Neosporin for those who #FeelTheBern


Senator Sanders has been a consistent and powerful voice in American politics. He has forcefully fought for those who are often unable to fight for themselves. He has often given a strong voice to those without one. His willingness and ability to fight for such critical policy issues that are not popular with the establishment and status quo party elites, ideas that others are willing to compromise on rather than expand, is noteworthy. I truly believe that he has been the change in the world that he wants to see. He is man of conviction and principle, unwilling to seek his own assent at the expense of those less fortunate. I hope and pray that he never, under any circumstance, ever stops speaking truth to power. He is the patron saint of the poor and downtrodden. May God grant him many years. He is my ideal presidential candidate. I #FeeltheBern, quite strongly. Yet, unfortunately, I still cannot vote for him. I know too much about our current system. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not worried about whether or not Bernie can win a general election. There is a mathematical path, although increasingly improbable, to the nomination and general election victory. However, my trepidations are strictly focused upon the notion that he could and would win; a President-Elect Sanders gives me serious cause for concern, particularly as it pertains to the progressive cause and continuing the work that President Obama has advocated.

Even a cursory look at history, political science, or even math tells us a profound, undeniable truth about what politics will look like beginning in January 2017. The unproductivity and polarization within the 114th Congress has been intense and will continue into the 115th Congress. There is some evidence it will get slightly better, but it will not be enough to support a Bernie Sanders Administration. Do you remember the “Hope” and “Change” that the new President Barack Obama would bring in 2008 and during his presidency? There were a little over 500 promises to be exact. According to PolitiFact’s assessment, he broke his promises 22% of the time and compromised on 25% of his promises. Obama was able to deliver on only 45% of those promises. Obama was a liberal’s liberal in the Senate, slightly left of the party median. Most importantly, what he promised is significantly different politically from what Senator Sanders is currently promising. Do we think that that a President Sanders could do better on broken and compromised promises? Given the nature and political make-up of the incoming Congress, it is highly improbable.

Remember, because this is the most important aspect of the Presidency when it comes to domestic policy, Obama had a filibuster proof majority in the Senate and 255 Democrats in the House of Representatives when he took office. He helped to usher in some of the most consequential reforms and legislation in decades: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act as well as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act. These pieces of legislation, and others, were lauded by the Democrat Party as the new era of liberalism, an incremental addition to the New Deal and the Great Society. And, yet, upon further inspection of these ‘liberal’ polices, we find that they are, in fact, watered down versions of progressivism, a slightly left of center neo-liberal justification of the realities of the private/public partnerships that Senator Sanders is fighting against. Even more importantly, however, is the fact that as a Senator, Barack Obama was able to compromise and work with other Senators to produce legislation. As President, the Congress (mostly the Democratic members) was willing to work with him. History, and political science research, reveals some inkling that this would happen as he was running for office. He won 100s of endorsements from those in Congress. In fact, one of the Senate’s most historical and influential members, Robert C. Byrd endorsed Obama for President, saying he was a “shining young statesman.” The impetus for his endorsement came from their similar policy positions regarding the War in Iraq, Byrd said. This is a far better mechanism of determining how effective presidents will be, as it pertains to policy and legislative accomplishment.

Currently, Bernie Sanders has 3 endorsements from the House of Representatives, wherein he served for 16 years, and 0 endorsements from the Senate, where he has spent the last 8 years. To put it in perspective, Hillary Clinton has 140 total endorsements. At this time, 40% of the Senate and 35% of the House of Representatives have endorsed her for President.

Senator Sanders is 0.326 points from where President Obama was while in the Senate, which is nearly twice as ‘liberal’ as the current president, wherein the Republican Party controls the current Senate. Importantly, the projections that the Senate and the House will remain in Republican control are noteworthy. The path to a Democratically controlled Congress is narrow; a filibuster proof one is nearly improbable. Just as concerning, there are data-backed assessments that Senator Sanders will continue to not produce the same enthusiastic turnout among African-Americans or Hispanic voters that Senator Obama did in 2008, which reinforces the notion that Bernie would not have the same political capital in Congress that Obama had in 2009. The results in the recent South Carolina Primary is nearly an irreversible application of Neosporin for those who #FeelTheBern.

