Posted by: Joe Eds | October 9, 2009

David Gergen


Last night at Bovard Hall on the University of Southern California campus, I saw David Gergen speak as part of The President’s Distinguished Artist And Lecture Series for the university. Story here. Gergen, currently the editor-at-large at US News & World Report and a political analyst at CNN, has been an adviser to four different presidents (Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton) which he wrote about in his book Eyewitness to Power. He writes and lectures extensively on leadership.

The hall was filled with mostly students and teachers. As neither I had to pay extra to attend, but that did not matter. I read his book and find him to be the most likable pundit on the cable / news shows. He is a down-the-line centrist, and his punditry usually amounts to “sages of wisdom” advice to candidates and political parties.  He spoke for about an hour and a half last night and below are few nuggets of wisdom that he shared:

#1 Problem – The USA’s biggest problem is “we need to reform ourselves”. The most important thing we need to reform is K-12 education. If we don’t change that and fast, the country’s medium income will decline steadily over the next decade. On the flip side one of our country’s bright spots is our research universities which compete as the best in the world we attract some of the top minds all over the world.

Leadership – Gergen described that their is a “leadership gap” in our country. In the past five years leading up to the ’08 election, most Americans see a clear “lack of leadership” when it comes to all fields, not just politics. The only two areas where Americans see strong leadership is in Medicine and the Military.

On Obama – Overall he spoke highly of the president according to the President’s staff the big problem is the President is still transitioning from “campaigner” to “Chief Executive of the Country”. Part of being a good CEO is making thing stick. Not just talking them up, but carrying them through. He also described Obama as “Lead from behind” organizer, sort of like herding cows. The president is in the back trying to get everyone in order (i.e. Congress) then lead in a general direction. Gergen pointed out many presidents have to, at certain times, lead from the front. People need to follow you.

On GOP – in times when a party is trying to re-define itself, there is a vacuum where the shrillest voices get the most attention. He predicted they will pick up seats and governorships in 2010. But, at the moment, those who are self-identified Republicans is at an all-time low. They don’t fix that, their party is going nowhere.

The Media – Even as he labeled himself part of that system, he pointed out there is no leadership there because it is so fragmented, and there needs to be more consideration for what stories are run and not run.  He described the ‘birther’ story as ridiculous and can’t believe “certain outlets” would even bring it up. Big applause.

Energy – should be at the top of both Congress’ and the President’s agenda. He also thought it was ridiculous how little attention nuclear power receives when new energy policy is discussed. That got a big applause.

And before he concluded his lecture and began asking questions he pointed out that you should never speak to a college crowd longer than 40 minutes. After that he said, “Half are falling asleep, the other half are deeply engaged in sexual fantasies.” Good laugh.


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