By Bennett Adamson, rising SBS Senior, ASUA Executive Vice President, and Bobcat
Washington, D.C., is designed to impress. The marble buildings – in their neoclassical style – dissolve the distance of time and space that separates the United States from the great, ancient republics of Greece and Rome. As anyone who has visited knows, walking amidst the statues and sculptures named for the people who helped build the country is an awe inspiring and humbling experience. I can’t say I’ve grown accustomed to the sight of the Washington Monument towering over the national mall, but after a summer living “inside the beltway” its presence in the skyline is now familiar. The monuments have begun to seem more like old friends.
I’ve spent the last two and a half months interning for the National Institute for Civil Discourse, just a few blocks from the White House. The NICD was founded in 2011, at the urging of Congresswoman Gaby Giffords, to study the increasing partisan polarization in the country, to find ways to bridge divides, and to foster bipartisan cooperation in the spirit of working across the aisle. The founding co-chairs were Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush.
As a Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law major with a keen interest in public policy, I’ve come to recognize the importance of interdisciplinarity. Thinking about problems from multiple perspectives, appreciating diversity, and recognizing the value of competing opinions leads to better, and more broadly supported, solutions. Yet, I think our current political climate demonstrates that elected officials at the local, state, and national level are more often concerned with campaign rhetoric and nailing the right sound bite than meaningfully advancing policy discussions. I wanted to help in the effort that NICD is championing to correct that dynamic.
Most of my work over the summer centered on one of NICD’s newer projects, called CommonSense American. It’s the brainchild of NICD’s new Executive Director, Keith Allred, who came up with the idea while teaching at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. In a country so diverse as the United States, an idea that gains broad popularity is probably better than one that attracts only narrow, partisan support. This was the wisdom of the founding fathers. CommonSense American aims to facilitate that deliberative process at the grassroots level, by identifying and championing proposals wise enough to attract cross-partisan support.
I focused on identifying solutions in healthcare and education. Specifically, I worked to identify policies aimed at combating the soaring cost of prescription drugs in the country and tried to find ways to make college more accessible to Pell Grant recipients and veterans. I also focused on identifying ways to reform Congress, closely tracking the recommendations made by the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress. My search led me to briefings at the Brookings Institution and the Bipartisan Policy Center, presentations at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, discussions by panelists at the American Bar Association, and about a dozen meetings with staff on Capitol Hill. It was a real privilege working so closely with Dr. Allred. Through him, I was able to collaborate with Bill Nichols, who was the founding Managing Editor at Politico, and got to appear in a video alongside Senator Tom Daschle – the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader, Christine Todd Whitman – former Governor of New Jersey, and Katie Couric.
Outside of the office, D.C. had a lot to offer. I enjoyed spending my weekends exploring museums, trying new restaurants, and meeting up with friends. In fact, two of my closest friends, Kate Rosenstengel and Sydney Hess, were also in D.C. interning in the Senate. We all hold leadership roles within ASUA and enjoyed getting together a few times over the summer to plan for the year ahead! Our advisor Dr. Gaskin, who happened to be nearby in Maryland, even took us out for lunch at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a D.C. landmark. From across the country, we were able to stay on top of our student government responsibilities. Several friends of mine who recently graduated have moved to Washington for work, and it was great to catch up with them as well. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of UA alumni call D.C. home. Many Wildcats were willing to meet for coffee or happy hour, and I feel good knowing I’ve built a number of connections – personal and professional – which I look forward to maintaining when I return to campus.
When I look back on summer 2019, it will stand out to me as a period of tremendous personal growth. I enjoyed learning in, and being challenged by, such an exciting, fast paced environment, and am sure I’ll be back in Washington to pursue a career at the intersection of law, economics, and public policy when I graduate in May.