Donna Brazile, the interim chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, spoke at Colorado College on Thursday, Sept. 1. As the first speaker of a series, Brazile kicked off the 2016 Sondermann Symposium by calling for civility and better dialogues in American politics.
The Sondermann Symposium was named after Professor Fred Sondermann, who taught in the Political Science department at CC from 1953 to 1978. Professor Sondermann came up with the idea of a presidential symposium and organized the first one in 1968. Since then, the Political Science department has made a commitment to organize presidential symposiums in subsequent election years. The 2016 symposium is the 13th in a series.
As one of the main organizers of the 2016 Symposium, Professor Elizabeth Coggins is satisfied with the overall success of the event. “I could not be more pleased with the Symposium thus far,” she said. Donna Brazile drew hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and Colorado Springs community members to CC’s Kathryn Mohrman Theatre.
“As a department, we believe that Ms. Brazile’s work with young people made her a great person to kick off our event,” Professor Coggins said. “We knew her message would resonate with our student body, and she would invigorate the students for the upcoming election season and set the right tone to approach the elections.”
A big supporter of Hillary Clinton, Brazile rarely mentioned the names of either Clinton or Donald Trump in her 40-minute speech, although they were implied on a couple of occasions. During her speech, the veteran Democratic political strategist emphasized the need for more civil political discourses and better dialogues in polarized American politics.
“I don’t know why they’re screaming at each other. I agree. People are whispering what we should be saying out loud, we want a better dialogue, we want a conversation,” Brazile said. She emphasized that people should always be respectful towards their opponents, even if they have different opinions. Brazile also encouraged young people to vote and seriously considered the consequences of not filling out a ballot this November.
Professor Coggins believes that Ms. Brazile’s message about civil discourse comes at “an incredibly important time” in American politics. “Understanding and practicing how to talk to each other, especially those on the other side of the aisle, is critical,” Professor Coggins said. “The political science literature demonstrates that polarization in Congress is at an all-time high. While these same levels are not evident in the public, there’s no denying that Americans are divided on some cultural and social issues—and these are the most difficult issues to discuss, especially in a civil manner.”
Sophomore John-Henry Williams, the head of CC with Bernie, commented, “Overall, I thought Donna Brazile is a very good speaker. I think that she would be a better candidate than Secretary Hillary Clinton.”
Williams also expressed his frustration about Brazile’s talk. “There are not a lot of substances to what she had to say. She didn’t talk about a lot of policies, what Democrats were dealing with as a party. I understand that she was trying not to be partisan, but she just kept making vague Hillary Clinton statements. Other than that, most of [the speech] was just joking.” He added that Brazile’s responses to many questions raised in the Q&A session were political, but not satisfactory. He expected Brazile’s talk to be more informational about American politics.
At the end of July, WikiLeaks released 20,000 internal DNC staff emails, which openly favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the primary. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign, and Donna Brazile became the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee.
On July 25, Brazile apologized on behalf of the Democratic Party. “I sincerely apologize, my friends, for those of you who took offense and were offended, for those of you who feel betrayed and were betrayed by the ridiculous and insensitive and inappropriate emails released from the Democratic Party,” she said in a statement. Brazile added, “Those words do not reflect the spirit of this party, this party of Franklin Roosevelt, this party of justice and peace and Lyndon Johnson, this party that made sure that I had a head start … this is not the party that would write emails like that.”
However, as the head of CC with Bernie, Williams is not satisfied with Brazile’s responses. “It is very good for [Brazile] to have made the DNC apologize. The apology and five staff members stepping down is a good start, but I don’t think it’s enough. I speak on behalf of lots of Bernie people that it was not satisfactory.”
“The DNC had a fundraising commitment with Hillary Clinton all throughout the primary that raised millions of dollars for her. [The fund was used] to actively undermine Sander’s campaign, which had 13.6 million votes. So that is far more than an apology and five resignations.” Williams called for a full-scale investigation by an independent party to ensure true transparency.
After resignation, Wasserman Schultz beat Tim Canova and won the Democratic primary for the 23rd Congressional District in Florida on Aug. 30. Williams stressed, “The Democratic Party helps to re-elect Debbie Wasserman Schultz with Obama campaigning for her, the DNC (Democratic National Convention) sending her resources, Vice President Biden campaigning for her, Hillary Clinton campaigning for her. Debbie Wasserman Schultz was also invited to Hillary Clinton’s campaign the day after she was fired. If Wasserman Schultz is too corrupted to run the Democratic Party, she is also too corrupt to be a congresswoman.”
As Williams points out, Donna Brazile is also implicated in leaked emails. On May 13, when a Washington Post reporter asked Brazile to comment on the “fight between the Sanders camp and DNC over adequate representation on the platform committee and others ahead of the convention,” Brazile forwarded the press inquiry to DNC officials and wrote, “I have no intentions of touching this. Why? Because I will cuss out the Sanders camp!”
Donna Brazile called for more civility and better dialogues in American politics. Instead, Williams emphasized, “The biggest problem of American politics is that we don’t hold politicians accountable. If you can be kicked out of the DNC and be reelected, I would feel safe as a congressman to do whatever the hell I wanted, because I know I get reelected again if I told people what they want to hear.”
Next up in the 2016 Sondermann Symposium is the moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week,” Gwen Ifill, who will be on campus this Friday.
Listen to Donna Brazile’s talk below: