By Ben Lucas, ‘12
(NOTE: Iowa Public Television will rebroadcast the Culver Lecture on IPTV World, which is Channel 11.3 in central Iowa, 12.3 in eastern Iowa, and 119 on Mediacom. Times of the rebroadcast are 7 p.m. April 18, 9 a.m. on April 21 and 5 p.m. on April 23.)
Political analyst Mark Shields says Americans should remain optimistic about the future, but there are areas to improve.
Shields, best known as a national political columnist and commentator, delivered the second annual Culver Lecture at Simpson College on April 11, entertaining the packed crowd in Great Hall with funny observations about former presidents and other politicians.
The list included Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker and current Republican presidential candidate. Said Shields:
“In 1996, he (Gingrich) was at 16 percent approval in the polls. He turned to Bob Dole. He said, ‘Bob, why is it that people take such an instant dislike to me?’ Bob Dole said, ‘Newt, because it saves them time.’”
But Shields had serious observations, too.
He talked about how Americans have always approached politics or problems optimistically.
“Americans are, by actual measurement, the most optimistic people on the face of the planet,” Shields said. “It is deep within our genes as a people.”
Despite this optimism, Shields said he has seen some things he disagrees with in America’s current political system. He said he is unhappy that a small percentage of Americans have had to shoulder the burden of a war the entire country should maintain.
“We have a reached a point in this country when those we put at peril are totally divorced from those in power,” Shields said. “We have advocated what was a great American tradition, and that is that war demands equality of sacrifice. In this war, all the suffering, all the sacrifice, all the pain and all the burden have been borne by less than one percent of Americans.”
Shields said that more public engagement would help, and that it was important to remember what public engagement in the past has been able to achieve.
“We have to remind ourselves what we have accomplished, the great things that we have accomplished as a people,” Shields said. “It is also a reminder that an army does not fight a war; a country fights a war. If a country isn’t willing to fight a war, it should never send an army. That, to me, is another test of our character.”
The Culver Lecture is an initiative of Simpson College’s John C. Culver Public Policy Center in honor of former Sen. Culver’s commitment to service, and it is intended to motivate youth to seek out service opportunities in their communities and abroad.
Shields urged Americans to remember to use the political process to address problems and keep from demonizing the other side, and that cooperation is America’s best hope for current and future challenges.
“It’s not about one party winning or the other party winning,” Shields said. “Like John Culver, I believe that politics is nothing more and nothing less than the peaceable resolution of conflict among legitimate competing interests. And I don’t know how a nation as big… and wonderfully diverse as ours, how else we’ll resolve our differences except through the political process.
“And I hope and pray that we never do it by sheer numbers, or muscle, or might or just money. I believe it’s through the care, the commitment, the passion and the creativity of those who participate in the political process.”
Shields was born in Weymouth, Mass. and graduated from the University of Notre Dame. He also enlisted in the Marine Corps before working for political campaigns before eventually covering them in his column. He has lived and worked in Washington D.C. through nine different presidents.
He ended his talk by sharing his hope for the future and reminding the audience that each generation leaves behind a legacy future generations will remember, and a system where people work together can build a better future.
“I admire that kind of politics,” Shields said. “The kind of politics that John Culver practiced and believed and lived by and that asks this very question: Not, ‘Am I better off, or are you better off, but are we better off?’ Are the weak among us more secure? Are the strong among us more just? Because in the final analysis, every one of us lives with one inescapable test, and that is that each of us has been warmed by fires we did not build. Each of us has drunk from wells we did not dig. We can do no less for those who come after us. Together, we can do much more.”