Moreover, Senator Sanders cannot point to a single piece of legislation or major negotiated deal brokered by him during his time in the Senate. The one deal on veteran’s benefits he did make, which had bipartisan support, fell through because it ended up being too good of a bill with too many benefits. We have no indications that he would be able to compromise or work within the congressional context inherited in 2017. For instance, some of the policies he is proposing now consist of:

  • Free Public College Tuition
  • By the end of his 1st term in Office, not have the most prisoners in the world
  • Single Payer Healthcare System
  • A 3.5% Unemployment Rate
  • Paid Leave
  • More than Double the National Minimum Wage
  • A $1 Trillion Carbon Tax that redistributes the wealth back to the poor
  • A $1 Trillion Infrastructure Spending Bill

These policies, many of with which I wholeheartedly agree, are so far beyond the median voter’s preferences and what is politically feasible the current political system cannot take them seriously. This is to say nothing of the math errors that boasted the economic growth they would engender. Historical assessments, mathematical projections, and political science research shows us that despite how much we may want a revolution like Bernie advocates, unless the revolution extends to the far reaching political offices such as local prosecutors, state legislators, governors, and the U.S. Congress, electing Bernie Sanders to the Presidency will not and cannot produce a domestic policy change of the aforementioned magnitude, wherein the political structure of government is fundamentally altered. The math just does not support such a notion.

Senator Sanders seems to think that he can treat the Presidency as tantamount to a Green Lantern comic book hero figure, wherein he can will his way to policy change if he just tries hard enough. This is such a ludicrous supposition. Presidents do not always get policy results. Sometimes they are incredibly ineffective. They can, however, sometimes change the discussion of the policy agenda, but this is not always the case, according to the research. Presidents do, however, always attempt to set the agenda, as difficult as it is. Their success depends upon any number of factors. Senator Sanders could be effective in this measure of the Presidency, but it is not guaranteed. One thing we know, for absolute certainty, according the research, is that presidents cannot ‘will’ their way to anything with strength, sheer force, or the exertion by which they try. They need Congress, the public, and the media as well as context, business interests, and special interests to be successful in domestic policy.

Unfortunately, this is the nature of the system. I do not like it anymore than you do. There is a context in which each political actor must function. There are entrepreneurs that can sometimes change the system and broaden the context the policy discussion. It is this reality for which we should thank Bernie Sanders. His presence in the primary against Hillary Clinton has masterfully challenged the establishment. The debates, the primaries, and the caucuses have pulled Hillary further to the left of each policy position, sharpened her debate skills, and forced her to think about her candidacy as something other than a guaranteed win. All of which will serve her well in the necessity of keeping Trump, a bloviating ignoramus, from obtaining institutional power.

Yet, the system still seems broken for those below a certain income bracket. Our voices in the policy discussion are nearly silenced. Of course we are frustrated. Of course we want change. We see the process taking forever. We see the status quo remaining stronger than ever. We can clearly see our ideal candidate, historically on the fringes of politics, challenging the establishment within the party. Briefly, we let our hope and hearts get the better of us, we think we should throw our support behind him because his voice and arguments matter. We think he can change the entire system. I implore you to slow down, take a deep breath, and acknowledge that Senator Sanders cannot fix the problem on his own; he needs all of the actors in the system to change as well. Before you say you must vote your conscious, think about the fact that by doing so, you could be contributing to the dismantling of the progress made thus far.

Unless there is a massive movement that will completely alter the entire structure of our government in this one election, which is so unlikely, your conscious, moral vote is immoral. Arguably, one could make the assertion that the reason so many state legislatures and policies reflect the conservative, regressive, backward approach to life that some 18th Century agrarian philosophers had, is the very fact that Barack Obama was elected and ushered in healthcare reform. He was perceived as too progressive, looked too different from the ‘norm’. His policy proposals and accomplishments, whether true or not, were perceived as too far from the median. Republicans used these perceptions to mobilize voters, even though voter turn out was at its lowest, to make it harder for minorities to vote, to roll back much of the progress on a women’s right to choose, and to economically bankrupt public education. I would challenge you to ask yourself where were you in 2010 or 2014.

Now, imagine Senator Sanders, a Democratic Socialist, getting elected. What do you think the response will be when he proposes free college or a single payer health system or paid leave for poor, working minorities? If you really want to help the progressive movement, if you want policies that reflect your liberal ideology, choose the candidate that will incrementally get those policies for your children and their children. It is too late for us.

The real revolution is built upon compromise. Compromise is progressivism. Real policy change will only occur incrementally, over time. As adults we must compromise. Hillary Clinton is our compromise. Hillary Clinton is our most effective option. Let us all vote with our reason, logic, and minds, not our hearts, passions, and ideals. Idealism is for babies. Always getting what you want is for toddlers. Compromise is adulthood. So, for those of us that #FeeltheBern, I have to say, “Grow up”. Vote for the Establishment. Vote for Compromise. Vote for Hillary Clinton.

I’m with Her!

