Tim Russert

Whether discussing issues of the home or ones of national importance, Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," often refers to the philosophy of one man - his father - and he did so at Mount Union on Tuesday night as he presented the annual Schooler Lecture to a packed house in the Timken Physical Education Building.

"I don't think the English language has yet found the words to describe the anguish, fear and grief of that tragedy," Russert said. After the planes hit the World Trade Center, Russert immediately called his father, who likened the tragedy to Pearl Harbor.

"My Dad pointed out that other countries underestimate the ability of Americans to unite after tragedy," said Russert. "And he was right. We have that ability. America stayed united for days, weeks and months following September 11."

Then the country went to war - a war that expanded in 2002 with President Bush's decision to go into Iraq. According to Russert, nearly 80 percent of American's supported the move and were united behind the actions of the administration.

"Initially, the expansion to Iraq was successful, but soon the questions came," said Russert. "Where were the weapons of mass destruction?"

Russert pointed out that it wasn't only the Bush administration that claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destructions. In interviews with John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, both indicated that the weapons were there, as did intelligence from other countries.

"In the end, we had a massive breakdown in intelligence," said Russert. "We want our president to be believed and our intelligence to be respected, so we had to address this issue."

Russert referred to the establishment of a commission to investigate the lapse in intelligence and called it a "step in the right direction."

"It is important, not to point the finger, but as a democracy, to understand what went wrong," said Russert.

Indicating the inability to locate weapons of mass destruction as a turning point in the war, Russert said that many of the same Americans that initially supported the war in Iraq now say the war is not worth the loss of human life. Many are calling for a speedy withdrawal, and at the same time, President Bush is pleading for more time.

Russert believes we have to solve this problem as a nation, saying "Iraq is not a Democratic or Republican problem, it's an American problem, and many others are too."

Medicare, unemployment, education and conflict with others countries are just a few of the problems that Russert said we need to face as a nation, and dealing with reporting such issues in the news is a challenge he faces everyday.

"I often think of the words of my father," he said, when dealing with these issues.

Russert recently penned "Big Russ and Me," a memoir about growing up under the watchful eye of his father, who left school in the 10th grade to fight in World War II.

"After facing the many challenges of war, my father returned to America to face the next big challenge - raising four children," said Russert. "He worked two jobs as a truck driver and sanitation worker, and never complained.

"There was a constant reinforcement in our house of what was right and what was wrong," he continued. "We understood that we were in this thing together and that life is bigger than any of us. You committed to your family and to your community."

Russert believes that it is these basic ideals that are missing in Washington.

By being respectful and mindful of one another, Russert believes that we can get there. Citing lively conversations at the kitchen table in the Russert household when growing up, he said that his family applied these very principles to everyday life.

"We had debates about many topics, but you never screamed and you always respected what others had to say," he said. "No one was ever considered unintelligent for their comments."

As a nation, we've met challenges before, and Russert noted many during his speech - living through the Cold War, building a national highway system, making medical advances and building an educational system. He believes we can apply the same "kitchen table debate" principles that governed the Russert household to better our democracy.

"There is no reason we can't do it together if we put our minds to it," he said. "Whether he's having a cup of coffee or watching the Buffalo Bills win a game, my father always says 'What a country.' He knows the true miracle of this nation."

Russert believes that the 2008 presidential election offers a real opportunity to redefine our politics and challenge our candidates. By asking the important questions, voters can make a difference.

Who are you? What do you stand for? How are you going to create common ground? Those are the questions we should be asking the candidates," said Russert. "We can't let partisan politics tear this nation apart. There are a lot of differences in thought, and it may be difficult to find common ground, but if we apply the principles my father taught me - if we are respectful and mindful - we can do it."

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