IOP Fellows Wax Political in Dunster JCR

Unnamed photo
Meghan T. Purdy

Institute of Politics fellows share their views of Capitol Hill last night in Dunster House. From left, former Clinton campaign official Lisa Davis, Republican strategist Joe Gaylord, and New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney.

Five of the seven fall fellows from the Institute of Politics (IOP) gathered to discuss paradoxes inherent in public service with students in the Dunster House Junior Common Room yesterday evening.

The panel members, who represented both sides of the political spectrum and hailed from different professional backgrounds, including journalism, said they were concerned that a campaign mentality can interfere with good governance.

All agreed that the current presidential administration has tried to govern with tactics generally used while campaigning. They disagreed on the causes and effects of this phenomenon, though, and even differed on the merits of such a strategy.

Joe Gaylord, an IOP fellow and veteran Republican strategist who worked for Newt Gingrich when he was speaker of the House of Representatives, said candidates should run issue-focused campaigns rather than “personality fights.”

He suggested that President Bush may have eroded his political clout by spending more time campaigning than governing this past summer, when he toured 65 cities to push his social security plan.

Lisa Davis, another fellow who worked on the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign, argued that campaigning on specific policy issues, not during the election season, can be a way of keeping the population involved in the political discourse.

Although such campaigns can be executed with varying degrees of success, she said they are necessary to prevent leaders from becoming “a couple of guys in a back room,” deciding everything for the country.

Fellow Benjamin Ginsberg, who was a counsel for both Bush-Cheney campaigns, said he found it “troubling” that politicians are forced to resort to campaign tactics to draw the public’s attention away from murder trials and other sensational news.

Fellow Martin Frost, a former U.S. Representative, D-Texas, noted the current political polarization. He said that Reagan was the last president truly to seek bipartisan support, because his party’s majority in Congress was so slim that cooperation was necessary to get anything done.

But Adam Nagourney, chief political correspondent for The New York Times, attributed the polarization to the increased availability of information, which forces politicians to get “louder and more coarse” to win attention.

He also suggested that journalists’ “bias toward conflict,” rewards politicians who breed contention, rather than those who cooperate.

Joshua C. Sharp ’08, who attended the panel, said he was struck by the agreement among the panelists, despite their diverse backgrounds. He said this indicated the value of the IOP as a place where political opponents can meet and discover what they have in common.

“This may be just as good an experience for them as it is for us,” he said.

David J. Lokshin ’08, who attended the event and asked the panelists for advice on choosing between public- and private-sector work, said he was impressed that the panelists seemed to be speaking without political agendas.

“I hope their advice is helpful, because I plan on taking it,” he said.