America's Next Great Pundit: The Final Four

Oct 25, 2010

We're down to the final four -- of about 1,400 entrants -- in the America's Next Great Pundit competition. In our second challenge, third round of voting, Nancy Goldstein, Lauren Hogan, Ted Reinstein and Conor Williams will field questions from readers about themselves, their blogging efforts so far, and why they should win the opportunity to write a weekly column for The Washington Post.

Hello!  Conor Williams here from Lauinger library at Georgetown.  I'm defending my dissertation proposal in the next few weeks, so this is a very welcome break from the research.  Can't wait to get started!  

Hi, all, and thanks for joining us. This contest has been every writer's dream: a chance to write for--and be critiqued by--a news-savvy, responsive national audience. I've enjoyed reading your comments and am looking forward to your questions.

Hello.  I would like to first welcome my fellow finalists, and say it's a pleasure to be interacting directly with them for the first time.   I'm a journalist in Boston, the father of two girls, and happy for now they are still too young to be online period, nevermind seeing how their dad does....

Hi everyone!  Since my bio blurb has caused so much speculation so far, I thought I’d give a little more background about me – I’ve been in Washington, DC since last October, after living in Cambridge, MA for six years (I’m learning to like the Redskins but I’ll always love the Sox).  My work, through organizations in Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts and now DC, has evolved to focus primarily on parenting and early childhood education.  Looking forward to the chat today!

Europe wants to cut its way out of a recession and we want to spend our way out. What is the right way?

Naturally, it has to be a combination of both, but both indiscriminate cutting and indiscriminate spending are a problem.  The cuts that Europe is making - and that some in the US are suggesting - will be deeply harmful to the most vulnerable segments of our society.  We can't slash discretionary programs that are helping people back on their feet while avoiding cuts to the real big spending programs.   Yet we also can't continue to throw money at every issue without taking the balloning deficit into account. 

Thanks for the question.  I'm going to take the easy way on this, but not because it's easy—I actually think it's true.  We've got to do both, and I think that this will be what the Deficit Commission recommends in December.  This ought to (I hope) give both political side a reason to compromise. 

I'm a Paul Krugman acolyte on this one: if we want to ease or end this recession, Americans have to have money to spend or borrow. We needed a larger stimulus package to begin with. Failing that, one way Congress could put more money into the hands of Americans who will actually spend it would be by doing a simple thing like ending the payroll tax. By one estimate, that would mean that someone making 60K per year would hae an additional $750 per month to take home--money that they would probably put back into the economy in the form of groceries, rent, goods, and services.

Ask Britian--not to mention France--how it's going so far cutting their way out of recession.  I also disagree with your premise: TARP/Stimulus bills aside, many (myself included), would argue that we should have and should be spending MORE to get out of recession---creating jobs by re-building infrastructure and green industries.  We have not spent our way out, we have spent some and are now cheaping out, and will pay for it.  This is not a time to tend to deficits--that time must come--but people must be put back to work now or the recession will never end.

From working in healthcare for a number of years, I know that the hardest prescription for patients to receive is to hear that they need to make lifestyle changes. How can the United States convince citizens to make lifestyle changes to conserve energy? Live within their means to reduce personal debt? Eat healthier and exercise to take some responsibility for their own health?

Great question!  It's hard to know what the government should do about this, since it's often presented in terms of personal responsiblity.  That said, public authorities can encourage healthier behavior by investing in infrastructure improvements that contribute to healthier lifestyle choices.  In DC, this recently meant more bike lanes and trails.  This is just one example of a much broader approach to health, of course.  

Three quick responses: 1) the power of example: U.S. leaders need to set an example. If the lights are on in Congress all night, there's no point in asking Americans to conserve. 2) Same as one, plus tax incentives AND more protections for Americans against borrowing beyond their means (for example, see foreclosure crisis). 3) Americans will eat more healthily when and if more healthy food is available to them at prices they can afford. This is a problem across the U.S., but particuarly in low-income communities, which often lack decent grocery store of any kind--or the income for luxuries like fresh veggies.

