2016 Archives

SMU “Third Rail” series to take on the topics that others won’t

First debate is May 9

May 3, 2016

DALLAS (SMU) – Tapping into frustration over political and personal incivility, and the inability to work toward middle ground on contentious topics, SMU’s Center for Presidential History and the Cary Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility are launching The Third Rail Series to analyze and discuss deliberately touchy issues.

political iconsThe first program, held May 9, featured SMU scholars Maria Dixon Hall, Matthew Wilson and Jeffrey Engel discussing the unusual anger and extremism revealed in the current presidential campaign. Engel moderated a debate between Hall and Wilson on the topic, “The 2016 presidential campaign has revealed unusual anger and extremism: Should political discourse be less sensitive to identity politics?”

By definition, a voter is embracing identity politics if any single interest – such as race, gender, or position on a particular social issue – decides their support for or opposition to a candidate regardless of the candidate’s views on other topics.

Dates of future events in The Third Rail Series will be announced later.

Maria Dixon Hall, associate professor of corporate communication and public affairs, will argue for sensitivity to identity politics in political discourse; Matthew Wilson, associate professor of political science will argue for less sensitivity, and Engel, who is director of the Center for Presidential History at SMU, will guide the discussion and encourage audience participation.

“America faces profoundly difficult issues,” Engel said.  “Race, inequality, guns, injustice and war only begin to start the list.  But what is most troubling of late is our inability as a nation to discuss problems that plague us without resorting to angry rhetoric or retreating to silence when we would like to say more. 

“SMU’s new Third Rail Series is designed to break the silence,” Engel said. “We intend to support our university and our city in discussing the topics others won’t, addressing the issues we’ve become too frightened to debate, using the direct language many have become too fearful to employ.” 

In each “Third Rail” session, two members of the SMU faculty will discuss one of the toughest issues of our day, and also engage with the audience, “in a thoughtful and respectful manner befitting a great University,” Engel added.