A large crowd of students, parents, alumni and friends gathered at Haertter Hall on the John Burroughs campus to hear former Senator Jack Danforth share his views and perspectives on civil discourse in politics, religion and beyond.
After a brief reception, Danforth took the stage.
The former senator’s opening remarks began with a bit of humor as he addressed the crowd. He stated that he was a student of the old Country Day School which is now MICDS and quickly added that he has grandchildren who attend Burroughs. The audience exploded with laughter.
A common theme throughout, Danforth focused on polarization in politics and self-segregation. He applauded diversity in points of view and encouraged all to embrace those who have different ideas from their own.
“We are polarized as a country. Extreme polarization is the problem,” said Danforth.
He noted that the media is largely to blame for helping to further this practice by catering to one side or the other, some lean to the left, while others lean to the right. This practice said Danforth allows people to “hear what you want to hear and only listen to like-minded people.”
He recounted speeches by Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell and their message to the country. Danforth quoted Kissinger, ‘We are our own problem. We have got to come together as a country.' Danforth agreed.
Danforth laid out his ideas for improving the political climate. He proposed compromise across the aisle.
“Compromise has become a dirty word,” said Danforth.
Danforth talked about his first experience after just getting elected Senator in 1977. He was on the Senate Finance Committee and the floor was open for suggestions on the issues at hand. Danforth, brand new in the senate, proposed a tax cut and much to his surprise his proposition was approved. He realized the approval was largely due to the shared belief in the value of helping out the guy from the other side of the aisle. Bipartisan worked back then, but not as much any more according to Danforth.
Danforth firmly believes in this credo; “Hold the Country together by compromise." He then went on to say, "You have to understand that compromise is the way to come together.”
Danforth spoke of the reasons the Senate is so divided and unwilling to compromise. He said it is due in part to “a lack of social interaction. They (families of senators) don’t move to Washington (after election). The spouses and children don’t know each other.” He shared with the audience that when he was senator, his social friends were equally from both political parties.
Danforth spoke of other dividers. He said that religion “has the capacity to be divisive, so, the separation of church and state.” Not only is Danforth a politician; he is an ordained Episcopal priest.
After Danforth’s brief remarks, the floor was open for questions. A young man posed the question, “What advice do you have for the younger generation as it relates to politics?"
Danforth answered, “Rebuilding the senate is important. Be out spoken and respectful of a variety of perspectives, those who are different from you. Like them and get to know them. Agree to disagree."
Senator Danforth served 40 years in politics which began in 1968 as Attorney General of Missouri. He represented Missouri in the U.S. Senate from 1976-1994. During his tenure, he served on the Finance Committee, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence. After leaving the Senate, Danforth served as Special Council to investigate the Branch Davidian tragedy in Waco, Texas; chaired the Danforth Foundation, focused on ending the war in Sudan as a special envoy to the country and later served as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Senator Danforth has authored two books, Resurrection (Viking) and Faith and Politics (Viking).
Danforth, a graduate of Yale Divinity and Law Schools, is currently a partner with the law firm of Bryan Cave, LLP.
When asked if he would go into politics again knowing how it is today, Danforth’s answer was emphatically yes.
Danforth said, “Politics have changed for the worse, but I loved it. It is not for everyone. For me, politics was terribly interesting, exciting and rewarding. The issues were big. I enjoyed it immensely.”
Students of Burroughs heard Senator Danforth speak at a morning assembly the morning after his evening talk. Danforth also visited several history classes.