National political analyst and Harvard Kennedy School Professor David Gergen has seen much in his years as an adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.
Yet unlike any previous time in our post-World War II history, today’s politicians seem to be unable to find “common ground,” Gergen told an audience of 400 in Palm Beach Atlantic University’s DeSantis Family Chapel on Thursday.
|Sen. George LeMieux interviews political analyst, professor and author David Gergen in the DeSantis Family Chapel on Thursday.|
He noted that while there always have been strong ideological differences between members of the Republican and Democrat parties, when the chips were down we all were Americans first.
“The system isn’t failing us, we’re failing the system,” said Gergen, a Republican. “Leadership matters. … We have to produce leaders who will make the system work.
“It is about all of us working together. … We cannot fear minorities and diversity.”
Gergen was the inaugural speaker for the LeMieux Center for Public Policy at Palm Beach Atlantic. The LeMieux Center provides students with opportunities to engage with state and national officials, journalists, authors, academics and other notable thought leaders on issues important to Florida, the United States and the world.
Following his public lecture, Gergen sat down for a question-and-answer session with Sen. LeMieux, whose senatorial papers are housed at PBA’s Warren Library.
Speaking about the current climate in Washington, Gergen said that he is a short-term pessimist and long-term optimist about solving the nation’s debt problems and the future of America, in general.
“Washington has become a drag on the economy,” he said. “This year it probably will cost us a point on our GDP (Gross Domestic Product). … We have to do some things to clean up (that situation). … But there are things happening at the state and local level that are very, very encouraging.”
|David Gergen, right, joins Sen. George LeMieux at a meeting with Palm Beach Atlantic University students on Thursday.|
Gergen cited a growth of, and the potential for much more growth in domestic energy production, especially of natural gas extraction through hydraulic fracturing technology – known as “fracking”; and encouraged construction of the controversial Keystone Pipeline.
He said that new technologies such as 3-D manufacturing would keep America a leader in the technology field and help bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. – “onshoring” – something he said he hears more and more business executives talking about these days.
With regard to the current administration, Gergen said he voted for President Obama during his first run for the presidency.
“As a white Southerner, I voted for Obama as a matter of redemption,” said Gergen, 72, a North Carolina native, reflecting on his 2008 decision. “Historically, it was unimaginable that we might someday elect an African-American as president.
“Obama’s place in history is assured as America’s first African-American president,” said Gergen, but added that the jury is still out as to how his overall presidency will be viewed. The success or failure of Obamacare and the U.S. debt situation when he leaves office will be major factors, he said.
Gergen noted that he did not vote for President Obama in 2012 – nor did he vote for GOP nominee Mitt Romney. He said that instead he wrote in the name of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg because Bloomberg is a social liberal and someone with solid economic ideas.
He said that President Obama is a better campaigner than he is a presidential leader and that his cool, aloof style does not readily lend itself to the give-and-take of the legislative process. However, his political legacy may be enormous based on the coalition he has fashioned between women, young people of the “Millennial Generation” and minorities – all of which voted overwhelmingly for Obama.
Gergen also pointed to the strong sense of optimism he has about the Millennial Generation coming up and into its own; and he noted that one positive effect of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is the number of U.S. servicemen and women returning with strong leadership skills and a can-do spirit.
|Sen. George LeMieux visits with attendees following David Gergen's presentation on Thursday in the DeSantis Family Chapel.|
“This generation reminds me of the World War II generation,” he said of the growing commitment of young people to public service and servant leadership as demonstrated through such programs as Teach for America and PBA’s own Workship, which combines the concepts of work and worship.
Gergen said his best advice for PBA students was to read – especially biographies of great men and women, and to learn lessons from their struggles. He particularly cited biographies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” And he encouraged them to see films such as “Lincoln,” which show the greatness of the man and the American system, but also the flaws.
“Politics can be noble, even though the nitty-gritty can be quite ugly,” he said.
Prior to his public address, Gergen met with a small group of PBA honors students, to whom he offered words of advice.
“You need a wide bandwidth,” he said. “You need a capacity to deal with more than one problem. You need a capacity to move to a new job…. you are going to hold jobs people don’t even know are out there because of the creativity and the innovation going on in this country.”
Students going away to college should be careful not to forget their high school friends and others who helped them along the way, he cautioned. “I think you have to grow your own wings, but you have to remember your roots,” he said.
He also encouraged students to focus on more than just getting a degree.
“A degree is very important, but a degree is a means to an end," he said. "The end is, what kind of life are you going to lead?”