Some of the partisan tension mounting in advance of the 2012 presidential election spilled into Branford College common room Monday.
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, who represents Fairfield County, and former Illinois congressman Bill Foster visited Yale Monday evening to speak at an event hosted by the Yale College Democrats. Around 25 students, mostly members of the Dems, gathered in the common room to discuss the problems plaguing Democrats in Congress — as well as take a few jabs at Republicans and Tea Partiers.
“You look across the aisle at the Republicans and it’s a bunch of old men and a few Michele Bachmanns,” Foster quipped.
Much of the evening’s discussion focused on Himes’ and Foster’s shared belief that the Tea Party movement has had a detrimental effect on national politics.
The approximately 60 Tea Partiers currently in Congress have made Washington a “very different world,” Himes said, adding that Washington is now “refusing to acknowledge the democratic process.”
The election of Tea Partiers to Congress reflects a discontent in the American public, Himes said, but whereas the American political system has successful channeled this discontent into its political process, in many other countries it would have “led to political violence.”
Still, the goals of the Tea Party reflect a stark departure from even mainstream Republican values, he said.
“I’m not in the business of trashing the Republican party,” he said. “But [the Tea Partiers] have a very different vision from what Republicans have always wanted for this country.”
As an example, Himes cited the Clean Air Act that Congress considered last week. The Tea Partiers attempted to fill the legislation with policies allowing more pollutants in hopes of boosting job creation, said Himes, arguing that the effort represented a “profoundly scary ideology that betrays something [American].”
While Foster served from 2008 to 2011, mostly during wide Democratic majorities in Congress, he reflected on issues arising from serving alongside people with different points of view. One of his strongest memories, he said, is discussing the issue of genetically modified organisms and drug-resistant weeds and wondering how to explain the issue to colleagues who did not believe in evolution.
Turning to the future, Foster reflected on the upcoming election season. Democrats have a chance at winning five new seats in Illinois, Foster said. The goal for the party heading into 2012, Himes added, is to gain 25 seats and regain the House majority. Both concluded by reminding attendees to remain active in politics, even if it is “when you’re 55 and your kids have left.”
Attendee Ray Noonan ’15 said he appreciated the dichotomy between the two congressmen: “One older, one younger … one from Fairfield County, one from Illinois. Foster had a homey kind of appeal … Himes is very to the point.”
The Dems will be hosting Tom Perriello, former congressman from Virginia, next Monday.