A night with Donna Brazile

By Alexandra Kukulka

Whether it’s rebuilding her hometown of New Orleans, attending the Republican Debate or causing “trouble” for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Donna Brazile is committed to making a difference in politics.

Brazile was the guest speaker for the Conversation in the Arts, hosted by the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences on Oct. 25. Blessed with a strategic and comedic sensibility, she shared her thoughts and opinions about American politics and its future.

As reported by The Chronicle on Oct. 24, Brazile was the first African-American woman to be appointed as a presidential campaign manager, for then-Vice President Al Gore in 1999. She is also a syndicated columnist, TV commentator, professor and, recently, an actress.

“Ms. Brazile’s passion is encouraging young people to vote, to work with them on the [political] system, to strengthen [the political system] and to run for public office,” said Mary Mitchell, Columbia alumna and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Having worked on every presidential election from 1976 through 2000, Brazile had much to say about U.S. government and the way it runs.

On Oct. 23, Brazile tried something new by starring on CBS’s “The Good Wife,” in which she played herself. She was very excited about the experience and was eager to learn her lines, she told the crowd.

To get into her role, Brazile started to imagine her co-star as Emanuel and delivered her lines in the fierce way that was expected of her, she told the audience.

“I’ve known Rahm since the ’84 campaign,” Brazile said. “He’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel to you all, but he’s still Rahm [to me]. He calls me ‘trouble.’”

During any filming, actors receive trailers, Brazile went on to explain. She was shocked to see her trailer, as well as the clothes, shoes and hair stylist that came along with it.

“[I saw] my name, ‘Donna Brazile’ and I was like, ‘Wow,’” Brazile said. “I never thought I could get a trailer. My family got a trailer after [Hurricane] Katrina, but it wasn’t this kind of trailer.”

It was this personal connection that Brazile presented in her speech that really grabbed students’ attention.

“Donna Brazile’s [speech] was very intelligent, and she went about it in a very personable way,” said Carrie Jones, senior American Sign Language and  English interpretation major, who attended the event.

According to Brazile, politicians are not artists in the sense of fine art. However, some politicians know how to dance around the truth, which is not the way she does it, she said.

Washington D.C. is a city that uses traffic circles to give Americans a false sense of hope that things are moving, when really they are moving in a circle, Brazile said.

When politics move in a circular motion, Americans become concerned that no one is paying attention to them, Brazile said.

“There is a crisis of confidence in most of our institutions and a lack of trust for those we simply disagree with,” she said. “More than two-thirds of all Americans —that includes Republicans, Democrats and Independents—believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.”

Americans feel this way because there was a whole decade of overspending, Brazile said.  She remembered a meeting discussing the surplus with Vice President Al Gore, which won’t be the case this year.

The country is $14 trillion in debt because of the Sept. 11 attacks, tax cuts soon after and the war in Iraq, she added.

According to Brazile, voters are capable of changing this by looking for the best combination of leaders who will give them the results they want.

“Washington is going to remain broken,” she said. “I don’t believe that we are going to send the right people to fix it.”

Brazile has felt this way for a long time, citing the disappointment she felt during Hurricane Katrina.

“I had to [decide] to either go out and talk about my anger or roll up my sleeves and decide to work with government officials,” Brazile said.

After much thought, Brazile decided to work and went on to help then-President George W. Bush in the crisis, she said. By doing this, she motivated students to  create change.

“This is our moment, and we should seize it,” Brazile said. “Why you? Because there is no better. Why now? Because tomorrow is not soon enough.”