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      Philadelphia Speaker Series

      Cokie Roberts Talks American Politics at Philadelphia Speaker Series

      Speaker Series

      Widener University student Emily Floreen poses with Cokie Roberts at the Philadelphia Speaker Series.

      Cokie Roberts, a political commentator for ABC News and NPR, discussed the current polarization in American politics on Nov. 27 as part of the Philadelphia Speaker Series.

      Roberts' father, Hale Boggs, was majority leader in the House of Representatives and her mother, Lindy Boggs, served in Congress from 1973 to 1991. As the daughter of two former members of Congress, Roberts grew up in a family where "dinner was served with a side of politics."

      The most frequent question posed to Roberts was 'Are we currently living in the most polarized time in our history?'

      "The answer is no, they are not shooting each other," she said, referring to pre-Civil War days.

      Although this may not be the most polarizing time, Roberts said that due to the partisanship and their ideological corners, Congress cannot get anything done.

      Roberts cited several factors she believes have contributed to today's dysfunctional political climate, beginning with the loss of the camaraderie that existed after World War II between Democratic and Republican members of Congress.

      "These men literally were in the trenches together," Roberts explained. "There used to be a very real sense that the enemy was not the guy across the aisle but the dictator across the sea."

      Roberts noted that when she was growing up, political families ran in the same social circles, regardless of party affiliation.

      roberts with student

      Meeting Students

      Widener University student Jack Lee meets Cokie Roberts at the Philadelphia Speaker Series.

      "It is hard to demonize someone whose child is playing Clue in your basement," she said. Roberts, the daughter of a Democratic leader, was best friends with the daughter of a Republican leader.

      The media is also to blame for encouraging the modern trend toward intense partisanship. "We give our microphones to the loudest shouters," said Roberts.

      Disappearing Congressional moderates are another factor that has contributed to polarization. According to the National Journal, the Senate contained 58 centrists in 1982; that number dropped to 34 in 1994 and 7 in 2002. By 2010, there were none.

      Not only are those in the political world to blame, but the general public as well. Roberts touched on the topic of the "big sort" which refers to voters physically moving to communities populated by those who hold their same ideologies.

      What can we do to fix this? Roberts suggested that "women are, in fact, part of the answer" because "many more of them than the men do come across party lines" in Congress. Data shows women are less ideological and less pragmatic, and yet only 19 percent of the House and 21 percent of the Senate are female. Roberts feels this will be a focus going into the next election.


      Robin Wright will be featured during the next installment of the Philadelphia Speaker Series on Jan. 22. As a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International School for Scholars, Wright has received numerous awards for her reporting for The New Yorker and other publications. She is also the author of many books on the Middle East.


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