Permalink to A Straw in the Wind

A Straw in the Wind

 

This past weekend, the American Political Science Association (ASPA) held its annual meeting in Washington, DC. It was a huge affair, involving 53 “divisions” and 60 “related groups,” and featuring more than one thousand separate panels. Here is the kicker: this year, there were no sessions at all devoted to an assessment of the foreign policy of Barack Obama, and not one panel was dedicated to an examination of Obama’s domestic policy.

There was, to be sure, a session entitled Author Meets Critics: Lebovic’s “Flawed Logics: Strategic Nuclear Arms Control from Truman to Obama, and there was another entitled Obama, Bush, and Grand Strategy.” But Obama was mentioned by name in the title of only one of the papers delivered at the latter panel: “Grand Strategy Constraints and Feedback During the GW Bush and Obama Administrations.” And its focus was a technical question. There was also a panel entitled Authors Meet Critics: “The Obama Effect: How the 2008 Campaign Changed White Racial Attitudes.” From a left-liberal perspective, those were the days!

It would be tempting to explain the dearth of panels on Obama’s presidency on the supposition that academic political science is a conspiracy to abolish politics and political disputation concerning public policy. There is evidence in favor of this proposition. At the latest APSA meeting, there was a panel on American Statecraft: Past and Present that sounded promising. But the papers given at this panel were entitled: “Can America Continue to Have It Both Ways in International Labor Standards”; “The Risks of Outsourcing Security: U. S. Foreign Policy and the Problem of Foreign Military Proxies”; and “Redrawing the Geopolitical Map: The Transformative Effect of Renewable Energies.” There were, moreover, only two panels at the convention devoted to the upcoming midterm elections and — thinking that no one would be interested — the powers that be at the APSA scheduled them both at the same hour.

One cannot, however, really explain the complete absence of panels assessing Obama’s domestic and foreign policy in this fashion. To be sure, what passes as political science in America really is an attempt to reduce politics and political disputation to something more manageable. But, in 2006, when the second midterm elections of the George W. Bush administration were approaching, there were plenty of panels devoted to denouncing the foreign and domestic policy of the younger Bush. The fact that there was nothing on the program of this year’s APSA pertaining to the Obama administration is a sign that there is nothing good to say on the subject, nothing to celebrate, and nothing to take pride in. Left with no recourse, the academy turns silent.

It was eerie. It was as if there has been no Obama presidency. If I am right in my analysis, the complete absence of panels assessing Obama’s record is an indication that the academy now regards Obama as an indefensible embarrassment. This, in turn, may well be a sign that we are in for a wave election in November. What cannot be defended is apt to be jettisoned.

Image Credit: Shutterstock user Picsfive.

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Members have made 19 comments.

  1. Profile photo of Merina Smith Member

    What an interesting conference report, Paul. I guess I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed that there wouldn’t be at least a few in your field who would bravely provide honest analysis of Obama’s regime. Good point that this indicates their disappointment with him, but it is depressing that the academy is so far gone that no one would have the courage to speak the truth in an academic paper. Do you think it would be career suicide to do so? Also, aren’t there at least some  conservatives in the field besides you?

    • #1
    • September 2, 2014 at 7:01 am
  2. Profile photo of Devereaux Inactive

    It may not be so much that the academy considers there is nothing to speak about positively in this presidency as that they don’t wish to bring attention to the things the administration and president have done to the country. There are, after all, so many quotable moments with this president. Like his, “I can be more flexible after the election” comment to the Russian president, to name one that doesn’t seem to get any mention these days. And we wonder why there is no cohesive response to naked aggression in Ukraine.

    • #2
    • September 2, 2014 at 7:03 am
  3. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author

    Merina Smith:

    What an interesting conference report, Paul. I guess I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed that there wouldn’t be at least a few in your field who would bravely provide honest analysis of Obama’s regime. Good point that this indicates their disappointment with him, but it is depressing that the academy is so far gone that no one would have the courage to speak the truth in an academic paper. Do you think it would be career suicide to do so? Also, aren’t there at least some conservatives in the field besides you?

