West Point cadets get political during congressional exercise
April 13, 2011
WEST POINT, N.Y. (April 13, 2011) -- Corey Young is an investigative reporter for a national newspaper, covering the political scene deep within the halls and chambers of Congress. This Washington insider has a lot of competition from a press corps hungry to get the scoop on immigration reform.
Well, not exactly.
Young is actually a Class of 2013 cadet studying American Politics, but he portrayed a Washington Post journalist during a Congressional Simulation Exercise April 4 at Eisenhower Hall.
Young was among the 120 cadets representing media, lobbyists, presidential advisers and congressional legislators in a hands-on, real-world simulation of government in action.
The issue of the day was immigration reform, and it was the job of the media to provide accurate, breaking news ahead of the competition. At times, that meant deciphering rhetoric and discovering the truth of the matter.
"So many people were coming up to me and telling me 'dirt' that they had," Young said. "I had to start turning some of them away so I could go find out what was really going on."
Young's approach was to contact the highest-ranking members of both parties to get both sides of the story and try to file accurate, unbiased reports the entire day. One of the day's biggest stories occurred during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting when the democratic chairman refused to count a vote from a member of the opposing party who was absent prior to voting.
"I thought it was a really good move, though, and, according to the rules they made, it was legal," Young said.
The exercise involved the exchange of political points between different factions to create the best possible outcome. Throughout the day, cadets learned the ripple effect one person or party can have in politics. For example, a congressman's ill-chosen words to the press generated a great story, but proved costly to the politician.
"Based on comments from the last iteration, we decided to empower the media with the ability to award or take away political capital points with their articles," Maj. Kent Park, who co-created the exercise four semesters ago for the Department of Social Sciences, said. "This shifted the tone of the articles from entertainment to more serious journalism."
Park said traditional classroom lectures familiarize cadets with the lawmaking process and gave them adequate knowledge about the roles and influences of the key factors in this process.
"While this is critical to establishing the foundational knowledge for understanding this complex system, it is not sufficient for deeper comprehension and understanding of the lawmaking process," Park said. "We designed the simulation with the hopes of helping the students not only understand, but also feel, what it is like to be part of the process. In short, we wanted them to take this personally and become emotionally tied to the exercise."
Class of 2013 Cadet Sara Roger certainly got caught up with the political intrigue as a member of a special interest group. The night prior to the exercise, Roger joined her fellow Tea Party Express member to meet with the Republican committee heads in the Senate to form an alliance with another lobby group. She thought this merger of political capital would provide powerful clout in negotiations. It didn't quite work out that way.
"I never thought people would be so selfish," Roger said. "Throughout the exercise, my allies and I allotted political capital to various committee heads with the intentions of using it to swing votes within their committees, and they ended up keeping it all for themselves. And they didn't feel bad about it."
Still, her group came close to achieving their objectives in the end and learned a few lessons about politics.
"Learning about it in a book and actually living it were two different experiences for me, the latter being the most rewarding," Roger said. "It not only provided knowledge in this subject, but gave me wisdom on how to deal with people."
Participation in the exercise counts for 10 percent of their final grade, but Park said it proved to be more valuable than that for some cadets.
"I knew we accomplished something when during a class discussion about the current budget impasse in Congress, a cadet commented that before (the exercise), he would have just shook his head in contempt that reinforced his cynical view of our political system," Park said. "(Now) he was much more sympathetic to the incredibly complex system which our elected leaders have to work through. While still maintaining a healthy dose of cynicism, I believe the cadets walk away from this experience with a deeper understanding of politics and less contempt for those who engage in it."