Today’s post will be a bit different. I was contacted by the author of the official blog of the Campaign for the American Reader, who asked me to put The Eclipse of Equality through the Page 99 test. The idea is that if you take a random page from the book from a section that is not overworked and through through, you can judge the quality of the whole for yourself. I had a lot of fun playing this game, and I think the test basically works. You can read for yourself over at Marshal Zeringue’s blog.
Archive for the ‘Media and Politics’ Category
As part of the celebration of the release of my new book The Eclipse of Equality: Arguing America on Meet the Press, I thought it might be helpful to share in broad outline how I put together the analysis there, something the space requirements of the manuscript did not allow in the book itself. I won’t go into great detail, but I hope this will be helpful to any of my students who have an interest in cobbling together some similar an analysis in their own work.
Step 1: The Puzzle Trap
The first priority in a journey of this kind is to find a coherent stream of discourse that you would like to analyze—some discursive arena on which to set your attention. For me, this came easily. In all of my political work on the United States, and throughout my academic career, I have found it necessary to keep myself grounded by watching the Sunday shows: Meet the Press, Fox News Sunday, This Week, Face the Nation etc. At first, I didn’t think much about why these shows were so important in grounding my perspectives on survey work or for my teaching, but it was always true.
I remember in one of my early job interviews talking about how I anchored the codes for my dissertation work (a massive content analysis on the association of open-ended themes and Presidential party vote in the National Election Studies (NES)) in the Sunday morning debates. The literature in the top journals was essential to getting a bead on what mattered in American politics, but what that kind of immersion provided me was what I would now call a set of puzzles that were relevant from the point of view of the scholars rather than a set of problems that real people were confronting in their lives as practical politicians.
This contrast between the puzzles we spin and the problems our subjects manage is the first methodological insight. If you want actionable results in your social science, you can’t rely on the way you and your colleagues frame the problems (in terms of puzzles in the literature), but rather an immediate sense of how the participants frame them as problems they themselves confront, and they frame them in their own rhetorical forms. When you take these forms seriously, you find that the boundary between pure and applied research begins to dissolve and the relevance of your work increases immensely, this at the expense of veering close to the social science/journalism boundary.
This puzzle/problem distinction is a fine point, but it is easiest to see if you have had any experience in framing a survey question. Read the rest of this entry »
Remember back in 2008 when Colin Powell went on Meet the Press and made huge news in endorsing the first African American Presidential nominee from a major American political party? It was a much bigger deal than when he did it again the other day. His comments in 2008 were powerful. Among them were the following:
“Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian,” he said. “But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, ‘He’s a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists.’ This is not the way we should be doing it in America.”
In other words he was outraged that the Republican Party was demonizing the guy with coded language that not only was incorrect, but also toxic for civil peace and economic prosperity. Part of why General Powell supported the president was that he was different from other people and it was important to stand with when that basis of difference was attacked in coded or direct language.
Fast forward to last Thursday and we have John Sununu attacking Powell’s 2012 endorsement because he said it could be explained, in part, by his reflexive support for a race comrade. As Charles Blow put it in the New York Times this Saturday, this has all the hallmarks of race coded language and smacks of what he calls racial reductionism. I totally get what Blow is trying to do with this piece and I am sympathetic to it. With his unique position at the Times, he is in a better position than anyone else to denounce race baiting attacks in the public sphere and to match these comments with clarifying data that provide the educated reader with statistical support of an unorthodox kind for the argument. Read the rest of this entry »
As you prepare to watch the President’s speech from the Oval Office tonight (unless other matters demand your time and attention), you might ask yourself why it is that this President is being blamed for this disaster. After all he did win the election against his opponent John “drill baby drill” McCain. Sure, the president did announce support for more offshore drilling just weeks before the disaster, and he did not clean house in the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which is a poster child for fox in the henhouse regulatory capture. But what caught Obama up in this imbroglio was not the crime of allowing BP to play Russian roulette with the Gulf of Mexico, but rather the cover-up afterward in which BP tried to assure the American people that the extent of the damage was going to be far less than it actually turned out to be.
