think the polls in those states become meaningful this fall, after an intense summer of campaigning by all the candidates. Edwards has an uphill climb, but I genuinely do not know how this contest is going to play out.
I forget the author, but there was a book out about how elements of the Republican Party recognized that Gov. Clinton was a potential national figure in the '80s and worked to undermine him, such as trying to get him in the '90 reelection campaign to commit not to run for president and, of course, to raise innuendos about connections with drug smuggling as well as the extramarital and financial matters that became issues in his presidency. My question is less about Clinton than it is about Gray Davis, and, by extension, John Kerry and John Edwards. Do you see an organized effort to undermine/smear Gray Davis or any other potential serious contender that goes beyond "normal" negativity? With Davis, I'm thinking of a recall effort that started as soon as he was reelected.
David S. Broder: I think there is an organized effort in California to shorten Gov. Davis's tenure by way of a recall, but I think its origins are in California, not the White House. I'm skeptical that the Bush people are trying to weaken any particular Democratic possibility--I think they think they can beat any of them at this point.
I have been watching C-SPAN's "Road to the White House" and have become very impressed by Howard Dean. Do you think he has the best chance to gain voters? If not, which candidate do you see in such a role?
David S. Broder: Once again, I have to admit I cannot predict the outcome of this Democratic race. I spent a good deal of time with Gov. Dean in Iowa almost a year ago, and saw how even then he was beginning to connect with voters, and he has continued to do that. But others in the field have their own assets and we'll just have to let this one play out for a while.
Good day, Mr Broder! I keep reading that people blame Bill Clinton for 9/11, but didn't the GOP-controlled Congress water down his 1996 anti-terrorism bill?
David S. Broder: I hate to admit it, but I can't remember the legislative history of that 1996 bill. I'd have to look it up.
John Edwards seems to be trailing in the pack of Democratic candidates, although he has raised the most money. Do you think that his lack of experience will hurt his presidential run?
David S. Broder: Senator Edwards's short tenure in office certainly is a factor when people compare him to those in the field who have much longer careers in public service and more accomplishments on their resume. But the most experienced candidate does not always win--think of Scoop Jackson or Hubert Humphrey vs. Jimmy Carter in 1976. The voters make their own evaluations of ability and experience is just one factor.
I am a great admirer of yours and am still miffed that I missed having you for a professor by one semester.
I'm curious if you think the Democrats have any hope for winning in 2004. There are many significant issues that are not sticking to Bush: the economy is still in bad shape, no one has been able to find WMD in Iraq, Saddam and Osama are still at large, etc. The national news media are not pressing these issues to the extent that they could be. Should any of the Democratic presidential candidates mention concern about one issue or another, their comments are not taken very seriously. What is it about the candidates themselves, the current state of the Democratic Party and the Bushies' ability to squash any criticism that makes it seem as if the Dems are fighting a losing battle?
David S. Broder: I am not certain I agree with the premise of your very thoughtful question. The president enjoys high overall approval ratings, but there is substantial disagreement with some of his policies--notably on taxes and the economy. As you point out, he is also juggling a very high-risk international agenda, with unsettled conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq and an uncertain future in the Middle East. The time will come when voters make an overall assessment of his presidency; meantime, I do not think the Democrats' criticisms are being ignored by the press. But we are still months away from the time that most voters are tuned into domestic politics.
The governor of Alabama raised some refreshing (my opinion) questions in his reasoning for reforming Alabama's tax system. His belief is that Alabama's tax system is unfairly burdens the poor and therefore un-Christian. It's about time someone at least made that a topic for debate.
Have you been to the that state or are you hearing any other Republican expressing ideas like his?
David S. Broder: I have not been to Alabama this year, but I had a long conversation with Gov. Riley before his election, when we were on the same flight back to Washington from Birmingham. He said then that if he won, he hoped to bring major structural reforms to Alabama government, which, as you know, has been hobbled for decades by a post-Civil War constitution written by the big landowners, which has kept the state from making the investments it needs to move ahead economically and educationally. So my hat is off to him.
