President Johnson's policy advisor talks the past
Penn Democrats hosted Joseph Califano in Huntsman Hall
October 1, 2013, 10:55 pm · Updated October 1, 2013, 11:19 pm·
Amanda Suarez | DP
Last night, Penn Democrats hosted another engaging talk by former Secretary Joseph Califano.
Califano served as Special Assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense in 1964 before working as President Lyndon Johnson’s chief domestic policy advisor from 1964 to 1969.
Between 1977 and 1979, he also served as the U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Jimmy Carter.
Califano played a key role in numerous domestic issues, such as the three civil rights acts of the 1960s, and currently runs a think tank on substance abuse issues.
His talk, which took place in Huntsman Hall, focused primarily on his years working with LBJ and provided an anecdotal account of the political changes of the period.
His unique point of view was warmly received by a full house and the personal touches of his talk brought an element of humor to a serious discussion. College sophomore Jenny Markell described the talk afterwards as an “incredibly interesting presentation,” emphasizing the novelty of hearing about presidential decisions from an insider’s perspective.
Wharton and College sophomore Brian Goldman, Penn Democrats’ political director, chose Califano to speak after this August marked the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. Goldman described how this was appropriate given Califano’s status as a “great liberal icon.”
College junior and Penn Democrats President Matt Kalmans also expressed his excitement at the “unbelievable timing” of the talk, especially in light of recent developments in Washington this week.
The evening began with a short video documenting Califano’s career, to which he announced nostalgically, “I had hair then.” While playing with a light-hearted tone, his discussion of “the days when Washington worked” did, however, have a serious message. He talked about what he termed “the tougher side of politics” and how “hard work and commitment is the key.”
Califano also took care to reiterate to his audience that “you guys are the future” and that, with the help of motivated students, “Washington can work.”
The talk took place as part of Penn Democrats’ ongoing political speaker series. Next week, the group will feature Chaka Fattah, who is serving his 10th term in the U.S. House of Representatives and will be speaking in Houston Hall next Monday.