The Institute for the Arts and Humanities welcomed Jon M. Huntsman, former Governor of Utah and U.S. Ambassador to China, to UNC to deliver the 2012 Weil Lecture on American Citizenship on Monday, November 12.
Huntsman addressed the topic of “America 2012 and Beyond: Challenges and Opportunities” through a discussion with Hodding Carter, UNC professor of leadership and public policy and former State Department spokesman for President Jimmy Carter. A lively crowd of more than 500 people filled Hill Hall Auditorium to hear a conversation on the current state of American politics, domestic policies and the United States’ relationship with China.
Huntsman began by talking about his time as a candidate in the Republican presidential primary, which he referred to as a circus. He explained that there is too much incentive right now for politicians to “run to the extremes,” which has created an unprecedented environment of polarization and partisanship as well as a sense that compromise is analogous with treason.
“Before we are Republican and before we are Democrat, we are all Americans. Authentic compromise is how it works in our homes and it is how it works in our world,” Huntsman said, drawing applause from the diverse crowd.
Huntsman and Carter both addressed the need to fix the public’s “trust deficit” with regard to politicians and the media alike. Although Huntsman acknowledged that America is dealing with a broken system that needs reform, he also explained that his time spent abroad helped him put things in perspective.
“Sometimes we forget that we’re our own worst enemy and we don’t give ourselves enough credit. Looking at the U.S. from ten thousand miles away, I could see the light shining of our shared values.”
Moving the conversation towards foreign policy, Carter asked if China is the next “boogie man,” to which Huntsman responded by saying that it’s “easier for politicians to talk about what you’re going to do to China, as compared to what you’re going to do with China,” and that the U.S. needs to establish a strategic dialogue in order to move forward.
In his opinion, this global relationship will be the defining relationship of the 21st century. “We are so interlocked, both economically and culturally. We’re married, and divorce isn’t an option, so we need to find a way to make the relationship work.”
Following the discussion was a question and answer session that also focused primarily on foreign policy and America’s relationship with China. Earlier that day, Huntsman participated in another question and answer session that was open to the public. Students, faculty and community members packed the Hyde Hall University Room, and while they touched on many of the same topics that Huntsman addressed that evening, it also allowed him to speak to the audience in a more intimate setting.
In closing, he offered this advice to students, saying that is has shaped his world-view and career: “Discover your passion, build your life around it, and find a way to improve your community while doing it.”
Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. began his career in public service as a White House staff assistant to President Ronald Reagan. He has since served four U.S. Presidents in critical roles around the world, including U.S. Ambassador to Singapore, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Asia, U.S. Trade Ambassador and most recently U.S. Ambassador to China.
Twice elected as Governor of Utah, Huntsman brought about strong economic reforms and helped bring unemployment rates to historic lows. He was elected as chairman of the Western Governors Association, serving nineteen states throughout the region, and also served on the Executive Committee of the National Governors Association.
He currently serves on the board of Ford Motor Company, Caterpillar Corporation, The U.S. Naval Academy Foundation, The University of Pennsylvania, as a distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institute, and as a trustee of the Reagan Foundation. He is also the chairman of The Huntsman Cancer Foundation. He is a graduate of The University of Pennsylvania and has seven honorary doctorate degrees.
The Weil Lecture on American Citizenship
The Weil Lecture, established in 1915 by brothers Henry and Solomon Weil, aims to widen discussion of the American scene. President William Howard Taft delivered the first Weil Lecture and other distinguished speakers have included President Jimmy Carter, Eleanor Roosevelt, U.S. Senators J. William Fulbright, Nancy Kassebaum and John Kerry, and most recently, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Other speakers have been members of Congress, diplomats, political commentators and renowned scholars. The Institute for the Arts and Humanities has hosted UNC’s Weil Lecture on American Citizenship biennially since 2000.