Other Straws in the Wind

 

shutterstock_158954213Earlier this week, I drew attention to the dearth of panels at the 2014 American Political Science Association (APSA) conference that were devoted to an assessment of the achievements in domestic and foreign affairs of the administration of Barack Obama. As I pointed out, the APSA has fifty-three “divisions” and sixty “related groups”that sponsor more than one thousand panels at these meetings with something on the order of four thousand scholars making presentations of one sort or another. Given those numbers, the profession’s silence with regard to Obama’s accomplishments are so striking as to suggest that the political science profession now regards “the One” as an embarrassment.

Today, I returned to the program of the APSA, which is available online and can be downloaded and searched. This I did with an eye to studying it more closely. Here and there, I found that someone had given a paper on some aspect of Barack Obama’s career — usually, with a focus on race — but that no one had bothered to ask whether he had been successful on the whole at home or abroad.

I found other omissions no less striking. There was, for example, not a single paper given at the convention in which the name Clinton appeared in the title, and there was not a single paper delivered in which the title referred to anyone named Hillary. You would think –given her front-runner status for the Democratic presidential nomination — someone would have addressed her achievements as Secretary of State or as a United States senator. But no one even bothered to discuss her future prospects, and no one looked back to the administration of her husband.

Here, too, I will hazard a guess: that, among political scientists, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for the nomination elicits little or no enthusiasm, and that no one has anything good to say about her tenure as Secretary of State or as Senator.

And here is something else. That darling of the left Elizabeth Warren — who was, alongside yours truly, one of the ten or so members of the debate team at Oklahoma City’s Northwest Classical High School in 1966 and whom I do not remember — passed unmentioned at the convention as well, as did Andrew Cuomo, Martin O’Malley, and Jerry Brown.

There were innumerable panels on democracy and democratization, and one or two panels had the Republican Party as their focus. But there was not a single panel on offer which had as its focus the Democratic Party. Even the one with the promising title “Liberals, Democrats, and Onto-Historical Controversies” had papers on subjects such as “Weak Ontology, Weak Thought, and Radical Democracy” and “The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy.”

Eventually, I did come across a paper entitled “Languages or from the Same Script? Word Usage of Democratic and Republican Politicians,” and there was another entitled “Labor and the Democrats: Rethinking Alliance from Truman to Obama” and yet another with the title “Why Do Asian Americans Identify as Democrats?” But that was it. Of the four thousand or so presenters at the convention, only three gave papers in which the Democratic Party merited mention in the title, and all three were exceedingly narrow in their focus. No one thought to assess the state of the party or to examine its evolution in what was once proudly called “the age of Obama.” Instead, there was silence.

On the whole, the APSA is less partisan than, say, the Modern Language Association or the American Historical Association. But the vast majority of its members are, nonetheless, Democrats; and these days they appear to be a deeply depressed lot. At the convention, no one was singing, “Happy Days Are Here Again.” For the time being, at least, the party is over.

Image Credit: Shutterstock user Peter Pikulik

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  1. Howellis Inactive
    Howellis
    @ManWiththeAxe

    It’s commonly understood (on the right) that an untenured academic who writes a paper that goes against liberal orthodoxy on such subjects as, say, global warming or the biological basis of racial and sex differences, can kiss his tenure prospects good-bye. 

    Is this also true in political science? Would a paper that is critical of Obama cost an assistant professor his job?

    • #1
  2. user_517406 Inactive
    user_517406
    @MerinaSmith

    Paul, you seem say that Republicans were similarly ignored?  Why do you think that is?  What about Republican presidencies?  Are they still railing on about George W. Bush?  

    I will say that when I went through a doctoral program in history in recent years, if you applied for money, you had to have race, class or gender in the title or you could forget about it.  Also, they like trans anything.

    • #2
  3. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Howellis:

    It’s commonly understood (on the right) that an untenured academic who writes a paper that goes against liberal orthodoxy on such subjects as, say, global warming or the biological basis of racial and sex differences, can kiss his tenure prospects good-bye.

    Is this also true in political science? Would a paper that is critical of Obama cost an assistant professor his job?

     It might well do so. Young conservatives in the profession are not without fear.

    • #3
  4. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Merina Smith:

    Paul, you seem say that Republicans were similarly ignored? Why do you think that is? What about Republican presidencies? Are they still railing on about George W. Bush?

    I will say that when I went through a doctoral program in history in recent years, if you applied for money, you had to have race, class or gender in the title or you could forget about it. Also, they like trans anything.

     Republicans are pretty much ignored as well. The Claremont Institute sponsored a panel on the future of the Republican Party, and there were a handful of papers focused on its recent and more distant past. George W. Bush was mentioned in a paper title or two. But the political scientists have fallen silent on him as well. This is, I think, a further sign that the bloom is off the rose — for the hatred of Bush was the flip side of the adulation of Obama. Watching this administration flounder has been sobering for political scientists.

    • #4
  5. Salutary Neglect Member
    Salutary Neglect
    @TheUnLeft

    In my experience, APSA is a cloistered academic association, which publishes the even more cloistered American Political Science Review.  When most NSF funding was stricken by Congress, any attempt at defending the discipline was rendered impotent by the fact that its luminaries almost pride themselves on being irrelevant.  Barack Obama is a person, and political scientists are, as a class, much less concerned with people than with pseudo-mathematical models that advance their careers.  There isn’t much room for dissent from that view, especially in the American sections.

    Still, it is notable that the president should be so scarce a subject at a meeting so large.

    • #5
  6. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Merina Smith:

    Paul, you seem say that Republicans were similarly ignored? Why do you think that is? What about Republican presidencies? Are they still railing on about George W. Bush?

    I will say that when I went through a doctoral program in history in recent years, if you applied for money, you had to have race, class or gender in the title or you could forget about it. Also, they like trans anything.

     Even trans-fats?

    • #6

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