Six industry leaders in politics, media, and public service are partnering with the Institute of Politics and Public Service and “going back to school” this semester, as the Spring 2023 GU Politics Fellows. They were first welcomed to campus on Jan. 19 with an open house in the Lohrfink Auditorium, and spoke with the Voice on Jan. 20 to share their stories and discuss the future of American politics with the next generation.
Led by Executive Director Mo Elleithee (SFS ’94), the GU Politics Program has hosted over 80 fellows since the institute was launched in 2015. The program aims to facilitate connections between mentors and students and foster meaningful discussions with students that move beyond the toxicity often present in political dialogue.
“After the period of chaos comes the period of renewal and rebuilding, and you are part of that,” Chris Stirewalt said, addressing the student audience at the Jan. 19 open house. “And I would say that the system is designed right now to divide, and there’s a lot of people that are less aware of that. I believe that you and your generation are very aware of it.”
Stirewalt is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an editor and columnist at The Dispatch, and former political editor at Fox News. Amidst the chaos of today, he looks to the future generation of leaders to dismantle the system that he believes feeds off of partisan conflict. Stirewalt shared what he claimed to be the single most radical statement in public life in America today: that this is the best place and the best time in human history to be alive.
Jonae Wartel, partner at Arc Initiatives and former Georgia Senate Runoff Director, discussed the realities of today’s polarizing political culture and noted people’s refusal to engage in bipartisan conversations, which she said is contributing to a growing distrust between divided political parties.
“I think there can oftentimes be a very purist approach to some folks’ ideology,” Wartel said. “And how they approach politics is that, if this person isn’t 100 percent with every single one of my ideals, then I can’t entertain or engage in anything that doesn’t reinforce my bias or belief.”
Elaine Luria, former United States Representative (D-VA) and former U.S. Naval commander, said that she’s looking forward to sharing her experience from her second term in the House of Representatives with students. In her experience, polarized dialogue and partisan arguments happen less frequently in the House than they appear in the news, but they are the moments that gain the most traction in the media.
“80 percent in the middle are really people who show up every day, who wanna get work done, who get along with people on the other side of the aisle, understand why they were sent there, by the people who elected them,” Luria said. “And we have to find a way to bring their voices more prominently into the discussion.”
The fellows shared their excitement to be collaborating with Georgetown students—an excitement that seems to be reciprocated, as their office hours quickly fill up each week. The fellows, however, agreed that they are likely to learn more from the students than the other way around.
“I am so pleased to be at Georgetown also because it is a place where the word vocation can be properly understood,” Stirewalt said. He stressed the challenges of a career in politics or journalism, emphasizing that both options transcend a traditional profession and are in fact vocations one must feel called to pursue.
The fellows were in agreement on the potential of public service, despite its challenges. Michael Ricci, former Director of Communications for Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD), emphasized the importance of community as a vehicle of change, citing his experience using his social media platform during the pandemic to help those in need.
“That’s why I’m optimistic. I believe our ability, our capacity to help each other, has never been greater,” he said.
Mike Shields, founder of Convergence Media and former Republican National Committee Chief of Staff, added that politics can be a fun, rewarding industry where one can realize the change they want to see in the world, to the agreement of the other fellows.
“Going to work every day to fight for what you believe in and help elect people that you believe in, and doing something at working on a cause that’s larger than yourself, is an incredibly fulfilling life,” Shields said.
Despite the current state of politics and media response, MJ Lee (COL ’09), Senior CNN White House Correspondent, said she remains proud to be a journalist. She echoed Shields, stressing that all the fellows ultimately come from a place of optimism and belief in the potential of their industries.
“I think we are recording in a time of chaos,” Lee said. ”But I don’t think that means that the fundamentals of journalism can’t sort of stay above the chaotic times that we live in.”