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Remembering George H.W. Bush

This is a week of mourning for President George H.W. Bush.  We at the Henry Clay Center join in our fellow Americans as we reflect on the life of service given by this great statesman. We are reminded at every turn, on every outlet, in every conversation about the grace and dedication of our 41st President. We admire the way he guided the ship of state through challenging times, always with a sense of civility.  He was principled in his party and acted accordingly.  

But he was also willing to talk, negotiate, and, if it can be said, compromise with the opposition. Why? President Bush was able to act in such a manner because he understood the importance of getting it right. His was a higher mission than supporting any one political agenda. His was a mission to further the United States and the ideals which make our country truly exceptional. Perhaps he learned this as a child. Perhaps it was thrust on him in the flak-filled skies of the Pacific. Certainly in combat one learns to surrender his or her agendas to a higher cause. Maybe he learned cooperation in his business ventures. Or it could have been through his years as an elected official, party chairman, diplomat, or intelligence chief. 

In actuality, it was most likely all of these things. You don’t succeed in these  areas without understanding the need to cooperate and find common ground to accomplish a task. As a combat veteran, and a pilot as well, I believe the greatest influence was his experience at war. Defending our nation requires the ability to place aside our surface differences and focus on those things that bring us together. To work as a team regardless of race, gender, creed, religion, or politics.To find common ground in order to survive. 

So, as we spend this week in remembrance, let us reflect on how President Bush lived his life of service. We mourn his loss, but let us not bury civility with him. Instead of lamenting a “by gone” era of civility in our political discourse, let’s agree to live our lives and conduct ourselves in a manner which he would appreciate. We need to find what we’ve lost. We need to find what he knew. We need to remember how to be Americans and how find our common ground in an effort to survive. This Republic must endure. Our 41st President understood that and lived his life that way. Rest in Peace Mr. President. May we live up to the standards you set. 

A Statesman Remembered

As we pause to reflect on the man John S. McCain III, his military career, public service, and personal determination dominate our thoughts.  As a Senator, his fierce integrity and flexibility to work across party lines stand out as examples of his allegiance to civility and statesmanship.  While no elected official maintains an agenda that pleases all constituents all the time, a gifted statesman listens to, respects, and connects with individuals inside and outside his or her own party.  Through dialogue and engagement, connections form, trust builds, and negotiations benefiting the greater good of our society transpire.

In the halls of the U.S. Senate, Senator McCain forged bipartisan friendships.  In a chamber founded to provide a stable, deliberative body of responsible citizens, he found common ground among peers and championed bipartisanship.  In the wake of his passing, friends and colleagues from across the political spectrum have honored his life, leadership, and courage. The words of praise from the “opposition” are a testament to his commitment to always be an American first and a partisan politician second.

At the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship we join these voices in honoring the legacy of Senator McCain’s idealism.  We celebrate his life and pay tribute to his tireless spirit of cooperation and service to America.

The Fourth of July

Independence Day. It comes every year. Some of us do cook outs, some watch fireworks, some feel pride, some feel anger, some rejoice, and some let it pass. Some, get reflective. And that’s what I do. I have tortured my children yearly by reading the Declaration of Independence to them to start our Independence Day celebrations. Not parts, mind you, but the whole Declaration, including the list of King George’s transgressions. I’m not sure why or how I started doing our family tradition, but it remains despite the fact that both my sons are out of the house. But I know why I keep the tradition alive if by nothing other than reading to myself – reading the words of the Declaration keeps me from ever taking for granted how important that document is to our country and arguably, the world.

Regardless of how you want to assess the motives of the drafters and signers of the Declaration (divinely inspired beings or old white men who didn’t want to pay their taxes), they did change the world. They provided the document that codified a fundamental change in governing philosophies. The rule of absolute monarchies was coming to an end. Governments were stated to derive their power from the consent of the governed. While other cultures might have experimented or enacted similar forms of government, and while even the English had the Magna Carta, it was the American document, combined with a host of other factors, that so far has made our experiment more impactful.

In the 242 years since the Declaration’s signing, a mere eye blink in the course of human history, we have come so far in our country. At the time of our independence, not everyone could vote, women did not have equal rights, and of course, most tragically, the moral depravity that was slavery kept a race in chains. Today, those things are gone.

Yet, despite that progress, we still have a long way to go to live up to the Declaration. A long way to go to truly live in world where “All men are created equal”. But every day we are still here is another day we have to get there. America’s greatness isn’t in its past, it is in its future. As it is with the Declaration. The greatness of the document doesn’t rest with it being read before the Continental Army in 1776, or even by me every 4th of July – its greatness lies in what it will mean for the future.

Today, there are many who doubt that future greatness. But by taking this day and reflecting deeply on what our independence means, and what it is supposed mean, we can find a true spirit of liberty and a promise of that future greatness for all. A spirit that will pull us together and allow us to walk the path lighted by torch of freedom. A spirit of liberty as defined by Judge Learned Hand of New York at the end of the Second World War when he said, “The spirit of liberty seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weights their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded.”

