Hope in the Political Sphere

One of the highlights of attending Drew University is what is known as The Drew Forum.  More specifically it is called The Thomas H. Kean Visiting Lectureship.  To quote the very thorough program I received:

The Thomas H. Kean Visiting Lectureship was established by former Drew University President Tom Kean to annually bring to campus a political scientist, historian, or statesman of exceptional national or international prominence to deliver a lecture to the entire university community and members of the general public.

Past speakers of this program have included figures such Eli Wiesel, Tony Blair, Anderson Cooper, Bill Clinton, and Laura Bush to name a few.  [Partial List of past speakers]  This year’s series has focused on America Post-9/11, Terrorism, and foreign politics.  The first three speakers included former NJ Governor Thomas Kean (also former president of Drew and head of the 9/11 commission), former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and Foreign Affairs analyst Robin Wright.

Tonight, it was my pleasure and privilege to attend the final lecturer of this series, former US Secretary of Defense, Dr. Robert Gates.

“I think it’s a terrible shame that politics has become show business.”
~Sydney Pollack~

As a political science major and as an individual interested in politics both foreign and domestic, it is difficult, frustrating, and discouraging to watch the bureaucracy that seems to color so much of politics that we see in our country.  The partisan divide and flat out animalistic savagery that occurs in Washington D.C. is, unfortunately, what many average citizens take politics to be.  Issues that go on outside this country and even those that go on domestically are drowned out by the seemingly endless clash between unyielding ideologies, distracting scandals, and mudslinging amongst candidates around election times.  It is no surprise then that so many Americans demonstrate disinterest or disgust when political conversation arises.  The most common thing I hear in regards to politics is “There’s no such thing as an honest politician.”

Having listened to Dr. Robert Gates speak tonight, I would have to say that I disagree.

Dr. Robert M. Gates, 22nd Secretary of Defense

Robert Gates is a man who has worked in multiple areas of government, and under presidents from both parties, and is astonishingly well-regarded.  I am not writing this to wax poetic about his accomplishments or career, but I will say this: listening to him speak was a refreshing experience.  He is an engaging speaker with an easy sense of humor, and was very well-spoken throughout the lecture portion of the evening.  But the moment he truly shined was during the Q&A session at the end.

Asked questions about controversial issues such as Afghanistan, North Korea, Israel, and the value of NATO, Robert Gates was not only honest and forthcoming in his answers but knowledgeable.  I realize that many people take this last trait for granted but it is shocking how truly uninformed political figures can be about certain issues.  Not once did Gates fall back on any party ideological answer or give a vague roundabout response.  Everything he said had depth, information gleaned from experience, and a willingness to speak what he believed about a matter regardless of outside opinion.

It is a shame that he has retired, because he is truly a unique individual in the realm of government.  He gives me hope that it is possible to go into politics and get things done, while still holding on to and articulating one’s views.

A great finish to a very engaging lecture series.

“Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”

~John Quincy Adams~

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