Kearney: Schakowsky shows fighting spirit we need in Congress


Ryan Kearney, Columnist

This election season, Americans have divided opinions on pretty much every issue, but one thing that basically everyone can agree on (setting aside Congressional relatives) is that Congress is simply a broken and miserable system. I, too, am often mystified and frustrated by the gridlock and grandstanding that comes out of our legislative branch. Thus, I was pleasantly surprised by Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s (D-Ill.) roundtable discussion with the Northwestern Political Union on Thursday night. She was comfortable, candid and articulated her progressive viewpoints in a passionate way. Our political system would be a better place with more representatives like her.

Schakowsky covered a wide range of topics with the students, who were equally impressive with the depth of their knowledge and passion for the political process. She displayed a depth of knowledge of the issues, and a confidence in her opinions on those issues, that was quite striking. From trade deals to fiscal policy, she was comfortable bantering back and forth with the students and articulating a clear view that, while perhaps a bit liberal for many Americans, was very well thought out and sincere. I also give her kudos for being willing to sit down with a group of college kids — sans handlers, press or a script — and just talk about issues. Our system could use more of that, and I am sure that a great many people would trust their elected leaders more if they were willing to do such things.

What most impressed me about Schakowsky, though, was the way in which she was able to articulate her progressive viewpoint in such a concise, feisty and persuadable way, as well as her willingness to call out “malarkey” (to borrow a word from Joe Biden) from the other party. She blasted her House colleague, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), for his devotion to far-right author Ayn Rand, an allegiance that deserves more attention in my opinion given the extreme worldview of Rand and the fact that her work was the inspiration for Ryan to get into public life. Schakowsky chastised her Republican colleagues for their obstructionism over the past four years, noting that simple legislation such as transportation funding bills and the updated Violence Against Women Act that used to pass in a bipartisan fashion without controversy are now regularly held up and receive attachments about hot-button issues like abortion to slow them down. She excoriated the Republican Party’s strict no-compromise position on taxes, pointing out that every single candidate in the GOP primary stated that they would reject a deficit reduction bill that had $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. Perhaps most effectively, she highlighted the hypocrisy of the Congressional Republicans who campaigned against the 2009 stimulus bill as an unconscionable act of government spending yet who, in her words, showed up to “every ribbon-cutting ceremony” at stimulus projects in their districts. On these issues and many more, Schakowsky showed a unique ability to cut through hypocrisy and extremism while simultaneously avoiding sounding like a nasty partisan warrior, and I gained an enormous amount of respect for her for doing so.

The prevailing opinion in America today is that there is too much partisanship in government and that it is holding the nation back. Partisan warfare is indeed a negative force in our political system. But that system also needs people who are willing to fight for their principles in a respectful manner and call the issues as they see them without being overly strident or stubborn in their beliefs. Schakowsky struck me as exactly that kind of fighter, and for that reason, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to see her in action and am glad that she represents Northwestern and the city of Evanston in Washington, D.C.

Ryan Kearney is a Communication sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].