Sunday, September 24, 2006

Substance Doesn't Matter: Broder Edition

David Broder writes another characteristically boneheaded op-ed piece in today's WaPo, titled The Tide's In for Independents. It's the usual stuff Broder mails in from the counter-reality he inhabits in which America's problems are, in order of importance: (i) Democratic incivility and (ii) a reckless Bush presidency that is destroying the "traditional conservative heritage."

As Josh Marshall points out, Broder doesn't mention the torture debate at all in his latest column, let alone the fact that the "compromise" was in effect the Bush position, despite having pointed to Independent Maverick McCain's Brave Strand as a watershed moment in the transformation of the American political landscape in his previous boneheaded column. Here's why I'm not surprised.

The essential feature of Broderism is a disregard for political substance. I'm not a mind reader, and I don't pretend to have any insight into (or interest in) how the guy comes to his views as a psychological matter. But if you read a few of his columns, you'll see a pattern: the reasons he gives for the views and preferences that he expresses generally have nothing to do with substantive issues. War, peace, Iraq, Iran, the economy, social security, whatever. He doesn't seem to care.

In his last column, Independence Days, Broder did cite a substantive issue -- the Geneva Conventions / torture issue. But read his column carefully. He wasn't arguing that McCain et al. deserved support because of the particular stand they were taking on that issue. Rather, Broder's argument was that the defiance of their own party by the Mavericks was important in that it "...signaled the emergence of an independent force in elections and government." And what was the meaning of the Rebel Revolt? That torture is wrong? That America is better than this? Er, not even close. Broder: "What it really signals is a new movement in this country -- what you could rightly call the independence party." For Broder, the particular issue at hand was important only to the extent it reinforced the "signal" the Independents were sending: "This movement is not new, but the moral scale of the issue -- torture -- and the implications for both constitutional and international law give it an epic dimension, even if it is ultimately settled by compromise." Epic moral scale bonus points in the cause of restoring civility to Washington!

It follows from his disregard for political substance that Broder isn't interested in evidence or information that has probative value in relation to political substance. Since Broder doesn't particularly care about substantive political issues (again, going by the reasons he gives for the views that he expresses), it shouldn't be surprising that evidence and information don't interest him.

It really says something about contemporary American political life that a guy as vacuous as David Broder can achieve near-universal recognition as the "Dean" of Washington journalists. But I think he's playing out his last bit of string. Broder's "whither civility" schtick worked when you had a grownup like Bill Clinton running the show, so people could convince themselves that Democrats and Republicans were all the same, that Gore was no different from W, that lying about a blowjob was the most important thing in the world and all that.

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