David Broder simply doesn't understand the way that today's Senate operates, Jim Manley concluded on Wednesday. Manley, the senior communications adviser for Majority Leader Harry Reid, said that the longtime Washington Post columnist's charge that Reid pales in comparison to former Senate leaders misunderstands the way the contemporary Senate works.
"It's all fine and dandy to pine for the golden days of yesteryear, when politics was practiced differently, but that's not the reality we're dealing with," Manley told HuffPost. "What David fails to understand is that Republican leadership in both the House and the Senate are being pulled along by the so-called birthers, the Tea Party movement and other far right fringe groups that are completely at odds with the views David claims to hold."
Manley said that Broder's failure to see the GOP for what it is today is common among Washington-based pundits.
"David might be one of the worst examples, but he highlights a myopic, inside-the-belt phenomenon that is at odds with the views of many Americans," said Manley. There's even a term for such thinking: Broderism.
The Broder-Reid spat broke into the open on Saturday night when Reid dismissed him as "a man who has been retired for many years and writes a column once in a while." (Broder has taken a buy-out from the Post but continues to write two columns a week on a contract basis.) Reid was peeved at a column Broder had written accusing the Senate bill of not cutting costs adequately.
It may seem petty, but the Reid-Broder battle is a proxy fight between two competing approaches to politics. Reid, by attacking Broder, puts himself on the side of those attacking the Washington politico-media establishment.
"Maybe I have an idealized view of what a Senate leader ought to be," Broder told Politico Wednesday for a story headlined: "David Broder: Harry Reid's no Mike Mansfield." "But I've seen the Senate when a leader could lift it to those heights...I wish it had that kind of leadership now."
That's not possible, said Manley, because Mansfield and Lyndon Johnson, revered Senate leaders, had a Republican Party willing to work across the aisle.
"LBJ had Robert Taft [R-Ohio], William Knowland [R-Calif.] and Everett Dirksen [R-Ill.]. Mike Mansfield had Dirksen and Hugh Scott [R-Pa.]. What David fails to acknowledge is that the current Repub leadership is betting on the president to fail," said Manley.
"Why he can't understand that is mind-boggling."
"That's an interesting argument and certainly there are differences between the people now and the people then and the environment that was there," Broder told HuffPost. "But if that's their effort to explain why Senator Reid has chosen the tactics that he's chosen, that doesn't strike me as an adequate explanation."
Broder disputed Manley's contention that the GOP blocks everything. "It is not a fact that the Republicans have refused everything. At least we don't have much evidence of that so far. If he's talking about a specific reaction to the pieces of the Obama agenda that have come up so far, then he's in effect saying Obama is so frustrated that he's about to abandon everything. I don't suspect it's the case. When the first measure relating to Afghanistan comes to the floor that generalization will collapse."
Broder is probably right that the GOP will back Obama in his effort to expand the war in Afghanistan, but Manley was arguing more on the domestic policy front.
He references the fight to pass an unemployment insurance extension, which the GOP eventually supported but slowed down for several weeks.
"How David can make this kind of comment after UI bill is beyond me. It took more than four weeks to pass a bill in the senate that it took the House an hour to pass on the suspension calendar," said Manley.
Broder acknowledged the unemployment point. "It's a good argument as it implies to the unemployment extension. There have been many occasions where I have been very critical of the Republican stance."
"It is a different Senate now and if I were writing on that topic -- Mansfield, Baker, LBJ and so on -- we might very well agree. But that was not the subject of that column and in my mind, that is not a particularly powerful or relevant rebuttal to the subject I was talking about, which is whether or not the potential savings everybody knows are needed are there in the bill Senator Reid brought to the Senate floor."
Manley had specific gripes about Broder's health care column, in which he cited deficit hawks to make the case that the Democratic Senate bill might not reduce costs.
Manley said that Broder's column was discussed by "puzzled" Democrats in the Senate cloakroom. "No one could understand it," said Manley. "We had the self-described gold standard of analysis - the CBO - highlighting that the bill reduces the deficit. And David utterly failed to acknowledge that was the case."
Broder often refers to the Congressional Budget Office with the highest praise, but relied mostly in his column on "experts" who proclaim themselves "bipartisan" but whose goals are to dismantle Social Security, Medicare and other vestiges of the New Deal.
Broder's argument was dismissed by his colleague at the Post, Ezra Klein. Broder, however, said he didn't have to look far to find people who agreed with him - which is, in fact, one of the biggest problems the blogosphere has with his type of writing and thinking. "It was hardly a unique viewpoint," Broder said accurately.
If Broder thinks that the GOP is genuinely willing to work with Democrats, the only centrist position between he and Reid might be in agreeing to disagree. "We have a Republic leadership betting on the president to fail," said Manley. "David's problem is he thinks this is all on the up and up."