October 31, 2008 | 6:19 PM Mark A. R. Kleiman
October 31, 2008 | 4:30 PM Ryan Enos
October 27, 2008 | 10:03 AM Patricia Gándara
Now that we are down to the last week of the campaign, the candidates' bios are well-known and each has defined the other in ways that can be recited by anyone who has only vaguely followed the campaign:
McCain is a war hero, a 36 year senator, and according to Obama, an extension of Bush. Obama is freshman senator who was a community organizer, and according to McCain a "tax and spend liberal" who is "inexperienced."
As a professor in a wonderful university I am struck by the fact that so little has been made of the fact that Obama has also been, for 12 years, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School — one of the most prestigious and influential in the country — and that he taught constitutional law, the most critical area of the law for any president to know. In plain terms, Obama has been a teacher, preparing the minds of the next generation of leadership for this country.
Yet neither the Obama campaign nor the media in general seem to consider this fact of any particular importance in defining the candidate.
Obama's "inexperience" has been compared to Palin's inexperience, given that they have both only held federal or state level office for a few years. Why has the Obama campaign — or the media —not mentioned that 12 years as a professor, studying and teaching constitutional law, is, in fact, a very important qualification for someone whose very job is to understand and uphold the constitution while managing the business of the nation? And why is the preparation (and ability) that it takes to become such a professor not considered an attribute worth noting as a key credential for being the leader of the free world?
Most recent studies of these things seem to show that professors are still held in pretty esteem on rankings of prestige (much higher than politicians, by the way). At the very least, the public thinks that university professors are "smart." Isn't that a pretty important qualification for the presidency?
Why is 12 years as a university professor not worth mentioning as a key qualification for president? Is being a professor too esoteric or ivory tower for Joe Six Pack to care about?
Is not 12 years as a teacher, helping students to understand, interpret, and use the law to further the purposes of justice and democracy experience worth touting? I'd put that up against being an office holder any day.
But maybe I am just biased.
October 22, 2008 | 9:57 AM Paul Ong
It is hard to miss the rural-urban divide in the primaries earlier this year and now in the general election, with the media focusing on which candidate has the upper hand in one location or the other. This geographic dichotomy has political currency, but does campaign rhetoric make good policy? As with most simplistic classifications, splitting the nation into two parts belies the complexity, nuances and diversity in the real world. The extremes are easy to identify, with small New England and Midwestern settlements surrounded by farms at one end, and Manhattan and the Loop in Chicago at the other. The boundaries between the two worlds, however, are fuzzy in many situations. Where does one place the exurbs, those hinterland areas that are a long commute away from but still tied to urban jobs? Internal variations are also pronounced. The urban domain encompasses cities and suburbs, and the rural domain includes villages and small cities. Despite a lack of precision, the rural-urban reductionism has implications, and we can dissect the political discourse from different angles.
The first is to recognize that politicians and parties use the terms to acknowledge and bond with key constituencies. DNC's platform, for example, has sections entitled "Metropolitan and Urban Policy" and "Real Leadership for Rural America," and Obama's acceptance speech includes the phrase "cities to rebuild, and farms to save". Republicans also take a similar tack, when they pledge to take "a business-like, cost-effective approach for infrastructure spending, always mindful of the special needs of both rural and urban communities." Geographic name-dropping is good politics to rally loyal followers and to erode the opponent's base. It could also be good policy because the jockeying maintains a balance, precluding government from being overly one-sided. Both parties talk about the need to include both urban and rural in national policies and programs, as exemplified by the Republican's statement that "Gang violence is a growing problem, not only in urban areas but in many suburbs and rural communities."
