The name means nothing outside the political Beltway. Nor should it. Revered by the press corps, Broder was the scribe for the half-literate. He repeated preconceptions about candidates and movements from congressional aides and White House staff. He pulled scuttlebutt from the ether of cocktail party chatter. He in essence founded political journalism’s obsession with “narratives,” which is a funny thing because the only contact between these people and a book is when a chief of staff pimps a memoir on “Meet The Press.” He wrote dreary, unremarkable prose on which its author chocked on its own dust clouds. It was a prose wholly unacquainted with the American novel, much less Mencken, Lippmann, Kempton, and his other distinguished column writing ancestors; his idea of metaphorical wit was baseball metaphors, a fact not lost upon Washington Post colleague Adam Bernstein, in whose obit he cites for special mention Broder’s likening of the political career of Richard Nixon “to an often-traded pitcher who had “‘bounced around his league’” (George Will, keep your bunts).
Longtime readers might recall that I wasn’t fond of Tim Russert either, and couldn’t understand the reverence. Broder’s tenure as Dean of Received Wisdom was far more sinister though. Broder proved that you could get the details right yet be wrong on everything. I wish I could find online the Joan Didion essay in which she catches Broder and his fellow gullible geese in the Washington press corps blithely accepting the George H.W. Bush campaign’s shibboleths about Michael Dukakis. At the height of the Clinton impeachment trial, he advised the president to do “the honorable thing” (his words) and abdicate so that Al Gore could serve the rest of his term and thus spare the country the agony of a Chief Executive who lied about extramarital dalliances. He has not recanted: “When a president loses his credibility, he loses an important tool for governing,” he intoned mirthlessly. Yet, as Glenn Greenwald reminds us, this Savonarola of Georgetown had no problem shrugging over the crimes of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Prosecutions are so unseemly – what a way to get Peggy Noonan’s eyelashes in a snit. Broder and his ilk, wrote Greenwald in 2008:
soothingly assur[e] the public that there is nothing at all unusual or radical about what’s going on in our Government, that everything from torture to warrantless, illegal spying to process-less detentions and the abolition of habeas corpus and even lying our country into war are just standard “policy disputes” that should be resolved in a gentlemanly manner through respectful and civil discourse, not by excessive and mean-spirited weapons such as investigations and prosecutions.
I wish I could say Broder’s death means The End of an Era, but, sadly, Broder’s “objective” contempt for any seismic tremor that rattled the scotch glasses lives on in the work of Richard Cohen, Joe Klein, Fred Hiatt, and, really, everyone associated with The Washington Post‘s editorial page.