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Rest in Peace, David Broder

Gwen Ifill and David Broder on “Meet the Press.” Photo courtesy NBC News.

David and Ann Broder were precisely the same age. So when they decided to celebrate their 80th birthdays last year, the couple’s four sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren were able to turn it into one of those warm and loving tributes that the rest of us can only hope we will live to see.

It was some party. Children. Grandchildren. Friends. Neighbors. Cake. To my mind, it was the hottest ticket in Washington.

And in the middle of it all was the wonderful Dave Broder, smiling and remembering and kind of sheepishly having a ball.

There have been a lot of reminiscences shared about David this week. Writers write. That’s how we celebrate, and that’s how we grieve. And I haven’t been able to stop reading everyone’s version of life with Dave, and marveling at how often the stories overlap.

Almost every one has a story of a Broder kindness. The time he gave up his seat next an important governor so a rookie reporter could get to know the governor instead. The time he sat cross-legged on the floor to take notes at some minor Iowa political event. The time he advised a reporter on her first campaign trip that she should learn how to sleep on the plane.

For so many of us, he was the political father we could never have invented.

David was all that and more to me. But it is only in hindsight that I realize how fundamentally he shaped my ideas about political journalism.

I am frequently asked who the most important person I have ever interviewed is. I almost always tell the story of the laid-off steelworker I met in an Ohio Piggly Wiggly store, or the sobbing mother I interviewed on the National Mall the day Barack Obama was inaugurated. When I value the stories of ordinary folks, that’s the Broder in me.

I also often get to advise young people about career options, and to speak on college campuses. (“You may only watch Jon Stewart,” I say, “but Jon Stewart watches me!”) They laugh, and that’s the Broder in me too.

And no matter how many times I do it, I never fail to get excited about the prospect of covering another presidential election and round of political party nominating conventions. I remain convinced that political outcomes matter, and can actually have an impact on people’s lives. That is most certainly the Broder in me.

I’ve lost count of the number of times David and I appeared together on television, usually on “Washington Week” or “Meet the Press.” I learned something every single time, and he flattered me that I was telling him something new as well.

It has been a navel-gazing sort of week. Public broadcasting has come under assault – again. Partisans at state houses and in Congress have been hotly debating arcane budget maneuvering (oh, how David would have loved that!). And in spite of it all, the Republic marches on.

David despised the rise of hardcore partisanship, eschewed the self-importance he could have indulged himself, and would have kept on writing columns from the grave if he could. Yet he was never much of a scold.

He worked hard because he believed we could all be better – that journalists would never forget to speak to the taxpayers as well as the tax imposers; that politicians would always remember they have to answer to somebody. And in doing that, he left a legacy. He was not part of a dying breed. He was his own breed.

Legacy is a funny word, but if any journalist can be said to have left an important one behind, it would be David Broder, who managed to mold a generation or two of inquisitive, purposeful journalists and honorable politicians who – we can only hope – will manage to keep up with the pace he set, and live up to his example.

Gwen’s Take is cross-posted with the website of Washington Week, which airs Friday night on many PBS stations. Check your local listings.

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