Ann Arbor community members and University of Michigan students filled the Annenberg Auditorium at Weill Hall Thursday afternoon to attend a moderated discussion between Andy Levin and Peter Meijer, former Michigan state representatives, on restoring faith in United States democracy. Jointly hosted by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation and the Carter Center, Ambassador Susan D. Page, professor of practice at the U-M Law School, planned and hosted the event.
Page introduced Andy Levin, former representative for Michigan’s 9th Congressional District, and Peter Meijer, former representative from Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, before ensuing the discussion on tackling the meaning and manifestations of bipartisanship in American politics.
Meijer and Levin started the discussion by outlining potential solutions to a perceived growing political division in U.S. society.
Meijer said certain politicians purposely prevent parties from working in a bipartisan fashion.
“That’s going to be the problem on either side of the aisle,” Meijer said. “You’re going to have a majority of leadership that’s going to want to keep groups as divided as possible.”
Meijer then said, in his experience, many politicians will collaborate with the opposite party for show, rather than to achieve a specific goal.
“The sad reality is that bipartisan effort has become more of looking for an excuse to say that you were doing something in a bipartisan way rather than accomplishing something that is truly compatible between two parties,” Meijer said.
Levin then spoke on the current state of bipartisanship and gave personal examples from his day-to-day life in which he attempted to combat the political divide.
“Bipartisanship is really important,” Levin said. “It’s not dead. It’s on life support … I think our problem is that one of our political parties has gone off the reservation of democracy altogether. Every week in Congress, when we were in session, I was across the aisle on (Meijer’s) side, looking for some Republican or another partner on some idea of bipartisanship.”
When asked how he would characterize bipartisanship, Levin said that beyond the issues voted on in Congress, the job of representatives on both sides is to represent the people.
“My real critique is of the idea that I’ve heard my whole adult life: the grown-up place is in the middle,” Levin said. “ … If that was true, we would never have Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid or many things because none of them came from the middle. So I think that bipartisanship in its best form is standing up for what you believe in.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily after the event ended, Page said the main takeaway of the conversation for students was to expose themselves to a multitude of ideas and opinions.
“The takeaway is being able to be respectful and listen, (to) hear different views,” Page said. “For example, the way two former representatives interacted with each other shows that it’s all about relationships and relationship building. That’s how you get things done.”
When asked in an interview with The Daily why he decided to get involved in a career in politics, Levin highlighted his dedication to public service.
“I’ve spent most of my life in public service in one way or another,” Levin said. “I spent many years in the national labor movement. I spent a lot of time fighting for human rights in places like China and Haiti. I believe that social movements and social forces drive change.”
In an interview with The Daily, Meijer emphasized how his time serving in the United States Army Reserve opened his eyes to the influence of U.S. politics.
“I spent a lot of time in places where I was living through the impact of our American policies and how that was impacting the world,” Meijer said. “I wanted to take that experience, learn from the mistakes of those experiences, to better hone in on the right course of action.”
LSA sophomore Nicholas Yee, an attendee of the event, said he was unsure how bipartisan discourse would unfold between the two politicians.
“I wasn’t actually sure what to expect,” Yee said. “They engaged with each other more than I thought they would have.”
Yee said he believes interacting with politicians is a tool to get involved with politics many do not take advantage of.
“Politicians, if you engage with them, are more in touch with people than we actually think,” Yee said. “But you have to get involved.”
Daily Staff Reporters Priya Shah and Mira Sripada can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.