The Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) hosted journalist David Frum, CNN contributer and a former special assistant to President George W. Bush, on Thursday, Mar. 15. Frum addressed the audience in Shriver Hall about the changing political climate and discourse in the United States.
He opened by paraphrasing the response to a question posed to former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill on his last day in office.
"In my 35 years in the House the people have gotten better, but the results have gotten worse," Frum said.
Frum explained that in the 1940s and 1950s many politicians were alcoholics, lecherous and often corrupt. He said that in today's world, politicians are far less likely to take bribes and state governments have improved significantly over the last 30 years. At the same time, the government has run up serious deficits that will pose substantial multi-generational problems.
Frum asserted that in the past, party leaders would negotiate policies over a glass of whiskey, but that, today, there is a complete lack of communication between the majority and minority leaders. He blamed this situation on the amount of time politicians spend on raising money. He believes that American politics have become very polarized and that hostility between parties has led to the adoption of many disruptive political tactics that ultimately impede the efficacy of the legislative branch of government.
Frum noted that there has been a significant shift in the way people vote.
"The parties are very divided and extremely ideological now. It used to be that a Democrat from Montana could identify way more with a Republican from Montana than with a fellow Democrat from New York. That is no longer true. Democrats from Montana identify more with Democrats from New York," Frum said.
Frum also discussed the media's affect on politics, emphasizing that, even though society is significantly smarter than in the past, it does not hear crucial information about the government. He claimed that the people are more interested in learning about specific issues, such as abortion or a corruption scandal than a piece of legislation.
"The news networks are now specialized and have a targeted audience. Politicians are playing into this," Frum said.
However, Frum said that the increased partisanship in America stems from a myriad of factors and a gradual process. He recalled Ted Kennedy launching a 45-minute "scathing attack" on the senate floor after Ronald Regan appointed Robert Bork to the Supreme Court.
"The type of language that Kennedy used was shocking," Frum said. "This type of attack had not been seen since the civil war."
Frum noted that the diminishing decorum in American politics has led to many economic problems and an overall decrease in the United States' power. Throughout his speech, he outlined many of these problems and possible resolutions.
"In 1985 the US produced 50 percent of the world's output. By 2025 we will only produce 33 percent of the world's output," Frum said. "We must be smarter."
Frum suggested greater fiscal tightening and insisted that many customs in Congress that are tacit and that have become commonplace should be altered. He believes that the practices of Senate holds and filibusters hinder the government. By making the political process more fluid, reforming the budgeting process, giving more power to committee chairmen and changing the practices of the majority leaders, Frum thinks America can increase efficiency.
Frum disagreed with President Obama on foreign policy; he believes that instead of "apologizing," America should strengthen.
"Obama has this idea that, given our current trend [the diminishing power of the US and the rise in competition from emerging markets], the best thing to do is to be nice to everyone. In reality the best thing to do is to stop declining," Frum said. Frum shared his serious qualms about President Obama's decision to post the names online of everyone who visits the White House because, if a White House staff member needs to have a meeting with the head of a particular company, their competitors and various affiliates will want meetings as well.
Once Frum finished his speech, he opened up the floor to questions in a very town hall like manner. He never spoke at the podium; he stood on the main floor with the audience. Many students said that this different style enhanced their experience.
"He was extremely intelligent, eloquent and down to earth. It was great how he turned it into a classroom community setting. I had a lot to learn from him," sophomore Michael Saint-Germaine, a staff member of FAS, said.
Jillian Martynec, Executive Director of FAS, said that Frum added to the theme of this year's FAS.
"As the world becomes increasingly complex, many of the functions that yield advancement also expose new vulnerabilities. In his speech, Frum discussed how American politics has continued on a downward trend for over a decade now, and though he would agree that the amount of technological and international progress we've made is significant, he still sees the United States as moving backwards both in terms of international influence as well as domestic improvement," Martynec said.
In an interview with The News-Letter, Frum commented on the GOP primary race.
"Romney will win the nomination, but I have never seen so much resistance within the party to the inevitable candidate," Frum said. "No one thinks more systematically than Romney. He would make an outstanding president, but it's a tough battle."
Frum also had some words of advice and caution to youth interested in politics.
"Don't be seduced by the glamour of Washington D.C.," Frum said. "The real politics are in the states and cities. Do that until you're about 34, then come to D.C. if you want."