While I never did get accustomed to the constant sirens and horns and lights and the subway system, my transition to the city was less of a burden thanks to Representative Whitfield and his staff. I truly believe that a Congress full of men like him would be good for the United States. When I met people that worked on the hill and introduced myself as working for him, the unanimous response was, “What a great congressman and person.” If you have been graced to meet him, you know why.
But on to my point. My interest in politics and the intricacies of law-making have increasingly garnered my attention. C-SPAN, PBS and ESPN are my top choices in TV, the former two a peculiarity of people my age. During my stay in D.C., I tried to learn all of the lingo (there is a dictionary full of terms), make connections and gather advice from important people. I was lucky enough to be able to listen to people like Rand Paul, Colin Powell, David Brooks and John Boehner speak. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t writing legislation or brokering deals with other staffers, but I did learn a thing or two.
One thing I was compelled by and wanted to learn more about even before I got to the Capitol was the gridlock and extreme partisanship. This gridlock has become more apparent over the past weeks thanks to the shutdown.
I could write a whole dissertation on what The American Democracy and Government was meant to look like (and I probably will), but I will save you the details and give you the bottom line. The nation was created in a state of gridlock, and the outcome was the product of concession. Should we be a confederal, decentralized conglomerate of nearly sovereign states, or a unitary, completely centralized nation? As appalling as it is, would we allow slavery or not? And even as petty as it seems, what would we call the head of the executive branch? (“His Highness, the President of the United States, and Protector of their Liberties” was adamantly suggested by John Adams.)
The Constitutional Convention had 55 members debating these and many more questions, and each member had a different opinion from the 54 other men in the room. How, then, you may question, did we get to a functioning government? The answer is simple: compromise. Our system of government was made from stalemate. It was made from the realization that it takes giving up a little to get things done. Broad-sweeping reformation wasn’t meant to happen with our government. Incrementalism was the purpose of our government. Imagine a world that had completely different laws from one election cycle to the next. You wouldn’t know what was legal and not. If this is what the Constitutional Congress wanted for our nation, we would have had a unicameral legislature sans an executive veto power. Instead, compromise was meant to reign supreme: tweaks along the way to deal with issues. Yes, we were born from a bloody revolution. Our teenage growing-pain, years were under the Articles of Confederation, but we matured and began adulthood as a compromising nation.
It seems today that men and women have made a career in Washington out of simply opposing the other side of the aisle. They don’t have ideas and solutions of their own, and they don’t want to make a difference. They simply want to impede the other party. In an intern lecture, Colin Powell noted there was a difference between enemies and adversaries. Enemies have a sworn hatred against each other and have opposing goals. Adversaries have opposing opinions, but at the end of the day can still shake hands, talk with and respect each other. I know that today, more than ever, individual lawmakers must be more adversarial and less confrontational. Trust me, I’m not saying sell out on your beliefs. Ask anyone that knows me, and they can tell you that I’m as stubborn as a mule slathered in sorghum. What I am saying is that we need to be able to understand that to create law, compromise is needed, and to get to your goal, sometimes you have to moderate your requests. The electorate has become more polarized, which in turn creates representation that becomes more polarized.
But I know as we continue this journey together as a nation, we will find a way. We always have and always will.
Cameron Sumner, a Trigg County native, is Sigma Nu Eta Epsilon commander and Student Government Association residential senator at Kentucky Wesleyan College.