USC Price School of Public Policy

Schwarzenegger Institute Inaugural Symposium

Schwarzenegger Symposium Convenes Innovators from Politics, Entertainment

By Matthew Kredell

Symposium morning panel Panelists, from left: Arnold Schwarzenegger, ABC News correspondent Cokie Roberts, Sen. John McCain and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle
Photo by Tom Queally

Arnold Schwarzenegger brought his commanding presence to the world of academia Sept. 24 in the inaugural symposium of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy, housed at the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.

The official launch of the institute brought political luminaries and entertainment industry giants to USC to highlight the importance of post-partisanship, the effectiveness of local strategies in solving global challenges and the value of innovation. Nearly 1,000 people attended the event, including 250 USC students. USC Price senior Bryshon Nellum, who won a silver medal in track at the London Olympics, began the symposium by co-leading the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.

USC President Max Nikias with Arnold Schwarzenegger USC President Max Nikias with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Photo by Tom Queally

Schwarzenegger shared his experiences as the 38th governor of California, pledging to use the institute to continue pursuing the ambitious goals he took into office in order to give back to California and the world.

“I learned the old way of doing things just didn’t work, so I broke the rules,” said Schwarzenegger, a Republican who hired a Democrat as his chief of staff and made almost half of his judiciary appointments from the other side of the aisle. “… In the process, I discovered my own rules. They’re the rules I used to govern, and those are the very rules that will direct the vision of this institute.”

Bryshon Nellum USC Price senior Bryshon Nellum (right), silver medalist in track at the London Olympics, co-led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Photo by Tom Queally

The institute – which is co-led by Bonnie Reiss, who serves as global director, and Nancy Staudt, the Edward G. Lewis Chair in Law and Public Policy at USC, who serves as academic director – focuses on five priority areas: education, energy and environment, fiscal and economic policy, health and human wellness, and political reform.

“The establishment of this institute marks the merger between the brightest policymakers of our time and the university that has long been the leader in civic engagement, locally, nationally and internationally,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias, who delivered the day’s opening remarks. “The emergence of the Schwarzenegger Institute at USC could not come at a more critical moment. The world is beset by a myriad of challenging problems, all crying out for serious and sustainable solutions.”

Symposium afternoon panel From left: Jack Knott, Bonnie Reiss, Jimmy Iovine, Ben Smith, Brian Grazer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ron Meyer, Rob Friedman and Nancy Staudt
Photo by Steve Cohn

The event drew coverage from a wide range of national and international media outlets, including C-SPAN, the Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, The Economist, Reuters, The Los Angeles Times, FOX Business, People Magazine, Inside Edition and The Hollywood Reporter and Kleine Zeitung from Schwarzenegger’s native country of Austria.

“The focus of the Schwarzenegger Institute on reaching across the partisan divide to provide policy based on evidence and analysis is especially important today,” said USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott. “… What is contributing to this gridlock in the U.S. is the interaction between our very important separation of powers system, which requires compromise and agreement to make work — especially in a divided government as we have today and with the partisan polarization gripping the country.”

Schwarzenegger, the inaugural holder of the Governor Downey Professor of State and Global Policy at USC, took part in two panel discussions. The morning panel, “Political Leaders’ Views on the Importance of Post-Partisanship,” featured current Arizona Senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, along with former governors Charlie Crist of Florida, Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. The panel was moderated by ABC News political commentator Cokie Roberts.

Roberts provided statistics on polarization in the country and in Congress. Citing data from the National Journal, she noted that 18 percent of Democrats view themselves as conservative today compared to 31 percent in 1980, while Republicans are much more staunchly conservative at 63 percent today compared to 42 percent. In 1982, 344 of the 435 members of Congress had voting records that placed between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat. Today there is only one.

“I like the idea and direction of the Schwarzenegger Institute, and I hope it can continue to bring interesting speakers to campus,” said Ryan Cassutt, a first-year graduate student in public policy at USC Price.

Crist and Ridge provided examples of times they received backlash from members of their own party for doing what they felt was right, Crist in publicly embracing President Obama when he made a visit to Florida during his governorship and Ridge when he took a stand against assault weapons during his time in Congress.

“The extremism is just not going to work,” said Richardson, a member of the institute’s board of advisors. “We need the reinvigoration of the Ridges and the Schwarzeneggers, and Sen. McCain I think can play an enormously important role in this. I’m actually thinking that, when the nation goes into crisis, that we work it out. It may not be instant, but I see the problems of climate change, the environment, immigration … I see some potential for common ground.”

As the active politician on the panel, Sen. McCain is the one who will be directly involved with trying to break through the partisan gridlock.

“There’s a realization that the damage it could do to the American economy may force action on the part of Congress and the President,” McCain said. “After this election… I still believe that there’s going to be a strong motivation for all of us to try to resolve this issue for the sake of the country.”

A lunch-time discussion centered on “Local Solutions to Global Problems,” addressing issues involving energy, the environment and climate change. The panel featured R. K. Pachauri, chair of the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster. NBC 4-Los Angeles reporter Conan Nolan moderated the panel.

“We have lost our ability to think long-term,” said Foster, who fought for environmental improvements to the Port of Long Beach. “We used to be a nation that built things, that had capital investment, that had infrastructure. We actually sacrificed some of the things in the present for a better future for our kids and grand kids. We don’t do much of that anymore.”

An afternoon panel on “The Power of People and Innovation” featured top executives from the entertainment industry. Schwarzenegger was joined by Rob Friedman, co-chairman of Lionsgate; Brian Grazer, chairman of Imagine Entertainment; Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope Geffen A&M; and Ron Meyer, president of Universal Studios. Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, moderated the panel.

Much of the discussion focused on the entertainment industry’s ability to spark social change.

“I think we have a chance as an industry to tell a story that makes an impact on society and the way people think and feel,” said Meyer, whose studio affected the way some people looked at homosexual relationships with the release of “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005. Meyer also cited the 1967 movie, “Guess who’s Coming to Dinner,” as an example of the breaking stereotypes dealing with interracial couples.

Iovine talked about the power people have over social media and technology.

“Tech companies are culturally inept,” Iovine said. “They have these platforms – they have Twitter, Facebook – but the content is provided by the consumer. It’s user-generated content, all of it. They need culture. So we have an enormous advantage.”

Schwarzenegger summed up the event and the aim of the institute by bluntly calling for politicians to have the courage to break from partisanship.

“The status quo is truly a powerful monster that resists change at all times,” he said. “You can produce the best ideas on earth, but if you don’t have political courage you have nothing. Words without action are just poetry. To use a very scholarly phrase, meaningful change takes balls.”