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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

So much for political science

The campaign we just lived through, and may not survive, is not something to be proud of.  

As a perennial insomniac, I surf the radio waves through the night and ride my earbuds to strange and sometimes desolate places.  The nation's most pervasive bit of talk radio in the night, Coast To Coast AM,  is where all those folks turned loose into general society from the mental wards have ended up to recount their hallucinations and struggles with misfiring brain cells. Christian broadcasting seems to operate on a franchise from the John Birch society.  It occasionally shares that part of Mormon theology which holds that being black of skin is a brand from Satan.  Some of the Limbaugh clones dance in the robes of the Ku Klux Klan.  Music in the night is either shlock rock or shit-kicking whine. Aberdeen is too remote to get any of the all-night jazz stations that would speak to my weary soul.  So, that leaves the BBC Night Service, where the consensus seems to be that the great American experiment in democracy was great while it lasted.  But it apparently has failed.   How else can you explain Mitt Romney?

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post sums him up as he tries to end his campaign by trying to appear that he lives and thinks on a higher plane:

...Romney’s lofty closing isn’t likely to erase his divisive campaign, in which he wrote off 47 percent of Americans as moochers and went after Obama in ways that were flagrantly false and sometimes racially tinged. And few are likely to believe his late call for bonhomie — that’s a staple of presidential campaigns’ closing arguments — or to accept that he no longer holds the “severely conservative” views that won him the GOP nomination.

... but it would have been more plausible if he hadn’t spent the past year kneecapping his opponents.
A few nights ago, the BBC had a panel which discussed the state of American politics.  It consisted of a British professor of communication, a Harvard law professor, and a primatologist, a guy who studies the behavior of apes and monkeys.   Primates share behavioral characteristics with other herding and flocking creatures.  They seek to be included in the social scheme of themes while harboring ambitions to be among the topest of dogs, the bossiest of cows, or the peckingest of chickens.  Those qualities of intellect and self-examination and differentiation through which human beings have risen above bestial society have been conquered by American politics, largely at the behest of the conservative movement which longs for the old comforts of the dog pack.  The fulfilled life for conservative America sees the American dream, as my black physics professor colleague Robert puts it, as providing everyone someone to call nigger.  As Romney did to 47 percent and his running mate, Paul Ryan, endowed 30 percent of the American populace.

The panel agreed that what brought down the American political system was those dog pack urges to gain power for the sake of having power.  Seeking power and the sanction of the voters in order to govern has been abandon as a purpose of election campaigns.  The campaign of Romney and his conservative compatriots was devoted to listing the people they intend to fuck over.  And most likely will whether or not they get elected.  However, their campaign has been a demonstration and an articulation of a philosophy that has abandoned the notion of governing for the benefit of the entire nation, as opposed to a concept of rule which establishes an elite that holds its subjects in contempt and has the right to inflict all manner of degradation on them.  Government as a service to the people has failed.  It has been established as the problem.  And the problem is that giving all people democratic rights and responsibiities stands in the way of fucking  them over, to use military nomenclature.   And so it goes.  A victory for Mitt Romney will establish the post-truth presidency and begin the age of the Great American Fuck Over, heretofore GAFO.

Another indication of the demise of American democracy is in the idea that there is such a thing as political science.  When I first taught and when I went to college, courses in American government were required, but they weren't called poltical science.  They were called American government.  As there were a couple of world-renowned real scientists working on the campus where I first worked, no one would have the temerity to call the courses in government a science.  They were courses that presented the history, the precedents, the philosophical theories, and the process of operation of American government.  It was not science.  Even the departments of sociology and psychology were asked to prove on occasion what scientific principles they operated on, and were chided for hiding some of their notions behind the label of science. One of the real scientists referred to the social science department as the Department of Buncombe. 

Higher education has become the refuge for a lot of malarkey.  Professors who don't really want to study and teach but prefer to wield power as their calling have found ways to edge themselves near the leadership of the dog pack by making the lust for power and destruction an academic discipline,  Or lack thereof.  South Dakota is a leader in the field.  SDSU had a history professor who pined for political power and became a hired character assassin, for which he was paid by Sen. John Thune, with a blog as his weapon of choice. He is no longer a history professor, for some reason, but has taken up a more honest role on the senator's staff, where he apparently reloads blog ammunition to use in varmint sniper rifles.  His weapon of choice is now commanded by two fellows at NSU who call themselves political scientists.  They are actually priests who spread and interpret the Gospel of Limbaugh and the Song of Mother Mary Ann Coulter for the masses.  They preside over the blog created by the maverick in history and do not fail to say  their erstwhile scriptural recitations are sanctified because they emanate from political scientists who hold ordained tenure at a university, by god.  While they say they are exercising the rights and rituals of academic freedom, their self-promotion as political scientists on the blog seems to violate the spirit and purpose of one of the stipulations of academic freedom that defines its limits:

The concept of freedom is accompanied by an equally demanding concept of responsibility. The faculty unit members are members of a learned profession. When they speak or write as citizens, they must be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As learned people and as educators, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence, they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should indicate that they are speaking only for themselves.

The problem on their blog is that the opinions and reasoning they often register is just as petty and mean as that of the good old boys down at the tavern.  In my day, I am sure that students knew the political inclinations of their professors, but the professors were careful not to make an issue of them.  To do so would get in the way of their primary responsibilities in learning and teaching.  The demise of democracy has a correlation with what has happened in the politicization of education.  And so it goes.

With those observations, I shall mosey off to the polls to cast my ballot.  I suppose there is a lingering hope in that action that maybe, somehow the formative American spirit can survive those who have vowed to take back America.  But I am a very, very foolish old man. 

1 comment:

Douglas said...

I spent about 2 years at the U of Rochester Political Science Department. They were trying their very best to be rigorously scientific. It appeared to me that pursuit mostly led to remarkably insignificant obvious conclusions. Morris Fiorino was a fellow student. He is still trying to be scientific and has published another book.

I believe it is possible to be an astute observer of politics and government without being rigorously scientific. True test cases like that of shutting off video lottery for several months do not come around all that often.

The science in political science may be in modern polling...but I am not at all sure of that.

Anyway, foolish old man or are smarter than the average box of rocks.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States