Congress to Campus

Puneet Kollipara and Kat Zhao
Scott Bressler

Student Life: What is the Congress to Campus program?

Coppersmith: We are a program sponsored by the Stennis Center for Public Service. It pairs up former members of Congress-one Democrat, one Republican-and sends us to college campuses. We get an opportunity to tell our story to a new audience, which is a delight for me. It is an opportunity to talk to students about careers in public service, which is the cause of the Stennis Center. A phenomenal percentage of the workforce for the federal government is approaching retirement age, so there is going to be a phenomenal need for people.

SL: It is our understanding that you two know each other and are friends. How did that come about?

McEwen: We were international election observers in Ukraine, and naturally having an interest in freedom and democracy, we shared a camaraderie and enjoyed one another’s company.

Coppersmith: I think we agree about breakfast and public service. On everything else, we are pretty much on opposite sides. But we’ve managed to enjoy it somehow.

McEwen: I think both of us hold our positions intellectually and not emotionally, and so I enjoy listening to his thought process and his company.

Coppersmith: And I like traveling with someone who looks as good as Bob does.

SL: How important is bipartisanship?

Coppersmith: A lot of times Americans think that there is a nonpartisan answer to issues, but a lot of public issues aren’t like that. We disagree because we view the problem and the solution differently. If one of us is wrong, it is not clear that finding something nonpartisan is necessarily the right answer.

McEwen: Adversity raises challenges and forces people to hone their positions and thoughts, and quite frankly, that is good. To say that we all have to agree is foolish.

SL: The media has portrayed antagonism and tension in this presidential election, both between and within parties. What do you think of the election so far and the media’s affect on voting?

Coppersmith: I think people are paying more attention to politics. I think a lot of what we read about in the media is not something voters pay attention to. There is a media bias in favor of conflict as opposed to substance.

McEwen: I agree with James Carville that this is one of the least contentious presidential campaigns anyone can recall. I challenge you to come up with three substantive, confrontational issue differences where there is a big fight. There isn’t any.

Coppersmith: Undecided voters who will determine the election do not focus until much later in the process. A lot of what we see now simply won’t matter.

Q: Who are you supporting in the presidential election, and what are the greatest policy concerns for you in this election?

McEwen: I think foreign policy is very seldom the key issue in campaigns. The [importance of] policy differences on the domestic level [is] minuscule in comparison to the ramifications of foreign policy decisions. I will support John McCain. I think that the policies that will be pursued by either potential Democratic candidates will be one tick below disaster for the Middle East.

Coppersmith: I am supporting Senator [Barack] Obama for two reasons. The first is that I don’t want this election to be a rehash of arguments that we had during the 90s. The second reason is what Bob said about foreign policy. I think Senator McCain would be a tremendous mistake. I see the war in Iraq as a conceptual error that misunderstood the nature of the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dangers we face. To me, the fundamental mistake is one in terms of what the United States can do [to maintain world order] and how we can do it. I think Senator Obama got that right, and I think Senator McCain and Senator Clinton misunderstood.

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