Adam Kinzinger speaks as Jack Kemp Distinguished Lecturer

Rep Kinzinger
Adam Kinzinger answers Q&A questions from the crowd at Thorne Hall on Occidental Campus in Los Angeles CA. Sept. 7, 2023. Luca Lennon/The Occidental

Adam Kinzinger, former U.S. Rep. (R-Ill) and senior political commentator on CNN, spoke to a crowd at Thorne Hall at Occidental College Sept. 3 as the 2023 Jack Kemp ‘57 Distinguished Lecturer. An outlier in the current Republican party, Kinzinger was one of two Republicans to sit on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. He also voted to impeach former President Donald Trump in January 2021. A U.S. Air Force veteran and reserve member, Kinzinger served six terms in Congress, where he was a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce as well as the Foreign Affairs Committee. Now, he is launching a campaign against political extremism.

Following introductions by Dean Wendy F. Sternberg and professor Peter Dreier, Kinzinger talked about the importance of democracy, his account of the Capitol insurrection and his vote to impeach former President Donald Trump.

During his lecture, Kinzinger acknowledged that his conservative-leaning views may be controversial on a liberal campus, but encouraged students to disagree with him.

“Disagreeing on issues is actually a luxury, and being able to have different viewpoints is actually an honor because that means we self-govern,” Kinzinger said.

Looking at students in the audience, Kinzinger said that the future of American politics is in their hands.

“It hasn’t been the people in power that have come along and brought change, it’s been the people where you’re sitting right now that are pissed off at what’s going on and want to do something different,” Kinziger said to the students. “You’re part of the generation that can take this torch and fix this country.”

Kinzinzger talked about being in his Capitol building office, gun in hand, while mobs of insurrectionists stormed and rioted.

“Half the country had their faith in the process shattered and for the next number of months, the former president and his henchmen stood up and convinced half of this country that the government is a failure,” Kinzinger said.

Still, Kinzinger said he is worried that Trump could be re-elected.

“I will be damned if that happens,” Kinzinger said. “I’m gonna fight as hard as I can to ensure he doesn’t.”

According to Kinzinger, the 2024 election is crucial for determining the fate of American democracy.

“I’m not sitting here to scare everybody to death, but what I want to do is to tell you don’t rest on this election, it is serious and actually is historic, even though we say that each one,” Kinzinger said.

He also spoke of being kicked out of his “tribe,” with even close relatives sending letters to tell him he was now “part of the devil’s army.”

“I think what people fear more than they fear death, they fear being kicked out of their tribe,” he said.

After his talk, he was joined on stage by politics professor Isaac Hale ’11, who led a free-wheeling question-and-answer period where he asked Kinzinger questions on foreign policy, Congress and the future of the Republican Party.

When asked about the conflict in Ukraine, Kinzinger said that he is proud of the United States’ involvement and supports the development of military weapons.

“If I was Russia, I would be scared to death to even think about provoking anything with the West,” Kinzinger said. “In my mind, the stronger the military is, and the more capable it is, the less likely we are to actually have to go to war.”

On the topic of Congress, Kinzinger said that he does not believe that Kevin McCarthy will remain Speaker of the House.

“I voted Democrat last election,” Kinzinger said, adding that he will vote for the Democratic candidate in 2024.

Wrapping up his lecture, Kinzinger said that the U.S. democracy should remain a lesson for other nations.

“I think our role is to be an example of self-governance to millions and billions of people that are desperate for a taste of what we have,” Kinzinger said.

For economics major Xavier Albertson (junior), the talk was both informative and engaging.

“Hearing what somebody in a position of power has to say — especially about politics — is incredibly important,” Albertson said. “I have been here three years and this is by far, in my opinion, the most interesting speaker we have had.”

Albertson said this was his first time hearing a politician speak in person and that Kinzinger talked with great energy.

“It’s definitely different compared to watching [him] on TV as he really spoke with a lot of charisma,” Albertson said.

According to Hale, being an outlier in the Republican Party makes Kinzinger a valuable person to hear from.

“Kinzinger is an interesting figure in times of party polarization in the United States, but also for his place in history,” Hale said. “He is not an average Republican, as he was one of just a handful of [conservative] votes in the House of Representatives to impeach Donald Trump.”

Reflecting on their conversation, Hale said he was pleased with the topics covered and what he hopes the audience gained from it.

“I think we touched on some areas where I think there is probably policy disagreement between the congressman and substantial portions of the audience,” Hale said. “But we also talked about his perceived need for reform in the context of the American party system, which I think people broadly agree with.”

Hale said that hearing differing viewpoints is beneficial for people of all political beliefs.

“We are in a two-party system, so it is massively important to learn about the direction of one of those two parties as they tend to alternate power throughout American history,” Hale said.

Echoing Hale, professor Peter Dreier, a self-described leftist, said hearing opposing political beliefs is necessary for students to form their own.

“It’s important that students hear different points of view, which challenge their own thinking to strengthen analytic skills,” Dreier said. “When always surrounding yourself with people that agree with you, you don’t get challenged very often.”

According to Sternberg, the politics department suggested Kinzinger as this year’s speaker. She said that understanding differences in opinions is a core principle in a liberal arts education.

“The mission of the Jack Kemp lecture series is to foster dialogue on political and economic issues, and to expand the range of viewpoints participating in such a dialogue,” Sternberg said via email.

Contact Olivia Fishman at


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