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  •   Q&A with David S. Broder

    David S. Broder
    David S. Broder

    "Levey Live," appears each Tuesday from 12 to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It is a live, moderated discussion offering users the chance to ask questions directly of the people who make the news and the people who report it. Your host is Washington Post columnist Bob Levey.

    Bob Levey
    Bob Levey
    Todd Cross/The Post

    Bob's guest today was Washington Post political columnist David S. Broder. "If you are skinny, uncoordinated and wear glasses in junior high school and high school," says Broder, "the closest you can get to sports is to write about it." So began Broder's journalism career, which eventually transformed him into one of the nation's most respected political reporters and columnists.

    Broder, whose long career includes writing stints for the U.S. Army, Congressional Quarterly, the Washington Star and the New York Times, joined The Washington Post as a political reporter in 1966. "I've lived here happily ever since," says Broder, "same beat, same paper, and a great succession of reporters and editors with whom to work."

    Broder won a Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary in 1973. A selection of Broder's previous columns is archived on

    Please join Bob on Friday for "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," an open-agenda session about anything in the news, on your mind or in Bob's columns.

    Here is a transcript of today's session:

    Gaithersburg, Md: Do you think it's right for a candidate (Pat Buchanan) to run for President after he has been on all of those talk shows?

    David S. Broder: Sure. If a publisher like Steve Forbes can run, why shouldn't a working stiff like Buchanan? We need a populist from swanky McLean in the race.

    Bob Levey: Should President Clinton speak out on the Broaddrick accusations? Will he?

    David S. Broder: The last advice I gave President Clinton was: Resign. He didn't take it, so as far as I'm concerned, he's on his own.

    Bob Levey: You are a legend in the business for accurately predicting in 1968 that Nixon would choose Spiro Agnew as his running mate. Tell us how you made that remarkable call......

    David S. Broder: Nixon offered a strong hint that he was considering Agnew during a plane-ride interview while he was in Oregon for the presidential primary. I wrote the story, but I was as astonished as anyone when he actually picked Agnew.

    stilwell, kansas: Mr. Broder,

    Mr. Clinton is fortunate(as are we) to have avoided a true crisis during his administration. However, in his remaining year and half in office, if he finds himself making critical decisions, say, for example, about informing the American people that a peace keeping effort in the Balkans is going badly for U.S. troops, do you believe he will tell us the truth if truth is inimical to his personal and political interests? Will the American people believe him?

    David S. Broder: I have no way of knowing how the President would respond to such a crisis. But I think his credibility has been damaged so badly that many Americans would have trouble assuming they could trust his judgment in such a situation.

    Bob Levey: On Feb 17, you reported on a survey that showed widespread political cynicism among young people. I know there's no quick-and-dirty way to fix this, but how would you start?

    David S. Broder: I'm afraid this is going to be a long process. A couple things would help: realistic courses on politics and government, beginning in the early grades and continuing through high school. And, second, a real effort, which many schools are making, to involve students as volunteers in community projects. Nothing like working with other people to meet a community need to demonstrate the value of being involved.

    Glenmont, MD: Do you know if provisions are being made for the procurement of the blue dress by the National Museum of American History and Technology on the Mall? It seems to me this is a historical artifact of great importance and should be preserved.

    David S. Broder: That's a great idea. And they could create a First Mistresses' Hall to go along with the First Ladies' Hall.

    Adams Morgan: Why do you think the public is so obsessed with predictions as opposed to issues? Do you think the media (especially Sunday morning television) is to blame for this emphasis, or did the public do it on its own? [edited for space]

    David S. Broder: You can spread the blame around to everyone. The future fascinates us, because we hope to live in it. But the press has a responsibility to bring the discussion back to the concerns that really matter in people's lives. Health, education, retirement security--these things are really on people's minds.

    Milwaukee, WI : There is much speculation about Hillary Clinton running for Senate. If she were to do that, do you think she would be better off in Illinois (in four years)--as opposed to New York next year?

    David S. Broder: I think Mrs. Clinton would be a strong candidate wherever she should decide to run. She probably has a better chance of winning an open seat in New York than taking on an incumbent Republican in Illinois in 2004.

