Donna Brazile and me

On Monday, Donna Brazile – CNN and ABC commentator, the first African-American to direct a major presidential campaign, author and political activist – kicked off St. Thomas’ CommUNITY series.

Now you might wonder, “What could Susan Alexander – nerd economist, academic, shunner of the limelight – have in common with Ms. Brazile?” A lot, I now think. Furthermore, I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone in that crowd of hundreds who stuffed OEC Auditorium felt a bond with her.

Maybe that’s the point of the CommUNITY series. We find common bonds. Cynthia Fraction of the McNair Scholars Program and Michael Glirbas of the Registrar’s Office worked hard and long to arrange this event. It was worthwhile; the kickoff of CommUNITY gave us the expression of community we seek.

As for my connections with Brazile, they are:

• She precociously began her political career at age nine. She campaigned for a city council member who promised a playground for her neighborhood; he won. I began my political career at a young age as well. At the tender age of five, I fell in love with a candidate who was running for Arkansas attorney general. I was so in love with him that I picked up every flyer he distributed in my small town. Looking back, I don’t think that was the most helpful tactic to further his campaign. He won anyway, but later was removed from office in an oil and natural gas scandal. Because this episode is indicative of my political savvy, maybe Brazile and I don’t have that perfect a bond. Well, Al Gore didn’t win either.

• Then there’s her book, Cooking with Grease. The phrase I always heard was “cooking with gas,” but the idea is the same. And our love of Southern food seems to be the same. Audience members offered recipes for pound cake, pralines, and cornbread. We were one.

• Brazile is a centrist. She says we are a centrist nation. We just haven’t talked that way lately. She called for a return to civility and a search for common ground. She said it was important to listen to both extremes, to learn from them, to respect them as individuals. She related her advice to George Will on Direct TV for maximum baseball coverage. It was all I could do not to leap on to the stage and hug her (and I don’t even like baseball). I don’t think she would have minded.

Other audience members may have felt the same connections or totally different ones. But I know they were connected; you could feel it in the room. I think Brazile may have felt connected to us, too. At the end of the evening, she stayed for photographs – and maybe to collect a recipe or two.