Thanks to the efforts of Mercyhurst political science professor Brian Ripley, Ph.D., acting in his capacity as head of the Public Affairs Forum of the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics, Mercyhurst College has recently been host to talks by Mike Kelly. The current U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s Third Congressional District, which includes all of Erie County, joined one of his predecessors, Phil English in speaking to the college community this term.
The differences in style and substance of the two discussions, one from a former elected official and one from a current officeholder, both Republicans, were both revealing and illustrative of one of the flaws of our political process.
English, who served from 1995 to 2009, gave a talk on Sept. 17, in observance of Constitution Day. He gave a frank and forthright talk, open to the general public, in which he discussed his time in office, what he has done since leaving office and the main topic of his speech, constitutional issues that the U.S. is faced with. For example, English openly acknowledged that since leaving office, he has been serving as a lobbyist for natural gas companies interested in the Marcellus Shale. He also provided thoughtful answers to questions posed by audience members.
Kelly, on the other hand, was very much the politician when he addressed his audience, restricted to Mercyhurst College students, faculty and staff, on Oct. 20.
In response to many of the questions posed to him, Kelly showed the political skill of avoiding a direct answer to the question or answering in such a way to tell the questioners what he thought they might want to hear.
A Mercyhurst graduate student asked about Republican attempts at repealing the 2010 healthcare bill, which would revoke her ability to keep her health insurance as provided by her parent’s policy.
Kelly told her that he was in favor of people having health insurance but since graduate students often had difficulty maintaining their parentally-provided insurance, this would have little effect on the general public. While this may be true for the general public, it would clearly have an effect in her particular case.
This contrast in speaking styles illustrates a major flaw in the political process. It is in the best interests of politicians who wish to further their political career to keep their constituents pleased by attempting to convince them that the politician is always working in their best interests.
It is in the best interests of the general public to have forthright political figures who would plainly describe their own views and let the public choose, on that basis, whether to support or reject them.