Of, By, and For Whom?

HannahDefaultHannah Howroyd ’13

Traveling through New Jersey by way of Amtrak is a wasteland. Anyone who has taken the train from Connecticut to Washington, DC can attest to this fact. Yet while I was traveling last December, mile after mile of graffiti-stained junkyards, industrial plants, and warehouses whose chipped paint hasn’t seen a new coat since the railway’s inception, I noticed one salient commonality, one constant amid the cacophonous vista from CT to NY to NJ to PA to DE to MD to DC: the American flag flying at half-mast. Less than a week earlier had been one of the most startling, jolting, and preventable losses my state and my country had witnessed. Yet there, looking out my train window, the half-masted flag stood as a visible, tangible testament to a nation united. Yes, it may have been the obligatory Bruce Springsteen blaring through my headphones that put me in an ultra-patriotic mood, but I am sure it was something deeper. It was the concept of solidarity. Of common loss. Not of Republican or Democrat, just but of one singular American sentiment.

Now fast-forward from December to April. Initial aftershock and emotion amongst the American people further translated to a continued call for common sense gun controls and regulations.  90—yes, 90—percent of Americans backed universal background checks as part of the bipartisan Manchin-Toomey bill. However, the bill’s failure was a testament to the disparaging influence of the NRA, the nation’s top special-interest lobby.

guncontrolcomic

The legislative process we’ve come to know and love in the Land of the Free has become so convoluted, so encumbered by special interest that it is unfair to in full-faith call it democratic. How can one constituent phone call and letter be comparable to millions of dollars and lobbyist clout thrown into the ring each year by special interest? Modern American politics—as this week’s Senate rejection further exemplified—can increasingly be seen as a check on the will and voice of the American people.

If you think I’m blowing the NRA’s role in the Senate’s rejection of the bill out of proportion, I’ll let the facts do the talking. $3.01million—the amount of reported NRA expenditures in 2012 on federal lobbying efforts. $1.5million—the reported total the NRA spends on campaign and PAC contributions. $19million—the reported total of money spent by the NRA on outside spending to influence elections. And these figures are for 2012 alone. Not convinced? Let’s look some more cold-hard facts. As the Chicago Tribune reports, “Six Republicans — Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions, Richard Shelby, Mike Crapo and Chuck Grassley — who voted for universal background checks in 1999, when the NRA supported them, voted against background checks this week, now that the NRA opposes them.”  That my friends is a textbook definition of flip-flopping.

The notion of public service is all but lost on many in Congress that take the oath term-in and term-out. The thirst for re-election at any coast, a de facto nature of the political beast, trumps the irrefutable needs of the common American. When will elected officials have the courage, back-bone, and principle to stand up for their constituents not only when favorable, but in adversity to the choke-hold lobbies and interests? These are the questions I am dealing with when I look at my faith in the US Senate.

The sad thing is, they are getting away with it. Just today Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had the gall to say, “We kept hearing, again and again, that ninety per cent of the American people wanted us to vote a certain way. Well, at the end of the day, we decided that we weren’t going to cave in to that kind of special-interest group…If the American people think that just because they voted us into office and pay our salaries, benefits, and pensions, we are somehow obliged to listen to them, they are sorely mistaken.”

How is it that one can vehemently vote nay on such sensible and popular safety measures as universal background checks? How can one assuredly bow to the pressures of the NRA while looking into eyes of the families of Newtown sitting in the Senate Gallery?  Our children may not be of legal age to cast a vote for your re-election, but does this mean that their welfare goes by the wayside? Does their safety matter less in an age of modern politics in which political solvency is tied inherently to special interest?

Political resilience, in my view, comes not from a politician’s padded campaign contributions, but from the courage to stand with the American people in the face of special interest. That being said, kudos to the four Republican lawmakers—Sen. John McCain (AZ), Sen. Mark Kirk (IL), Sen. Susanne Collins (ME), and Sen. Pat Toomey (PA)—that broke traditional ranks to side with the 90%. It is paradoxical to think that courage in the modern political definition would pertain to public service being accountable to the public (what an abstract idea), but that is where it dishearteningly stands.

I, and ninety percent of my fellow Americans agree, that universal background checks are common-sense legislation. The rejection of the Manchin-Toomey bill is not the end of the battle on gun control by any means. However, what it shows is the negligence of the Senate on the prioritization of the will of the American people. It is increasingly clear that for necessary gun reform to occur, there needs to be a push for accountability between the representative and the voter. My mother always tells me that just because I’m loud doesn’t mean I’m right. Well, we need to remind the elected official that it is the true voice of Americans, not the presently louder one of special interest that has the final say.

