Neosporin for those who #FeelTheBern

Clinton_Sanders

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!

“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).

An Open Letter to President Lindsay of Gordon College

D_Michael_Lindsay_portrait LGBT_Flag

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The recent ruling from the Supreme Court pertaining to the Hobby Lobby challenge to specific forms of birth control has caused quite a stir. The ruling was intended to be narrow in scope; however, anyone with basic political science training knows that incrementalism would open the door to further challenges and religious exemptions.

Therefore, I am compelled to write this after President Lindsay of Gordon College, my alma mater, provided his support to a letter that was sent to President Obama. In this letter, President Lindsay asked, by way of religious exemption, to be excluded from the mandate that federal contractors not discriminate in hiring on the basis of sexual orientation. Are individuals, workers, or employees completely reduced to their sexual behavior, which as anyone knows is such a small portion of that person’s life.

I sent a message to President Lindsay through twitter and received no response. Moreover, in a seriously cowardly move, he was ‘unavailable for comment‘ when the Boston Globe reached out to him. There are some arguments that people espouse that need to have a response, whether or not anyone ever hears or understands that response.

President Lindsay paints a masterful picture of a simple request for religious liberty, the common good, and national unity as the justification for his exemption from treating people with basic dignity. I guess they forgot to address, in the letter, the religious liberty of those whom they have already decided they aren’t going to hire. As we all know, excluding a minority group from basic civic life because of their rather normal behavior is the pinpoint of a society’s common good and national unity. I hope you caught the sarcasm there.

President Lindsay’s support for this exemption is so disconcerting for our country and our political discourse that we should all be concerned, not just as alumni of Gordon College but as citizens of the United States. This is not a small and isolated incident. This ‘exemption’ has the potential for lasting consequences and the path dependency of civil rights in America. This ‘religious’ exemption is not innocuous. This letter is not about a College’s decision to adhere to its ‘sincerely held religious belief,‘ but rather a decision to contribute to the solidification of discrimination policy or the destruction of progress.

Allowing discrimination on the basis of ‘sincerely held religious belief’ is so dangerous to the public good. The ‘sincerely held religious belief’ is not based on fact but rather belief. This is exactly what the Hobby Lobby case determined. This entity can completely believe that a form of contraception is an abortifacient despite the fact that science says it is not. There is no end to what can be sincerely held. For instance, the discrimination of African-Americans in the Mormon Church is a good example.

I completely understand the nuances of the important legal concepts of ‘compelling interests’ and ‘least restrictive means’ that play a crucial role in this discussion. However, when each religious organization gets to choose which beliefs it sincerely holds and can exercise over those subject to their belief and actions, I think the State not only has a compelling interest but a moral, ethical, and constitutional responsibility to intervene for the true common good.

What is this sincerely held belief that Gordon’s President thought would further the public good? Hetronormative sexual behavior? Is Gordon going to regulate the sexual behavior of every other employee and potential hiree? How would one do that? I guess there could be questions on the hiring application: Do you masterbate? When you climax, where do you put your seed (Genesis 38:9)?

Along those lines, what is ‘appropriate’ sexual behavior that does not violate religious expression? This is to say nothing of who’s religious expression?

How about in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 wherein Paul says that men control women’s bodies during sex and women control men’s bodies during sex or that neither can ‘deprive’ one another from sexual intercourse. Imagine the look on the face of the interviewee when asked this, “Have you asserted your biblically mandated sexual dominance over your partner?”

How about in Matthew 5:28 wherein the Gospel writer says that if men look after women with lustful intent that they have already committed adultery? Should Gordon College’s lustful college age men and women gouge out their eyes, as required by the next verse? In my experience, there would be many blind people at Gordon.

How about in 1 Timothy 1:10 wherein Paul completely equates lying with homosexuality? It is not sexual behavior but reiterates my point. Again, how about in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 wherein Paul again compares homosexuality to greed and thievery and drunkards. Once more in Galatians 5:19-21 he makes similar comparisons with anger and envy and jealousy. See my article at the State of Formation wherein I discuss how Paul is not really condemning homosexuality in the way that people think.

Is Gordon College going to enforce these beliefs? Or are they going to pick and chose which ones are more in line with what they want? Those that are spiritually convenient or politically expedient? Those that mobilize donors? The answer to these questions leave me to believe that Gordon College’s decision to just regulate the sexual behavior of the LGTBQ community is a decision on a political matter, despite what they said. If it is not a political choice then it is simply bad systematic theology, which completely undermines their entire mission statement. I definitely expected more from them. I know for a fact that my exegesis professors taught me to be more intellectually honest than that.

