Wabash Blogs Immersion 2008: Washington D.C.

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March 09, 2008

The Delay

Gary James ’10 - Saturday was our last day in Washington DC. I were supposed to meet in the Doubletree lobby at 12:30 pm. So I woke up early (7:30 am). I cleaned Jon and my room, packed my clothes, and took a shower. Then I was off to explore more of DC before our long trek back to Crawfordsville.

            By then I understood the Metro system. So I hopped onto the Orange Line to Metro Center, where I could take the Red Line to Dupont Cirlce. I should have known at this point: today was NOT going to run smoothly.
            It was raining (so I got wet). My card had expired (so I bought another day pass). And, due to maintenance, the Red Line would have a 30 minute delay (so I waited).

            So I eventually made it Dupont Circle, and I was about a block away from the Human Right Campaign Action Center and Store when I saw a young woman having problems with parking. With a sidewalk on one side and fast-moving traffic on the other, I tried to direct her. Somehow, I volunteered to do it for her. Everything went fine. I parallel parked for her, and she was very appreciative. Looking pack, I don’t know if my getting involved was the most prudent, but I couldn’t help but feel connected to this woman even though I didn’t know here. Being in my nation’s capital reinforced the idea of an American people, an American family. And I felt like I was doing my part.

            So I grabbed a view books and souvenirs from stores on Dupont and headed back to the Doubletree. It had stopped raining, but the Red Line was still down. So 35 minutes later I was back. We left for the airport.

            The trouble began again. We got our tickets. I got through the security check with record speed. We were all ready to board, when a cautious voice reverberated out of the intercom. Our flight had not left its former destination, New Orleans. Once it took off, it was diverted to Baltimore, Maryland. By the time it arrived in DC, it was about 6 o’clock, two-and-a-half hours later than we were supposed to leave. Finally we got to Indianapolis. It was about 8. And the Mexico trip just so happened to have arrived before us. It was close to 10 when we left and around 11 when we all got home.

            Even so, we found ways to entertain ourselves. We know at least 32 Vice-Presidents and every character in the Harry Potter Series. The Vasquez’s daughter Amelia talked to us about space and Martians. Dr. Hadley made sure we had full stomachs, which always helps. And we could reflect on the memories of being in our nation’s capital. That experience alone was worth more then any delay.


First Picture:  That's me going up the escalator on my way to Dupont Circle

Second Picture:  On my way down to the Metro

Third Picture:  The class group on the way to Reagan National Airport

Fourth Picture:  The Vasquez's passing the time. 

A Good Week

Cassius Austin Rovenstine ’10 - This blog was originally to be posted on Friday, but due technical problems during a late-night ride on the Metro, my deadline was missed.  By now, our Washington D.C. immersion trip has been all but wrapped up, with only a Saturday plane ride back to snowy Indiana on today’s agenda.

I was, when I first registered for this class, eager to take the course, but unenthusiastic about the immersion trip.  Spring break is my only opportunity to rest during the spring semester, and I would usually prefer to spend it fishing along the Tippecanoe River, not trekking around the nation’s capitol, talking to lobbyists and politicians.  But the experiences in Washington —the sometimes unpredictable Metro not the least of which—have proven to very enjoyable.

Friday was the most relaxed day of our week long Washington experience, with the first item on our agenda beginning at  in the afternoon.  This left me plenty of time for a morning walk around town, and a quick reading of the Washington Post.  At , I met Dr. Hadley and the rest of the class at the Supreme Court, and we were given a tour.  Seeing the actual chairs where Supreme Court Justices hear their cases brings with it the realization that they are in fact regular human beings, and the democracy they protect is more fragile than we sometimes think. 

After the Supreme Court, we were on our own for a few hours, and several of us decided to trudge through the rain and make a visit to one final museum.  We spent an hour or so at the Air and Space museum, then we left for the hotel—where many of us took the opportunity to nap—before dinner.

