A Professorial President?

Posted on Categories Political Processes & Rhetoric1 Comment on A Professorial President?

Before last night’s presidential debate, the pundits were saying that Obama had to be less “professorial” and “nuanced” than in his prior debates.  And the post-mortems today seem to indicate that he was successful on this count.  Call it self-serving, but I dislike the implication that being professorial should be regarded as disabling for a presidential candidate.  To be sure, this view has deep roots in our political culture.  For instance, in lieu of watching the debate last night, I attended the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s production of a 1945 play, State of the Union, in which a neophyte presidential candidate is repeatedly urged by his handlers to avoid specifics and dumb down the language in his campaign speeches.  I take it that this view reflects, at least in part, an assumption that uninformed voters want to be reassured that the world is a simple place; that public policy questions have clear, easily comprehensible right answers; and that their own intuitive, emotion-driven responses are as sound a basis for making policy judgments as expertise and rigorous analysis.  The assumption may or may not be true–perhaps uninformed voters would rather be educated than pandered to–but indulging the assumption ultimately does a disservice to the quality of our political culture and democratic processes. Continue reading “A Professorial President?”

What We Need Is Red and Blue Face Paint

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Andrea’s post on sports and Michael’s on the impact of the election on students’ preparation for class brought to mind this thread over at the Volokh Conspiracy. Ilya Somin links to articles in the Washington Post and Slate arguing that political partisans behave like sports fans They are less interested in a careful consideration of the issues than in identifying with one side or the other. Ilya maintains that this is a manifestation of rational ignorance, i.e., the idea that voters rationally invest little effort in obtaining political information because their vote is unlikely to be important. When some voters, e.g., political junkies, do obtain such information, the purpose is not to help in making a decision, but to enhance the enjoyment of being on, for example, the Republican or Democratic teams. Continue reading “What We Need Is Red and Blue Face Paint”

A Civil Conversation With the Party Bosses

Posted on Categories Political Processes & Rhetoric, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on A Civil Conversation With the Party Bosses

Yesterday, a packed room of more than one hundred people at the Law School was treated to the latest installment of On the Issues with Mike Gousha, featuring Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman Reince Priebus and Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke.  Gousha began the program by asking Priebus and Wineke about what role Wisconsin will play in the outcome of this year’s presidential election.  Both party chairmen confirmed that Wisconsin is considered “in play” for the presidential election, with recent polling showing Barack Obama with a narrow 2-3 point lead over John McCain in the state.  When asked what factor(s) will determine the election, Priebus suggested that the issue of trust — that is, which candidate voters trust most — will be dispositive.  Wineke countered that the election would turn on the economy.  Both also agreed that get out the vote (GOTV) volunteer efforts will be critical to success, in the state and nationally.  Continue reading “A Civil Conversation With the Party Bosses”

It’s Hypocrisy All the Way Down

Posted on Categories Political Processes & Rhetoric5 Comments on It’s Hypocrisy All the Way Down

So says a wonderfully titled post on Prawfsblog by Matt Brodie. The point is that much of our political discourse is given over to charges of hypocrisy. We wrap ourselves into knots to be able to say that those we don’t agree with have been inconsistent. Anyone who even casually follows political blogs has read the hackneyed “pot, meet kettle” so often as to wish to never see or hear it ever again.

Why do we do this? My own view flows from  two observations. The first is that our society has altered the former balance between the perceived value of personal authenticity in the sense of following your own lights and the virtue of conforming to a set of standards that originates outside yourself. We have moved toward a greater appreciation of the former. This is not to argue that we have given ourselves over to a radical moral relativism, only that our discourse had shifted in a way that charges of hypocrisy have a particular salience. Continue reading “It’s Hypocrisy All the Way Down”