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Waxman: Still Reasons to be Hopeful


By Mary Daily

Published Feb 19, 2016 8:00 AM

The retired Congressman advised students to get involved through a campaign, nonprofit or other means and remain optimistic.


Photo by Jonathan Van Dyke.

Former U.S. Congressman and current UC Regents Professor Henry Waxman ’61, J.D. ‘64 is not ready to pull the plug on government, regardless of how negative the political climate has become.

“I think Congress is capable of actually getting things done,” said the former Democratic U.S. representative representing Los Angeles, before a crowd on campus.

Waxman, who retired in 2015, was hosted by Government and Community Relations and the Department of Political Science. At the event, he talked with moderator Jeffrey B. Lewis, professor and department chair, about his 40-year career in Congress and how American politics has evolved during that time.

Lewis compared the Congress that Waxman joined in 1975 and the legislative body today. “The first thing you’ll notice,” he said, “is that Congress isn’t very popular right now.”

Actually, he continued, Congress has never been very popular since 1975, except during 9/11. Only 25 percent of the public approved of Congress in 1975, and the number fell to an all-time low of 9 percent in 2013.

“In other ways, the House looks much more representative of the population than in 1975,” Lewis said. “There were only 19 women and 15 African Americans among the members of the House in 1975, and now there are 84 women and 45 African Americans.”

Other changes include a decline in the number of military veterans in Congress (more than 300 in 1975 vs. about 80 now). Campaign spending has more than doubled, while the number of bills passed by Congress has fallen by about half. “There used to be significant overlap of ideology between Democrats and Republicans,” Lewis continued. “That is no longer the case.”

Waxman lamented the dissolution of the political parties as umbrella coalitions that once worked to build consensus. “Now we see [the] political party as a movement, as a way to work out grievances,” he said. “I still have hope for the government of the United States. But you can’t continually work to defeat one another.”

Regarding the shrinking number of veterans in Congress, Waxman said he hopes there will be enough political will there to take care of the men and women returning from combat. He said he believes people want to be more supportive of veterans than during the divisive times of Vietnam, and that Congress has a responsibility to act on that sentiment.

The retired Congressman said that his family encouraged political conversation early in his life. At UCLA, he found like-minded people who wanted to make a difference.

There are still opportunities today and reasons to remain optimistic, he told a law student in the audience, whether through a campaign, nonprofit or other means. Get involved and find a place to advocate for causes you care about, he advised.

This story is based on an article in the UCLA Newsroom. To view the original full-length article, visit



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