You're right - behavior change is incredibly hard and often very slow.   Adaptation requires people to understand not only why they have to change, but how they can do so.  I think in some of those cases that you mention, not everyone is even convinced that the changes are important, so that's the first step.  The second step is to make it easy for people to do different things - so, for many years, we made it simple for people to take on new debt, and now policy changes need to implemented so that the easier, and more popular thing to do, is to save.  We're already seeing some of that happen.  In terms of health and exercise, we need to do a lot of education - First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move project is a great thing - and a lot of policy changes that address the availability of affordable, healthy food, and accessible, safe parks and places for kids and adults to play. 

I have to say, as cynical as it might sound, there are few incentives that are as effective as economic ones.  In Portland, OR--a city that is a wonder of conservation--residents were made to realize that it was in their economic best interests to conserve.  And in time they did, they do, and it was the economic incentive that began to make it so.

As a declining military and economic superpower how should the US redefine its role in the world?

This is a fantastic question—the role of the United States is definitely changing at the moment.  Whether or not we are declining is a debatable point, and I'm not sure that I agree with you.  Regardless, I'd like to see the United States take a greater interest in development aid (as I suggested in the child marriage post last week).  We need to learn that our military power is only one element of international relations.  

Like Conor, I'm not convinced that just because other countries are in ascent means that the US is in decline.  It is, however, important to think about how our country can be a leader with other countries, and not just a leader of other countries by working to build capacity, partnerships, and idea-sharing across boundaries. 

By pursuing more intelligent military and diplomatic strategies (for how not to do this, see Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan) and better economic policy. America didn't have to fall into economic dcline and it doesn't need to fall further. We have done so by failing to regulate the banking industry or set a bright line between those who work in it and those who regulate it; by bailing out banks on terms that encourged them not to lend to consumers and to sit on the money or pay back other banks instead; by allowing financial institutions to create instruments like the foreclsoure derivatives that resemble nothing so much as gambling and were a primary culprit in the housing bubble; and, perhaps, most importantly, by following tax policies that have consolidated this country's wealth into the hands of a very few people at the top of the food chain, then letting them tuck it away on the Cayman Islands. The latter does even more harm by flattening the hopes and aspirations of Americans who are not wealthy, but may feel (rightly) that the game is rigged.

Clearly, the days of the US being the "World's policeman" are over.  There is fundamentally something wrong and unacceptable about nation-building anywhere when our own nation is in such economic agony and physical disrepair.  It is high--HIGH--time for other Western powers to step up and do their part.  Longterm, and even at present, the trillions spent in Iraq and Afghanistan do not look like trillions well-spent if you imagine that staggering amount being spent on our own nation's crumbling infrastructure.  This is not a plea for isolationism, mind you---but a far more hard-headed, economically-wise policy of select engagement.

As someone who was born in the District and raised in Indiana, the disconnect between the blue cities and the red states has always been as much a personal as a political issue for me. Do you think that the divide is unbridgeable? How would you connect to heartland readers like myself?

Personally, I think few divides are "unbridgeable," as you say.  Have many become so?  Absolutely.  But the ones that come to mind first, perhaps--abortion, gay marriage, tax cuts--are issues around which bipartisan solutions are possible.  At this point, on many things, even the CONVERSATION  around them itself seems impossible.  I think ultimately, given the current angry, mistrustful political climate we find oursevles in, the only divide that matters right now is literally bridging the one whereby we accept that there are deep differences, but that only solutions that have at least some degree of bipartisan support will work.  The heartland?  My mother is from Iowa; I have a lot of family there.  And we agree from there to Boston that if the huge divides that exist are in fact, unbridgeable, we are all in deep, deep trouble.  Talking honestly, taking into account universal truths and values like family, getting by, raising our kids, being a free and equal society....there's the bridging.

