“America’s Greatest Contribution to the World Has Been Its Values”

Interview with Senator Ben Cardin

Addy Catterall-Pendleton
Senator Ben Cardin

Today we interviewed Maryland Senator Ben Cardin. While we only had a short, thirty-minute interview with him, he nevertheless had time to say some really interesting things. He spoke about immigration law, noting that in the US two of our foundational values are freedom and opportunity. America is, after all, the Land of Opportunity. However, we cannot claim this title if we cannot provide equal freedom and opportunity to those who come to this country to become Americans. Current immigration laws do not reflect American ideals: “America, in its actions, is not living up to its values.” Currently, we reject too many people who seek a better life and better opportunities, and we reject people who seek political asylum, including people who have fled their country to escape persecution and human rights violations. 

I also appreciated Cardin’s view that political campaigns should be more transparent. He told us that he takes the time to go to rural areas of Maryland, talk to the people there, and work on their behalf, even though he knows that it is quite difficult to change people’s minds and that he most likely will not be getting their votes. Even though he doesn’t need those votes to get elected—as he receives enough votes from cities like Baltimore—he still makes an effort to work on behalf of all the people in his state.

Sky Weir

Today we toured the Capitol and interviewed Sen. Ben Cardin (Maryland). The interview with Senator Cardin was for me the most interesting interview we have had on this trip. It seemed that everyone was looking forward to it. The tour of the Capitol prior to the interview was packed with information, such as the history of various statues and the story of the three artists who painted the dome of the Capitol. We all eagerly anticipated the interview as we ate lunch in the Senate cafeteria, one of the best meals of the trip so far. After Sen. Cardin entered the room, we all stood to greet him, and he made a funny remark that released some of the tension we all shared. We had originally planned for an hour with him, but we were informed that he could only stay for twenty-five minutes, forcing us to streamline our interview to six key questions, all of which provoked thoughtful answers on his part.

Throughout all of the interviews this week there has been a common theme of listening to the other side and coming to a compromise. Cardin too focused on the importance of this theme in several of his answers. We then asked questions about voter suppression, and Cardin responded with the claim that voter suppression negatively affects everyone. He also commented on the fact that we need to change the way we finance elections to make our democracy less partisan. He passionately argued that there needs to be more financial transparency in political campaigns, which seems to me to be necessary if we are to maintain and strengthen our democracy.

He made an important point about the need to be more loyal to our country than we are to our political parties, and he noted that, historically, “when we have a threat, we put the country first.” He then placed his hand on the desk and said in a very solemn tone, “we should do that more often.” This for me was a “wow” moment: I could see his genuine passion for what he does, and I could tell that his own sense of morality pushes him to be his best self in politics. 

As the trip is wrapping up, I find myself looking back to our first day here and contrasting it with where we are now. I’ve had many profound experiences and been exposed to views I had not encountered before, making me think deeply about many aspects of my own life. This trip has deepened my understanding of how the US government works, which I know will be most important in the future.