A Trump Administration: “It’s Not Personal, It’s Just Business”

* Photo by Gage Skidmore

“The Donald” has finally announced this candidacy for the Presidency. He is one of nearly 20 candidates vying for the Republican nomination. As a political scientist, I am aware that it is nearly impossible for him to win his party’s nomination, let alone the general election. The fundamentals of presidential elections are fairly decent at predicting presidential election outcomes, sometimes before the election even begins, especially when you factor aggregating polls into the forecasting model. You can see the research here, here, here, here, and here. Having said that, I think I can say fairly confidently that he will not be the president beginning in 2017. Even though a Suffolk University poll has him in second place in New Hampshire, it is one poll in one state. At most, it might prolong the inevitable demise of his campaign. And yet, there is no way to fully predict elections due to the vicissitudes of politics and pertinent events that may transpire in the future.

So, I can’t help but wonder, what if he actually won? What would a Trump Administration look like? Here are few, quick thoughts about what it might look like.

1. He was at the forefront of the absurd attempt to delegitimize President Obama’s citizenship. How would that play out after he assumed the presidency after Obama? Would he not follow/honor what Obama had done as president?

2. He has been known to say, “I have made the tough decisions, always with an eye toward the bottom line. Perhaps it’s time America was run like a business.” Trump has repeatedly skirted responsibility for his terrible and risky decision-making in many business deals, currently owning 4 corporate bankruptcies. Yet, he has mostly been immune from the consequences of those decisions because of bankruptcy law. Imagine if he had the protections of Executive Privilege to delay the necessary elements of transparency. He wouldn’t be the first.

Moreover, while in office, he would have immunity from any decision he made. That is a legal protection for the president. Remember when Nixon said, “When the President does it, it’s not illegal”? That is essentially true, according to the Supreme Court. Of course there is some debate about what prosecution would/could happen after he left office. However, one just needs to think about how President Bush’s actions pertaining to the detention and torture ‘enhanced interrogations’ of enemy combatants have been perceived at home and abroad. Some legitimate organizations such as the ACLU want to launch an in-depth investigation into his alleged war crimes and President Obama has simply said, “We need to look forward, as opposed to backwards.” Prosecuting a president after leaving office would be incredibly difficult. Even if prosecution were to take place, it is highly likely that the next president would simply pardon him, as Ford did for Nixon.

3. To get a better picture of how Trump might handle some if the more delicate aspects of the presidency such as the art of diplomatic relations, we can look at how he has historically handled some tense and public disagreements with other strong personalities in the past. This is the only measure we have because he has not held any public office.

  • Rosie O’Donnell: She said a few things about his personal life and his business life that he did not like. He not only threatened to sue her and take money from her, but he called her a “loser” and a “big, fat pig” on multiple occasions.
  • Martha Stewart: In an open letter, he wrote a harsh criticism of her work. It is not the same caliber as his bullying of Rosie O’Donnell, but it was far from diplomatic.
  • Mark Cuban: Trump has few insults and personal attacks for Cuban on Twitter. The heated exchange can be found here.
  • Barack Obama: More importantly, it is well documented on twitter how he has talked to and about President Obama (Birth Certificate, College Transcript, Mental Health). Is this how he would try to negotiate with other Heads of State? Would he dangle Foreign Aid to other countries as a condition.

I can’t help but wonder what type of “Rhetorical Presidency” he would have. What would such statements do to international relations with Russia, China, Iran, etc.?

4. His historical record on race and racial tensions is concerning. How would he handle the public problems and issues associate with race in public policy?

  • In 1973, he was sued by the Justice Department for racial discrimination for not renting to African Americans.
  • He has repeatedly claimed that the most of the crime committed is by “Blacks and Hispanics”.

Would his approach to race and crime have a significant impact on the policy problems that we face today in incarceration and health care?

5. Univision media did something that Trump did not like and he responded by banning all employees from visiting his hotel in Miami. Could we see this as a foreshadowing of how he would handle the media’s criticism of his presidency? After negative articles or the major networks not giving him the time he wanted to speak to the nation, would he then ban said media outlets from the White House? NBC has now cut ties with him. Are they next?

6. Trump has in/famously said, “I don’t have to be politically correct. I don’t have to be a nice person. Like I watch some of these weak-kneed politicians, it’s disgusting. I don’t have to be that way.”  I assume that he means the ‘weak-kneed politicians’ have a bit of self-control as it pertains to what comes out of their mouth. Would he become one of those ‘weak-kneed politicians’ after assuming the presidency?

