By: Samantha Bayne
The legislative director for Senator Grassley, James Rice, suggested that we can all find common ground on policy, but not politics. Our discussions over the past few days have revealed the strong divisions in this country, but Mr. Rice shows that bipartisanship might still be possible. Even in the incredibly tense times of today – Lara Brown of George Washington University stated that politics today is “not bipartisan, it’s bipolar” – there has to be some common ground that connects us all. In 2019, even though our government is now officially divided, I believe that Congress will be able to successfully pass legislation on issues that are locally important but not visible to the overall public.
Mr. Rice advises that we focus on policy. Many other speakers that we have heard in the past two days further advocated for connecting and building relationships on a personal level. From journalists to lobbyists to even actual Senators (SO cool to meet Senator Markey), observations on the current state of politics have all connected back to one thing: working with others is possible. Our nation has been built on compromise. The Constitution only exists because our Founders took their varying demands seriously in creating a document that worked the best for the majority of the country. Any major reform from the most recent administrations necessarily had to be a compromise because our government has been divided every which way over the past few years (as Lara Brown noted). When we set aside the politics of it all and focus on what matters to this country’s citizens, then true work can get done.
Lilly Goren, the Faculty Director of the Washington Center, stated that divided government is the “new normal.” Politics today certainly feels divided. Tonight, a large group at the Washington Center watched the Oval Office address and Democratic response together, and the contradicting beliefs could not be more obvious. However, maybe it’s not quite time to sound the alarm. After all, the Lugar Center bipartisanship index says that rates of bipartisanship are only slightly low, and have stayed stable over the past few cycles. Congressional workloads have stayed relatively at the same rates over the past few decades, as reported by the Brookings Institute. What has made it work? Behind-the-scenes work on the actual policies. To fairly little fanfare, Senator Grassley (R-IA) and Senator Durbin (D-IL) worked together to pass major criminal justice reform – just this past month. Right before the government shut down, President Trump signed legislation that was a major first step to improving our criminal justice system. Other legislation has been accomplished because of patience and empathy towards former opponents. We never hear the stories about successful bipartisanship; former Senator McCaskill discussed the lack of visibility of legislation that made hearing aids more accessible in her exit interview, but that information got lost in the noise. To the people who needed hearing aids, however, that legislation was incredibly important. Our legislators worked together (yes, together!) to make that happen.
At Pyxera today, Matt Clark and Ellie Jorgensen led an activity after showing the video “Ball Pit with Strangers.” Mr. Clark, while introducing the activity and chucking random colorful balls at us, reminded us that the only true path to partnership is human-to-human interaction. In this activity, we asked the person next to us interesting questions, such as our personal bucket list and our first loves. Activities like this reminded me that we have to notice others. We have to pay attention to them. Because when we hear multiple perspectives, we only grow stronger in our own. We have to ask: what stories are we hearing? And which stories are being ignored? We also have to invest time in connecting with the person themselves and understanding which issues actually matter. Politics may be tense and chaotic, but our policies do not have to be. If our legislators continue to choose to block out the noise and reach across the aisle, we will continue to produce bipartisan policies that work for our country. We have to get down to the weeds and focus on what will affect others. That is what our politics should be about.