Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

A Little Civilized Debate Never Hurt Anyone

I feel as though I’m perpetually one disappointment away from swearing off politics for good.

Bitterly disillusioned though I was with both parties, I let myself get excited last year about the possibility of a change in control of Congress. I dutifully voted, and when the results came in – a historic rejection of the status quo in Washington – I felt satisfied to have contributed to the change.

Since then, the Democratic Congress, whose leaders objected when their Republican counterparts gave retroactive approval to President Bush’s wildly illegal military tribunals in 2006, voted to give retroactive approval to his even more illegal warrantless wiretapping program in August.

Then, the same leaders, who literally shouted their disapproval when Republicans violated the rules of the House in 2003 to pass a prescription drug bill, appeared to lose a vote in the House on denying certain federal benefits to illegal immigrants, but declared they had won it anyway.

What a mess. It’s amazing that Congress and the president can sustain even their anemic public approval ratings anymore. As for me, I’ve all but lost faith that Congress or President Bush or any of the 17 candidates running to replace him will change things in any substantive way.

In such times, I can hardly fault a Republican I met when visiting another college for how she responded when she found out I was a Democrat.

“That’s OK,” she said. “We just won’t talk about it.”

Granted, we were in a bar, so I didn’t really want to talk about it anyway. But I can’t help but feel that the unofficial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for people who disagree politically is just as much a cause of all the misery in Washington as it is a product of it.

Even at Georgetown, a campus that attracts and produces some of the sharpest political minds in the country, I’ve always felt this bitter divide tends to rear its head all too frequently. For proof, I played some word association games with some of the more political students on campus last week. I started with the College Republicans:

Nancy Pelosi.

“San Francisco,” said JD Allman (COL ’09), the vice chairman.

“I was going to say `liberal,'” said Joe Hack (COL ’09), the chairman. They agreed to combine the two.

Then I moved on to the Democrats:

George Bush.

“Wrong,” said Or Skolnik (COL ’08), the president of Georgetown’s College Democrats. He qualified that by saying “on many things.” He qualified that further by calling Bush the worst president in American history.

I know these sorts of games can’t do full justice to a person’s opinions, but this was hardly the kind of elevated political discourse I was hoping for. And these guys don’t even do this for a living (yet). So perhaps it’s no surprise that the elected officials after whom they model themselves are such a consistent letdown.

But maybe there’s more to it than that. Because the students I talked to refused to say that the political environment was corrosive; as far as they were concerned, the state of Georgetown’s body politic couldn’t be healthier. Allman and Hack consider themselves good friends with the likes of Skolnik and Rachel Cohen (COL ’09), the Democrats’ events director.

There seems to be a disconnect at play. The most politically active students on campus do little to conceal their animus for politicians they disagree with but are still buddies with the students on the other side of the aisle. The College Republicans and College Democrats are even planning a giant joint initiative this year in anticipation of the 2008 election, inviting every presidential candidate to campus and sponsoring issues forums and voter registration drives.

If anything, the divide at Georgetown seems to be between the politically active students like those I spoke with, and those who are so fed up with the rancor of our national politics that they have decided to follow that aforementioned Republican girl’s advice to not talk about it.

Again, it’s an understandable instinct, but I still believe it’s the wrong one. Because even though they take up arms now and then in the inane cable news debates that supposedly define our discourse, politically engaged students at Georgetown know where to draw the line.

And here you have an example: I imagine that many of you were probably familiar with my predecessor in this column, Eric Rodawig (COL ’07). It is also a safe bet that a large majority of you, committed liberals that you are, thought he was an insane and close-minded fringe figure from some ghost town in North Dakota who subverted honest contemplation to his own shrill and self-righteous disdain for any opinions that differed from his own.

When I got to know him, though, I discovered that that description was inaccurate. Eric is from South Dakota.

And still, he graciously allowed me to succeed him in this little place where he offered his own contribution to Georgetown’s political discourse. So in the form of this column, I’m willing to give politics one last chance, and I hope it will inspire others to do so as well. Thoughts are not crimes, and it’s time to stop treating them that way.

As Congress returns from its recess this week, there is talk of children’s health care and the Petraeus report on Iraq, of appropriations bills and alternative energy sources, of a new attorney general and what to do about the disaster that was the old one.

Hopefully our elected officials will follow the example of students right here at Georgetown who have found a way to talk about politics without shouting at each other, and who know how to distinguish between disagreeing with someone and disliking someone.

They may be surprised by what they’re capable of.

“I don’t think if I knew George Bush personally, I would hate him,” Or said.

He didn’t sound too convincing, though.

Stephen Santulli is a senior in the College and a former editor in chief of THE HOYA. He can be reached at Thoughtcrime appears every other Friday.

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