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Students take part in bipartisan summit

On November 29, 2012

  • Political consultant and Tulane professor James Carville, “The ragin Cajun,” and public affairs professional Kiki mcLean with public relations senior Dwayne fontenette onstage during the entergy Lightening round of the bipartisan Policy Center’s fourth annual summit. Dwayne was one of over 20 student ambassadors. J. Karin CurLey/The maroon

The Bipartisan Policy Center's annual political summit brought heavy hitters such as former senator Trent Lott and political consultant couple Mary Matalin and James Carville together on stage to discuss the election and the current state of politics, but Loyola and Tulane students got to share the spotlight as well.
This year's fourth annual summit, called "Beyond the Ballot: A government in transition," took place just a week after the presidential election. Sessions and speakers focused on the election and the question of "now what?"
"Our goal was to inform the New Orleans community and others about what happened during this year's election, explore what lies ahead on the political horizon and highlight opportunities for bipartisan solutions," Ashley Berrang, director of communications, said.
The Bipartisan Policy Center's annual political summit has always been held on Tulane University's campus. According to Jason Grumet, president of the BPC, they have their summit in New Orleans every year because of James Carville and Mary Matalin, political consultants on opposite ends of the political spectrum, who happen to be married. "They are a unique duo when it comes to having political courage and at the same time being able to work well with each other," he said.
Over 20 Tulane, Loyola and LSU students acted as student ambassadors with the BPC before and during the event. Dwayne Fontenette, mass communication and political science senior, was chosen by the BPC to participate in a special session onstage with Carville, Matalin and other pundits and journalists. Apparently BPC staff was impressed with a blog post Fontenette wrote earlier in the semester about Twitter during campaigns, entitled #Campaign140 and available on the BPC website.
"I got a text message at 9:30 p.m. the night before, asking if I would like to be on stage with Carville, and what were my political alliances," Fontenette said. He agreed but didn't get any more information until the day of the event. His session, the Entergy Lightning round, was a lighthearted session at the end of the day. Moderator Jason Grumet posed questions to two groups, democrats and republicans, who discussed the answer among themselves and then were each given 60 seconds to present their agreed upon answer to the other team and the audience.
This session had a decidedly partisan tone to it, Grumet noted in his introduction. Despite the center's focus on promoting bipartisanship to address key challenges facing the nation, Grumet's group knows that "constructive partisanship is the core of our democracy." Playful banter between the groups, especially Carville and Matalin, was representative of the "proud partisanship" that the BPC concedes is an important part of our political landscape as well.
Fontenette represented students in the blue group and Ainsley Fagan from Tulane University represented students in the red group.
When asked to name a surprise nominee to the cabinet in President Obama's second term,
Fontenette was chosen to present the group's answer with his own explanation. The blue group chose former president Bill Clinton to be appointed as treasury secretary.
"He is the secretary of 'splaining things, as Barack Obama said during the campaign," Fontenette said at the time.
In an interview, Fontenette explained the groups reasoning.
"His ability to cut through the complexity of the political environment and rephrase in terminology that will resonate with the audience" is why they chose Clinton, he said. "The economy is so complicated, but Clinton can talk about it and lay it out and explain it to the public," he said. He added that the answer was tongue and cheek; political experts don't actually predict Clinton will get an appointment.
The red team recommended Paul Ryan, in the spirit of bipartisanship, as the most qualified to be the director of the Office of Budget and Management, and Mitt Romney as secretary of commerce, with John McCain as secretary of defense. "Obviously not a bipartisan audience," Matalin joked when the red team's answer elicited heavy booing from the crowd.
Other Loyola student ambassadors included public relations seniors Patrick Rafferty and Zach Goldak. Goldak, as a production assistant, worked in the green room where the panelists stayed between sessions. Rafferty sat at a table in the back of the room manning the BPC twitter account, live tweeting interesting tidbits throughout the day, surrounded by other ambassadors doing the same with Facebook and Youtube.
Goldak kept up on his phone. "The Twitter handle of the panelists was included in the program. There was a lot of Twitter chatter happening during the summited between BPC, the audience and all the panelists," he said. "It was pretty interesting."
One session focused on the role
social media plays in politics and elections. Panelists were split on whether social media contributed to confirmation bias and therefore the bipartisan divide. Confirmation bias is when we seek out the information that confirms what we already believe to be true. Not surprisingly, two panelists, who worked for Facebook and Twitter, felt social media was a boon for across-the-line communication, but a traditional print journalist felt differently. Adam Sharp, head of government news and social innovation at Twitter, felt social media acted as the new "town square" of old, where people worked out their ideas and beliefs and sounded off each other. John Heilemann, national affairs editor for New York magazine and, said social media created many "town squares" that we could pick and choose from. He felt discourse between the left and right was down because of social media.
In an interview Carville also weighed in on social media. He is highly skeptical, he said. "There are too many places for people to go to get validated rather than challenged," he said.
Attendees at the event have increased by almost 50 percent every year. This year, over 1,000 people registered for the summit.
Karin Curley can be reached at

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