    Bob Levey: The other day, you reported that many influential Republican governors are already rallying behind Gov. George W. Bush as the 2000 presidential nominee. Why so soon? Do they fear Mrs. Dole?

    David S. Broder: Those governors are desperate for someone they think can win back the White House. Most of them like Gov. Bush, even if they don't know that much about what his policies would be as president. I don't think they fear Mrs. Dole's possible candidacy as much as they do that of others who have not held elective office, like Steve Forbes or Pat Buchanan. Public officials sometimes have the foolish notion you should not start at the top of their profession.

    Paris France: Mr Broder

    Do you think the battered Clinton presidency, now in its final months, can still exercise some form of credible leadership in pressing international issues, such as Kosovo, the Middle East, reform of the world financial system? questions

    David S. Broder: I do not pretend to be any kind of expert on international affairs. But I fear that there has been damage to the President's international standing, as there has been here at home. I hope we don't have to test the proposition, but with almost two years left in his term, there is certainly that risk.

    Bob Levey: How do you explain Bill Clinton's consistently stratospheric polls? Does the country love its 401-K results THAT much?

    David S. Broder: Dear Mr. Levey: If you have a question about your 401K, I suggest you contact your financial adviser. Mrs. Clinton may be able to put you in touch with the person who guided her investments in commodity futures.

    Arlington, VA: Do you think that Elizabeth Dole will choose to run? And if so, do you think she has a chance or is she strictly VP material?

    David S. Broder: I am embarrassed to admit Mrs. Dole has not confided her plans to me. If she does, I will certainly put it in the Post.

    Bob Levey: California is obviously the big prize for 2000. Al Gore has already spent an incredible amount of time out there, shaking the money tree. Do you think that he who captures California captures the presidency?

    David S. Broder: The California primary is scheduled for March 7, which happens to be my wife's birthday. I have promised her it will be over that night, and we will have a proper dinner in L.A. to celebrate both events.

    Bob Levey: During impeachment, we heard an avalanche of self-congratulation in the Senate about how bipartisan everyone was. You buy it? Seemed to me that just about every vote was purely partisan, and that everyone was worrying about which party would profit in 2000.

    David S. Broder: I've heard enough senators say that there was some real bonding during those hours they were locked up together that I have to believe it. Senators normally spend little time with each other; they go to the floor or to a committee room when they have some point they want to make, and then pursue their own schedules (including hours on the phone raising money). I think many of them probably got to know their colleagues much better during the impeachment incarceration.

    Arlington, VA: Question #2 on Elizabeth Dole: Do you think that this country is ready to elect a woman as President?

    David S. Broder: Sure. My hunch is the first woman president will get there via the vice presidency, but no question people are ready to consider women seriously on their merits.

    Bob Levey: Why is Al Gore perceived as being so wooden? In casual settings, he's engaging, friendly, quick with a quip, lively. Does he freeze when the cameras start rolling?

    David S. Broder: Are you referring to the Al Gore who is vice president of the United States? I hardly recognize the fella.

    Bluffton, South Carolina: I work at a small local paper, and we have recently been wrangling over the issue of coverage of world news. The popular myth is that Americans don't want to read about distant lands. Do you subscribe to that theory? How can we as editors and writers make our readers interested in a broader range of issues?

    David S. Broder: That's a very important question. Much of what happens overseas now has a direct impact on our lives, because national borders have been erased for business and finance. South Carolina, as you know better than I, has been very successful in attracting foreign investment and developing overseas markets. There should be ways to show the links between an Asian economic crisis, for example, or a Balkan war and your own area. Good luck. It's really important.

    Bob Levey: Half an hour remaining with our guest, Washington Post political reporter and editor David S. Broder

    Arlington, VA: Do you think that money is the major factor in winning? It seems to be from the way the President raises money but I am reminded of Phil Gramm's statement that he didn't need friends, he had twenty million dollars and he was out of the race quickly.

    David S. Broder: Money alone won't do it; Phil Gramm, John Connally and many others have proved that point. But you need money to get your message heard, and unfortunately, that means buying your way onto television. As long as candidates have to write big checks to TV stations, the money chase will go on.

    Washington, DC: What is your assessment on John McCain's bid for the Presidency? Power play for the Sec. of Defense post or legit contender?

    Seems he would be the most in touch with mainstream and could pull lots of votes from the Dems, especially in the Almighty West (read CA)!!

