Recently I researched a widely-used quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson that I planned to include in an upcoming speech. To my surprise, I found that doing so would have perpetuated an historical inaccuracy - about the founder of my university (UVA) no less! Jefferson is often said to have written: "An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” According to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation - which maintains an exhaustive database on all things Jefferson - while the quote may have reflected his views, he neither said nor wrote it. That was a reminder to me about how careful one needs to be in checking sources.
World Affairs Council audiences frequently have the privilege to hear and question key policymakers, and other original sources, without external filters. This has certainly been true this summer, with appearances by current and former key players in our national security apparatus including James Clapper, Michael Hayden, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Ben Rhodes. Sometimes speaker appearances at our podium prompt emails and calls of pleasure and displeasure from our members. My response is this: The Council provides a safe - and I hope balanced - venue for different points of view, giving our members and the public the chance to listen to varying perspectives and, in many cases, to hear why a decision that in hindsight may seem flawed at the time was the best of several challenging options.
Since the dawn of this century, partisanship has become increasingly bitter, with the margins moving farther apart. I think you will agree that today this rancor has spread more broadly, touching our neighborhoods, families, and yes, even our World Affairs Council.
Several members have mentioned to me that they are tired, if not weary, of the hyperbolic rhetoric and that they are “checking-out” and ignoring the news. While that is tempting, it is not why you and I support the World Affairs Council. It is interesting to refer to the Council’s original establishment statement from 1951: "In the belief that better community education in world affairs is necessary for sound democratic citizenship, and in order to present facts and realistic appraisals, and to foster free and informed discussions on world problems, including economic, political and social problems, the Dallas Council on World Affairs is established."
With the midterm elections just a few months away, we hope to include in our program a number of the candidates. In this vein, you will note that Beto O’Rourke will be speaking on August 15. Senator Ted Cruz has accepted our invitation although a date is yet to be confirmed. We will also welcome Colin Allred on August 8 and hope that Rep. Pete Sessions will accept our invitation. Soon we will begin inviting likely candidates in the 2020 presidential race (as we did before the 2016 election). The recent survey that many of you completed confirms once again that our members view the Council as politically neutral and unbiased. As you might imagine, this is a measurement that we monitor especially carefully.
In just a few days, we join our friends at the Dallas Museum of Art to celebrate the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela and so it seems appropriate to close with this quotation: "A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that in the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger."
I look forward to continuing the conversation with you.
Jim Falk, President and CEO
World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth