YAKIMA, Wash. -- Divided we may be, but united we all are.
That was one of the messages National Public Radio news analyst and ABC-TV political commentator Cokie Roberts delivered Wednesday during a Yakima Town Hall lecture.
These may be acrimonious times in politics, but as Americans we are linked by our underlying values and freedom, symbolized by the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, Roberts maintained.
"Those documents bring us together; that's what makes us Americans," she said.
Roberts was the first speaker in the lecture series, which has brought in scholars, authors and other persons of note four times a year for the past 36 years. Other speakers this year will be author Elliot Engel, journalist Kati Marton and motivational speaker Shawn Achor.
Articulate and wry, a wife, mother, daughter, grandmother and author as well as a political analyst, Roberts, 66, demonstrated to the nearly full Capitol Theatre audience why she is one of the best known and most admired female radio and television journalists.
Known for astute political coverage, honed growing up in a political family in Washington, D.C., Roberts shared some of that rich history in anecdotes about past Congressional leaders.
She described more collegial times in Congress, when her father, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, was close friends with Minority Leader Gerald Ford (and later President), and when the liberal Democratic Sen. Al Gore's personal life intersected with the conservative Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond's.
"The truth is there aren't that many friendships (between opposing party members) anymore."
Instead, there is discord. "Washington, D.C., is very rancorous now."
She attributed that partly to congressional district lines now intricately drawn by computer, allowing politicians to lump like-minded voters together, ensuring safe elections for each party.
Additionally, with less socializing between politicians of different persuasions, it's created an atmosphere where people don't work across the aisle, she pointed out.
That phenomenon was recently reinforced when several congressional incumbents, known for forging agreements with the opposition, were defeated in primary elections.
Joining forces across party lines is now seen as a vulnerability, Roberts said.
"I do think we need to fix that. If you don't have comity in political life, it can lead to complete disaster," she said.
A student of history, Roberts thinks political philosophies change with every generation or so, noting that Barack Obama's Presidential election was not that different from the tide for change that swept in Ronald Reagan in 1980. Different forces affect political realignment, she said, and she predicts young voters, female voters and Hispanic voters will exert increasing influence in future Presidential elections.
"I'm sorry to tell you, guys," she said, addressing the Yakima audience, "but white men make up only 36 percent of the electorate."
She went on to say that statistic prompted a question about when white males stopped being the majority. "Someone from the census bureau said, 'They never were; they just acted like it,'" which elicited laughs from women and men alike in the Yakima audience.
Before becoming a senior news analyst for NPR News, she was the congressional correspondent there for more than a decade. Roberts, Susan Stamberg, Nina Totenberg and Linda Wertheimer have long been known as the signature female "faces" of NPR.
Roberts co-anchored the weekly interview show, "This Week," on CBS for six years, then became a political analyst there.
In more than 40 years of broadcasting, she's won three Emmys, while the Library of Congress has named her a "Living Legend."
Roberts also has written three books about women's roles in history or current life. With her husband of
44 years, Steve Roberts, a journalist and college professor, she wrote a book about marriage, which she noted "was a very dangerous thing to do."
In a news conference preceding her talk, Roberts declined to speculate on who the next Republican nominee for President will be. "Two years out, I'd be blowing smoke," she said.
She did, however, express an opinion about political blogs: she ignores them.
"Life is too short. Reading blogs is one of those things I can cut out, like exercise."
Even with the current bombast swirling around politics, as well as on the airwaves and Internet, Roberts firmly believes in our political system, our institutions, our documents and our tradition of reaching out to help others.
"I'm essentially a Pollyanna," she said.
"In the end, we remain a beacon to those who see us as bringing blessings."
–Jane Gargas, Yakima Herald-Republic
Posted September 30, 2010
"Thank you for asking me to speak at the Yakima Town Hall. And thanks especially for hosting me with such warmth ... I can tell that Yakima is my kind of town!" - Laura Bush