Students and faculty gathered in the Washington Room and listened intently on Tuesday, Apr. 3 to the first secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge deliver the 2012 Clement Lecture. Ridge was invited to deliver the lecture, which is given every other year in memory of Martin W. Clement ’01, H ’51, by St. Anthony Hall, and he eagerly answered questions and voiced his opinions on various government issues.
After serving as Assistant to President George W. Bush for Homeland Security from 2001 to 2003, Ridge was appointed Homeland Security Secretary and held that position from 2003 to 2005. From 1983 to 1995 he held a seat in the House of Representatives, and he was the Governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001. Ridge is currently the President and CEO of Ridge Global, a private security-consulting firm. Regarding his move to the private sector, Ridge said “I don’t have to worry about talking in sound bites…or making news. Now I can say whatever I want.”
One of the main topics Ridge spoke about was the differences that exist between Republicans and Democrats. Although he was considered a moderate Republican while in office, Ridge said he disagrees with many of the ideas that anchor the Republican Party, including the need to reform immigration laws and the strong partisanship and opposition of ideas that has recently prevented compromise between the two parties. “Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a monopoly on the best ideas,” Ridge said. He explained that when he served in Congress 20 years ago, “compromise wasn’t a dirty word,” and members of both parties often worked together to create legislation.
Ridge also said he believes today’s steadfast conservative Republicans should look to former President Ronald Reagan as an example of how to maintain conservative ideals but also work together with members of the opposing party. “He was not a self-righteous, judgmental conservative,” Ridge remarked.
Another Republican tenet Ridge is not in agreement with is the belief in the necessity of less engagement by the US in world issues. Contrary to the ideas of many GOP politicians, Ridge believes that if the US were to decrease its involvement in world affairs it would be shirking its leadership role in matters of he economy, politics, and the military. In an effort to stress America’s economic dependence on other countries, Ridge joked that if the country were to cut itself off from the rest of the world Americans would have no transportation and would be homeless. He also commented “God only knows what you’ll be wearing,” to stress the fact that the majority of clothing worn by Americans is manufactured abroad.
Ridge also believes in the importance of American involvement in world issues because other countries look to the US as a natural leader. He said that the country obviously has flaws, and “We’re imperfect. In 230 years we’re still trying to get it right.” Regardless, emigrants still flock to America for the values the country has always stood for: life, liberty, and freedom.
In his travels, Ridge has seen that the world expects the US to act according to this value system, and when asked if the country is capable of maintaining its leadership role on the world stage he has simply answered “we must.”
Next Ridge turned to the issue of the United States’ involvement in the Middle East. Ridge, who calls himself “a strong proponent of foreign aid,” believes the US has a huge stake in what occurs in this part of the world, especially in Iran, which he called the “No. 1 terrorist state.” Ridge criticized the United Nations for their attempts to enact change in the region, saying that they are “unable to execute in a way that can actually influence events,” except in terms of humanitarian efforts.
Unable to discuss the Middle East without commenting on the Iraq War, Ridge said he was not involved in the Bush administration’s decision to invade the country. “Clearly there were no [weapons of mass destruction],” he said. “There will always be a debate whether we should have been there in the first place.” Ridge also wondered whether the Iraqi government would be able to maintain stability in the absence of US military personnel, saying, “It’s not a slam dunk that there’s going to be a happy ending.”