     I do not think that it would be career-suicide. As a discipline, political science is mildly more open to conservatives than, say, English or History. The folks in the latter are even more hostile to politics as such than are the political scientists. Deliberation about ends and means seems to them a dirty business. There are virtually no military or diplomatic historians employed in the academy these days, but there are international relations experts in political science.

    • #3
    • September 2, 2014 at 7:19 am
  4. Profile photo of KC Mulville Member

    Personally, I think we’ve reached the Chauncey Gardner moment. (For those not acquainted with the Jerzy Kozinski book or Peter Sellers movie Being There … you’re in for a treat.)

    • #4
    • September 2, 2014 at 7:22 am
  5. Profile photo of Xennady Inactive

    Uhm, I’m merely a lunkheaded, beer-swilling ex-steelworker.

    But I think to say that we may be facing a wave election vastly understates, well, stuff.

    I think the whole post-WW2 geopolitical order, based upon the preeminent wealth and power of the United States, is collapsing, along with the associated paradigm of American governance, which is based upon the same.

    Hence, I am not surprised that the academy doesn’t want to discuss recent events, any more than I was surprised to hear historian Robert Citino describe how the official publication of the German army suddenly lost interest in discussing recent events, circa 1943.

    Buckle up, because we’re in for a rough ride. 

    Now excuse me, because in my work schedule this is 2300, Friday night, and I intend to go away and swill some beer.

    • #5
    • September 2, 2014 at 8:02 am
  6. Profile photo of Look Away Member

    or Xennady, that trenchant analysis that we got from Academia when the Wall fell, East Germany was exposed as not a workers paradise but merely a beneficiary from direct West German transfer payments, Alger Hiss really was guilty along with many others, and maybe the Soviet economic and socialist state was not exactly the juggernaut that they and the CIA thought. NOT!

    Until Academia is run more like a business and less like a Party controlled socialist sub-state, tax-exempt and all, we will be treated to more of the same.

    • #6
    • September 2, 2014 at 8:37 am
  7. Profile photo of Instugator Thatcher

    Dude, You made Instapundit! Awesome – now we get to see if Ricochet 2.1 can handle an Instalanche.

    I guess the real question is, at what point will the association, having abdicated the examination of the most prominent political position in the country, realized it has beclowned itself?

    • #7
    • September 2, 2014 at 10:26 am
  8. Profile photo of Man With the Axe Member

    Which is correct?

    1. It’s racist to point out all the failures of Obama administration policies, both foreign and domestic.
    2. It’s racist to studiously ignore Obama administration policies, both foreign and domestic.
    3. It’s racist to criticize the ignoring of Obama administration policies, both foreign and domestic.
    4. All of the above.

    If you get this question right you, too, can be a political scientist.

    • #8
    • September 2, 2014 at 11:53 am
  9. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author

    Howellis:

    Which is correct?

    1. It’s racist to point out all the failures of Obama administration policies, both foreign and domestic.
    2. It’s racist to studiously ignore Obama administration policies, both foreign and domestic.
    3. It’s racist to criticize the ignoring of Obama administration policies, both foreign and domestic.
    4. All of the above.

    If you get this question right you, too, can be a political scientist.

     All of the Above.

    • #9
    • September 2, 2014 at 12:08 pm
  10. Profile photo of Nick Stuart Thatcher

    Paul A. Rahe:

    This, in turn, may well be a sign that we are in for a wave election in November. What cannot be defended is apt to be jettisoned.

    Image Credit: Shutterstock user Picsfive.

     From your keyboard to God’s inbox. We can only pray that will be so.

    • #10
    • September 2, 2014 at 1:08 pm
  11. Profile photo of wmartin Inactive

    So far, there is no evidence from polling data to indicate anything approaching a Republican wave in November.

    • #12
    • September 2, 2014 at 4:21 pm
  12. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author

    wmartin:

    So far, there is no evidence from polling data to indicate anything approaching a Republican wave in November.

     All too true. But it is early yet. My point was that the partisans in the academy are disillusioned. The Republicans could still blow it, and, yes, they probably will.

