We’re still missing Cokie Roberts, the New Orleans native who died in September at 75 after a distinguished career covering Congress for National Public Radio and other broadcasting outlets.
But one of the nice things about authorship is that a person who writes books never completely goes away. The writer’s words are still there, living on the page, ready to keep company with new generations of readers.
As the daughter of legendary New Orleans lawmakers Hale and Lindy Boggs, Cokie Roberts had a front seat at history in the making.
All of this has come to mind with the arrival this holiday season of “The American Story,” a collection of David M. Rubenstein’s interviews with popular historians. Roberts was among those interviewed by Rubenstein because of her several books about the role of women in early American life, such as “Founding Mothers” and “Ladies of Liberty.”
In 2013, Rubenstein, a philanthropist with a deep interest in America’s past, had a neat idea. Why not occasionally gather members of Congress from both parties for an evening at the Library of Congress, where they could listen to bestselling historians discuss what they’d learned about our best leaders?
The Congressional Dialogue Series was born, with Rubenstein on board to interview the historians before a bipartisan audience. The hope was that Republicans and Democrats might be inspired by the common past they shared.
If all of this sounds solemn and stuffy, suffice it to say that Roberts, in her appearance at the gathering, was, to the contrary, sharp and witty. She confessed to the lawmakers in the crowd that like many observers of Congress, she often thought she could do a better job of it. “I have to tell you,” she said, “there’s been many a time when I’ve been covering Congress when I would like to get down on the floor and just slap you all. It’s the mother thing: ‘I don’t care who started it, I’m stopping it.’”
Well, who hasn't felt that way about Congress?
But as the daughter of legendary Louisiana lawmakers Hale and Lindy Boggs, Roberts knew that political life was much harder than it often looks. “I would like to say — and I could not mean this more strongly — I am such an admirer of people in public service of all kinds, but particularly people in elected office,” she added. “It is hard work. You are constantly called upon to respond to the needs and desires, crazy as they can be sometimes, of your bosses, the voters. And I believe that all of you are serving the country by your lights as well as you can, and I admire you.”
We quoted that observation from Roberts back in October, and as the calendar turns, it seems worth repeating.
Roberts’ dose of realism about the challenges of public service is good to keep in mind as Americans enter what promises to be a tough political year. Too bad we won’t have Cokie Roberts around in-person to guide us.