Wednesday, Jan. 28, 1998
Washington Post political columnist David S. Broder was live online today to discuss the Clinton scandal, the State of the Union address and the new session of Congress.
Typing at a computer terminal in The Post newsroom, Broder answered about 30 of the more than 600 question you posted. The discussion is now over. Read a transcript below.
Washingtonpost.com: Mr. Broder, thanks for joining us this afternoon. Let's start off with something general: What is your assessment of last night's State of the Union address?
David Broder: I thought the president did well by any standards and under the circumstances it was a remarkable performance. It does not answer the unanswered questions about the scandal and we do not know how long the good impression of the speech will last. Typically, presidents get a boost in the polls from any nationally televised speech, but often it does not last.
Do you thinks it's fair to say that the American people differentiate between lies told about "affairs" and those regarding others matters of state? In other words do the American people care, really, that Clinton may have lied about Monica Lewinsky?
David Broder: I think the American people are disturbed--and rightly so--when they think a president has misled them. The subject matter is probably not as important as the pain they feel when the chief executive looks them in the eye and tells them things which he has to recant. They expect better of the man in the Oval Office
Greenfield, Wis.: Why doesn't the press scrutinize Mr. Starr, Ms. Lewinsky and Ms. Tripp as closely as they do the president? If the press is to be fair, shouldn't it delve into their motives? Personally, I don't believe in a right wing conspiracy as much as I believe in three people who have their personal reputations as stake and have backed themselves into a corner and now can't or don't want to admit to lying or failing.
David Broder: We are reporting extensively on the backgrounds of Monica Lewinsky and the others involved in bringing this matter into public discussion. That effort continues, even as we await more answers from the president. It is not an either/or proposition. We are doing both.
Shelby, N.C.: Do you believe that this latest crisis facing the president could have any effect on the 2000 presidential election?
David Broder: It almost certainly will affect the 1998 and the 2000 elections, but I'm not smart enough to know what that effect will be. If the president can successfully rebut the charges, he would be strengthened and the Democrats would benefit as well. If not, it could adversely affect Democratic candidates in 1998 and even Vice President Gore's chances in 2000. But any real judgment about the impact is speculative as far as I'm concerned.
El Lago, Texas: Can you compare the actions of President Clinton with those of ex-Senator Packwood and the response of the nation, the press and feminists to the two men? Is there a different standard for charismatic Democrats and "mean-spirited" Republicans?
David Broder: The charges about Senator Packwood came from many women who had worked for him or his campaigns or visited his office. Before the Post did its first story on Packwood, reporters obtained affidavits and corroboration from multiple sources. We do not have that with Ms. Lewinsky, so the circumstances, at this point, are very different.
Hong Kong: With Asian economies collapsing all around us, we can't help thinking that you in the U.S. are lucky that your greatest concern is President Clinton's libido. Are there more important matters to discuss in your country?
David Broder: There certainly are, and the president discussed many of them in his State of the Union address last night. The speech received extensive coverage in all the major newspapers today, and of course was carried in full by the television channels last night. Let's hope the other questions--about Ms. Lewinsky--are cleared up soon, so we can get the focus onto these other issues. But the president is the one who can move that process along more rapidly than anyone else.
Washington, DC: Do the Republicans really want President Clinton to resign or to impeach him? It seems to me that it would be counter productive; leaving Al Gore to serve the balance of Clinton's term and then Mr Gore would be in a prime position to be elected himself.
David Broder: I would endorse your analysis. It makes complete sense to me. Would you be willing to write my next column?
Waco , Texas: With Clinton acting as our Commander-in-Chief, should he not be held accountable for his sexual misconduct just as any uniformed officer would? Did we not just fire a young female officer for the same offense?
David Broder: Presidents are always accountable for their actions and Clinton is no exception to that. Just remember, the facts are still being gathered.
Miami: Can Jesse Helms and the Cuban American National Foundation (of all people) really be expected to produce a progressive American approach to helping the Cuban people after the Pope has opened a door?
David Broder: Senator Helms and the Foundation are important voices in the debate on U.S. policy toward Cuba, but others are also being heard. I have received material from business groups eager to see trade resumed with Cuba. Up to this point, the president seems very reluctant to change American policy.
As he said, he wants to see what happens in Cuba after the Pope's visit. Let us hope we see some liberalization in the regime that would allow us to move toward normalization.
Corydon, Ind.: The president asked that the projected surplus in the coming years be put towards saving Social Security. However, he laid out a very ambitious agenda. How can he pay for this agenda without using money from the expected surplus?
David Broder: That's a darn good question. At briefings yesterday, White House officials claimed they are all paid for, but we'll be able to judge that claim better when the budget comes out next Monday. This president, like some predecessors, has a habit of giving people the good news on television and saving the bad news for newspaper stories afterward.
Chevy Chase, Md.: What do your sources tell you about how serious the president views the allegations? Is he scared ?
David Broder: I have no idea if the president is scared. It would terrify me to be in his spot, but that's why I've never run for office.
Washington, D.C.: Why does independent counsel have so much power and are there any proposals to limit it?
David Broder: Congress gave the independent counsel extraordinary power back during Watergate, when it thought the Justice Department could not be trusted to investigate the Nixon White House. It has proved to be a solution full of its own problems, in my view. My guess is that if there were ever a time when a special prosecutor was not at work, Congress on a bipartisan basis would write some restrictions into the law to keep future counsels from launching limitless, expensive inquiries into anything they damn please.
