Logos President in Daily Kos on How to Understand American Politics

Logos president Helio Fred Garcia published an open letter to his New York University graduate students from outside the United States to help them, and others, understand the context in which recent news happened.

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His Open Letter to Non-US Graduate Students, published in The Daily Kos, explains,

“Well more than half of my New York University graduate students are from outside the United States, most here just to study. They are smart, engaged, and quite successful, in their home countries and here.

But one of the common questions I get is how things work in U.S. politics and government. They tell me that what they see on the news doesn’t make sense, at least compared to what they’ve learned in school. Sometimes I teach a module on framing and political language, and I often get from them, “I think I’m now beginning to understand American politics.” Even though that wasn’t the purpose of the lesson.

Last week’s events in Charleston and the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality have prompted many such inquiries.”

His letter begins:

“Dear students:

Many of you, especially those from outside the U.S., have asked me over time to explain the American system of politics and government as it really is; not as it is written in the books. Last week’s events in Charleston, South Carolina and the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality have generated particular interest.

Below is my attempt explain.”

Garcia, himself an immigrant to the U.S., was exposed to politics at an early age, when, at 17, he served as a Page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the Watergate hearings in the summer of 1974.  He studied politics and philosophy in college and philosophy and political theory in graduate school.  He was briefly a lobbyist who had bipartisan tax legislation introduced in both houses of Congress.

Helio Fred Garcia, left, in 1974 with his Congressional sponsor, Rep. Ben Gilman (R-NY23)

Helio Fred Garcia, left, in 1974 with his Congressional sponsor, Rep. Ben Gilman (R-NY-23)

Garcia noted that when you strip away the labels and political jargon, American politics can best be understood by keeping three foundational concepts in mind:

  1. It’s All About Who’s Worthy (or Considered to Be)
  2. Ignore the Labels; Focus on the Policy
  3. We Don’t Debate Issues; We Debate Meta-Issues

He gives examples of each of these concepts, and concludes:

“In my experience these three foundational principles, each counter-intuitive in some way, are the key to actually understanding what is going on in American politics.

As the 2016 presidential election, still 500-plus days away, gets underway, these can help us understand what’s really going on when candidates espouse positions that might not otherwise make sense.”

The entire open letter can be found here.

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