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Peterborough

Gregg kicks off Peterson Forum

Former Senator talks civil discourse

  • Senator Judd Gregg was the keynote speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall in he Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night.

    Senator Judd Gregg was the keynote speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall in he Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Senator Judd Gregg was the keynote speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall in he Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night.

    Senator Judd Gregg was the keynote speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall in he Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Senator Judd Gregg was the keynote speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall in he Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night.

    Senator Judd Gregg was the keynote speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall in he Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Senator Judd Gregg was the keynote speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall in he Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night.

    Senator Judd Gregg was the keynote speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall in he Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Senator Judd Gregg was the keynote speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall in he Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night.
  • Senator Judd Gregg was the keynote speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall in he Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night.
  • Senator Judd Gregg was the keynote speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall in he Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night.
  • Senator Judd Gregg was the keynote speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse at Bass Hall in he Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night.

PETERBOROUGH — Intense discussion has always been part and parcel of the American system of government, said former U.S. Senator Judd Gregg during his keynote address at the first Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse on Tuesday. And that’s the way it should be when people are controlling issues that have deep personal impact on the rest of the country, he added. There’s no reason that intensity must get in the way of holding a civil discourse, even though, unfortunately, that is often the case.

Gregg was the speaker at the first Walter Peterson Forum, held in Bass Hall at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture. The forum, a partnership between the Monadnock Center and the New England Center for Civic Life at Franklin Pierce University in collaboration with the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, was established in honor of Peterson, New Hampshire’s governor from 1969 to 1973, a long-time moderator for the town of Peterborough and president of Franklin Pierce University for more than 20 years. The forum’s goal is to honor Peterson’s commitment to open dialogue among people of diverse perspectives.

Gregg, a former Greenfield resident who served in the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and as governor of New Hampshire, spoke to a large crowd, sharing his perspective on the deterioration of civil discourse in the American government, and some of the key factors he sees contributing to that breakdown.

Gerrymandering and the House of Representatives

Gerrymandering is the when political district boundaries are manipulated to create partisan-advantaged districts. It’s a system that produces candidates who cater to their political base and doesn’t foster compromise, Gregg told the forum audience.

“If they want to get re-elected, the one thing they can’t do is cross the line of compromise,” said Gregg. “And, in my opinion, it is virtually impossible to reach agreement on big policy without compromise. The most important issue to most Americans is ‘Is it fair?’ and fair has to be bipartisan.”

Some states, including Washington and California, have made attempts to make district lines more equitable in response to these issues, said Gregg, but he doubts that it will have any real impact on the process.

Senators are in a better position to bend on some of their stances than members of the House of Representatives, said Gregg.

“Most are able to cross the aisle. It’s almost a given that you’re going to have to cross the aisle. I socialized with people on the other side of the aisle, I had friends there. Yes, we had fundamental disagreements on philosophical issues. I’m an absolute fiscal conservative. I think we’re spending way too much money. I still understood that to get anything done, I was going to have to sit down with someone who might not think we’re spending enough money.”

Gregg discussed several bipartisan groups he had been part of, including the one that crafted the No Child Left Behind Act, which left members of both parties walking away, neither having gotten everything they wanted, but both satisfied with the outcome. Compromises can be reached, he said, especially when a group is evenly divided and there is no tie breaker, forcing a compromise to occur to move forward, he said.

However, Gregg added, the current Senate is not without its own issues. Gregg argued that the Senate is eroding the right of the minority to have a voice. He said the rise in prevalence of “filling the tree” — the process by which a piece of legislation has all of its possible opportunities for amendments filled by the majority leader, who is currently Democrat Harry Reid — and November’s recent filibuster reform have worked to take away the right of the minority to have its say, even if they can’t win.

“It’s a very slippery slope. The Democratic party is not always going to be in control, and it’s hard to put that back in the box,” said Gregg.

Social media and the news

Social media is a an inevitable factor in public discourse, but it can sometimes give a large voice to fringe populations that would not have had it otherwise, said Gregg. Those groups can shout down comprehensive discussion.

Gregg later added that he wasn’t sure if there was a solution to that issue, other than “People that have rational thought should participate.”

In a related factor, added Gregg, both the volume and the quality of reporting on the issues in Washington D.C. has diminished exponentially since he first entered politics. When he first went to Washington, there were between 30 and 40 major news outlets that were following the issues and doing in-depth coverage of them, he estimated.

“That’s been shrunk dramatically,” he said. “Now, there are maybe five producers. Very few are fully staffed.” That usually means there are what Gregg refered to as “repeaters,” which don’t take on the in-depth discussion needed to properly cover issues such as immigration or tax reform or gun control.

Presidential leadership

The final factor Gregg felt was eroding the process of civil discourse was the leadership of President Barack Obama. Gregg said that Obama has a leadership style that was divisive in a way no president has been since the days of President Andrew Jackson.

Gregg also compared Obama unfavorably to some figures that he felt have had the largest impact on the nation in recent memory, Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan. Both men, he said, have shaped the current country, though for very different reasons, on the basic belief that America is a good country. That’s not what Gregg sees in Obama’s presidency, he said.

The next Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse has yet to be announced. For more information contact the Monadnock Center for History and Culture at 924-3235 or MonadnockCenter.org.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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