Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Personal Aside: Is that You, David (Broder)? Washington Dean with a Crush, Gushes Sweet Nothings on Napolitano.
Feast of St. John N. Naumann.*
For longer than many people have been alive, David Broder, 80, originally of Chicago Heights, Illinois and Bloom township high school, has been referred to as the Dean of the Washington press corps. Ive known Broder of The Washington Post for four decades but always reserved my leaks to Bob Novak because (a) Novak would know what to do with a juicy tidbit and (b) Broder specializes in Deep, Deep thumb-sucking opinion pieces that make fresh news bytes seem oddly tacky and inappropriate.
Broders deep-set intellectuals eyes range far-far away from the everyday which made him and others of his depth seem strangely out-of-place when two rookie police reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, triggered the story of the century about a June 17, 1968 break-in at the Watergate leading to the unraveling of a thread that led all the way to the Oval Office.
While these juniors were early developing the story, Broder was oftentimes staring thoughtfully out the window of the Post, trying to deduce the emblematic theme of the presidential campaignthe underlying moodthe niche it would occupy in history--fitting for one who received his undergrad and graduate degree from the prestigious University of Chicago. He was a regular establishment figure on the lecture circuit and scored the most appearances on Meet the Press of any journalist.
But as one who hired him for some presentations in Chicago, I must say I never got a damned thing out of him that wasnt conventional wisdom. Novak would set your hair on end over drinks telling you wild stories of our leaders stories which eventually would come out. And some uproarious stories they were: One I remember well was of the Odd Couple on the Senate Intelligence Committee long agoboth of whom became bottle buddies: Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Barry Goldwater.
Once when the CIA was under the gun for the imbroglio in Nicaragua, Bill Casey, Reagans director, made a point to visit both individually on the morning of the day he was to testify and was assured by both at different meetings that he had nothing to worry about: both lawmakers were warmly supportive and would see that Casey was not abused. Caseys testimony was to open at 2 p.m. later that day. But no sooner had he sat down then his skin was peeled off by Goldwater in a savage attack. When Casey looked to Moynihan for solace, the senator from New York roiled at a boiling heat. When he slunk out the door, Casey wondered what had happened between his morning visit with the two where he was assured of cordiality and the afternoon testimony.
What happened was that he met with the two inveterate boozers in the morning. They drank their lunch together as usual and by the time 2 in the afternoon rolled around, they were furious. After that Casey would make it a point to meet with them in the afternoon and imbibe with them a bit himself to keep them company.
Youd never get and you never will get inside information like that from Broder because he is Deep and consumed with the underlying currents of historicity, not meaningless jots of garbage such as above. Which accounts for the fact that so far as I am aware, in all his time of being known as the Dean, the Professor, the Chairman of the Board, I have nevereverheard of a story that Broder ever broke of political significance. He won the Pulitzer for Distinguished Commentary in 1972 which I am sure was very thoughtful and profound but along with his honorary doctorates are unremembered and probably deservedly so.
Thats because Broder is a liberal establishments journalist circa 1960s. Very correct; genial; comfortable; predictable. If you want someone to write enduringly of the political Establishment, hes your man. Hes a gentleman: nothing he writes will carry any offense. And thats the way it was last week when in the midst of the hub-bub over failure to connect the dots in homeland security, David good old gentleman David decided to write a column about how well Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is doing her job.
Almost as though hes been living in a vacuum-contained cubicleapart from the noisy events of the day, apart from the headlines. So I thought youd like to read an exegesis of Broders comments about Napolitano the day after she became barbecued, pulled limb from limb and offered as first candidate for being dumped from her job by a group of angry Republicans and Democrats with even Dick Durbin if you please raising the roof.
Here is the dispassionate David, writing as if he were holding a quill in his hand in a monastic cell, scratching out his words with total concentration as the melee of very real concern exploded outside the iron-padlocked cell of his cloister.
BRODER: Most Americans got their first prolonged look at Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, last weekend It came as no surprise to anyone who knows her, that Napolitano handled the incident and its aftermath with aplomb.
ME: Yes indeed. It was so revelatory to hear her say the system worked.
BRODER: If there is anyone in the administration who embodies President Obamas preference for quiet competence with `no drama, it is Janet Napolitano.
ME: It was quiet competence, no drama, all right. A 23-year-old Muslim fanatic rich kid with no passport, no baggage, paying cash, got on an airplane for Detroit with an explosive in his underwear and a syringe full of deadly acid despite the fact that his father had reported him to the U. S. embassy in Nigeria as a danger. The kids visa renewal had been canceled by the Brits. He had studied Arabic in Yemen, headquarters of al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula and once on board tried to detonate his bomb in the air in order to slaughter Christians on their holiday before being restrained by his fellow passengers. He had made it onto one Watch List but not on the No Fly List.
BRODER: I watched as she made the rounds of the morning interview programs on Sunday laying out what she knew about the would-be terrorist and carefully refusing to speculate about the many matters that were still being investigated. She is being criticized for saying `the system worked but her part of the response system did work.
ME: You mean the passengers who subdued the guy, of course. That worked well but even Napolitano hasnt suggested she deserves credit for them. What exactly did work in the response system, David? What? The decision to give the kid a lawyer to read him his Miranda rights which caused the kid to shut up? No, seriously: what part of the response system worked, David?
BRODER: It must have been a frantic time for her. She was in San Francisco, far from her Washington office, and she must had had a sleepless night.
ME: Poor baby.
BRODER: But her eyes were bright and her voice was calm. Everything appeared to be completely normal, except that her usual sense of humor was absent
ME: What? No jokes?
BRODER: as it should have been given the circumstances.
ME: Of course.
BRODER: The Obama Cabinet is filled with talents
ME: Name some, David. Eric Holder, perhaps? Hillary Clinton who has been pinned by Durbin with some of the responsibility for the kids clearance? Tim Geithner who didnt pay his taxes? Kathleen Sebelius? Who?
BRODER: but many of the stars [sic] are of an age or temperament unlikely to turn them into successor candidates. Napolitano will face many substantive testsnot just in dealing with terrorism
ME: You used a naughty word, David. She has banned the word terrorism in favor of man-made obstructions, remember?
BRODER: but in playing an important role in immigration reformbefore she is a candidate for anything.
ME: This guy is actually suggesting her for president, you know?
BRODER: But her potential is almost unlimited.
ME: David, your sense of politics its tempo its excitement is really astounding. You read it first from Broder: Janet Napolitano for president. Wholl be her running mate, Reno?
*: St. John Neumann [1811-60], born in Bohemia, was ordained in New York and joined the Redemptorists, was consecrated the 4th bishop of Philadelphia, building a wide following of converts and high regard for his holiness. The first male American to be canonized by Paul VI in 1977.