Univ. kicks off Festival of Ideas

February 17th, 2012

The Daily Athenaeum
By Joann Snoderly
Feb. 16, 2012

West Virginia University’s Festival of Ideas kicked off its spring lecture series Thursday in the Mountainlair with former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.

Ford started his political career at the age of 26, becoming one of the youngest members to serve in Congress, and was described by former president Bill Clinton as “the walking, living embodiment of where America ought to go in the 21st century.”

Ford served as the chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and is now managing director and senior client relationship manager at Morgan Stanley, a news analyst for NBC and MSNBC and a professor of public policy at the NYU Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

He spoke to students, faculty and community members Thursday about the importance of campaign reform in politics today and about seizing opportunities.

In the early days of his career, Ford said he struggled to find opportunities to speak to people about his campaign.

When a volunteer for his campaign scheduled a series of kindergarten graduation speeches, Ford reluctantly accepted the opportunity.

“Unlike my opponents who were out speaking to labor unions and business groups and adults, I was out speaking to five-year-olds,” Ford said.

But, he soon found out those speeches provided him a base among parents that allowed support for him to grow, and he eventually went on to win the election.

“I remember the story often, in every aspect of my life, because you just never know how moments or circumstances or opportunities that seem to not resemble what it is you want to do in life and seem to not have any bearing whatsoever on the things you want to pursue can turn into something bigger and better,” Ford said.

Ford said when it comes to politics in America today, the solution is simple – just listen.

“People don’t listen enough. The idea of listening to the other side when you assume that the other side is wrong just doesn’t happen,” he said. “I think if this next generation is more willing to listen, we may get more done.”

Ford said the influence of money has dominated political campaigns, and to break free, citizens must learn to vote for the individuals with the best motives no matter how much financial backing they may or may not have.

“We have too much money in American politics, and we have too much predictability in outcomes in too many political districts across the nation,” he said. “I hope for a day in politics when we not only elect the best, but we have the best people running and the best ideas being debated.”

In regard to the upcoming election, Ford said he hopes people will consider the issues from all angles before voting.

“I can only hope that those of this entire great academic community in Morgantown will take this season between now and November as serious as this Festival of Ideas would encourage us to do,” he said.

Junior sports management student Tyler Clays said he thought Ford raised many valid points in his lecture.

“I would vote for him as president,” Clays said. “I liked how he talked about compromise in Congress. My favorite point was that it shouldn’t just be a Democrat versus a Republican. You should be able to run for office regardless of whether you’re backed by your party.”

Kristen Pennington, a junior international studies student, said she attended the event because of a long-standing interest in politics and left with a fresh perspective.

“He’s so insightful about our politics and our political system, and he really has an interesting perspective because even though he’s very involved with politics, he’s objective enough to look at issues from all sides,” Pennington said.

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