Gary James ’10 – Americans’ confidence in Congress is anemic. I’m no different.
For whatever reasons, Americans from all political stripes seem relatively united in their anxiety about the future of our country and skepticism with Washington’s ability to address this anxiety. For me, this anxiety has manifested itself in a type of cynicism about American political culture and institutions. This cynicism has been ameliorated by discussions with three Wabash alumni.
Mark Walker, Bert Salinas, and Allen Chatt all work on the hill in very different capacities. I had assumed our meeting with them would only give us insight into their jobs, but the meeting gave us an insight into the professional political and policy culture on the hill as well. It’s a lot more nuanced than the talking heads on cable news.
Chatt, Walker, and Salinas reaffirmed their concern – not just for success for their own political parties – but doing their jobs well.
For Chatt, that means treating every constituent who calls, mails, or visits the office with dignity and respect, even if they try his patience.
For Salinas, his judiciary committee work requires him to be more of a legal advisor and a policy wonk than a politico.
For Walker, much of his work over the years has focused on foreign affairs and making sure local constituents are receiving their benefits.
Despite their differing political allegiances, they were not only cordial but fairly unified in their impatience for excessive partisanship. They all have friends who are staffers in the other party. Much of the work gets done at the staff level, and their connections with other staff members across political and geographical aisles allow for that work to be done. They have found that obsessively partisan professional s tend not to like the hill because congressional staff work focuses more on pragmatism, at least as it relates to working relationships.
My experience on Capitol Hill has definitely helped to abate to some degree the cynicism that had clouded my political psyche. Maybe there is a future for me in politics after all.
Photos - Mark Walker, Bert Salinas, and Allen Chatt