A couple weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be an audience member in the Center for Entrepreneurship’s Entrepreneurship Hour debate between Max Finberg and John Hart. Finberg the senior advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Agriculture and also served as a Senior Policy Advisor within President Barack Obama’s Domestic Policy Council. Hart is a Republican who is an award-winning writer and the editor-in-chief of Opportunity Lives. Hart also served under former Republican U.S. Representatives Jim DeMint and Steve Largent and as Republican Senator Tom Coburn’s communications director.
For several weeks, this talk between Finberg and Hart was promoted within our class as some kind of political smackdown within the political barriers surrounding entrepreneurship. I will admit that my boredom gave way to simple-minded pleasure, as I did look forward to this event in this context. I caught myself daydreaming of old red-and-blue clad politicians in a WWE ring with my fellow University students shouting, “Give ‘em the chair!”
OK, I’ll admit. I’d still be up for this happening.
But, to my surprise, and seemingly to the coordinators’, Finberg and Hart came in waving a white flag similar to Disney’s “Pocahontas.” Both of the influential leaders stressed that although they maintain different core beliefs and philosophies of government, they respected each other’s views and were open to listening to alternative approaches. I leaned back in my seat, puzzled as to why I thought this was so revolutionary. Is individuality and open-mindedness not something that we are all constantly striving to improve upon?
The idea hit me. Although, ideas like tolerance are stressed, not once have I seen adults of influence have a respectful debate about politics. My mind flashed through casual offhand digs by professors, obscene political cartoons and Bill O’Reilly. Not once could I recall two adults having a debate that I would call mature, intelligent and respectful.
The debate proceeded.
Finberg and Hart navigated us through the cores of their beliefs. Their philosophies are nested in the amount of power and responsibility, the government should exert on its people. The extras, the platforms that a representative markets votes with are based on interpretations of what people with those ideals should believe. Now I don’t want to paint Mr. Finberg and Mr. Hart as idols in a messed-up atmosphere, though their friendship deserved a Disney theme song. They too fell into a five-minute trap in which they were debating a long list of presidents starting with Reagan vs. Obama. It became a political version of “mine’s bigger,” during which a young woman turned to me and said, “I honestly don’t even remember which one belongs to which party.” That was another moment of surprise to me. Her comment enticed me to survey the audience of young entrepreneurs, of whom I thought would surely side with one side or another. The crowd looked largely annoyed as well. Maybe they were like me. Instead of seeing political solutions as A=A, B=B, or A or B only, the crowd was seeing the bigger picture. Maybe A+B+ a little C= S … an actual solution.
Proposing political solutions to a crowd of people largely focused on out-of-the-box solutions and seeing a bigger picture initiated a different vibe.
I’ll admit now, I don’t identify with a particular party. Each election I read information about the representatives and think critically about what approach would be best for the nation at a certain time and particular representatives’ capabilities. But, I am one of the 14.08 percent in Washtenaw County that voted in the 2014 Midterm Elections. Even if you are a lifelong whatever, the logic of always having a primed, simple, bipartisan set of solutions doesn’t make sense when trying to solve a complex problem. For example, a point in the Finberg and Hart debate was the issue of extreme student debt in the United States. Finberg brought up the point that it’s necessary and right to have government provide aid for students. Hart brought up the point that while this is necessary, these packages give universities the idea that they can jack up their prices under the assumption that it’s the government’s responsibility to cover for those facing financial difficulties. It was obvious from my seat in the audience that both of these points probably had merit. Both of these points could probably be used to build a better system of education for students. And, even as someone who works two jobs to fund their own schooling and relies on financial aid, I can look at the issue through a larger lens.
So where do we go from here?
As the debate wrapped up, I raised my hand to ask this question.
“I feel extremely grateful to have you both here today, Mr. Finberg and Mr. Hart. It was amazing of the Center for Entrepreneurship to put this event on. This is actually the first time I have seen an adult Democrat and Republican of influence have a beneficial and respectful talk regarding politics. But in reality most Americans are not exposed to this sort of composed idea exchange. What are some resources or solutions you can recommend?”
The answer was along the lines of us needing to elect people in offices that care less about getting reelected, because in reality, that is what a large percentage of politicians on both sides care about.
That is an answer I get a lot. It is an answer that gives you nothing to work with.
I unfortunately don’t have an answer to our American political system that functions more and more like a sports rivalry between University of Michigan and The Ohio State University. But, I do challenge others to remember that an entrepreneurial attitude can be successful in many facets of life. Remember our relentless protests to get our football team back to its ideals and our open student discussion on possible solutions. There’s a reason that our legal system isn’t reliant on robots. For all the faults that humans have, compassion and open-minded creativity is irreplaceable.
Devin Eggert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.