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WSU hosts political discussion panel

Date: 10/31/2012

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD — Westfield State University (WSU) conducted a panel discussion on Oct. 24 regarding the current political climate and upcoming November election.

Dr. Evan Dobelle, WSU president, fielded the questions to Douglas Brinkley, author and presidential historian; Hendrick Hertzberg, political commentator and senior editor for "The New Yorker;" Shannon O'Brien, former Massachusetts Treasurer; Dan Thomasson, nationally syndicated columnist and former editor and vice president of Scripps Howard News Service; and Lowell Weicker Jr., former U.S. senator and governor of Connecticut.

During the discussion of the 2012 election, O'Brien recalled her experience running against presidential candidate Mitt Romney during the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial race, which she recounted, "I have the scars to prove it."

O'Brien stated, "What I saw was the beginning of the shape shifting [during the campaign]," referring to Romney's habit of presenting a "socially moderate" candidate. "It was difficult as a candidate to debate with someone not telling the truth." She added, "The thing that really scares me about this election is that it is almost as if the electorate is not troubled by a lack of integrity and honesty."

Negative campaign ads were another topic the panelists ruminated on — Weicker added that he was one of the first candidates targeted by such advertisements during his run against U.S. Sen. Joseph Liberman.

Hertzberg commented that candidates now the ability to separate themselves from the organizations running the hostile advertisements. All agreed that this lack of accountability is frightening because it creates a limitless horizon for attack ads.

Weicker addressed the negativity stating that we need to stop "whining" because we only have "ourselves to blame because we're all listening to and absorbing them."

He added, we need "to take it on our shoulders to correct it."

Dobelle noted that people like President Jimmy Carter wouldn't have a chance in campaigns nowadays because he "never told a lie."

Brinkley further discussed the current nature of the Electoral College in response to a question whether the United States needs to return to one vote per person. "I don't think we can get rid of the Electoral College. The principal reason being if you don't have the electoral college we're talking about money in politics right now — all of them [politicians] would be going to urban centers — Los Angeles, New York — pouring money promising every kind of perk imaginable and rural areas wouldn't get the representation. We're stuck with it the way that it is. I don't think it's going to happen any time soon."

Hertzberg wholeheartedly disagreed about the Electoral College. "I think it's absolutely atrocious that it's [one to one representation] only occurring in nine states — what about everybody else? What is wrong with electing a president the same way we elect a governor, a senator, and a city councilor?

"If we had a national popular vote, that money would be spread out. What we can do is enact the national popular vote plan, whereby if you can sign up enough states to get 270 electoral votes, once enough have signed up for that, they will all agree to choose the electors representing who gets the most votes representing the entire country. Massachusetts is one of the states that's adopted it," he concluded.

Overall, all panelists agreed that all Americans should exercise their right to vote and that regardless of the outcome of the election, both parties need to work together and return to a culture of "civility" to work together for the greater good of the country and to "rebuild" it.