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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Reflection of vitriolic national politics seen on campus

Published: September 28, 2012
Section: Opinions

Anyone who turns on the television today, or reads any number of Internet blogs is able to feel the acidic nature of contemporary American politics. Politicians use the most incendiary rhetoric to describe their opponents and talk as if the world would collapse if disfavored platforms were implemented. As a result of this environment, voters typically assume an “us or them” mentality and those who strive for compromise are deemed to be unfaithful to their party and their constituents. As the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, the Sandra Fluke controversy or any number of recent events can indicate, there is something fundamentally wrong with the political discourse in America today. Our political environment, however, does not have to be so vitriolic. Indeed, voters can focus on issues that are non-partisan and the electorate can encourage more compromise and understanding in our political discourse.

The ideological environment at Brandeis University is emblematic of what is wrong with the political atmosphere in this country. As a student at Brandeis I was a member of the College Republicans, and this experience gave me a unique perspective on campus politics. I did not enter Brandeis as a Republican, but was rather a moderate when I came to campus in the fall of 2005. In the fall of my first year, however, a friend of mine invited me to post flyers with members of the Brandeis Republicans. The responses we received while flyering influenced my nascent political sentiments drastically. As we made our way across campus, our flyers were torn down and members of the club were taunted. Although the Republicans spoke in tempered tones, many of the people we encountered conveyed political punchlines with incredibly heated variety. This incident made me turn away from any Liberal sentiment and solidified my position as a Conservative. During my years at Brandeis, the campus Republicans were mocked at club fairs, our campaign stickers were vandalized, popular professors ridiculed our views and other attacks were made. These events further cemented my adherence to Rightist views and inhibited me from considering any opposing ideologies.

It was only after I left Brandeis, and attended law school that my move back to Moderatism began. At law school, people were more civil when engaging in political discourse, and I was able to see that extremists and close-minded partisans existed on both sides of the political spectrum. I was able to explore differing views in a marketplace of ideas that was notably tamer and less vitriolic than the one that existed at Brandeis. Law school was where my true ideological development occurred. Only by hearing both sides of an issue, through a civil and unheated discourse, could I truly appreciate and understand most contemporary issues. My more recent experiences have also led me to become a more moderate thinker. Now that I am free of party rhetoric and bickering, I can see the true value of a given policy initiative.

Brandeis can, however, be a place for tempered and civil political discourse. As a liberal arts institution, Brandeis is committed to ensuring that students have a wide array of opportunities to learn from, and this should include a diversity of student political opinions as well. Indeed, the very core of Liberalism and Progressivism includes a commitment to diversity and open-mindedness. These goals are not achieved when students steadfastly adhere to one ideological position without adequately considering the other side. From my experience, Brandeis students of all political and ideological backgrounds are more than willing to share their opinions if afforded an environment in which they feel comfortable. It should be the goal of every student to make sure that students of all backgrounds are in fact permitted to express their views so that the lofty goals of our institution can be pursued. Additionally, each student will benefit from the wealth of opinions that will thereafter be offered, and maybe such efforts will lessen the heated nature of political discussions on campus.

On the national stage, much can also be done to temper the acidic atmosphere of contemporary politics. I believe one reason why discussions about national politics are so heated is because of the amassed power of the central government. Despite what many people may think, Congress is not omnipotent, and the federal government only has certain enumerated powers delegated to it by the Constitution. Since the New Deal, the Supreme Court has allowed Congress to exercise an increasing degree of control over many issues in this country, mainly through the extension of Congress’ commerce power. I would not advocate for a change in this jurisprudence, since I believe in the value of adhering to judicial precedent.

Just because the Supreme Court gave Congress vastly expanded authority to influence contemporary issues, does not mean that Congress has to use it. Indeed, I feel that most “values centric” local issues such as the legalization of marijuana and other subjects should be decided at the state level. If more issues were settled at the state level, more like-minded citizens could decide issues locally to suit the views of people in that region. Citizens of each state could then be more easily placated, since people in certain regions of the country have more similar views to their neighbors than with people in other parts of the nation. All told, by de-emphasizing the national political process, we can take some of the vitriol out of our political atmosphere by lowering the stakes of controlling national politics.

Another way that we can take some of the vitriol out of national political discussions is by focusing on issues that are non-partisan in nature. People all too often seem overly-concerned with abortion, gay marriage or any number of other divisive subjects. I feel that our national political debate should focus on non-divisive issues that rightly belong on the national stage. Copyright reform is a poignant example of a subject that should be at the center of our discussion. Copyright laws are extremely out of date, impose harsh penalties for conduct that causes little harm and are passed by politicians who are influenced by special interests rather than sound logic. Additionally, as the unified front against the Stop Online Piracy Act shows, those who are in favor of reform hail from all parts of the political spectrum. Furthermore, Congress has the exclusive prerogative to decide federal copyright matters, and as such, this is an issue of country-wide concern. National service and a variety of other issues can also be classified as non-partisan, and these pressing subjects should fill our national discourse, rather than the divisive subjects that do not belong on the national stage. If these subjects were emphasized, citizens would see that their views are similar to many other Americans and more vitriol would be taken out of contemporary political discussions.

Furthermore, focusing on non-partisan issues at Brandeis would also help change the heated political culture on campus. Throughout my four years at Brandeis, a number of divisive ideological discussions among students took place about use of fair trade coffee on campus, Palestinian art work in our library and a number of other subjects. Additionally, students also focused on various unifying issues, such as maintaining The Rose Art Museum, extending hours at the C-Store and others. These latter discussions were better for the students at Brandeis since people from all parts of the political spectrum united to seek positive changes in the community. In the process, students were able to see that we all agreed with each other on certain fundamental issues, and discussions of these topics were much less acidic than debates about other more controversial subjects.

Nothing disheartens me more than seeing my fellow countrymen slinging mindless and hurtful phrases at each other without actually listening to the diversity of opinions behind such rhetoric. And in many ways, I see the political environment at Brandeis as a microcosm of the vitriol present in our contemporary political atmosphere. From my own experience, I can attest that opening your mind to a wealth of views only enhances one’s understanding of politics and awakens oneself to the ideologies that truly represent one’s political sentiment. Additionally, I hope that such open-mindedness was more present on the national stage, and that steps were implemented to make contemporary politics less vitriolic.