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Charlie Cook Passes The Baton On 'The Cook Political Report'


Charlie Cook has been called many things, quite a few of them nice, like a prophet of the polls, the Picasso of election analysis and, of course, founder of the Cook Political Report, which he began in 1984 and has been looked to for reporting on how elections might unfold. But after a long career, Charlie Cook is handing the reins over to his colleague Amy Walter, now the owner, publisher and editor-in-chief for the Cook Political Report. Charlie Cook joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

CHARLIE COOK: Thanks for having me on, Scott.

SIMON: Got to throw a high, hard one at you first, OK?

COOK: Uh-oh.

SIMON: America's crumbling. Congress can't agree on an infrastructure bill. We're in the middle of a public health crisis. Congress couldn't agree on a measure to stop millions of people from getting evicted. The House minority leader says it'll be hard for him not to hit the Speaker of the House with a gavel. And he says he was joking. Is American electoral democracy broken?

COOK: You know, for the longest time, I heard people say that, and I didn't agree. But I do think the wheels are starting to come off the bus. I moved to Washington as a freshman in college in 1972 when Richard Nixon was running for reelection and started the newsletter when Reagan was. You know, the process was never efficient, but it did work. And I worry that while we do have some really high-quality people that run for office every two years, the quality isn't as good as it was 20, 30, 40 years ago. There are a lot of problems in the system.

SIMON: Well, I - point us to a few that we should know about.

COOK: The thing is that so many people on each side don't even attempt to pretend to be civil. You started seeing in the particularly '80s and '90s self-sorting where the conservative Democrats in Congress or the liberal Republicans in Congress, for example - you know, they died. They retired. They lost primaries. They lost general elections. And so instead of a left-of-center party, the Democratic Party became a liberal party. And the right-of-center party Republicans became a right party. We've got political apartheid in this country.

SIMON: When you talk about how things used to be more civil in politics, there are a lot of people who today would complain that's because a lot of people weren't represented as they should have been. And there are a lot of people that feel that was the problem with politics. It was an old, white, male club where, of course, they were civil.

COOK: But I would suggest if you, you know, sort of look at the policy product, that in those days, someone who is your adversary today on this issue, on another issue might be your ally. But this is more scorched earth. This is more, I will not vote for anything that is sponsored or co-sponsored by X, Y or Z. And what you get is paralysis when that occurs. Well, sometimes, paralysis isn't bad. But I mean, we used to get something that was sort of halfway in between. And now, more often than not, we get not much.

SIMON: Let me ask you to cast back over your career. Any one or two examples of conspicuous political courage you think we might learn from now?

COOK: Bill Cassidy, a Republican senator from Louisiana - voting for impeachment conviction as a Republican in Louisiana? Wow. Or for that matter, any of the Republicans that voted for a January 6 investigation or for conviction or respect the election results? Wow, those are gutsy, gutsy moves.

SIMON: Isn't part of democracy, though, the elected official who can say to the people they represent, look. I know you might disagree with me on this, but this is my conscience. I'm going to vote this way. If you want to vote against me for reelection on this vote alone or a few more, you can do that.

COOK: Well, I haven't heard it lately. Have you? I've seen a few people who have done it, but I'm not sure I can think of somebody who's actually said that. Instead, it's more interpreted as someone who's betraying their side. It's - you know, do you want a representative democracy, or do you want one where you elect people who are smart and have good intentions to study these issues and make what they think is the right decision? You know, when you look at the U.S. Senate, the Senate doesn't play the role it used to. You know, it's becoming just simply another House of Representatives except with people elected statewide. You know, there's a reason why they were statewide. There's a reason why they had six-year terms to insulate them from the mood of the moment. It wasn't intended to be a majority rule institution, really. But that's where we're headed. Wow. This is depressing for a weekend, you know?

SIMON: Well, tell us something that you think is positive on the horizon.

COOK: You know, I'm a baby boomer. I think we've had our shot. I have hope that maybe the next generation or two coming along online will be different, will be better. But people used to ask me, well, what do you think would cure our partisanship? And, you know, I thought, well, you know, maybe it was - be a national crisis. You would think the public health crisis of a century would pull the country together. But instead, it became a dividing point. So I think people ought to be sort of - do some soul-searching here about who they're voting for. And why are they voting the way they are? And the next time they complain about what's going on in government, maybe think about, well, how did those decision-makers get there? Boy, that was supposed to cheer people up, but it certainly didn't do that.

SIMON: Charlie Cook, a political analyst, founder of the Cook Political Report, thank you for a sober assessment.

COOK: Well, thank you, Scott. Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.