    David S. Broder: I think Senator McCain is very serious about pursuing the presidency. I would not venture a guess about his interest in being Secretary of Defense, but there are many non-defense issues in which he has been engaged.

    Bozeman, MT: You may have seen recently a report (from the American Bar Association, I think) that basically questioned the federalization of many of our criminal laws. The report apparently said that Congressmen and the White House have this compelling need to be seen "doing something," after a high-profile crime, (for example, church burning) when the problem really is best left to the states to handle. Why do you think this is? Is this lack of respect for our federal system something for which the press bears some responsibility?

    David S. Broder: Thank you, Bozeman, for another great question. Lawmakers in Washington have an almost irresistible urge to involve themselves with issues they know their constituents care about--crime being an obvious example. Neither they nor we--the reporters who cover them--often stop to ask whether it is a problem that belongs to some other level of government. As a result, there's a lot of showboating that gets by with little scrutiny. But it has consequences, like cluttering the federal courts.

    Bob Levey: On Dec. 30, 1998, you wrote: "Resignation would be a true act of contrition?" So why didn't the President take your advice? Did the carrier forget to deliver his Post that day?

    David S. Broder: That had to be it. I have spoken sharply to the circulation department about this problem.

    Bob Levey: In 1968, Vice President Hubert Humphrey paid dearly for supporting the policies of the man he served as No. 2, Lyndon Johnson. Do you think Al Gore will pay in the same way for "standing by his man," William Jefferson Clinton?

    David S. Broder: Gore's loyalty to Clinton is a two-edged sword. I've never seen a White House more committed to the nomination and election of the sitting vice president, and that of course gives him a great advantage; it's almost as if he were the incumbent. But he also incurs his share of the liabilities of the president and the current administration. His prospective Republican opponents already are raising the issue of Gore soft-pedaling Clinton's transgressions.

    Bob Levey: A couple of months ago, you reported on a focus group in New Jersey. The 10 people in the sample said that Clinton had committed a variety of sins, but they preferred to keep him in office because Gore was "unknown." He is? The guy has been on the national political stage for nearly 20 years. He has run for president twice himself. What do you make of this?

    David S. Broder: That's the problem with being vice president. The president gets to deliver all the good news and to make the big decisions. You look like the guy who is standing around, as a spectator. Remember George Bush had to deal with "the wimp factor" after he had been overshadowed by
    Ronald Reagan for six years. Gore has to separate himself fairly soon from Clinton if people are going to be able to see him more clearly.

    Bob Levey: A couple of months ago, you reported on a focus group in New Jersey. The 10 people in the sample said that Clinton had committed a variety of sins, but they preferred to keep him in office because Gore was "unknown." He is? The guy has been on the national political stage for nearly 20 years. He has run for president twice himself. What do you make of this?

    David S. Broder: That's the problem with being vice president. The president gets to deliver all the good news and to make the big decisions. You look like the guy who is standing around, as a spectator. Remember George Bush had to deal with "the wimp factor" after he had been overshadowed by
    Ronald Reagan for six years. Gore has to separate himself fairly soon from Clinton if people are going to be able to see him more clearly.

    Bob Levey: Can you really imagine Elizabeth Dole being the headliner in a presidential campaign, and Bob Dole tagging along behind as "spouse of?"

    David S. Broder: Sure. Dennis Thatcher can give him lessons.

    New Rochelle, NY: Republican rank-and-file enthusiasm for past nominees Bush and Dole was often tepid at best. Instead of trying out exciting new names, why is the party reportedly going so gaga now over a Bush who isn't even Bush and a Dole who isn't even Dole?

    David S. Broder: Brand-names sell, in the supermarket or the political arena. But you're right, I think, to suggest that these two folks haven't been tested very thoroughly as yet. They will be, though. Nobody gets a nomination without a fight, no matter what their name may be.

    Annandale, VA: Since you have a proven history in Vice-Pres picks, who would be your guess for VP picks if say it were Gore vs. Bush for 2000?

    David S. Broder: Before you ask my forecast, you should know that the ONLY other vice presidential pick I ever got right was Tom
    Eagleton on the Democratic ticket in 1972. And you remember what happened with him.
    Ever since I declared Lamar Alexander was the "almost inevitable" Republican vice presidential candidate in 1988, I've given up the game.