The constraints constitutionally embedded into the Office of the Presidency are incredibly important. They were debated by serious people and ratified in a democratic manner. These constraints are just as the important as the constraints public opinion imposes upon the president. The need to constrain political behavior due to the necessity of reelection and historical legacy reduces the negative outcomes associated with the boisterous overbearing personalities that are uninhibited by their wealth and status in public life. As Neustadt said, the presidency is no place for amateurs. They must be able to bargain if they are to be successful. Presidents have to be serious people with serious approaches to public problems. They cannot be bloviating ignoramuses.

I think the moral of the story is that ELECTIONS MATTER!



I thought it might be fun to think about his presidency in a less serious way.

I think that vetting female candidates for office to be appointed to the Administration or Judiciary, which would be a rare occurrence, would only take place after the potential candidate has secured a top three placement in a Miss America Type Pageant. In fact, the rules for women in a Trump Administration will be the same as the rules for the Miss America Pageant.


*The image is taken from Wikimedia Commons, a “media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content.” The photograph is of Republican Presidential Candidate, Donald Trump. The Photo was taken by Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons. The file can be found here.

Midterm Election Night Analysis

Below you will find some of the comments I sent to the media, who asked for them, after the 2014 Midterm Elections in the U.S. and in West Virginia particularly.

What surprised you about the results? (National Elections)

Honestly, I am not really surprised by the overall results of the election. It is not surprising that the Republicans kept their majority in the House of Representatives. Also, given the election models I have seen, it is highly likely that the Republicans will take control of the Senate as well. In fact, every president since Harry Truman (1946) has lost same party seats in the House of Representatives, with two exceptions, 1998 and 2002. In 1998, we can speculate that the strength of the economy and President Clinton’s high popularity had the most to do with the net gain of 4 House seats. In 2002, we can, again, speculate that President Bush’s high approval ratings and the proximity to 9/11 played a major role in the net gain of 8 House Seats. In terms of the Senate, the same is basically true as well. Most presidents have lost same party Senate seats in the midterm elections, especially when they are considered lame ducks. Bush gained two Senate seats in 2002, Reagan gained 1 in 1982, Nixon gained 2 in 1970, and Kennedy gained, I think, 3 1962. Every other president from Truman onward lost Senate Seats in the midterms.

This fundamental election reality can basically be explained by the economy and presidential popularity, which are often correlated. When presidents are popular and on the ballot themselves, they allow potential congresspersons to ride into Washington and the statehouses on their coattails. When the presidents are not very popular and not on the ballot, the opposing party is able to exploit this to their advantage. Thus, using the president’s unpopularity and policy priorities against the president’s party in the midterms, presidents often lose same party seats in both chambers of the Congress. Additionally, candidates can blame the incumbent president for, basically, all of the problems facing the electorate.

In terms of the WV races, again, I am not really surprised by the overall outcomes. Thinking about what I said earlier, President Obama is incredibly unpopular in West Virginia. As was the case in 2010, he lost the greatest amount of House of Representative seats in modern American history, more than any other president. In 2014, his approval rating is a little less than it was in 2010 this close to the election, which is not surprising for a lame duck president. Nevertheless, that will surely hurt the Democratic candidates in their bids for election. Pertaining to the economy, some of the most pertinent and important indicators are significantly better such as unemployment and overall economic growth. However, not everyone can feel those changes and thus do not think the economy is better or as good as it is for some individuals.

Who were the biggest winners? 

I am not sure who the biggest winners are in the election. However, I think it is safe to say that, potentially, the biggest loser in this election is West Virginia. In the last 4 years, WV has lost Senator Byrd, Senator Rockefeller, and Congressman Rahall, who had a combined 117 (80 years for Byrd and Rockefeller) years of service to West Virginia. Despite what one thinks of either of these three politicians and their political positions, they have brought an inestimable amount of money, jobs, and resources back to West Virginia, whether in the form of earmarks, funding formulae, or capital projects. All of that seniority, positions of power, and political influence will be gone from the Congress. Capito has some clout but much of that will not transfer from the House to the Senate. Those that represent WV in Congress are nowhere near as politically powerful as the three aforementioned. I think that there will be a change in the relationship between WV and the federal government after this election; WV will not have the political clout it has had for decades and will lose much of what it gets federally. This will obviously change as the elected grow into their positions. Granted, some will think this change in power is a very good thing, both politically and ideologically.

Who ran the best campaigns? 

I am not really sure how to answer this question. There are too many value judgments assumed in the terms. One could say that whomever won ran the best campaign. The truth of the matter is that nearly every campaign is negative. The reason being that it actually works, despite how much we do not like it. The negative approach to campaigning has been around since the beginning of the Republic. (In)Famously, Thomas Jefferson’s campaign called John Adams a, “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Which, in turn, the Adams campaign responded by saying that Jefferson was, “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Negative campaigning is here to stay.

