Applause erupted as Sec. Cohen walked onstage, joined by U.S. Senator Alan Simpson and University of Maine President Paul Ferguson.
President Ferguson began by introducing the topic of the lecture, the value and necessity of civility in our political discourse, and went on to liken Cohen to Leonardo Da Vinci, describing him as “a true renaissance man.” Cohen sat in contemplation as Ferguson introduced him, and later described the introductory remarks as “gracious and overly generous.”
When Cohen took to the podium in his black suit and royal purple tie, he began by thanking the numerous supporters of his, comparing himself to a frog on a lamp post, who didn’t get there by himself. He acknowledged his two sons in the audience, jokingly stating his disappointment that only one attended the University of Maine.
He then went on to introduce Sen. Simpson, describing him as a “tall, lean, folically challenged, wise and witty cowboy from Wyoming.”
“Out of all the introductions I’ve ever had, that was the most recent,” Simpson joked.
Then began the discussion of the state of our nation: hardball vs. civility. The discussion was moderated by A. Mark Woodward, former executive editor at the Bangor Daily News.
Discussion topics included the lack of bipartisanship in the government today, money and the media.
Cohen reminisced about the reaction of his fellow politicians after he accepted the job as President Clinton’s Secretary of Defense.
“The Democrats were upset, saying ‘He’s not one of us,’ and my fellow Republicans asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ [I told them] I didn’t know partisan politics played [a role] in the security of the country,” said Cohen. He went on to say that the American people are not polarized, but the politicians are.
“If you get too far right or too far left, you’re going to lose the support of the middle,” said Cohen.
“There is no trust in Congress. Trust is the coin of the realm, and that coin is severely tarnished,” added Simpson.
On the subject of money, Cohen and Simpson reflected on the “scandal of money raising” and the “obscene” amount it takes to campaign.
“Money has become the driving force in politics,” said Cohen.
When asked about the media, Simpson, who is well-known for his dealings with the press and wrote a book titled “Right in the Old Gazoo,” describing his encounters with the media, gave his stance.
“The three C’s of media are confusion, controversy and complexity. Not clarity. Anybody who believes we have privacy is just stupid and the people assuring we don’t have privacy are the media,” said the senator.
The question of the night, however, was how the government can reduce the polarization politics seems to have developed.
“It’s going to take the people of this country to stand up and say enough is enough. The great thing about this country is that we are capable of change,” said Cohen.
“If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters,” added Simpson.
The discussion ended with Simpson giving his impression of Maine.
“It reminds me of my native land, Wyoming, and that’s the best compliment I can give you.”
Dora McCarthy, graduate student at the University and resident of Bangor, recounted her opinion of the lecture.
“I really enjoyed it. Both Cohen and Simpson showed us what it means to work civilly in politics. I loved their candor; they made me laugh. Simpson is right in the fact that everyone is going to have to swallow something they don’t like. Can you imagine if everyone looked out for everyone else? Then everyone would get what they want.”