Former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl last week visited with students at Desert Vista High School, focusing on the country’s founding principles and deliberately avoiding partisan political talking points.
But after a lesson in government, Kyl also delivered a timely message for today’s youth.
“You all have different ideas about what ought to be done today with government and I would just ask you that as you debate this among yourselves, do it in the most dignified and courteous way you possibly can,” he said.
Students were encouraged to ask questions and when one asked about whether or not there is a power imbalance among the three branches of government, Kyl agreed and voiced concerns about the executive branch in particular.
He cited the media’s fixation on the president as part of the reason that the executive has acquired more influence.
“They make a big deal out of the president, and yet theoretically the senators and representatives are just as powerful as the president is, but there’s only one of him and there are 535 members of Congress,” he said.
“All they need to do is counter him by two-thirds and that’s not very easy to do. I tend to think right now the presidency has a little more power than it ought to have and the legislative branch ought to exercise more authority then it does.”
Kyl also highlighted the positive role that U.S. can play abroad, whether it comes to enabling girls to go to school in Afghanistan or coming to the aid of other countries in the aftermath of natural disasters.
“It was said in the very beginning that Americans believe that all men, not just Americans, that all men are created equal, and that they are given by God certain inherent, natural rights,” he said.
“But if that’s true, then a little girl in Afghanistan should have the same opportunity to go to school. But up until the time we went to Afghanistan, that wasn’t much the rule. Generally, boys went to school, girls didn’t and as a result of our presence there, young women have had way more opportunities than they did before.”
Kyl warned students of the prevalence of fake information online, stressing the individual responsibility one has to seek out the truth.
“You have to understand the validity of what you are hearing and sometimes the validity can be fake,” he said.
However, he said he also warned of the dangerous territory that is censorship of political speech and how it could conflict with freedom of speech when regulated by media platforms like Facebook or Twitter.
“I happen to believe the more debate the better, and I don’t want anybody censoring political speech because very quickly what people think is inaccurate turns into what they disagree with, and then you got a problem,” said Kyl.
Kyl also shared his frustration with the divisive design of today’s news media, stating:
“I’m frustrated because it used to be that these talk shows would have a commentator on who would say ‘well there’s this point, there’s this point. But I think experience shows that this is the better point here.’
“But now almost always they have a Republican consultant and Democratic consultant. Well, what happens when you have a Republican consultant and Democratic consultant? You are not going to get equal points of view, you are going to get talking points,” said Kyl.
Kyl was invited by Desert Vista’s Young Americans for Freedom Club, which senior and Vice President Allen Pan describes as “a group of politically involved high school students that wanted to make a difference in our community by promoting a conservative political perspective.”
Kyl told students, “Think about what the other person feels, the person on the other side of the issue. Put yourself in that person’s shoes, try to understand his or her argument and state of mind. That person is probably not a bad person, not an evil person and not totally wrong about everything he or she believes.
“She’s just another person like you that has a different point of view. And if both sides can go into the discussion that way, it becomes a discussion rather than a food fight.”
Kyl’s approach was welcomed by Allen, who said he also recognizes the importance of civility in our political discourse.
“Senator Kyl emphasized the importance of conversation among Americans to point our country towards a common goal. His encouragement for young people to be dignified in our debates and open to differentiating opinions was unifying and powerful, which is exactly what the U.S. needs,” said Pan.