WASHINGTON — Retired NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw entertained the audience during his afternoon session at CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference with personal stories about former President Ronald Reagan, former anchor Walter Cronkite and former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.)
However, it was his personal idea of establishing six public service academies that drew the most whispers in the audience.
Brokaw said big ideas unite America, and small ideas divide. To return the country to an era of civility and tolerance, the tenured newsman proposed establishing fellowship programs at land grant universities, which would be public-private endeavors.
The programs, in technology, agriculture and other specialties, would train public servants who could serve as experts in times of national crisis, rather than calling upon the National Guard or other military resourc
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Comparing the drama in Congress to the reality show “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” Brokaw said he’s never seen the political system in such disrepair in its inability to find common ground.
“Somehow in the last 10 years or so, we’ve hit the wall,” he said.
He called the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the emotionally and physically war-torn soldiers left in their wake “not just unjust but immoral,” and said caring for soldiers unable to rejoin society would be a good place to start to knit the country back together.
Brokaw shared the story of recently deceased Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who served in W0rld War Two despite hearing stories of Japanese relatives on the mainland being held in internment camps.
After risking his life rescuing Texas National Guard soldiers in the war, Inouye recuperated in a military hospital with two other soldiers; the three became friends and decided they would each pursue a career in public service. The other two soldiers also became senators: Dole and former Sen. Phil Hart (D-Mich.).
That dedication to public service and working together was evident, Brokaw said, as Inouye’s body lay in state at the Capitol rotunda. The now elderly Dole, who came to pay his respects in a wheelchair, stood and saluted his fellow veteran, not as a Democrat or Republican, but as a fellow American, Brokaw said.
“That’s the spirit we need to return to as a country,” Brokaw said.
The longtime NBC News anchor and The Greatest Generation author also said the 21st century will be remembered as the era of women, noting that more than half of Ivy League university presidents are now women, and more than half of all law school students are female.