Josh Cooper | Staff Writer
If anyone is qualified to speak on applied ethics in government, it is David Gergen.
A political consultant who has advised the administrations of presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, he has an intimate knowledge of the key ingredients of sound leadership in the political sphere. Among the most important, Gergen said, is a strong ethical grounding.
“I once believed that if you found the brightest and smartest person, you’ve found the best leader. I no longer believe that,” Gergen said. “Character and integrity are absolutely essential to an effective leader as well.”
Gergen said he’s had a front row seat to both successful leadership and failures of leadership.
“I got my start in national politics working for Richard Nixon,” Gergen said. “He was a man of enormous capability, but he had demons, and those demons ultimately destroyed him.”
The topic for Gergen’s speech is “Leadership and Politics in a Changing America.” He said the change in political culture makes this an important discussion.
“It’s going to be a conversation about the possible decline of America and the danger of that decline and the importance of not only policy solutions, but also about restoring and healing the political culture in this country,” Gergen said.
Particularly important topics, Gergen said, are the disappearance of the American middle class and the diminishing influence of the values of our national past.
“All of that fits into a larger question of, ‘Are we in a time of decline?’” Gergen said.
Aside from his background of working within government, Gergen’s diverse experience includes work as an educator, journalist, best-selling author and political commentator. He currently serves as director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where he is also a professor of public service.
He is the editor at large for U.S. News and World Report and a senior political analyst for CNN. His 2000 book Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton was a New York Times best-seller. Gergen said part of what he is looking forward to during his visit to Chautauqua is making joint appearances with his son Christopher, who will be giving several seminars about entrepreneurship in America.
Chautauqua is a family affair this year for Gergen.
“My wife is coming, my son Christopher and his wife and children are coming, so it’s a great opportunity to spend some time together as a family too,” he said.
Gergen has spoken at Chautauqua in years past and said the attendees are exceptional.
“The audience is wonderful,” Gergen said. “When I was here a number of years ago, they were very responsive; they ask insightful questions, pay attention. I had a wonderful experience there.”