David, with the presidential primary process being even more increasingly front-loaded, do you think that the incentive for people in states like California to get out and vote is diminished? Is it all up to the "professional" voters of Iowa and New Hampshire, and now, South Carolina?
David S. Broder: The process is, as you say, ridiculously front-loaded, in part because of the competition among the states and in party because Terry McAuliffe decided he wanted to try to have a nominee before St. Patrick's Day. We don't know yet whether the issue will be settled before California votes; my hunch is that it may not be, but that is pure speculation on my part. If it is settled, there certainly will be less incentive for Californians to vote.
David, what did you think of President Clinton's recent remarks at the Kennedy Library? I always am entertained by the guy, and I think he's a brilliant politician, regardless of his very obvious issues. But with the way the press was talking about him afterward, not to mention polls that still show he could win the presidency again, do you think the scandals of his administration, and his impeachment no less, are beginning to fade? Do we forget that easily?
David S. Broder: If President Clinton were somehow free to run for president again, I feel certain that his behavior in office would be a major issue--especially his lying to the American people for a year. Having said that, I should add that I agree with him that it would be wise to eliminate the two-term limit on presidents. He is right in saying that each generation should be free to make the judgment about the tenure of an officeholder for itself, without having its freedom restricted by prior edict.
Takoma Park, Md.:
I'd like to get your opinion on the media's role surrounding the recent flap over tax credits for low-income people. The issue was first advanced on a Page 1 story New York Times, thanks to a press release from a liberal advocacy group. Then other media organizations ran with it -- including The Post and the nightly news shows -- causing the Republicans to cave under this pressure. Few, if any, of the media stories made it clear that these lower income people didn't pay income taxes, so these "tax credits" were actually cash handouts. Do you feel that the media presented a fair picture of this issue to the American public?
David S. Broder: Thanks for your question. No doubt, the media played a central role in publicizing the child tax credit story and it was the pressure from that publicity that reversed the committee action in the Senate. Do I think that was unfair? No. Almost every story I read quoted a leading Republican as saying that the credit should go only to those who pay income taxes. But that argument was less than persuasive, in part because I think most people know that working families are taxed from their first dollar of earnings on Social Security--so they are taxpayers too.
It's a dirty job, but somebody has to submit the obligatory Hillary question. What impact, if any will her book and tour have on the Democratic presidential race?
David S. Broder: Not much, I suspect. She is an important figure in the Democratic Party and may well run for president some day. But I take her at her word that 2004 is not her year So she draws attention but at a time when the current candidates are not likely to dominate the news in any case.
San Antonio, Tex.:
Which of the candidates can inspire Americans the way Clinton did in 1992, and Bush did (with at least some) in 2002? That's what I think it will take to make the 2004 election a horse race.
David S. Broder: Once again, I have to admit I do not know which, if any, of the Democratic contenders will establish a strong emotional bond with large numbers of voters. I have written, and believe, that President Bush has achieved that kind of bond with many, but not all, Americans as a result of his strong response in the days immediately following 9/11. That sense that he was a strong leader in a moment when the country was badly shaken is, I believe, indelible, and it is a big challenge for the Democrats to find a way to match it. His policies are--many of them--controversial, but his emotional standing as a national leader is secure, I believe.
Do you see the tenor of the political landscape changing any time soon? I find it depressing and reeks of a bit of McCarthyism in its own way (if you do not agree with the president, you're a treasonous person). Comments by Grover Norquist about bipartisanship being the same as date rape, opinion shows which features teens comparing politicians to terrorists, that sort of thing. I am 44 and I wouldn't run for political office even in my small town. It seems to be a certain type of person who is either idealist or cynical who would go into politics these days. Any chance of that improving?
David S. Broder: I share your dismay at the cynical tone of much in politics and the hostility to legitimate dissent. I think the only solution is to keep soldiering on. For journalists, that means avoiding sensationalism and trying to support the many conscientious politicians in both parties. For people like you, it means not turning your back on politics but making every effort, including running for office, to bring it back to what it should be.
Mr. Broder --
As an outspoken conservative yourself, don't you think you will have trouble presenting an unbiased point of view on this issue?
David S. Broder: Many people would be surprised at your characterization of me as an outspoken conservative. I try to call them as I see them.
As you alluded to in an earlier response, Mr. Bush remains more popular than his policies. He seems to be waaaaaaay out on a limb in so many areas. Bad economy -> controversial tax cuts. Afghanistan -> no bin Laden, yes chaos. Iraq -> iffy premises for war, U.S. soldiers still dying. The word hubris comes to mind. My question: What one or two things do you think are most likely to go wrong in such a clear and public way as to put Bush's reelection chances seriously in danger? Is this even much of a possibility?
David S. Broder: I am not comfortable predicting catastrophe, and certainly do not hope for it. But I have written several times about the difficulty of creating a stable, unified, non-extremist, peaceful representative democracy in Iraq, and I think developments there suggest how hard a task we have set for ourselves. I continue to believe it would be prudent to make this much more of an international project than one led mainly by the United Sates.
I found Grover Norquist's Op-Ed yesterday pretty illuminating (disturbing, but illuminating). Seems to me the gist of what he was saying was, "Sure the electorate's split 50-50 by population, but the GOP rules the sparsely populated Red states, and we've gerrymandered a House majority. So we're going to shove our radical policies down your throats and make you like it."
David S. Broder: Your paraphrase may be a little strong, but Grover Norquist comes on pretty strong himself. He sees his job as a prod to the Republicans and the White House, so he pushes it to the extreme. Our system of government has many safeguards against extremism, but they only work if voters and the press stay vigilant to what is being attempted.
New York, N.Y.:
Mr. Broder, do you have any insight into this difference between the U.S. and the UK?:
Blair is in serious hot water now for his government's alleged pumping up of the WMD issue in Iraq. The media are all over him, and his political future is endangered. The WMD lie is the number one media story there.
Here, merrily Bush rolls along. The number one media story concerns a year-old murder case in California.
David S. Broder: One difference, obviously, is that Blair is part of Parliament and must answer to it weekly at question time and constantly in terms of his party's support for leader. Here a president serves for a fixed term and while ultimately accountable to the voters at election time is not subject to the same level of political scrutiny week by week--especially when his party controls the legislative branch and its investigatory arms. But I would not discount that effectiveness of our own accountability measures as we draw closer to election time. The issue you discuss, weapons of mass destruction, is not going to go away, unless hose weapons are found.
Someone asked if Clinton's scandals will fade. I don't think they will. This occurred to me earlier this week while listening to radio discussions of Mrs. Clinton's book: on several stations, the DJs pretended to be Clinton and all made jokes related to Monica Lewinsky, cigars, etc.
This happens too often to think there is anything else about the Clinton presidency to remember. At least Nixon had China, but we all think "Watergate." And what do remember about Harding? Teapot Dome, and "Ma, Ma, where's my Pa? Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha"
David S. Broder: The Clinton scandal will be remembered, I agree. Whether his economic policy success and innovations in domestic social policy will be--as they should be--is a bigger question mark.
Do you think that Bush's handling of allies, especially France and Germany, figures into an issue with traction? I suspect not here, but in most countries people would be furious if their leaders mismanaged the relations to their closest allies to the degree that the Bush administration has done.
David S. Broder: I share your doubts that the condition of the alliance will be a major domestic issue. Unless, of course, we find ourselves in another situation where we need allied help and it is not forthcoming.
Do you think it's possible for another Democratic candidate to enter the race in the near future? None of the current candidates appeal to me and I'm wondering if it's too late for someone else to enter.