We attended a very good dinner hosted by Greg Castanias ’87, where we also met with various other Wabash alumni and students in the Washington area.  We were grateful for Mr. Castanias’s hospitality and the time that he and all of the other alumni afforded us for the evening.

The immersion trip turned out to be a worthwhile experience, and it has greatly enhanced my understanding of Congress and the Presidency.  It was a fast-paced spring break, to be sure, but invaluably educational.  I’m glad that I took it.  There will be plenty of time for fishing in May.

First Picture: Greg Castanias thanking everyone for coming

Second Picture: Every mingling on the first floor. 

March 06, 2008

A Full Day of Lobbying and Advocacy

Stephen Maynard '11 - We really started to feel the hustle of Washington Wednesday! A morning meeting with a lobbyist from Eli Lilly showed the importance of pharmaceutical companies' relations with Capital Hill. A Senate Office meeting with Senator Bay's health aide proved how members of Congress rely on their staff to give them all the information they need to make a decision. Last, a teleconference at Consumers' Union showed the dangers of lobbying without oversight and of the strength of grassroots advocacy.

This week so far we've met people representing a lot of the sides involved in the policy-making process. Any person who has observed past and ongoing debates over healthcare knows that it is a divisive issue that has no real solution that doesn't involve a great amount of compromise, usually on the key issues.

The trip is challenging our perceptions of how Washington truly works. Outside of the beltway it's easy to ridicule and belittle the federal government; but when you come to understand just how many voices need to be heard in order for decisions to be made wisely,that pessimistic opinion might change.

Everyone is having a great time here in Foggy Bottom, and we're looking forward to a great conclusion to this week.

First Picture: The group on its to Eli Lilly

Second Picture:  Susan Herald at Consumers' Union

Third Picture:  The group listening to Herald explaining the organization's mission.

Padgitt Goes to Washington

George Padgitt '09 - Our third day in Washington, D.C. provided a really interesting insight into the differing views involved in the health care policy making process. We talked to three people today, all with different roles and interests.
          Our first meeting of the day was with Jesse Price, a lobbyist for Eli Lilly. He gave us a cool look into the corporate aspect of healthcare, which we have not really seen yet. Then we talked to Senator Bayh's Health aide who provided further insight into the legislative aspect of health policy. And finally we talked with Susan Herald from Consumer Union, which represents consumer interests in health policy. Because all of the three players are so different it was a good opportunity to see how the different groups interact. It also showed how complicated the whole process can be. The meeting with Mr. Price from Lilly was especially cool because Lilly is an Indiana company. It was interesting to see how a home town company operates in Washington.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

First Picture:  George Padgitt '09 asking about Jesse Price about lobbying in DC.

Second Picture:  Lobbyist Jesse Price explains the lobbying profession and pharmaceutical policy to Wabash students. 

Newkirk's Most Interesting Day So Far

Andrew Newkirk '08 - I am really privileged to get to blog about Tuesday's activities, as I felt it's been our most interesting day so far. For our morning meeting, we met with Bill Archer, Senior Policy Advisor for PricewaterHouse Coopers and former Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. As someone who served in Congress for 30 years, he had wealth of knowledge and stories that kept up entertained for almost two hours.
             During his congressional tenure, Mr. Archer became quite an expert on our own complicated tax code, and I was especially excited to get to ask him a question about the Fair Tax. This is something I knew he had studied and that I have become very interested in recently. Mr. Archer was my favorite speaker so far, and we all appreciated how  much time he was willing to spend sharing his knowledge and answering our questions. 

                                              In the afternoon, we had the hour of meeting with Dr. James Thurber - Professor at American University, and foremost expert on Congressional/Presidential relations. Talking with Dr. Thurber was most meaningful to our group because we've actually read some of his pieces in class; meeting the man behind the text was really something. While he spoke to us at length about Congress, interaction with the President, what I thought was most interesting was his predictions on the upcoming 2008 Presidential race. 

