Jewish World Review April 6, 2011 2 Nissan, 5771
For David, Who Always Listened to the Voices
By Roger Simon
Broder, who is teaching at the university while also holding down his day job of writing columns for The Washington Post, is going to use the parking space of Haynes Johnson, another distinguished Washington Post journalist. But Haynes keeps the keycard. Which means David must find someone to lift the barrier for him, which perhaps is why, it now occurs to me, he has invited me to speak to his class.
As I struggle with the entrance gate, I know how this will end: A campus cop will pull up, exit his patrol car, Taser me and ask Broder for his autograph.
No matter. I am willing to take the 1,500 volts. All I can think of is that I have been invited to speak to David Broder's class. I cannot remember the year I met him. It was probably in New Hampshire before a presidential primary. David loved New Hampshire, and how the delightful and quirky little state that ranks 42nd in U.S. population can make or break presidential careers.
I would have been far too shy to introduce myself. I was almost certainly introduced by my longtime friend and Broder's friend and colleague, Dan Balz. Broder was already a legend, writing one of the most influential political columns in the nation.
He was open and friendly and dressed in a style that could only be described as unconcerned. He had been born, I learned later, in Chicago Heights, Ill., a gritty southern suburb of Chicago, best known as being a headquarters for Al Capone. Inexplicably, Broder was a Cubs fan, when geographically he should have been a White Sox fan, Chicago's south side team.
He was a published author, had already won a Pulitzer Prize, was syndicated in hundreds of papers and was a regular on "Meet the Press." I should have hated him.
This proved impossible, however, and in time, I even got the nerve to greet him upon seeing him at this rally or that, and calling him by his first name. Many years later, we were part of a small group that went to the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington together, and this is probably where I met his wife, Ann, who had been his classmate at the University of Chicago. (I, too, married my college sweetheart, as did Dan Balz. I will leave it for the sociologists to determine what this means.)
When I called Dan and told him I was going to speak to Broder's class, he asked how I was getting there. David is going to pick me up, I said.
"In his car?" Dan said.
Of course, in his car, I said.
There was a pause. "Buckle up," Dan said.
It was not that Broder was a reckless driver, by any means. He just drove with a certain nonchalance, especially as to that law of physics that says two bodies cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
After we got to the campus and I manhandled the barrier out of the way, we went to his class. I remember not a word of what I said except I must have delivered my usual diatribe against placing too much faith in polls because the very first question from a student was, "If we don't get our information from polls, how do we learn what the voters think?"
But Mr. Broder pioneered in that, I said. It's called door-knocking.
Perhaps David had been too modest to tell them. Door-knocking, as the name implies, is when reporters go out, knock on the doors of complete strangers and interview them. Hardly anybody in America does this. It can be unpleasant, brutally difficult work. David loved it.
Maralee Schwartz, a former Washington Post reporter and editor, was stopped by the police from knocking on doors in Cicero, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago. She was put in the back of a police car and, after explaining what she was doing, the cops called the Post "to verify I wasn't a drug dealer or a hooker," Maralee wrote me in an e-mail.
But why did Broder do it, and ask other Post reporters to do it, when there was so much polling information, and demographics and other expert reports?
"I am sure David could not imagine writing about politics without talking to voters," Maralee wrote. "Yes, he talked to politicians at all levels, but that alone was not what enriched his coverage. Everything was of a piece, the pols, the polling, the demographics of a district or a state, and then the voters' voices made it whole."
The voters' voices made it whole. And David always wanted to hear the voters' voices
David died on March 9, having written what turned out to be his last column a few weeks earlier. In it, he talked about the Obama administration, foreign affairs and the Chicago Cubs.
David will be memorialized at a public service at the National Press Club this week. It will be on C-SPAN3 live and later on the C-SPAN networks and available online at the C-SPAN Video Library. Don't get out a hanky. The service, I am told, will be a celebration of his life.
Besides, what is there to cry about? David wrote his column to the end, and I cannot think of a better way to go.
Moreover, he is in a happy place now, one where there is always a parking spot and people always open their doors when you knock, and where the Cubs always have a chance. If not this year, next.
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