On Friday, Sept. 16, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew gave the annual Constitution Day Lecture at the Smith Reading Room of Olin Library. The lecture was in honor of Constitution Day, commemorating the document’s signing on Sept. 17, 1787 in Philadelphia, PA.
Constitution Day was established as a holiday in 2004, and Congress passed an act in 2005 mandating that any educational institution that receives federal funds of any kind must provide educational programming on the history of the American Constitution on that day.
Drew has been the mayor of Middletown since 2011 and is currently serving his third term. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Connecticut, as well as a master’s degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University.
The mayor has also recently donated one of his kidneys to a constituent.
Opening with the preamble of the Constitution, Drew was thankful to be on campus.
“I feel especially fortunate to be the constitution speaker this year, against the backdrop of this presidential election,” Drew said. “This is an election in which perhaps more than any other in our lifetime, is testing what it means to be American….We’re not better or worse than those who came before us, we’re different.”
He also talked about the past, and in particular, the Highway Act of 1956. He hailed the act as one of the greatest public works programs in the history of this nation. Over the course of 10 years, $320 billion were spent on building an interstate highway system that spanned over 41,000 miles. That is enough to wrap around the entire Earth 1.6 times.
“It linked 90 percent of all American cities with a population greater than 50,000, which is the size of our city,” Drew said.
He went on to underscore the significance of the infrastructure bill that he credits to the Constitution.
“The Eisenhower interstate bill was a massive bipartisan achievement,” he said. “It connected Americans from all walks of life.”
What was more important for Drew was how the bipartisanship of the Constitution and Eisenhower’s interstate bill are not possible in today’s political climate.
“Ask yourself if a project like that is conceivable today,” he asked. “One that benefits every state and all Americans, regardless of which congressional district they live in, regardless of their political ideology, regardless of their religious affiliation. Do we have the will today to make that kind of investment? Would we be smart enough to recognize the economic opportunity it would create for working and middle class people? Do we have the foresight to modernize our transportation infrastructure?”
For Drew, the spirit of the Constitution has faded from the American political conscience, as evidenced by the treatment of President Barack Obama, who was once a Constitutional Law professor at the University of Chicago.
“Imagine President Obama asking Congress for $340 billion for a high-speed rail system that would connect every city in America the size of Middletown or larger,” Drew said. “It would make that same trip from northern Virginia to Buffalo only an hour or two long. To be fair, Dwight Eisenhower operated in a very different environment both politically and nationally 60 years ago as President Obama does today.”
Connor Aberle ’19, an attendee, was impressed by Drew’s message.
“Mayor Drew’s wide-ranging knowledge of our political reality was amazing,” Aberle said. “One concept that struck me was the idea that this generation is perhaps the most socially progressive of all time, yet we lack the tools to create political change. I always assumed that the divide in our government reflected a divide in the public, but that may not be true. Also, Mayor Drew was fast on his feet. He impressed me with how quickly he could detail the historical context of all his claims during the question and answer portion.”
Drew also tied the rise of Donald Trump to figures like former Senator Joe McCarthy.
“Senator Joe McCarthy was catapulted to national fame with his outlandish claims that communists were working for the State Department,” he said. “For his unsubstantiated claims, he received a great deal of attention, which added to his notoriety, which incentivized wilder claims, none of which were supported by any credible evidence whatsoever.”
Seasoned faculty members were impressed with Drew, who some hadn’t seen speak at length before.
“I thought that Mayor Drew’s talk was interesting and well-reasoned,” Gilbert Skillman, Professor of Economics, said. “Partly because I live outside of Middletown, that was the first time I’d heard him speak on political matters, and I thought he was articulate and highly knowledgeable about the issues he addressed.”