Secondly, every campaign ad in WV seemed to consist of who was more like President Obama and how that is bad. Each ad was more about the fear of what the other candidate would do, how they would do it like Obama, and the reasons for why you should not vote for that person. Each person ignored the good that has been done by some of Obama’s policies, particularly how the uninsured rate dropped from 17% to about 6.5%, as one example. Aside from that, neither candidate really did a good job of explaining what they would do in Washington. Nevertheless, this is typical. It is easier for a candidate to run against something than for something, as it is more difficult to hold them accountable that way.

How the Jenkins/Rahall race was run, challenger vs. long-standing incumbent?

I think each side of the campaign, particularly Congressman Rahall, would like everyone to think that the race was dominated by outside interests and ‘dark’ money. Granted, this is the most expensive campaign to date. The estimates are as high as $3.6 billion spent on every midterm race in this election. Some estimates state that half of all spending in the WV-3rd District, however, are independent expenditures. So, there is some truth to his claim. We will not fully know, however, because after the Citizen’s United Supreme Court case, many of the contributions and expenditures do not have to be disclosed.

However, Rahall has raised about $1 million dollars more than Jenkins and he has the incumbent advantage. House races are a little more complicated to predict. Nevertheless, the incumbent advantage for House members typically means that Rahall has about a 90% chance of holding onto his House seat. Having said that, now that WV is rapidly shifting from a blue state to a red state, there is no way that Rahall’s victory is that secure. The very fact that he engaged in the debate with Jenkins this year indicates that his internal numbers show that he would possible lose this race. Granted, the early voting for his district showed a strong turn out for the Democrats, which are often more likely to vote early. However, it does not mean that they all will vote for him. As most predictions have the 3rd WV congressional district leaning Republican.

As it pertains to the Tennant and Capito Senate campaign, I am both really surprised and not really surprised at the same time. Given that most individuals vote according to their registered party, it is odd that Tennant was not able to win this election. Democrats outnumber Republicans as registered voters well over 20%. Moreover, almost 18% of registered voters in WV are independents. We have to assume that many of those independents lean democratic and would typically vote democratic. This is somewhat surprising that Tennant could not secure a victory with such an advantage.

However, it is not that surprising when you factor in how unpopular President Obama is here, almost 63% of persons polled think he is not doing a good job as president. Capito’s campaign strategy mostly hinged on connecting Tennant to Obama, making their policy actions tantamount—eradicating the Democratic advantage. Moreover, most of the predictive analytics I have seen on the WV Senate race gives Tennant only a 2% chance of beating Capito. It does not mean she cannot win; however, it means that the chances of her winning are seriously diminished and improbable. This is not surprising given the fact that Capito outraised Tennant by nearly $4 million. Typically, not always, but mostly whoever raises the most amount of money for a Senate campaign wins that campaign.

Having said that, WV has elected its first female Senator, which could be a sign of things to come for some of the gender inequality in our elected positions. Some would welcome this trend given that WV has only 5% of its elected state and national figures as women. Although that number will not change that much given that Capito is simply going from the House to the Senate and her House seat will be replaced by a male. It could signal a shift in who runs for office in WV.

What does this election say about voters looking to 2016? 

Secondly, I think that it is important to note that this is WV’s first Republican Senator since 1956, which is probably a sign of things to come for WV. WV will most likely move from a solidly Democratic state to a Republican state in the upcoming years. Some of this will depend on the major party candidates for president in 2016. For instance, Hilary Clinton does quite well in WV as did her husband. If she is the candidate, we could possibly see a Democratic renewal of state and national seats as they ride her coattails to victory (assuming of course she runs and wins).

As the famous quote goes, “all politics are local.” Which, to me, means that this midterm election does not say much about how things will go nationally in 2016. It is, without a doubt, too early to tell. There is no mandate and there certainly is no 2016 mandate. If anything, it shows that those who decided to vote in WV, which I assume will be around 30% of eligible voters, simply did not like Obama and connected the state’s Democrats to him despite their desperate attempts to separate themselves from him and his policies.

Thank you for your time. I hope this helps.

I hope all is well,


“The Protected Faithful: Governmental Response to Religious Child Abuse”

CatholicChurchAbuseScandalGraffitiPortugal2011“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”

— Proverbs 23:13-14


Child abuse policy has been connected to many contentious issues in American politics, namely federal intervention in state affairs, parental prerogatives, and the rights of children. However, the relationship between child abuse policy and the constitutional mandates that Congress not establish a religion or prohibit its free exercise is particularly divisive. Religion has a consequential effect upon this recent discussion of child abuse policies.