Political discourse takes on more substance when it focuses on the concerns, problems and potentials unique to each. Rural is closely tied to agriculture. Democrats promise to provide “a strong safety net for family farms, a permanent disaster relief program, expansion of agriculture research and an emphasis on agricultural trade,” while the Republicans counter with a commitment to fight “any restrictions upon our farm products within the World Trade Organization.” A shared concern for rural America’s economic backbone, but different strategies rooted in one party’s belief in government’s constructive potentials and the other’s fear of destructive intrusions into the market. There is no equivalent to the agriculture-rural nexus for urban areas because cities and metropolitan areas are incredibly diverse in terms of an economic base – traditional manufacturing, high-tech, service, finance, etc. What urban areas share in common, albeit at different intensity, are the unavoidable consequences of higher density and large population size. One visible and highly aggravating manifestation is traffic congestion, and both Democrats and Republicans support mass transit and improve transportation infrastructure. What is unknown but will differentiate the two parties is how to finance such an agenda, an important question given that the existing tax system is failing to keep up with changing realities.
Reifying the rural-urban paradigm runs the danger of missing commonalties and crosscutting ties. Regardless of location, rural American and urban American share many priorities over the next few years, whether it is solving the current economic meltdown, enhancing national security or improving public education. People differ on policy approaches, but this divergence is more rooted in ideology than simple geography. Moreover, the viability of one sector affects the well-being of the other sector. A major challenge for the next president is uniting the nation after a bitter contest, and this includes politically bridging the two geographic entities. Good public policy should address unique problems and opportunities in each, but should not unfairly privilege one at the expense of the other.
Before signing off, I want to add a last-minute tangent to this post. Analysis of the rural-urban divide yields a broader lesson because the geographic split is analogous to other potentially deep divisions in our society, including those defined by race, nativity, gender, religion, and other social and cultural lines. The presidential contest is taking a nasty turn, with specious claims of being the “real America” and unfounded charges of being “un-American.” The challenge of the 21st Century is managing diversity, building on its strengths and avoiding needless conflicts. The struggle to achieve this balance must be a national goal.
October 21, 2008 | 2:20 PM Gary Orfield
The walk to the White House isn't a primrose path. Your opponents do not give up their dream of occupying the most powerful office in the world and turning history in a new direction without a fight. If they can't win fairly, they are surrounded by people suggesting how to win through mud wrestling. The two Democratic recent Democratic candidates who tried most clearly to play the game straight, Dukakis and Kerry, were repeatedly hit below the belt with attacks that seemed to them to be so absurd as to be unbelievable or irrelevant were hurt very badly and lost. People said they were too soft. Attack politics ruled again.
John McCain, when his primary campaign was derailed in South Carolina by George Bush in 2000 was hit by a barrage of attacks and whispering campaigns that left him defeated and the "straight talk express" at a deadend. No one rises in Chicago, where politics is a blood sport, as Obama did, without passing through brutal attacks.
One would have thought that both of these men, a good cut above the norm in politics, and sincerely devoted to their country, would have conducted a cleaner, better campaign. Certainly, this year there is an attentive public and truly urgent issues to talk about. Now, not far before the end, it seems like McCain has decided to drag out every fear tactic know to GOP politics — accusing his opponent of "socialism", fostering sexualization of preschoolers, suggestions that he and his supporters are answering back, though less intensely, not wanting to fall down the politics of attack rabbit hole, with the old Democratic standards — they will destroy your Medicare, etc. — though this is mixed with ringing visions of a better country.
There are two encouraging things about dirty politics in this election. For a change, the press is not sitting back and simply reporting ridiculous and untrue accusations as if they were serious and substantive charges. A number of the major news organizations are actually checking facts and reporting what they see, as are organizations that monitor the media, such as Media Matters. Major endorsements by newspapers, commentators and public figures deal with these issues.
If the press is going to be more than a passive, easily manipulated, transmission belt for lies and distortions, it is vitally important both to the profession of journalism and to the democracy, in which the press plays such an important role, that this trend continue.
It is much easier to put out a big lie than a complex truth so there must be a serious cost. We will only control this plague of dirty campaigning by proving that it doesn't work, that it has real costs. There are signs in the survey data that the public is moving in this direction by recognizing and rejecting dirty attacks and that could be one of the best developments of this campaign.
