By Rachel Palermo ’15, PAC Coordinator
Throughout my nine weeks as an intern in Washington, D.C. this summer, 100% of my conversations with people I had never seen before began with: “So where are you interning?” I usually pulled this move whenever we were trapped in the sketchy elevator in my dorm at George Washington University.
Initial conversations between interns across the town entailed attempting to one-up each other on who had the most prestigious unpaid internship. These encounters were always pushed one step further: partisanship instantly created divisions between political junkies who were simply searching for their Washington niche.
Democrats befriended Democrats. Republican befriended Republicans. I would even catch myself making jokes with my liberal friends when we met people interning with Republicans on Capitol Hill. One time I tried to restrain myself and identify as a moderate, only to have people stare until I caved and crossed over to the Democrat side. Minnesota-nice was nowhere to be found among people who aggressively asked their peers, “What are you, a Democrat or a Republican?”
The day I watched voting in the House of Representatives was the day I realized that the foolish partisan behavior we interns engaged in directly mirrored that of our elected officials. The Republican Party (which with their majority seemed, literally, like a party) kept to their half, and the Democrats to theirs, with few crossing lines or even physically walking toward the center of the floor. I observed that although we constantly blame the inefficiency of Congress on partisanship, that behavior does not begin once people are elected to office; it begins the moment someone judges another based on their party affiliation.
It won’t be too long before members of our generation are elected to office. However, by the time that rolls around, society will reside in an even more partisan state. Across the 48 political values measured in a Pew Research Center Survey, the average partisan gap went from 10 percentage points in 1987 to 18 percentage points in 2012— nearly doubling.
It’s up to us to set our political differences aside and start to base our opinions on an issue-by-issue basis in order to close the partisan gap. The only way to “fix” our broken political system is to refuse to fall into the trap of judgement based on party affiliation. The next time you encounter someone across party lines, don’t let your biases halt you from gaining a friendship. Who knows, if you ever both ended up in office, it would be a blessing to have a friend on the other side of the political spectrum.
Rachel Palermo ’15 is a political science and economics major from New Brighton, MN. Rachel serves as the Coordinator of the Political Awareness Committee. You can reach her email@example.com with comments or to learn more about PAC.