On the political road again

Knowledge in Action:

On the Political Road Again

By Merrill Balassone

Road to the White House discussion From left, Roberto Suro, Raphael Bostic and Dan Schnur at the semester’s first “Road to the White House” discussion in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center.
Photo by Deirdre Flanagan

With just weeks remaining in the campaign for the Oval Office, USC’s top experts in politics, media and policy came together to turn their crystal ball to the November election.

The Sept. 5 event continued the partnership between three USC academic units — the USC Price School of Public Policy, the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences — to present noontime conversations called “Road to the White House” that began last year and will take place Wednesdays throughout the semester.

The gatherings have become a place for USC’s politicos — students and faculty alike — to respectfully banter about the latest happenings on the campaign trail. The year’s first event included the now infamous conversation between Clint Eastwood and the chair, the pomp of the political conventions and the onslaught of negative advertisements from both political parties.

About 100 students, faculty and staff gathered in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center for the panel, which featured Raphael Bostic, a USC Price professor who served in the Obama administration; Dan Schnur, director of the university’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics and former communications director for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.); and Roberto Suro, a faculty fellow with the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy.

The USC experts shared the stage with student leaders representing the USC College Democrats and USC College Republicans. The lively dialogue stayed true to the forum’s cardinal tenet: Your opponent is not your enemy.

“It’s really hard when you’re in college to stay connected and informed,” said Nathaniel Haas, a freshman majoring in political science who queried the experts about next month’s debates pitting President Barack Obama against Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

“These events really help me to stay aware of what’s going on outside of campus,” he added.

Suro said presidential debates are often the source of events that can turn the tide of an election.

“Debates often produce breakout moments,” said Suro, who also holds a faculty appointment at USC Price and currently serves as the director of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute. “And the chances the losing side will have time to recover is quite slim.”

Said Schnur: “I think debates are overrated. The only way someone is judged as a winner is if their opponent does something really stupid.”

Bostic asserted that the debates would provide a real opportunity for Romney to articulate who he is and what he stands for.

“I think people are looking for reassurance one way or the other about what [his] positions are,” Bostic said. “But the goal of all these debates is just not to mess up.”

The weekly events are a joint effort of USC Price’s Judith and John Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise, the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy and USC Dornsife’s Unruh Institute of Politics.

On Sept. 12, the debate will center on which key issues, including jobs, health care and Medicare, will have the most impact on the campaign in the coming weeks. Glenn Gritzner of Mercury Public Affairs and Michael Madrid of GrassrootsLab are the scheduled panelists.