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Johnson '14: Hope in POLS 1130

Watching the news these days tends to fill me with pure, unadulterated cynicism. Nobody in government agrees on anything, except for the fact that the system in Washington, and Providence, is broken. In a country where Occupiers scream, Rush Limbaugh calls law students sluts and Angel Taveras makes it his life goal to suck the money out of Brown, it's hard to stay hopeful. 

I certainly feel the hopelessness, as anyone who read my columns knows ("Super PACs bring out the worst in politicians," Feb. 23). But one morning in POLS 1130: "The American Presidency," taught by Associate Professor of Political Science Wendy Schiller, I got a new burst of hope from my fellow Brown students.

In the previous week's section, we had been assigned the unenviable task of solving the nation's fiscal and economic crisis in 50 minutes. In class, several of the sections sent representatives up to the front of Salomon 101 to present their solutions.

As a thoroughly beaten down political observer, I expected partisan dribble from the left about the rich not paying enough in taxes and partisan dribble from the right about how ObamaCare is going to kill your grandma. I figured that the dreaded C-word - "compromise" - would never even make an appearance. 

But I was wrong.

Rather than presenting doctrinaire party platforms and regurgitated Obama-isms, the liberals on stage were willing to concede that, yes, the deficit is a problem and that our current levels of spending are unsustainable. They were willing to look at serious cuts, something that can't be said of the elected liberals in Washington.

In my section, we had several fairly conservative students who also seemed to understand the value of compromise. They acknowledged that defense budget cuts must be part of an overall plan to scale back spending. They gave Medicare the credit it deserves for having protected millions of American seniors.

Why is it that a group of 20 college students can understand the importance of compromise and civil discourse while a group of 535 politicians in Washington continue to scream at each other?

Perhaps it is that our formative years have been those in which our government has nearly ground to a halt due to radical partisanship. Perhaps it is because we have seen a congressional candidate compare President Obama to Osama Bin Laden - that happened in my Massachusetts congressional district. Our generation has seen how partisanship can cripple the government, and we've seen what intransigence and lack of cooperation can do. 

Professor Schiller even took a moment to note that our pragmatic, ideologically balanced solutions to the nation's problems were "a good sign" for the future. I wholeheartedly agree. 

Despite what many, including myself, have said about liberalism's monopoly on Brown students, this moment in class was one of great hope. It was nothing more than an ungraded section assignment, but it showed that our generation understands the great burdens that the current generation of leaders has left to us. We understand how grim the future could be and that some problems are too big for partisanship.

The sad truth that underlies my brief moment of hope is that it will be some time before the students in POLS 1130 have a chance to lead the country. For now, we remain under a dark cloud of ideological division and extremist control. Good people, those who understand the value of civility and respect, are leaving government in flocks. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, has indicated that she will retire. So will Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.  

There are some glimmers of hope in today's government. Gov. Lincoln Chafee '75 P'14 dared to run as an independent and won. A former Republican senator, Chafee understands that today's partisanship is toxic and unproductive. 

Fortunately, there is hope. There is the hope of a new generation of Americans who, repulsed by the conduct of their elected officials, desire to change how things are done. We're sick of being told that certain ideas are conservative and that certain ideas are liberal, when all we really care about is if they are good ideas.

That morning I saw that something was building in POLS 1130. The good news is that it is probably building on college campuses around the country. While Tea Partiers and leftists scream and accomplish nothing, a new generation of Americans is preparing to take the helm and work towards an era of civility and effective government.



Garret Johnson '14 has never really written a positive column before. It feels great.



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