So this what we need to do on this 4th of July and every 4th of July. Celebrate the birth of our country by looking at where we have come since the rule of kings, acknowledging our failings in achieving the vision set forth in the Declaration, and coming together as one people, “with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence,”…”mutually pledging to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

Happy Independence Day from the Henry Clay Center

The Road to Compromise (Part 4 of 4)

In the summer of 2017, the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship College Student Congress attendees were tasked with finding bipartisan solutions to some of the most complex issues facing the nation – healthcare, foreign intervention, national debt, and transportation. Students first developed policy proposals along partisan lines, and then came together in a series of negotiations during which the partisan plans were merged into a single policy compromise amenable to both groups.

These negotiations among talented college students produced new and creative solutions to major national issues, proving along the way that partisan values need not be abandoned to reach compromise, and that mutually beneficial compromise is in fact achievable.

This spring we will be highlighting a different policy solution developed by our 2017 College Student Congress attendees. It should be noted that the policy solutions presented in this series are mere summaries of the proposals that resulted from hard work by dedicated groups of students who were constrained by both time and resources, and do not fully capture the level of detail and commitment each group invested in their solutions. Our last topic is the national debt and deficit.


National Debt and Deficit

At the time of the 2017 College Student Congress, the level of US national debt was at nearly $20 trillion dollars and rising. While both the liberal and conservative groups entered negotiations agreeing that the debt should be reduced to 60% of GDP by 2028, they each had different proposals informed by their partisan beliefs on how to create solutions to lower the national debt.


Below are key components that the liberal student group wanted to emphasize during their attempt to develop a policy solution to lower the national debt:

  • Protect vulnerable communities and increase education funding
  • Promote greater healthcare access for all
  • Sustain and increase “safety net” programs
  • Impose higher taxes on the nation’s wealthiest citizens

The conservative student group adopted the following goals in their initial policy proposal for lowering the national debt:

  • Focusing on lowering the debt level to keep interest expense in check
  • Reforming the Affordable Care Act
  • Promoting sustainable entitlement spending
  • Increasing defense spending
  • Minimizing tax increases

Once each group had determined their initial starting points, the students came together to negotiate a bipartisan policy that would meet objectives from each of their partisan proposals. The areas where the students had the greatest levels of divergence and thus the greatest need to compromise were revenues, healthcare and defense.

On revenues, both groups were able to come to an eventual solution that included several initial partisan objectives. The liberal group was able to restore the 2009 estate tax parameters, impose a 5.4% surtax on income above $1 million, enact the Buffet Rule and reduce the mortgage interest deduction. The conservatives earned the reduction of the corporate tax rate to 30%, repealed the excise tax on high cost health insurance plans, did not allow an increase in Medicare premiums for high-income beneficiaries and implemented a sunset clause for the 5.4% surtax and Buffet Rule.

The compromise between the groups on healthcare resulted in an agreement to maintain the individual mandate, block grant Medicaid, and not enact malpractice reform. The groups also came to a compromise on entitlement issues, including repealing the Davis-Bacon Act, raising the retirement age to 70, implementing chained CPI to determine benefits, and developing mechanisms to help those impacted by chained CPI.

Finally, the two groups worked out a defense spending compromise wherein there were increases in veterans benefits, funding for homeland security and international assistance, as well as a reduction of the Navy fleet and sequester repeal.

The groups determined that if their detailed budget were enacted and able to be implemented as envisioned, then the national debt would reach 60% of GDP in 2026, two years earlier than their original target date.

Transylvania partners with Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship to offer Diplomacy Scholarship

Transylvania partners with Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship to offer Diplomacy Scholarship

September 8, 2016- Lexington, Ky.— Transylvania University has partnered with The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship to create a scholarship for a new generation of leaders.

Rising high school seniors from every region of the U.S. who are competitively selected and participate in the Henry Clay Center High School National Student Congress in 2017 will receive a $10,000 Diplomacy Scholarship each year for four years, should they decide to attend Transylvania.

“The quality of young leaders who have attended the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship National High School Student Congress is second to none,” Transylvania President Seamus Carey said.  “Alumni of the program are now staffers in the U.S. Senate and House, state governments, top law firms, NGO’s and leading corporations. Our university is committed to a modern, interdisciplinary liberal arts education, and offering the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship Diplomacy Scholarship will enable us to enroll and educate some of the best and brightest promising young leaders in America.”

The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship is an innovative nonprofit dedicated to educating students in the essential skills of negotiation, dialogue and compromise.

For most of the past decade, the Center has held a summer Student Congress at Transylvania for rising high school seniors across the country. These students have met with justices from the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Speakers of the House, governors, U.S. senators and other nationally recognized officials and academic thought leaders. Compromise, the constructive engagement and dialogue to resolve conflict and competing interests in a democracy, is the main focus of the week-long program. The capstone event is a student debate in Frankfort’s Old State Capitol.

Current college juniors and high school juniors with records of exceptional academic and extracurricular achievement are invited to apply for this once-in-a-lifetime academic and personal development program, which is free of cost (travel and lodging is included).

“In a time of increasing political polarization, it’s more important than ever to facilitate dialogue between younger Americans,” said Robert Clay, co-chairman of the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship. “We are grateful for our tremendous partnerships, and the Transylvania University Henry Clay Center Diplomacy Scholarship programs are just another affirmation of the importance and quality of civic education and compromise in American life.”

