Tim Russert provides UM community ‘A View from Washington’

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (August 27, 2007) –
Never had Tim Russert seen Washington, D.C. change so dramatically and so quickly. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, often at opposite ends of the political spectrum, set aside their differences and embraced each other. The blaring horns from impatient drivers stuck in rush-hour traffic suddenly grew silent, as rudeness gave way to respect.

That was setting in the nation’s capital on September 11, 2001.

“Our lives changed forever that day,” said Russert, managing editor and moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, to thousands of University of Miami students, faculty, staff and invited guests at the BankUnited Center Monday night in his address, titled “A View from Washington,” which was presented at the fourth annual Fall Convocation.

Displaying the same savvy and knowledgeable delivery that has earned him the label of “the most influential journalist in Washington, D.C,” Russert treated the UM audience to a gamut of his political insights, addressing not only the effect of 9/11 but also the current Bush administration, the ongoing conflict in Iraq, and the importance of the upcoming 2008 presidential election.

With the campaigns of the nation’s presidential hopefuls swinging into high gear as a series of critical state primaries draws ever closer, Russert urged UM students to seek out the difficult problems and challenge political candidates by asking the tough questions. “No one political party has a monopoly on the truth,” said Russert, who is also a political analyst for NBC Nightly News and Today.

Jackie Nespral, A.B. '89, NBC6 anchorwoman and UM Alumni Association president, Tim Russert, and President Donna E. Shalala are seen before his address.

He recalled the 2000 presidential election and the role Florida played in its outcome, predicting that for the next 100 years legal scholars will debate the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to halt recounts in the state. Russert addressed the nation’s Social Security system, telling students that the program will not be able to absorb the 80 million people who will be on the benefit in the next 15 years unless something is done to fix it.

He passed on to UM students lessons about decency and respect that he learned from his father, who worked as a truck driver and sanitation worker to raise four children. “We could not trade our pencil for a fork until our homework was done,” Russert said. “Those are the kinds of things as far as discipline and accountability that are so necessary today.”

He challenged students to be agents of change and serve as an example for the rest of the world, just as the nation did more than 50 years ago when it “rose to the occasion during World War II and stopped fascism.”

Known as a tough inquisitor who often presses politicians on their views, Russert found himself on the receiving end of questions Monday night as he took questions from several students, giving his opinions about online blogs, the character traits a U.S. president must possess, and how law school helped his career.

Encouraging students to graduate as proud ’Canes and with confidence that they can do something about the environment, health care and other pressing problems, Russert left them with three pieces of advice: “study hard, laugh often, and keep your honor.”