When referring to its definitions and the statistics about its prevalence, according to Hopper (2009), the very notion of ‘child abuse’ is a controversial idea (Costin, Karger, & Stoesz, 1996). From the binding and attempted sacrificial slaying of Isaac by Abraham to the mauling of children by two bears at the request of Elijah to the mocking, lashing, and crucifixion of the ‘Son of God’ to the sexual misconduct by Catholic Priests in recent days, our communities of faith are riddled with imageries of child abuse. Society has nearly always seen acts of child abuse as a private matter to be handled by the family and the faith. Only the most rare, grotesque cases were considered by the state (Nelson, 1984). It is only in recent decades, however, that child abuse has come to be commonly known as a social problem necessitating government intervention.

The entrance of child abuse into the national agenda and its accepted status as a social problem by the U.S. government is more recent than one would imagine (Nelson, 1984). There was brief interest in child abuse as a social problem in the late 1800’s, particularly due to the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC) and the famous “Mary Ellen” case. Moreover, the creation of the U.S. Children’s Bureau was a step in securing child abuse in the social conscious of the U.S. (Nelson, 1984). The onslaught of war in the 20th century, however, forced national attention to child rights onto other programs, effectively ending all progress. Attention to child abuse was nearly forgotten until the notion of equitable treatment slowly gained national attention under the umbrella of ‘child welfare’ in the New Deal and Great Society legislative eras (Nelson, 1984).

Over the past few decades, laws and policies concerning children have increased and become more focused on the safety and well-being of children (Young, 2001). For instance, in 1974 the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was enacted. The legislation effectively solidified child abuse as a national agenda item, dispersing $86 million dollars for research. CAPTA was intended to curb child abuse and offer reasonable actions for treatment. This public law allowed for grants to states if they had procedures in place for dealing with child abuse. CAPTA gave minimum definitions for child abuse that the states were to follow (Stoltzfus, 2009). This law was revised in the 1988 Child Abuse Prevention, Adoption and Family Services Act, and again in the 1996 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Amendments, and in the 2003 Keeping Children and Families Safe Act.

The federal government has determined minimum definitions of child abuse as a matter of federal law, most recently, in the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003. This legislation requires that states include minimum definitions of abuse in their statutes in order to receive federal monies, but the state may go further in how it defines child abuse.

However, the federal government has determined that definitions of abuse are not to be construed as a forceful mandate that prohibits religions from acting contrary to that religion’s proscriptions, particularly with regard to withholding medical treatment, offering spiritual prayer/healing as a means of healthcare, or neglecting to provide basic needs such as food (fasting) as well as engaging in corporal punishment. The federal law establishes a directive that permits the individual states to decide if they will allow for exemptions to the definitions of child abuse. Therefore, some state legislatures have enacted constitutional amendments that provide ‘religious’ exemptions to the definitions of child abuse. [1]

Ultimately, this project lays the groundwork for a more comprehensive book project that I am working on that discusses the interaction between religious expression and child abuse, particularly how and why Congress and the individual states assent to the idea that religious ideologies that are carried into practices are not understood as violating the federal or state enacted definitions of child abuse if and when the abuse occurs in accordance with the tenets of the religious faith, which could be argued essentially negates the importance of mitigating the child abuse this legislation intended to diminish.

There seems to be an ontological supposition that God’s law as dictated in religious texts has more authority than the law designed to protect children from abuse. The inclusion of religion into the discussion of child abuse policy creates a dramatic conflict of interests and alters child abuse policies and laws. The religious exemptions to U.S. child abuse policies create problems for children, their parents, and the states as well as the First Amendment. Completing this larger project would produce interesting results, given the importance of religion and politics in our political dialogue.

Governmental involvement in how parents introduce their children to religious tenets, disciplinary actions, and child-rearing practices is now predicated on the legal notion of parens patriae. This concept refers to the government’s legal ability to intervene on the behalf of a child when the parents are not comporting themselves responsibly or are acting neglectfully and/or abusively towards the child—according government statutes. It is common knowledge that the federal and state governments have consistently and progressively intervened. The parameters for this intervention are set by federal and state legislative mandates and they are extensive.

Conversely, freedom to practice one’s religion has been a perceived component of American life since the beginning of the Republic. Moreover, the metaphoric wall of separation between the church (religion) and the state Jefferson so masterfully spoke of is often considered a fundamental element of American government. However, a brief study of case law indubitably proves that the United States has clearly struggled to define its complicated relationship with religious expression. This intersection of religion and politics in American public life is so often wrought with images of walls, discussions of accommodation, and notions of neutrality as well as a common opinion that there exists a freedom to exercise that religion. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the freedom of religious expression and the notion of a ban on government-established religion are not without clarifications. The interconnected and conflicting ideas of religious expression, law, and government policy are the paradigmatic example of this struggle; the relationship between child abuse policy and the constitutional mandates that Congress not establish a religion or prohibit its free exercise is particularly divisive.

