Former governor of New York George Pataki ’67 spoke Tuesday night about the political polarization currently facing the nation and the importance of youth participation in politics.
Pataki, who served three consecutive four-year terms as governor from January 1995 to December 2006, addressed an audience of about 50 at the Pierson College Master’s House. He spoke about significant political issues facing the nation — particularly polarization and political apathy among citizens — and appealed to audience members to engage with politics and the government.
“Quite simply, we are in enormously difficult times as a country,” Pataki said in his opening remarks. “When you look at where we are now with trillion-dollar deficits, Americans living in poverty — it’s inexcusable. It’s our government that’s been catastrophically broken for quite some time.”
Pataki criticized American political parties and leaders for being too polarized and “ideologically locked.” The current Obama administration is “failing the American people,” he said, because it is too liberal and does not represent the majority of Americans who see themselves in the “middle ground.” This extreme polarization of parties is largely responsible for the nation’s widespread political apathy, he added.
Pointing to the ongoing presidential campaign, Pataki also said that political candidates should provide a “clear and positive” message for people to rally behind, rather than only pointing to the failings of past governments and casting blame.
Pataki encouraged citizens to consider their own opinions on political matters instead of relying on the black-and-white visions put forth by bipartisan politics. He told his audience that most Americans today believe in “success coming from the people” because they doubt the government’s ability to effect change, and argued that a successful government would try to solve the nation’s problems without trying “to force you into an ideology.”
Throughout the talk, Pataki continuously stressed that citizens — especially students and other young voters — with strong political beliefs should step up and make their ideas heard.
“We have to fix the government, and apathy doesn’t do that,” he said. “Apathy lets those who are removed from us continue to play their own game while we are left on the outside. If you are a hard-working person, you can just soar — you can make a difference. If you get involved, it has an impact.”
Pataki recalled his experience on Sept. 11, 2001 as one example of when he was inspired by Americans. Though the day’s events displayed the “worst of humanity,” he said they also showed the “best of humanity” when hundreds of people lined up in the streets of New York City to donate blood.
Students said they enjoyed Pataki’s talk, describing it as both educational and motivating.
Nitika Khaitan ’16 said many of the comments Pataki made were “very inspiring.” As an international student, Khaitan said she was interested to hear Pataki’s perspective on American politics.
Anna Baron ’16 also called Pataki’s talk inspirational.
“I’m from New York, so I always grew up hearing Governor Pataki’s name,” she said. “I feel honored to have met him. I feel really inspired right now to actually do something about the political climate in our country.”
Pataki served as chairman of the Conservative Party of the Yale Political Union during his time at the University. He attended law school at Columbia University and began his political career in 1981 as mayor of Peekskill, New York.