On Friday, Sept. 20, the Center for the Study of Democracy hosted two MSNBC political pundits in St. Mary’s Hall to discuss and debate the present state of American politics. Michael Steele, known most recently as the former Republican National Committee Chairman, took up the conservative-leaning side of the discussion, and Steve McMahon took up the more liberal-leaning side of the discussion. After each of the pundits gave a short introduction, a four-person panel consisting of Political Science Department Chairman Michael Cain, Assistant Professor of Political Science Todd Eberly, Point News Editor-in-Chief Allison Kight, and Point News Managing Editor Maria Smaldone directed questions at the two pundits.
The chief focus of the evening was on the state of American politics, which both pundits seemed to conclude is in disarray. Although their specific points and examples varied, both Mr. Steele and Mr. McMahon agreed that partisan gridlock is the root of the problem. They argued that the common practice of Gerrymandering has resulted in very homogenously opinioned districts. As a result, representatives cannot afford to compromise on anything because their constituency lacks a diversity of opinion. Furthermore, they argued that the media has become more and more opinionated and biased; such that people can pick and choose which perspectives they want to be exposed to. This means that people tend to read and watch what they want to hear and are rarely confronted with viewpoints that differ from their own.
On the subject of compromise, the two pundits brought up the less-often covered issue of gridlock within parties. Both Mr. Steele and Mr. McMahon laid considerable scorn upon the Republican Party for its disunity and failure to appeal to a wide variety of voters. They also addressed the issue of the Tea Party and its unwillingness to compromise on virtually any issue. Mr. Steele brought up the interesting point that he respected the initial purpose of the tea party as a group of legislators who sought to stick to their campaign promises but lamented that they seem to have since twisted that commitment into a mandate that prevents them from accepting any sort of compromise.
In offering solutions to the present problems in Washington, Mr. Steele and Mr. McMahon turned to the past. They argued that politicians need to be more willing to work with one another and suggested that professional friendship could be a good way achieve such a change. They described times when most lawmakers lived in Washington and how their proximity to each other, and to each other’s families, brought about a sense of friendliness and comradely that would not otherwise exist. They contrasted this with the modern state of affairs where most lawmakers live outside the city and so view their coworkers as little more than nay votes and yay votes.
Clearly, the topics and points made during the discussion resonated with many in the audience. Certain points were received much as one would expect choice bits of a sermon to be; with forcefully mumbled agreement and a shaking of heads and hands. However, despite covering a range of complex and emotional topics, the discussion retained a light-heartedness that made the event all the more enjoyable. Mr. Steele and Mr. McMahon sustained an air of friendly disagreement that never became uncomfortable or hostile. Indeed, their occasional jabs at each other’s political affiliations was quite endearing and seemed to support their enduring argument that politics in Washington needs to be more open and more friendly. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the evening was when Mr. McMahon ended his introduction by saying, bluntly, that the Republican Party is “a shit show;” Mr. Steele took to the podium a few moments later and opened with the line “good evening, I’m the former chairman of the shit show.”