Understanding why Congress and many states have decided that ‘religious’ exemptions to child abuse are necessary and do not act contrary to its mitigation will become clear through the overall assessment of how the inclusion of religion into the policy discussion engenders a dramatic conflict of interests and alters child abuse policies and laws. There has not been a study with a comprehensive, empirical approach to how religion shapes child abuse policy. Such a study brings attention to an issue that is often overlooked by policy-makers and the general public. Therefore, the purpose of this research will explain why, how, and to what extent religion impacts federal and state child abuse laws and policies.


A more quantitative version of the aforementioned research will be presented at the Annual Society for the Scientific Study of Religion Conference in Indianapolis, IN in October 2014.

I also sort of wrote about this a while ago for the State of Formation while the scandal at Penn State was taking place.

[1] Currently, there are 30 states — the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam — that offer state constitutional amendments that allow parents to practice faith-based medical care for their children without threat of prosecution. Three of the states_, however, provide a specific exemption for members of the Christian Science movement. Of the 30 states, 16 provide for the medical intervention by the courts if the child’s condition warrants it (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2010).

The Contextual Presidency: The Negative Shift in Presidential Immigration Rhetoric

Presidential Speeches on Immigration2My latest article was just published in Presidential Studies Quarterly. It is entitled, “The Contextual Presidency: The Negative Shift in Presidential Immigration Rhetoric.”

The abstract is below:

Party platforms from 1993 through 2008 show a positive approach to immigration policy. Presidential rhetoric, however, does not match the tone of the platforms. There are negative frames (illegality, criminality, terrorism, and economic threats) in nearly 50% of immigration speeches. We argue that social context motivates presidents to talk about immigration negatively. This analysis provides insight into rhetoric as responsive to context rather than a mechanism of power. We coded each speech on immigration from Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, and found statistically significant results that show that immigration rhetoric is more negative when certain social conditions are present.

The (gated) link to the article is below:

Graduate School: To go, or not to go, is that the question?


If you read the Chronicle of Higher Education, Slate Magazine, or the New York Times, you have come across a story about the decision of whether or not to go to graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. It is a topic of much concern within the academic community, particularly given the budget crises, the lack of available jobs, and the ethics surrounding whether or not to encourage our students to attend when the likelihood of a tenure track job is nearly improbable.

As a social scientist, I know the numbers regarding jobs, the statistical likelihood of being ‘successful’ on the job market. Please do not let what I am about to say fool you with regard to my understanding. I just came from the market. I NEVER want to go there again. However, I must also contribute an anecdote to this discussion, given my experience.

I was the first person in my family to attend college. In fact, no one had even graduated from high school. My community knew drugs, alcoholism, prison, and the common theme between them all, poverty. The opportunity to go to college kind of just happened. I never planned it, no one really ever talked to me about it. When I say opportunity, I mean opportunity. I have no idea how it happened. I had a 1.8 high school GPA, and no idea how to pay for it or what to study. Were it not for the Pell Grant …? I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I was not a terribly bright student. I made average grades. I did work hard, however. I made all the mistakes and faced all of the challenges that first generation low-income students encounter. I managed to transfer to a better school, Gordon College, a small-liberal arts college on the North Shore of Boston (How my heart breaks for Boston and those injured right now). I graduated in 2004. I developed a desire to learn more, more about myself and about the world, and my place in it.

What an easy four words to write. However, it was not so easy. Being a first generation college student and a low-income student puts you in a unique category. Only 5% of those students in the low-income quartile brackets graduate from college. First-generation and low-income college students have higher drop-out rates, higher stress rates, and lower levels of traditional support. When you couple this with my 1.8 high school GPA, I had about a 3% chance of finishing college within six years of finishing high school.

I did attend graduate school at Boston University. If you want to know more about my academic life, click here. I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Political Science. I graduated in a reasonable amount of time and secured a tenure track position at West Virginia State University, a Land Grant HBCU, which I love. I have great students. I publish. I contribute to the academic community. I guess it is easy for me to make this argument given that I found your version of ‘success’ rather quickly, but my point is still valid.

Obviously not everyone is going to find a tenure track job. The numbers do not lie. However, I think that the current discussion about whether to pursue a Ph.D. is one sided and inappropriate. Of course the tenured faculty at Tier 1 Research schools are correct about the fact that if you go to graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. you will fail, if you graduate. And, you will fail more miserably if you do not attend a Tier 1 research school. Do you know why they are correct? They are only defining ‘success’ as a Tenure Track job at their Tier 1 Research school.