The featured cartoon was originally published in US News and World Report

Advertisements

“Tangents & Tirades” … Maybe Just A Tirade

HannahDefaultHannah Howroyd ’13

Maybe it’s due to the age-old collegiate dilemma of procrastination mixed with the availability of a parent’s HBO account (broke undergrad here) but I’ve been watching a lot The Newsroom lately and it has gotten me thinking: is what we are reading holistic, enriching or in anyways untainted?  Aaron Sorkin may be talking nation-wide, even universal, in his call to arms for a return to respectable reporting; however this message can hit as close as Huxley Ave. This special edition of “Tangents & Tirades” has a simple message to on-campus publications: REPORT THE NEWS.

Colleges used to be a hotbed for social change. The preceding collegiate generation of our parents saw active and influential roles in the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War protests, and general hunger for reform. Now what is newsworthy? Of what is it that the average PC student should be well-read? Look no further than the front page of The Cowl to find a salient article on Tinder (Tinder?! Really, Cowl?! ). In today’s day and age “bursting the PC bubble” is now only capable via a steamy iPhone app.  Students’ exodus from campus and interaction with the world outside PC gates can only be actualized with essentially a “hot or not” game?

I know that there is no journalism degree offered here; and for most of The Cowl’s staff writing is a passion project where—and I can respect this—long uncredited hours are spent. And I’m not expecting any Pulitzer-Prize-in-Journalism ambitions here. But wouldn’t these long hours be better utilized for something other than fluff?

As many of you who follow Friarside Chats are well aware, there has been much controversy and ensuing dialogue surrounding an article from last week’s Cowl publication. Though I believe Nick Wallace got it right as a “swing and a miss,” I can applaud the original piece for at least stepping up to the plate. My tirade here lies not in the fact that the publication started a forum on diversity— a rather pertinent topic at PC nowadays—but in the limited scope of perspectives such vital matters are explored through. When there is a two (or more) sided discussion, it tends to be carried out in a multi-week hostile dialectic in which one side consistently gets to speak first (with larger word limits and graphics for that matter). The opposing view’s arsenal is limited to a letter to the editor.

With such power comes great responsibility. As the body at the helm of campus media, you should encourage discussion, foster a debate, and pose questions that force us PC students to reevaluate our apathy. Don’t reinforce the insularity, insouciance, and torpor that PC currently generates.

-End of rant-

Obama, Romney, and Women… Oh My!

Hannah Howroyd ’13

After reading Ms. Forster’s article, “Obama Leads War on Women, Romney Protects Them,” in this week’s Cowl, I felt the need to respond and provide an alternative point of view. I am sure other students will be voicing their opposition, and before we reach another match-up of Slut Walk vs. The Cowl, I’d like to submit my take.

I found not only the article’s presentation of President Obama to be slanted and warped in regard to his alleged views on women, but the discussion of women itself was distorted.

The article’s classification of womanhood perpetuates a certain female stereotype. Regardless of whether ideals of womanhood be propagated by males “imposing upon us the desires of men” or whether it be coming straight from a female, I found the compartmentalized definition bestowed upon the female sex distasteful. Women make up more than half of the world’s population. We all do not think, act, or vote the same way. By pressing upon women this ideal of “what it means to be a woman,” the article deepens the fallacious entrenchment of a narrow definition and notion of womanhood. The ties between women transcend their potential to be mothers, just as men are not classified as a demographic solely based on their potential to be fathers. Therefore, the strict categorization of “proper womanhood” in relation to motherhood is off-base.

The platform of President Obama in regards to the discussed topic of birth control coverage is inclusive and defends a more comprehensive definition of womanhood. As a woman, I’m not writing to tell you how to think or act; and neither is President Obama. Yes, President Obama has “vociferated that the government should provide funding for birth control;” yet does he mandate that every woman is required to take birth control? Absolutely not, and he never will. It is the individual choice of each woman to decide what is best for her and her body. On the contrary, it is the neo-conservative ideals of the right-wing that have been pigeonholing women in how they conduct themselves. If I don’t want to take birth control, I won’t. But who am I to tell someone that they cannot and should not?

