Is America Broken?

At the 2012 David and Lyn Silfen University Forum, Penn President Amy Gutmann led a lively and far-reaching conversation with a panel of political experts that touched on unemployment, national healthcare policy, campaign finance reform, and the seemingly irreparable political polarization of American voters.

To frame the discussion, Gutmann asked the question: “Is America broken?” to Charles Blow, columnist for The New York Times; Penn alumnus Edward G. Rendell, former Pennsylvania governor and former mayor of Philadelphia; Peggy Noonan, columnist for The Wall Street Journal and television political commentator; former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, co-chair of the Bowles-Simpson Commission; and John Lapinski, Penn associate professor of political science and political analyst for NBC News.

Although the panelists differed in their views of specific issues, they appeared to agree that intense media coverage, partisan squabbling, and unrelenting pressure to raise campaign funds, has led to a political and legislative system that does not encourage compromise or risk-taking.

“We have leaders who are afraid to lead,” Rendell said.

Sen. Simpson argued that Americans today have no sense of “a shared sense of sacrifice” that they are willing to make to move the nation forward. Read more about the forum at

The Silfen University Forum is made possible through the generosity of Penn Trustee and Penn alumnus David Silfen and his wife Lyn Silfen. Longtime supporters of undergraduate education, the Silfens previously funded two Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) University Professorships, the Silfen Student Study Center, a term professorship, and the David and Lyn Silfen Fund in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Text by Tanya Barrientos
Video by Penn Video Network