Archive for Sunday, December 28, 2003

Defending a year’s worth of opinions

December 28, 2003


— If you write enough columns -- 98 under this byline this year, not counting today's -- the review of the product, which I have been attempting annually at this season, is guaranteed to be a humbling experience. Departing from custom, I tried this year to correct my "goofs" promptly, rather than store them for this accounting, and so the errors of fact -- the mistake about the singing judge, for example -- have already been rectified. (If you missed it, don't worry; Judge Prado was confirmed despite my gaffe.)

This frees me to deal with some of the more pointed criticisms that arrived from you readers about the selection of topics and the viewpoints expressed -- some of which were published as letters to the editor and many more which were not.

I have a file of letters complaining about my "harping" on the budget deficit and President Bush's tax cuts. And guess what? The indictment is correct. More than a dozen times, I tried to warn against the headlong rush into long-term borrowing at the expense of future generations, the unwillingness to pay for the war in Iraq or homeland defense, the folly and unfairness of lining the pockets of the wealthy with tax breaks while states and cities are cutting programs for the poor and adding to the tax burdens of the middle class.

Much good it did! But I still believe, as I wrote last July, that we need a new Ross Perot who can go on TV and help the American people understand how current policies threaten their children's future.

The recklessness of the "conservatives" now running Washington with our finances is stunning to me. I spent less time writing about the shortsightedness of our military venture in Iraq -- in part because others were on the case and in part because my information was second-hand. But the "wise men" on whom I have come to rely, senators such as Dick Lugar, Chuck Hagel, John McCain and especially Joe Biden, really were wise in saying that the pacification and reconstruction of Iraq would prove a much tougher challenge than the defeat of Saddam Hussein.

Democratic critics accuse me of "falling for" Colin Powell's arguments for intervention, which is correct, while Republicans decry my second-guessing of the commander in chief, which is something I thought was allowed in a democracy.

Speaking of democracy, some of the most impassioned letters resulted from columns about the process of electing -- or unelecting -- our leaders. Many readers, not all of them Californians, objected to my writing that the recall effort against Gov. Gray Davis was a "miserable experience" and worse. But how else do you describe an election where the real opponents -- Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger -- never meet face to face and never have to compare their records and their plans?

Setting policy by ballot initiative and referendum and disposing of officials by recall are alien to the republican form of government we enjoy. I happen to think Davis was a very flawed politician and Schwarzenegger has the potential to be a successful governor. But the process is still a travesty.

The pieces about Bush and his prospective Democratic opponents drew predictably mixed reactions. The ups and downs of the president's political fortunes were chronicled in ways that enraged partisans on both sides, at different times. The main theme -- that Bush's confident exercise of leadership gives him a huge political advantage, notwithstanding all the criticisms I and many others have made of his policy decisions -- stands. I am still suspending judgment on Howard Dean, both as a candidate and as a possible president. But I have to say he has run a brilliant campaign this year and put what is really quite a competent field of rival candidates to shame.

As for my pet causes, the record was as mixed as usual. AmeriCorps survived, after many a scare, but the broader cause of enlisting young people into a program of national service still is stunted. Head Start reform stalled in the Senate; comprehensive health insurance is still a distant dream; and the campaign finance system, both in the primaries and in the general election, remains a mess despite the Supreme Court's approval of McCain-Feingold.

But, hey, Sandra Day O'Connor prevailed on the Michigan affirmative action case and Antonin Scalia lost. So things could be a lot worse. Have a happy new year.

David Broder is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

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