by NICOLE TRUGILLO/Editor-in-Chief
Political analyst and journalist Cokie Roberts brought an insider’s view of the nation’s capital to a recent Lubbock appearance.
Roberts is a political commentator who has won countless awards, including three Emmys. She has been inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame and has been named one of the 50 greatest women in the history of broadcasting by the American Women in Radio and Television. She is also the former co-anchor of “This Week with Sam Donaldson” on ABC-TV.
Roberts spoke on Oct. 15 at the Texas Tech University Allen Theatre, where she explained and gave the audience a taste of what it’s like on the inside of Washington, D.C.
Roberts took the stage and immediately had the audience laughing when she started praising the Lady Raiders.
“I’m not here to praise Texas Tech, but to talk about what’s going on in Washington,” Roberts says. “My basic reaction is, you tell me.”
According to Roberts, many people ask her if this is the most partisan time in our history, and Roberts replies with a “no,” and jokingly adds, “the House of Representatives aren’t shooting at each other,” which led to applause and laughs from the audience. Roberts went on to explain that the most partisan period in our history was right before the Civil War.
“Well, that was a time that led to 600,000-plus American deaths, because the partisan polarization led to war,” Roberts says. “That was a failure of politics to bring people together. That’s what Congress is supposed to do. It’s supposed to bring people together. That’s the meaning of the word, and certainly they’re not doing that today. This might not be the most polarized time in our history, but it is a very polarized time.”
Roberts gave the audience an example of our country being polarized today by explaining Lindsey Graham, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina who is a former policy expert and former Marine, who says that parties can’t get along with each other.
“He is polling in about zero in the Republic primary, so he’s always in the little kids debate,” Roberts said jokingly. “He said, ‘If it’s a Democratic idea, I can’t do it, and if it’s a Republican idea, they can’t do it.’ Now how crazy is that?”
Robert explains that it hasn’t always been that way in our society. Roberts says her father, Hale Boggs, was the majority leader of the House of Representatives and Gerald Ford was the minority leader. She then went into detail about her last interview with President Ford.
“[President Ford] said to me, ‘Cokie, what is going on in Washington?,” recalls Roberts. “When your dad and I were leaders, we would go into the cab together and we’ll go downtown together and say what we’re going to argue about. It was a legitimate argument. We were leaders from our parties in the House of Representatives, but we’ll both get in the cab again and become best friends.’”
Roberts says President Ford and her father were very close, and they were able to come together for the country.
“That is just gone,” Roberts explains. “Nothing even close to that exists in Washington today, which makes it very hard to get anything done for the country. I personally think it has everything to do with World War II.”
Roberts gave another example of both parties coming together for the greater good of our nation. She explained that there was a huge Republican class in 1946 and a huge Democratic class in 1948, and they consist of veterans.
“These veterans ran as the men that went [to war], not the men that sent [men to war,]” Roberts says. “They had literally been in the trenches together, and the whole country had gone to war. Everybody was on the same side. The enemy was not the guy across from them, but the dictator across the sea. Now that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any partisanship. There were moments of difficulty. There was also a sense that everybody there was doing an honorable job. They were there to serve the country.”
According to Roberts, the other reason why our country is polarized is because many congressional families don’t come into Washington, which leads to families not knowing each other and members not knowing each other. She also adds media as another example of polarization.
Roberts’ main issue for polarization is the drawing of district lines. She explained the ways congressional seats are drawn are so there is no possibility of losing a seat to the opposite party. She also adds politicians choose the voters, instead of voters choosing the Congress.
“One day, President Bush’s secretary told me the President wanted me to ride with him in the limo to meet the pope,” Roberts explains. “While riding in the limo, President Bush says, ‘Cokie, I tried, tried, and tried to get my party to get to do the right thing on immigration, and the reason why I couldn’t do it is because of the drawing of district lines.’”
Roberts continues, “What he meant by that was the seats are so safe for the Democratics and Republicans that the only trouble is to be challenged in the primary, which someone says that they’re not being ideologically pure enough. The effect of that is to polarize the Congress dramatically.”
Roberts then described President Barack Obama’s approval rating from both political parties. She says President Obama’s approval ratings were 7 percent from Republicans, 79 percent from Democrats, and 48 percent from individuals.
“Ronald Reagan never fell below 20 percent among Democrats,” Roberts explains. “George W. Bush and Bill Clinton never went lower than the teens of the parties. What we’re seeing is much more pulling away by parties. We’re also seeing it by race, age, ethnicity, and sex. We’re seeing the division in this country.”
Roberts ended the lecture with a strong opinion on how to get the country together again. She explains we should get more women elected, because they do come together for the greater good.
“It’s bad enough if one party can’t come together to elect a speaker, and you certainly can’t expect both parties to come together to get anything done,” Roberts says. “That’s where we are right now. The question is, what do we do about it? I get this question all the time, and if I knew the answer, I would be happy. But in the short term, electing more women makes a difference, because they come together more than the men do and get issues worked out. For now, the answer is, we try to get through it.”