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.
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