U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth talks to students about the current state of politics
Yarmuth said that young people need to care about the rapidly changing political environment
U.S. Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky’s 3rd congressional district encouraged AU students to care about government at an event hosted by the Kennedy Political Union and the AU College Democrats on Feb.25.
In his opening speech, Yarmuth talked about the need to modernize the Democratic party and keep pace with a changing society and its needs.
“We as Democrats, who believe in government, and effective government and smart government, we need to be the party that is up to date. We need to be the party that is contemporary and hip and modern and that understands where the country is, and where it can go,” Yarmuth said.
Yarmuth, who began his career as a Republican, chose to become a Democrat because he was nervous about the direction of the Republican party after seeing a growing influence of religious voices on government, he said.
“I switched parties in 1985, and it was a very great catharsis for me. I felt better immediately, felt like I had been de-contaminated,” Yarmuth said.
In an interview with The Eagle, Yarmuth said that he feels lonely being a Democrat from a conservative-leaning state like Kentucky but that he wants to use his position to makes sure that the progressive views in his state are not ignored.
“Certainly there’s a real challenge for Democrats statewide, particularly progressive Democrats, but that’s one of the reasons why I have continued to stay in this job and try to stay in this job. I want to make sure that progressive values and positions have a voice in Kentucky, and [Kentuckians] are not just hearing from Mitch McConnell or Rand Paul,” Yarmuth said.
While Democrats and Republicans may disagree on various issues like healthcare and social security, the only generalization that can be made about what differentiates the two parties is how the role of the government in improving the lives of citizens is viewed, according to Yarmuth.
“Democrats believe that the government can play an important role in making people’s lives better, and Republicans don’t. That’s the clearest distinction,” Yarmuth said.
Yarmuth expressed deep frustration with Congress for not being as effective as it could be and told The Eagle that though there is a lot to do in the months ahead, he believes very little will actually be done. He wishes that Congress would be more proactive, especially on the topic of immigration reform which he has worked closely on.
“Comprehensive immigration reform – I worked on that. In 2013, I was a part of a gang of eight who worked on comprehensive immigration reform for seven months,” Yarmuth said. “We came up with a bill that I think would have been very effective in modernizing and humanizing our immigration system. It never got to the floor for a vote,” Yarmuth said.
As for the 2016 election, Yarmuth has endorsed Hillary Clinton, and he predicts Trump to be the Republican nominee in the race to the White House. Yarmuth said he is surprised by Trump’s success as well as the appeal of Bernie Sanders, who he thinks is too idealistic.
“It does show there are a lot of angry people out there, people who think that the system is rigged, that the government does not work for them,” Yarmuth told The Eagle. “I think that’s a common sentiment among Bernie Sander supporters and Trump supporters, except there is almost no overlap between the two groups.”
During the Q-and-A portion of the event, Yarmuth said that how Americans view politics is based on whether they are coming from rural or urban areas. Living in the suburbs where homes may be spread far apart affects how residents think about issues like government, laws, and restriction and regulations and their thoughts can differ from the views of those living in cities with a lot of crime issues, he said.
“I think that the real divide in the country right now is not conservative - liberal or republican - democrat because I don’t think anybody really stops to think about that. I think the divide is rural and urban. If you look at the country, virtually every major city in the United States has a democratic administration but once you get outside the cities, it’s pretty republican,” Yarmuth said.
Yarmuth wants young millennials to care about politics, even if they are in a profession outside of it. He told The Eagle that everyone interested in pursuing a career in politics should jump right into it because the more people that enter into it, the better off the country is.
“Do it! Do it. Government’s important,” Yarmuth said. “There are a lot of young people who don’t think government relates to their lives or has any relevance to their lives. That’s a tragic mistake. We need to have people who understand that government’s really important.”