RADFORD — Without yelling or interrupting one another, a Republican and Democrat had a civil discourse about some of the country’s most polarizing issues at Radford University Thursday night.
Katie Couric moderated the event, while pundits Ana Navarro, a Republican, and Donna Brazile, a Democrat, discussed multiple issues from civil discourse to climate change to a nearly packed house in Preston Hall. A mixture of students, faculty and citizens filled nearly all 1,500 seats in Bondurant Auditorium.
According to the university’s contract with Couric obtained by The Roanoke Times, the journalist received $195,000, private jet transportation and hotel accommodations for her appearance — an hour-long, invitation only, meet and greet and the hour-long panel discussion. Navarro and Brazile were paid $25,000 each.
It was Highlander Discovery Institute’s inaugural event. The institute was created by President Brian Hemphill to provide the campus and the community with the opportunity to experience new ideas and ways of thinking, specifically in the areas of teaching, research and service.
The event was supposed to run from 7-8 p.m. but the discussion lasted an extra half hour, something the crowd responded to with great enthusiasm when Couric asked if they wanted to stick around a bit longer.
While Navarro and Brazile support different parties, they were able to find common ground on a number of issues. Both agree the way people — citizens and politicians — on different sides of the political spectrum interact with one another has to improve.
Brazile said politicians “spend $6 or $7 billion a year and only talk to people in 18 states.” She followed up saying citizens need to get out and vote to make a democracy healthy and elections aren’t “just about winning,” but leading and governing as well.
Her words elicited applause from the crowd and a “preach” from Couric. Navarro built on those points, saying that people are living more isolated lives and not interacting with one another on a face-to-face level as much as they did before social media became so prominent. She blames unchecked online information as a major factor in the divisiveness in U.S. politics.
“It’s very hard to combat blind loyalty,” Navarro said.
Couric moved the discussion to how the cable news conducts itself in a more argumentative style than it did in years past. Brazile, who is a contributor for Fox News and former interim chair for the Democratic National Committee, said listening to one another is a good start to more civilized political discourse.
“I can disagree with someone without disrespecting them because I want to hear them,” she said.
While Navarro, a contributor to CNN and other cable news outlets, agreed with Brazile, she also said cable news isn’t solely to blame for disconnect between the two sides. She said media companies “are not nonprofits.” She said consumers have a choice in what they watch and advertisers will respond to that and have in recent years.
Both agreed that healthcare is an issue that needs to be solved and that while the Affordable Care Act is imperfect, there are good components to it.
Both had similar takes on gun violence and immigration. They both said they recognize there needs to be solutions rather than making everything a “black and white” political issue. Brazile said as a Democrat she is not for taking guns but rather stricter laws to keep firearms in the hands of responsible owners.
“I’m from Louisiana. I know what responsible gun owners look like,” she said.
University spokeswoman Caitlyn Scaggs said the school was thrilled with how the event turned out.
“There was applause and laughter, but more importantly there were deep thoughts and provoking ideas shared by Katie, Donna, and Ana. It was an opportunity to see first-hand varying viewpoints brought forth and then heartily discussed in a productive and respectful manner,” she wrote in an email.
Scaggs said the university was especially impressed with the way students with various viewpoints handled themselves.
“We are tremendously proud of our campus and our community for the level of care and respect that was demonstrated as part of this event.”
The events from the institute will be held on an annual basis.