Living media legend Cokie Roberts spoke to a crowd of about 500 at Hollins University Tuesday night. She’s a political commentator for ABC News, a contributing senior news analyst for National Public Radio and the author of several books. She and her husband also write a weekly newspaper column.
Roberts talked with candor (and some levity) about what she thought President Obama could achieve in his second term, how the drawing of district lines in the states has polarized Washington, and the possibility of Hillary Clinton making another run for the presidency.
Roberts doesn’t feel this is the most partisan time in our nation’s history; that belonged to the 1850s-before the Civil War. “They are not shooting each other. This is a plus,” says Roberts, referencing the time when lawmakers would “shoot each other all the time.”
“They would call each other out from the floor of the House of Representatives and go out to Bladensburg (Maryland) where there was a dueling ground and shoot each other-murder each other over political speech.”
Roberts says when she was growing up the parties got along because they were united by a common cause – World War II. Some members of Congress served in the foxholes together. Those were the days of rationing and shared sacrifice. “So no one thought of the guy across the aisle as the enemy. They thought of the dictator across the sea as the enemy.”
Another reason for friendships forged across the aisle was because lawmakers and their families lived in the nation’s capitol. Roberts says she’s still friends with Libby Miller from Lynchburg, whose father was Barry Goldwater’s running mate in 1964. Roberts says her father, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, and Bill Miller were friends as were their children.
One of the major reasons for the polarization of the parties, Roberts says, has been the drawing of Congressional District lines. And she says computers are playing a major role in drawing those lines.
“You can find every one-eyed veteran who is a Libertarian, put them all in one district and make sure the Libertarian candidate gets elected. So what happens is, members of Congress choose their voters rather than voters choosing their members of Congress.” She says the worry for incumbents is that they’ll be challenged in the primary election “for not being pure enough; for not being left enough or right enough. And so the polarization just gets greater and greater and greater.” She feels giving the task of drawing district lines to non-partisan commissions and having open primaries will make a difference and bring more moderation to the voting booth.
When asked by an audience member about Hilary Clinton’s future, Roberts replied, “For a long time I absolutely didn’t think she was going to run and she didn’t seem to think she was going to run. But she’s left the door much more open than she has in the past and I think she’s probably getting a tremendous amount of pressure to run. And that’s very hard to ignore.” “She’ll be 69 years old in 2016 but Joe Biden [will] be 150 and he’s running.”
She says that would be an interesting race. Whoever the Democratic nominee turns out to be, Roberts believes it will be very difficult for Democrats to get a third term in the White House.
– Beverley Amsler