Speaking before a capacity crowd in Maxey Auditorium on Oct. 23, veteran journalist Ray Suarez offered a blunt assessment of the economic challenges facing the nation. But he started things out on a slightly lighter note, commenting on the timing of his visit to Whitman the week after a talk by New York Times columnist David Brooks.
“I want to thank Whitman for bringing me out here, and for arranging for me to go second so I get the last word after my friend and colleague David Brooks,” joked the senior correspondent for The NewsHour on PBS. “Actually, I saw David last night before I left the office, and he said I was going to have a good time and that he really enjoyed his visit, and so far so good.”
Whitman invited both Suarez and Brooks to be part of a special two-part political speaker series focusing on the U.S. presidential election. Paul Apostolidis, associate professor of politics and Judge and Mrs. T. Paul Chair of Political Science moderated Suarez’s lecture, which included a lively Q&A session. Suarez also met with small groups of students.
“In my view, Mr. Suarez drew attention in very compelling ways to the failure of both major presidential candidates to speak frankly about the depth of suffering involved in the ongoing economic crisis,” Apostolidis said. “I’d have liked to hear more about not just the problems but also the solutions he thinks are not being discussed this campaign season – for instance, restoring union rights or creating a public jobs program. Still, he made an important point by underscoring this serious gap in political discourse.”
In his speech, titled “Election 2012: The American Political Landscape,” Suarez covered a host of topics central to the upcoming election – those being widely discussed on the campaign trail as well as those both candidates seem reluctant to address, such as the housing crisis, threats to Social Security and climate change.
“Especially in a close election, neither candidate wants to take what is perceived as a risk to talk to this country’s citizens about how difficult the economic realities really are,” he said. “They can’t talk about what’s really going on in the world economy. So what’s considered ‘sayable,’ what’s discussable, what’s debatable, gets very narrow; too narrow to adequately reflect the depth of the challenge and the size of the danger in the coming years.”
Prior to his public lecture, Suarez offered a ray of hope about education, emphasizing, “educated people vote more.” He also praised the liberal arts in particular for teaching students the value of learning for its own sake in order to better understand “how we got here as a society, how human beings tick and how the world works.”
“These are all important things, no matter what you’re going to do for a living,” he said. “I value my liberal arts education, and I just put two kids through college and I know they value theirs.”
Jacob Frei ’16 from Oakland, Calif., attended both the Suarez and Brooks events and said he came away with a similar message from each speaker: that both presidential candidates face an uphill battle when it comes to fixing the economy, but neither is eager to admit it.
“I think that what Suarez had to say is a very important message for Whitman students,” Frei said. “Our generation faces arguably the stiffest competition for jobs since the Great Depression, and we will not find as forgiving an economy as our parents did. It will certainly take more hard work to reach the sort of prosperity our parents have, but that does not mean it’s impossible. I agree that the ultimate hope is that if enough of us hang on, as Suarez put it, we can create a better outlook for the next generation.”
—Gillian Frew ’11