I was trying to forge a middle ground on this in the blogging round.  If many progressives have forgotten how to speak in populist or egalitarian terms (and often lose in Middle America as a result), many conservatives continue to treat knowledge, experience, and training as if these were bad for democratic politics.  Neither side can be right about this, can they?  To steal a phrase from Kurt Vonnegut, I’m a “freshwater American” (from the Great Lakes) like Lincoln, Carl Sandburg, Garrison Keillor, and such.  As I’ve suggested in a number of the blog posts, I believe wholeheartedly in the worth of democratic debate (even if it’s inefficient).   That's a priority for me, and I hope that it would be helpful in speaking to everyone in the States.   

I also think very few things are unbridgeable, but people have to make the effort to build the bridge.  Mistrust - of government and of each other - is running very deep right now, and we assume horrible things about the motivations and understandings of people with whom we disagree.   Born and raised on the East Coast, I lived in Kentucky for a few years after college, and loved getting to know a different part of the country.  There is no shortcut to creating connections among people who are different - we have to do it the hard way, which means talking outside of your comfort zone and getting to know people with whom you don't normally interact. 

Someone from Chicago pointed out to me the other day that the divide may be more about urban/suburban/rural than "red state" v. "blue state," and I'm inclined to agree. I have one method for connecting to my reader, no matter what their political views are or where they live: by making my best, most lucid argument about issues that affect all of us without pontificating or condescending. And NEVER assuming that provicialism, liberalism, or any of those other isms belong only or solely to a specific time, geographic location, political party, or person.

What book are you reading right now?

I just finished Blindness by Jose Saramago.  Amazing.  I loved how applicable it is to all places and all times.   

Right now I'm reading a few: Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert for pleasure, and then a bunch of political theory books for my dissertation.  

What voices/perspectives do you see missing from the Washington Post's current commentary? How would you and your column correct these disparities?

I think that the Post needs one more strong progressive voice to go with E.J. Dionne.  This would add some fair balance to Kathleen Parker, Charles Krauthammer, and George Will.  I've written pieces on progressivism in Dissent and with John Halpin at the Center for American Progress, and I'm sure I could bring this expertise to the Post!  

Should DC have voting representation in Congress? And if so, how would it work?

DC should definitely have voting representation in Congress.  It's scandalous that an entire territory of tax-paying American citizens have no representation in Congress.  The Founders knew this, and so do our leaders today.  We have to make progress on this.  

As to specifics, I understand the arguments against statehood, but I see no reason why such a large population shouldn't have at least one congressional representative and one senator.  A member in only one house would still leave DC too unrepresented.  

YES!  I didn't understand how weird it is that DC doesn't have voting rights until I lived here.  Just providing representation in the House isn't good enough - though this year's effort to add one Rep. from (Democratic-learning) DC and one from (Republican-leaning) Utah was a good, politically feasible start.  I'm for DC statehood - although I will say that I'm loath to give up the best license plate of all time (Taxation without representation).  That pretty much says it all.     

Absolutely. It's scandalous that DC doesn't it already. At least one senator and representation in the House by population. Or maybe more to make up for all the years DC has had no voice at all. (Kidding! Just kidding!)

One of the year's biggest stories was the sub-sea oil & gas gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. It contained just about everything: tragedy, a great cast of characters, money, finger-pointing, intrigue, hearings, compelling footage, the works. If you had been asked back then to write a column about a single facet of this immense saga, what would it have been and why?

I'm sticking with my post from last week.  The oil spill was a tragedy, but it's an ironic one, since we all depend so heavily on oil.  If we were willing to pay more for our energy, or willing to make the switch to renewable energy sources, no one would have bothered trying to drill for oil at the bottom of the ocean.  This is a collective problem (perhaps a global one), and we simply have to start behaving more responsibly.  If we don't, we have only ourselves to blame.  

