Much of the evening was consumed with gloomy talk about mounting national debt and partisan gridlock, but former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux and Palm Beach Atlantic University officials were beaming Thursday.
The new LeMieux Center for Public Policy kicked off its lecture series Thursday night with about 400 people filling the school’s DeSantis Family Chapel to listen to David Gergen, the Harvard professor and CNN political analyst who has been an adviser to four presidents.
“We’re starting on a high note,” said LeMieux, an appointed Republican senator from 2009 to 2011. He donated his senatorial papers to the 3,500-student Christian school in 2011 and announced the formation of the public policy center last year.
Gergen, who came to Washington about 40 years ago as an adviser in the Nixon White House, told the gathering that the short-term political situation in the U.S. is as bleak as he has seen.
“I can’t remember a time when the political problems and the economic problems facing the country were as big and our capacity to solve them through politics seemed so small,” said Gergen, who also advised Presidents Ford, Reagan and Clinton.
Gergen said he voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 but cast a write-in vote for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg last year. He said Republicans and Democrats both bear blame for the toxic climate in Washington, but he faulted Obama for not using his formidable political skills to work with Congress.
“He’s a better campaigner than he is a presidential leader,” Gergen said.
“I happen to be a short-term pessimist, but I’m a long-term optimist about the United States.”
Gergen said he’s encouraged by the civic-mindedness of today’s students and the future potential of U.S. technology and energy development.
Gergen spoke for about 40 minutes at the chapel, at Okeechobee Boulevard and Federal Highway, then chatted with LeMieux while both sat in leather chairs.
LeMieux said former Florida Gov. and Sen. Bob Graham and current state House Speaker Will Weatherford are among those scheduled for future lectures.
University President Bill Fleming said he expects the LeMieux Center’s lectures, fellowships and internships to challenge students.
“It’s calling them into civic engagement, proper preparation during their collegiate years followed by a lifetime of servant leadership,” Fleming said.
Former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, who attended the event, said the lecture series could be an asset to the school.
“It just elevates the stature of this campus,” Foley said.