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Former Harvard President Larry Summers Compares 2020 and 1972 Elections At IOP Event

Former University President Lawrence H. Summers, pictured here at a 2014 event, moderated a talk about the upcoming presidential election at the IOP Wednesday.
Former University President Lawrence H. Summers, pictured here at a 2014 event, moderated a talk about the upcoming presidential election at the IOP Wednesday. By Madeline R. Lear
By Bridger J. Gordon, Crimson Staff Writer

Former University President Lawrence H. Summers and former Senator Gary W. Hart of Colorado cautioned Democrats to moderate their political platform ahead of the 2020 presidential election at an Institute of Politics event Wednesday.

Summers, who moderated the event, said he thinks the upcoming election parallels the 1972 race, in which Hart managed George S. McGovern’s unsuccessful presidential campaign against incumbent Richard Nixon.

“The Democratic Party had lost a very close previous presidential election with a candidate from its establishment,” he said. “There was a very strong sense that the party needed to turn in a big new direction, that it needed to become far more progressive, that it needed to dismiss established political leaders and follow the passions of young people.”

Summers also said he thinks that in both elections, Democrats felt pressure to cater their platform to “people who felt intensely rather than reaching to the middle,” that economic disparities formed key campaign issues, and that some candidates championed initiatives designed to redistribute wealth.

Summers — who served as secretary of the treasury under President Bill Clinton and an economic adviser to President Barack Obama — said he thinks Democrats should learn from the lessons of the 1972 campaign in order to avoid a similar defeat in 2020.

Hart agreed with Summers’ analogy and said he does not think focusing on government redistribution programs was a winning strategy in 1972.

“Redistribution programs generally in American history have only worked in bad economic times,” Hart said. “If the economy is fair to good, a program that has massive redistribution probably isn’t going to work.”

More than 50 College students and Cambridge residents attended the event.

Perry Arrasmith ’20, who attended the forum, said he decided to come because he was eager to hear Hart speak.

“I ended up reading about the 1984 presidential primary and the 1988 Democratic primary and how media evolved during those events. In the process of doing so, I heard a lot about Gary Hart’s policies,” he said. “He was definitely a revolutionary politician, so I was interested in hearing him speak.”

Arrasmith added that he thinks the event was “great” and offered a timely history lesson.

“I think in the last few years Americans have been talking a lot about how our politics have evolved over the last thirty years,” he said.

—Staff writer Bridger Gordon can be reached at

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IOPHarvard Kennedy SchoolLarry Summers