              All in all, I think Tuesday we met with two of the biggest individuals on our docket of speakers, and I think my classmates would agree with me. This trip has been so rewarding, and I want to thank Dr. Hadley and Wabash College for giving us this opportunity.

First Picture: Making our way across K Street to see Mr. Archer

Second Picture: Andrew Newkirk '08, Kyle O'Keefe '08, and George Padgitt '09 listening to Mr. Archer

Third Picture: The group listening to Dr. Thurber at American University

A Fast-Paced Man

Jonathan Torrez '10 - It might be a phenomenon to this immersion group but it has been a common occurrence that Professor David Hadley is at least half a block ahead when we travel on our little excursions around D.C.                          

One would think there has to be a logical explanation for this. However, as proven by Mrs. Hadley, he is always as fast paced here in the city as he is while they hike. As much power-walking that we do, the students of Wabash College can not keep up with Prof. Hadley.

Nonetheless, if we look around us, we see that D.C. is not Crawfordsville or Indianapolis. As a student with aspirations to make a living in the U.S. capitol, the whole city is as fast paced as Prof. Hadley. The city is a bee hive with people doing so many things: going to work, catching the next metro train, working on their blackberrys, etc.

On this immersion trip, this experience has given me a glimpse of what I can expect in the near future. My time in this environment will help me tremendously to get my feet wet for the politics and city life I will experience in my semester abroad at American University to achieving my dreams at working in this wonderful city in the future.


First Picture:  Dr. Hadley followed by everyone else.

Second Picture:  On the way to the Metro

Third Picture:  On our way to Capital Hill

Meeting Bill Archer

Gary James '10 - It's not everyday (or every year for that matter) that you get to meet a former congressman who was chairman of a Congressional power committee. Well, that's what happened to our group on Tuesday when we met former Representative Bill Archer, a senior policy advisor for a national tax service.

       We walked down to Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP and spend an hour-and-a-half listening to Archer's stories about his days in Congress and how difficult policy making can be. In a host of policy areas, he described to us his repeated run-ins with a gridlocked congress.

       On healthcare, Archer described the problems that everyone knows about: the uninsured, the escalating costs eating away at profit margins, and the threat of malpractice suits. All together, they create an issue network that stopped many reforms in their tracks, particularly attempts at universal healthcare. Archer rejects the idea of a single payer system, in which government is the primary purchaser of health insurance, because he believes it would reduce choice and quality in healthcare overall.

      Instead, Archer is a proponent of private health savings accounts. He did much of the preliminary work as well as heavy lifting legislatively on private accounts before he left congress in 2001. The concept was expanded after he left. Even so, he says he still does not know how to go beyond the partisanship to attempt bigger things.

                                                     He tried to get a number of groups, including the Government Accountability Office, to do
comprehensive studies of the entire healthcare system and make suggestions. The task was too daunting for them. Archer says the beginning of any major reform should focus on identifying cost drivers - areas like administration that are driving costs up - isolating them, and finding legislative solutions. The problems is healthcare is a huge issue area, highly political in some parts, and there are fundamental disagreements about the role of government versus the role of the market.

     On energy policy, Archer described his frustrations with some members who supported
subsidies for corn-based ethanol, which he says is not as efficient as some would like to believer. On Social Security policy Archer's attempts to augment the current system into personal retirement accounts did not gain passage either. The AFL-CIO couldn't support it because of the fear of losing retirement security. Conservative groups like the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation opposed it because they disagree with ideas like Social Security completely. And the President could not risk opposing Labor again after NAFTA. So it died.

    It's a tough world out there. Every interest group has its stand on what's important to them. When dealing with a huge issue like health policy, it is very challenging to address all the concerns without mobilizing impassioned opposition from another issue area where that would be affected.

Although Archer could not give much advice for dealing with these realities and the partisanship, he did provide a great context for what goes on in our nation's capital.

