Despite non-ideological reputation, he pushed political culture to the right
Washington Post columnist and political reporter David Broder died on Wednesday, March 9. Broder was an enormously influential figure in Beltway media circles–“the best political reporter of his generations,” wrote his Post colleague Dan Balz (3/10/11). ABC‘s George Stephanopoulos declared (3/9/11) that “for generations of policy makers, journalists and political junkies, Broder was the gold standard.”
Broder’s work was frequently criticized, something that the Washington Post actually noted in an editorial honoring him (3/10/11):
The Post suggested Broder’s worldview was probably due to “his temperamental aversion to ideology.” The Associated Press (3/10/11) wrote that his “even-handed treatment of Democrats and Republicans set him apart from the ideological warriors on U.S. opinion pages.” In the Los Angeles Times (3/10/11), Paul West wrote that in recent years “it became fashionable to disdain Broder’s centrist instincts and wariness of extreme political outsiders.”
The notion that Broder’s moderate “centrism” was not an ideology in itself is a common view in the media–and is totally mistaken. Broder expressed a strong point of view on a range of issues. The fact that such views are portrayed as an absence of ideology speaks volumes about the prevailing ideology of the mainstream media.
On U.S. wars
Broder was a consistent supporter of U.S. military attacks. From Extra! (11-12/94):
A profile of Broder (Extra!, 7-8/98) noted that he praised Reagan/Bush Republicans because they “did not let America’s armed might wither away” (Washington Post, 1/17/93). A FAIR press release on post-9/11 punditry (9/17/01) noted that Broder issued a call for “new realism–and steel–in America’s national security policy”:
During the debate over escalating the Afghan War, Broder wrote, under the headline “Enough Afghan Debate” (11/15/09):
And in an October 31, 2010 column, Broder wrote about threatening a war on Iran as an economic and domestic political strategy:
As a pundit so closely identified with centrism, Broder generally directed his criticism at Democrats who veered too far away from where he defined the “center”–which, in practical terms, amounts to calling for Democrats to move to the right. Broder (5/8/08) once maligned Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for “playing a drag version of Dennis Kucinich, a beer-drinking populist.”
As Extra! (7-8/98) noted:
Writing about Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign (Extra!, 11-12/00), Broder accused him (11/5/00) of having “muddled its central message of economic prosperity with a shrill populist attack on corporate greed…. It allowed a man with a genuine history as a New Democrat to appear, at times, an old-fashioned liberal.”
Broder criticized Democratic presidential candidates who expressed any opposition to the Iraq War. Under the headline “Candidates Lacking a Real-World Clue,” Broder (6/7/07) lamented that they “brushed aside concerns about the impact of their votes to cut off funding for the troops in Iraq or the larger implications of a precipitous withdrawal from that country.” He went on to argue that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had been pushed left by “four long-shots” and John Edwards, and “have abandoned their cautious advocacy of a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces and now are defending votes to cut off support for troops fighting insurgents in Iraq.”
The constant advice for Democrats to move to the right continued during the Obama administration, as when Broder advised (11/4/10) Obama in the wake of the 2010 midterms to
Sometimes Broder’s antipathy was more personal than political–as when Broder (8/19/98) explained that Bill Clinton was worse that Richard Nixon:
Clinton’s behavior is truly Nixonian. And it is worse in one way. Nixon’s actions, however neurotic and criminal, were motivated by and connected to the exercise of presidential power. He knew the place he occupied, and he was determined not to give it up to those he regarded as “enemies.” Clinton acted–and still, even in his supposed mea culpa, acts–as if he does not recognize what it means to be president of the United States.
Broder’s New York Times obituary (3/10/11) opened with the assessment that Broder “skillfully straddled the line between commentary and reportage.” Many paragraphs later, the Times noted:
Broder’s standard for Republicans often seemed very different. He applauded a Sarah Palin speech (2/11/10) for its “pitch-perfect populism.” He wrote of Newt Gingrich (9/20/07), ” if there is any politician of the current generation who has earned the label ‘visionary,’ it is probably the Georgia Republican and former speaker of the House.”
Like many in the corporate press, he was very fond of Sen. John McCain. He once wrote (4/24/08): “In an age of deep cynicism about politicians of both parties, McCain is the rare exception who is not assumed to be willing to sacrifice personal credibility to prevail in any contest.”
Two years later, Broder still had trouble letting go (FAIR Blog, 8/26/10). Under the headline “John McCain, Your Country Is Calling,” he explained that he wasn’t “bothered by the doctrinal compromises the senator made to convince Arizona voters that he was, in fact, a conservative. McCain has always been a realist, doing what was necessary to survive a North Vietnamese prison camp or a tough political trap.” So much for unwillingness to sacrifice personal credibility.
Broder often expressed fondness for George W. Bush (FAIR Media Advisory, 5/20/04), explaining that Bush “will not be deflected from his chosen course by criticism or evidence of public doubts about the wisdom of his policies.” This could be a good thing, since “this idealism forms an image of resolute leadership.”
Broder actually predicted two Bush “comebacks,” one right after Hurricane Katrina (9/4/05):
Shortly thereafter, under the headline “Bush Regains His Footing,” Broder wrote (2/16/07):
After Bush administration officials left office, Broder expressed alarm at the idea that they might be held accountable (Extra!, 11/09). While claiming that he supported “accountability for illegal acts and for serious breaches of trust by government officials,” Broder (9/3/09) argued that Attorney General Eric Holder’s appointment of a special prosecutor gave him pause, because “it is the first step on a legal trail that could lead to trials.” Broder asked: “Ultimately, do we want to see Cheney, who backed these actions and still does, standing in the dock?” The answer was no: “The cost to the country would simply be too great.”
Broder’s “centrism” was often expressed in the form of attacking Democrats who drifted leftward on economic issues. Those who were critical of NAFTA-style trade pacts were “irresponsible” (8/12/07), for example.
Consistent with his frequent calls for greater bipartisanship, Broder called on Obama and the Democrats to make the stimulus bill more Republican-friendly. Broder (2/1/09) wrote that it was “really important for Obama to take the time to negotiate for more than token Republican support in the Senate…. Nothing was more central to his victory last fall than his claim that he could break the partisan gridlock in Washington.”
Looking back on Broder’s work, it’s clear that he did indeed have ideologically based opinions on many issues, generally inclined toward pushing our political culture to the right. That Broder succeeded in getting people to think of this ideology as a non-ideology is perhaps his most impressive accomplishment as a writer.