Vice President Joe Biden helped the Law School usher in its inaugural Sidley Austin Forum in Washington, DC, last week, delivering remarks during the day-long program, titled “A New American Political System?” In a series of panel discussions throughout the day, experts on election law, media, and politics assessed the upheaval of the 2016 campaign and its potential long-term impact.
Supported by a gift from the law firm Sidley Austin, the forum will be held annually and will explore topics critical to American democracy. NYU Law’s Legislative and Regulatory Process Clinic, taught each fall semester in Washington by Bob Bauer and Sally Katzen, co-hosts the series. Bauer and Katzen are professors of practice and distinguished scholars in residence at the Law School.
“I want to make it clear, the main reason I’m here is Bob Bauer told me to be,” Biden quipped at the beginning of his remarks. Bauer served as White House counsel to President Obama and is general counsel to the Democratic National Committee; Biden said Bauer has long been a valued adviser.
The vice president spoke for nearly an hour, offering reflections on his more than 40 years in public life. He also offered some headline-generating commentary on the 2016 presidential race. The contest had been “ugly,” “divisive,” and “coarse,” he said, adding, “I find myself embarrassed by the nature of the way in which this campaign was conducted.” Noting the program of discussions at the Sidley Austin Forum, he said, “You’re addressing some of the most interesting and emerging issues of modern-day politics.”
Sidley partner and former US Representative Rick Boucher led the forum’s first panel, on the role of political parties. Bauer moderated a panel on campaign finance, and Katzen led Jen Psaki, White House communications director, and Ruth Marcus, Washington Post deputy editorial page director and columnist, in a discussion about the changing roles of news media and social media. A final panel looked at how technology and new ways of disseminating information are shaping the conduct of campaigns. Two NYU Law experts in election law and the law of democracy, Bonnie and Richard Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law Samuel Issacharoff and Sudler Family Professor of Constitutional Law Richard Pildes, each participated in a panel. The program concluded with a presentation by Frederick Yang, a political pollster who offered a perspective on statistics from the 2016 presidential election results.
Election results aside, Biden addressed those who are lamenting the political environment more generally, both acknowledging the concerns and offering solace. “There’s a sense in the country that our institutions aren’t working, and maybe we can never get them to work,” he said. “For a lot of folks, it feels that we’re more divided than we’ve ever been in our history and that the election brought out the worst in the political system.” But the 1960s and 1970s, he noted, were marked by deep social trauma: assassinations, civil rights and anti-war protests, and riots that set cities aflame. “Things were a hell of a lot worse then than they are now,” Biden said. “The nation was a hell of a lot more divided than we are now.” As fractured as things were, he said, “We made it through…those years and that whole era. America was divided, but it didn’t come apart.”
Watch the full video of Joe Biden's speech (57 min):
Posted December 14, 2016