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: To many Australians, Clinton's policy priorities appear moderately left of centre, yet seem to attract violent opposition from conservatives in the U.S. How much do you think this opposition is motivated by ideological factors as compared to personal factors? Are his political skills feared so much by his opponents that they resort to personal smears?
David Broder: There are some conservatives who dislike Clinton intensely and personally, more who disagree with his policies. And there are also conservatives who think Clinton has moved in their direction on some issues and are ready to work with him. I think it is very hard to generalize about conservatives or liberals. They come in all forms.
Wood Lake, Minn.: Is there a moral imperative to remove Sadaam Hussein from power?
David Broder: Saddam Hussein has been a disaster for his people. He is a ruthless dictator who has inflicted terrible hardship on his country. But the United States, I think, must measure its responsibilities against its own needs and resources. Evil is not likely to be banished from the entire world by our actions. We must do what we can, but we must be prudent.
Vienna Va.: Which Republicans will probably be seeking the presidential nomination?
David Broder: It looks like a very large field of aspirants. I would guess everyone who ran against Senator Dole in 1996 will be back with the possible exception of Senator Gramm of Texas, who might defer to Governor Bush if Bush makes the race. In addition, people like Dan Quayle, Jack Kemp, John Ashcroft,Newt Gingrich, John Kasich and others I'm probably overlooking are checking out their chances. I don't know how many can be financed adequately, but the field in Iowa and New Hampshire will probably be very large.
Washington, DC: With all that has gone on and been reported in the media this past week, can anyone honestly conclude that the media is truly liberal? Or is it fair to say that they just follow a good story?
David Broder: I've never believed there is a heck of a lot of ideology in most reporters. We're not that serious. If there is an ideology in the press, it probably goes back to the Progressive era and the Muckrakers--who believed in exposing the machinations of politicians and special interests. I expect you would agree we are deep in the muck at this time.
Center Point, Texas: Could the president step down (temporarily) and hand the reins to Vice President Gore while he fights his current personal problems and then reassume the office?
David Broder: That's an interesting idea, but there is no precedent for it that I'm aware of. It strikes me as a pretty desperate option.
Madison Wis.: Do you think that Clinton's troubles could make the 1998 election parallel the election of 1974 (i.e. major gains for the non-presidential party)?
David Broder: As I said to an earlier question, this affair will undoubtedly have an effect on the November election, but until we know whether Clinton is going to be exonerated or found to be lying, it is entirely speculative as to what the effect will be.
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.: Why is there always an "opposition response" to the State of the Union address? I didn't think the constitutionally required address needed a response, especially since in the past several years the "response" has always consisted of a partisan "The President is wrong, and our party knows better."
David Broder: The opposition response came about because the television people thought they had an obligation in fairness to let people hear from the leaders of the opposition party. It is a pretty awkward device, in my view, and it never has worked very well to advance the public debate.
Kalamazoo, Mich.: I was surprised that Tim Russert, who I respect as a good journalist, had Matt Drudge on "Meet the Press." Do you think that this gives legitimacy to Drudge?
David Broder: I was surprised, too. Meet the Press is in the business of giving people news and I didn't think Drudge's appearance furthered that goal.
Boston, Mass.: Can you comment on the likelihood of Congress passing significant environmental legislation, such as that called for by President Clinton in his State of the Union address yesterday?
David Broder: I expect to see some environmental legislation passed; the Republicans learned in 1995 that they are vulnerable if they appear to be insensitive to that issue. But the administration does not plan to submit the global warming treaty at this point, because it is still seeking concessions from the developing countries. So don't hold your breath on that one, if you will forgive a bad pun.
Geneseo NY: I thought that Senator Lott did an excellent job of rebutting the President's agenda. What is your opinion on the strength of the Republican Party's agenda versus the President's?
David Broder: The Republican agenda obviously has more support in a Republican Congress than Clinton's does. But the most recent Washington Post poll showed a plurality supporting Clinton's view that the best use of a budget surplus is to strengthen Social Security. Next favorite was reducing the national debt, followed by tax cuts and more domestic spending.
Chicago: Do you think that there is any validity behind Hillary Clinton's "right-wing conspiracy" theory or is it just hysteria?
David Broder: I'm not big on conspiracy theories. As I said in an earlier response, there are some conservatives who express an intense personal dislike for the president and Mrs. Clinton. But it is a reach, in my view, to suggest that all their problems arise from the machinations of these people.
Washington, DC: President Clinton mentioned Washington, DC in his State of the Union Address last night. What does that mean in practical terms to the District?
David Broder: I don't know. Perhaps the answer will be spelled out in the budget message next week.
St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands: Clinton's speech was a "beltway" speech a monologue to the political operatives in Washington. Where did he address the American people and offer assessment of the state of the country and its people and inspiration for them to strive for in their lives and communities?
David Broder: He began his speech with a fairly upbeat description of the state of the country. Whether he provided inspiration is for you to decide. I gather you think he did not.
Washingtonpost.com: One last question, Mr. Broder. Will the Clinton story enhance or damage the Internet's reputation as a news source?
David Broder: I think the Internet and Clinton will crash simultaneously.
Washingtonpost.com: Thank you for joining us today, Mr. Broder.
David Broder: Thank you.
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