Former Gov. Jon Huntsman talks politics and America’s future
On Wednesday night, Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and ambassador to China, addressed a large crowd of Georgetown students in Lohrfink Auditorium. The College Republicans, along with the Lecture Fund and the Chinese Student Alliance, hosted the event, and Professor Mark Rom directed Huntsman’s address with a set of questions. Huntsman covered many topics, ranging from his early career in the Reagan Administration to his appointment as U.S. Ambassador to China.
“I’m here because I believe that you are our tomorrow,” Huntsman said. “I don’t care if you’re a Republican, a Democrat, or somewhere in the middle … I want you to see that blue sky and the potential for this country that’s out there, because that’s what drove me into my early government service.”
In answering Rom’s first question concerning how he got his first government job in the Reagan administration, Huntsman revealed a few of his major concerns about the state of American politics. “There was [during the time of Reagan] more of a ‘let’s get in, let’s serve our country’ attitude,” he said. “Republicans and Democrats tended to pull together.”
Huntsman blamed the loss of this spirit of cooperation on the influence of money in contemporary politics. “We are divided in ways that, I hope, do not suggest to you that this is the way politics are [supposed to be] operated,” Huntsman said. “Politics are divided today by a lot of money … It’s an abomination. [Today’s campaign financing] is killing democracy in this country.” According to Huntsman, fixing systemic problems like this would close the “trust gap” between the American people and Congress.
Huntsman urged the gathered students to pursue jobs that will help the nation’s government. “I hope that, instead of going to Wall Street or hedge funds … you say ‘my country needs me.'” he said. The irony of saying this in the McDonough School of Business building was not lost on Vox.
This wasn’t the only advice Huntsman had for Hoyas. When Rom asked Huntsman how he received congress’ unanimous approval for both his appointment as Ambassador to Singapore in 1992 and appointment as Ambassador to China in 2009, Huntsman revealed his belief that skill specialization is key to success in today’s world.
“As you prepare to move into the real world … become an expert at something,” Huntsman said. “Don’t walk out of this school a generalist. Everybody’s a generalist.” At face value, this seems to go against Georgetown’s Jesuit ideal of cura personalis and becoming a broadly educated individual, but College Republicans President Alex Cave believes Huntsman’s advice is in line with Jesuit values.
“Another Jesuit ideal we often hear is characterized by the phrase ‘go forth and set the world on fire,’ and I think that’s what Governor Huntsman was getting at,” Cave wrote in an email to Vox. “[Huntsman] was saying there is great value in finding one’s passion and bettering both others and oneself by pursuing that passion.”
One of Rom’s questions touched on Huntsman’s well-known moderate positions on many issues, some of which have put Huntsman at-odds with members of his party, and a student’s question to Huntsman near the end of the event asked him directly about what the Republican Party’s stance on gay marriage should be.
Calling himself an “Abraham Lincoln Republican,” Huntsman framed his more moderate positions in terms of aligning with the beliefs of great Republicans, such as Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
“I always wanted to achieve a sense of equality and fairness,” Huntsman said. “I saw in the life experiences of some of my gay friends some things that I thought were less than what we, as Americans, should accept in the area of equality.”
Huntsman described his development of this belief as a personal “journey” and, despite the tremendous unpopularity of this view in Utah, explained that he would not forget his core principles when considering this issue. “To deny two people who love each other the chance to marry … is not a conservative ideal at all,” Huntsman said. “I think we should be promoting long-term, stable relationships.”
These views drew a particularly strong applause from the crowd, many of whom waited in line at the end of Huntsman’s address for a handshake and picture with the former governor.
Photo: Joshua Raftis/Georgetown Voice