Bob Woodward: This Is A Presidential Election 'Written In Acid'

Oct 11, 2016

Fun fact: Bob Woodward doesn't vote. 

The legendary investigative reporter, a veteran of the Washington Post where he played a role in uncovering the Watergate scandal, says his public duty lies elsewhere.

"I used to take my daughters into the voting booth and let them vote for me," Woodward says. "I don't want to spend time trying to think that out. I want to try to spend time, what can we learn about these people that we don't know?"

Now an associate editor at the Post, Woodward has spent his journalism career profiling, and helping ordinary Americans understand, U.S. presidents. He has covered everyone from Nixon to Obama -- eight of the 37 men who have held the nation's highest office.

"Somebody was saying to me the other night, that that's almost 20 percent of the people who have been president," he remarks. "That's a lot! And the point is, it's a young country."

Woodward shared his knowledge about the nation's top leader and the current U.S. election during a keynote speech in Milwaukee last week. 

Despite a depth of knowledge about the presidency, Woodward says it's a position that can only be defined by the person who assumes the role -- unless circumstances of his or her term, define it for them.

"My definition of the job of the president is to establish what the next stage of good is for the majority of the people in the country," he says. ""Presidents need to step back and attack big issues."

"It's not about the president. It's about the people out there, the voters, including the people who didn't vote for him -- or her."

"It could be winning a war, fixing the economy, healthcare. Then, having a plan and executing it over a period of months and years, and not just [during] crisis," he adds. "Things will come along that you have to respond to, but you still need to plan." 

Woodward doesn't believe in just one set of skills, traits or characteristics that make a president either effective or ineffective. However, he can cite examples of leaders whose personalities have done them a disservice -- including the man he's most famous for covering.

"Nixon was like no other, because of the crimes," Woodward says. "It was all about Nixon using the presidency, essentially, as an instrument of personal revenge. It's a sacred trust, the office, and you have to be able to really think way beyond yourself." 

"It's not about the president. It's about the people out there, the voters, including the people who didn't vote for him -- or her."

As for the two individuals at the top of the ticket this election, Woodward says he understands voters are suspicious. 

"We ought to get as much detail, and we really ought to know who these people are."

Although both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have been in the public eye for some time, the reporter says each has mysteries still to be uncovered, even with only four weeks until Election Day.

"There's too much concealment about both of these candidates. There's an atmosphere of, 'you don't need to know, we're going to decide what you know'," Woodward says, citing Trump's tax returns, and 15,000 unrevealed emails from Clinton's private server as examples. "I'd like to see an atmosphere where people feel...both candidates are coming clean."

"There's distrust, there's discomfort. There's a sense of, we haven't been given the full story. And I think that's a problem," he adds. "We ought to get as much detail, and we really ought to know who these people are."

Woodward says the mystery only adds to fatigue plaguing voters this cycle -- and that's something with which the next president will undoubtedly wrestle.

"Whoever becomes president, quite likely, is going to wind up being very weak, and be in a position of not bringing the other side in -- that's a giant mistake," he explains. "It has been a presidential campaign written and spoken in acid. The losers are the candidates and the voters, and the country and the world. The atmosphere is not good."

"America comes back from all kinds of setbacks," he adds, "so I wouldn't write the country off. I just think it's going to be a really difficult presidency."