This semester's GU Politics fellows discuss their plans for the year, what it's like being back on a college campus, and the current political climate.

Hannah Urtz is a staff writer for The Hoya.

The fourth class of Georgetown’s Institute of Politics and Public Service’s fellows includes five resident experts in politics, government and media, as well as a sixth visiting fellow, José Díaz-Balart, the anchor of NBC Nightly News Saturday and Telemundo News.

The resident fellows consist of Ron Bonjean, top spokesman for former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott; former White House Communications Director Mike Dubke; Marie Harf, former senior adviser to Secretary of State John Kerry; former Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.) and Liz Sidoti, head of U.S. communications for BP and former national political editor and correspondent at the Associated Press.

In an interview with The Hoya, the fellows discussed their expectations for Georgetown students, goals for the upcoming semester and thoughts on the current U.S. political climate.

What brought you to Georgetown and to the GU Politics Fellows Program?

Murphy: I think we all share concern for our country, regardless of what side of the aisle we’re on, and we all want to see our country work better. Certainly, with my experiences in the Congress and as a candidate, seeing things from the inside and some of the structural problems, I think — not to be cheesy — it is going to take a new generation to fix. The well is too poisoned right now. You’re never going to have a complete reset button, but the folks who are in school now and who we get to have these discussion groups with, will hopefully be the leaders of our country in one capacity.

Sidoti: I really wanted to be back on a college campus. It’s been 20 years, and I feel like the only reason that I got to be where I am today is because I had a lot of mentors along the way and a lot of people who helped me see the bigger picture. So I felt really strongly about, at this moment in my career, turning and giving back and working with students to learn from them and understanding their ideas about how corporations and businesses can play a role in public policy, in politics and in business.

Harf: I think it feels like a very uncertain time in politics and in media. Liz said something very interesting the other day, that you used to be a skeptic, then you started becoming a cynic. And I think that a lot of us are kind of in that same boat right about now, and coming to a college campus and doing a lot of the puzzling through these issues in our discussion groups and talking to students is a good way to help all of us figure the new normal out.

What do you hope to achieve this semester?

Dubke: I hope to have our discussion groups turn into real discussion groups. A lot of times, when you’re in our groups you’re in a bubble. Not just a political and socio-economic bubble, but also an age bubble. So I am looking forward to having discussions with the undergrads, with grad students and whoever comes to get a myriad different opinions on the topics of the day.

Bonjean: I think that coming away with a sense of enlightenment, a sense of broadening experiences, as we all have our own experiences and ways of figuring out what’s going on and opinions and ways of developing those out, learning from students and talking with them about what their ideas are and what their approaches are to public policy and the world at large.

Harf: [Former White House Communications Director] Jen Psaki, who was a fellow here last semester told me that doing this would restore my faith in the future. I know that’s a high bar, but I think that’s a good thing to strive for.

Murphy: I’m really curious and interested to learn from the students about how they think politics needs to change, with their fresh set of eyes, whether that’s the way they consume media or information or the way they see themselves voting in the next 20 years. Millennials don’t stand in line for banks or to write a check. You really expect them to stand in line for two hours to vote?

Sidoti: Five minutes on campus is a great way to humble someone like the five of us. I’m just a working-class kid from Ohio who got to Washington and through a lot of hard work and connections and got to a place with a great career. But walking around campus and encountering students who are far smarter than you is incredibly empowering and intimidating, but also kind of gives me real hope for the future of the country and who’s going to lead it.

Harf: No pressure Georgetown students, but don’t mess it up.

Do you have any ideas about how to engage a broader range of students, outside of those just in your strategy teams?

Sidoti: People tend to only read and consume information that they agree with, and I think that kind of partisanship is really what’s causing the paralysis in America. So if your generation is willing to have a more open mind about ideas and the exchange of ideas, the world is going to be better for it.

Dubke: It’s really difficult to come up with a new thought or an idea you’ve never had before if you’re only reading Breitbart or The Nation. And it’s really hard to get exposure to a broad swath of stories that give you a whole host of things that you might come across by accident. Especially for students, it’s really those accidental discoveries that may lead you in a different direction than you ever thought you might go in.

What are your thoughts on the current U.S. political climate, given your respective backgrounds and experiences?

Bonjean: The current political climate is weird. What is up is down and what is down is up. The current political gravity no longer applies, and we’re in an extreme, disruptive atmosphere. That’s really the topic of my discussion group, “Is This the New Normal?” You know, are we at a tipping point in politics where this is ever-defining?

Murphy: There are a lot of things we can blame for the current climate, but beyond all that I have to say that in my experiences campaigning in Florida for about two years, there was the constant belief that the American dream wasn’t there anymore, that more and more Americans believe that their children will not be any better off than they were.

Dubke: It’s a very exciting time if you’re 18, 19, 20 years old because you are really at the vanguard for whatever this next “it” is going to be. I don’t know what it is going to be. We’re all grappling with that, and you see that permeating our politics now, and it was on full display in 2016.

Harf: I think there is this notion that politics today is somehow meaner, but I think it is always been pretty tough. I think with the technology and the weight, information and these sort of falsehoods can ricochet across the internet and the fact that you can’t always correct that or combat it has made these times feel even more uncertain.


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