WESTVILLE — Will Hurd praised the virtues of compromise and bipartisanship to keep America a global superpower economically, militarily, and in solving problems for Americans.
Hurd — a former congressman and CIA agent who is also a cybersecurity expert — spoke at Purdue University’s Northwest Sinai Forum lecture series on Sunday.
Hurd, a moderate Republican, describes himself as a “pragmatic idealist.”
“I’ve seen our enemies up close and personal, and I can see how a dysfunctional political system has led about 80 percent of Americans to believe our country is on the wrong track.”
Will the United States survive? More than half of Republicans and Democrats doubt it, as do 49% of independents, he said. “This is a startling display of bipartisan desperation at the direction of our country.”
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“I’m here to talk to you about how we can get things done,” Hurd said.
One of the most important solutions is voting in primary elections.
“Make sure you’re not just voting in the general election, you’re voting in the primary,” Hurd said, if you don’t want extremism.
In the 2020 election, turnout was 67% in the general election but only 24% in the primary. This means that 43% only voted in general, not primarily.
The problem with this is that people who support extreme positions and candidates vote in primary elections and choose extremist candidates for the general election, he said.
“More people voting in primary elections would do a lot to address the issues in Washington, DC,” Hurd said. “You need to hear what’s happening to all Americans, not just what’s happening to those in your party.”
Hurd stressed the need for compromise and impartiality on a variety of issues that are not addressed because polar opposites receive so much attention. “The price of ignoring these challenges means the world we leave to our children and grandchildren will be worse off than the one we inherited.”
“We need two strong parties for an ideas competition,” he said. Yet in the 2020 election cycle, only 34 House seats, or 8% of the total, were shared, meaning the elected representative belonged to a different political party than the presidential nominee, who was elected by a majority of voters in those districts.
“Uncompetitive seats create bombers,” he said.
Hurd’s district was primarily Democratic, with a majority of voters Hispanics, along the US-Mexico border. Still, he won three terms as a Republican congressman, serving from 2015 to 2021. He chose not to seek re-election in 2020.
If more candidates ran for office by speaking to the middle rather than the extremes, we’d be more likely to get things done, he said.
Hurd was one of eight Republicans who voted for universal background checks on gun purchases. He also supported raising the legal age for buying long guns to 21 to match the age for buying handguns.
“Mass shootings don’t have to be a way of life. They can be prevented,” he said.
More than half of students are concerned about shootings at their school, he said. “This is a clear example of a lack of leadership in Washington, DC”
Instead of retreating into political corners, “we need to work with people we don’t agree with and in some cases we don’t even like,” he said. “We need leaders who are willing to inspire the middle, rather than inspiring the fringe or the rim.”
Hurd calls for a fresh start for the United States. “As a country, we need to recalibrate our thinking.”
He shared his experience at the CIA to get his point across. The CIA taught him that if the situation escalated, “Get off the X.” Get out of this situation as soon as possible.
Nearly two decades ago, in South Asia, “I was driving a small, small, two-door Toyota Tercel” to make sure it wasn’t being followed, he said. “When I turned down that alley, it was a parade.” People and targets were everywhere. It wasn’t the deserted alley he had hoped for.
Then a woman walked in front of his car and he ran her hand over the back of her sandal, dragging it along a bit and splitting her toe. Realizing Hurd was a foreigner, she screamed. So much for avoiding attention.
“Hundreds of people are shaking my car,” he said. “My little Tercel wouldn’t survive those crowds.”
So he got out and yelled, “Anybody speak English?” An English-speaking teenager parted the crowd. Hurd asked where the nearest hospital was, then gave the woman some cash and told the rickshaw driver to take her to the hospital immediately.
“I drove away to get to my meeting on time.”
“The crowd was smiling and waving, and my heart was beating because I thought my mom was going to get a call that no mom ever wants to get,” he said.
He had changed the situation for the better.
Hurd gave another example of how America should respond.
In 2007 he was in Afghanistan when an earthquake killed 90,000 people. The US ambassador told Hurd he needed a team to address the issues. The immediate need was an airlift, so 22 Chinook helicopters were commissioned.
“This one village was without food, water and electricity for four days. Oh, and it was winter,” with temperatures as low as 20 degrees below zero.
“This village elder had this little girl who was 6, 7 years old who lost her parents in that earthquake,” Hurd said. He held her during the flight. When they landed, he set the girl down. She ran about 10 paces and walked back to kiss the helicopter crew member’s hand, then hugged Hurd tightly.
“For me, that was an example that the US is the only country that has the resources and the will to help people 7,000 miles away,” he said.
But US military and economic dominance is no longer guaranteed. The United States is locked in a cold war with China, which plans to assume US hegemony by 2029, he said.
“We will need leaders who can reverse this frightening trend,” he said. “Your friends should love you and your enemies should fear you.”
“This new cold war is with the government of China.” Hurd stressed the point. It’s up to the government, not the people, so Chinese Americans shouldn’t be despised. “We all have a responsibility to stop this hate,” he said. “We must clearly recognize that our enemy is a communist government.”
“China is four times larger than the United States, which means we must be four times larger than them in terms of technological advancement and military dominance.”
“We need to have national debates about whether artificial intelligence is helping humanity rather than harming it,” Hurd said. The nation’s leaders must focus on solving problems, not pulling Americans apart, he said.
“One has only to look at the fate of previous empires throughout history to see the outcome of civil wars and the loss of dominance in a Cold War. “You don’t want that to happen. This is an example of something that should unite us rather than divide us.”
Compromises produced some of the best legislation in the country, including the Americans with Disabilities Act, Criminal Justice Reform, and the Civil Rights Act. “We are at our best when we legislate according to our values as a country,” he said. “The source of American power is our values.”
“Taking democracy for granted is particularly dangerous when it is in retreat around the world,” he said. “To continue this experiment, we must believe in our ability to address the leadership shortage in our capitals.”