David Brooks lecture discusses elections, political climate through moral lens

Lachlan Johnson

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Political commentator and writer David Brooks spoke to a large audience in Cordiner Hall on Monday, Oct. 15, addressing American political culture and the narrative surrounding the candidates in the 2012 presidential election. The speech was followed by a brief question and answer session moderated by Associate Professor of Politics Shampa Biswas. Brooks was brought to campus through funding from the Office of the President, and the event was promoted throughout Walla Walla and the state of Washington.

Cordiner Hall was filled to capacity by New York Times columnist David Brooks. Photos by Becca Mellema.

Cordiner is the largest auditorium on campus, but it was nearly filled by the large crowd, which included members of the Whitman and Walla Walla community as well as alumni, parents and visitors from farther afield. Publicity provided by Northwest Public Radio promoted the lecture throughout Washington, and the Office of the President worked to spread word of the lecture through posters around campus, resulting in a significant number of attendees from off-campus.

One of the questions asked after the talk concerned the audience Brooks writes for in his biweekly New York Times column.

“The generational audience … I actually have is … generally experienced and seasoned,” said Brooks. “[However,] my basic view of what we do as op-ed columnists is that we get read by people in power, but they don’t read us [and change their policies]. I can only try to influence the next generation … that may come into come into power. I try to think about the younger people [when I write] more than any other group.”

While college students may be turning more frequently to “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” than traditional media sources Brooks works in, a large number of students attended Brooks’ speech. Though Brooks is known as a conservative, he critically analyzed both Obama and Romney during his speech, using humor to hold students’ attention.

“I think he was refreshingly neutral,” said first-year Lane Barton. “When he had opinions he would make sure that it was known that they were opinions, and he would say that ‘I believe in it this way, but you have the right to view it the other way.'”

Brooks spoke about the differences between the generations in his speech, noting that while narcissism has risen steeply since his generation, a whole host of other factors such as teenage pregnancy and crime rate are in decline. He also addressed issues surrounding each candidate, particularly the toll the presidency has taken on President Obama and Romney’s struggle running as a non-ideological man in an extremely partisan election.

“I think we have two genuinely good men running. I’ve covered them both a fair amount of times and seen them in many different circumstances, public and private, shared meals with them, and they’re both human. If they were not running for office you’d be very impressed by either of them,” said Brooks.

Brooks’ personal experience with the candidates and his role as a major political commentator in the national media were major motivations behind President George Bridges’ choice to invite him to campus as part of the presidential debate lecture series funded by the Office of the President.

“It’s very important to ensure that we as a campus engage the issues that are being discussed in the election,” said President Bridges. “I’ve heard David speak before; his writing is very thoughtful and he has engaging ideas.”

President Bridges asked Assistant Professor of Politics Shampa Biswas to act as moderator for the lecture. Biswas introduced Brooks before his lecture, and provided several questions of her own during the Q&A session before taking questions for the audience.

“I have read his columns for a long time. I think he’s a very important political commentator. He’s an interesting thinker and I’ve enjoyed his interventions into many different political debates even when I have disagreed with them. So it seemed like a great opportunity to have a conversation with him,” said Biswas.

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