Stanford in Government (SIG), in collaboration with the Stanford Political Journal (SPJ), hosted Congressman Dan Lipinski M.A. ’89 (D-IL) to speak on a wide variety of American politics topics this past Sunday. These topics included the fractionalization of the Republican Party, campaign financing, the implications of this election and the struggles moderate representatives face in a highly polarized political system. He was interviewed by assistant political science professor Andy Hall and also answered students’ questions.
Lipinski is a representative from Illinois’ third district and has been serving for 12 years. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University in 1988, an M.A. from Stanford in 1989 and a Ph.D. from Duke University in political science in 1998. He currently serves on two house committees: the Committee on Transport and Infrastructure and the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
The congressman spoke on a number of topics in response to student’s questions, such as the role of superdelegates in influencing elections and the polarization of politics.
On the subject of superdelegates in the political system, the congressman voiced conflicting opinions. Although he initially opposed them because he believed that they undermined the democratic process, he believes they are needed to prevent the rise of people such as Donald Trump. He also mentioned that in his experience as a superdelegate, he has tied his vote to his district’s, rather than adopting his own stance.
On issues related to political polarization, the congressman mentioned the difficulties many moderates like himself face during elections. In his opinion, moderates are not as appealing to the electorate as radicals, making it difficult for moderates to obtain necessary funding for congressional elections.
On the subject of becoming a politician, the congressman said that the key components of being a politician are listening to and respecting other’s perspectives as well as compromising. Joining the student chapters of political parties and any activist organization can also develop one’s interest in the field.
Hall’s questions ranged from campaign financing, levers of power within the Democratic and Republican Parties and the experiences and challenges the congressman has endured since he was elected.
Lipinski was first questioned on the change of his political views since joining Congress. His impressions of congressmen were influenced by his father’s ability to remain independent of the national leadership. After joining Congress, he was surprised to see that most members were not as independent as he believed them to be, worrying more about their reputation with the national leadership than adopting stances that would be most beneficial to their constituents. He believes that one should vote according to his/her district. Thus, there have been many times when Lipinski’s positions contradicted that of the national leadership. For example, he voted against Obamacare, even though it was an initiative introduced by the Democratic Party, because he did not agree with its terms.
Another important change he has noticed has been the attitudes of political parties before and after the 2010 mid-term elections. Initially, congressmen on both sides of the aisle were willing to negotiate and compromise with each other. However, the rise of the Freedom Caucus has, in the congressman’s opinion, prevented any compromise between political parties.
Hall later asked the congressman about the impact of campaign financing in changing the levers of power within the Democratic and Republican Parties.
Lipinski said the Republican Party exists as one unified group in name only. Instead, there are two factions within the party, the Tea Party and the traditional Republicans. The Tea Party does not listen to party leadership (the traditional Republicans). Moreover, campaign financing has made this issue even more complicated. The Republican Party gives positions in committees to its members based on how much money they can raise for the Party raising rather than linking posts to seniority, which undermines the authority of the more experienced congressmen.
In the case of the Democrats, funding plays an important role in maintaining control of congressmen. When one runs for office for the Democratic Party, the Democratic Campaign Committee (DCC) provides support. Thus, when that candidate gets elected, she is pressured to hire people from the DCC in return for the Democratic Party’s support. This practice, according to the congressman, results in the hiring of people who are not well-versed with local issues, which is not favorable to the district. The congressman also noted that the Democratic Party does work on a principle of seniority and that funding does not, for now, affect one’s ability to get a position in committees. However, he believes that the rising influence of money in politics will force the Democratic Party to link appointments to fundraising.
The congressman ended his interview by outlining the importance of politics in affecting people’s lives. He also focused on the importance of youth involvement in politics. He argues that if involved individuals do not join politics, people with vested interests end up joining the system, making it worse. Therefore, the role of interested people in politics is important for our government.
Contact Vibhav Mariwala at vibhavm ‘at’ stanford.edu.