Former White House aides talk politics at Fogelson Honors Forum


    The John V. Roach Honors College hosted former White House aides Paul Begala and Ari Fleischer Oct. 4 for a night of political discussion. 

    Several hundred people descended upon Ed Landreth Auditorium for the Fogelson Honors Forum to hear President George W. Bush’s former press secretary, Ari Fleischer, and former senior aide to President Bill Clinton, Paul Begala. 

    After both men were introduced, they each gave a short speech that included their thoughts on the presidential election, the candidates and political discourse and made jokes.

    Fleischer began with a joke about a TCU fan pushing a Baylor fan off a cliff, and Begala began with a joke about graduating from college with a 4.0… blood alcohol content. 

    Both men also took part in a question and answer session with students from the Honors College earlier in the day. 

    Begala and Fleischer, now both members of CNN’s political team, said they speak at forums together often. 

    “[Forums] make for interesting clashes in front of audiences, and I think people appreciate hearing two different points of few,” Fleischer said. “But by the same token, and this is why I like doing these with Paul, you need to keep it at a level where you have fun." 

    "You’re able to show people the good things in government,” Fleischer continued. “It’s not just a clash because there should be clashes. We have differences. But there are a lot of uplifting parts of [government] too.”

    Both Begala and Fleischer said they spend a lot of time during election year speaking to groups around the country. 

    “You spend a lot of Septembers and Octobers in election year doing this type of thing,” Fleischer said. “There are a lot of groups that are interested in politics and want to know the latest. Paul and I are lucky that we get to travel and do this.”

    Paul Begala echoed Fleischer’s comments about trying to impart to the students that government has a noble side. 

    “[Politics] is not only an honorable thing,” Begala said. “If you have a chance to help run the only superpower on God’s earth, why would you pass that by?”

    After each candidate made their speeches, political science professor James Riddlesperger conducted a question and answer session. 

    Riddlesperger asked the two men about civil discourse and congressional gridlock.

    How Far They Have Come

    The political lives of Begala and Fleischer reached their apexes when both men had prominent positions on the White House staff. 

    Both men said that politics is a field where young people can rise quickly. Fleischer described politics as “hungry for the best.”

    Begala's political career began when he was in college, helping with the reelection campaign of a state senator. 

    “I loved it. I had the bug,” Begala said. “The bad thing was his opponent dropped out, and I wept. He was happy because he had no race, but I was crushed because I had no job. 

    I remember the campaign manager telling me this: Don’t cry, son. As long as you can walk and chew gum, someone will hire you in politics,” Begala finished. 

    “It has been the story of my life,” Begala said. 

    On the other hand, Fleischer said his political career began at the same time as he switched parties from Democrat to Republican. 

    “A friend of mine said that her brother was managing this congressional race against my Democratic congressman, and they needed a press secretary,” Fleischer said. “I just got the bug. I fell in love.”

    “We lost…I moved to Washington. I was unemployed for three months, and my first paid job was in the basement of the Republican National Committee,” Fleischer finished. 

    According to the John V. Roach Honors College, the Fogelson Forum will continue to bring “renowned speakers, eminent scholars, and professional practitioners to campus” in the future.

    During the 2008 election, the Fogelson Forum also focused on politics. John V. Roach Honors College faculty member Lauren Nixon said that the event brought Sen. Bill Bradley and Gov. Jeb Bush to campus that year. 

    The John V. Roach Honors College presents the Fogelson Honors Forum annually due to a $1 million gift from the late E.E. Fogelson and his wife, actress Greer Garson.