Ray Suarez is the headline at Pomfret School

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Pomfret - posted Mon., Jan. 28, 2013
Ray Suarez flew in from Switzerland, where he was covering the World Economic Forum. Photos by D. Coffey.
Ray Suarez flew in from Switzerland, where he was covering the World Economic Forum. Photos by D. Coffey.

Listening to Ray Suarez on the public television show “NewsHour” is a nightly routine for millions. He has a storied career that dates back more than 30 years. His credits include hosting National Public Radio's “Talk of the Nation,” and the monthly radio program “America Abroad.” He has reported from New York, Los Angeles, London and Rome on some of the most complex and compelling issues of our time. On Jan. 27, he spoke at the Hard Auditorium at Pomfret School as the 2013 Schwartz Visiting Fellow.

What he did Sunday night was to distill as much of those 30 years as he could into an hour-long talk on the state of politics in America. He used the presidential campaign as a framework for those ideas. Calling the political divide in the country “profound,” he talked about the challenges facing both Democrats and Republicans. He called immigration, education, drone strikes, bank regulations, the deficit and Guantanamo Bay some of the biggest problems facing the country. According to Suarez, the rhetoric from both parties hasn't been conducive to negotiation or trust or shared sacrifice; both parties have been imprisoned by their views; and the discussion of issues facing the country has been too narrow.

“Global climate change and the way it's going to roll out over the next decade is a bigger threat than $4 gallon gas, but the gas price gets all the attention,” he said. “The other hardly gets discussed at all. It's a tough, tough world out there and we're not even doing the easy stuff.”

Complicating matters, he said, is the importance of the 30-second sound byte in which a politician has to make a strong impression. There's no room for detail or nuance in 30 seconds. And it doesn't help that daily deadline journalism puts a premium on what's quick and fashionable, he said. “I feel bad that Kate Middleton has morning sickness,” he said, “but I feel worse that I know Kate Middleton has morning sickness.”

Suarez does see room for optimism. Some things have to get done quickly. “Debt gives you less room to maneuver,” he said. “There isn't any room for dithering. It's like having a baseball headed at your head at 100 miles an hour.”

Suarez talked about how laws have twisted campaigns into pretzels, that no matter who won the election, a president's hands are tied on many issues, that keeping dirty money, stealth money and foreign money out of politics is a quandary for any democracy.

“A lot of Americans have come to the conclusion that ‘those guys’ up there don't understand their lives and have no idea how to help them, and don't really want to help them. I think it's a tragedy because a lot of public servants really are humane, human-spirited people who do want to find a way to fix the problems of the country. So many people are so turned off that they don't believe it anymore, and believing it is actually a necessary ingredient for fixing it.”

Suarez held court for almost an hour after his talk, answering questions from members of the audience. “He raised a lot of interesting questions,” said Judy Konieczny. “It was great to be able to hear a nationally-known figure who we listen to every night.”

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