Government by and for the people: Giving political discourse one more try

Posted by Andrew Shi

"We the People," a yearlong series of events that began last semester to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the American constitution, held its latest installment on Jan. 31, in the Tang. The seminar, entitled "Government By and For the People," was hosted by Jean Ann Kubler '13, as part of her work from over the summer at the Roosevelt Institute.

 In her seminar, Kubler endeavored to reform the conversation on American politics, something she consideres, as of late, has degraded into cynical apathy.

"This is to serve as a way to revitalize conversation, make them less inherently negative."

Kubler then revealed the base intention of her seminar.

"We want to swing the pendulum the other way, to talk about ideals!" Kubler said.

For the majority of time spent in the hour-long seminar, the 25 or so attendees were split into small groups to discuss the proposed questions, "What values would be embodied in the ideal democracy?" and "In the ideal democracy, what is the government's role?" To a lesser extent, the role of people within society was also discussed.

Although there were slight differences of the meanings of certain virtues, such as justice, most groups came to the common consensus of equality, freedom and justice.

The role of government served to be more contentious, and one group battled over the apparent polarity of equality and liberty. In the end the only agreement they came to was that "Jan. 17 should be made National Cupcake Day."

After the groups were brought back to share their conclusions, Kubler returned the audience to their clusters to discuss the "contemporary issues stopping us from achieving these virtues."

Results were not surprising; topping the list was lobbying and gridlock. Taxes were also mentioned, and the disputed balance between wealth and equality hearkened back to the disagreement over liberty and equality.

The discourse provided was nothing unique, and certainly no different from pundit coverage of the past six months. In fact, at times, the groups seemed to have trouble finding answers.

"When you put a bunch of people from a disillusioned generation in a room to talk about our government, what do you say, where do you begin?" Glen Lambert '16 asked.

Still, at least these 25-odd students did begin somewhere, even if they didn't get far. That's more than can be said about the hundreds of other Skidmore students that did not attend, or even the other students of the two classes that the audience derived from, who received incentives to attend --a three percent boost to their midterms.

When asked whether such seminars held meaning at a school that clearly does not care about political discourse, that for some reason or another didn't care enough to attend tonight, Kubler responded, "It's not about people not caring, it's about people viewing politics as inherently negative."

In that case, we the people do care, but we the people have been so frustrated that we have given up, a choice between apathy or conditioned helplessness.

Yet, some of the students who attended expressed that they would have attended regardless of an incentive. They were genuinely interested and passionate.

"Democracy is hard work, you can't just sit down and say here is how it should be," Lambert said.

A less cynical explanation for low turnout may have been absence of publicity, or pre-committed appointments.

Regardless of the excuse, a yearlong intensive series of events is telling that the attendance of one seminar does not merit civic responsibility or due consideration. As Lambert noted, civil discourse is an arduous undertaking. It is one that some men spend their whole life tackling, but one that all concerned citizens must attempt.

"We the People" continues with "Civil Society for Sale, part 1," on Thursday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m., in the Tang.

A full schedule of events and in-depth descriptions can be found at http://tang.skidmore.edu/index.php/calendars/view/478/tag:1/current:1

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