To all pundits, how have your early life experiences/jobs outside of reporting and communications affected your views as pundits?

Well, my job is still very far outside of reporting and communications, so this has been a very intense, exciting and nerve-wracking experience for me!  Obviously, all of our experiences affect our views, but for me, learning to take a side and stick with it as a pundit has been the hardest.  I like working my ideas out with colleagues and friends, both those who agree with me, and those who don't, and my experiences haven't prepared me for having to respond as quickly and sharply as I believe a pundit should.  Here's to lifelong learning...

There is nothing more challenging than putting personal convictions to the test.  I had that chance as a teacher, and it was a humbling experience.  It was heartbreaking to find myself struggling to really live up to what I thought I believed.  This is part of why I feel so strongly about the need for education reform.  It's also why I try to give others the benefit of the doubt in argument.   

First, a standing O to the final four! *pause for thunderous applause, wild cheering, and confetti* I'd like each of you to write a Twitter-length response here. Of the other three contestants, who's your main competitor and why? No weaseling out by saying, "all of them" or "I'm just focusing on what I'm doing." Off to find a broom to deal with all that confetti. Great work by all of you!

I'm going to break the rules first: everyone still alive in the competition at this point is really qualified to be here.  Period.  

However, I think that Nancy's work is fantastic.  She's extremely intelligent, and it shows, but she's also able to express herself directly and clearly.  I really admire what she's done so far, and I'm learning a lot from her.  Also, I lived and worked in Brooklyn for a while, so I can't root against her!  

Nancy - universal agreement from the judges and (maybe) from us.  Smart, sharp and great range.  Learning a lot from her!   

Sorry, but I really just don't think about it that way, so bring on the broom!

Twitter length, how about Twitter length and style, too?:

Nancy G. vry tough competitor; smart, lucid, gd blogger, but we all have our strengths...onward

What kind of car do you drive?

Since I live in DC and parking is difficult/expensive, I don't own a car.  I'm a proud owner of a Trek commuter bike.  

Conor, great article on the child marriage bill. Do the finalists think Congress will actually pass it in a Lame Duck session? Or will there just be bickering a fighting for a few weeks?

I would be lying if I said that I was confident that the bill will pass.  

That said, it's an unambiguous moral evil that we have the opportunity (and capacity) to address, and I can't imagine any very coherent opposition.  This is the right thing to do, and I want to believe that Congress will take up the bill.  Call your representatives!  

I have noticed that opinion writers can be effective when they make a compelling emotional argument. Many of us, however, prefer appeals to rationality. The best op-ed writers do both, but everyone leans one way or the other. Which do you tend to emphasize?

I think you make an excellent observation about the fact that the punditry often has a tendency to appeal to emotion, but that "many of us," as you say, prefer an appeal to rationality.  The best commentary does indeed combine both.  "Stark facts," I like to think, are the weapon of choice, but facts without an appeal to some compelling, universal human emotion, are dry things often...

I'm trying to do both, but I probably lean towards rationality.  I'd rather make a strong, logical argument than one than pulls on the heartstrings.  See my post on child marriage for my best attempt to balance this tendency.  

Both. Often my ideas for a column begin with my having an emotional response. But I think I'm most effective when I bring readers along on why I felt that emotion AND introduce my rational response--which I argue to the best of my ability. For example, you can tell I'm peeved in Taking care of business, when I castigate a financial writer for regurgitating the industry's earning reports talking points whole, but I also carefully explain exactly what that writer is doing and why I, and by extension the reader, should also be peeved and concerned.

My personal instinct is probably towards emotion (my friends and family could confirm that one) but I think emotions that aren't grounded in rational thought, statistics, and facts won't get you very far, and, in fact, can be extremely manipulative, so I'm careful to make sure that anything I write is emotion tempered by rationality.  

