If there ever was a pair of Washington insiders, it would be former U.S. Sens. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss. Daschle was Democratic leader from 1995-2005, Lott was Republican leader from 1991-2003. Each served as Senate majority leader twice.
Together they have accumulated 59 years in elective office. Despite their political and philosophical differences, they became friends. Moreover because of the leadership roles they have held, they also understand that making democracy work is complicated. They know from their years on the forefront of the political system that without compromise in order to find common ground, our system of government cannot function.
Now, after more than a decade of watching from the sidelines, the two have grown increasingly concerned with the polarization of government and the implications of all this for democracy. In January they went public with these concerns, with the release of a book they co-authored called “Crisis Point: Why We Must — and How We Can — Overcome Our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America.”
The book has largely received reviewer praise, including from Amazon, which described the book as “invaluable” and a work of “conscience, as well as duty.” But the book is more than a good read for policy wonks; it outlines a detailed prescription for fixing a process that clearly has gone awry and challenges voters to change the nation’s course by getting more engaged in the 2016 elections.
Turns out they got their wish; the public is engaged, as evident by the large number of Americans watching the presidential debates. But to what end? And, with less than a month left before the November elections, what do they think now?
On Oct. 18, we will get a chance to find out as the University of Kentucky’s Martin School of Public Policy and Administration will host Daschle as he delivers the annual Wendell H. Ford Public Lecture at 4 p.m. at the Gatton College’s Kincaid Auditorium.
The lecture is named for the late Kentucky senator, who served as Democratic whip when Daschle was the Democratic leader. Daschle’s topic will be “The 2016 Federal Elections: Crisis Point in a Dysfunctional Political System.”
Following his presentation, the audience will hear from an excellent panel who will interact with him regarding the challenges to the nation posed by the current governmental gridlock. Panelists include former chair of the Republican National Committee Mike Duncan; Director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues Al Cross and Associate Professor of Political Science Steve Voss.
Given that the Martin School is training the next generation of public servants through our professional programs, it will be interesting to hear what Daschle and the panel have to say, especially in light of how he and Lott concluded a recent piece in the Washington Post:
“Democracy requires active engagement, mindfulness and tolerance. We can’t expect our leaders to do their part if we don’t do ours. We must retake control of our duty as Americans. The only way to turn the spiral around is for the individual American to make a commitment to vote in the coming year ... It is in our hands.”
But does Daschle foresee any hope for change, or as he and Lott previously opined, only “a disheartening replay of years past”? The Martin School invites the public to hear the answer to this question on Oct.18.
Ron Zimmer is director of the University of Kentucky’s Martin School of Public Policy & Administration.