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  Needed: Serious Conservative View

With regard to the Sept| Oct “Politics Issue” of The Pennsylvania Gazette, the only thing approaching fairness is the size of the red and blue robot gladiators on the cover. In fact, when you get past the cover, the red gladiator grows progressively smaller while being pummeled by (a) an old-time Democrat politician, Mr. Rendell, whose confession that he is “probably slightly tougher on Republicans [than Democrats]” is the understatement of the new century, (b) a Republican Party turncoat, Mr. Specter, and (c) a mandarin RINO, Mr. Huntsman, who served as President Obama’s ambassador to China [“Dispatches From the Front,” Sept|Oct]. Having suffered through all this, I wondered if there were truly no prominent political alumni who might have added a serious conservative point of view to the debate.

Thomas E. Dow Jr. Gr’62 Brevard, NC

It Takes Two to Compromise

I am concerned by what I perceive to be errors and misrepresentations in Professor Gutmann’s interview and the excerpt from her book [“Making Democracy Safer for Governing,” Sept|Oct]. 

Her theme was “compromise”—and, largely, why it is so rare in today’s national politics. My sense is that the present administration has sought compromise on almost every contentious issue in play today. This is evidenced by its having advanced numerous proposals that had been endorsed, if not actually having been implemented, by its political opponents. The Affordable Care Act is modeled on a Republican governor’s plan and includes many components that have been strongly supported by Republicans in years past. Cap-and-trade was similarly endorsed by mainstream Republicans for years before being embraced and advanced by Democrats. Republicans publicly announced that they’d only consider a deficit-reduction plan that relied on spending cuts for 85 percent of the savings, and changes in taxation for 15 percent—so that’s what the administration offered them. The DREAM Act, at one time, was widely supported by prominent Republicans. In each of these cases, and innumerable others, Democratic approval seemed to be the cue for Republican rejection.

This raises a question: if you give someone what he demands, and he demands more, is accession to such further demands “compromise” or capitulation?

In numerous places, the interview and the excerpt that it accompanied either seem to misstate facts or couch them in a manner that is most charitably described as misleading. There was no “Simpson Bowles Commission Report,” that commission having failed to reach the necessary supermajority to issue a report. Further, that commission itself was roundly criticized for ideological rigidity, and for failing to invoke the spirit of compromise within its own ranks. In fact, the President’s plan to reduce the deficit did exactly as Professor Gutmann suggests—blending spending cuts and taxation changes—but the President seems to receive no credit from her for being a compromiser, even as his proposal was described as “DOA” by his political rivals.

Similarly, her reference in the excerpt to the radical spike in cloture votes (resulting in the “60-vote Senate”) lacks critical context—that the institution of this strategy, and its most flagrant (ab)use, has been during the present and previous Democratic presidential administrations, during which the minority party invoked it at unprecedented levels to ensure legislative gridlock for political purposes.

And again: it is unclear to me how the phrase “fiscal cliff,” which appears a few times in the interview, could refer bilaterally to our body politic, as it was entirely the responsibility of one party that we lost our sterling credit rating, failed to pass a proposal to cut $4 trillion from our deficit, and—going back a little bit—undertook two armed conflicts abroad while simultaneously cutting taxes with the express recognition that we were incurring debt with no plan to pay it down. The implication that both parties courted the fiscal cliff and bear joint responsibility for our proximity to it, is in my view entirely misleading. Such omissions and obfuscations in the factual bases of Professor Gutmann’s thesis render to me her conclusions, at best, questionable.

Congressional scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have written persuasively, in my view, of the one-sided nature of our governmental gridlock. Professor Gutmann seems to imply that this is a problem in which both sides share equal fault—by omitting evidence of unilateral responsibility and implying shared onus when the facts, I think, prove otherwise. Neither side has clean hands, but only one side has made obstructionism a central principle of governance. I believe that students of political science do us a disservice by obscuring such facts and implying—if not stating outright—that the solution is for us all to compromise.

Most of us have compromised. The problem is that governance is in thrall to a minority of zealots—a group for whom compromise is by definition unacceptable. It is properly the role of political science to help us parse out why our government has become an exercise in isometric stagnation. I am sorry to say that Professor Gutmann’s comments seem to me to misrepresent where we are, how we got here, or how best to move to a better place.

Daniel Passamaneck C’86 San Francisco

Public Is Better Served by Opposition

“Making Democracy Safer for Governing” is a very timely article about contentious politics, difficulties in campaigning, and fundraising. However, I would voice my disagreement regarding the premise that compromise is the best solution to legislative gridlock.

The events of the past should be a warning to all of us. We have witnessed the collapse of the housing market and the financial chaos it created in the American economy. Was this a case of collusion between the Democrats and Republicans? Where were the experts to warn us that we were heading for financial disaster? The elected officials did not sound the alarm, nor the news journalists, nor the experts in banking, finance, and real estate. The few who voiced concern were ignored.

The politicians removed financial safeguards that were put into place during the Great Depression. People were encouraged to buy homes they could not afford, with very low down payments and poor credit rating.  Huge profits were made from this artificial housing boom. The housing bubble burst and real estate values plunged. About $147 billion of our taxes have paid for the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and more bailouts were anticipated. We are asked to trust the same politicians who made this mess to clean it up.

It’s the same old narrative: “the fox (compromising Democrats and Republicans) is guarding the hen house” while we all are asleep. Do we really want compromise? When Democrats or Republicans accuse the opposing party of misconduct or attempt at imprudent legislation, we are better served. Democrats and Republicans should not be compromising and forging deals that have a negative impact upon us.

Gordon M. Spivak C’58 Randolph, NJ

Who’s Checking the Fact Checkers?

I just read the article, “How to Fight False Political Advertising” [in “Toward a More Perfect Union,” Sept|Oct] referencing the site that contains the fact-checking done by the Annenberg School for Communication. I reviewed several of the “fact checks” and was disturbed by the pro-Democratic bias.

I subsequently spoke to Robert Rector, the single most important contributor to the writing of the Welfare Reform Act signed by President Clinton. I asked him whether he had seen the fact check produced by the Annenberg School about the Republican ad criticizing President Obama’s apparent change in the work requirements of the act. He acknowledged seeing it and was quite amused by its conclusion. He subsequently told me that he had not been contacted by the fact checkers; as a result, they produced an inaccurate conclusion about the ad.

As a Penn graduate, I am embarrassed by the sloppy work produced by my alma mater, and I hope that in the future an adult will review some of this work more carefully. One would expect the fact checkers would contact the most knowledgeable folks responsible (in the case of the original act) for the material being analyzed.

J.J. O’Neill W’57 Irving, TX

Against “Getting Along”

Regarding President Gutmann’s pieces in the Sept|Oct Gazette, it appears to me that most of the problems addressed are part and parcel of democracy, which consists of imperfect humans on all sides, be they office-holders, candidates, voters, news providers, pseudo-news providers, other entertainers, etc. Over the years, others have caused changes and/or cancellation of previous changes in our political system at the state and federal levels. There seems no reason to believe such activity will effectively deal with the wondrous and wonderful systemic looseness of democracy.

There are problems with which we must deal if we wish to continue as a free democracy over time. One relates to the current status of public education wherein students are no longer exposed to American history! Anyone doubting this could survey teens and incoming college freshmen—or, for that matter, college graduates—on their detailed knowledge of our nation’s past.

The article and interview focused considerable attention on the importance of Dems and GOPers “getting along.” Yet, the Reagan/O’Neill compromise on the Tax Reform Act somehow left the former being blamed for soaring spending arranged by the latter. The reference to Speaker Boehner, of all people, responding to Lesley Stahl (!) was interesting. How might we describe the current Senate’s failing to restrict spending or even to have an annual budget, with no compromise whatsoever? Should we be surprised?

Actually, I think, personal electronic technology continues to undermine the influence of the cabal of leftists jokingly known as the “mainstream media.” Certainly, the word news is improperly attached to this collection of ego-driven propagandists.

