David Broder, Political Journalist and Pundit, Dies at 81

March 10, 2011

By BRUCE WEBER, The New York Times

David S. Broder, who skillfully straddled the line between commentary and reportage for more than four decades as a political correspondent and columnist for The Washington Post and who spread his influence on television as a Sunday morning pundit, died on Wednesday in Arlington, Va. He was 81. The cause was complications of diabetes, The Post reported.

Mr. Broder, whose last column was published on Feb. 6, was often called the dean of the Washington press corps and just as often described as a reporter’s reporter, a shoe-leather guy who always got on one more airplane, knocked on one more door, made one more phone call. He would travel more than 100,000 miles a year to write more than a quarter-million words. In short, he composed first drafts of history for an awful lot of history.

Mr. Broder’s profile was national: his column was syndicated, and he made more guest appearances on “Meet the Press” than any other journalist. His writing life spanned 11 White House administrations, beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term, and his career as an observer of Congress was longer than Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s tenure as a member of it. Indeed, he covered Mr. Kennedy from before his first election in 1962 through his struggle with cancer and death.

In a statement Wednesday, President Obama said Mr. Broder had “built a well-deserved reputation as the most respected and incisive political commentator of his generation.”

Mr. Broder reported and opined on a host of candidates’ campaigns, not just for national offices but also for state and even local ones. His coverage of state governments — he was a regular at the annual governors’ association gatherings — was, for a Washington-based reporter, nonpareil. It reflected his belief, as his longtime Post colleague Daniel J. Balz put it, “that not all wisdom resides in Washington.”

“He had great faith in voters — not just their collective judgment, but their individual ideas,” Mr. Balz said in an interview. “His view was always that campaigns should not just be about the candidates, but about voters and what they want to happen. He drew sustenance from door-knocking around the country. It’s tedious work, physically difficult, but he did it longer and better and more extensively than anybody ever has, and he demonstrated over the years a great sensitivity to what was stirring in the country that people in Washington were slower to pick up on.”

Mr. Broder reported on and analyzed a dozen presidential campaigns for The Post, including the one in 1972. Early that year he broke the story that Senator Edmund S. Muskie of Maine, infuriated by attacks on him and on his wife by William Loeb, publisher of The Manchester Union Leader, during the New Hampshire Democratic primary, had wept as he held a news conference on the steps of the newspaper during a February snowstorm.

Mr. Muskie said later that he had been wiping snow from his face, not crying, and he went on to win the primary. But the perception of him as overemotional damaged his campaign and contributed to his failure to gain the nomination, which was won by Senator George McGovern of South Dakota, who was defeated in a general election landslide by the incumbent, PresidentRichard M. Nixon.

For his columns that year, Mr. Broder won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary, his analysis of party politics favoring neither one side nor the other but bringing equal measures of frank admiration and, just as often — perhaps more often — spitting disdain to both. His writing style could be pedestrian, but his strengths were in reading the electorate and in parsing the ambiguities and contradictions of the policies and characters of the candidates and their parties.

“Richard M. Nixon has achieved something rather remarkable in the last four years,” he wrote during the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. “He has managed to shift the program and politics of the Republican Party vast distances in both the foreign and domestic fields, while reducing the G.O.P.’s liberal and conservative wings to a series of feeble and futile squawks. He has managed this feat by being progressive in his policies and conservative in his politics — which is rather a neat trick even for one as nimble as Mr. Nixon.”

Later that year, while traveling with Senator Kennedy as he campaigned for Mr. McGovern and Democratic Congressional candidates, Mr. Broder assessed the senator’s talent for “storing up political due bills.”

To read more, visit: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/10/us/politics/10broder.html?_r=1&partner=rss&emc=rss

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