He spoke with eloquence and passion. He answered questions with honesty and depth. He commanded the attention of 769 business and community leaders at an early hour — and proved just as compelling in front of students. Fareed Zakaria, the 2008 President’s Breakfast speaker, impressed all his audiences with his insight into global economics and his provocative perspective on democracy.
The editor of Newsweek International and host of a foreign affairs program on CNN, Zakaria enjoys a reputation as the most influential foreign policy adviser of his generation. His remarks at the breakfast, in convocation and at a special lunch reflected his best-selling book “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad” and offered a preview of “The Post-American World,” due in May.
Noting that the media predicted the collapse of the world economy in 2000, Zakaria described the unprecedented economic growth that has occurred world-wide in the last seven years. At the same time, the incidence of organized violence has dropped to a 50-year low. “Don’t believe everything you see on TV,” he said. The rise of 24-hour news networks and the instant images they provide has revolution-ized the media. To keep viewers from changing the channel, they label everything “breaking news,” Zakaria said. “This information revolution has exaggerated the nature of reality for the last 25 years.”
Zakaria believes the United States retains a competitive advantage because it has the best universities in the world that conduct crucial, cutting-edge research. “But the nation needs to maintain the quality of higher education and attract the brightest and the best in the world or its economy will decline,” he said. “The genius of American society is that it works from the bottom up, it’s infused with the energy and ideas of the people.” But Zakaria is concerned that American support for free trade is evaporating. “Just as the world is opening up, we are closing down,” he said. “It would be tragic if we succeeded in globalizing the world but forgot to globalize ourselves.”