Everyone agrees that we want to get people back to work. But employed by whom ? Public sector jobs are better than nothing but are unsustainable as they depend on tax dollars. The only sustainable , long term remedy to high unemployment is private sector jobs. How do we get the private sector, driven almost exclusively by the profit motive, to increase hiring ?

I don't think that public sector jobs are unsustainable because they depend on tax dollars. We spent around 800 billion on TARP and far, far more than that on Iraq and Afghanistan (and still counting). I don't think we can afford not to spend to put Americans to work, as FDR did, with fair success, during last century's economic crisis. And goodness knows there's plenty to be done: not just highways to be built, or more money poured into green energy. And howzabout we start providing adequate childcare for America's parents? But I would like to see the lion's share of federal money spent on rebuilding this nation's deeply troubled public school system, which could use an infusion of trained, well-paid teachers as well as skilled administrators and actual brick and mortar materials, like books, paper, pens, glue--all of which, incidentally, children in my neighborhood are being asked to bring to school since there's no longer any room for them in the budget. As for the private sector, it will be far more healthy when Americans actually have money to spend--and that can happen in a number of ways, including terminating the payroll tax for those who work, continuing unemployment benefits for the millions out of work, and finally insisting that the top 2% of this country's population begin paying their fair share of taxes.

I think there is too much ill-informed, biased opinion in the news instead of information. Are you different? How?

As an aspiring pundit, I don't think that any of us can credibly claim to be unbiased.  After all, we want to get our opinions into the public arena.  

However, I agree that ill-informed opinions are unhelpful to our public discourse.  As a PhD candidate at Georgetown, I hope that I've built up a depth of knowledge that makes it difficult for me to abandon the facts.  I'd rather speak truth than win rhetorical points.  That might be a bad pundit strategy, though!  

NPR's Juan Williams was recently fired for comments he made on FOX News' the O"Reilly Factor. Do you feel Williams should have been fired? Why? If he were an employee of CNN instead of NPR, would you feel the same way?

I like a line that I saw in the Post a few days ago: Juan Williams has a right to free speech, but he doesn't have a right to a job at NPR (paraphrasing a little).  I'm not sure he should have been fired under the circumstances, but it sounds like a break was coming.  I suggest that it might have been better for NPR to wait a little for the firestorm to calm down before making this decision (especially if it really was something that they had been considering already).  

Oh, and I'd feel the same if it was CNN.  

You know I'm excited to keep talking about this one!  The truth is that my first instinct, when I heard Juan Williams' quote, was that he should have been fired.  But that's mostly because I don't like Juan Williams, and I don't agree with much of what he says.  When I reflected on it (albeit briefly), I realized that I had just written a blog post talking about how important it was for us to open up discussion about the things that are hard to talk about - and here I was trying to shut down conversation.  Upon reading the rest of his remarks, in context, I decided to write that he shouldn't have been fired - not that what he said was OK.  But what if NPR, instead of letting him go, had used this opportunity to open up a discussion about the fact many people feel the way he does; that this is not acceptable; and that we need to find a way to change our feelings as a society.  This is not easy, but if we're going to move forward, it has to be done.  

Actually, there's real disagreement between Williams and NPR re: the reasons for his firing, with Williams trying to turn it into a free speech issue (NPR as oppressor) and NPR trying to turn it into a contractual issue: they insist that Williams, in his capacity as a FOX pundit, repeatedly violated the terms of his NPR contract. And frankly, I can't really answer this question fully until I see that contract, which has not and probably will not be made publicly available. I wish that Patricia J. Williams, one of my favorite pundits as well as a woman of color and a law professor, would publish her $!#&! opinion piece already so I would have the nuanced, thoughtful response I need. Because like many folks, both the thought of censorship and the spector of irrational prejudice against people for being Muslims both make me uncomfortable.

What would be your defining theme as a pundit? As Friedman is to globalization, Kristoff is to the rights of women, what are you about?

