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Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

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Sarah Davis
Peter Hanson speaks during his Amicus Curiae lecture on the three values of Congress.

Compromising in the legislative branch has been stigmatized, said an American politics specialist said. 

“Compromise is now a dirty word,” said Peter Hanson, the latest lecturer in the Amicus Curiae Series. “Any Congress elected by polarized voters is likely to have high level of conflict. That’s exactly what we have.”

The fourth Amicus Curiae of the 2023-2024 academic year took place Thursday, March 28, in the Brad D. Smith Foundation Hall.

Hanson spoke on his book, “Too Weak to Govern: Majority Party Power and Appropriations in the U.S. Senate.” Hanson is a political science professor at Grinnell College and holds a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley. 

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Hanson said his 1996-2002 work in the U.S. Senate under Democratic Leader Tom Daschle gave him a glimpse of the condition of our nation’s lawmaking system.

“I can remember how we were frustrated by the growth of partisanship during that time,” he said. “Those problems have really only grown since.”

He went on to discuss his desired values of Congress, saying that the governmental body should be representative, responsive and accountable. The people and their parties need to be adequately represented, he said, and should know what’s happening on Capitol Hill. He said there should also be an open line of communication between citizens and their elected officials and more discussing than arguing.

The blame as to why they have not achieved these may be more prevalent than some suspect:; voters.

“The sobering news is that the source is the American people themselves,” Hanson said. “We are divided at a mass level bipartisanship, and this ultimately is what’s driving the polarization that we’re seeing in Congress.”

His findings are consistent with those in the research center Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In her paper entitled, “Polarization, Democracy and Political Violence in the United States: What the Research Says,” Rachel Kleinfield, a Carnegie senior fellow, said that a lot of the problem is a mere misunderstanding between Americans.

“The American public feels affectively polarized largely because of misunderstandings about the other side (though the misunderstandings seem sensitive to actual ideological differences),” Kleinfield wrote. “The rapidity of U.S. polarization compared to similar wealthy, consolidated democracies suggests that domestic issues in the United States are likely to be driving more of the country’s polarization than issues affecting many other countries.”

Hanson’s largest suggestion to the Senate is to throw out the filibuster. He said it’s a tactic to get one’s way rather than a democratic tool.

“Abolish the filibuster,” he said. “Get rid of it. Put a stake through its heart.”

Hanson also said that even though these changes would better the system, the House and Senate– by nature– aren’t meant to be perfectly tied with a bow.

“Congress is never going to be popular;, it’s never going to look good from the outside,” he said. “Even in the best of times, it looks like a collection of people bickering,”

However, he argued, the American people should take its purpose seriously and honor it, even if it is messy.

“It’s not a pretty task, but it’s a vital task,” he said. “It’s the purpose of politics.”

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