We face a critical decision in November that will determine whether or not we are to continue as “a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Obama must go.

Philip N. Baker W’52 St. Louis

Mind-Expanding Civics Lesson

I offer you my superlative congratulations on your politics-themed Sept|Oct 2012 issue.

I completed a neurology residency at HUP and a post-doctoral fellowship in the School of Arts and Sciences, and while I always peruse the Gazette with curiosity about the goings-on of the Penn juggernaut, the politics issue is an unbelievable collection of essays and interviews that stands out from prior volumes and is of the caliber that would easily give the likes of The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, TED talks, and The Economist a run for their money.

Not only were the political-themed essays top-notch and well crafted as a thematic whole that meld into a sum greater than its parts, but even other Penn stories, like Maanvi Singh’s article on Justin McDaniel’s class, “Living Deliberately” [“Gazetteer”]; Margit Novack’s essay on her Aunt Betty [“Alumni Voices”]; and the notes on Penn Olympians [“Sports”] were each themselves polished and selected in a way that even they complemented somehow the powerhouse political articles.

Thank you for putting together such an amazing issue and providing such a well-timed mind-expanding civics lesson to the Penn community. Rather than worrying about whether other Gazette future issues could follow such an act, I would encourage you all, in the spirit of Professor McDaniel’s being-in-the-moment and President Gutmann’s focus on the present rather than perpetually preparing for the future, to set aside the time to give yourselves a party to rest on your laurels and celebrate.

Mijail “Misha” Serruya Res’10 Fel’11 Philadelphia

Coursera Complements Classroom

A few weeks ago, I finished a Coursera course on health policy taught by Penn’s Ezekiel Emanuel. Curious about Coursera [“From College Hall,” Sept|Oct] and wanting to know more about the recent Affordable Care Act (ACA), I signed up. That amounted to little more than providing a user name, email address, and agreeing to a brief honor-code statement. As I wait for my course-completion certificate, “signed by the professor,” Coursera says, I wonder what it’s worth given how little they actually know of me. Consequently, the notion of academic credit seems irrelevant. Those who complete these courses must have other motivations.

The course was well worth my time and (free) tuition. In his lecture videos, Professor Emanuel appears as a dynamic speaker. The course was self-contained. All readings were PDFs, downloadable from links on the course’s webpage. From it I learned all about the economic disincentives underlying the current fee-for-service health system and how the ACA attempts to modify the behavior of healthcare consumers by changing those incentives. Assignments were peer-graded, meaning I graded anonymous others and those others graded me. We students communicated and commented by way of the course bulletin board. But never did Professor Emanuel post anything, and only very rarely did the teaching assistant. After a while that vacant feeling of nobody in charge took hold. (From their comments, many of my peers felt the same way.) Imagine flying on an airline and discovering in midair that the cockpit is empty. The plane’s been on autopilot the entire way. Contextual clues in the lectures suggest that the actual Penn course [at which the video lectures were recorded] was given last spring, before June’s Supreme Court decision upholding the ACA’s individual mandate.

For a sufficiently motivated and resourceful student, Coursera can work—as a complement to the traditional classroom experience. One might use it to review material once learned or to get a taste of what the Penn classroom experience is like. Anyway, I’m signed up for Professor Peter Struck’s course on Greek and Roman mythology. I look forward to my second Penn/Coursera experience.

Paul B. Laub Gr’95 Sarasota, FL

A Shout-Out to Schilling

Congratulations to Bill Schilling on his retirement and longtime service to Penn [“Gazetteer,” Sept|Oct]. When I was a student at Penn in the 1980s, my work-study job all four years was working in the Financial Aid Office, specifically working for Bill’s then assistant. Not only was Bill a nice man, but I could tell that he was extremely dedicated to his job and his goal of providing a financial means for worthy students to attend Penn. He was constantly in motion whether coming to or from a meeting or fielding calls from parents, students, coaches, etc. He set the tone for the office, as it was a place filled with people who were diligent in their efforts to make Penn affordable to all who met its academic qualifications.

