What Is Not an Election Issue

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Earlier this week, I gave an interview to a state reporter on the role of religion in this year’s election. When she asked what role it has played, I had to say “not much.” Mobilizing religious voters has generally required salient social issues. While its possible to imagine a religious left focused on economic issues (and some folks are attempting to build one), religious impact in our recent elections has been associated with social conservatives.

My guess is that, at the end of the day, McCain will do well among religious voters, but social issues have been largely absent from this election. The economy has crowded out most everything else.

Another thing that has been crowded out is the Supreme Court and federal courts. While nominees to the Court have never been a leading issue — lurking in the background and most important to the politically engaged, it’s my impression that we have heard more about it in the past.

Continue reading “What Is Not an Election Issue”

Talking to Your Own People

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The best part about politics, and particularly presidential elections, is that each news story or political ad  demonstrates the well-known negotiation theory of confirming evidence.  In other words, we only believe data that confirms what we already think.  And, watching the debate last night or listening to the political commentary afterwards probably confirmed for you what you already thought about the candidates.  And, this phenomenon doesn’t really help us or the candidates. 

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Why Can’t We Just Get Along?

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Over at his blog, Brazen Maverick, one of our students, Sam Sarver, echoes a conversation that has been happening here about the difficulty of communication across the ideological divide. He was singularly unimpressed with Sarah Palin’s performance in Thursday’s debate but recognizes that others (I would be among them) thought that she did quite well, albeit with neither syntax or word choice calculated to appeal to academic types.

Mr. Sarver wonders whether people holding what seem to be radically differing perceptions of reality can ever talk to one another. I think that they can, but mostly they don’t. Continue reading “Why Can’t We Just Get Along?”

“Nucular” and “Nuclear” and So-Called Standard English

Posted on Categories Legal Education, Legal Writing, Political Processes & Rhetoric4 Comments on “Nucular” and “Nuclear” and So-Called Standard English

As a legal writing professor, one part of my job is to help students who didn’t grow up speaking or writing “Standard English” continue adapting their writing to meet the expectations of employers and clients.  Of course, to get through college, many students have already made changes in the way they use English.  But some students come to law school with additional work to be done.  In fact, at least for me, the effort to consciously conform my English speaking and writing patterns to expectations different from those I grew up with never really ends.  

So, like the blogger in this post at frogs and ravens (which I reached via feministlawprof), whatever criticisms I might make of Sarah Palin, jabs at her speech patterns rub me the wrong way.  As frogs and ravens points out, “How you pronounce a word says nothing about your character, your intelligence, your values, or your education.  All it says is whether you are (a) one of the lucky people who grew up speaking ‘the right way’ as your native accent, (b) one of the people who did not, or (c) one of the people who did not and makes a conscious effort to abandon the speech patterns of their childhood to fit in with the expectations of others.”  And it seems somewhat ironic, and, well, dumb, that the prejudice against “regional and working-class accents” enables a candidate “to distance herself from her upper-middle-class lifestyle, her position of power, and her lofty ambitions” just by the way she pronounces words.

The Mythical Palin Effect–Women Focus on the Message Rather Than the Messenger

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Much has already been written about the Palin Effect and what impact nominating Sarah Palin has had on the McCain campaign. At first, many commentators thought that her nomination would convince former Hillary Clinton supporters to switch parties and vote Republican. It’s a basic testing of Robert Cialdini’s theory on likeability in a negotiation-we are more likely to be persuaded by others when we like them or when we are just like them. But, while Palin’s nomination is clearly a historic first, that, in and of itself, has actually not resulted in women changing their mind on the issues. Continue reading “The Mythical Palin Effect–Women Focus on the Message Rather Than the Messenger”

A Professorial President?

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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

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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

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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”