I hope that in the final days the candidates will run a campaign that they and the nation can be more proud of, that the loser can emerge with his reputation more intact than now seems likely, and that the country can be better prepared for the hard bipartisan decisions that will soon be required to solve long-neglected problems. The worst thing would be for the loser to sacrifice his reputation, lose both power and respect, and to leave the country he loves less prepared for the challenges it must face. That, sadly, seems to be the direction we're headed.
October 21, 2008 | 1:17 PM Michael Tesler
I had a stock answer throughout the primaries to the never ending questions about whether Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton was more electable in the general election. I thought that only Barack could lose but that he also had a significantly higher support ceiling than Hillary. Since this is one of the few times when I think I’m right about something I said in the primary season, let me briefly explain why Hillary would most likely not be doing as well as Obama is right now.
The plot below of Clinton and Obama’s Gallup unfavorable ratings during the primary months tells much of the story. As can be seen, Clinton’s unfavorables were consistently around 10 to 15 points higher than Obama’s. Perhaps more importantly, these opinions of Clinton are the product of fifteen years worth of considerations about her. Obama’s inexperience, on the other hand, necessarily means the public brings less prior information to bear in evaluating him. The upshot is that opinions about Clinton should be more crystallized and thus more resistant to changing national and campaign dynamics.
This is precisely why I thought Obama had a lower floor and a higher ceiling than Clinton. Much the way Sarah Palin’s gaffes get 100 times more attention than Joe Biden’s, campaign missteps or scandal would have been way more devastating to Obama than Clinton because Americans have less offsetting information about him stored up in their memories. At the same time, though, Clinton could never have benefited as much as Obama seems to have from strong debate performances and the economy crashing. For everyone already had an opinion of her and 45 percent of them were negative. Simply put, it’s extremely hard to envision a scenario from these unfavorable numbers where general election candidate Clinton registers the 62 percent favorability rating that Obama received in the latest Gallup poll.
I’m always perplexed, then, when I hear matter of fact assertions about how much better Clinton would be doing than Obama right now because she’s white. How could any white candidate rack up the 6+ point win that Obama seems poised to capture if half of the country already disliked him.
Sorry to open up old wounds from the primary here, but Obama is positioned to earn a mandate that Hillary Clinton’s polarizing personality and campaign tactics probably never could have.
October 21, 2008 | 1:00 PM Patricia Gándara
I note with consternation and some degree of frustration with our education system that the Republican candidates are evidently able to frighten (or at least put off) voters by using the term "distributing wealth" in reference to Senator Obama's proposed tax policy. They refer to it disparagingly as "socialism." Obama's proposed tax policy protects (and even lowers the taxes of) the lower and middle classes while modestly increasing the assessment on the wealthiest among us. Many American voters evidently believe that it is unfair to increase the taxes of millionaires and billionaires in order to provide a social safety net for all.
This sense of unfairness seems to emanate from some corollary to a belief in the American Dream, that the wealthy deserve what they have (and should not be required to carry a proportionate burden) because they "worked for what they have." (This suggests that the person working three minimum wage jobs and who cannot afford health care for her family isn't working hard enough. Otherwise she would be wealthy too.) Of course the same individuals who hold this belief also tend to oppose inheritance taxes that would help to ensure that whose with wealth did indeed earn it and not just inherit it. There appears to be a mistaken impression afoot in this country that the US affords its citizens opportunities that are the envy of the world.
Unfortunately, Americans are poorly educated about what goes on outside our own borders. A member of the working class is more likely to achieve the "American Dream" in most western European countries than in the U.S., where social mobility has been declining for decades. Citizens are also more likely to be able to send their children to college where they will earn a degree in about 15 other competitor nations than in the U.S. And this is intimately related to the fact that these countries, through tax policies, do not allow the huge disparities in wealth that exist here.
