Category Archives: David Broder

Party at any cost

Here is another one of those meta-political paeans to “bipartisanship”:

>The distinguishing characteristic of this Congress was on vivid display the other day when the House debated a bill to expand the federal program that provides health insurance for children of the working poor.

>Even when it is performing a useful service, this Congress manages to look ugly and mean-spirited. So much blood has been spilled, so much bile stockpiled on Capitol Hill, that no good deed goes untarnished.

>The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) is a 10-year-old proven success. Originally a product of bipartisan consensus, passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, it was one of the last domestic achievements before Monica and impeachment fever seized control.

Sounds like you’ll have to blame Bush and the Republicans are to blame for this one. They will not allow a successful program on ideological grounds. And, even though they are the minority in the House (and very unpopular in the Presidency), they refuse to compromise.

Not so. The Democrats took advantage:

>But rather than meet the president’s unwise challenge with a strong bipartisan alternative, the House Democratic leadership decided to raise the partisan stakes even higher by bringing out a $50 billion bill that not only would expand SCHIP but would also curtail the private Medicare benefit delivery system that Bush favors.

>To add insult to injury, House Democratic leaders then took a leaf from the old Republican playbook and brought the swollen bill to the floor with minimal time for debate and denied Republicans any opportunity to offer amendments.

I wonder what the Republican objections to that bill were. I won’t find out, because Broder doesn’t care. If it didn’t involve the Democrats compromising, it’s ugly partisanship. It’s ugly partisanship even if the Democrats want to pursue the politicization of the Justice Department:

>The less-than-vital issue of the firing of eight U.S. attorneys has occupied more time and attention than the threat of a terrorist enclave in Pakistan — or the unchecked growth of long-term debts that could sink Medicare and Social Security.

That the unpopular and unrepentant ideologue in office insists on gutting successful government programs (and that his equally unpopular party follows his lead) seems like the more obvious conclusion from these matters.

The man with the plan

I don’t often read David Broder, the Dean of the Washington Pundits, mostly because I have a hard enough time understanding the straightforward opinion columnists to think about the meta-political crystal-balling that seems to be Broder’s special expertise. Broder’s columns seem to me to be descriptive and interpretive, rather than normative, political analysis. That’s not a criticism. There’s whole lot more that goes on in newspapers–and on op-ed pages–that we don’t have the time, inclination, or expertise to deal with here. Others, such as Glenn Greenwald and Bob Somerby have cultivated an expertise on the language of political analysis (they even have the patience to read Maureen Dowd).

But there has been a lot of flap about Broder lately, partly because he’s been colossally and obviously wrong about Bush’s political fortunes. He claimed many months ago that Bush was poised for a comeback, when, as it turned out, he has continued his dismal run of low approval ratings and policy failures.

Broder, however, continues to find ways to support him. He writes:

>In this moment, the commander in chief has a clear plan — to apply more military force in and around Baghdad in hopes of suppressing the sectarian violence and creating space for the Iraqi politicians to assemble a functioning government.

>It is a high-risk policy with no guarantee of success. But it is a clear strategy.

Many have argued in fact that it’s not a “clear” plan at all and more importantly that it has shown almost innumerable signs of having already failed. But that’s another matter (a factual one). What I find interesting is the aesthetic appraisal of the plan–it’s “clear” (notice he says it twice). It’s clarity is a feature of the descriptions of the plan, but not it’s not a metric of success or failure of the plan itself. For, after all, lots of plans could be clear: “run away” is a clear plan; “more rubble less trouble” is a clear plan (a really silly one I think); re-invade is a clear plan. It’s obvious in other words what these involve. And furthermore, the clarity of the plan is a minimal condition. It’s like saying, for instance, but the President’s plan is printed on glossy paper, with charts.

Now, contrast this aesthetic appraisal of Bush’s plan with Broder’s picture of the Democrats:

>The Democratic-controlled Congress, on the other hand, lacks agreement on any such plan. Most Democrats are unwilling to exercise their right to cut off funds for the war in Iraq, lest they be accused of abandoning the troops in the middle of the fight.

In the first place, as Broder has already pointed out, the President is the commander guy, so the Congress doesn’t have a plan on the same order as he does. They can’t control military strategy–the can’t do so even through funding the military or, get this, voting to allow the President to use military strategy. What that particular strategy is, as anyone knows, rests with the President. The Congress can influence the policy objectives with the purse strings, but they don’t propose and have no means or proposing alternative military strategies. As a result, it makes no sense to compare the President’s “clear plan” with Congress’s “lack of a clear plan” unless you mean only to assess their relative aesthetic value.