Political strategist and former White House aide Doug McMarlin, using 9/11 and Watergate as key examples, at a Tuesday forum discussed how U.S. political leaders react to crises. The forum, which drew about 125 people, was organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office and was the kickoff event for a year-long series on “The Changing Face of Freedom in Today’s Turbulent Times.”

As a White House aide under former President George W. Bush, McMarlin witnessed the direct aftermath of 9/11. He underscored the sense of catastrophe felt throughout the United States and the world, stating that “the planes crashed, not into buildings, but into our collective consciousness.”

McMarlin recounted multiple critical decisions made in the days that followed the crisis, culminating with Bush standing atop a pile of rubble in New York City, megaphone in hand, delivering what McMarlin considers to be one of the defining speeches of the Bush presidency. During that speech, a man interrupted and said he could not hear. Bush responded: “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”

McMarlin stressed the importance of elected officials’ personal character. We need leaders who are “willing to take the hard hits, and not worry about the electoral results,” he said. While comparing controversial election outcomes, such as the Nixon-Kennedy competition in 1960 and the Bush-Gore race in 2000, McMarlin emphasized the differences in personal character that come to define peoples’ perceptions of the candidates, inside and outside the U.S. 

Globalization is one force, he said, that has not only morphed the types of crises that affect the United States and its leaders, but also the nature of the response. Referencing former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill’s quote, “All politics is local,” McMarlin quipped that in today’s world, “all politics is social,” emphasizing the growing effects of social media on the political landscape.

When asked his opinion on the Bush administration’s involvement in Iraq, McMarlin stated that the actions were rooted strongly in values and morals. “Whether the decision was right or wrong,” he said, “the former president truly believed in his actions.”

Jason Recher, another political strategist and past White House insider who had planned to join McMarlin at UCF, had to cancel because of recent storm flooding in New Orleans. 

In addition to the Global Perspectives Office, sponsors and partners of the program included UCF College Republicans, the UCF Diplomacy Program, the UCF Political Science Department, UCF LIFE, Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, the UCF Book Festival 2013 in association with the Morgridge International Reading Center and the Global Connections Foundation.