Now, as a Catholic woman, I understand Ms. Forster’s point of view; yet by the very nature of our government, the church and state are distinct and separate. What are and are not acceptable functions of government is a debate for another day, but it is not the job of the government to instill and indoctrinate insular ideals of femininity. Rather, it is the government’s job to administer equitable and inclusive programs that do not seek to disenfranchise or coerce those with varying ideologies. I found it disconcerting that Ms. Forster’s article did not mention equal pay for equal work. If we, as women, value and cherish our potential to be mothers to our children, then shouldn’t we be able to support these children with a fair income, equal to the ones enjoyed by our male peers?  The government should not only support an individual woman’s right to make her own decisions, but also actively work to ensure that the same paths, opportunities, and rewards are available to her as to her male peers.

Furthermore, I found the article’s pejorative classification of the “not-so-feminine feminist” to be utterly degrading. Calling someone a “not-so-nerdy scholar” does not invalidate that person’s attainment of good grades just because they don’t fit into the mold of a “nerd.” How can someone be justified in writing off another woman’s femininity simply because she stands up for her rights? Just because one does not fit one faction’s narrow brand of “feminine” does not mean that she is any less of a woman, or that her voice should not be heard.

Neither Ms. Forster nor I should ever force our personal understandings of what it means to be a woman on the female population. Each woman is an individual first, and has both the capacity and freedom to understand her womanhood and define femininity in a way proper to herself and her beliefs. Every woman ought to be able to exercise this liberty rather than abiding by and feeling held underneath a constant barrage of generalized ideological definitions.

The article discussed in this Friarside Chat can be accessed here via TheCowl.com

A House Divided: Give Bipartisanship A Chance

With congressional disapproval ratings at around 80%, does the Hill know something the rest of us don’t when it comes to getting work done in Congress?

Hannah Howroyd ’13

This past semester while studying in Washington, D.C., I had the chance to intern on Capitol Hill. Now, before you think this is a chronicle of a stereotypical “Hill Intern”, I implore you to hear me out.

Going into the semester-long internship, I and others around me kept asking the question, “Why do you want to work for the most hated place in America?” The self-inquiry was valid, seeing that Congressional approval ratings are at all-time lows — hovering in the 10-13 percentile at the start of the year. Frankly, apart from my scholastic drive to see policy making first-hand, I wanted to see if there was, in fact, truth behind this perception of the anemic and partisan pace of Congress. The ubiquitous news headlines that clamored “gridlock” or “paralyzed” intrigued me to find out firsthand if the nation is really at a standstill. Is Congress truly riddled with dysfunction, policy gridlock, and crippling partisanship? Can those that we have elected into office really be bickering over petty details, whose feet-dragging has lead to TSA shut-downs, funding scares, and the like? It seemed as if repercussions of the ineffective, quarrelling Congress were being felt far beyond Washington. Perhaps it was my naïveté or lack of exposure to the ways of Washington, but I wanted to quell or confirm concerns about the state of America for myself.

What I found was that yes, the rumors are true. Partisanship is creating a deep schism between what is being done and needs to be done. Interning with a Democratic Congressman (a minority in the House), I saw the policy-halting effects that partisanship had on effectively passing much-needed and time-sensitive legislation. Now I’m not saying that to err is solely on the Republican side—for partisanship is a two-way street—or that the phenomenon of a divided executive and legislative branch has never occurred (see: Clinton Administration and the 104th “Gingrich” Congress, etc.). But when Republican leadership in the Senate vows to do their utmost, not to have their constituents voices heard, but rather to make sure President Obama is a one-term president, you know there is an inherent flaw in the current system.  Legislation and compromise for legislation breaks down, and it directly threatens the very Americans that the Representatives are elected to represent.

Nota bene: my view of Congress now is not pessimistic, for the extreme hard work and long hours that the office and staff undergo is not in vain and should not be overlooked. However, I presume a more accurate word for my experience when it comes to looking at partisan issues is disheartening.  In order to change the current status quo of severe partisanship in Washington, maybe Congress needs is to look at itself with an out-of-the-Beltway pair of eyes. The highly-politicized atmosphere that surrounds Capitol Hill is almost heavier than the humidity that engulfs Washingtonians. In order to take a few steps forward, perhaps a change of perspective by taking a few steps back— out of focus of Independence & Constitution Ave—is needed. Congress needs to, and this is, admittedly, rather simplified, listen to the people they represent instead of focusing on which partisan talking points they will stick to next, or which big business interests they have whispering in their ear. Big-picture thinking is needed; the country cannot be revitalized with this nuanced, partisan nitpicking building up roadblocks for America.