Bill Kristol, Neera Tanden Discuss Bipartisanship at WeListen Conference

On Sunday, WeListen, a student organization working to facilitate conversation between students across the political spectrum, hosted President and CEO of the Center for American Progress, Neera Tanden and Bill Kristol, founder and Editor-at-Large of The Weekly Standard.  The keynote event for WeListen’s Fall Conference 2018 was an informal, open-ended conversation between Tanden and Kristol that concluded with questions from the audience.  Michael Barr, Dean of Public Policy at the Ford School of Public Policy, moderated the discussion

The one and a half hour discussion started with establishing common ground between the two participants. Tanden’s two-part answer outlined their mutual beliefs in the core values of democracy and “democratic principles as they relate to foreign policy.”  Kristol pointed out both of them had served in government which gives them “more of a sense of the complexity of things.”

On the topic of immigration, Kristol noted his push for bipartisan support of an immigration bill during the Bush administration. His concern at the time was the argument, made by some economists, that low-skill immigrants place downward pressure on working-class wages. “I think I was right to be worried about something that Trump then exploited.”

In response, Tanden voiced concern over the country’s current immigration policy: “What’s concerning is a real effort to limit legal immigration.” She blames the Trump administration and their rhetoric surrounding immigrants of color for the “racialized nature of this immigration debate.”

Barr later brought up the recent Kavanaugh hearings and asked if their views of the Supreme Court have changed. Before the hearings, Kristol had written favorably of Kavanaugh while Tanden was opposed. Tanden said she is “depressed” the “whole debate is over winning or losing this nomination” and not getting to the facts of what happened. She recognizes the huge challenge of shifting the dynamic back to an investigation rather than a “you lose, I win” concept.

Kristol’s response was similar. He reasons that it’s bad for the court which is why he’s “strongly in favor of what Senator Flake did.” After Kavanaugh’s remarks last Thursday, Kristol doesn’t see how he can be viewed as an impartial Supreme Court Justice. “I think we’re at a bad place on it in the sense that you could have an outcome that really threatens the institutional standing of the court.”

The panel ended with questions from the audience asked by the co-presidents of WeListen, Alli Berry and Nick Tomaino. U-M President Mark Schlissel gave the closing remarks. He thanked not only Tanden and Kristol, but the students of WeListen for their willingness to have conversations despite political differences: “This conversation wasn’t what I expected… way more agreement than I thought there’d be.”

Schlissel also commented on the “struggle” on college campuses that “should be second nature”: “the freedom and comfort to discuss contentious and challenging topics.”

A full video of the discussion can be found here.

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About Frances Smith

Frances was editorial editor of the Michigan Review.