Surrounded by friends from the HWS community, acclaimed syndicated columnist and television show host Ben Wattenberg ’55, L.H.D. ’75 was inducted into the Druid Society on Friday, April 19, during the annual Charter Day ceremonies and dinner.
At the event, which began with a procession leading into St. John’s Chapel, Wattenberg remarked on his time as an undergraduate and expressed his gratitude for the significant recognition by the society. Founded in 1903, the Druid Society works to further the ideals of Hobart College by promoting the values of character, loyalty and leadership.
“Charter Day is one of the great events at the Colleges,” Wattenberg says. “For me, it’s an honor to be inducted into the Druid Society. I’m very glad all of my friends are here to share in the moment with me and I’m happy to offer a few words in St. John’s Chapel.”
Wattenberg, who during Charter Day toured campus, convened with former classmates, and met with other members of the HWS community, says his induction represents just one of the many ways in which the HWS community continues to recognize alums.
In 1975, Wattenberg was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Hobart. Wattenberg’s career up to that point included being an aide and speechwriter for President Lyndon B. Johnson and serving as an adviser to both Senator Hubert Humphrey’s Race for Senate in 1970 and Senator Henry Jackson’s contest for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1972, and again in 1976. At that time, he had also co-authored the noted book, “The Real Majority.”
In light of the celebration at St. John’s Chapel, Wattenberg not only reflected on receiving the Druid Society honor, but also his time at the Colleges and the impact his liberal arts education had on his career. Wattenberg says his undergraduate days were particularly influential to his life after Hobart.
“In large measure, I was able to do so much at a small liberal arts school,” Wattenberg says. “I’m a big city guy, so when I came to Geneva it was great. I went to primary school with 5,500 boys, so coming to a small school in a small community really came with a lot of opportunities.”
As an undergraduate, Wattenberg was able to develop his own path and take the lead in many academic and extracurricular activities. He says he directed a one-act play at Bartlett Theatre in Coxe Hall, lettered in varsity soccer as a starting halfback, became editor-in-chief of The Herald after only one year, and even launched his own publication.
Wattenberg says his interaction with the Colleges’ scholars of the era also helped to influence him and prepare him for his career.
“At the Colleges, you can really enter into so many intellectual conversations,” Wattenberg says. “It gave me the full range of science and technology, history and the arts, and it taught me how to write – and write well thanks to a world-class English department.”
Attending Hobart also gave him a stronger sense of independence as a young adult, one that would help him prepare for a career that spanned writing, politics, public opinion and current affairs.
Wattenberg says shortly after arriving on campus he went to Twin Oaks, a hot spot for burgers and beer. He said it was one of his first big moves of autonomy.
“The first night I was here I went down to Twin Oaks,” Wattenberg says. “It was a feeling of independence. It was a great feeling.”
During his career, Wattenberg has served as a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C, a think tank founded “to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism.” Notably, for more than 15 years Wattenberg was the moderator of the PBS show, “Think Tank with Ben Wattenberg.” Through the show, he convened panels of guests to discuss current event topics including arts and entertainment, culture, science, technology, medicine and politics.
Throughout his career, Wattenberg has also received several presidential appointments. He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to serve on the Presidential Advisory Board for Ambassadorial Appointments, and as a public member of the American delegation to the Madrid Conference on Human Rights. He also was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the Board of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. And in 1991, President George H.W. Bush appointed him to the Task Force on U.S. Government International Broadcasting. In 1992, Speaker of the House Thomas Foley appointed him to the Commission on Broadcasting to the People’s Republic of China.
In his other books such as “This U.S.A.,” “The Real Majority,” and the forthcoming book “Death of the Population Explosion,” the majority of Wattenberg’s research focuses on demographics, politics, U.S. culture and public opinion. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and U.S. News and World Report. He has written more than eight books and appeared on television to discuss his work, including an appearance on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
In the photo above, Ben Wattenberg ’55 discusses his career during an interview at Houghton House on Friday, April 19.