High Broderism: a powerful belief

David Broder, who died in 2011, spent more than five decades covering politics, spending most of his career at the Washington Post, where he was one of the best political reporters of his time. He understood the mechanics of politics, did his homework, and asked tough questions. But he was also a commentator who--in thousands of opinion pieces and over 400 appearances on Meet The Press--tirelessly demonstrated that one can be a brilliant, well-sourced reporter without ever removing one's head from one's ass (See also, Woodward, Bob).

By the end (the last 20 years or so), his column became a rote recitation of the conventional wisdom that relentlessly flogged the scourge of partisanship. Every item in the news was another example, and while the news changed, his solution never did: each essay ended with a call for that one thing that would be our nation's salvation... (wait for it...) a return to... Bipartisanship.

Insipid opinion pieces are a dime a dozen (especially at the Post). What made the Broder pernicious was what came in the middle of the partisan/bipartisan sandwich: a heaping serving of false equivalence.

As the aughts progressed, the GOP got further and further away from the reality-based community. Again and again, the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans provided the hook for the latest Broder column--lying about the cost of Medicare Part D, proposing tax cuts to solve every problem, lying about Iraq, and every time Broder carefully apportioned the blame to both parties in equal measure.

Broder claimed to love Washington, but his efforts to solve the problems of government by blaming both sides equally for every conflict only made things worse. Every column reinforced the notion that "those bums are all the same" and made the Capital a little less functional.

Certainly, David Broder alone is not responsible for the deep nationwide cynicism about government, a cynicism that saps the institution's ability to improve our lives. Nixon and Reagan deserve most of the blame. Nonetheless, the "Dean of the Washington Press Corps" leaves a legacy of bumbling equivocation now known as "High Broderism", a style of opinion piece that only serves to fuel America's distrust of the principle of self-government. Jay Rosen has a good discussion of High Broderism:

This belief—that political sense, as well as reality, as well as the winning strategy in most elections resides in the center, while “the extremes” on both sides are equally extreme, deluded and irresponsible...

A fantastic example comes in one of Broder's very last columns, Obama missed an opportunity on tax reform, as he reflects on the 2011 State of the Union Address. It's a shaggy dog of an opinion piece that pauses along the way to claim that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi caused the Fiscal Cliff stand-off (?!?) and to pat Obama on the back for choosing a Chief of Staff who sends "good vibes" to Wall Street, but the conclusion is focused, pure, mind-blowing High Broderism. The SOTU, Broder complains, lacked a "centerpiece" that embraced... the center embodied by the Simpson/Bowels proposal to end tax expenditures like the (exceedingly popular) mortgage interest deduction. Then comes this remarkable passage:

I wanted to hear Obama urge Paul Ryan, the new Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee whose intellectually ambitious ideas have enlisted bipartisan interest, to meet soon with Kent Conrad, the retiring Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee who well knows the arcane recesses of the tax code. Together, those two could provide an agenda and a strong nudge to the respective tax-writing committees.

David Broder is saying that bipartisanship in the form of a simple little meeting between Kent Conrad (sample bit of arcane tax code knowledge: "we face a spending and a revenue problem") and Paul Ryan (sample intellectually ambitious idea: no revenues, only spending cuts) would lead to a compromise that raises $1 trillion of revenue. In other words, the Democrat in Congress will compromise, while the Republican refuses to even entertain the idea. Therefore, the lack of compromise is the fault of both sides, but mostly President Obama. QED. Ta Da! Welcome to High Broderism! Where are my fish sticks?

Next up: High Broderism 2013