These faculty are telling others not to even attempt to pursue this form of higher education. I am utterly flummoxed by this line of thinking in my community. Why are they doing this? At what point did we, as society, discourage people from trying to overcome the odds of a difficult problem? What about the fight? What about David and Goliath, Prometheus and Zeus, Sparta and Thermopylae, Martin Luther and the Catholic Church, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendements and Southern stubbornness, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jim Crow, Women and the World, Hilary Clinton and the World, Barack Obama and America’s racist history, and on and on we could go forever. Overcoming difficult odds is the Human story, the American dream and promise of a better world.

It seems to me that there is a propaganda machine at work. I know that William Pannapacker and Daniel Drezner, amongst others, think they are providing advice that will make it easier for those that would have ‘failed’ at becoming that which they seek. I would assume that they believe that they have an ethical responsibility to ‘warn’ people that pursuing a Ph.D. is dangerous, both financially and emotionally. These arguments have some merit. However, the arguments need serious clarifications.

I think that in their current form, they perpetuate elitism. The elite remain the elite. There is no opportunity for class change. There is no opportunity for intellectual diversity. If Ph.D. work is dangerous and not worth the risk, who will pursue it? Only those with nothing to lose? The elite have no risk in their pursuit of the Ph.D. The risk is for the poor, minorities, and downtrodden. Their articles suggest what is best for those thinking of pursing a Ph.D., only mentioning the negatives, only mentioning that a person will not be a tenure track professor. They never mention the enjoyment and the rewards of pursuing graduate work. They never mention overcoming.

Ph.D. students are some of the most intelligent, creative individuals. They spend hours every day trying to locate problems and then creating models that solve those problems. Why do we want fewer persons like this in the workforce? Why do we want to discourage such hard workers from producing solutions to complex problems? Why do we want fewer critical thinkers at the highest levels participating in any market?

Personally, what if I had listened to them? If I had not even tried to beat the odds of attending college? Seriously, who bets on 3%? Who takes that chance? No one! The odds of me graduating from college were abysmal. Should I have not tried graduate school either? Where is the spirit of rising to a challenge? Where is the fight? At what point do we let ‘odds’ determine what we pursue, what life we want, what type of society we want? The odds are always against us. There is always a reason not to do something, not to change your life or your neighbor’s life. The highest levels of education are an illuminating force. They can provide a person with opportunities that might not otherwise exist, particularly for the poorest of society. Education provides those persons with choices, and the ability to think through those choices; something that true poverty completely obliterates.

Pursing and completing a Ph.D. was the most difficult thing I have ever done. It was mind-grueling work. I worked 70 plus hours a week for about $10,000 a year. It challenges every aspect of your identity, personhood, and future life. You are immersed in a world that suffocates you with the notion that a tenure track research job is the only measure of success; it is the only reason to pursue such a level of higher education.

Nevertheless, it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. In a complex sisyphean manner, there is beauty and power in the work itself. The constructed ‘outcome’ is irrelevant. The work literally changes who you are and the way you think. It breaks you down to nothing and then rebuilds you in a completely different way. So, do not tell me that if those persons discouraged from pursuing a Ph.D. are smart, they will still be successful if they chose not to pursue the Ph.D. Some persons ‘become’ during the degree. Learning from the process makes you different. It gives a person skills, substantive critical and analytical thinking, and an ability to process multiple perspectives simultaneously, all the while understanding the nuances of an argument with which you disagree while simultaneously contemplating a solution to the posited extant problem.

Instead of simply presenting the myriad of negative aspects, would we not be better served to think of other careers for Ph.D.’s, other ways to contribute to society, rather than simply defining ‘success’ as a tenure track research job. For instance, 53% of political science Ph.Ds work for the federal government. There are other areas wherein Ph.Ds could contribute. Could they not better the workforce in advising, industry, and healthcare, et cetera? Could not the military be better with more Ph.Ds? Could not our high schools be better with more Ph.Ds? Could not our lawmakers, bankers, lawyers?

Are not those faculty members such as William Pannapacker and Daniel Drezner actually perpetuating the problem? Are not they actually the failures? They are facilitating the prepostrus notion that if a person does not get a tenure track position at a Tier 1 research school, that person has somehow failed to reach the ultimate goal. Have they not failed by constructing a pseudo-reality of ‘success’ and then criticizing the system that they actually created? Have they not failed for not embracing their responsibility to see the larger picture with regards to defining the successful outcome of a Ph.D.? A tenure track research job is not the only answer. What about defining ‘success’ as the completion of a Ph.D.? What you do afterwards is not the measure of ‘success’.