JACKSON, Tenn. – March 7, 2012 – Despite political campaigns that are often characterized by mudslinging and rancor, living in a democracy is an “unearned blessing,” CNN political analyst Paul Begala said March 7 at Union University.
“Even when it’s all ugly and difficult and hateful and disappointing, I feel it’s my job sometimes to try to lift us all up and celebrate the miracle of our democracy,” Begala said.
Begala spoke in the Carl Grant Events Center as part of the 13th annual Union Forum luncheon lecture series, peppering his speech with wit and humor. A former strategist for President Bill Clinton, Begala addressed the Republican presidential primary and the upcoming general election, saying that while Republicans and Democrats have major differences of opinion on many issues, the best way to sort out those differences is through an election campaign.
The CNN analyst said that as the November election draws closer, the best predictor of what will happen is in the answer to the question, “Is the country heading in the right direction?”
“When we’re moving in the right direction, we tend to keep the party in power,” Begala said.
Current polls indicate that most Americans think the country is moving in the wrong direction – but Begala said that number has decreased in recent months. Begala observed that many Americans are angry not just at the president, but at all institutions – Congress, Wall Street, big business. The only institution that dodges animosity is the U.S. military, he said.
The anger at the government and institutions comes partially because of a sour economy, Begala said, but some of it comes directly from Obama’s rhetoric.
“He set the expectation bar for us so high,” he said.
As for the outcome of the 2012 presidential election, Begala said he was stumped, although he did expect Mitt Romney to win the Republican primary.
“Every time I look at the economy, I think Obama can’t win,” he said. “And every time I look at the Republicans, I think Obama can’t lose. If he was unopposed, he’d lose. But he’s not.”
The negative campaigning that has characterized the Republican primary has helped Obama, Begala said, but he still believes that Republicans will unite behind their candidate in an attempt to defeat the president.
In addition to his work with CNN, Begala is the author of several best-selling books, including “Buck Up, Suck Up, and Come Back When You Foul Up” and “Is Our Children Learning?” He is also a columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast and helped establish the political magazine George.
In his closing remarks, Begala described the greatness of the United States by telling of his grandmother, who came to the country as an immigrant from Hungary with little education, no money and no English skills. She worked as a maid before eventually getting a better job with the phone company and marrying an electrician who worked there.
The couple saved their money, owned their own home and saw their son, Begala’s father, go to college. One day, after Clinton’s election, Begala brought her to the White House, where she had the opportunity to see the Oval Office and meet Clinton himself.
“It was the best day I ever had working in the Oval Office,” Begala said. “On that ride home, my grandmother said three words: ‘Only in America. Only in America.’ And I cling to that with almost the fervor that I do my prayer life. It keeps me going.”