We, as a society, have encountered a similar situation during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Some business owners in the South maintained that they were able to refuse access to the services they provided. They argued that their private establishments were not subject to government intrusion or regulation. This approach allowed for a drastic and systematic discrimination and dehumanization of many African-Americans. They had legal precedent to do this in many of the states.

Congress purposefully and deliberately corrected this potential for discrimination. They justified their action by the Constitutional clause that enabled them to regulate commerce. Congress has the power and authority to force a small business owner to allow specific people to frequent their establishment. Congress, through the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare) has the power and authority to make Gordon College treat people equally. Gordon College definitely receives federal dollars and is therefore under the power and authority of Congress.

The Supreme Court confirmed this regulation and approach to ending discrimination by unanimous decision. They outlined the law in the case of Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S.  This case, under the umbrella of the ‘Commerce Clause,’ established the promise of civil rights to potentially marginalized American citizens. The current law and U.S. policy force those to act more civilly when they inappropriately and unjustifiably use their prejudices to discriminate against others. This action is not a mechanism of government intrusion but rather an instrument of equality with regard to our citizenry. The civil rights of the LGBT community are at stake.

Imagine the Civil Rights Act getting passed if businesses in the south asked for a ‘religious exemption’ to not hire African-Americans? Imagine if those in the southern establishment had a Supreme Court decision to justify their discrimination on the basis of religious belief?

President Lindsay does not represent every person that goes through Gordon College. I believe, as do many of my peers from Gordon College, there is a path to salvation for those who are LGTBQ — just as there is for every other human being in the world. I am simply saying that what we understand homosexuality to be now is not in the Bible. It has not been addressed substantively by the Church or the Bible. Therefore, should we not acknowledge that the Bible is unclear, at best, on what to make of same-sex behavior, particularly for a 21st century understanding of homosexuality? Would not doing so enable the Church to have a constructive dialogue? This provides us with the perfect opportunity to see that with whom Christians have sexual relations does not dictate the path of or the destruction of our salvation. It most certainly does not say that Christians can legally discriminate against LGTBQ community in hiring.

What does seem to be a clear about the connection between the Bible and same sex behavior is that we should not see it as an abomination, but rather it presents a message about not exercising sexual power over others. To separate yourself from those that do, and be hospitable to the various peoples of G-d.

Without such action, one has to ask where the discrimination ends? Can we justify nearly everything and anything as religious expression? So, now bakers are not going to bake cakes for gay weddings? Photographers are going to decided not to take pictures at gay weddings? Christian schools are not going to hire gays? What about the many gays that currently work there? Are you going to have an inquisition or witch hunt to find them and fire them? How about a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy? Are we able to frame our most disgusting and vile xenophobias as religious virtues and hope that the Court will find a First Amendment justification for our actions?

Thankfully, the State has successfully argued that it has a right to regulate religion and religious expression if it has a compelling interest in doing so, particularly when that expression is harmful to the civil rights of other citizens or if that expression is some action that the government would usually regulate (Employment Division v. Smith), like discrimination on the basis of intrinsic characteristics. Moreover, and most importantly, the Court has argued that the government is able to make a differentiation between the ‘belief’ of a religion and the ‘action’ of the religion.

President Lindsay and Gordon College are constitutionally protected in their belief that homosexuality is contrary to G-d and the Bible, however, exegetically weak and anachronistically ignorant it may be. However, they should not be permitted to act on that belief and take away the civil rights of the LGBT community in their hiring practices. The minority rights of the LGBT community must be protected if we are to exemplify, in society, the principles our Constitution and our Christian faith embodies. We cannot let the offensive and anti-Biblical religious views of some dictate.

 

——- Portions of this article appeared on this blog in 2012 and at http://www.stateofformation.org/2012/10/religion-gays-and-a-nice-little-b-and-b/

and at

http://www.stateofformation.org/2012/03/homosexuality-a-microcosmic-electronic-post-to-a-virtual-wittenberg-church-door/

 

Images are taken from Wikimedia Commons, a “media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content.”

The images are of LGTB Flag by Sparrov and D Michael Lindsay.

Have you bought my new book? “Economic Actors and Presidential Leadership”

EconomicActorsLITHO

ECONOMIC ACTORS, ECONOMIC BEHAVIORS, AND PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP 

THE CONSTRAINED EFFECTS OF RHETORIC 

BY C. DAMIEN ARTHUR 

https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780739187838

For a discount on the book, click here – Arthur flyer

ABOUT THE BOOK 

There is considerable disagreement about whether the U.S. president has a direct and measurable influence over the economy. The analysis presented in Economic Actors, Economic Behaviors, and Presidential Leadership: The Constrained Effects of Rhetoric suggests that while presidents have increased their rhetoric regarding the economy, they have not had much success in shaping it. Considering this research, Arthur argues that the president’s decision to address the economy so often must stem from a symbolic placation or institutional necessity that is intended to comfort constituencies or somehow garner electoral advocacy from the party’s base. No other viable explanation exists given the lack of results presidents obtain from discussing the economy and their persistent determination to do so. This discrepancy suggests that presidential rhetoric on the economy is, at best, a tool used to appear concerned to everyone and toe the party-line to their base. Arthur presents an overview of economic rhetoric from the presidential office that will be of interest to scholars of the economy and political communication.

