As a college student and political communication major, I spent the summer working on Capitol Hill. It was an eye-opening experience.
I began my journey to Washington, D.C., with a cynical view of our government fueled by the popular belief that government and our elected officials do not “care” and are “unresponsive” to the public good and are only concerned about self-interest. Throughout my time in Washington, I soon realized just how wrong that perception is.
The people who “knew for certain” that all our elected officials were the true problems in our political system had zero experience in public service and not much legitimate evidence to back up such a universal claim. What I experienced was quite the opposite of their belief.
I worked in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate for elected officials who do indeed care about public interest and who take into account public opinion before voting on a particular bill.
My drive to change the public’s misguided views was fueled even more when I returned home and was often asked if I “became a selfish crook like everyone else in Washington.”
What most Americans will not accept is the realization that they are part of, if not the majority, of the problem in our political system. Whether Republican, Democrat or independent, we are so ignorant on many complex policy issues because we generally fail to inform ourselves with in-depth political information.
Politics is boring, and we like entertainment. Most of us don’t sit and watch policy debates or take the time to objectively learn about the candidates we elect but then get upset when we later find out that we don’t like a particular policy they endorse. We have a hard time accepting that our elected officials cannot just represent us as individuals in Congress. If anything, elected officials, in order to win re-election, have become too responsive to uninformed public opinion and individual interests. Such a revolving cycle has led to our polarizing political environment and policies that fail to address society’s best interests.
I am a Republican, but I believe in compromise, acknowledging that I am just one of millions of other Americans, and that my views are not always the same as someone else’s. In that spirit of compromise, I propose these reforms to break the cycle of polarization.
What needs to be reformed with our elected officials? They need to compromise, and we need to limit their terms. We need to stop elected officials from making what was supposed to be a temporary job into a lifelong career. Representing a district or state was meant for public servants who only temporarily worked in our political system, and they were not meant to constantly focus on the next re-election campaign. The result would allow representatives to balance their own judgment with the wishes of their constituents, rather than being bound to that often uninformed public opinion.
What needs to be reformed with the electorate? We need to be knowledgeable and active. We need to be politically informed enough to understand that decisions are made on the basis of what’s best for society.
We need to objectively analyze candidates and their positions, and we need to fact-check to the best of our ability the messages they send out. Our universities and younger generation can make a huge difference. College student governments should focus on objectively informing students on important issues and using college public opinion to influence good policy.
Yes, I am only 20, and I have a tendency to try to fix all of the problems I see. Some may call me naïve, but I believe in our people and in our system of government.
An informed public will lead to a government that will work for the public good and not merely party politics.
David J. Scotton is a political communication major at LSU who interned on Capitol Hill this summer in both chambers of Congress.