Welcome to “Campaign for President: The Managers Look at 2016” conference at Harvard Kennedy School

Dean Douglas Elmendorf
Harvard Kennedy School
Prepared for delivery on November 30, 2016

Good afternoon, and welcome to Harvard Kennedy School. I’m Doug Elmendorf, the Dean of the Kennedy School, and we are delighted to have you here.

Every four years, just after our national election has ended, the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics hosts an event to review the election campaign, and especially the campaign for president. This event is part of the Kennedy School’s contribution to the political history of the United States. We want to see what lessons can be learned about the functioning of our democracy—about the strategies used by candidates and their staffs to create the narratives of their candidacies; about the tactics taken by candidates and their staffs to rebut the claims of their opponents; about the role of the media in covering and, to some extent, creating the campaign; and about the attitudes, interests, and behavior of voters. To glean these lessons, we invite to this event the people who were at the heart of the campaign. We invite the managers of the successful and unsuccessful candidates, and we invite distinguished journalists and pollsters who were involved in the campaign. We ask these guests to tell their own stories and to pose challenging questions to the other guests.

The campaign for president that has just ended has been especially divisive, and some guests who were invited to this event have already spurred strong reactions from members of our community. So, let me use this opportunity to explain the Kennedy School’s longstanding approach to visiting speakers and conference participants: We invite people who have significantly influenced events in the world even if their actions or words are abhorrent to some members of our community or are in conflict with the values of the Kennedy School itself.

Why do we invite speakers and conference participants to whom I or you or others may have the strongest objections? It is not because the Kennedy School seeks to endorse those speakers’ views or legitimize those views, and it is not because we are unsure of our own values. In fact, the School takes no positions on specific issues in public policy beyond those directly relevant to the School itself, so we never endorse speakers’ or conference participants’ views, and we deliberately invite guests who represent a wide range of views on many issues. Moreover, the School stands proudly and firmly for its values as an institution: We believe resolutely in the worth of each person regardless of their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, and other characteristics, so we support inclusiveness and reject prejudice. We believe resolutely in the importance of knowledge and inquiry, so we develop expertise through careful analysis.

We invite speakers and conference participants who have significantly influenced events in the world even if their actions or words cause pain in our community or are at odds with our values because we think that a vigorous discussion of those guests’ actions and words can illuminate crucial issues in public policy and public leadership, and thereby improve policy and leadership over time. Deep differences in worldviews—including fundamental disagreements about right and wrong—play key roles in domestic political developments, international conflicts, human rights, economic conditions, and many other subjects of our attention at the Kennedy School. To understand differences in worldviews and the way in which those differences affect public policy and leadership, we invite to the Kennedy School speakers and conference participants whose actions and words have mattered in the world—for good and for bad, depending on one’s perspective.

Nearly a century ago, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes argued “that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas—that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” To ensure that discussions with visiting speakers and conference participants at the Kennedy School generate the test of ideas that Justice Holmes envisioned, we insist that each speaker take unfiltered questions from some members of the audience. We also insist that the audience interact with speakers with civility.

You will see our approach in action over the next two days. We look forward to a vigorous set of discussions, and the proceedings will be released from embargo at the end of the conference at 7:30 pm tomorrow evening. We are grateful for your participation. Thank you.