Judy Lobel C’88 New York

Favored by Fussell

Anthony Schneider’s tribute to Paul Fussell, “Memories of a Fellow Traveler,” [“Arts,” Sept|Oct] brought to mind my own Fussell-Penn connection, though I was long gone from Penn by the time Fussell arrived here to teach in the 1980s.

As a senior English major at Franklin and Marshall College, I was nominated by my honors-thesis advisor, without my knowledge, for a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fellowship. The three-man committee sent by the WWF to interview me was headed by Fussell, who was then on the faculty at Rutgers. Since I wasn’t really interested at that time in a scholarly career, I didn’t do any preparation and was pretty casual, even insouciant, during the interview. Fussell seemed surprised and slightly annoyed by my attitude.

At the end of the interview, he asked me where I planned to go to graduate school. I mentioned a couple of other universities that had tried to recruit me, but said I would probably go to Penn. He wrinkled his nose in apparent disgust, and I figured my chances with the WWF were over.

A few months later, I was amazed to learn that I had been awarded the prestigious two-year full fellowship, with a strong recommendation from Fussell! I never knew why he did it, but I guessed that he believed, in those days, that Penn deserved to be stuck with a student like me.

Steven Glogger G’65 Palm Springs, CA

Lessons Remembered

I was saddened to read of the death of Dr. Howard Rawnsley [“Obituaries,” Sept|Oct]. I was also somewhat surprised by the brevity of the obituary and the absence of a listing in the faculty and staff section. When I was a medical student, Dr. Rawnsley was the chief of clinical pathology at HUP. He was also a great teacher who offered a wonderful elective in laboratory medicine. I took his elective and learned about laboratory clinical chemistry and hematology, blood banking, and immunology. Much of what I learned has stayed with me and helped me understand and keep up with the tremendous changes in this field over the years. After he left Penn, Dr. Rawnsley had a very productive and distinguished tenure at Dartmouth medical school.

Elliot B. Werner C’67 M’71 Wyomissing, PA

Don’t Blame the General

I read with great dismay Gary Leiser’s letter in the Sept|Oct issue [protesting the awarding of an honorary degree to General David Petraeus]. Having served in the Vietnam War during the 1960s and having had the same ill-informed thoughts tossed at me for years, I believe it is time to clear up, for those who do not understand it, that the military does not start or direct the engagement of this country in wars. That is done by civilians in the government.

To blame military personnel for what political figures do, as was done in his letter, continues the terrible practice of blaming those who serve this country for the political decisions of the people we elect. The University is to be commended for recognizing the dedication and accomplishments of the general and for not blaming him for being the cause of what this country asked him to do.

Dr. Ernest Price C’63 San Diego

Is Penn’s Streak Unique?

Not only did Alvin Kraenzlein D1900 win four gold medals in track and field at the 1900 Paris Olympics, as noted in the fine article by Dave Zeitlin C’03 [“Penn in the Olympics,” July|Aug], he set a world’s record in each event.

I believe that Penn is the only college or university to be represented at every Summer Olympics from 1900 to the present. Can this be verified?

David B. Zwirn C’64 L’67 New Paltz, NY

We can’t say for sure, but it is certainly a rare feat—not to mention providing a fine excuse to tell the stories of some amazing athletes and individuals!—Ed.

Another Penn Olympian

According to the University Archives listing of Penn Olympians, Michail M. Dorizas (1890-1957) won a silver medal at the 1908 London Olympics competing for his native country, Greece, before pursuing graduate studies at Penn in 1913, “making him the first Penn coach or athlete to win a medal for another country.”

Dorizas was a student athlete in football and track-and-field, and went on to a 40-plus year career teaching geography at the Wharton School, where his classes were very popular, “thanks in part to his likeability and to the pictures that adorned his classroom that were taken during his dozens of tours of Europe.”

I fondly remember taking one (or maybe two) of his geography classes. He was a character and an unusual teacher. He should be included with all of the Penn Olympians, even though his accomplishments were for the Greek team.

Ronald H. Weintraub W’55
Tucson, AZ



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