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Jon Huntsman Charms UW, Stresses Cooperation Domestically and Abroad

December 11, 2012

Ambassador and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is swarmed by adoring students after the panel. photp by Ilona Idlis

Ambassador and former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is swarmed by adoring students after the panel. [Photo by Ilona Idlis.]

Last Tuesday, as a guest of the Jackson School of International Studies, the Honorable Jon Huntsman Jr. came to UW. His visit packed Kane Hall with a multi-generational crowd ready to adore a man of many titles. Some came to see the governor who won Utah with 57 percent of the vote. Others wanted to hear the expertise of the century’s youngest American ambassador. But I was there to finally meet a presidential candidate.

My eagerness was paramount. Unlike the other Republican nominee hopefuls, a personal encounter with Huntsman had eluded me since last January. Travelling with the UW Election Eye blog had granted me an unprecedented opportunity to familiarize myself with almost all of the other candidates. In some capacity, I was able to assess Romney, Santorum, Gingrich, Paul, Perry and (the one of a kind) Cain in person, beyond their televised sound-bytes—a privilege I wish extended to all citizens.

But I never got a chance to see Huntsman beyond the veils of clips and talk shows. Less than 24 hours after landing in the sweltering South Carolina primary, the ambassador dropped out, unable to take the heat. Needless to say, I was thoroughly bummed. Meeting Huntsman meant more than another notch on a political encounters belt. His message of unity and bipartisanship was a breath of fresh air compared to his competitors’ race to the radical and piqued the interest of Democrats and Republicans alike.

Huntsman shared anecdotes about his family life with moderator Richard Ellings and the crowd. Photo by Ilona Idlis.

Huntsman shared anecdotes about his family life with moderator Richard Ellings and the crowd. [Photo by Ilona Idlis.]

At Tuesday’s panel, it was clear his convictions hadn’t wavered. Though the event’s theme—“America and China: Challenges and Opportunities Ahead”–gave Huntsman an easy way to avoid rehashing a wearisome election cycle, the ambassador was happy to satiate the audience’s curiosity about his presidential bid. Comfortably attired in a suit jacket, jeans and cowboy boots, Huntsman regaled the room with family anecdotes and his ruminations on the campaign.

From the ironic parallel of his adopted, Chinese daughter’s recent ascension to class officer (“Dad, you’re a loser, but I won my campaign.”) to his appearance on the Colbert Report (“I got myself in so much trouble that I will probably never be invited back to the Republican Convention.”), Huntsman’s honesty and good humor delighted the audience.

Every joke and memory led to the same message—unity. Huntsman recalled the political ethos of his ancestors with admiration.

“He wasn’t a Republican, first and foremost. He was a representative of the people, first and foremost,” he said of his grandfather. “I think of how we once were, as Americans, it didn’t matter what party you were affiliated with, we were proud of our president. And the divide that has occurred in the ensuing years is something I don’t think is worthy of passing on to the next generation. We all need to somehow pull together and ameliorate this divide, because it’s destroying this country and it’s destroying who we are as a people.”

Audience members young and old were charmed by Huntsman's humor and message. Photo by Ilona Idlis.

Audience members young and old were charmed by Huntsman’s humor and message. [Photo by Ilona Idlis.]

Huntsman’s take on the ills of domestic policy was sincerely delivered and well-received, but his true area of expertise lay beyond American borders. With three years spent abroad as ambassador to Singapore and China and two adopted daughters from China and India, National Bureau of Asian Research President, former Jackson School faculty member, and event moderator Richard Ellings aptly introduced Huntsman as the “ultimate international man.” Once the audience’s questions poured in, it became clear that the title is well earned. Confronted with issues of trade agreements, resource management, Tibet and regime change, Huntsman’s replies flowed naturally and knowledgeably.  The charm was still there, too. The ambassador thanked a Peace Corps member for his service and showed off his impressive grasp of Mandarin with a Chinese exchange student.

Yet when asked about the possibility of a warring future of Chinese/American relations, Huntsman prescribed the same remedy for the country’s international policy as he did for its domestic—cooperation and understanding.

“I learned on the debate stage this past election cycle that it’s a whole lot easier to talk about what you’re going to do to China than to talk about what you’re going to do with China,” he said. “[But] here’s the reality. We’re inexorably linked, inexorably tied economically, culturally, security-wise. We’re married and divorce isn’t an option. You just have to make the relationship work.”

Huntsman thanks a student for his support after the panel let out. Photo by Ilona Idlis.

Huntsman thanks a student for his support after the panel let out. [Photo by Ilona Idlis.]

Rather than the needless warmongering of the primary, Huntsman suggested building alliances on the “softer” side of political dealings. Rather than battle over trade agreements, the former ambassador wanted to see the US and China collaborate on areas of scientific discovery, like new energy options and recuperative resource management. Regardless of where you are, everyone wants clean air and water, he said. Huntsman also encouraged building relationships beyond Washington D.C. and Beijing. Forging connection between cities like Seattle and Changzhou would lead to more understanding between cultures that seem at odds with each other.

“There’s a reservoir of good will for the United States [in China],” Huntsman said. “It won’t last forever.”

Thus, Huntsman concluded the panel much like he did his campaign—with a persistent message of unity, necessary for success on both the global stage and across the congressional aisle. The ambassador lingered after the event to talk to still curious audience members. He was immediately swamped with handshakes and accolades. The people’s admiration was palpable and with each interaction arose the same refrain, “Governor, I would have voted for you if I could. Please run again.”

Huntsman graciously thanked them for their support, but shared no inclination for a second bid.

“I was crazy to run the first time,” he joked. “I’d have to be even crazier to run again.”

Yet when the fifth college-age Obama supporter eagerly promised Huntsman his future vote, the ambassador might have to reconsider that position. There’s a whole lecture hall hoping he will. And after finally meeting him in person, I count myself among them.

Huntsman easily switched from English to Chinese dialects when addressing foreign exchange students. The ambassador said academic and scientific collaboration are essential to building peaceful partnerships with China. Photo by Ilona Idlis.

Huntsman easily switched from English to Chinese dialects when addressing foreign exchange students. The ambassador said academic and scientific collaboration are essential to building peaceful partnerships with China. [Photo by Ilona Idlis.]

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 12, 2012 1:37 pm

    Nicely written piece!
    Taso

    • December 12, 2012 2:05 pm

      Many thanks. It was an awesome visit.

      • December 12, 2012 2:16 pm

        Btw, was it videotaped – do you know?

      • December 12, 2012 3:50 pm

        I just checked with the event organizers. Unfortunately, no, it wasn’t recorded.

      • December 12, 2012 3:54 pm

        One more thing…the event folks mentioned he gave a similar talk at UNC not so long ago. Sorry we don’t have video of his UW appearance. Here’s the link to the UNC video:

  2. December 25, 2012 7:19 pm

    I would have liked him better than Romney to run the contest against Obama.

  3. September 4, 2013 7:14 pm

    will he run again in the next Presidential election. He is still young.

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