The Bully Pulpit

Sarah Novicoff

We believe in democracy. We’re both in AP Government and Politics and believe in the importance of our civic duties. We believe that our school has a duty to educate us not only in academics, but in the importance of both exercising our rights as citizens and performing those civic duties. But, Tuesday’s senior class meeting crossed a line between appropriate encouragement of civil responsibility and pandering by a politician running for reelection in a little more than six months.

Let’s back up, in case anyone is unfamiliar with Tuesday’s senior class meeting. Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman, who represents most of the San Fernando Valley in the U.S. House of Representatives, visited the class meeting to answer policy questions from the seniors and to gift the school a flag that had been flown over the Capitol building, official certificate and all.

The question topics ranged from the Stop Online Piracy Act to the Fed’s bond buying and quantitative easing policies, and Sherman’s answers were overall unobjectionable. In fact, his answers almost exactly walked the party line of the Democratic party, a party that both of us support. However, some of Sherman’s answers tended to deflect the real question, the typical politician stereotype rather than the educational exercise it was meant to be. When asked a question about the situation in Crimea, Sherman’s answer could be summed up to “Putin is a bad guy,” instead of addressing the nuances that surround the situation.

The heart of our objection comes from the one-sided expression of political beliefs, without even the opportunity for the other major political party (the party that notably controls the House of Representatives where Sherman serves) to express contradictory opinions. We understand that Sherman is the congressman while his many Republican opponents do not have the stamp of “Representative” behind them, and we understand the desire to educate students about our political processes. However, our government is a two-party one, structured from its core to require compromise and discourse between the parties, and as Sherman himself said, this discourse has almost entirely halted in the past few years because voters do not understand the opinions (or even facts) of the other side. Showing students only one side will only further this growing gap between the liberal and conservative, making the governing of the future all the more difficult.

Sherman paired the Q&A and flag gifting with the distribution of voter registration forms, combs with his name and phone number and frequent badgering to join him at an upcoming Town Hall meeting at Birmingham High School. It was a blatant appeal for votes and support from many who cannot even give it. Sherman’s campaigning was, for the most part, futile. A large portion of our grade will not be eligible to vote in the June 3rd primary, and many of us do not live in the 30th congressional district. While both of us will certainly vote in the Congressional elections this November, neither of us will be able to mark Brad Sherman’s name on our ballot, even if we wanted to.

Sherman’s district is a safe one, and, with or without the support of Harvard-Westlake students, he will almost undoubtedly win reelection. Theodore Roosevelt coined the term “bully pulpit” while in office to express a position where those around you had to listen, a platform where your ideas were guaranteed to be heard. This Tuesday, Sherman had the bully pulpit, and rather than engaging in true political discourse with us, he campaigned at us.