The 113th Congress was sworn into office and with it marked a new era in American politics.
This is the most diverse Congress in history, and although it still doesn't quite look like America there has been progress. That progress is evidenced by the diversity of the Senate. The exclusive club contains only 100 members, and for almost its entire existence it has been an exclusive all white male fraternity. But this session of Congress will be different.
The Senate will contain an African-American Republican, 20 women, the first Buddhist, an openly gay member, the first female Asian-American, and three Hispanic members. For those who do not support diversity consider the words of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.); "the more diversity of opinion at the table, the more consensus you can build, the more sustainability of the solutions, and the more respect it commands."
The most important aspect of an elected official is her or his representation of the constituents' policies and values. Diversity supports that premise by incorporating a variety of experience into the process. We are all products of our life experiences and whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, race, gender, sexual orientation and religious beliefs inform that experience. This is no different than socioeconomic status, culture or geography. An elected official may be more supportive of the farm bill if she or he is from a rural area, and an elected official may be more supportive of the Violence Against Woman Act or the Hate Crime Bill if she or he is part of groups affected by these policies. This is not to say that you enact bad law or policy simply because you identify with the group most impacted, it simply acknowledges that your life experience brings a perspective that allows you to craft a better law or policy. When the Senate discusses the burgeoning Indian economy and relations in Asia and the Pacific, might it not enhance the discussion if there is an Asian, a Buddhist and a Hindu sitting in the room? Will they not have an informed, unique opinion borne by a living experience?
As the demographics of America change, Congress — which is supposed to represent the people — needs to change as well. Virtually every issue the new Congress will deal with will be affected by the demographic shifts in America. Immigration reform, the social contract, the role of government, and foreign policy, all have a race, gender, or cultural aspect.
Diversity doesn't mean sacrificing political ideology. For example, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Tim Scott are all fiscal conservatives and Tea Party favorites. However, as Hispanics and Cuban-Americans from Texas and Florida respectively, Cruz and Rubio will probably have informed strong opinions on immigration reform. Their background and life experience will help to shape the best immigration policy for all Americans.
The 98 women, 43 African-Americans, 31 Latinos, 12 Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and 7 gay and bisexual members of the 113th Congress represent the next America. One that is finally living up to its ideals of diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion. As newly elected Representative Tammy Duckwork (D–Ill.) said, "it is good to see Congress starting to look more like the rest of America."