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Cokie Roberts laments Washington gridlock

Cokie Roberts at the Atlanta Press Club does not Tweet or use Facebook. CREDIT: John Glenn for the Atlanta Press Club

Cokie Roberts at the Atlanta Press Club does not Tweet or use Facebook. CREDIT: John Glenn for the Atlanta Press Club

Cokie Roberts is political journalism royalty. Her parents were in Congress. She has been covering politics for decades for NPR and ABC News. She came to the Atlanta Press Club Thursday, lamenting the way Washington now works, where partisanship seems to trump all.

But she said she takes it all in perspective. “People ask all the time: ‘Is this the most partisan time in our history?’ The answer to that question is no.”

In the early 1800s, Roberts noted, it wasn’t crazy for politicians  to actually shoot each other in duels, most notably Vice President Aaron Burr and former Secretary of the Treasurer Alexander Hamilton. “That’s partisan,” she said.

Nonetheless, she said there is a lot of anger emanating from both sides today. She carted out all the reasons that politicos know well.

There are virtually no politicians left in the middle. Those that are trying to survive have had to go more extreme one way or the other. Other moderates have retired or been voted off. Over time, more sophisticated methods to change district lines have created defined areas that are more and more Democrat or Republican, creating candidates that cater to their more homogeneous constituents. “You never have to talk to anybody who disagrees with you,” she said. She recalls Pres. George W. Bush telling her that district lines made it impossible for him to pass an immigration bill.

Other theories commonly abound. Congressmen are less apt to move Washington so Democrats and Republicans no longer socialize. She said her late father Hale Boggs, a Democratic Majority Leader of the House, was friends with Gerry Ford, future president and House Minority Leader. She said they genuinely disagreed on issues but were able to remain close.

The media has amplified partisanship thanks to the cable news networks, talk radio and blogs. “It’s not only partisan but hateful,” she said. “It’s vituperative and mean. It just demeans the whole process.”

But she is still a hopeful sort. She quoted St. Augustine of Hippo: “Let us, on both sides, lay aside all arrogance. Let us not, on either side, claim that we have already discovered the truth. Let us seek it together as something which is known to neither of us. For then only may we seek it, lovingly and tranquilly, if there be no bold presumption that it is already discovered and possessed.”

She took some questions, too:

- On Super PACs: “It’s wack-a-mole… There’s always been money in politics and there will continue to be money in politics. Obviously, the Super PACs are distorting things in a way that many politicians don’t know quite how to handle.” She said Super PACs appear to be attracting wealthy individuals. “We don’t really know how it will play out. My guess is people will eventually be so undone by them, some legislation will pass that reins them in in some way. Also, TV stations are getting rich off of them.”

- Does she have any sense of hope? She talks about the next generation. And she said anyone who wants to be hopeful should go to a naturalization ceremony. “You spend the entire time in tears,” she said.

- Assuming Mitt Romney is the Republican candidate, she doesn’t think he will pick either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum as his running mate. Likely possibilities: Marco Rubio, senator in Florida or Susana Martinez, governor of New Mexico. She also said she thinks if the election were held today, Pres. Barack Obama would win but there are too many factors that could change the scenario over the next seven months with the turmoil in Europe and Iran. She thinks the Senate will end up being very close to even and the House is in play.

- Roberts is old school. She does not use Facebook or Tweet.

- She worries about how the 24-hour news cycle hinders the ability of journalists to actually do their work. And news operations are still grappling with a problematic financial model. She did note that NPR is one of the few places opening bureaus, not closing them, proving that right now, “the non-profit model is working better.”

Note: I am a board member of the Atlanta Press Club.

Join my Facebook fan page and Twitter.

By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk

8 comments Add your comment

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March 30th, 2012
10:50 am

[...] and mean. It just demeans the whole process.” But she is still a hopeful sort. Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) Filed Under: Ipad Tagged With: Latest, News, [...]


March 30th, 2012
12:23 pm

Oh yes good ‘ole cokie. Both parents & all siblings long, long-time liberals. The same cokie that:

(1) Lied about being in front of the White House during an interview
(2) Accused an American nun of lying in regards to a rape by the Guatemalans that paid off her brother.
(3) Labeled Glenn Beck a terrorist
(4) Made reference to Hawaii as some foreign & exotic place.

Leave it up to the AJC to give her credence.

Falls City Bulldawg

March 30th, 2012
12:23 pm

“Other moderates have retired or been voted off. ”
Rodney, I enjoy your writing, but I believe you meant to type, “…voted out.” This is Congress, not American Idol.

Rodney Ho

March 30th, 2012
12:25 pm

@Falls City Bulldawg. I do write so much about “Idol” and other reality shows that yes, I do tend to write “voted off” in a casual sense. And since I write about radio and TV< I sometimes reference "viewers" and "listeners" incorrectly.


March 30th, 2012
12:39 pm

I always enjoy her perspective. She is very liberal in her leanings though, and it is nice she didn’t place blame on either side. I do however find it interesting that she noted NPR is opening Bureaus. It is taxpayer funded! Let NPR get rid of the federal subsidies and operate based on the market. We have so many ways to gather information NPR should not be held up as anything other than a government supported entity. .


March 31st, 2012
1:14 am

NPR (the radio network) does not receive any direct federal funding. Check out their Wikipedia page at and read up about their financial model under the “Funding” section.


March 31st, 2012
10:46 am

Considering the economical and social damage that Congress has done, perhaps gridlock isn’t really that bad a thing!?

The whole idea of a career politician is an aberration. Under our representative government, the candidates were to be voted in, serve their term, then go back home and get back to a real job.

Currently, we have far too many in Congress (both houses) that haven’t held a real job!

Fred ™

April 1st, 2012
3:25 pm

@Daryl-Atlanta: Hush You don’t know what you are talking about. God (Rush Limbaugh) and all his disciplnes (clones?) like Neal Boortz and Sean Hannity say NPR recieves bazillions of hard earned tax payer money so that’s just the way it is.

Get with the program :lol:

Rodney: Like Falls City I got a big kick out of “voted off” as well lol. It’s even better that you DIDN’T correct it.