Former congressmen Barry Goldwater Jr. and Jason Altmire visited campus this week as part of an initiative called Congress to Campus and as part of their visit, The Lantern was able to have a sit-down interview with them. The following transcript of that interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Why take the time to college campuses? Why is that important to you?
Barry Goldwater Jr.: I do it because I enjoy it. It’s fun. It’s a little break in the monotony of my business. You get a little different perspective of what’s going on.
Jason Altmire: I love coming to college campuses, I did it all the time when I was in office and I’ve done it since I’ve left office. You get the best questions from students. They’re interested, they’re engaged.
What do you think the next generation can do to make the issue of political polarization better and come back to a point where the sides do things together?
JA: You’re never going to change the mind of an extreme partisan, so I think somebody who is not of that mindset, your responsibility is to tell the truth and to be active and engaged and to add to the commentary.
Don’t let the comment thread of a social media post go completely unanswered. When people aren’t truthful to the facts, correct them and do it in a way that is cordial and keep that conversation going. But when you just sit back and you are disengaged and you let the debate go on and it is run completely by people who have a chip on their shoulders, it’s not gonna be good for the country.
BG: We’re in a changing atmosphere and I don’t know if we know if it’s good or bad, it is probably OK because we are always changing and we’re always trying something new, but this is a pretty dramatic change and departure from the politics and the way we communicated when I was growing up and when I was in politics.
Obviously the media has a role to play in this, they are just as culpable as anybody else for chasing shiny objects, as policy makers, what do you think the media can do better?
JA: I think the media gets a bad rap because of the whole fake news thing. Fake news is a real thing and what fake news is, is a story that is entirely made up for click-bait because you make more money the more times people click on your ad, so that’s what it’s about.
Of course President Trump has turned fake news into “If you disagree with what I’m writing then it is fake news.” That’s different. I think that unfortunately now, the folks who don’t like what’s being written or said about them blame the media and think that they’re just making it up.
BG: I believe the problem with our press today is the loss of investigative reporting and good journalism. Where as in the past a reporter would spend time on a story — it was Bernstein and Woodward that uncovered Watergate — and it was only done because of good journalism, good investigative journalism.
I think that the [journalism] industry is tarnished because we lost that, we lost the newspapers. I think part of our problem also is the popularity of cable news programs, which are not news, they’re opinion. That does not give us well-rounded information, so I think the combination of the loss of investigative, good reporting and the popularity of talking heads and the loss of good, honest fact reporting is the problem.
We talked about being in a unique situation now; what can be learned right now when everyone is hankering to move into a better situation?
JA: I do think it will get worse before it will get better because however President Trump’s presidency plays out, people are gonna be really, really angry about it. If he loses reelection, his partisans are going to be extremely angry about that and take action of some sort. And if he wins reelection, the left would be very upset about that.
It’s not going to be pretty over the next few years, but I do think once that plays itself out one way or the other, hopefully the country will look at itself and say we have to come together.
BG: I would disagree. That’s parochial speculation, it’s baseless. You don’t know what the country is going to do because of Trump.
If all of the sudden, the economy takes off because of the tax bill, people vote their pocketbook. If we have no underemployment and the companies come flooding back and we have industry and prosperity and the standard of living and wages are going up and all of the sudden Korea settles down and it’s all under Trump — he is an anomaly.
So you don’t know how people are gonna react, it takes time for people to get used to it.
You came yesterday [to campus] to talk about the opioid crisis, and it’s something for this younger generation where they haven’t quite seen anything like this. Is there anything you’ve seen in your lifetime or your careers that compares in scope, where it is engulfing the whole country?
BG: I’ve never seen anything like this. I was thinking, it’s pretty prevalent among young people and I noticed the young people in Florida really got up in arms, so to speak, over guns.
Why don’t the young people get up in arms over this issue? Why doesn’t somebody in this age bracket stand up and say “Hey, let’s stop this.” Organize some kind of student campaign against it and students start doing something about it.
They’re up in arms about guns but why aren’t they up in arms about opioids? That’s killing more kids than guns are ever going to kill. Why not? Why can’t students be the leader?
JA: I think there’s an analogy to be made to the early 1980’s when HIV first came on the scene because people looked at that as a moral issue and families, like they do with opioids, would say “Well that’s not my family, I don’t know anyone who engages in that type of behavior.” Then it grew to a point where it touched a lot more people than people expected and then the national focus and attention, because it was fatal, was on finding a solution to the problem.
I think opioids are probably at that tipping point now. I think to find a solution the nation has to realize it is important to everybody. It is not just a moral issue that touches on demographic groups that are unimportant to people when they think about their own families and their own lives.