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Midwest Matters forum focuses on bipartisan politics

Barry McNamara
Brad McMillan, executive director of the Institute for Principled Leadership at Bradley University, makes a point during the fourth annual Midwest Matters forum at Monmouth College during Homecoming weekend.
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During Monmouth College’s fourth annual Midwest Matters forum on Oct. 12, featured speaker Brad McMillan told a story that captured the state of politics today.
McMillan is the executive director of the Institute for Principled Leadership (IPL) at Bradley University in Peoria. Several months ago, his organization presented its national bipartisanship award to Maryland congressman Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“We had three Republican politicians from the Peoria area – Bob Michel, Ray LaHood and Aaron Schock – there to pay tribute to him,” said McMillan. “It was a wonderful ceremony. We got a smattering of coverage – ABC Radio was there and a few others. But there were 100 reporters outside waiting for Hoyer to be done so they could get a quote on the (Anthony) Weiner scandal. I went outside and invited them to come in to cover a really neat event, full of meaning and substance. They had no interest. That’s a real problem.”
McMillan titled his remarks “Are You Fed Up with the 2012 Elections Yet?” During his talk, he conducted several informal polls, and the overwhelming response was that the crowd of about 100 students, faculty, MC trustees and interested townspeople were indeed fed up with negative political advertisements, in which politicians avoid talking about the policies they’d change or improve in favor of vilifying the opposing candidate.
“The negativity in our politics has spilled over into the legislature once the elections are over,” said McMillan, who reported that $1.32 billion has been spent by the two presidential campaigns to date. “That’s such an enormous waste of money that could be spent in so many different ways.”
As an example of the negativity in legislature, McMillan said that in the 1960s, 65 percent of the voting was consistent with the party line. Today, that number has grown to 92 percent.
“That independence of thinking, that working together for the common good – they’re both slipping away,” he said. “The Institute for Principled Leadership believes a different type of leadership is possible. Our rich black soil in the Midwest has produced the type of leader we’re talking about, and we believe it can do so again.”
McMillan cited five politicians with ties to the Peoria area, plus another – Ronald Reagan – who has ties to nearby Eureka. He began with Abraham Lincoln, who represented the Peoria area from 1847 to 1849 and gave an anti-slavery speech in Peoria in 1854 that “resurrected his career.”
“Lincoln was known for saying, ‘My policy is to have no policy,’” said McMillan. “That meant he would always leave open the possibility to change his mind. ... He also had a streak of humility that, unfortunately, we don’t see in today’s leaders, and he was a great communicator, both orally and through the written word.”
McMillan also spoke about Everett Dirksen, Michel, LaHood and Shock, and pointed to Dirksen’s ability to get 27 of the 33 GOP votes on the Civil Rights Act as a crowning achievement.
Regarding Michel, he cited a quotation from the 38-year congressman: “Raising the level of voice does not raise the level of discussion.” He also talked about Michel’s relationship with former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, saying, “They found common ground when they could for the good of the country.”
LaHood was chosen to chair the impeachment hearings against President Clinton because of his “reputation for fairness.” McMillan, who was on LaHood’s staff at the time, reported that during the hearings the congressman received more than two dozen interview requests from major national media outlets. LaHood put any self-serving interests aside and decided to decline, with the exception of allowing a C-SPAN crew to follow him on the job for a day.
“All of these politicians I’ve discussed have strong ties in a small circle in central Illinois,” said McMillan. “They can serve as a national model for civility and leadership.”
In proposing solutions to the problems with today’s politics, McMillan called for term limits and a major redistricting effort in Illinois. He also praised Monmouth College for one of the messages conveyed in its strategic plan: “We will create a campus environment that instills in our students the ability and desire to construct arguments that are as civil as they are persuasive.”
He also called for efforts to ensure that the “middle majority” is more engaged, defining that term as the 60 percent of voters who are outside the 20 percent of purely GOP voters and the 20 percent who exclusively support Democrats.
“They’re turned off, but nothing’s going to change if they’re disengaged,” McMillan said of the middle majority. “We also need to have open primaries, so this group of voters doesn’t have to come to the poll and declare one party or the other.”
Concluding his remarks, McMillan said, “We, as Americans, have to take this back.”
McMillan was joined on the panel by two members of MC’s communication studies faculty, Joe Angotti and Lee McGaan. Another faculty member, political science lecturer Robin Johnson, introduced McMillan. In his opening remarks, Johnson called attention to a Midwest Matters poll being conducted across state lines in conjunction with Des Moines Area Community College and a post-election forum scheduled at the college for Nov. 13, which will feature three of the four panelists who attended a similar event on campus in 2010.