Former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman had a simple request for every student at his talk yesterday — “change the world when you leave this institution.”
At Tuesday’s Pierson College Master’s Tea that was co-sponsored by the William F. Buckley Jr. program, Huntsman, a former governor of Utah and U.S. ambassador to China, condemned the current climate of polarization in Washington. To fix the state of politics in the United States, he said before an audience of roughly 200 students, the country needs future politicians who follow the University’s motto of “Light and Truth.”
“Politics is in need of some freshening up in the 21st century — folks [who come] together around common themes of growth,” he said.
Huntsman shared experiences from his campaigns and his time as a diplomat to highlight his view that the foremost problem in America today is the declining level of trust in government. The “lessening of believability” in U.S. politics is graver than any single national issue, such as unemployment and the economy, he said.
He added that he is “embarrassed at what we’re about to hand off to the next generation” and that youth must replace competitiveness with transparency and better collaborate across political lines.
Huntsman said he attributes much of his own professional success to his policy of maintaining honest politics.
After winning re-election as governor of Utah by being straightforward with his constituents, he was appointed ambassador to China by President Barack Obama, Huntsman said, adding that he took the job from a Democratic president not because of party ties or a political agenda but because of his patriotism.
Huntsman also discussed his support of gay marriage to demonstrate the ways in which issues can be solved without competitiveness between the right and the left. Long-term, loving relationships are a core conservative value, he said.
“Some would say I support gay marriage in spite of the fact that I’m conservative, but I say I support it because I’m a conservative,” he said.
Still, Huntsman said he hopes young people today do not become cynical despite major flaws in the current state of politics. The United States is a world power with a “sound constitution, some of the greatest universities in the world and an innovative population,” he said, adding that Yale students should take note of the positive aspects of the United States to see what is worth salvaging.
Three students interviewed said they appreciated Huntsman’s goal of increasing cooperation within the American political system. Kelsey Larson ’16 said while she does not see a simple solution, she is confident that young, open-minded politicians will find a way to counter excessive political polarization.
“It’s not going to be easy, but our country has come up against a lot before and our generation isn’t going to be the first to encounter an unsolvable problem,” Larson said.
But two students said they were not convinced that the next generation’s politicians will be any less divided. Eli Feldman ’16 said he hopes for less rigid political boundaries but “there have been no signs” that Democrats and Republicans will start working together soon.
Huntsman left his post as governor of Utah with an approval rating of over 80 percent.