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LEWISBURG, Pa. — Veteran NBC newsman and best-selling author Tim Russert kicked off the Bucknell Forum's national speakers series Tuesday night saying the 2008 presidential election is wide open.
But Russert, speaking at a packed Weis Center for the Performing Arts on the Bucknell University campus, said the political situation is Washington is "poisonous" and that the next president of the United States must find common ground to bring the country together on significant issues as diverse as the war in Iraq, health care, energy independence, and Social Security.
(The Russert talk will air on BU TV the next two weeks each day at noon, 7 p.m., and 10 p.m.)
"We are capable doing this if we are willing to accept a simple notion: That one party and one ideology does not have a monopoly on the truth," the moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press" said. "If you look at World War II, if you look at the national highway system, if you look at our higher education system, if you look at all the things we've done as a nation which have made the quality of our life in this country second to none, it has been done with bipartisanship. Sometimes one party leading the effort more than another, but in the end people come together and find a consensus and say this is the right thing to do."
Russert said, "That is what is so lacking in Washington. The situation there is now poisonous. People don't want to talk to each other. They want to fight. They want to arm for the next election."
He said with 390 of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives deemed "safe seats … There is no incentive to reach across the aisle and try to achieve common good."
The media, he said, plays a crucial role in this process.
Solutions and answers
"We can put people on from the far right and far left and let them go at it like caged animals. Or, we can try to find people who are also trying to find solutions and answers who have legitimate and serious differences," he said.
The difficult job in 2007 and 2008, Russert said, is that "we have to find out from these candidates what they really intend for us."
The campaign for president is "wide open. But what we have is a situation where the candidates are very comfortable with their Web sites and they're very comfortable with their advertising. They want to package everything in a way that sounds very appealing… Nowhere in those ads or on the Web sites do you see how we're going to pay for it," he said.
Election far from over
"Our job in the media, your job as citizens – and that is what this forum is all about – is to try to elicit from these candidates their thought processes, their intellectual journeys," he said. "This election is far from over. Remember a year ago, everyone said it's Hillary Clinton versus John McCain. Well, that's not what people are saying today. Things change, things happen. And you will have a chance to participate."
Russert speculated that the nominees from both major parties will likely be known in early February or by March at the latest.
"This is a crucial, critical election," the newsman said. "We are going to make a decision as to which person we want to be overseeing our policy on Iraq, and on Social Security and Medicare, and on health care, and on energy independence, and on AIDS education. Elections matter."
"The Bucknell Forum: The Citizen & Politics in America" is a national speakers series exploring major issues in the 2008 presidential election, notably those at the forefront of today's national discourse. The series will feature nationally renowned leaders, scholars, and commentators exploring these issues from multi-disciplinary perspectives and offer opportunities for campus and community conversations.
Brownbag lunch conversation
On Wednesday, Sept. 19, the first "Citizen & Politics in America" brownbag lunch conversation, featuring several Bucknell faculty, will be held from noon to 1 p.m. in Walls Lounge. Participating in the lunch conversation are Tony Massoud, associate professor of political science; Scott Meinke, assistant professor of political science; Tom Rich, professor of mechanical engineering; Steve Stamos, professor of international relations; and Michael Johnson-Cramer, assistant professor of management.
Two additional Bucknell Forum events are planned. On Oct. 18, a panel of national political correspondents will meet and on Nov. 5, Dr, Benjamin Barber will give a talk titled, "The News as commodity in an Interdependent World: Can Citizenship Survive?"
Visit www.bucknell.edu/theforum for more information.
Russert proved to be a crowd pleaser after speaking for more than a half-hour and taking questions from the audience. He said he remembered when Bucknell beat Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2005. That's when he pulled out an orange Bucknell cap and football jersey and said, "Go Bison!"
Here is a roundup of the regional news coverage of the Russert event:
Posted Sept. 18, 2007
Updated Sept. 20, 2007