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Blurring Party Lines: My Experience with (and without) Identity Politics

It was June 3rd when I ended the month-long recess that separated the close of the JBU spring calendar and the beginning of my summer endeavors. I had been anticipating and preparing for the libertarian based internship program since January, yet I still had no idea what I was getting myself into. As the plane descended into the city, I noticed a stark change in climate, giving the swampy atmosphere I had read so much about. Moving past the muggy feel, I exited the plane and entered the most powerful city in the world, Washington, D.C.

On the first day of my internship, I joined a room of one hundred other interns—each with his or her own unique experiences and opinions. Students from small liberal arts schools, like myself, accounted for a portion of the group, with state schools and Ivies filling in the rest. The political spectrum of the program varied from staunch conservatives to anarchists to those who sympathize with the dichotomy of “socially liberal and fiscally conservative”; the latter usually being represented by the aforementioned Ivies and their prestigious counterparts.

Make no mistake, the program was noticeably conservative, as one could note from the wide-eyed reactions of left-leaning individuals when I mentioned I was in the “Koch Program.”

“You don’t actually like Mr. Koch though, right?”

“So you support big business exploitation of the law?”

Or my personal favorite accusation—that my living expenses are funded by “dark money.”

It appeared left-leaners lost interest in my opinions simply because of my association. I felt as though I could have been campaigning for “Sanders 2020” and they still would have refused to collaborate with me. I quickly learned that this is the culture of D.C. The place where the most important decisions are made, a place that prides itself in diversity, immediately dismisses the arguments of others simply because of partisan lines.

This fault is not unique to the left. The culture of identity politics reaches far into every partisan crevice. Despite my own biases, I have been able to witness great intolerance within my own party affiliations. I have had my backbone questioned by conservative leaders due to my openness to dialogue and opposition to bellicose rhetoric. This black hole of polarization has ultimately begun to corrode at progress.

In the world of politics, the childhood adage to never judge a book by its cover is fanciful at best. Once one’s affiliation of any kind is revealed, the covers are immediately judged and books are permanently categorized, never to leave their respective shelves. These categories then become labels that dictate what an individual must believe if he or she is to be a successful politician. If someone identifies as a democrat, he or she has no choice but to support some form of communistic, single-payer system. Republicans? If one even uses the words “constitution” and “alternative interpretation” in the same sentence, he must be tagged as a RINO, or Republican In Name Only. Libertarians, of course, are assumed to be nothing short of idealistic anarchists. Even moderates have found themselves without an alibi, being dubbed apathetic or even disloyal. These stereotypes run on and are encouraging the rapid dissipation of bipartisanship.

Among this turmoil, however, there is one final hope left in the fleeting world of amicable discourse. It has been coined “the gold standard of bipartisanship,” and I have the privilege to intern for this political exemplar for the next three months. It is the Committee on Armed Services for the U.S. House of Representatives. Every year, this committee puts together what is called the National Defense Authorization Act, or the NDAA. The NDAA compiles a plethora of legislation regarding the armed forces and, most importantly, authorizes funding so our nation can continue to be defended. In this committee, there are not clear party lines or taking of sides. Individuals debate, but nobody is ever called disloyal for siding with another. The result of this absence of identity politics is consistent success in providing the necessary appropriations to our troops for fifty-seven straight years.

Though cases of bipartisanship are few and far between, my time in D.C. has shown me that no issue is black and white and that it is acceptable, and sometimes even beneficial, to disagree with your own party. History has shown us that there is not a single political preference that is going to be correct every time. With this in mind, it is crucial not to vilify those who hold opposing views, but rather to invite a competition of ideas and to offer collaboration when similar goals are realized. Frederick Douglass said, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” I encourage everyone to take ownership of his or her convictions and to ignore the damaging party lines that are prevalent in today’s politics. I implore you not to judge books by their covers but to allow your principles to be strengthened through dialogue. We all have the same goal—to create a flourishing society. It would be a shame to miss our mark simply because we’re on different teams.

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