First Picture:  Jonathan Torrez '10 shaking hands with Mr. Archer.

Second Picture:  Archer explaining the difficulty in making policy.

Third Picture:  Our group sitting in the boardroom, listening to Mr. Archer. 

March 05, 2008

A Solemn Moment

Michael Hotz '08 - Monday morning started with a trip to Senator Tom Harkin's (D-Iowa) office. Jenelle Krishnamoorthy, legislative assistant for health issues, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at the legislative process. A few minutes into the presentation revealed the difference in congressional staff structure. For example, Senator Harkin clearly has focused in on healthcare policy and has hired PHD's and MDs to tackle these issues.
          After the meeting, Professor Vasquez and I jumped onto the Metro system to go to Arlington National Cemetery. A few memories about this hollowed place deserve mentioning: the long lines of tomb stones; the hard wood trees; Lee's house on the hilltop; and the changing of the guard. For those who have not visited Arlington, the tomb of the unknown soldier is guarded by the 3rd Division 23rd ceremonial regimen. Every half hour, the guard is replaced in a process that demonstrates the precision of military drill squads. In the end, the trip to Arlington was a once in a lifetime experience.

First Picture:  Jenelle Krishnamoorthy explaining how Senator Harkin's office pushes its policy priorities.

Second Picture:  Our group visiting Arlington Cemetery.

March 04, 2008

Our American Moment

Gary James ’10 - With more time to take in the nation’s capital, our group went on a tour of the Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture and the National Archives during Sunday. That night, a few of us traced a route that began at the Washington Monument and ended at the Vietnam Memorial. The tours – both at day and at night – highlighted the dynamism and richness of American history and reinforced the exciting reality that we reside temporarily at the focal point of most of that history:  Washington, DC. The Reynolds Center featured gallery after gallery of paintings, statues, sculptures, busts, and displays of George Washington and all other presidents, abolitionists, leaders of the suffrage movement, civil war generals and artifacts, and even Steven Colbert.                                                

At the National Archive, we all saw exhibitions on power brokers caricatured in political cartoons and watched a short film about the personal impacts of discoveries in the archives. But hands down, the most memorable part of the visit to the National Archive was viewing the Declaration of Independence, the original Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. That moment – with all of us assembled in a spacious rotunda with large murals depicting scenes of the founding – was the climax of the day. Having seen disparate dispensations of American political and social life, the viewing of our nation’s founding documents brought it all together and brought home the ideas of American exceptionalism, endurance, and strength.Those ideas were illuminated more aesthetically during our trek to the monuments and memorials Sunday night. It seems impossible to appreciate the full scale of the Washington Monument without standing directly under it. It’s a giantess peering over the lake on the national mall, leading up to the Lincoln Memorial. I’ve been to DC before, but I’ve never visited the Lincoln Memorial. It took me a while to contextualize the moment. We were standing in front of a monument in honor of a president who brought a divided nation together to reject slavery. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial and set out his vision of an America with reduced racial tension. And I, a sophomore at Wabash College from the South and a beneficiary of both men’s work, was wearing a t-shirt in support of presidential candidate and Illinois Senator Barack Obama.

                                                 I was wistful and proud to be in Washington, DC, where all that is America converges. And I was anxiously awaiting our crash course in the operations our government scheduled to commence the next day.

First Picture: Andrew Newkirk '08 looking at a Colt Revolver in the Civil War Gallery of the Reynolds Center.

Second Picture:  Jared Graber '11, Dr. Hadley, and Michael Hotz '08 looking at historical American documents.

Third Picture:  Silhouette of Michael Hotz '08 near the Lincoln Memorial.