I'd refer back to my bio on this: I'm a proud product of Kalamazoo (like Derek Jeter, Greg Jennings, Bell's Beer, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and Rogaine), which I find to be a major advantage for talking politics inside the Beltway.  I'd like to think that I haven't lost touch with the rest of the country.  I also served in Teach For America for two years, so I've put my convictions to the test.  

However, your question was about ONE thing, so I'd emphasize that I've been studying the theoretical side of politics for a long time.  Like the bloggers at the Monkey Cage, or the Center for American Progress, I'm committed to making political science and political theory relevant to non-political scientists.  It helps give me a broader view of politics, I think.  

Some of my favorite pundits, like Krugman, have a theme (in his case, economics). But many of them--and here I'm thinking of Patricia J. Williams and Katha Pollitt--have an approach: they bring their perspective, their wit, and often their annoyance, to a myriad of topics. What's consistent is the pleasure of hearing them think through the issues of the day because they're bright folks and inspired writers. I aspire to be in that camp. My approach is to tackle complex, sometimes unpopular issues in lucid prose so that readers can engage, even if that means disagreeing with me entirely. And, like those two, I enjoy pointing out ironies in ways that make people laugh or want to read aloud a sentence to their sweetie sitting across the table.

Piercing the hypocrisy and puff-ed up sense of importance in everyday political life.  My heroes tend to be the Will Rogers of the world...I guess I would say I love to probe the American political landscape for where something unfathomably unfair is happening, and focus on it.  And let's face it, it's a target-rich environment.  Politics, with humor and a bit of scathing observation. 

I think my colleagues have it right here, thinking about "theme" as more about an approach than a topic.  David Brooks is actually my favorite columnist - though I don't always agree with his positions, I love the way he thinks and writes, and I have great admiration for the range of topics that the best pundits can talk about.  My areas of interest lie mostly in education, race and class, poverty and equity, and I hope that my theme would be to explore these difficult issues, not always on one clear side or the other, and engage readers in thinking and listening and talking with one another. 

Show your range of knowledge here - Giants or Rangers? And why?

First of all, I'm a diehard Detroit Tigers fan, so I'm really happy to see a World Series between two teams that haven't been there in a while.  This is good for baseball.  

That said, I'm going with the Rangers.  They've got too much offense for the Giants' pitching, and Cliff Lee is a machine in the playoffs.  Factor in that the Rangers probably won't be able to resign him for next year, and I bet they'll have him pitching until his arm falls off rather than lose. 

To each contestant: It's a new round. What gives you the edge in the Q & A arena?

I've never been accused of being "the silent type."  I've got no problem coming up with quick answers!  

Wow! Congratulations to all of you. You're all amazing! Having gotten this far, is there anything you've written so far you wish you'd worded differently, or perhaps not penned at all? If so, what?

On the whole, I'm fairly satisfied with what I've written so far.  I subscribe to the "someone is always wrong somewhere on the internet" theory of publishing and posting, so I don't like looking back too much.  

That said, I think that I might have mis-stated the Tea Party's views on national security in one of my postings (in light of the survey in Sunday's Post).  I also wish that I'd been able to convey more nuance in the education reform piece.  Again, though, I might just be that "someone" who's wrong on the internet this week!

Oh my lord, did you write this question just for me?  Thank you!   I deeply wish I had worded my bio differently.  I think it's true that I can bring an interesting perspective to conversations about race, as a white woman who has spent a good deal of her professional life in organizations where everyone else is black - but it was a tough sentiment to convey easily and I did a terrible job of doing so.  Thanks for the chance to try again! 

I wish that I'd spelled "irrelevant" correctly in Grow or die. Ouch!

EASY answer for me. I wrote about the current state of anger in the nation, and, with respect to the economy, said I "like to take the long view"--that the factors that brought us here would not be undone overnight.  A commenter wrote that, when one is out of work, there is no luxury of the "long view."  OUCH.  That, was a point exceedingly well-taken, and I still have the red mark on my forehead where I hit myself.  Indeed, for the person out of work, the unemployment rate is not 10, but 100%...

