By Tony Bara
Saint Xavier University welcomed two very well-known political analysts to discuss and debate the 2012 presidential election and other issues at the Voices and Visions Lecture last Thursday, Nov. 1.
Mary Matalin, a conservative commentator and the former campaign director of President George H.W. Bush joined Donna Brazile, a liberal commentator and campaign manager for former Vice President Al Gore.
The women kicked off their visit to Saint Xavier with an exclusive meeting and discussion with 17 student leaders in the fourth floor boardroom. Joining them was The Daily Beast editor, James Warren, who would moderate the main event later in the evening.
Brazile quickly broke the ice in the room with down-to-earth humor, while Matalin, a bit more reserved, offered a more subtle joviality throughout the evening. The discussion lasted for roughly 55 minutes, after which a group photo was taken and The Xavierite conducted a brief interview.
In total, four students managed to ask the women questions, as both Brazile and Matalin gave long and thorough responses. The questions ranged from the election, to student loans, to the American prison system. Warren also offered his thoughts on each of the questions.
The student discussion was a micro example of the larger event at 7:00 that evening held in a packed Shannon Center arena. Several hundred people attended the moderated discussion, which lasted about an hour and half. Saint Xavier President Christine Wiseman introduced the guests with a resonating speech questioning whether both the liberal and conservative ideologies are as extreme as they are portrayed in the media and in Washington.
The discussion was very reserved and civil. Neither guest seemed willing to directly engage the other on contentious issues. Rather, each spoke her opinion, allowing the other to respond. The evening was full of humorous lines and lighthearted interactions between the guests, who said that, despite their strong political differences, they remain very good friends.
Both women addressed the ongoing crisis that Hurricane Sandy has brought to the eastern seaboard, expressing their concern for the victims. They both agreed that the federal government has the responsibility to deliver supplies and aid to those in need.
When asked about any possible political ramifications the storm might bring on the 2012 election, neither believed it would. “It’s difficult for me to politicize the storm because I’ve been through storms myself,” said Brazile as she shared a personal experience.
Matalin responded that “people are sick of politics,” and that few would base their vote on a storm. She then transitioned to expressing disbelief at undecided voters. “If you’re still undecided at this point, I can’t understand it,” exclaimed Matalin as she explained how the stark differences between candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney should make the choice easier.
Both women analyzed the Obama and Romney campaigns. Brazile explained that elections come down to voter enthusiasm, and that a prime strategy should be to “make sure that those who like you come out in large numbers.”
Regarding the Obama campaign specifically, Brazile believes that enthusiasm among minority and youth voters has been lower in 2012 then in 2008. As a result, she emphasized that the Obama campaign’s efforts to re-motivate them are “key” to combating the growing enthusiasm among the religious right for Romney.
Matalin and Brazile were asked to state the biggest mistake they felt their favored candidate made during the campaign. Romney’s biggest mistake, according to Matalin, was not being aggressive enough in his television advertisements. She believes that he left many of Obama’s attacks against him unanswered.
Contrariwise, Brazile felt that Obama’s main error was being too aggressive and too negative in his campaign advertisements.
Addressing political advertisements in general, Brazile criticized the fact that political campaigns can receive nearly unlimited funds to spend. Matalin defended political contributions as free speech while admitting her belief that advertisements make little difference in an election. “People are influenced by neighbors, churches…even hairdressers” when voting, said Matalin.
Both women were also asked about their stances on the Electoral College and the fact that the election is coming down to a few so-called “swing states.” Brazile, despite having worked on the 2000 Al Gore campaign that won the popular vote yet lost the election by losing in electoral votes, feels that, overall, the Electoral College has “held up” through American history, allowing smaller states to count. Matalin agreed stating that “the electoral college has served us well.” Both believe the real problem lies in redistricting because the party in power in a given state can set congressional districts in its favor.
The two commentators both promoted their favored candidates and offered different perceptions on the nation’s state.
Brazile praised Obama, claiming that he created jobs, saved the auto industry and conducted a successful foreign policy. Even though she admitted that the country still has a long way to go, Brazile believes that voters understand Obama’s accomplishments.
Matalin attacked the President. “Despite majority support in Congress his first two years in office, Obama did not focus on jobs,” she alleged. She claimed that most people feel that the economy has not improved for them. Moving on to the role of government as a whole, she stated, “We need government that works. This government doesn’t work.” Government needs to be “helpful without being wasteful,” she emphasized.
Before the night was out, both women made a prediction on who would win the presidential election. While Brazile believes Obama will emerge with a slight victory, Matalin maintains that Romney will win by a landslide, garnering over 300 electoral votes.