David S. Broder: It is getting awfully late for anyone else to enter the race. The financial and organizational barriers would be very high and hard to overcome.
David, the Associated Press just moved an alert that former Treasury Secretary and Reagan Chief of Staff Donald Regan died. Thoughts on his tenure and his influence on the Reagan legacy?
David S. Broder: I have not had time to think about that. And I don't want to shoot off my mouth without thinking.
Pondering the state of modern political coverage, something keeps popping up in my head.
Don't the characteristics of the political mascots (Donkey and Elephant) seem to influence the up press coverage these days?
For instance, kicking around a dumb ol' donkey is so much easier than tangling with an Elephant. It just seems that with so many issues today, the GOP gets the Larry King treatment by the press, whereas, as cliched as it may be, if it was Clinton, there'd be multi-million dollar investigations.
Take the Westar situation for just one example -- where is the screaming outrage?
Are we at a point where being venal and vindictive gets national politicians the leeway to get away with anything?
David S. Broder: No, sir, we are not at that point. I hear and read a lot of frustration on the part of Democrats about the "easy" press the White House and Republicans receive. I do not think the coverage has gone soft, and I urge you again to wait until most of the country has turned its thoughts to politics to decide how well the record of the Bush administration will fare.
A brief addendum to my question about things going wrong, which I hope you will publish, with or without comment.
I certainly am not hoping for catastrophe as a way to defeat Bush. I'm sorry if my question made it appear otherwise.
David S. Broder: Thanks for the addendum. I did not think you were hoping for trouble
Without a president and no discernible major voice, is the DLC dead?
David S. Broder: No, the DLC is not dead. It continues to generate useful and interesting policy ideas--and that's a valuable service, whether or not you agree with its diagnosis and prescriptions for the Democrats.
Grover Norquist's recent article in The Post said the goal of this administration is to continue aggressively cutting taxes and radically reducing the size of the government. It seems that most Americans have not been clamoring for tax cuts and like the social safety net provided by Medicare, Social Security and other programs. Do you have a sense of how much popular support there is for this sort of agenda?
Also, Mr. Norquist said the Republicans have a "lock" on the House until 2012 and probably will hold the Senate in the foreseeable future too. Do you agree with this assertion?
David S. Broder: I am skeptical that "small government" and "low taxes" comprise anything like the major elements of a popular agenda. But Grover Norquist is probably on sound ground in saying that the Republicans have the edge certainly in the House and very likely in the Senate in this decade.
Someone once wrote that, although unelectable, someone who would have made one of the best presidents is Ernest Hollings. That got me to thinking: are there other people out there who understand what it takes to be a successful president that we never seriously consider to be president? If the presidency could be decided by a selection committee that reviews applicants, what names would you submit to such a committee?
David S. Broder: The ablest and most decent man I ever covered who never ran for president was Mike Mansfield. There's a splendid biography of him by my former Post colleague, Don Oberdorfer, coming out this fall. Read it and be inspired.
Hi Mr. Broder,
If Davis is recalled and Sen. Feinstein runs and wins the governorship, how will her Senate seat be filled? Would it be empty for a while?
David S. Broder: The governor would appoint a successor until the next general election, I believe.
To what extent do you think that John Ashcroft will be a serious liability for President Bush's reelection campaign? I supported him in 2000, but will not in 2004 unless Ashcroft is gone. For me, anyone who claims to be a Republican because they want limited government cannot be happy with Ashcroft. I'd be interested in your thoughts. Thanks.
David S. Broder: I cannot recall an election in which the character of the attorney general has been a major issue--perhaps 1968 when Nixon was promising to replace Ramsey Clark. But the issue of civil liberties is alive and well on the Democratic presidential campaign trail, as I noted in my article on Sen. Edwards.
I'm afraid I have to sign off now and go back to work. Thank all of you for participating.
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