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Pulitzer winner Kathleen Parker talks politics, free speech in Baird Lecture appearance

The Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post talked to a crowd of nearly 600 gathered in McCrary Theatre on Oct. 4. 

Kathleen Parker delivered the Baird Pulitzer Prize lecture at Elon University on Oct. 4, 2016.

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker held little back Tuesday night as she offered her take on the choices facing voters this presidential election season while roaming the stage and engaging with attendees at Elon's McCrary Theatre as part of the Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture Series. 

A native of South Carolina, Parker won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2010. At the Oct. 4 lecture, she shared her political viewpoints framed by her upbringing and nearly four decades in journalism, first as a reporter and now as the most widely syndicated columnist in the country. It was a talk peppered by sharp wit, humor and sass. She also advocated for free speech, in part as a response to some who objected to her 2008 book, "Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care."

"The world has changed a lot of in 10 years, and I have changed a lot in 10 years," Parker said. "I probably wouldn't write that book today, and if I did, I probably would not be so snarky."

That said, Parker noted that "we learn when we're uncomfortable, and it's not possible to expand your horizons and learn new things if you refuse to hear the other side." That means not silencing the voices with which we disagree, she said.

"We don't need free speech for nice things," Parker said, addressing the criticism of her visit as she began the evening. "We don't need it to write Hallmark greeting card messages. ... We need it because we have to be able to hear the worst things. We have to allow people to protest. I appreciate that some students wanted to protest. That is free speech in action."

But the bulk of Parker's talk centered on this year's historic presidential race that has been polarizing and unexpected, with Parker offering a sampling of criticisms she has continued to levy at Republican nominee Donald Trump in her recent columns. Parker said Trump's comments on a range of issues have alienated various groups of voters, including Latinos, Muslims and women, making it more difficult for him to build enough support to win the Nov. 8 election. 

Kathleen Parker is a Washington Post syndicated columnist.

"I wrote long ago that Trump isn't politically incorrect — he's just incorrect," Parker said. "Saying something rude isn't politically incorrect — it's rude."

Parker, who describes herself as slightly to the right of center, turned to Clinton, and said she admired her for being a "class act" in the face of adversity and criticism. "The truth is, I have gone pretty light on Hillary Clinton. I have liked her style for a very long time, her ability to stay calm."

Parker's lecture followed time spent earlier in the day with Elon students who work for Elon News Network, the combined broadcast, print and digital news organization that is run by students, exploring various journalism topics. 

The Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture Series was made possible in 2001 with an endowed gift from James H. and the late Jane M. Baird of Burlington, N.C., who were the first presidents of the Elon Parents Council.

Owen Covington,
10/5/2016 10:50 AM