While Transylvania ranks among the nation’s top liberal arts colleges, the university offers an affordable education through scholarships such as the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship Diplomacy program and other types of financial support. Ninety-eight percent of Transylvania’s students receive assistance that reduces tuition.

About the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship

The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship was formed in 2007 and is an innovative youth leadership program inspired by Henry Clay, one of our nation’s most revered leaders. He served with distinction as secretary of state, U.S. senator and Speaker of the House, leaving a profound legacy as our nation’s “Great Compromiser.” The Center imparts the skills of public dialogue and leadership to bring about change in an increasingly polarized public and civic environment. For more information visit:  or @henryclaycenter.

About Transylvania University

Located in the heart of downtown Lexington, Transylvania is ranked in the top 15 percent of the nation’s four-year colleges by The Princeton Review, which cites its community-driven, personalized approach to a liberal arts education through 40 majors. Founded in 1780, it is the 16th oldest institution of higher learning in the country, with nearly 1,100 students.

2016 Student Congresses Tackle Solutions for Major Issues

2016 Student Congresses Tackle Solutions for Major Issues

Key focus areas included immigration, climate change, higher education, and economic policy


For most of the past decade, The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship has held a summer Student Congress for college and/or high school students. The week-long programs gather competitively-selected students from every region of the country. Students have opportunity to meet with lawmakers, academics, journalists, and civic leaders to discuss the practical importance of compromise and constructive engagement in resolving current and future challenges. Nationally-recognized speakers lead student seminars followed by a student debate on a current topic in the Old State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky.

The high school program focused on political leadership and statesmanship by exploring examples of compromise from the time of Henry Clay to the present day and by identifying techniques of compromise and negotiation.   Putting their study to practical use, they then worked together to develop policy on the issue of climate change.   By assuming roles representing different points of view, and actually engaging in negotiation, these students gained a deeper understanding of the commitment required to successfully address problems in public life.

At the university-level, students were assigned to grapple with four distinct policy issues: immigration, climate change, higher education, and economic policy. Within each group, students were expected to create policy that found acceptable common ground between diverse ideological positions. The college students developed, through long hours of constructive negotiation and compromise, policies that reflected both federal measures as well as local and state government initiatives.

Positions in the week-long Student Congress programs are limited to 50 high school and 50 college students selected in a competitive application process. The program provides cost-free travel, lodging and study to successful applicants. Student Congress alumni, now approaching 500 strong, are today contributing their skills as staffers in the United States Senate and House, in state governments, top law firms, NGO’s and leading US corporations.

Bill Giles, Co-Chairman of the Henry Clay Center noted, “There has never been a greater need for the skills we foster in tomorrow’s leaders. Based on my observations of the students at our Student Congress, I have great confidence in our future political system.”


2015 Student Congress


Every year the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship wishes to instill the spirit of Henry Clay himself into a group of exceptional students from all over the United States during a one week Student Congress. It is with great pleasure that, once again, the Center announces the resounding success of it’s flagship event, the annual Student Congress. This 2015 Student Congress was in many ways revolutionary, but as in the past, it culminated in vigorous debate, lasting friendships, and something that the Great Compromiser himself would be proud of, a working consensus.

This year’s participants hailed from ten states from around the country, ranging from Maryland to Illinois and all the way to California, as well as one international participant from the Republic of Panama. As in years past, the Students were hosted at Transylvania University, which in partnership with the University of Kentucky and the Board of the Center have been able to create this incredible experience for over 350 students since 2007.

After an opening dinner at Henry Clay’s estate at Ashland, the participants began a vigorous week of lectures and debate-preparation. Much of the week was dedicated to lectures on a variety of issues, including the Supreme Court, Compromise in the International Sphere, Debt Management, Education Challenges, and Water Scarcity, just to mention a few. Yet the pivotal event occurred on Wednesday June 10th, when the student participants traveled to the Old Capitol building in Frankfort, and on the Senate Floor debated the issue of Food Policy before their peers. After four groups presented their arguments for the best changes to United States Food Policy10, they came together and arrived at a consensus on the most viable changes that could be implemented from all those proposed. This year’s participants were exceptional, and we know that they walk away from this Student Congress emboldened to take on the challenges of the next generation and to become leaders in whatever endeavors they may pursue.


We would like to warmly thank all the speakers who participated, particularly Dr. Michael Cairo of Transylvania University and Dr. Merl Hackbert, Interim Director of the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration, who played an instrumental part in preparing the 2015 Student Congress. We would also like to thank the Presidents of the two host Universities, Dr. Seamus Carey of Transylvania University as well as Dr. Eli Capilouto of the University of Kentucky.

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The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship was founded in 2007 with a vision to develop an ambitious program to educate a new generation of leaders in the principles and practices of  statesmanship as exemplified by the great statesman Henry Clay, known as The Great Compromiser. To date, we have hosted over 300 students in Lexington, with our partners, the University of Kentucky, Transylvania University, and The Ashland Estate.