Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, who earned his master’s in public administration from Lehigh in 1993, returned to the university in February to meet with students and to deliver the 2020 Kenner Lecture on Cultural Understanding.
A leader of the GOP’s moderate bloc while in the House, Dent stepped down from Congress in 2018 after 27 years in public office—first as a state lawmaker in Pennsylvania, then, since 2005, as the U.S. Representative for his Allentown, Pa.-based district. He chaired the House Appropriations subcommittee on military construction, veterans
affairs and related agencies.
Dent now appears frequently as a CNN political commentator, and he is a senior policy advisor for DLA Piper law firm in Washington, D.C.
Prior to the Kenner Lecture, the Bulletin caught up with Dent at his home in Lehigh County, Pa., for a conversation about the politics of anger, the state of affairs in Washington and the challenges for centrist problem-solvers.
Anger seems to be increasingly pervasive in today’s politics. Why?
There’s always been a fair amount of anger in American politics. I don’t think anger’s new. What is different is, a lot of folks have figured out a way to monetize that anger. What I mean by that is, on the right, you’ve got talk radio, you’ve got cable news programs, Fox and others, that have been able to monetize, what I’ll say is, conservative anger. The left monetizes [anger] too, in social media. So each side has figured out a way to monetize this. And they do it because they’re trying to get market share. They need ratings, clicks, eyeballs, that sort of thing. That’s what drives their business model. … They’re never going to be able to drive ratings by saying, Didn’t those guys in Congress do a good job on this piece of legislation, how they brought this thing together in a bipartisan manner? There’s no money in it for that.
But what about the angry politicians?
They’re a reflection of the broader political environment. Many politicians feel their political reward is to tack closer to their political base. … It’s safer to be there. They see a lot less reward for consensus or compromise. There was a time when I thought maybe the electorate was more inclined to reward politicians who sought consensus or compromise. Today, not as much. And again, many members of Congress represent districts that are decidedly Republican or Democrat. There are very few who represent marginal districts like I did.