20 Questions: Rebecca Roberts

Rebecca Roberts, 37, is managing editor and host of her own show on POTUS ’08, XM channel 130. She’s also a political blogger for Glamocracy, Glamour magazine’s blog. And if her last name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s the daughter of news veterans Steve and Cokie Roberts. Roberts came to XM from NPR, where she subbed for the regular hosts on such programs as “Talk of the Nation,” “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.” In her words: “I grew up deep in the Beltway bubble. It wasn’t till I went to college that I discovered people don’t regularly discuss the happenings of the Senate Judiciary Committee over dinner. I was shocked.”

Glamour advertises you as the daughter of Cokie Roberts. Is it tough in any way to be associated with such a famous political name?

No. My mother is my biggest fan. I am hers. It is nothing but a happy situation. She uniquely understands what it’s like to be billed as someone’s daughter. [Cokie Roberts is the daughter of former Reps. Lindy Boggs (D-La.) and Hale Boggs (D-La.).] She’s totally sympathetic.

What is your most interesting political moment growing up?
Both my parents were always great about letting us miss school to see something important politically. They had a broad view of education. I remember standing at President Reagan’s inauguration in January of ’81 and I had just gotten braces and they had just gotten tightened and they were really hurting. All I could think about was my braces were freezing. When I was 13 at the 1984 convention, my parents were covering it in San Francisco. My mother insisted that I come to the floor during the convention because she thought a teenage girl ought to see the first woman Geraldine Ferraro become the first VP candidate.

What were discussions around the dinner table like?

Discussions really were about what bill was in Senate markup. I now think that borders on child abuse [laughs]. It was the time of day when my parents were catching up with each other. We were expected to contribute, if not listen. As we got older we were expected to contribute.

Did you find it boring at the time?
No. Does that make me a giant geek? I suppose there were times when you’d long for them to talk about something else. But it’s not as though we didn’t have the usual “What’s going on in school?”

Did they tell you what you should believe?
Oh, no. Not about politics, religion, or anything. They had enormous faith in us to make the right decisions. They never told us what to do. It was more in the context that my mother is Catholic and my father is Jewish so they never told us what to believe. My brother had an Alex P. Keaton moment when he wrote to conservative leaders and asked them for their autographs. They were Alexander Haig and Ronald Reagan. I don’t think it bothered them near as much as he hoped it would.

Did you have any rebellious phases?
One of these days I’m going to snap. I’ve still never had a rebellious phase. I’ve always done what I’m supposed to do.

What do people say to you about your mother?
It is almost all hero worship. I’ve now come to realize that people know I’m Cokie’s daughter before they meet me. The people who bother to say something to me love her. She’s beautiful. She’s the smartest woman on TV. I had one producer at XM who told me they dressed up as her for Halloween.

Do you think you provided any inspiration for her Mothers and Daughters book?
Oh, I do. I think she has always looked back at the women who came before her and understood how much she owes them, how constant the continuum of women taking care of society has been. She and I are very close, are both such feminists and have shared that acknowledgement of the power of women. We both have a lot of women friends. We’re both part of the sisterhood.

Speaking of feminists, what do you think of Ann Coulter?
I interviewed Ann Coulter once. In preparation, I read her most recent book. I just think of her as someone who’s outrageous for the sake of being outrageous. I suppose that has a place. She’s always good for a quote. I don’t think she should affect policy in any way. You may not like the shtick, but always remember, it’s a shtick.

What was she like?
She was very funny and very easy to interview. She’s a total pro.

It didn’t upset you?
No, because I don’t take her that seriously. I think she spends a lot of time thinking up things that are going to make people angry. Once you realize that’s what she’s doing, it’s hard to play along.

It says in your bio you won’t say who you’re voting for but you will say what’s pissing you off. So what is pissing you off?
It changes daily. There’s a lot about the coverage of this campaign that is about gender without saying it’s about gender. There’s just language that people use to discuss Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign that they wouldn’t use for a male candidate, starting with “shrill” and “strident.” Have you ever heard those adjectives applied to a man? People don’t acknowledge that there is a difference to how we describe women in power, and that pisses me off.

