Bipartisanship and Beer: Grabbing a Cold One with Abe

By Kati Seeman

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.”

-Abe Lincoln

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Souvenir from the Lincoln Gift shop Photo by Kati Seeman

Today, I visited Ford’s Theater and the Petersen House after a brisk morning at the White House. Having been surrounded by so much history, I was overwhelmed. It was hard for me to grasp that I was standing in the same rooms that have housed our nation’s leaders and will be the home for all future presidents – men and/or women. Not to mention that I stood in the very place that John Wilkes Booth shot Abraham Lincoln and the room where Lincoln later died. How do I put such an experience into words? How do I blog about this? The gift shop provided me with the answer: Drink.

(Responsibly of course. Disclaimer: I recently celebrated by 21st birthday upon arriving in DC, and I’m spending my Saturday night in my apartment working on homework for this class. I’m still alive, Mom.)

I know this topic may seem like a stretch for some, especially considering all of the important things Lincoln did during his presidency. But as far as this seminar goes, this quote glass is perfect.

During this past week our class heard from several speakers claiming to be part of a bipartisan effort. I learned to take everything with a grain of salt. Just because one presenter said something didn’t necessarily make it true. As Marc Goldwein of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said: “If you torture statistics enough, they’ll confess.”

When faced with a real crisis, and arguably our country is in many real crises, is there a way to come together to create a bipartisan solution? If it goes anything like The Washington Center’s simulation, the answer is no. If the American public is anything like me, it’s hard to even comprehend what the numbers mean when billions of dollars qualifies as pocket change. Many of these policy problems are projected to get worse over the next few decades, but gridlock is nothing exclusive to the 21st century.

Along getting the real facts, I’ve learned grabbing a beer has its place in politics and bipartisanship as well. As part of his 2013 White House Correspondent’s dinner, President Barack Obama gave his response to the request for him to demonstrate bipartisan cooperation with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying, “Really? Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?” The rest of this joke played out this past November as the Democrats lost control of the Senate and Obama said he would gladly share some bourbon with Senator McConnell. Building these small connections over something as small as a beer can contribute to a mutual understanding that even if they can’t agree on policy, they can at least agree on civility.

Throughout the past week there were various mentions of the lack of camaraderie on the Hill and between the branches of government. I can tell you for a fact I do not agree with every idea that my classmates have. No amount of food or beverage will remedy this, just like beer and bourbon won’t get Obama and McConnell to hold hands, sing Kumbaya, and create a balanced budget. However, spending time together and building a happy, cohesive group has already made this trip worthwhile (and could potentially help to make the 114th Congress worthwhile). Abe Lincoln was right about a lot of things, and this is no exception.  We all could use some cold hard facts with our ice cold beer.

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