By James El-Mallakh–
University of Louisville political science professor Jasmine Farrier kicked off the University Club’s “Meet the Professor Series” with a speech called, “Rethinking the Place of Congress in the 21st Century.” The speech on Thursday discussed several reasons why the current Congress has experienced gridlock and dysfunction.
She began by examining the constitution’s role in the legislative process, “My point of view is that the enduring feature of the constitution that is with us today is … the structure,” said Farrier. “So when we read the document we should look for structural cues and structural room for dysfunction.”
Farrier then asked the audience to consider their role as voters in the dysfunction in Congress. Farrier discussed several ways in which voters may send confusing signals to elected representatives.
“[Kentucky] gets about $1.50 in direct benefits for every dollar we send to Washington as a state, but even more than that, 38.29 percent of the Kentucky budget comes directly from the federal government… Do we vote that way as a state?” Farrier asked rhetorically, indicating that Kentucky’s voting patterns are aligned with a smaller federal government despite the benefits.
Farrier said seemingly irrational voting patterns may be attributed to other cultural, non-economic issues.
Farrier took one last step in examining Congress by taking a look at its, “strange view of itself.”
“Congress does not like itself… they actively pass law that limits, shrinks and constrains their constitutional authority.” Farrier cited examples such as Congress never successfully ending a military conflict against the will of the president, despite the fact that the constitution grants more power to Congress to regulate war.
“A sufficient number of senators were willing to say they regretted their vote [on the Iraq war] to such an extent that the war vote would not have passed in 2007 at all,” said Farrier.
“When we think about people who changed their mind on the war, we have quite a selection.” Farrier cited Hilary Clinton, John Edwards, John Kerry and Chuck Hagel as political figures who regretted being in favor of the Iraq war.
The solution to Congressional gridlock, Farrier said, is for politicians to have courage and for voters to give them some slack.
“I do believe we have to let politicians be politicians and let them fight, let them have conflict and let them realize their skins are in the game because we’re going to allow them that measure of courage.”
Farrier’s speech lasted an hour and afterward she took several questions from the audience.
“I thought it was a really good talk, Dr. Farrier is always very good. I’m a student of hers, we always enjoy her class,” said Byron Fisher a junior in political science. “I learned a lot about the different aspects of Congressional ambivalence, different examples of that, and about inter-branch lawsuits.”
“I would have liked to hear more about the effect of media,” said John Little Sr., a 1974 alumni of U of L.
Farrier said that she would like the audience to understand that the voters and Congress need to have a different view of the legislative branch.
“If we think about the diversity of views in Congress and we think about the narrowness of views in the White House, of any president, sometimes we are not giving Congress enough credit and they’re not giving themselves enough credit that they actually have the lion’s share of our voices in Washington.”
Photo: James El-Mallakh/The Louisville Cardinal