When the President took office, he did have a lot going on: two wars, a run on the banks, the fall of the auto industry, depression era stagnation, health care, student loans, etc. When it came to energy policy he must have thought that splitting the middle with the Republican Party made sense. Obama was pushing for Cap and Trade, a climate approach that relied on market forces that could be used to cut a deal across party lines on energy reform. How bad could it be to rely on some mix of deep sea drilling given that the world’s nearly 7 million people need energy and must get it somehow. The gulf rigs did make it through Katrina after all. Here was a chance to be a uniter and not a divider.
This thinking actually made political sense to me at the time. I did not come out and say this then, but I thought that Obama was being quite savvy in his move to allow the Governors with a taste for more risk to take on more drilling off their own state’s shores. Remember how vicious the attacks on his lack of bi-partisanship were at the time as the health care vote loomed. Obama will face similar problems with nuclear power as we simultaneously confront increasing needs and global competition.
But this reasonable move to cross party cooperation was not what sunk Obama, instead the day that will live in infamy was May 14th 2010, when NPR commissioned an analysis of the flow rate from a scientist at Purdue university with expertise in estimating flow rates from video. If you recall this story, it was a shocker and could have been a pivotal moment for the President, but Obama did not take the bait. Because BP was engaged in an active spin campaign to play down the panic that would attend the validation of such estimates, Obama’s lack of attention to these findings, (which were confirmed by other experts at the time as well), placed him symbolically on the side of the cover-up. Up to that point most people seemed to have the reasonable sense that Obama was far less associated with careless drilling operations than the next best alternative: Sarah palin. After that, the slow transfer of ownership was underway. Today, the spill is widely blamed on Obama’s lack of oversight at MMS. Read the rest of this entry »
I had a fascinating experience tonight in which I did a radio show that was based on a paper I had written two years ago about professors and politics. The title of the paper was “Ascriptive Justice: The Prevalence, Distribution, and Consequences of Political Correctness in the Academy” and despite the seemingly reactionary title, this is probably my favorite piece among those I have written. The argument is ironic and the methods are complicated, but I put a lot into the article that still sits well with me.
The story behind the article is fairly complicated and I will not rehearse it here, but the gist is that I wrote this in anticipation of a volume that was to come out of the American Enterprise Institute called Reforming the Politically Correct University, based on a conference that was held there.
After having attended the conference (well perhaps really long before), I became suspicious about the use of this concept, Political Correctness. It seemed that panelists were using it willy-nilly to suit whatever attack on academic liberals they pleased. What appeared to unite the critics was a sense that a politics of difference or multiculturalism was driving university worldviews and corrupting scholarship, and this left them cold. Their arguments would blend appeals to the first amendment in which a scholar or activist might condemn university speech codes or discriminatory practices with the core theme of contempt for identity politics. In response, I decided to use data from a survey I had produced on faculty attitudes and was able to show that PC was basically what I had surmised from my position in the audience and that its effects seemed much less pernicious than pessimistic views would attest.
In some way that I did not explore, a radio station in Minnesota became familiar with my paper and wanted to have me on to discuss political correctness in America more generally. The host was a very nice and competent woman Read the rest of this entry »
You take my pride and throw it up against the wall…You take my name and you scandalize it on the street. Oh anything you want to do, I say its alright by me.
John Cougar Mellencamp
There are few better examples of conflict resolution than South Africa. When I was young this was the last remaining symbol of old school racist colonization, and the struggle for freedom, symbolized by Nelson Mandela’s long incarceration, was among the most celebrated of progressive causes. I remember watching Mandela’s release from prison as many from earlier generations remember Kennedy’s assassination. I was sick in bed with the flu and stuck watching TV all day. The euphoria attending the event was well justified because Mandela seems to have been one of those incomparable leaders who can forgive in pursuit of their vision. That is the transformative potential of conflict resolution. The inspiring part of this story is that it happened and could happen again. The worrying part is that it may depend integrally on the quality and character of the leadership of particular individuals. There is a fear that Nixon was right: politics is not a science.
Here we are, just over twenty years from Mandela’s release and the signs from South Africa are positive with clear signs of strain. You see, the core of the claims in recognition struggles, like those against racism, is usually not recognition itself but something more foundational to liberalism like formal liberty or the equalization of life chances–i.e. class. What is troubling about most successful resolutions is that they move forward in baby steps by moving toward equalization of life chances, but not by achieving it outright. As Read the rest of this entry »