On Friday night, local residents and students packed Nau Hall at the University of Virginia to view a special screening of Out of Order. The event was hosted by the UVa Center for Politics, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting the importance of education and civic participation in government.
Attendees seemed excited to be at the screening, some arriving an hour early to secure good seats. Indeed, the celebratory mood was fitting; the Center’s most recent documentary, The Kennedy Half Century, won the the 2014 Emmy Award for Best Historical Documentary from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Out of Order won the same award in 2013.
Introductory remarks were made by Professor Larry J. Sabato, founder and director of the Center for Politics. In Out of Order, Representatives and Senators share their insights as to the extent of gridlock in Congress. Rather than focusing on the task of governing, the pressures of campaign fundraising, ideological extremism, and voting only on party lines often hinders attempts to iron out important compromises. Commentators like Bob Schieffer also lament the decline in camaraderie and a literal “crossing of the aisle” by Members; personal friendships and discussions across parties helped to foster a willingness to cooperate.
Americans continue to find themselves frustrated and cynical over the inability of Congress to handle routine business, such as producing a workable budget in a timely manner. Instead, we have been repeatedly subjected to hasty midnight deals and other temporary fixes such as raising the debt ceiling. It is unfortunate that the gridlock has not abated, producing the memorable 16-day shutdown in 2013.
Q&A with the “Warner Brothers”
Following the screening, Professor Sabato interviewed retired Sen. John Warner (R-VA) and Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) about their careers in politics. The older Warner reflected on the cooperative spirit in the earlier decades that he spent in the Senate, as well as his decision to step down in 2009 and support Mark Warner. Sabato was somewhat more forceful in his line of questioning towards the latter, to the amusement of many. He asked for names of Members who were willing to work toward compromise and those who were stalling the issues.
Then the audience was allowed to participate, putting forth some great questions. Should we change the workweeks Congress operates on? If Members no longer cross the aisle, why don’t we just get rid of the aisle so Senators and Representatives do not sit with their parties?
I asked the panel whether changes to Congress would come from within or from the states and populace. Professor Sabato responded that the changes would probably come from Congress itself “on the 12th of never”.
The best instruments of change are the people of this great nation. Part of that comes from being informed citizens: knowing how government works and what positions our elected officials take on the issues. Sabato points out that we are at fault as well because we cast the votes (or didn’t cast any votes, I would add) to elect the Congress we have today.
Congratulations to Professor Sabato and his hardworking staff at the Center for Politics! Will we see another Emmy win in 2015?
For more information about Out of Order and The Kennedy Half Century, check out the Center for Politics website.