PBS NewsHour anchor foreshadows political discord

By Mallory Grossman

Judy Woodruff, co-anchor and senior correspondent of PBS NewsHour, said in a lecture last night… Judy Woodruff, co-anchor and senior correspondent of PBS NewsHour, said in a lecture last night that the partisan nature of the past midterm elections could foreshadow future political logjam.

The journalist spoke last night in Pitt’s Twentieth Century Club — her lecture was titled “After the 2010 Elections: Can they Govern?”.

Woodruff spoke to a crowd of about 200 people, consisting primarily of older people with a few college students scattered about. The lecture focused on the recent midterm elections and whether those elected will be able to govern in this political climate.

Dick Thornburgh, the former Pennsylvania governor who served from 1978 to 1986, moderated the lecture, along with David Shribman, the executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Shribman began by introducing Woodruff as a person who is “fair to all — right, left, sober, drunk, adulterer — and also a dear friend.”

Woodruff said that part of the election centered on what voters were trying to say. Exit polls showed that voters were principally concerned about their pocketbooks and the economy, Woodruff said. The election results were not a widespread affirmation of the Republican agenda, but rather an expression of discontent with the current state of the country.

Republicans won across the board and gained 84 out of 100 new seats in the House while picking up six seats in the Senate, bringing the senatorial count to 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans.

She said that among the 60-plus Democrats who lost their seats in the House, most were moderate. This means that the remaining Democrats are mostly liberal, whereas the Republicans who were elected are mostly conservative — many of them were backed by the Tea Party.

“This sets up a Congress that will be even more divided,” Woodruff said.

There are different interpretations of what the election outcome means to both parties, Woodruff said. Rank-and-file Republicans believe voters want them to put forward their agenda, but Democrats say such moves would be an enormous overreach.

Woodruff thinks that with the divided Congress there will be huge battles over taxes and spending. She said Bush-era tax cuts will most likely be extended for everyone for at least another two years.

With a 9.6 percent unemployment rate, voters were anxious. At the same time, 39 percent of voters said their top priority in this election was to reduce the federal deficit, while 37 percent said theirs was to spend and create jobs, Woodruff said.

Women split the vote between parties and 12 percent more men voted Republican. She said 18- to 29-year-olds were the only group that voted Democrat, and even Independents favored Republicans.

She said that after the election, President Barack Obama has his work cut out for him for the next two years in dealing with issues such as terrorism, the war in Afghanistan, unemployment and the deficit. He does, however, have one important asset, Woodruff said, which is that there is no obvious Republican front runner to defeat him.

“There are a lot of things we can’t anticipate that will affect the 2012 elections, such as terrorist attacks, scandals and the outcome of the health-care bill,” Woodruff said.

The lecture, which was hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Honors College and the American Experience Distinguished Lecture Series of Pitt’s Dick Thornburgh Forum for Law and Public Policy, ended with a question-and-answer session.

Woodruff also stressed the importance of the American public holding elected officials accountable. She said politicians tend to speak in vague terms, so she urged voters to make sure candidates level with them.

“Go at them, demand an answer. Not just to embarrass them, but to elevate the substance of what they say,” Woodruff said.