Cokie Roberts On Why The Wives Of Civil War Politicians Were More Powerful Than Their Husbands

Sep 17, 2019

Editor's Note: This interview with Cokie Roberts originally aired on Two Way Street with Bill Nigut on May 9, 2015.  

My guest this week is Cokie Roberts, the longtime political reporter and analyst for NPR Radio and ABC News. Like many of you, I suspect, I’ve admired Cokie’s work for years. She’s one of the voices I tend to trust implicitly when she offers observations on the political scene.

You may not know just why you find Cokie’s information to be trustworthy. One answer is that she grew up playing in the hallways of the U.S. Capitol. She was just 5 when her father, Hale Boggs, moved the family from their home in New Orleans to Washington after winning election to Congress, and although the family came home to Louisiana for summers, Cokie really is a child of the nation’s capital. And she’s watched the comings and goings of presidents, senators, Congressmen and a host of political staffers, lobbyists and others for years.

Cokie is from one of the great Democratic political families. Her father Hale became one of the most distinguished members of the U.S. House, rising to become majority leader before he was killed in a 1972 plane crash in Alaska, where he was campaigning for the re-election of Congressman Nick Begich.

Cokie’s mother Lindy Boggs won election to her husband’s vacant seat, and she, too , had a distinguished career, serving 9 terms in the House until she was appointed ambassador to the Vatican by President Clinton in 1997.

No wonder Cokie is such an astute political observer and has such a depth of knowledge about the history of contemporary Washington politics!

In the past few years, Cokie has also become a best-selling author, writing books that have spotlighted the role of women in our country’s history. She came to the GPB studios this time to talk about her book “Capital Dames; The Civil War and the Women of Washington.” The book is filled with marvelous stories about the gutsy, brash, incredibly smart women who were on the political scene during the war but who have gotten very little attention despite the fact that they were often influential in the politics of the day.

One other note: Way back in 1986 I spent an evening in Lindy Boggs home in the French Quarter. It was one of those homes situated behind a high brick wall, and unless you were invited in, you’d pass by and have no idea you were walking past one of the old, magnificent homes of New Orleans. I was there as a reporter covering a reception Mrs. Boggs was having for visiting Democratic Party dignitaries. One of the things I remember vividly was that Lindy Boggs was a southern Lady in the best sense of the word: charming, incredibly gracious, able to make you feel that what you said really mattered, and just plain down to earth.

I’ve talked to Cokie a number of times over the years, and it’s always clear to me that she is her mother’s daughter, sharing those same traits of warmth and graciousness. I am always glad when I get a few minutes to be with Cokie. You will be too, when you hear the conversation.