As millions across the country followed the midterm elections on last night’s news, Williams students and community members were treated to a unique experience in the ’62 Center’s packed MainStage: a question-and-answer session with MSNBC personalities Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski ’89.
The event, titled “Beyond the Midterms: A New Way Forward,” saw Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, fielding questions first from Brzezinski and then from students in his trademark mix of biting wit and incisive opinion. Three times during the hour-long session, Brzezinski interrupted Scarborough with updates from the elections.
Scarborough and Brzezinski began the night by discussing – and occasionally sparring on – topics ranging from troops in Afghanistan to national debt, from waterboarding to blind faith in party affiliations.
Subsequently, students grilled Scarborough on DADT, immigration, climate change legislation, Tea Party candidates, campaign finance reform and fluctuations in state-wide voting trends. Scarborough was enjoying his stage visibly, several times ignoring Brzezinski’s signals to move on to the next question.
Given both the day’s vote and the contrast between the political leanings of Scarborough and of the majority of his audience, the two-party system and bipartisanship were running themes throughout the evening. “I’m hoping that over the next two years Barack Obama and the Republicans will understand what Bill Clinton and the Republicans understood in the 90s: For the sake of America, they have to work together,” Scarborough said in
According to Scarborough, he and Brzezinski wanted to find “a great college where we could have a really important conversation” on elections evening. “Williams is at the top of the list, and we want to talk to the future leaders of America,” he said in an interview.
Clips of the session, taped by a professional camera crew, were broadcast on MSNBC this morning.
The event was co-sponsored by the President’s Office, the political science department and the leadership studies program. However, it was Dick Quinn, director of sports information, who brought Scarborough and Brzezinski to the College. Two years ago, Quinn had written a profile about Brzezinski, who ran cross-country and track for the Ephs. “When [Scarborough and Brzezinski] started trading comments about Williams and Alabama, where Joe went, I texted Mika to see if she was serious about coming,” Quinn said.
According to Carrie Greene, academic program director, neither Scarborough nor Brzezinski were paid a speaking fee. The only cost to the College – shared with MSNBC – was that of bringing in a professional camera crew.
Two students, Will Slack ’11 and Will Piereson ’11, were involved in planning the event. “This is about more than the midterms – it’s a chance for people to converse and hear from a national political figure who is coming here for us,” Slack said.
Many hope that Scarborough’s message will increase student activism and political involvement on campus. Vera Cecelski ’13, a member of the recently formed College Democrats, applauds the event as an opportunity to “foster an informed political culture” at the College. “I really wish that the student body was more engaged politically,” Cecelski said, “not even necessarily in particular campaigns so much as issues.”
Zina Ward ’12, who is active with the Democratic Party in Bennington, Vt., and with the Vermont gubernatorial race, noted that a seeming lack of discussion surrounding the elections does not necessarily indicate apathy. “Part of the problem this year is that there’s much less urgency because it’s a midterm election,” Ward said. “It’s easy for students to put off or forget to register or to request an absentee ballot.”
According to Peter Skipper ’13, College Democrats president, Williams’ isolated location makes it “even more important to have a group that can coordinate with organizations like the Berkshire Brigades and the Democratic State Committee to find ways for students to get involved.” Skipper points to the group’s recent trip to a Deval Patrick Rally, which was punctuated by a visit from President Obama, as well as voter registration drives on campus and local campaigning in Williamstown, North Adams and Bennington, Vt., as indications that the College Democrats will be able to improve political activism on campus.
After the election, the College Democrats will focus on promoting intellectual discussion on political events and policies on campus. “We’d like to have more guest speakers in the areas of political engagement and leadership come to campus as well,” Skipper said.
Additional reporting by Tyler Holden, photo editor.