AR 16 Tarnishes Student Representation

UT students of diverse interests and beliefs gather at the Student Activities Center food court for lunch and coffee

Danny Zeng | October 22, 2013

“What is Student Government for?” Well hopefully for all students. From this fundamental premise do I strongly take issue with a current Student Government resolution AR16: In Support of Undocumented Students and Undocumented Longhorn Week (which by the way was last week), for it caters to the interest of a particular group and fails to represent a plurality- perhaps even majority – of students on campus.

The proponents of this resolution had repeatedly argued on precedent, citing a SG resolution in 2010 in support of major components of the DREAM Act. I must ask though: if precedent is good enough, then why even elect representatives into office or attempt to periodically “reaffirm” former legislation? The very nature of seeking reaffirmation in this case is a legislative choice that forgoes the power of the precedent.  Put it another way, if that 2010 resolution is already good enough, why push for a separate legislation now to reaffirm its substance? While consulting precedents is a prudential course of action, it does not mean precedents are infallible and sacrosanct; our government has overturned its own precedents many times throughout the nation’s history. If the precedent argument sustains, Student Government’s passage of AR 16 tonight in implicitly endorsing a particular student group’s agenda would in effect open up the floodgate for all student organizations, religious, cultural, political, etc. to seek declarative recognition for their contributions and activities on this campus.

The proponents also argue that the resolution is simply intended to show support for fellow Longhorns. Yet, AR 16 specifically mentions the University Leadership Initiative, which in my view is an overtly political campus group. In an October 5th tweet from the group, the ULI announced, “Come out and support us as we march for immigrants rights here in Austin!” [this conveniently blurs the line between legal immigration and illegal immigration but that aside…] Similarly, in the group’s press release on August 26th of this year, it stated that “If Congress is serious about passing a comprehensive immigration reform bill, then it should take into consideration family reunification.” Actually, I and many others happen to believe the contrary: serious immigration reform requires us to move away from family reunification and toward a more talent-based system, a dramatically different policy preference. From the context I have provided using ULI’s own words, I would suggest to you that ULI is an organization with a clear and stated political agenda. The passage of AR 16 would thus only narrowly represent one point of view in a controversial, heavily contested political issue.

Proponents’ Letter of Concern on October 15th charges, “how is it that our ‘representatives’ are willing to deny many of our family members, friends and classmates the support that they deserve?” I honestly feel bad for our student government representatives who are in effect being bullied to support this resolution or else be perceived as morally deficient, for not doing the “right” thing. Basing their arguments on victimization and the rhetoric of “deserve,” proponents’ use of guilt tripping tactics not only undermine civil discourse, it unnecessarily creates fissures within the UT community. In fact, if you ask me, may I suggest that most of our Student Government reps open-mindedly and almost apologetically kowtows on this issue because they are so respectful (afraid) of our undocumented activist peers. If anything, the power to deny is well within the court of proponents.

In summary, I reject the notion that Student Government of this University of Texas necessarily has to support and advocate for activities, initiatives, beliefs, and goals of any particular student group on any overtly controversial political issue – at the expense of other students’ beliefs – when the issue could be best left to the campus political community to hash out. If one student group could steer the legislative agenda of our student government, then SG would be nothing more than a rubber stamp for special interests on this campus. Let us all do our fellow Longhorns the decency of respecting their diverse experiences and upbringings and not cavalierly disparage and dismiss hardships that they have lived through as fellow human beings.

Popular Much?

Danny Zeng | October 10, 2013

The President and the Congressional Democrats’ most recent decision to shut down the government is reflected in their approval ratings.

AP released its most recent poll yesterday with a sample of 1,227 participants and +/- 3.4% of errors with a 95% confidence interval. The President’s approval rating slipped 13 percentage points since April, from 50% to 37%. A majority of Americans disprove how the President is handling federal deficit and managing the federal government.  Even a plurality of Americans seem to give the President a thumb down on issues such as the economy, unemployment, healthcare, immigration, and gun laws. There can be no doubt that constant news framing, acerbic opposition rhetoric, and late night talk shows are eroding politicians’ popularity among the people.

While the President’s rating slipped in the latest poll, Congress is diving off the rating cliff itself. Polling at a meager 5% approval, the lowest since summer of 2010, our nation’s legislative body is a non-legit slate of work – nay “work” would be too generous a usage in this context. Even though Congress has such a historic low approval, the structure of Congress, a body comprised of 535 elected members, make it nearly impossible for high ratings: any miscreant group of legislators could poison the well rending the body the least liked branch of government.

When asked about to what extent do people think the President or Republicans should negotiate to end the shutdown, a majority of Americans want to see politicians working harder to open up government for business. It is interesting to point out from the poll that a vast majority of Americans (lower 90s) do not feel the impact of the shutdown. It is similar to the popular demand for  PCL to open 24/7 here at the University, but yet such action has so little consequence for vast majority of students.

One question that is very telling about the public’s understanding of the current issue in Washington is “In general, do you support, oppose or neither support nor oppose raising the federal debt limit in order to avoid defaulting on U.S. government debts?” Almost half, 46%, of Americans neither support nor oppose raising the debt ceiling. I have zero idea what these folks have in mind in terms of options on the table.

News flash: the debt ceiling WILL be raised, like dozens of times in recent decades. The issue here is still long-term spending. The GOP in Washington recognize that the debt ceiling provides them with leverage to deal with deeper fiscal problems that this President and his party allies in Congress have refused to do. The market does not need to freak. The journalists need to stop writing doomsday stories on a U.S. default. This crescendo-like, crisis-driven, cliff-diving, who-blinks-first sort of high-stake game of chicken has unfortunately become the new normal of Washington politics. At the end of the day, average Americans suffer as result of campaign-oriented, chest-pumping posturing.

To be fair, the system incentives little negotiation, compromise, or working together as result of attractive political gains.

Political gains: constant news coverage a.k.a free PR, shifting public attention allows for unorthodox law making to grant favors to special interests a.k.a. long-time supporters in the interim, prime pump campaign chests for 2014 through a war of blames, activate and mobilize the base for future campaigns, Mr. Smith goes to Washington…to become filibuster YouTube stars, etc.

Public losses: civic dysfunction that breeds public cynicism, stress on our constitutional system, showmanship over statesmanship that provides marginally low entertainment values compared to the gravity of these issues (unless you are C-SPAN nut job), losing competitive edge to up-and-rising countries abroad, and ultimately affecting lots of people’s livelihoods.

Despite the perverse incentives in place, I strongly urge the President to come to the table and do the job he was elected to do – LEAD. The power of the purse has resided with Congress since its inception. No President should willy-nilly stonewall on the question of who gets the say on what government funds – that’s the primary responsibility of Congress. I urge the President to respect the demarcation of powers (and not listen to liberal columnist’s call to take the issue into his own hands), lead the conversation and cease to stifle sensible negotiation opportunities over his predictably-poor-performing pet policy project that a significant plurality of Americans don’t like and don’t want.