John Aroutiounian

A former Senate Page, Aroutiounian is no stranger to the ways of Washington. But his approach to intellectual engagement is something of a foreign concept in these times of partisan brinkmanship. 

Aroutiounian is the Speaker of the Yale Political Union, one of the oldest collegiate debating societies in the United States. Every week the union gets together and conducts a parliamentary-style debate. Aroutiounian's responsibility is to ensure that intellectual confrontation, "which is sometimes ugly, sometimes easily resolvable, happens every week." If that doesn't happen, Aroutiounian says, he has failed. 

What tends to happen every week, however, is that the students find an area of common ground, and then they are able to go home as friends. 

So how can the ethics of compromise and confrontation, as practiced in Washington, be improved? Aroutiounian presents the idea that politicians ought to be ranked based on how well they do, rather than their position on any given issue. Aroutiounian calls this the "talk-to-walk ratio." 

Ted Cruz spent 20 hours making a speech on the Senate floor. Aroutiounian would give him a low grade for what amounted to little more than a publicity stunt. 

On the other hand, Aroutiounian is not naive. The Yale Political Union, he admits, can't really exist in real life. "You can't have ideals and notions detached from their consequences and from public opinion," he says. But on the other hand, the nasty situation in Washington is not sustainable either. 

It doesn't have to be this way. After all, the things politicians are arguing about right now are fairly small, at least compared to 50 years ago. Communism is gone, Aroutiounian points out. Segregation is gone. And yet the volume seems to be louder than ever. 

Watch Aroutiounian's talk here. 

John Aroutiounian is a Yale University junior majoring in Ethics, Politics & Economics. His academic interests include foreign affairs, the philosophy of religion, and the history of welfare policy in Europe and the Americas. On campus, John is the Speaker of the Yale Political Union, one of the oldest collegiate debating societies in the United States. He is a columnist for the Yale Daily News and sits on the university's undergraduate funding committee. He has twice taught at Yale’s prestigious Young Global Scholars Program for gifted youth. He has worked for the Washington-based Armenian National Committee of America, the CATO Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the offices of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He's also reported for TIME Magazine and worked for Cambridge University Press in New York, and he helped launch a Kentucky-based startup eco-friendly product distribution firm while working at a local environmental nonprofit. He now lives in New York City.

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