Last night’s World Forum on the Future of Democracy provided welcome insight into political realties that the United States and other nations will have to face in the coming years. We are proud that the College hosted this high-profile event, which marked the end of the year-long 400th anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown Settlement.
p. Serving as panelists in the forum were former Supreme Court Justice and current College Chancellor Sandra Day O’Connor, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and Ali M. Ansari from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. We welcomed the visit of moderator Jim Lehrer, who serves as the anchor and executive editor of PBS’s “NewsHour.” The gravitas Lehrer brings to political discussions from his years as a national correspondent brought prestige and recognition to the forum and the College.
p. The College is privileged to have figures such as O’Connor and Eagleburger, who once served on the College’s Board of Visitors. The College’s connection to important figures in American politics should remind students that, despite the College’s occasional funding problems, we are part of a community that it is at once historic and relevant to the most significant issues of the day. The entire yearlong Jamestown anniversary also highlights this dichotomy, celebrating America’s historic past while also discussing its future.
p. We appreciated the panelists’ frank discussion on democracy. Rather than hailing democratic systems as infallible, all three panelists acknowledged that there remain challenges, even to the developed American democracy. O’Connor noted that a nation “isn’t a success by hanging the word democracy on some system.” O’Connor explained that for the system to work, all participants have to be absolutely dedicated. We appreciate that sentiment.
o, Largely missing in recent years at the College have been high profile and consequential political showcases like last night’s forum. In 1976, the College hosted a nationally televised presidential debate between President Gerald Ford and then-Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Since then, we have occasionally hosted newsmakers such as former President George H. W. Bush, former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. However, their appearances have not generally been geared toward significant policy discussion. For a college as historic as ours, we encourage the return of national leaders and newsmakers. We hope that administrators can continue to keep the College a prominent place for public discussion and debate.
p. Outside of the public session held at William and Mary Hall, Defense Secretary Robert Gates ’65 spoke of democracy abroad, especially in relation to the Bush administration’s Iraq War policy. While Iraq will remain a divisive issue for a nation that is increasingly concerned about the direction of the war, we are happy that this debate is happening here, at our College and in our city.