How did we get things so backwards that "distributing wealth" turned into an ugly concept and enormous disparities in wealth — in even the ability to provide the most basic aspects of life for one's family — is something to be protected? Do we need to revisit our civics curricula, or do we just need to teach our kids more about social policy in the countries where their peers are faring much better than they?
October 21, 2008 | 11:08 AM Gary Orfield
The McCain campaign is now accusing Sen. Obama of advocating socialism. Socialism, of course, is a policy of public ownership of the means of production. There is nothing about the Obama tax policies that have any relationship to socialism, so this word is merely being used to arouse emotion and fear in a free enterprise society where any hint of socialism can be a political kiss of death.
Ironically, the only thing that might possibly be fit into this category of socialism in recent history is the action of President Bush's Treasury Department in taking partial public ownership of all of the nation's largest banks, something that was widely seen as necessary after unregulated speculation in financial instruments backed by bad mortgages threatened to bankrupt the entire system.
What McCain calls socialism is the idea of raising taxes up to the level of the Reagan era by reversing some of the tax cuts to the rich that were paid for with borrowed money and national debt. When policy is changed to subsidize the well-to-do or private business, even incredibly rich oil companies, it is defended as economic development. When there is a proposal to provide some aid through the tax system to working families not earning enough to support their families, conservatives see it not as social justice, as caring for deserving families and children facing tough times, or as a way to develop their potential and give them a chance to fully contribute to the society, but as SOCIALISM!
As this campaign reaches its final days, I hope that the public will recognize these charges for exactly what they are--an effort to distract people from the fact
that the policies of blank check, license to steal economics have failed and that those making the charges are implicated in the failure and are now trying to sell primal fear in the absence of any compelling ideas of their own.
October 20, 2008 | 2:18 PM Editor
Some of our faculty bloggers talk about the notorious — and possibly mythical — Bradley Effect in short videos that are offered to help clarify things for voters. In this one, Assistant Professor of Political Science Lynn Vavreck and graduate students give the background.
October 20, 2008 | 12:12 PM David Zingmond
$2.7 trillion per year is a lot of money and healthcare inflation is high (at least 6% annually.) That’s what we are annually spending on healthcare in this country. By total dollars and by percentage of GDP, we are spending more than anyone else in the world on healthcare. Furthermore, on most metrics, we rank far behind many other developed countries with regards to health. It does not sound like a bargain – shouldn’t we be able to provide coverage for everyone and/or have better results?
Other countries run on basically a Medicare model of care, ensuring that all have healthcare coverage, while limiting the knee-jerk use of expensive tests and interventions. In medicine, we call this “conservative management.”
The U.S. is like no other country in the world. We rely upon private insurers to pay for a large amount of care (about 45% of individuals have private insurance.) The goal of the private insurers is to make money. They do this by reducing their payouts whenever possible. This means insuring only healthy individuals, excluding “sick” individuals (or making them pay much higher premiums), and avoiding paying for as much care delivered as possible.
Private insurers are expensive and inefficient. Using data from the California Department of Managed Care, private health insurance companies regulated by the department spend $6 billion each year on administration, and divert an additional $4.3 billion to profit (approximately 25% of the moneys that they gather.) Measuring the administrative costs in the public insurance entities is much lower, but by how much is unknown (some say admin costs are on the order of 2 to 4%.)
What we want in our healthcare proposals are
Inclusiveness – everyone should be covered
Efficiency – healthcare dollars should be spent on healthcare, not on administrative costs and not on excessive profits
Cost containment – inflation in healthcare costs must be controlled
A lot has been written about the healthcare proposals for the campaigns at this point. Perhaps, the biggest differences can be attributed to the differing philosophies of the two campaigns. The Obama plan favors an expansion of some public insurance programs (including mandating coverage for all children), while the McCain plan favors the private insurance market. As I wrote previously, I am not a big fan of the McCain plan in its current incarnation (as it is more likely to result in problems for individuals who are sicker) and favor Obama’s proposal as it is (as it expands current programs without shifting adults out of their current healthcare.)