The topic was "voter anger" in the 2016 presidential election, but columnist and TV and radio host Michael Smerconish suggested that many Americans are not seething with discontent.
"If there's a new silent majority in the nation, it's not tea-party activists, it's not millennials who are feeling the Bern, it's the tens of millions of Americans who are not angry but too complacent," he said.
Smerconish was the featured speaker Wednesday at an event hosted by Philadelphia Media Network, parent company of the Inquirer, the Daily News, and Philly.com, at the Independence Visitor Center.
His talk was followed by a panel discussion that included former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell; Melinda Henneberger, editor-in-chief of Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper; Farah Jimenez, president of the Philadelphia Education Fund; and Solomon Jones, a Daily News columnist and radio host. Nearly 200 people attended.
Smerconish argued that an active and passionate minority has had an outsized influence on the political process, and has "muted too many of the rest of us, because we let them."
He cited the Index of Consumer Sentiment that showed people feeling as positive in 2015 as they did in 1983, during the Reagan era.
"So what accounts for the disconnect?" he asked.
He argued that conservative talk radio has, over decades, created a climate of conflict that has animated a small but effective portion of the electorate.
Smerconish offered several ways to reverse the trend, and topping his list was increased voter participation.
"We need to make it far easier, less onerous, for people to vote. When more participate, they dilute the extremes among us that otherwise limit our choices," he said.
During the panel talk, Rendell said the political anger was there before the current election campaign, citing the tea-party movement and Occupy Wall Street.
He recalled that during the presidency of George W. Bush, Democrats provided votes for the Iraq War and Republican tax cuts. President Obama, however, has faced unyielding opposition from Republicans, and Rendell questioned whether the president's race was a factor.
Henneberger argued that the anger was, "to put a nice name on it, cultural [rather] than economic," and that "we have forgotten how to speak to each other in a way that is constructive."
While some of the talk was about reforming campaign finance, Jones said social media was a powerful leveling force.
He also said that there was anger in the African American community. "We're tired of platitudes from the Democrats," he said.
Jimenez reminded the audience that no matter how the election goes, there will still be a lot of dissatisfied voters.