The Hamilton community crossed and recrossed the aisle on October 18 during the inaugural Common Ground discussion, which featured David Axelrod, former chief strategist and senior advisor to President Obama, and Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to President George W. Bush. Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today, served as moderator.

President David Wippman said in his introduction that Hamilton has a duty to engage students and members of the community in both sides of important discussions, and ideally, to find a place of common ground among seemingly incompatible positions.

Over the course of the evening, Rove and Axelrod covered a vast array of relevant political issues, almost all of which resulted in degrees of agreement. These included: the role of the media in civic engagement, the deportation of undocumented immigrants, trust in government, free speech on college campuses, radicalism, and right- and left-wing populism.

Underlying all of these topics was a sense that our current political climate is different than it has been in the recent past: Our president is domineering, politics is exhausting to follow, and people are sick of the slow, deliberative pace of lawmaking. Though there is certainly an “a natural ebb and flow” to these things, as Page said, Rove characterizes our present era as one of “no ebb, it’s always flow.” Axelrod reaffirmed Rove’s characterization and further offered that this flow-only politics tacitly encourages reckless and rash decision-making since “if you’re willing to light yourself on fire, they have to pay attention to you.”

In agreeing that flow-only politics is exhausting and takes us off the right track, Rove and Axelrod also agreed that a solution would be stronger national leadership. Axelrod called for “leaders — not just presidents — to talk about those things that unite us as Americans, and not just those things that divide us.” Similarly, though in a more comical tone, Rove stated that “We need a president who will provide that leadership. Because there needs to be an adult in the room.”

The speakers agreed that in our present condition of political polarization strong unifying leadership is exactly what we need to move forward and reaffirmed their belief in the American political system.

Earlier in the day Rove and Axelrod met with students enrolled in Government honors thesis classes and “American Political Process,” and the “Critical Thinking” Philosophy class. Page had lunch with Spectator staff and discussed the current state of American politics and journalism.

Common Ground is supported by the Pohl family in honor of Hamilton graduates Arthur, Class of 1914, Harold, Class of 1915, Leland, Class of 1917, Harold ’50, George ’51 and David ’54 in recognition of their affection for the College and their long association with the Central New York region.

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