Political columnist reflects on results of Election 2000

Jeremy Esposito

Voters this year chose – sort of – between George W. Bush and Al Gore. But David Broder, a Pulitzer-Prize winning political commentator, said the decision-making and debate are not over yet.

Now, he said, Americans must decide whether the current system of government will survive, because the divisive 2000 election united them in saying one thing:

“Keep your cotton-pickin’ hands off our process,” he said. “We think we’re capable of running things ourselves.”

Broder, a correspondent for The Washington Post, told a packed house in Fisk Hall 217 on Thursday night that this generation could decide the fate of representative government in America. He was the keynote speaker of a two-day conference at Northwestern on the election.

Broder, who won the Pulitzer in 1973, has covered his fair share of elections. He writes a syndicated column on politics and has published seven books, one co-written with Bob Woodward and one with Haynes Johnson.

Recently he has been working on a series of election stories that will begin Sunday in the Post.

“As if we didn’t give you enough coverage during the 36 days after the election,” he said. “We’re going to give you . . . more.”

While covering the 2000 election, Broder found himself in the minority of the press crew.

“I didn’t think the two candidates were a bunch of stiffs,” he said.

The candidates were not the problem, he said. Bush and Gore have decent governmental credentials, he said, and both are from the mainstream of their party. Broder also praised them for their willingness “to put real issues on the table.”

But he said the candidates were about as different as Tylenol and aspirin.

“The country basically said, ‘We can’t choose between these two people,'” Broder said.

The presidential election and the fight that followed it inspired “expressions of fundamental distrust of the people in office,” Broder said.

In recent years, citizens have increasingly taken government into their own hands, assuming the power to make legislation through referenda and initiatives, he said. For example, a voter initiative legalized physician-assisted suicide in Oregon.

But Broder warned against such action. His most recent book is called “Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money.”

Initiatives are placed on ballots and are often passed because large amounts of money are spent on campaigns to get them passed, he said.

They also allow majorities to pass laws affecting minorities and serve as a “way to bypass the traditional system of checks and balances.”

For example, grocers in Massachusetts used advertising to defeat a recycling initiative that would have required them to spend more on labeling.

The election conference continues today at 8 a.m. at the downtown campus of the Law School.

Panel discussions on the Electoral College and “The Media in the Eye of the Electoral Storm” will follow at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.