So at the risk of pissing you off, do you think Hillary is shrill … or how would describe her?
I’ll never use that adjective. She is basically a geek, which isn’t a bad thing. What you say at the rally is “We’re going to win,” not a five-point plan. I understand that is her natural bent, so she went with it. I think she’s not great at the public, ra-ra, get the crowd, ceremonial side of the presidency.

Do you feel that the campaigns between Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) got too nasty, or not mean enough?
I think they both acknowledge that they both want to win and campaigning is about proving your point. I think among the staffers they have really started to hate each other. I think the rhetoric of surrogates and staffers have gotten ugly, but not irretrievably ugly. It’s a close call.

What’s your take on Obama Girl?
You know that I think she was actually early in understanding the rock-star quality of Barack Obama. You can like that or not like that. Obama Girl was silly, but it was at the front of pointing out that he was not your average candidate. Now it has worn a little. Didn’t it turn out that she’s not registered to vote?

What are your favorite blogs to read?
Well, Glamocracy of course. For politics I read Red State and Talking Points Memo and I read all the sort of major news outlets — whoever’s got someone on the bus. I read the D.C. gossip site Wonkette, PostSecret, and Jezebel.

I’ve heard that blogging while female can be a strange thing in the sense that readers sometimes get unbelievably disgusting with female bloggers, writing in crude, mean posts. Do you see any truth to this?
Not on Glamocracy. They are good at policing that. I do see it on other blogs. It is amazing how quickly it gets sexual and crude. Heaven help you if there’s a picture of you on there. One had this whole thing was about how many people would have sex with me. I was shocked, of course. I was floored. [Eventually] I took it as the lay of the land. Of course it upsets me.

But on Glamour you’re protected.
On Glamour we’re protected and also the commentators are really smart. They don’t call names and people feel very strongly about the candidates and that’s the point.

Which women — aside from your mom, I’m presuming — are most inspirational to you?

I have to add my grandmother to that list, Lindy Boggs … she just turned 92. She’s extraordinary. I think there are women who are inspiration to me because they were total pioneers, like Abigail Adams. She was so far ahead of her time. Professionally, Linda Wertheimer, and Nina Totenberg, who I think of as my aunts, who did journalism despite people telling them they shouldn’t.

Which political TV shows do you enjoy most?
I don’t watch any of them. I haven’t watched Sunday morning TV since my mother stopped appearing on it. It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s that Sunday morning I’m at a soccer game. My weekends are so kid-involved. Then when I get home the last thing I want to do is even turn on “Nightline.”

You’ve had enough all day.
By the end of the day they’re rehashing stories I’ve been covering all day long. It’s not snobbery, I just don’t have a lot of time.

What do you think of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews? You still think he’s sexist?
I gave him credit for apologizing. I think Chris Matthews is not setting out to say rude things about women. I think he just doesn’t understand that some of the things he says are bad against women. I’ve come to think of him as ignorant more than anything, but I think he’s trying.

What’s your take on Chelsea Clinton? Should she have answered more questions about Monica Lewinksy?
That’s a tough one. I sympathize with Chelsea Clinton. I have to assume she got a fair amount of pressure to be out on the campaign trail. When her mother started to lose the youth vote, it became clear to everyone involved that she was needed, but I don’t think it comes easily to her and I don’t think it’s her first choice as to how she wants to live her life right now. On the other hand, she’s in the public eye. People in the public eye have to answer questions. She could use more humor. I don’t blame her for being defensive about those questions, but I think she needs to find a more skillful way to answer them.

What will you do for your mother on Mother’s Day?
It’s not just my mother, it’s my mother, both my grandmothers and my mother-in-law. My children adore my mom. I assume whatever we do will involve those little boys. They call her Cokie. She decided she didn’t need another silly grandmother nickname.
Betsy Rothstein

To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Betsy Rothstein at (202)628-8516 or e-mail her at betsyr@thehill.com.

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