On Monday, May 3rd, 2021, James Baehr ‘05, a former Special Assistant to President Trump in the Domestic Policy Council of the White House; Amanda Brown Lierman ‘07, the Managing Director for Supermajority, an organization with the goal of building a 21st century women’s movement; and Janos Marton ‘04, the National Director of Dream Corps JUSTICE, convened with Dartmouth students and community members for the Rockefeller Center’s fourth Rocky Watch event of the spring term.
Monday’s discussion focused on the first hundred days of the Biden Presidency, which elapsed on April 28th, 2021. The panelists evaluated Biden’s performance and offered advice to Dartmouth students on pursuing careers in politics. Janos Marton served as the event moderator.
Marton opened the discussion by asking Baehr and Brown Lierman to explain how they first became interested in politics. Baehr noted that he had always been engaged with politics—he studied government and history while at Dartmouth. After graduating, Baehr joined the military, where he is currently a Major in the Marine Corps Reserves, and served as a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans. Baehr’s military and legal background led him to be tapped to join the Trump Administration to focus on Veterans’ issues in 2019.
Brown Lierman, on the other hand, described herself as not being very politically engaged during her first years of college. However, that changed when her best friend was shot and killed over the first week of her Sophomore Summer. Brown Lierman then turned to the Rockefeller Center to channel her emotions, and soon found herself interning in DC for then-Senator Barack Obama. For Brown Lierman, the rest is history.
Brown Lierman struck a positive tone when asked about Biden’s first hundred days. “Biden has restored dignity to the Oval Office,” she emphasized. She has also been grateful that Biden “could not be a more opposite person to Donald Trump” and that she “can now get back on Twitter without having a panic attack.” Most importantly, “[Biden is] laser focused on one thing… the health and economic security of the American people.”
Baehr analyzed Biden’s first hundred days through the prism of Biden’s most important campaign pledge: restoring national unity. “I think it’s fair to say that [Biden hasn’t increased national unity],” Baehr surmises. “In terms of policy,” he argues, “we see the same sort of trends.” Baehr noted that Biden has passed fewer laws than any president since 1930, and more executive orders than any president before him. Biden’s initial approval ratings have also been low, “higher than Trump’s, but lower than almost anyone else’s.” Though it seems unlikely that Biden will be a unity president, Baehr thinks Biden is “wise to focus on…independent blue-collar workers,” and believes a populist economic agenda will be key to reunifying the country.
Next, Marton asked the panelists to identify the challenges that come with governing from the White House. In response to this, Baehr underscored how difficult it can be to pass “widely supported bipartisan polices.” For example, Baehr pushed forward a bill to prevent veteran suicide, a policy widely supported on both sides of the aisle. However, Baehr found that this theoretically popular legislation was tremendously difficult to pass and underwent numerous iterations before becoming a law. “I was just surprised by how difficult that was,” Baehr says.
For Brown Lierman, what surprised her most was the “total freaking chaos” when she began working for the Obama White House after President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. According to Brown Lierman, the furniture was displaced, and it took weeks to set up her White House email account. With that in mind, she complimented the Biden Administration for being organized and putting in place “a statutory cabinet faster than any president since Reagan.”
The influence of technology on the political system was another topic of discussion. Marton noted that he was Dartmouth’s Student Body President when Facebook was first introduced to campus and asked the panelists for their thoughts on how technology has impacted politics. Baehr was excited that with modern communications technology “we’ve been able to spread ideas that we never were able to before,” but believes that the Republican Party is moving toward holding Big Tech accountable. Brown Lierman viewed Facebook and Twitter as an efficient way to reach people, but also was deeply concerned by the ability of social media to spread misinformation.
Finally, Marton asked if the panelists had any last words. Baehr encouraged young conservatives to respectfully present their ideas. “People need a wide spectrum of views to be truly enlightened, and to be truly educated,” Baehr says, and he hopes that Dartmouth students can continue to promote intellectual diversity. Brown Lierman emphasized that Democrats needed to clearly articulate the most compelling parts of their agenda. If they can do this, she hopes that both parties can unite to make meaningful reforms.
Written by Ben Vagle ’22, Rockefeller Center Student Assistant for Public Programs