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Politics

Bob Woodward On 'The Price Of Politics' And Election 2016

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The Washington Post's Bob Woodward will appear at the University of North Florida Tuesday night courtesy of the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville.Woodward has been with the Washington Post since 1971 and he remains as associate editor to this day.

He and Carl Bernstein were the main reporters on the Watergate scandal for which the Post won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. Woodward has authored or co-authored 17 best-selling books.

He will be talking about his latest book The Price of Politics, presidential leadership, and more at UNF.

He joined Melissa Ross for a preview of his talk and a discussion of the Obama administration and presidencies to come.

Ross: The Price of Politics came out in 2012, looking at the early years of the Obama administration and in particular the desperate scramble to restore the American economy as it was falling apart.

It’s a fascinating look at how close the president and John Boehner came to striking the so-called ‘grand bargain’ on taxes and spending. Of course they failed.

As you look at the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington today I’m curious to ask, how much of that will be a focus of your talk on the UNF campus?

Woodward: Well, I’m going to give some of the history of it because it’s critical. It has to do with the state of the economy and how the president is leading and how the Republicans are trying to lead.

They of course recently made the deal but it wasn’t the grand bargain, it was a small deal. But at least it was something and movement that both parties feel is in the right direction.

But in the whole, all of these questions have to do with leadership and what I’m going to try to address is why there is a break-down in leadership on the part of Democrats and Republicans. And I think I have some partial answers anyway on that. And then I want to talk about the impact of all of this and a little bit about how you could put a deal together because it really shouldn’t be hard.

Ross: You’re saying it’s a failure of leadership that is ultimately on the president.

What would you say to supporters of President Obama who would argue, ‘well the Republicans have made it their stated goal to oppose whatever this president proposes, there’s no negotiating with such people.’ What would be your response to that argument?

Woodward: Well, first of all some Republicans have said that, lots of other Republicans have not. I mean witness the deal that passed recently on setting the spending level for the next year. As I recall, I think about 85 or 86 Republicans in the House voted for that, so you can’t make a sweeping generalization.

It depends on how you look at leadership. What is it supposed to do? Is the leader supposed to be the articulator of the series of principles and values that his or her party represents, or is the leader supposed to be somebody who’s going to sit on the other side of the table with somebody who has some different views and different values and find a way in the traditional negotiating?

‘One for you, one for me. What do you want most? Here’s what I want most,’ and back and forth work something out. Now let’s hope that’s the road we’re on, you know I’m not sure we are. The person politically is paying the biggest price for this is the president.

Ross: Would you call this an unprecedented situation in all of your years of covering politics? Has it been this polarized before since you’ve been in Washington?

Woodward: Well that’s a good question. To a certain extent you go back to the Nixon years, the polarization was that Nixon hated the opposition and as we now know from his tapes and all the investigations of Watergate and related matters and that hate was the piston driving things.

Certainly I got to know Obama. I’ve interviewed him, I’ve tried to understand him. He’s not driven by hate at all. There is a side of him that sees the other point-of-view and I think he just hasn’t found a way to assert himself as the leader and say ‘look we got to work some deals.’

He was not involved in this deal that was worked out. A lot of people say it was successful in part because he was not participating. If there’s a war, terrorist attack, an economic calamity during his administration it goes down in the history books that this happened during Obama’s presidency. There’s an expectation that he’s going to manage these things.

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax and Lindsey Kilbride @lindskilbride.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story listed an incorrect date for Mr. Woodward's appearance.