MSNBC journalist Ali Velshi speaks at Iowa State University as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Audubon-rooted Manatt family.
MSNBC journalist Ali Velshi speaks at Iowa State University as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Audubon-rooted Manatt family.

AMES

MSNBC anchor and business correspondent Ali Velshi was in London in June during the prospective withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

On June 23, a referendum was held to decide whether the UK would leave the EU. The referendum saw a 51 percent vote in favor of the UK’s departure — a departure that is widely known as Brexit.

“Brexit was the real wake-up call,” Velshi said. “Everybody in London did not want Brexit, but everyone (in England) outside did. It was this issue of mineworkers and manufacturing workers who felt that their jobs were being stolen by technology, globalism and immigrants. Sound familiar?”

Velshi was invited to Iowa State University to present the fall 2017 Manatt-Phelps Lecture in Political Science. He discussed the impact of the Trump administration’s domestic and international policy shifts last Wednesday night in front of hundreds of students and faculty in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union.

The Manatt-Phelps Lecture in Political Science was established by Charles and Kathleen Manatt together with Thomas and Elizabeth Phelps in 2002.

Charles Manatt grew up on an Audubon farm and graduated from Iowa State University, along with his high school sweetheart wife. Charles Manatt and Thomas Phelps founded the national law firm Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, headquartered in Los Angeles, California. In 1965. Charles Manatt was chairman of the Democratic National Committee in the 1980s and U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic from 1999 to 2001.

The Manatts remain involved in Audubon County, notably with the Taylor Hill Lodge.

Charles Manatt passed away in 2011. His wife and daughter Michele were present for Velshi’s speech and a reception at Iowa State.

The lecture committee extends an invitation to prominent professionals and scholars to address issues in international policy and economics as they relate to Iowa and ISU.

Velshi is an anchor of MSNBC Live. He is also a senior economic and business correspondent for NBC News. He served as a business correspondent for CNN from 2001 to 2013. He would then work for Al Jazeera America from 2013 to 2016 before joining MSNBC.

Velshi started with an excerpt from an acceptance speech given by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., after the senator received the National Constitution Center’s annual Liberty Medal:

“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

“Our attachment to democracy sometimes clouds us to the thing that holds it up, and that is pluralism — the idea that we are not meant to be the same,” Velshi said after the excerpt. “There’s a lot of things happening in this country to suggest that we are moving away from that”

Velshi cited the Arab Spring, Brexit and other instances of political unrest to support the notion that people in several nations — including the United States — are feeling economic and political angst fueled by unevenly distributed wealth.

He also cited the September retirement of Equifax CEO Richard Smith as an example of CEOs “being paid too much to lose.” It was reported that Smith would receive $90 million from the credit-reporting bureau after his departure.

Smith was the third Equifax executive to retire following a data breach in early September that put the personal information of as many as 143 million people at risk, according to Fortune.

“That is what’s wrong with our system,” Velshi said. “All over the world there are examples of regular people that have struggled for decades to try and advance their station in life — and all they see around them are rich people — and television shows about people making money and flipping their homes.”

Velshi was also critical of U.S. Democrats and Republicans — stating that they should focus less on debating and more on solving problems.

“We have real issues to contend with. Being sensible has got to to trump everything else,” Velshi said.

Velshi concluded by saying that health care and climate change are the two most important issues in the U.S. He said that the Trump administration’s alteration to the Obama-era Affordable Care Act are incorrect. He suggested that the outcomes that come out of countries with universal health care, like Canada, are better than the outcomes that come out of the U.S.

He also stated that climate change is real and that it’s “almost a uniquely American phenomenon to be a climate denier.”

“This is a remarkable time to be alive,” Velshi said. “It is a remarkable time to witness greater change at a faster pace than you can ever imagine. We have auditoriums like this, full of students that are going to solve the world’s problems. You will be the ones who will right the ship and get America speeding along in the right direction.”

In an interview after the speech, Michele Manatt said that she was amazed by the range of topics that Velshi can talk about. She said that Velshi was delightful to work with and eager to speak at Iowa State.

“He was quite masterful in the way he made his points,” Manatt said. “I leave here sober about how things stand (in the U.S.) as we speak. We have a lot of work to do.”

Michele Manatt was a senior policy adviser in the State Department during the Bill Clinton administration. She led congressional affairs in the White House Drug Czar’s Office. She is now involved in public diplomacy as a board director of the U.S. Diplomacy Center Foundation.

“He was very generous with the time he spent with students, which is what you want,” Michele Manatt said. “We would like to hear suggestions from students on who they would like to come next fall.”

Manatt said that she will be looking to invite a senior elected official to give the 2018 Manatt-Phelps Lecture. She added that the lecture committee was also looking at inviting someone of international origin.

Anyone with recommendations for next year’s lecture is encouraged to contact the Iowa State Lecture Program or the Iowa State Department of Political Science.