Around Tappan Square

A Two-Party System Can Work

“Pick a party and get active!” urged Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), emphasizing to a 300-member Oberlin audience the need for involvement within our two-party political system. Throughout his 20 years in the House of Representatives, Frank has focused on discrimination, individual rights, and economic justice. His October speech attacked “culturally fashionable” cynicism towards our current political process. “In America today we have a self-fulfilling prophecy where critics denigrate politics, elections, and political activity and then are surprised when people don’t participate,” he said.

Frank argued that “it’s fashionable to say there’s no difference between the parties anymore…[but] in fact the Democratic and Republican parties today are more sharply differentiated than any time in American history. Even in the Civil War, the differences weren’t as great as they are now.”

Frank also asserted that America’s “healthy partisanship” does not preclude bipartisan lawmaking when necessary, and that the problem of money in politics is overstated.

The congressman’s visit was sponsored by the Oberlin Initiative in Electoral Politics, a program endowed by Richard and Dorothy Cole ’56 to attract more Oberlin students to electoral politics.

“The Coles’ idea for initiating this program sprang from watching Senate hearings on the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas,” said politics department chair Ben Schiff. “They were dismayed about how the senators performed and decided that U.S. electoral politics could benefit from an injection of Oberlin’s values—transmitted by our alumni entering electoral politics.”

—Peter Meredith ’02

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