What are the two changes that can and should be made to improve DC Public Schools?

Aside from luring back Michelle Rhee?  Just kidding.  Not being from the district, it's tough--and presumptuous of me to offer that, aside from my observation that, in the election of Gray, it seemed clear there was a strong undercurrent of parents not feeling adequately brought into the reform process.  That must be remedied, clearly.  That, and from teachers unions to administrators to politicians--remember that kids come first.  Not your damn special interests...

 

As a former teacher, I understand how difficult a job it can be, and that teachers sometimes get unfairly blamed for a lot of things that aren’t their faults.  On the other hand, the statistics I quoted in my post on education reform are pretty clear.  We’re identifying teachers who aren’t doing their jobs, and they’re not being dismissed. That is NOT acceptable in any way.  

 

If you’re interested in looking into the other side of the equation, though, I think that the “Kalamazoo Promise” is a good place to start.  It’s a community effort in my hometown to help solve some of the most difficult problems in education today (and we’re very proud of it). 

 

 

As a homeowner (and hopefully future DCPS parent), I care very much about what happens in the DC schools.  I've been excited about the changes that have been taking place, and, as I wrote earlier this week, I still feel hopeful that we'll be moving forward under a new administration. 

First of all, early education has got to become a bigger part of the way that DCPS - and everyone in the country - sees our education continuum.  Three and four year olds are not just enrollment boosters.   They are the crucial, critical foundation for long-term educational success and we have to be providing high-quality, developmentally appropriate early education and care for all our kids in a way that is aligned and integrated into the rest of their early school years. 

Second, we have to put a great teacher in every classroom and a great principal in every school.  This is not just about evaluation and assessment, although those things matter.  This is about real, deep, intensive professional development, valued family engagement, and, ultimately, a focus on positive child development and academic achievement. 

Where and why do journalistic standards matter, or not matter, today?

This is a good follow-up to the question about bias in the public sphere.  It's telling that newspapers (often leaders in journalistic objectivity) are losing business right now while cable news and blogs (often less rigorous in their adherence to journalistic ethics) are growing in importance.  That's got to have something to do with the huge disparities that we see between the facts and public perception on many issues.  Consider climate change, for example.  

I'd be interested to know where you stand on the marriage of same-sex couples.

I fully support same-sex marriage--no cop-outs, cave-ins or compromises.  I was never prouder of my state--MA--as when its SJC ruled in favor of it.  I see it as a long, winding road to another step in the ladder of enlightenment.  Period.  And when the first couple to marry in MA filed for divorce recently, I thought, "There, NOW we're all equal at last!" 

I'm in favor of same-sex marriage, and I'm glad that DC made it legal recently.  I'm encouraged by demographic data from the Center for American Progress that suggests that American attitudes seem to be shifting towards tolerance and acceptance.  

I stand next to my wife. We married in Provincetown on May 19th, 2004--the very first week that MA celebrated marriage equality. And so far there have been no baleful results to anyone else around us of having two middle-aged women sharing a joint checking account in their midst.

I was on the steps of the Cambridge Town Hall when the first gay couple in the United States got married.   It was one of the best, most moving experiences of my life - next to the day that my cousin (married to his husband in Massachusetts) officiated at my own wedding as well.  I can't wait until this is an issue relegated to the history books. 

Anything not in those edited bios you want us to know about you?

Sure!  I have great students at Georgetown, I speak Spanish and French (and I'm learning Welsh), and—most of all—I love my wife, Gwennan Hollingworth.  I can't imagine that those are reasons that anyone would vote for me, but they're all big parts of my life.  

I have actually kicked myself from the start that I did not say anything about being a dad in my bio.  Which is crazy, since it is by far the most important part of my life.  And in its way, it also is one of the most significant factors in how I write and look at the world.   Certainly with respect to issues I have written about like education.  Plus, I wouldn't want my kids to someday scroll through some online archives and say, "Hey, Dad--what are we, chopped liver?"

Long time reader, first time poster! Congrats to all finalists! Quick question for everyone... You all write with confidence, but if you could improve in one area, what would it be?

Wait...long-time reader?  I've only been publishing for a week or two now!  

But seriously, I have a lot to improve on.  As I've suggested in a few answers above, I want to write more directly.  It's easy for me to write dense, heavily-nuanced, long-form essays, but it's harder for me to be clear and engaging.  I've got to thank MSJS and some of the other people commenting for holding my feet to the fire on this.  

Do Americans understand or care about our most fundamental and oldest civil liberty, given that two consecutive Presidents have figuratively laughed at it, and there has been little protest?

No, they absolutely do not. Without habeas corpus, which has been blatantly disregarded, most infamously, in the detention of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo. To read the Canadian reportage on this morning's plea bargained "guilty," by Omar Khadr, is to weep. The guy was held forever in abysmal conditions, prevented from decent legal representation, and told by one  guard that another detainee in his situation had been gang-raped to death for not cooperating. And now, 9 years after being detained at the age of 15, he's putting in this plea that eveyone knows has been forced out of him when, in fact, the goverment should have been forced to prove why he should be held long, long ago. Is this the justice we want? I don't think so.

Ted, Lauren, and Conor have all broken ranks with liberal orthodoxy. Nancy, on which issue(s) do you part company with the left?

I think that the left/right dichotomy is a false one. I want clear thinking and reasoned arguments from all sides of the political spectrum. And, as you can see from my columns, I'm not afraid to call anyone, from the Obama administration to the military to Coons or O'Donnell, on their bull*hit.

Major progress has been made since the 1980s when women began to break through in traditionally male careers. But for the last 10 years the gauge seems to have been stuck. What do we need to achieve equity--legislation, regulation, litagation, or as some have muttered, for men to be the ones to get pregnant?

Before I returned to graduate school, I was one of very few male first-grade teachers in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  It was challenging swimming against social conventions, but I found that I brought some unique talents to the table. 

One thing that might be helpful for closing the gender equity gap in some professions might be legislative adjustments to maternity/paternity leave policies.  

Many countries have more than two parties contributing to the political landscape. In the context of the Tea Party's emergence and conflict with the republican party, do you think that the US political system is as effective as it could be?

Clearly it is not.  I frequently these days wonder if a Parliamentary system of government would do us better.  For instance--you mention the Tea Party--it would force the Republican party to openly and officially enter into an agreement with them in order to form a winning, working majority...

I think that campaign finance reform will make this country's political system more effective.

Well, time for me to get back to the books!  Thanks to everyone who asked a question, and to everyone who voted for me (especially at Georgetown, Bowdoin, and in Kalamazoo!).  If you’re interested, you can find more on Twitter: @conorpwilliams.  

Thank you all so much for the questions and comments.  This has been challenging, enlightening, entertaining and very meaningful for me.  I'm looking forward to more conversation, and to meeting and talking with my fellow pundits - and with more of you - later this week! 

Thanks to everyone for your great questions. I've enjoyed thinking hard and typing fast, and look forward to your comments.

Thanks all for the great questions, great answers, and wise help and assistance.....looking forward to taking this discussion to Washington. 

In This Chat
Nancy Goldstein
I’m a communications professional and journalist known for addressing complex, sometimes unpopular issues in lucid, compelling prose.
Lauren Hogan
My resume suggests that I'm black. I’m not. But I’m not afraid to talk about race, either.
Ted Reinstein
I've taken a passionate approach to understanding issues in my job as a reporter. Now I'd like the opportunity to defend my positions.
Conor Williams
I’m working on a PhD in Government at Georgetown, so I’m full of ideals, but my optimism is tempered by experience.
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