    D.C.: Do you think any future President can withstand four years in office and not be reduced to Bill Clinton's state in this over-investigative political and profit-driven media culture? Have allegations devoid of evidence become the standard for disseminating information and how will this affect the future president? Even Mother Theresa would lose her halo under such scrutiny,
    What's the media's role?

    David S. Broder: I would like to think we will find future presidential candidates whose character is so strong it can withstand any degree of scrutiny. But I agree with you that the intense focus on private lives has diminished the office and made it far more difficult for presidents to maintain their authority through a four-year term.

    Bob Levey: Why was Kennedy-Nixon in 1960 your favorite presidential campaign (so far)?

    David S. Broder: The first is always the best, so that's part of the answer. But it was also a campaign in which two young men, knowing it was likely to be close, went flat-out from Labor Day to Election Day. The first ever televised debates helped produce huge crowds and intense public interest. And we Americans were not as cynical about politics in 1960, so there was real enthusiasm. Finally, before the assassinations later in the decade, security was more relaxed, so people could be really close to the candidates.

    Arlington, VA: Mr. Broder:

    You mentioned Lamar Alexander. What does he have going for him that he has a chance of being the nominee?

    David S. Broder: I think he learned a lot from his last campaign. He is far better organized in Iowa and New Hampshire than he was four years ago, and his issues are more serious. Whether all that will help him in the changed field is anyone's guess.

    Bob Levey: Dan Quayle's chances for the nomination--slim? None?

    David S. Broder: I am not unbiased on the subject of Quayle. I have a garage-full of books about Quayle, co-authored with Bob Woodward back in 1992, which I would dearly love to move out of the garage. If you would like a copy, please contact me directly. I am hoping Quayle lasts at least long enough to have some remainder sales in Iowa and New Hampshire.

    Wenonah, New Jersey: Given Gore's fundraising ability, does Bill Bradley stand a chance? In the event that Bradley is done in by Gore and his fundraising machine, what do you think are some likely scenarios for his immediate future? (i.e. VP candidate, cabinet official, etc.)

    David S. Broder: Yes, Bradley has a chance, because he is an intelligent, attractive candidate with issues he wants to talk about. None of us knows what the public reaction will be when voters actually start focusing on Gore and Bradley as possible presidential candidates. Gore has enormous advantages in money and organization, but the campaign has not yet really begun and polls today tell us almost nothing of value.

    Bob Levey: You reported recently that many experts don't believe Clinton's troubles have permanently harmed the office of the presidency. Has Kenneth Starr permanently harmed it by subpoenaing Presidential aides and Secret Service officers?

    David S. Broder: Yes, I think that future presidents will suffer from the fact that these decisions were made. A degree of confidentiality is needed for the president to be able to do his job, and that has been placed in jeopardy by these decisions.

    Pittsburgh, PA: [H]ow about baseball in DC? What are the odds? [edited for space]

    David S. Broder: It is an outrage we don't have baseball in the Washington DC area--preferably downtown, so we could go to games after work. I am a Cubs fan and will die one, but the absence of baseball here is a nagging injury. I hope to hell it comes back before I die.

    Bob Levey: Back when you and I had editors who chomped cigars and spoke like gorillas, we were expected to check and prove stories before we published them. But now we have "the journalism of accusation." We publish charges because they might later prove to be true, not because we know them to be true. Yes, of course, I'm thinking of Broaddrick and the rape allegations. Should this story have been published and aired, given the huge holes in it?

    David S. Broder: Our current bosses don't chew cigars, true, but I don't think they've abandoned their efforts to hold The Post to high standards of journalism. The Broaddrick story, in my view, was a close call. But once she was prepared to go on the record, with a detailed, and plausible account of a terribly serious crime, and was judged credible by the reporters who interviewed her, I think the right decision was made. But the long time lapse and the lack of any formal record certainly could lead to the other conclusion.

    Bob Levey: That'll do it for today. Many thanks to our excellent guest, David S. Broder. Be sure to join us next Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time when our guest will be Lisa de Moraes, television critic and reporter for The Washington Post. Meanwhile, please join us on March 5 (and every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time) for "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," our weekly anything-goes show.

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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