March 03, 2008

Kyle's Run-in with Art

Kyle O’Keffe ’08 - Wow, this city is huge! I can’t believe how many things there are to do. In our second day at the nation’s capital, we ended up visiting a variety of museums. We found the National Archives, Museum of Native American History, and (my most favorite) the Museum of American Art. I was struck by the stunning paintings done by Monet, a special they were putting on for a couple of months. Although I did not understand all of the pieces, I feel like I learned about art and have become more cosmopolitan. At least I felt cooler until I set off an alarm to a piece in the basement. Oh well…no one’s perfect. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day full of history and education. 

Picture: Kyle O'Keefe '08 and Jon Torrez '10 discuss their time looking at art. 

March 02, 2008

The Pace of Our Nation's Capital

Gary James '10 - It’s our first night in the nation’s capital, and I’m tired. So are the other guys. Everyone seems to be keeping a low profile as they recover from a full day of travel and touring in lieu of the week’s itinerary.

The day was fast-paced and somewhat nerve-racking. There was constant action at all times. The car ride from the Chapel to the Indianapolis Airport was filled with conversation about the 2008 Presidential and Congressional Elections, the Wabash basketball team, and plans for next week’s crash course into the health policy-making.

There was a short wait at the airport, and the flight itself was less than an hour and a half.

From the time we touched down at Reagan National Airport, it was a race to stay above the fray. We picked up our luggage and pushed our way through the crowds. The passerbys refused to augment their course to make room for mine. At least two shoulders ran into my shoulder during the walking Saturday. And I realized the experience as a statement that the metaphor for Washington, DC as a place for hardball was true.

There is an edge to DC that is both attractive and off-putting. As I witnessed bystanders go about their lives as individuals who operate on their own time schedules, irrespective of others, I wonder how the rest of the week will be?  I wonder how congressional aides and lobbyists will interact with us, and what we’ll learn from them?

If they are anything like the people on the street, it should be an interesting week indeed. Perhaps, their personality will rub off on me.  I imagine they are driven, unyielding, and wiling to go to the mats for their cause. Those qualities must be requisite for the rough and tumble world of politics, especially inside the Beltway. 

Picture: The entire class on the national mall, in front of the Capital Building. 


The First Day in DC

Jared  Graber '11 - As we get settled in for a week in our country’s capital, I find myself eagerly anticipating all that we have planned.  During our first day, it was great getting to know the guys in my class and I look forward to becoming great friends with all of them during the upcoming week.  Today we walked around the city, explored a few museums, and went out for a classy dinner at Bombay Palace.   

This morning was a little hectic.  We left Wabash College at around 6:30 a.m., and I have to admit I was incredibly tired. I spent the drive to the airport trying to overcome my sleepiness by talking politics with George and Steve. I absolutely love flying and really looked forward flight itself. Our plane was the smallest plane I had ever been on, two rows on one side and one on the other. I am a little claustrophobic, but I was still able to find the flight enjoyable. However, when it was time to get off the plan, I was definitely ready. We got to our hotel, the Double Tree Hotel, and it was shocking how close we were to the historic Watergate Plaza. We actually went to lunch at a Chinese place inside Watergate which was really cool. It was unreal being at such an incredibly historic place.  

We used the Metro to get from place to place all day. I was shocked at the cleanliness of the city’s mass transit system. Actually, the entire city was surprisingly very clean. The weather was great. It was nothing but blue skies as we walked around today. The strong winds were a bit of a hassle, but ultimately no big deal. 

I am a big fan of modern art, and I really enjoyed the National Art Gallery. The visiting exhibit was French Impressionism which is practically the same thing over and over again; however, they had great sculptures and some really cool modern art as well. By the end of the day, I could tell the rest of the guys and myself were getting a little tired. It was an action-packed day, and I believe it is fair to say everyone was in need of a decent catnap. So, we went back to the hotel and chilled for awhile before going out to dinner.  Dinner was great and now I am sitting in our hotel room just hanging out with my fellow aspiring political scientists.   

Picture - Kyle O'Keefe '08 on the Metro, trying to find our next stop.