Branch out your political understanding


By Camron Owens

American politics is a dirty subject. There’s cheating, lying, bribery and more drama than a Meryl Streep performance. While it’s easy to assume most of these elements are reserved for places like Washington D.C., the effects of politics are virtually everywhere. Laws affect our lives, and the government controls our freedoms. 

With that being said, it is vital that we not only as students, but also as Americans, have an understanding of the political system and our government.

It is easy to assume that most people have an understanding of how the government operates. I started learning about the branches of government and lawmaking in fourth and fifth grade through the magic of “Schoolhouse Rock.” However, a new survey conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania found that about two-thirds of Americans could not name all three branches of government.

Because knowing these branches is a very basic aspect to understanding the government, I found this statistic alarming. Our daily news is filled with government stories, many of which would not make sense without knowledge of these three branches. This is a problem, because in order to be a successful democracy, we must understand how our political system should work. 

It’s important to not only follow what the government is doing, but also to understand the processes, mainly because the process revolves around us. The government plays a large role in our lives, and we like to get involved with issues we find important, but we can’t get involved unless we actually understand them.

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I see a lot of political viewpoints posted on social networks and demonstrated around campus; however, part of understanding the issues comes from understanding the processes of government. Passing laws is a long and difficult process that requires strategy. If you’re passionate about an issue, you should know the steps that should be taken in order to solve that issue. Nothing will be fixed unless action is taken.

Some feel politicians can snap their fingers and suddenly legalize marijuana or change the drinking age. But that’s not the case.

It is easily forgotten just how long of a process passing a law is. If we understand how the process works, we can discuss it with one another and make informed votes. There are various committees and people that must examine a bill and accept it. If we understand this, we can begin to understand why certain laws are not passed.

Getting my group of friends to agree on where to eat is hard enough, so I can only imagine how difficult it would be to agree on the fate of an entire country.

Many people are also quick to criticize politicians and individuals in the government, when, in fact, most of them have very little to do with the overall outcomes of many situations. They may act as spokespeople for certain issues, but putting the blame on a select few is often ridiculous. Sure, we can find a scapegoat, but that person can’t single-handedly make a change overnight. We need to know the right people to go to in order to make progress. The members of the legislative, judicial and executive branch all play a role in passing laws. Hundreds of people are involved in the process.

It’s similar to sports. If a football team loses, it is often hard to assign blame to one specific player. Understanding politics involves seeing that there are multiple players involved in one decision. You have to understand the dynamics and factors of the game, not just the players and their mistakes.

Part of this ignorance about the political system probably comes from television. Hollywood makes politics out to be a power-driven, dramatic and dangerous field to be in. Have you seen “House of Cards”? People on that show work their way through the political system by killing people! Yes, there are many power-hungry politicians, and many that use their power for personal gain. However, there are also many people in Congress trying to do what they were elected to do. Without understanding politics or the government, we forget that good politicians are passionate people working to improve the country. 

I’m not saying everyone needs to follow politics around the clock like some sort of CNN correspondent or political pundit. I think what is important is knowing how our government operates and some of the issues it is facing. There are many issues in the government that could affect us as college students, for example student loans and state-college tuition. It wouldn’t hurt to know what’s going on. In fact, it would only help.

Camron is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected].