Former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, the fourth speaker in the 2012 Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium, shed light on the current state of our country, and the key role that Hopkins students will play in our nation’s future in a speech in Shriver Hall last night.
The event saw a significantly larger turnout than the past two Symposium events, presented by gay rights activist Lt. Dan Choi and Teach For America founder Wendy Kopp respectively.
Huntsman, who has also served as Governor of Utah and United States Ambassador to China, has been active in American politics for more than two decades.
In his speech, he spoke of his political experiences to provide the audience with his insight on contemporary politics and the future of the country.
Huntsman began his speech by praising Hopkins as an academic institution and describing how Hopkins students are gaining the skills to take forward into a world that may seem scary or questionable. He comforted the audience by relating this point to his own experiences. He discussed how in 1979, when he was in college, there was a national state of hopelessness.
“Sometimes we experience outright fear. We come close to complete destruction, and yet, we are somehow able to turn things around just when it looks like it’s completely hopeless,” Huntsman said.
He went on to quote President Woodrow Wilson, who received a doctorate in Historical and Political Science from Hopkins in 1886.
“Be a person of your nation, but also, be a person of your time in history,” he said.
These words set the precedent for the rest of his one-hour speech. Huntsman stressed that the fundamental issue that has plagued the United States in contemporary politics is an internal one. There is, he said, an immense political division in our nation that inhibits us from propelling forward on an international scale.
During his speech, Huntsman reflected on his own experiences during his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination this past year. He discussed how debates have transformed into “game shows” where candidates are barely given the opportunity to speak.
“You walk off after debates and the conclusion is this: the barriers to enter this game are pretty damn low,” Huntsman said, prompting laughter and applause.
He built upon this point to enforce his point that the United States is currently on the brink of change — and that the participation of younger generations in this change is crucial.
In spite of his Republican politics, Huntsman did not address partisan issues. He kept his speech moderate and focused each his argument on the role of the youth in the evolving United States.
“I really appreciated the moderate stance Huntsman took on politics throughout his speech. By choosing to focus his speech on our generation, Huntsman gave me hope for a less polarized political system in the future,” freshman Rosie Peck said.
In the midst of this transformation, Huntsman addressed the major deficits and issues that exist on a national scale. He commenced his speech by discussing the United States’ various “deficits,” fiscal or otherwise.
“You can’t point a finger of blame, as everybody wants to do, at one person, or one administration, or one political party,” he said of current budgetary issues.
The next deficit, which Huntsman discussed at a greater depth, is what he described as the “national trust deficit.” He pressed that younger generations must work to reconstruct the federal government into one that receives the trust of the American people.
“We somehow, someway, have got to rebuild the primary system that speaks to broad based turnout with a whole lot of people early on,” Huntsman said.
He went on to address more topical issues, addressing themes from the previous night’s Presidential debate at Hofstra University in Minneola, N.Y.
“I think we’re looking at the very real prospect, as a nation, for an American manufacturing renaissance,” Huntsman said.
He emphasized the importance of China in the immediate future of the United States. Huntsman served as the United States’ Ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011 and drew heavily upon his experience.
Huntsman concluded his speech by discussing the rapid development of the United States, especially by means of technological advancements and the enormous potential this brings to future generations.
During the standard question-and-answer section, he answered a broad range of questions on various issues in politics and the current election. When Huntsman was asked about his stance on the United States’ role in Middle Eastern countries such as Libya, his response stressed the importance of diplomacy and how the United States, in his opinion, should not think in terms of the military. Though he remained neutral on the subject of the upcoming election, Huntsman did note that if President Obama were to win Ohio, it would essentially win him the presidency.