 

Reviews

 “Using the president’s rhetoric on the national economy as an analytic wedge, this nicely written study adds to our understanding of the role presidential rhetoric plays—and fails to play—in influencing policy making and policy makers. C. Damien Arthur’s book will be of particular interest to students and scholars with an interest in economic policy, presidential rhetoric, and the ways in which they intersect.”

—Mary E. Stuckey, Georgia State University

“C. Damien Arthur’s Economic Actors, Economic Behaviors, and Presidential Leadership takes a skeptical and data-driven look at a major question for scholars of the presidency: does presidential rhetoric matter, and if so, how? The book is sure to be of interest to students of presidential rhetoric.”

—Thomas W. Benson, Pennsylvania State University

 

About the Author

C. Damien Arthur is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at West Virginia State University, a Public Land-Grant and Historically Black University (HBCU). His research has focused upon, primarily, presidential rhetoric in relation to salient policies such as economics, institutional interaction, and immigration as well as religion. His most recent work has been published in Presidential Studies Quarterly and Sociological Spectrum.

He completed a Ph.D. in Political Science at West Virginia University. He has an M.A. in American Public Policy and an M.P.A. in Public Administration from West Virginia University. He also completed an M.T.S. in Religion, Culture, and Personality at Boston University’s School of Theology, magna cum laude. He received a B.A. in Theological Studies from Gordon College in Wenham, MA.

 

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:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/psq.12041/abstract

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

PhD_graduand_shaking_hands_with_Sir_Dominic_Cadbury,_the_Chancellor_of_the_University_of_Birmingham_-_20120705

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’.

Economic Demagoguery: The Limited Effects of Presidential Rhetoric

This is the abstract from my recently approved dissertation. It was defended on November 8, 2012 and approved for publication on the WVU’s ETD website on February 19, 2013.

At this time, chapters (3 and 4) are in the process of revision for publication in peer-reviewed journals. Simultaneously, I am drafting a book proposal for an academic, university press.

A link to the dissertation can be found here:

https://sites.google.com/site/damienarthurphd/publications

Abstract

Given that there exists considerable disagreement about whether the president has a direct and measurable influence over the economy, I decided to research this divergence of views further (Edwards, 2003; Edwards, 2009; Eshbaugh-Soha, 2005; Wood, 2007; Dolan, Frendreis, & Tatalovich, 2008; Cohen, 1995; Beck, 1982; Golden & Poterba, 1980). In my review of the literature, I found that there is research, improperly measured from my perspective, that claims the president is the most powerful economic leader in the United States and that his words have the power to move economic actors and indicators (Wood, 2007). To show these effects statistically, the literature measures the spending, borrowing, and investing of consumers and businesses—economic actors and their perceptions about the strength of the economy from 1981 through 2005. Consumers take cues from the president about their economic futures. If he is positive about the economy in his speeches, then consumers respond accordingly, thus reinforcing positive outcomes in the economic indicators. The literature claims that the optimism present in presidential speeches about the economy was able to influence consumer confidence, which affected macroeconomic performance (Wood, Owens, & Durham, 2005).

This literature and the data sources used raise more questions than answers and produce findings that require further inquiry. For instance, suggesting that optimism in the president’s rhetoric is the impetus in the changes to the Consumer Confidence Index is the wrong approach. Given the disconnect between a president’s optimism and this data source of the economy’s health, I maintain that this approach does not withstand scrutiny (Wood, 2007; Eshbaugh-Soha, 2006).

Therefore, the purpose of this dissertation was to utilize a better approach for analyzing the effectiveness of the president’s rhetoric and then employ a statistical methodology that would allow me to measure its effect on the economy. Through this exercise, I determined that presidents have little direct influence over economic indicators. Their influence comes only from externalities, such as party coalitions, and the connections they are able to create with economic actors. Determining presidential influence over the behaviors of economic actors and using the correct data sources allows for a better research operationalization than arguing that the president’s ability to change economic indicators comes from his position as the most important economic actor in the system (Wood, 2007; Wood, Owens, & Durham, 2005; Zarefsky, 2004; Cavalli, 2006).