Former Massachusetts Governor William Weld and Washington Post Columnist E.J. Dionne will be the participants in this year’s Blair Debate at Adams Memorial Theatre Wednesday night at 8:00 P.M. The debate will feature conservatives and liberals arguing the topic, “What is Government Good For?” Organizers are expecting a large and varied crowd for the debate, which is free and open to the public.
The Blair Debates, which began in 1993, have continued annually with gifts from Thomas Blair ’43 and the sponsorship of the Oakley Center for the Humanities and Social Sciences. The purpose of the debates is to illuminate opposing views of contemporary issues and foster increased political discussion among Williams students. Past debates have drawn such notables as ex-governor of Massachusetts and 1988 Democratic Presidential nominee Michael Dukakis and Charles Murray, the author of “The Bell Curve,” a controversial book on ethnic and class differences in Intelligence Quotients.
Professor Meredith Hoppin, in her second year as Director of the Oakley Center, commented that this year’s debate should be a lively one. She remembers last year’s debate between Hazel O’Leary and Linda Chavez as one in which “they had to artificially generate any spark in the debate,” but the sharp wit of Weld and Dionne will make that unnecessary this year. Weld and Dionne have both gained commendation as leading voices of their respective political ideologies.
Weld began his political career as the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts in 1981. In 1986 President Ronald Reagan appointed him assistant U.S. Attorney General, and in 1990 Massachusetts elected Weld as Governor. Credited with reviving the state’s suffering economy, Weld ran away with the 1994 election, winning a second term with 71 percent of the vote.
Weld became a national figure in 1997 when he resigned as Governor to accept President Clinton’s nomination for the Ambassadorship to Mexico, only to have Jesse Helms derail that prospect. Helm’s point of contention was Weld’s liberal social beliefs.
Hoppin added that Weld’s mysterious political aspirations lend extra suspense to this debate. “Weld continues to play coy but he’s clearly not ruling out running for president,” she said. “And the fact that he’s doing interviews like this, that is just one more sign that Weld is making himself visible so that he may leave the option open.”
Weld last visited Williams in 1993 to receive an honorary degree.
Dionne joined the Washington Post as a political reporter in 1990, after 15 years with the New York Times. He became a contributer to the op-ed section in 1993. He has written several books on public opinion and its relationship to political ideology.
Hoppin expects the debate between Weld and Dionne to draw a large crowd to Adams Memorial Theatre. “My only hope is that people don’t get turned away,” she said.
Professor of Political Science Tim Cook will be moderating. The debate will begin with opening statements from each participant for 10-15 minutes. Two brief rounds of rebuttal, lasting between three and five minutes for each side, will follow. The debate itself will then end with closing statements, but 30-45 minutes of questions from the audience will ensue, with the debate ending some time around 9:30 or 10:00.
“I liked the idea of doing it right before the election when people might be thinking about political issues a little bit more,” said Hoppin.