Political opponents to close friends: Joe Walsh and Fred Guttenberg fight for civil discourse 

Staff Reporter

After publicly disagreeing on various social and political issues, former Republican congressman Joe Walsh and parent-turned-gun control advocate Fred Guttenberg have teamed up for a speaking tour on civil discourse. 

Guttenberg’s daughter was killed in the 2018 Parkland school shooting. In the time after, Guttenberg and Walsh had a litany of disagreements surrounding gun control legislation. 

On Feb. 21, the duo kicked off their speaking tour at the university through the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Ithaca Initiative, a civil discourse pilot program that aims to encourage students to connect and work together to develop policy solutions. 

Walsh and Guttenberg started their caustic relationship on X, formerly known as Twitter, over five years ago after the Parkland school shootings, with personal attacks and arguments over their differing views on gun policy.  

“We really went after each other,” Walsh said at the event. “Five years ago, Fred and I were doing what most of America is doing now.” 

Ethan Grandin/THE REVIEW

Then, Guttenberg created an initiative that he wanted political figures to sign, pledging that they would stand against gun violence. Walsh reached out, and the two realized that they had more common ground than they originally thought, with Walsh being the first to sign Guttenberg’s petition. 

“We took our conversations offline, and by talking, not fighting, we found areas of gun violence that we agreed on,” Walsh said during the talk. 

Taking their discourse out of the public eye worked to bring them together, but they realized that they needed to demonstrate to others that respectful disagreement is possible, even between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum. 

“It said a lot when these two knuckleheads went on national TV to try to do something about gun violence and were willing to put their names on the same piece of paper,” Walsh said during the event. 

During her introduction, Valerie Biden Owens, chair of the Biden Institute, expanded on the importance of Walsh and Guttenberg demonstrating how they found common ground to a public audience. 

“These two are modeling how to respectfully have a dialogue with whom you disagree,” Owens said. “We need to equip the next generation with skills to handle divisive issues in the public square.” 

Both Walsh and Guttenberg also stressed the importance of getting young people out to the polls later this year and having respectful disagreements with their peers.  

Ethan Grandin/THE REVIEW

“Hate gets media coverage, and that’s not where we should be as a country,” Guttenberg said during the talk. “The majority of us need to see that it’s OK to have real conversations and come out and vote against hatred.”

Walsh emphasized that the U.S. democracy will be shaky if citizens do not learn how to respectfully disagree, saying that when people go out to the polls later this year, they need to vote against hate.

“Democracy needs us to disagree, and democracy needs us to have inherently different views,” Timothy Shaffer, director of the SNF Ithaca Initiative, said. “But we need spaces for those views to be expressed and respected.” 

Walsh and Guttenberg demonstrated to eventgoers how they can start respectful conversations with those they have disagreements with and how they can find common ground with those they disagree with the most. 

“It’s easy to talk to people when you agree, but it’s necessary and important to find common ground with those you don’t,” Guttenberg said at the event. “That’s how change happens.”