Speakers stress importance of citizen involvement at assembly

Students from Northern Kentucky University and area high schools listened as Newt Gingrich, former U.S. House Speaker, and James Carville, political consultant, answered questions posed by audience members on issues ranging from homeland security to voter turnout.

Christopher Wright, a junior at Ludlow High School, liked hearing the opinions and perspective of the speakers without it being filtered through the news. “It gave a really fresh view,” Wright said. “I’m a lot more interested in politics now than before I came.”

Gingrich, a conservative republican, and Carville, a devout liberal democrat, were on NKU’s campus Oct. 9 for the third annual Alumni Lecture Series. The two men, known in the public arena for their differing views, were surprisingly agreeable on the issues raised at the question and answer session, particularly on the importance of citizens getting involved in public policy.

“Pick something you’re interested in and like and work on it,” Carville said. “If you’re a fisherman, get interested in clean water. If you’re religious, join the pro-life movement…something that effects public policy.”

Being involved in and educated about public policy is essential to the democratic system and self-governing, according to Gingrich. The people loan power to government and should know the issues facing the nation. He urged the crowd to get informed before voting. “If you are not involved or educated on candidates or issues…it is not an intelligent vote,” he said.

Carville said the modern political strategy might be to blame for citizen apathy towards politics and voting. “The parties make it appear as if they don’t disagree on many issues,” he said. “It is hard for people to see a distinction” between the republican and democratic parties today.

The differences are there and should be seen by the public, according to Carville. “Airing out differences is a good thing,” he said. Most things, like the current issue regarding the war on terrorism, need to be discussed, he said.

The American system has a good track record for forcing themselves to get things done by discussing issues ranging from the quality of water to war and the two parties are very significant to that process, according to Gingrich.

People can say the political parties are vain, but they can’t say they are irrelevant, Carville said. The biggest lie ever told was not when Clinton said he didn’t have sex with Monica Lewinsky, but when Ralph Nader said it doesn’t matter who is president, he said.

“When I hear someone say it doesn’t matter, I’m hearing someone too lazy to be a good citizen,” Gingrich said.

According to Gingrich, the American political system starts with the premise that all are created equal under God and that the people govern the nation. People must be involved in order to effectively govern.

The 2000 Presidential election should have shown the American people that every vote counts, Gingrich said.

Carville and Gingrich did disagree on one issue – what they felt was the most pressing issue facing America today. Carville is concerned with healthcare and retirement costs while Gingrich felt education was the priority. “If we don’t create enough people who know enough to run the country…the system will break down,” he said.

While Gingrich and Carville both stressed the importance of public service, Gingrich also offered some advice to the audience, particularly the young people, to guide their future. He said if they do five things: dream big, work hard, learn every day, enjoy life and be true to yourself, they will be amazed at how much fun life can be.

Carville agreed but added “somewhere in every one of you lies a genius.” He told the crowd to match their passion with their genius and they will have a great life.

Those comments made an impression on Elise Lucas, a senior at Covington Latin High School. She said Gingrich and Carville’s advice was “very important” for young people to hear.

The guests from Covington Latin were accompanied by their American Government teacher, Andy Barczak, an NKU alum. He said it was important for the students to see a national figure up close and hoped the experience would encourage the students to be involved and consider public service careers in the future.