Archive for Wednesday, December 25, 2002

Mea culpa for mistakes, misjudgments

December 25, 2002


— Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Time to recall Broder's folly.

Yes, friends, it's the annual "goofs column," in which the proprietor of this borrowed space looks back on the year's output -- and finds fresh reasons for embarrassment. Once again, I have missed the mark as often as NFL referees. Think of this as a print version of instant replay.

This year goes into the record books as the first in which it was necessary to correct a published correction. Writing about stock options back in April, I referred to a watchdog group as the Federal Accounting Standards Board. Readers were quick to say this was wrong -- it is a private body with a different name and with limited enforcement powers. So I corrected it to the Fiscal Accounting Standards Board -- and four days later, on the third try, finally got it right: the Financial Accounting Standards Board.

There were other factual errors: The current federal estate tax was signed into law by Woodrow Wilson, not Theodore Roosevelt, though taxes on estates had been collected during Roosevelt's tenure. Betsy DeVos, now headed for a second tour as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, and her husband, Dick, supported G. Scott Romney for attorney general at the 1998 state convention, not Romney's conservative opponent.

Sins of omission: It would have been gracious to note that former Reps. Jim Symington of Missouri and Jack Bingham of New York helped keep the idea of national service for young people alive in the 1970s and that a commission headed by former Sens. Gary Hart of Colorado and Warren Rudman of New Hampshire recommended a Department of Homeland Security well before Congress or President Bush embraced it.

And then there are the misjudgments. The most widely ridiculed and rejected column of the year, so far as readers were concerned, was my misguided effort to play movie critic by decrying the simulated destruction of New York in "Spider-Man." I was disturbed by its echoes of 9-11, and many of you couldn't believe that what one reader called "that ridiculous comparison" ever entered my mind. The grandson who had recommended the movie to me concluded, rightly, that I am a hopeless fuddy-duddy (a word that is probably not part of his teenage vocabulary).

Other misjudgments: In January, I saw bright prospects for bipartisan agreement on renewing and improving the welfare reform law. Republicans and Democrats never could get together on a sequel, postponing the issue, along with many others, until next year. I also was overoptimistic about some substantial form of national service being enacted; a new short-term military enlistment program survived in Congress, but not much else.

On the political front, I greatly overestimated former Democratic Rep. Tim Penny's chances of being elected governor of Minnesota as an independent; he finished third. In September, I chastised voters for turning away from an election in which both parties offered many able, articulate candidates. By October, I was echoing the voters, criticizing the negative ads, the trivialization of issues and almost everything else in a "campaign of avoidance."

Overall, I underestimated the extent to which national security issues -- the war on terrorism, the possible showdown with Iraq -- would compete with the economy and domestic issues as a focus for voters. But at least three pre-election columns pointed up the muddled messages Democrats were sending on Iraq and economic policy, a principal reason why they lost seats in Congress.

Cautionary columns arguing that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law is likely to have perverse consequences irked many readers, but developments so far confirm that it may well weaken the national parties and divert money into even murkier passages.

If liberals were unhappy with those columns, conservatives complained about my nagging against estate tax repeal and against making the 2001 Bush tax cuts permanent. But my most repetitious rant -- six separate columns -- concerned the growing fiscal crisis in the states. That is coming to a head now, but official Washington still wants to ignore it.

The e-mail basket was flooded for a time when a left-wing outfit condemned me for saying that George Bush had won the 2000 election; by their oddball logic, it doesn't matter who is in the Oval Office; Al Gore "won" because he received more votes.

They awarded me the title of "media whore of the month." Thanks for the honor.

I cannot promise an error-free '03, but it is the year the Cubs finally will win the pennant. You heard it here first.

-- David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

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