The 2017 #OnlyatGW Debate proves bipartisanship isn't dead

Sunday April 23 was the #OnlyatGW Debate put on by GW Program Board, GW College Dems, and GW College Republicans. This is one of the few times of the year when using #OnlyatGW is not in the ironic or cliché sense. The lineup this year was spectacular: former Press Secretary Josh Earnest (D) and first U.S. Secretary for Homeland Security Tom Ridge (R) faced off in a debate moderated by CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash, who's also a proud GW alumna.

“You two are the nicest people in politics, like ever,” Bash remarked before the debate began. Oh boy, was she right. This approximately hour and a half debate spanned various topics, all of which were met with civility and respect. Ridge and Earnest both complimented each other and told stories of knowing the other over the course of their political careers.

Here’s a breakdown of what they discussed.

1. “Compromise was not a dirty word a while ago”

Ridge spoke about how in the past a common goal was needed to get things done. Compromise was not a sigh of weakness or attack point, but rather a means of accomplishing tasks. Ridge noted that the Constitution is a set of compromises.

Earnest talked about how Democrats and Republicans just want oppose each other and don’t use their agency to make policy together. Earnest and Ridge agreed that civility needs to go back to politics. “We can demand of our representatives civility,” stated Earnest.

2. “The wall”

Bash opened this debate topic point by saying how this is, “Red hot potato legislatively."

Ridge wished that he could whisper in Trump’s ear, “The wall would be a huge mistake.” With the pending spending bill on Friday, the administration may have to hold off on putting the wall in it.

3. Sean Spicer (and no, Melissa McCarthy was not mentioned)

Earnest provided a stark juxtaposition of what his job as press secretary was compared to Spicer’s. “Sean’s job is different because he works for someone who is famously thin-skinned,” he remarked. During Earnest’s tenure in the Obama administration journalists had faith that Earnest was an accurate mouthpiece for the president. Whereas, Trump is complicating Spicer’s job.

“I bet you knew more than the president did,” Ridge said to Earnest. “He thought premiums were going to go down.” The audience loved the joking and camaraderie on the stage. It made the debate more personalized and less Washington-bureaucratic.

4. The ACA, noted for its origin at the Heritage Foundation

Ridge blamed congressional Republicans and Trump for their failure to replace Obamacare. Earnest also blamed Republicans for not following through. He noted that although it is not a perfect plan, there has been steady job growth since its passage and uninsured rate is at a historic low. One reason, Earnest said, was that Republican governors have refused to expand Medicaid in their states, thus people can’t get coverage.

5. Students' questions (First Amendment well-exercised)

The last segment of the debate was devoted to the audience's questions. Students were selected prior to the event to ask their questions, and I was lucky enough to be one of them.

I asked: “Does social media help or hinder regaining the public’s trust in media and government since some politicians today are bypassing traditional outlets and going straight to Twitter, Facebook, etc.?”

Ridge and Earnest both spoke for a while about the positive outcomes of social media (such as mobilizing voters and engaging millennials), but also the drawbacks, such as fake news.

CNN's Dana Bash introducing Tom Ridge and Josh Earnest .

CNN's Dana Bash introducing Tom Ridge and Josh Earnest.

After the debate Ridge and Earnest joined students for a cupcake reception. They talked, joked, and took photos, which showed a humane side of politics that is often overlooked.

“You two are the nicest people in politics, like ever,”

The #OnlyatGW Debate is a wonderful tradition at GW and proof that bipartisanship still exists. It may be in the auditorium of an academic building on a Sunday afternoon, but what is said at these debates stays with us as we go about our lives in D.C.

Sweetening politics one Georgetown cupcake at a time .

Sweetening politics one Georgetown cupcake at a time.

Photo Credits to GW Program Board and Courtney Buble.

Originally published by Courtney Buble on on 4.24.17.

CampusBrandon Bish