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Since Post-Vietnam Era, Fewer Veterans In Congress


That sense of camaraderie that Quil just told us about used to be very familiar in the halls of Congress. That's partly because many members had served in the military themselves. But today's Congress has very few veterans in its ranks, about 20 percent compared with more than three-quarters in the post-Vietnam era. And Cokie Roberts believes that makes a difference. She joins us as she does most Mondays.

Cokie, good morning.


GREENE: So fewer vets in Congress than before, you really see a practical effect here?

ROBERTS: Oh yeah, you see it in all kinds of ways. You see it in debates about taking the United States into military actions, where you don't hear the voices of some is that camaraderie that Quil was just talking about. You know, particularly after World War II when so many members of Congress had served together and literally been in the trenches together, they had a sense of shared purpose, that the country was all on one side.

And, of course, the whole country had gone to war with rationing and all of that. And, you know, it gave them a very strong feeling that the enemy was not the guy across the aisle, it was the dictator across the sea, and so it made for a very different kind of Congress.

GREENE: Kept things in perspective, in a way, I guess.


GREENE: I mean, that lack of shared sacrifice that you're talking about, it's one of the factors that a lot of people say is the reason that Congress is so polarized, dysfunctional, some say today. I mean, is there anyone who is trying to bring that camaraderie back and fix this?

ROBERTS: Well, sure. There, you know, there are people inside the Congress, particularly the women, but it's also true that there are all kinds of think tanks working on it and all kinds of proposals among academics and others, but, you know, the fact is that the people who really do get things done in this country are the governors and mayors, the people who are out - actually are in charge of something and have to do something.

And it's one of the reasons that we tend to elect governors as president, for the most part. And, of course, after last week's elections, lots and lots of talk about Chris Christie having had this landslide election in New Jersey. Republican governor in a blue state winning women, winning Hispanics, doing very well with African Americans, so that he is now the darling of some members of the Republican Party.

And, you know, cover of Time magazine was somewhat - not exactly flattering cover of Time magazine, but, you know, he is the person that everybody's talking about right now.

GREENE: Even though he said yesterday his is just focused on being governor of New Jersey and nothing else.

ROBERTS: Well, he's said it on, like, five television programs, however, so, you know, it's not something you normally see the governor of New Jersey doing, but he does talk about how you have to go places where you don't have voters and talk to them and listen to them. And he says, you know, look, he said to me, I see that they elected a democratic legislature to keep an eye on me. I know that I can't just go and do whatever I want to do.

You have to compromise in order to be able to lead and my party needs to understand that. Now, there are a lot of people in his party who think that that's heresy and don't want to hear that at all and say, you know, look, New Jersey's one thing. The country's something else. Of course, that's true.

GREENE: Well, you mentioned the coalition that he was able to build in this landslide victory, Cokie, but one place where he fared poorly was among young people and is that a warning sign for the Republican Party broadly?

ROBERTS: Absolutely. You know, even with his victory, he didn't win young people. And part of what's happening there is that there's a just a disconnection between the rhetoric of the Republican Party and what young people see in their lives. It's particularly true around issues like gay marriage, but it's true about a whole variety of social issues where young people just don't see the Republican Party as something that they can relate to.

And that's something that's going to be very, very tough because getting the base of the party to accept the kinds of issues and programs that young people are interested in is not something that's going to be comfortable at all.

GREENE: Cokie Roberts, she joins us on the program most Mondays. Cokie, always good to talk to you.

ROBERTS: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.