The University of Mary Washington is only 55 miles from Washington, D.C. and Capitol Hill, but students find themselves relatively isolated from the political scene of the nation’s capitol.
Freshman Amanda Heathcock, a member of the political club Students for Obama, wishes that the UMW campus was more active in the nation’s politics.
On Oct. 2, however, students seeking politics needed look no further than Dodd Auditorium, where the Fredericksburg Forum lecture series hosted political analysts Steve and Cokie Roberts.
“It seems like people don’t get involved on campus so much, but go off-campus if they’re interested in an issue,” Heathcock said. She noted a limited selection of political clubs on campus and a small number of attendees at Students for Obama meetings, which support Democratic candidate Barack Obama for president in the upcoming election.
The Robertses discussed the workings of the current Congress and the complexities of the 2008 presidential elections.
The husband and wife team have analyzed politics in many different fields over the years, contributing to ABC News, CNN, National Public Radio and the ABC radio network, winning many awards for their achievements in journalism. In addition to their own careers, they co-write a nationally syndicated newspaper column that focuses on political issues.
Board of Visitors Rector J. William Poole introduced the Roberts.
“They have a very engaging view of politics,” he said, “And manage to find one voice in their newspaper columns. It is an honor to include them as part of our centennial celebration.”
Steve Roberts noted a problematic aspect of the current Congress.
“There are such poisonous relationships on Capitol Hill,” he said. “The lack of trust is palpable.”
The lack of willingness to reach out, he said, has hampered the effectiveness of Congress and resulted in an “abysmal” record of passed bills.
According to the Robertses, this sharp political divide will have an impact on next year’s presidential election, with conflict between parties and within them. Already these conflicts are manifesting themselves among the field of candidates.
Though November 2008 may seem far away, candidates have been preparing for months, raising funds and support for their campaigns.
The past few years and current political climate, however, have resulted in a strong bias against the Republican Party.
“There are days when I look at the Republican field and think none of them can win the nomination,” Steve Roberts said. “The Republicans are very unhappy with their candidate choices.”
This has even led to conservatives contemplating the formation of a third party, he noted.
“One of the Republican candidates is going to have to win the nomination,” Steve Roberts said, “But whoever wins will be an enormous underdog.”
Cokie Roberts specifically singled out two candidates as the front-runners in the election.
“The real competition in this election as of now is between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama,” Cokie Roberts said.
Both candidates have raised millions of dollars in funds and have strong support among voters, but also have weaknesses that could impede their campaigns.
“It’s hard to be the fresh new face for two years,” Cokie Roberts said, noting that despite Obama’s popularity, his campaign seems to have stalled, with some holding his lack of experience in Congress against him.
For Hilary Clinton, the problem is not too little time spent in politics, but too much.
“People are uncomfortable with the fact that there has been a Bush or a Clinton on the ballot since 1980,” Cokie Roberts said. “It’s starting to feel like a monarchy and that could hurt her chances.”
Cokie Roberts also touched on a popular question: Is America really ready to elect either a woman or a black man as president?
“I do think the country is ready for a woman president. I think the question is whether the country is ready for this woman president,” she said. “As for Obama, I think there’s a strong sense that as interesting as he is, he’s not ready yet.”
Both the Roberts emphasized that American voters are not oblivious to the complexities of the upcoming election.
“There is a tremendous interest in this campaign,” Steve Roberts said. “Americans are interested…they’re excited about this race.”
The Fredericksburg Forum will host award-winning journalist Bob Woodward on March 11.