The Harvard Institute of Politics’ spring 2022 resident fellows discussed major challenges facing democracy, as well as potential solutions, at their introductory JFK Jr. Forum Wednesday evening.
IOP Director Mark D. Gearan ’78 moderated the virtual forum, which was featured fellows Brendan Buck, a former top Republican congressional aide; Christine Chen, executive director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote; Kim M. Janey, former acting mayor of Boston; Josephine “Jody” Olsen, former Peace Corps director; Maya Rupert, former campaign manager for Julián Castro’s presidential run; and Gerald F. Seib, executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
The panelists highlighted some contemporary issues in American politics.
Buck said he is optimistic the Republicans will win a majority in the House of Representatives this fall.
“There’s a lot of talk right now about a red wave,” he said. “And I think that I was relatively slow to accept that that is a possibility, but I certainly think it is at this point.”
Rupert discussed a “myth” plaguing the political world — namely, that it is impossible for people to work in politics while maintaining their personal values and health.
“That keeps a lot of people who are passionate about something away from pursuing a career in electoral politics,” she said. “You have to work around the clock, which is sending a very clear message to folks with disabilities that they're going to have to make a choice between health or this kind of work.”
“This is based in reality, people are seeing something and they're having something reified,” she added. “But they're myths, not because they're not real, but because they don't have to be right,” she added.
The speakers also highlighted specific challenges they contended with in their respective roles.
Chen spoke about her work to “demystify” misinformation surrounding Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the past year.
Janey reflected on steering Boston through its Covid-19 inoculation campaign during her time as acting mayor.
“We wanted to make sure that we were leading with information, education, and using an equity lens,” Janey said. “It’s not enough just to get vaccines out there, but how do we do it in a way that recognizes the disproportionate impact that Covid was having on poor communities of color.”
In an interview after the event, Seib said he was looking forward to having a space for dialogue at the forum.
“The political system in this country is not in great shape,” he said. “The attraction of being at the IOP, at least to me, was to maybe have meaningful conversations about ways in which those problems might be addressed.”
“That's what I liked about tonight,” he said. “It felt like the beginning of that conversation.”
—Staff writer Miles J. Herszenhorn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @MHerszenhorn.