In the late 1990s when Rush Holt (D-N.J.) first won a seat in the US House of Representatives, Jim Moskowitz, the head of Swarthmore’s Philadelphia area alumni club, asked him to give a talk on civility in politics. Last night’s lecture was the result of Moskowitz saying “let’s try that again.”
Holt, a former Swarthmore physics professor, began with a discussion of the decline in civility in politics over the years. He described how, when he was first elected to Congress, members of both parties would go to Hershey, Pennsylvania for a retreat every year. Today, the retreat no longer exists. Overall, in Holt’s eyes, Congressional life has become much more partisan in recent years.
Congressman Holt also talked about his own experiences, in particular drawing on how his interest in science, and science education, led him to the Hill. The district he now represents, the New Jersey 12th, was one which no Democrat had represented for several decades before his victory. For that reason, when he first won in the late 90s, many people thought his victory was a fluke. When he won a second time people thought it astounding, and he’s been in ever since. He noted that his first vote was against selecting Dennis Hastert as Speaker of the House and his second vote was to vote against impeaching then-President Clinton.
After talking about his own experiences, Holt moved on to discuss the major topics of the day in politics, focusing primarily on Social Security. He noted that the lack of bipartisan cooperation is evident in the debate over privatization. Holt argued that such cooperation is needed if we are to save Social Security.
There was a busy question and answer period, with questions concerning the current mood among House Democrats, the relationship between the study of science and religion, the redrawing of Congressional districts, the degradation of government databases, and many other issues.
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