In a country in which bi-partisanship is in short supply, Sam Houston students got a lesson in working together from several long-time politicos and public servants: Democrat David Axelrod, Republican Andy Card, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
This cooperative spirit was kicked off with introductions by Ambassador Crocker, who knows something about bi-partisanship after serving as an Ambassador to six different countries under Presidents Bush (the elder), Clinton, Bush (the younger), and Obama. Setting the tone, Crocker introduced and praised two long-time politicos: David Axelrod, the long-time journalist and political operative who served as a Senior Advisor to President Obama; and Andy Card, who served in the White House with Ronald Reagan and both George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.
Andy Card is perhaps best known for the iconic photo from September 11, 2001, in which he is seen whispering into President Bush’s ear, telling him that second plane had hit the twin towers in New York.
Apart from Card’s service to various Presidents, he also served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Being a Republican in Massachusetts will teach a person the importance of bipartisanship, and it’s a spirit he celebrated as the acting Dean of the Bush School of Public Service. He praised Axelrod’s public service, noting that he had “answered the noble call of public service and has produced results that made a difference.” Card also directed his comments to young people, encouraging them to follow Axelrod’s example, by “developing an understanding of the role of public service and being well prepared to answer that call.”
Axelrod got most of the speaking time, and he, too, adopted a bi-partisan spirit. He praised George H. W. Bush for his “honesty and decency;” lauded George W. Bush for his handling of the presidential transition as a “great patriot;” and complimented Andy Card for his long public service.
Axelrod recounted various challenges in the Obama White House, alternating between sharing sobering moments and offering humorous asides. He itemized gloomy reports from the Obama team’s first few days in office: (1) intelligence reports suggesting a serious terrorist threat on Inauguration Day, (2) economic reports hinting at a one in three chance at drifting into a Great Depression, (3) opposition to unpopular policies such as the Auto Bailout and TARP, and (4) having to deal with Somali pirates shortly. It was enough, Axelrod noted, for him to leave these early meetings and check into whether the winner of a Presidential election “could demand a recount.”
As Obama’s leading political advisor, Axelrod’s job was to provide the polling data to Obama and advise him of the political implications of policy issues. Axelrod praised the President for sticking to his platform and “listening to his polls so little.” On one occasion relating to a particularly thorny policy issue, the President asked, “Can we pass the bill?” When he was told it depended how lucky he felt, the President responded, “I’m a black man named Barack Obama, and I am President of the United States. I feel lucky every day!”
Axelrod was at his most inspirational, however, when speaking directly to the students and encouraging them to remain involved in public service. “Our politics have taken a very bad turn, but the answer is for more public-spirited young people to get in there and put it in the right direction. These young people have already made the decision to be public servants, and they are a source of great hope. I hope they will march forward and help shape the world in a way that makes us all proud.”