As I reported in my last post, U.S. Congressman Brett Guthrie (R-KY2) visited my U.S. Congress class here at Centre College on Friday afternoon. Rep. Guthrie spoke to my students for about fifteen minutes and then fielded questions for the remainder of the hour.
Rep. Guthrie began by addressing a topic that he said tends to be on everyone’s mind when he meets with constituents: “why can’t Congress get anything done?” He gave a short and concise answer: there aren’t a lot of cross-party mutual interests that form the foundation of bipartisan solutions. He explained that a few generations ago, there were several liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, and that with a few exceptions, they’re all gone now. So now there are no conservative Democrats for the Republicans to reach out to, and conversely, no liberal Republicans for the Democrats to reach out to. Hence a great deal of partisanship and inability to compromise and find common ground.
What impressed me most about this is that this is the same basic answer agreed upon by most academics and political scientists. It’s often the case that academics spend their time combating “conventional wisdom” popularized by both politicians and the media. In this instance, Congressman Guthrie’s answer was right on the mark in line with what I teach my students.
How should we fix the problem? He offered: “We haven’t figured that out yet.” It was an honest answer, which I appreciated. The most effective way of “fixing” it immediately would require substantially shifting the ideological constituencies that make up today’s partisan coalitions, and then having them elect representatives accordingly. That’s not something that’s going to happen any time soon.
I very much appreciate Rep. Guthrie visiting my students and we look forward to future visits here on Centre’s campus.