    • #13
    • September 2, 2014 at 4:31 pm
  13. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author

    One virtue of the internet is that, after one posts a piece, one receives missives by email correcting one’s mistakes or reinforcing one’s point. I received one such a few minutes ago. It spells out in detail the contents of a panel that was proposed to two different divisions of the APSA. Its focus was the conduct of domestic and foreign policy under the Obama administration. The contributors were serious scholars — and the panel was turned down by both divisions. No such panel was on offer this past weekend. It says much about the state of the political science profession that the scholar who emailed me asked that I not reveal the names of those on the proposed panel.

    • #14
    • September 2, 2014 at 5:44 pm
  14. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author

    I should also perhaps add that there were a handful of individual papers given in panels on subjects such as Elections and Voting Behavior: Discoveries about the Importance of Issues in which one could learn about “A More Policy-Oriented Electorate: Policy and Performance Evaluations in the Obama Elections Compared to the 1952-1980 Period” or in panels on subjects such as Politics and Presidential Travel in which one could learn about “Talking Through the Issues: Comparing Social Security Reform and Health Care Reform in the Bush and Obama Administrations.” And there were a number of panels on race in which there might be individual papers on “Blue Skies in Turbulent Times: Descriptive Representation and Black Optimism in the Age of Obama” or “Accommodation and Resistance: Obama’s Election and Americans’ Racial Attitudes” or “White Racial Backlash and the Obama Presidency: The Re-Emergence of Black Threat from 2008 to 2012.” But there was no global assessment of Obama’s domestic or foreign policy.

    • #15
    • September 2, 2014 at 5:59 pm
  15. Profile photo of Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe Post author

    One scholar did give a paper on “Educational Waivers as Reform Leverage in the Obama Administration: Politics of Waivers in an Absence of Congressional Action on No Child Left Behind.” Another spoke on “Obama’s ‘Red Line’ in Syria: Assessing the Normative Power of a Military Hegemon.” And another addressed “The Obama Doctrine in the Middle East.” But here is the kicker. At a convention in which something like four thousand papers were delivered, there were no more than twenty — including all of the panels and individuals papers mentioned above — in which Barack Obama was even mentioned: i.e., one-half of one percent — and there were no panels at all focused on his accomplishments.

    • #16
    • September 2, 2014 at 6:06 pm
  16. Profile photo of Xennady Inactive

    Look Away:

    or Xennady, that trenchant analysis that we got from Academia when the Wall fell, (snip)

    Perhaps I was too obscure. That reference occurred to me because I figured professor Rahe was giving us a peek at inside ball, of the sort that Citino was able to give us about the internal discussions of the Wermacht, thanks only to history.

    Of course what the Nazi regime was telling the German public at the time, and what Academia is shoveling today in America, are completely different from what the insiders know and believe, then and now.

    So when the official publication of the German general staff ceased discussing the active war going on right then, it could certainly be concluded, in my opinion (and Citino’s, if I recall) that they knew something was up, something they weren’t too keen on telling everyone else.

    That was a bad sign for them.

    Similarly, when a swarm of academics today can’t bring themselves to discuss their lightweaver, their hope of all hopes, their winner of a Nobel prize, the smartest man ever– well, that’s a bad sign for them, too.

    • #17
    • September 2, 2014 at 6:58 pm
  17. Profile photo of Xennady Inactive

    Look Away:

    Until Academia is run more like a business and less like a Party controlled socialist sub-state, tax-exempt and all, we will be treated to more of the same.

    I’d also like to respond to this, and I beg pardon if it seems off-topic.

    But it seems to me Academia is already run like a business. An entrenched monopoly, fighting to retain its privileged, lucrative position, using every tool at its disposal, against intense pressure from its customers as well as the rest of reality, too.

    My sympathy is lacking.

    • #18
    • September 2, 2014 at 7:06 pm
  18. Profile photo of TeamAmerica Member

    Re: The midterms- The WSJ had an article this week titled Republicans for What? The point of which was their failure to offer and to campaign on appealing alternatives to Obama’s policies, such as allowing people to opt out of Obamacare, which Dem. politicians would have difficulty opposing. If Republicans are too timid to even offer and run on appealing alternatives to unpopular policies, then what good are they?

    • #19
    • September 6, 2014 at 5:39 pm