Warner Urges Civic Responsibility on Grads

Associated Press Writer
Monday, May 15, 2006; 12:23 PM

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) -- Moderation and compromise were the key notes Monday as former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner delivered a brief, policy-free commencement address at Wake Forest University.

Warner, considered a potential candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, told graduates at the school's 164th commencement they have a responsibility to their community to "conduct our political debates in a civil and respectful manner" that treats complex issues seriously and avoids reducing them to easily digested soundbites.

"We have too much crossfire, but not enough crosstalk," Warner said.

"No one  no one in politics  has a monopoly on virtue, on patriotism or, most importantly, on the truth  and that goes for everyone from conservative to liberal and everywhere in between," he added in a 15-minute address delivered under gray skies on the school grounds.

Warner, who received his undergraduate degree from George Washington University and a law degree from Harvard, was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree.

Warner left office early this year with an approval rating of nearly 80 percent and has said he's considering whether to make a presidential bid. In recent months, he has traveled to major Democratic gatherings and visited the early nominating states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Virginia law bars governors from serving consecutive terms. Warner has said he also may be interested in running for governor again in 2009.

During Monday's speech, he referred in passing to issues he said are of national concern, including dependence on foreign oil, global warming, "massive budget deficits," and America's "diminished stature" overseas.

He described all as "snowballs" rolling downhill, "any one of which, if we get it wrong, could be a major national catastrophe."

Warner also urged the graduates to not be afraid of failure, noting that he decided to be an entrepreneur after getting his law degree, then quickly washed out of the energy and real estate businesses.

Living out of his car and sleeping on friends' couches, he said, he joined a cell phone industry that was in its infancy in the early 1980s.

His law school friends, he said, wondered why anyone would ever want phones in their cars.

"They're still practicing law," he said, while Warner made a fortune as one of the founders of Nextel Corp., the wireless giant that has since merged to become Sprint Nextel Corp.

Warner's first venture into politics was also unsuccessful  an unsuccessful 1996 run against incumbent U.S. Sen. John Warner, R-Va. Mark Warner told the Wake Forest graduates that one of his ideas for that campaign  bumper stickers that read "Mark Not John"  were misinterpreted by some voters as commentary on the biblical gospels.

He did not let the graduates in on his plans for his political future, but did offer one laugh line: "After four years of hard work, I'm currently unemployed. Sound familiar?"

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