Kind words in contentious times

Editor’s note: Cokie Roberts, ABC News political commentator and NPR analyst, delivered the eulogy for former First Lady Betty Ford who passed away last Friday at the age of 93. Click here to see the video.

Cokie Roberts delivered a heartfelt eulogy yesterday for former First Lady of the United States Betty Ford, a woman known for her grace and activism inside and outside of the White House–particularly in the fight for women’s rights and against addiction. Among the personal memories and anecdotes (President Ford was House minority leader when Roberts’ father, Democrat Hale Boggs, was majority leader) Roberts delivered a clear message of nostalgia for a political era that was both sympathetic and collegial.

“When Mrs. Ford assigned me the daunting honor of speaking at her funeral, it will surprise none of you to learn that the assignment came with instructions. Mrs. Ford wanted me to remind everyone of the way things used to be in Washington. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she timed her death to make sure she could convey the message of comity this week, when it seems so badly needed.”

In the eulogy, Roberts recalls an interview she conducted with President Ford about the Constitution, a series featuring all the living former presidents at the time produced by the National Constitution Center and WHYY-TV.

When the cameras were off, the President asked her what had happened to Washington since his days in office: “When your father was Majority Leader and I was Minority Leader, we would get in a cab together on the Hill and we would go downtown to some place like the Press Club and we’d say ‘Ok, what are we going to argue about?’ Now, it was a real debate. We had different views about means to an end. We genuinely disagreed with each other, we were certainly partisans. But after we went at it, we’d get back in the cab together and be best friends.”

Best friends? In today’s political climate I think we’d all settle for pen pals, but in a week when we also commemorated the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, history tells us that politics can be a game of tough love. What do you think, should Congress be bosom buddies or are we better off when our representatives shoot at one another from the hip?

Stefan Frank is the National Constitution Center’s Director of Digital Engagement and manager of Constitution Daily’s Twitter account @ConDailyBlog. Follow us!

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