“How many people here have met Bill Clinton?”
Dozens of hands went up. Laughter swelled through the crowd, the punchline about the former president’s friendliness complete.
The speaker, Joe Scarborough of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” was delivering Meliora Weekend’s keynote address alongside co-host Mika Brzezinski, speaking to an audience of several hundred in the Louis Alexander Palestra on Saturday morning.
The venue was at capacity as, students, alumni, and UR employees—including University President Joel Seligman—crowded in to watch the political commentators’ hour-long presentation, which focused on the 2016 presidential campaign.
Scarborough and Brzezinski told anecdotes about politicians and personalities they had encountered during their careers, including Clinton, whom Scarborough met during his stint as a Florida congressman.
Brzezinski, daughter of the influential political scientist and policy adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, recalled family dinners with figures such as Pope John Paul II.
The two journalists lamented the current political climate, with Scarborough, a one-time politician, saying,“We didn’t make things this personal,” and that lawmakers should “start putting our country first.”
They emphasized the importance of political politeness, with Brzezinski recalling the “joy of the debate” of past days in contrast to the fear that exists today.
The pair heavily criticized Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for his frequent use of personal attacks and brash language. Scarborough referred to his presidential campaign as a “con,” noting that the New York businessman had never shown support for conservative ideas or politicians until his decision to run.
During the brief Q&A session following the talk, the MSNBC hosts fielded questions from several audience members, including Seligman, who asked for comment on the “unbelievable last few hours,” referring to the Friday night leak of audio in which Trump is heard describing, in lewd terms, using his celebrity to make sexual advances on women.
The speakers responded that Trump has two options: to “sit back and lose” or “go nuclear.”
The mood of the event wasn’t only critical of Mr. Trump, however.
Scarborough and Brzezinski expressed concern about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s connections to establishment politics and corporations, saying repeatedly that “we have no good choices” in this election.
One audience member who took the microphone brought up the controversy surrounding Clinton’s alleged responsibility for the 2012 Benghazi attack, which resulted in the deaths of two American diplomatic staff.
Another question put Scarborough and Brzezinski on the defensive, when an audience member criticized the media for not asking Trump hard enough questions. There was a heated exchange as the speakers defended their profession, saying that Mr. Trump was difficult to interview.
The talk ended on an optimistic note, though, with Scarborough expressing his belief that, regardless of the result of the election, the checks-and-balances safeguard system of the U.S. government would prevent disaster.
Some attendees—even fans of the show—thought the hosts’ speech sounded too scripted.
Jodi Rosenshein Atkin, ’78, ’82 MA, said that she and her husband, regular viewers, “always watch it for the authenticity” but were dismayed by the “canned” tone of the keynote address. Her husband, Louis Atkin, added that the event seemed “very scripted” and lacked the “banter” of the live show.
Both emphasized that the Q&A should have been longer and that they would have wanted to hear more about recent events.
This mood was echoed by Jessica O’Leary, ’12, who said that the event was both more “rehearsed” and more “comedic” than she expected. O’Leary said she had not seen “Morning Joe,” but was still surprised by the portion of the address that consisted of solely personal anecdotes.