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Academics
September 27, 2012

Ny Times Columnists Frank Bruni Speaks at Volpe Lecture

Offers Advice on How to Make Politics More Civil

New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Frank Bruni spoke about why the best candidates for office don't run and offered advice on how the political debate can be made more civil as the featured speaker for the Thomas J. Volpe Lecture Series on Thursday, September 27 at St. Francis College.


Bruni said that in his 18 months of covering George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential election he was most surprised to learn that the desire to reach a high political office rarely matched a candidates desire to be on the campaign trail and do what it takes to achieve that goal.

"There are many ways in which this process has become harder and more unattractive for the people who might contemplate doing this," said Bruni who is concerned that "we're not getting some of the best people in the political arena."

Backing for his argument comes from President Bush, who told Bruni during his first campaign against Al Gore, "'There are a lot of people who would make great presidents and the problem is that none of them choose to run, there's just the two of us.'"

Among the reasons Bruni says people don't run is money. He points out that each candidate in the current presidential election will have to raise about one billion dollars.

"You have to resign yourself to panhandling 16 hours a day," he points out. "Who would want to do that?"


He worries that the amount of money coming in, particularly through political action committees may create a situation where candidates are setting policy because of their donors. And while raising money is a grueling and demeaning process, Bruni said it's just one of the reasons potential candidates are repelled. He points to changing media coverage that centers around gaffes and miscues rather than substantive policies. The increased media and social media coverage also means that no part of a candidates life is private.

Looking at one of his own work; a profile he wrote on Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown; Bruni admits that in hindsight, he probably went over the line in sharing a personal anecdote.

He says to change the way the media covers politics and to make the election process more appealing people have to change the way they interact with each other.

"Until we all talk to each other in a more respectful way and until we all acknowledge that people have differences of opinion that don't make them idiots or don't make them corrupt or don't make them evil, I don't think we're ever going to be able to work together or get anything done in Washington," said Bruni.

He adds that when people on the grassroots level become more civil, the conversation at higher levels will reflect it.

Speaking about the lecture, Thomas J. Volpe said, "Our students have gotten sense of what it takes to achieve their dreams and have a passion for what they do."

The lecture series is funded through a generous gift from Thomas J. Volpe, Chairman Emeritus of the St. Francis College Board of Trustees and a former Senior Vice President of Financial Operations for The Interpublic Group of Companies, Inc.. Guest speakers offer an international perspective in a variety of fields; from business leaders to world leaders. Past speakers include authors Pete Hamill, E.L. Doctorow and Salman Rushdie, Russell Simmons (Def Jam), Mariane Pearl (wife of slain reporter Daniel Pearl), Paul Rusesabagina (the real Hotel Rwanda hero), Lech Walesa (former President of Poland, Nobel Prize winner) and George Mitchell (former U.S. Senator, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, baseball steroids report).

Attached photos: (Frank Bruni) (St. Francis College President Brendan J. Dugan '68, Anita Volpe, Frank Bruni, Thomas J. Volpe)

St. Francis College, founded in 1859 by the Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn, is located in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Since its founding, the College has pursued its Franciscan mission to provide an affordable, high-quality education to students from New York City's five boroughs and beyond.

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