July 31, 2003
bloggers of MarylandAs far as I can tell, there are only two other full-fledged faculty bloggers at the University of Maryland. However, maybe others will come forward, since a Google search for "University Maryland faculty blog" should now turn up my site. The others are:
- Matthew G. Kirschenbaum's blog, which comes from an English professor whose dissertation (in 1999) was one of the first in any English department to be completely electronic. He "specializes in digital studies, applied humanities computing, visual culture, and postmodern literature." His blog is a sophisticated source of news and ideas at the intersection of aesthetics, cultural studies, and digital technology.
- Walter Hutchens' blog, the work of a Business School professor who specializes in Chinese security markets and related laws (a huge issue, once you think about it). His blog was blocked in China when he hosted it at blogspot.com, so he moved it to the University's server.
July 30, 2003
research, not documentationAt several meetings that I have attended recently, I've heard about young people or poor people who have "documented" some asset, problem, or activity. It occurs to me that academics and other professional researchers "document" things only as a first stage in research (if they do it at all). Their real interests are comparing, assessing, and explaining phenomena, not merely listing or portraying them. I understand why disdavantaged people stick to documentation; it requires fewer skills and resources. But much more power comes with assessment and explanation. I'm starting to think that the rich do research while the poor get "documentation." The solution is to try to involve young people, poor people, and other disadvantaged folks in real research, whenever possible.
In this connection: a colleague of mine has Palm Pilots with database software installed. We're going to lend them to high school kids, whom we'll train to walk around the neighborhood conducting surveys of physical assets. The data they collect can then be used to generate maps, which we will post for public use on the Prince Georges Information Commons site. Later, we'll help the kids use the data they collect for genuine research.
The topic that we're planning to study is "healthy living," which includes:
1. exercise and "walkability"
2. security from crime, and
All of these factors can be placed on the same maps, so that it's possible to see, for example, where there are sources of healthy food that are also safe and walkable.
We're going to start with walkability and crime. Walkability is relatively
easy because there is a standard survey instrument that kids can easily
use to determine whether each street segment is walkable. It's very
straightforward for the kids to create a map with the walkable streets
colored in and the unwalkable ones left white (or something like that).
They just walk down a street and fill out a checklist on a Palm Pilot.
We can simultaneously work on crime. One idea would be to try to get actual crime statistics from the police and add them to the map. Apparently, police departments do not like to release these dataalthough maybe we could overcome that problem. Another option would look like this: The kids would take digital photos of places that they consider very dangerous, and very safe. They would compare and discuss their pictures. They would then show their collected pictures of safe and unsafe places to experts, such as police officers and criminologists, who would offer their opinions. Once the kids had reflected on their choices, they would declare certain areas to be relatively safe and unsafe, and mark the map accordingly.
July 29, 2003
rethinking sanctions compared to war
David Rieff wrote an important article in Sunday's New York Times Magazine entitled, "Were Sanctions Right?" Rieff quotes Gen. Brent Scowcroft, who says that the sanctions "worked in the sense that [Saddam] was never able to rebuild his conventional army. When the war started, the Iraqi Army had no more than one-third of the strength it had possessed at the beginning of the first gulf war. But imagine that there had been no sanctions. Is it reasonable to suppose that the weakened Iraqi Army we just faced would have been so weak? I doubt it."
If you want to put the worst possible spin on this statement, you could say that we starved the Iraqi people for ten years in order to prepare for an easy invasion, with few US casualties. I don't know whether the Unicef estimate of 500,000 dead children is plausible, but killing even 5,000 kids is not exactly what valiant warriors do to prepare for battle. Furthermore, starving the population for ten years was not a good way to create a grateful and pliant citizenry for after the invasion. Iraqis blame Saddam, but they also blame the US, according to Rieff; and this is very understandable.
On the other hand, the question of sanctions cuts both ways. It was doves who said in 1990 and 1991 that we should "give sanctions a chance" before attacking Iraq militarily. Doves criticized sanctions in the mid-1990s, but they proposed no alternative way of removing Saddam. And then the French and Germans wanted to toughen sanctions in 2002 and 2003, rather than invade. Arguably, sanctions were a way for the West to confront Saddam at no cost to us--but at terrible cost to Iraqis. If that's right, then an invasion was far preferable. We doves should ask ourselves whether our preferred policy was crueler than war.
July 28, 2003
liberalism and republicanism in the classroomI'm just back from Chestertown, MD (a really nice colonial town where George Washington slept a lot). I was there to teach some elementary-through-high-school teachers about classical liberalism versus civic republicanism. The teachers are folks who use the "We the People Program" produced by the Center for Civic Education; this is their state summer institute. They seemed to be pretty interested in the subject, although like all Americans they find it easier to grasp liberalism than civic republicanism. This is interesting (to them as well as me), since many of the motivations behind public education are civic republican rather than liberal. That is: a pure liberal may worry that making children into good citizens is "mind control" and represents illicit state support for a particular form of life, whereas a civic republican says that good government rests on active, engaged citizensand civic engagement is inherently good. Social studies teachers are in the business of making good citizens, yet they are instinctively philosophical liberals. The tension or irony is not lost on them.
July 25, 2003
Steve Culbertson of Youth Service America is circulating this message:
If you can only make one call today, call the White House (202-456-1414) and inform them what the supplemental funding to avoid drastic cuts to AmeriCorps this year means to you, your program, and your community.
The House and Senate have only until tomorrow (Friday) to compromise on the details of the supplemental legislation before the House leaves for its August recess.
If the House and Senate conferees do not meet to iron out the details of the FY03 emergency supplemental (where the Senate included $100 million for AmeriCorps), before they leave for recess, hundreds of programs will be forced to close their doors.
Agencies and nonprofits in every state will lose their ability to serve hundreds of thousands of individuals in communities across the country. Programs will lose their private sector support and community relationships that they have built over the past decade. Thousands of AmeriCorps recruits will turned away from serving their country.
I attended a forum today on the same issue, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Many of the nation's leaders in service-learning attended. Some believe that the financial crisis of AmeriCorps has a silver lining: the service movement is organizing, recruiting allies (including friends among conservatives and business leaders), and learning that it has clout.
Incidentally, I thought that Rep. Chris Shays (Republican of Connecticut) chose to make a fairly sharp and explicit attack on Rep. Dick Armey (R-TX), in defending AmeriCorps. (Armey, he said, "simply hasn't walked in someone else's moccasins.") He also argued for more diverse congressional districts, as a way to increase Republicans' sensitivity to minorities.
July 24, 2003
civic engagement in "the projects"I was in New York City today, meeting with people who help young people play serious roles in HUD's HOPE VI program. This is the program that tears down very troubled federal housing projectsusually dense clusters of crime-ridden high-risesand replaces them with more dispersed, small-scale, economically diverse housing. In quite a few HOPE VI sites across the country, young people from "the projects" are participating in planning, mapping assets, or starting "social entrepreneurship programs" such as micro-businesses and farmers markets. These are powerful stories and there's a lot of potential for more good work in HOPE VI sites.
July 23, 2003
against intuitionismI'm still in Indianapolis at the Kettering Foundation retreat. Meanwhile, here's something I've been thinking about lately:
Most moral philosophers appeal to intuitions as the test of an argument's validity. At the same time, they presume that our moral judgments should conform to clear, general rules or principles. An important function of modern moral philosophy is to improve our intuitions by making them more clear, general, and consistent.
This methodology can be attacked on two fronts. From one side, those who admire the rich, complex, and ambiguous vocabulary that has evolved within our culture over time may resist the effort to reform traditional moral reasoning in this particular way.
As J.L. Austin wrote: "Our common stock of words embodies all the distinctions men have found worth drawing, and all the connexions they have found worth marking, in the lifetime of many generations." Thus there is a lot of wisdom contained in the vague and morally indeterminate vocabulary that ordinary language gives us. Words like "love" introduce complex and not entirely predictable penumbra of allusions, implications, and connotations. Barely conscious images of concrete events from history, literature, and our personal lives may flit through our heads when someone uses words. Everyone may recall a somewhat different set of such images, sometimes with contrary moral implications. This array of sometimes inconsistent references is problematic if we prize clarity. Hence moral theorists attempt to excise overly vague terms or to stipulate clear meanings. But the complexity and vagueness of words is beneficial (rather than problematic) if human beings have embodied in their language real family resemblances and real ambiguities. There really are curries, and it would reduce our understanding of food to ban the word "curry" for vagueness or to define it arbitrarily. Likewise, there really is "love," and it would impoverish our grasp of moral issues to try to reason without this concept or to define it in such a way that it shed its complex and ambiguous connotations, some of which derive from profound works of poetry, drama, and fiction.
The methods of modern philosophy can be attacked on another flank, too. Instead of saying that philosophers are too eager to improve our intuitions, we could say that they respect intuitions too much. For classical pagans and medieval Christians alike, the test of a moral judgment was not intuition; it was whether the judgment was consistent with the end or purpose of human life. However, modern moral philosophers deny that there is a knowable telos for human beings. Philosophers (as Alasdair MacIntyre argues) are therefore thrown back on intuition as the test of truth. Even moral realists, who believe that there is a moral truth independent of human knowledge, must still rely on our intuitions as the best evidence of truth. But this is something of a scandal, because no one thinks that intuitions are reliable. It is unlikely that we were built with internal meters that accurately measure morality.
July 22, 2003
some pedantryI'm en route to Indianapolis for the summer retreat of the Kettering Foundation.
Here is a completely unrelated and pedantic issue, but I have to get it off my chest. There is (or should be) no such word as "syllabi." "Syllabus" is a fourth declension Latin noun, so its plural is not "syllabi" but "syllabûs" (pronounced "syllaboos"). Since handing out the "syllaboos" on the first day of class would make anyone look like the world's most extreme nerd, I use "syllabuses"perfectly good English.
For exactly the same reason, there are no "octopi." "Agendae" is another Latin-sounding word that isn't grammatically valid. The word "agenda" is already plural, meaning "the things that need to be done." If we want to make it plural, then "agendas" will do. I haven't heard "agendae" much, but Google finds 2,760 uses of it.
While we're at it, "hoi polloi" means "the people," so "the hoi polloi" means "the the people." Which is kind of like saying "the La Brea tar pits" (literally translated as "the The Tar tar pits.")
There, I've said my piece.
July 21, 2003
historians on the civic ed. billThis is from the National Coalition for History (NCH) Washington update:
We now have some additional information and some troubling news ... The Senate appropriations committee recommends a program increase of $15 million specifically for the President Bush's "We the People" initiative [to promote the teaching of history and civics in schools]. While at first the increase might appear to be a cause for celebration, the committee failed to embrace the administration's recommendation of $25 million and it made it clear that it wants the final design of the NEH's "We the People" initiative to reflect "congressional priorities" -- meaning pending legislation (S. 504) sponsored by Senator Lamar Alexander -- the "American History and Civics Education Act of 2003" -- that recently passed the Senate 90-0 and is currently pending in the House.
For what little it's worth, I have endorsed the Alexander bill, which would mainly create summer academies for teachers and students. However, it would be troubling if the necessary money came straight out of the NEH budget.
According to the NCH, some in the "history community ...
point out that the Alexander bill is heavily loaded with what is characterized
as 'value-laden concepts,' thus raising concerns about 'the politicization of
the teaching of history.'" The ideal of value-free history is dubious, for
both epistemological and moral reasons. However, I can see the historians' point
that it is dangerous for Congress to mandate particular values in the teaching
of history. At least, this should be done carefully and with public debate. I
also think that there is a difference between "civics" (which ought
to be heavily value-laden) and history (which needs to be more "objective").
This difference makes it problematic to lump history and civics together in the
same federal program with the same authorizing language.
July 18, 2003
a civics textbookIt's looking increasingly likely that I will write a short, commissioned book between now and mid-September: an introduction to issues and ideologies for first-time voters. Getting it done by then will be a sprint, but I think it will be worthwhile. We may give away some of the content on a free public websiteboth as a modest public service and also as a way to generate interest in the book.
July 17, 2003
CIRCLE is fundedIn the past, I couldn't blog about an activity that's taken a lot of my time over the last six months: namely, fundraising for CIRCLE. Now that the grants have been approved and announced, I'm happy to say that The Pew Charitable Trusts and Carnegie Corporation of New York have come through for us, generously giving CIRCLE a budget of almost $4 million for the 2003-5 period.
Meanwhile, for those who are doing civic work with youth and the Internet, here's a great discussion forum on the ContentBank website.
July 16, 2003
A new book is causing quite a stir among people who work for in civic and democratic reform. John R. Hibbing and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse argue that the public doesn’t want a bigger role in government and politics. In fact, people would like to have a smaller role, but they suspect that elites are corrupt, so they believe that citizens must periodically intervene just to prevent sleaze. These are some of the themes of Stealth Democracy: Americans’ Beliefs about How Government Should Work (Cambridge University Press, 2002)
According to Hibbing and Theiss-Morse, people do not rate their fellow citizens as informed or intelligent. They do not want to participate in government or politics themselves, nor do they want a political system in which there is much public involvement. They do not dislike the policies adopted by our government. In fact, they have few policy preferences and are generally satisfied with the policies that are in place.
Yet people strongly dislike government. This is because they suspect very selfish and greedy behavior on the part of political elites. For instance, they think that elected officials get rich from government service. People dislike disagreement and debate and view these things as evidence that elites are self-interested. They believe that there is public consensus on issues, yet agreement is mysteriously absent in Congress.
A majority of people (about 70%) agree with two or three of the following propositions, which is enough to make them believers in “Stealth Democracy”:
• “elected officials would help the country more if they would stop talking and just take action on important problems” (86% agree)
• “what people call compromise in politics is really just selling out on one’s principles” (60%); and
• “our government would run better if decisions were left up to nonelected, independent experts rather than politicians or the people” (31%) or “our government would run better if decisions were left up to successful business people” (32%)
Although people do not want much public involvement in government, they think that both Democrats and Republicans want even less. They consider the parties to be more elitist than they are. Therefore, they support reform ideas such as devolving power to the states (63% support); using more initiatives and referenda (86%); and limiting campaign spending (91%). Fifty percent would like the government to be run more like a business. There is also considerable support for billionaire politicians and technocratic experts, since neither can profit from their own decisions.
Hibbing and Theiss-Morse append two whole chapters in which they argue that deliberative democracy (in its various forms) will not solve the problems that they identify from their survey results, and may make matters worse. These chapters are useful as a compendium of hopeful hypotheses advanced by proponents of deliberation and negative empirical results. However, the evidence here is selective and the argument is separate from the meat of the book, which is a set of claims about mass public opinion in the US.
One can quibble with these findings. For example, I thought that several of the key survey questions were somewhat ambiguous. Hibbing and Theiss-Morse stress that the results are tentative. However, let’s assume that the results are roughly right. How can proponents of deliberative democracy, civic engagement, participatory democracy, strong democracy, or public work respond?
First, we can speculate that some of the phenomena described in the book are features of our very specific political circumstances, rather than traits of Americans’ character. For example, people say that private money has an enormous influence on politics. It does. Money has always been the mother’s milk of politics. But what we have today is a system of massive private contributions plus quite complete disclosure. In my view, this is a recipe for public dissatisfaction with the process of government. It is natural to tune out all the details of policy debates if one is presented with a list of special-interest groups that fund each side. No one seems credible.
Likewise, there is a dearth of political debate at the local level, because congressional (and often state legislative) districts have been jerrymandered to be dominated by one party. No wonder people think that there is a consensus at home and discord only in Congress. Districts have been engineered to have no discord at the local level.
The upshot is that we might be able to get quite different attitudes from a reformed political system, one with competitive election districts and public financing for campaigns. Hibbing and Theiss-Morse favor campaign-finance reform, but they don’t think it will make much difference. We can afford to be more hopeful.
A second reply is more radical. It says: Of course people opt out of “politics,” considering what they’ve been served under that name. We can’t poll people about whether they would like to participate more, because they have no way of knowing what active citizenship would look like in a better regime. Reform political institutions, improve civic education, change the way the news and entertainment media cover public life, and experiment widely with new forms of participation (often outside of the state sector)—and then ask people what they think of “politics.”
This is not a foolish answer, but clearly it requires very ambitious, systemic reforms. And those reforms will be harder to achieve given what Hibbing and Theiss-Morse say about public attitudes.
A third reply would emphasize equity (something that’s largely overlooked in Stealth Democracy). It’s all very well to have a system with low public participation and little public interest in politics—if the policies that result serve your interests. But laws and institutions tend not to serve low-income people. Moreover, knowledge is not evenly distributed. As Scott Keeter and Michael Delli Carpini showed in What Americans Know about Politics and Why it Matters (1997), wealthy people have a good grasp of politics, ideology, and issues; poor people don’t. But if people generally don’t want to get more involved, then we can’t expect a great upsurge of support for participatory or deliberative democracy. What we may need, instead, is a small set of powerful organizations that have political power and answer to less advantaged citizens.
I doubt that people were much more favorable toward “politics” 50 years ago. However, in 1953, a third of all non-agricultural American workers belonged to unions, and 47 percent of voting-age Americans identified themselves as Democrats. The top brass of the AFL-CIO and the Democratic Party knew how to play politics, even if the rank-and-file did not. Union membership has been halved since then and both parties are much weaker. Reviving these institutions or creating substitutes would be an answer to the problem outlined in Stealth Democracy.
In fairness, I should say that the authors’ own answer is sensible enough, in its way. That is to reform civic education so that students are taught to expect and even value controversy. Then they would be less offended by the sight of debate in Washington.
July 15, 2003
the young don't read newspapers
According to CIRCLE's new fact sheet on media use, this is the trend in newspaper readership since 1972:
We know that newspaper reading correlates with many forms of civic engagement, so this trend is worrisome. (It is also very bad news for the newspaper industry. Why don't they do something aggressive to reverse the decline, like giving millions of free newspapers to schools?) I think one piece of the problem is that young people don't learn how to read a newspaper. My own experience as a volunteer high school teacher has taught me that the "inverted pyramid" style of journalistic writing assumes a lot of background knowledge, and thus makes news stories baffling to inexperienced teenagers. They can learn to read newspapers, but they don't pick up this skill by osmosis.
July 14, 2003
aid to Africa
I believe in asset-based development, which means that I am loath to itemize deficits and problems without putting at least as much emphasis on the assets that any human community or nation possesses as the basis for its own development. I am certain that Africa has tremendous assets: cultural, social, and natural. Unfortunately, I lack the detailed knowledge necessary to list the main ones. In lieu of an asset inventory, we ought to pay attention to the following gaps or problems on the occasion of President Bush's African tour:
- life expectancy at birth: Sierra Leone = 34.5 years; USA = 77.1 years
- adult literacy rate: Niger = 16.5%; Estonia = 98.8%
- population earning less than $1/day: Ethiopia = 81.9%; USA = 0% (reported)
- probability at birth of not surviving to age 40: Mozambique, 56%; Japan = 7.5%
- population without access to improved water source: Ethiopia, 76%; USA = 0%
- physicians/100,000 people: Mali = 1; Italy = 567
- health spending/capita: Guinea-Bissau = $12; USA = $4,499
- undernourished people: Burundi = 69% of population; USA = 0% (reported)
- percent of adults with HIV/AIDS: Zambia = 21.52%; USA 0.16%
- official development aid received, per capita: Dem. Rep. of Congo = $5; Israel = $172.4 (The new European Union members get more aid than Israel, but their assistance comes with club membership in the EU.)
All these statistics come from the "Human Development Indicators" section of the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Report 2003.
July 12, 2003
honesty means having to say you're wrongPresident Bush said in his January State of the Union Address that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Africaan extraordinarily important charge that could justify a preemptive war (on the assumption that Iraq would only need uranium for nuclear weapons). According to today's Washington Post, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice "said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell did not include the uranium allegation in the speech he gave to the United Nations on Feb. 5, eight days after the president spoke. She said that was because [the State Department] had questioned the matter." This suggests to me that top Administration officials realized before Feb. 5 that the State of the Union speech had included a dubious, but extremely significant, assertion. Why then did they not issue a statement casting at least partial doubt on the uranium story? Failure to withdraw a false claim of such enormous magnitude seems to me deeply unethical. It was not nearly enough to refrain from repeating the charge.
July 10, 2003
the place of ideology
I have been approached by a publisher about the idea of writing a popular guide to politics for new voters, in time for the 2004 campaign season. I don't know if this idea will come to pass, but it's interesting.
Perhaps the "ideal citizen" would make an independent and informed judgment about each issue and also each candidate, and then vote accordingly. But none of us has the time or energy to do this. Instead, we use shortcuts to make our voting choices. The most common shortcut, I believe, is to choose a political identity for oneself: for example, "liberal" or "conservative," or something somewhat more complicated, like "pro-choice conservative" or "social liberal/fiscal conservative." We then learn how to identify the candidates who fit this label, based on clues in their rhetoric and a few issues that serve as proxies. If we are better-than-average citizens, then we choose an ideology in a provisional way, trying to stay open-minded and to understand the merits of alternative views. But we still use ideology as a cue. CIRCLE surveys show that people who cannot place themselves on an ideological scale or identify the differences between Democrats and Republicans also do not vote.
Thus I may propose to write a book that begins with a quiz, designed to identify the reader's starting ideology or political identity. If a reader chooses "don't know" as an answer to any question, he or she will be sent to pages in the book that introduce the relevant issue. Once the reader has completed the quiz and identified a provisional ideology, the rest of the book will help him or her to (a) think critically about the pros and cons of this ideology and (b) learn how to identify candidates who espouse it.
July 9, 2003
working with power
I'm reading all the back issues of the Higher Education Exchange, in order to write a mini-report for the editors about their future strategy for the journal. One generally excellent article is Edward Royce's "The Practice of the Public Intellectual" (1999). In passing, Royce makes a point that I consider very important. He writes: "public intellectuals can work with those subject to power as well as against those who exercise power." Working with ordinary people (or with especially oppressed people) is an entirely different form of engagement from "speaking truth to power." It requires more listening, more quiet work within institutions and communities, more development of personal relationships and trust, more building on local assetsand less dramatic rhetoric. Working against the powerful is an important role for intellectuals to play. But working "with those subject to power" seems equally valuable (and interesting).
July 8, 2003
new research on civic ed
I was in Boston today, for the International Society for Political Psychology's annual conference. I went to give a presentation on The Civic Mission of Schools. While there, I heard interesting papers on civic education and on the effects of public deliberation. I've summarized the latter papers on the DD-Net blog. Regarding civic education:
- Jon Miller of Northwestern
University Medical School presented a very important study that has followed 3,000
young Americans from 1987 to the present. Based on the data that his group has
collected, they are able to show what factors predict political engagement in
early adulthood. The courses taken in high school and students' performance in
these courses do not seem to matter at all. This finding is somewhat at odds with
the Civic Mission of Schools, which claims that school-based civic education
works, at least when done well.
There's a lot more to be said on this topic. For example, Miller's work doesn't distinguish between the kind of civic education that we would recommend and ordinary civic education. Furthermore, ordinary civic education does seem to increase students' knowledge, which can itself be considered a good. Still, it should give us pause to note that there was no observed connection between taking a government/civics class in high school and voting later on.
- Arthur "Skip" Lupia of Michigan is writing a very interesting book that applies insights from cognitive science to the question of civic education. There are obstacles to learning about civics that are hard-wired, he believes; and good teaching must address these obstacles. For example, when two equally respectable people say opposite thingswhich often happens in politicswe tend not to put either view into our long-term memories. I think it is undeniable that biological constraints are relevant. But I would have to be persuaded that the findings of cognitive science were very solid before I would want them to influence policy.
July 7, 2003
the Hatch/Wyden bill
The Senate has passed a bill that would represent a very important experiment in public deliberation. It is the Wyden-Hatch bill, now section 620 of S. 1, the Prescription Drug and Medicare Improvement Act of 2003. If this provision survives the rest of the legislative process, it will "provide for a nationwide public debate about improving the health care system to provide every American with the ability to obtain quality, affordable health care coverage; and .... provide for a vote by Congress on the recommendations that result from the debate."
A large and diverse commission of stakeholders, experts, and citizens would be appointed that would hold hearings; issue a public "Health Report to the American People"; hold facilitated public deliberations across the country (based on the Report); and then generate final recommendations. The President would be required to comment formally on the results, and Congress would have to hold formal hearings. The bill embodies the most advanced thinking about how to organize public deliberations, and it would be a wonderful showcase.
July 4, 2003
limitations of the Dean modelApparently, Gov. Howard Dean's extraordinary fundraising success is due to the Internet. In a broadcast email (read full text here), Mike Weiksner, Chairman of e-thePeople, writes, "It started out last December when a small cabal of online pundits started posting supportive commentary about a relatively unknown candidate, Dr. Howard Dean. These pundits posted their commentary on 'blogs'." The next step was Dean's launch of a campaign website, which described his positions and requested donations. "Then, www.meetup.com got involved. Meetup.com hosts informal get-togethers for like-minded individuals, and offered to help Dean to link supporters together." Finally, MoveOn held its unofficial online Democratic "primary," which Dean won. Mainly as a result of these events, he is first in fundraising, having raised $10.1 million in 2003. He is a leading candidate instead of a protest vote.
Whenever someone scores a political success by using an unconventional tactic, it is natural to ask whether the change will last and whether it will benefit or harm the political system overall. But it is important not to generalize hastily from the first candidate who uses the new methods. For instance, an insurgent leftist candidate could invent a tactic that is ultimately used most effectively by mainstream conservatives. Furthermore, novel tactics may play out very differently once they've become routine. Thus I think we should be cautious about predicting the effects of a new tactic or technology on the political system over the long haul. But I'll risk some guesses:
- Campaigns that successfully exploit peer-to-peer networks and advanced technology will have highly educated, youthful, reasonably affluent constituencies. I do not know the demographics of Dean supporters, but it stands to reason that young urban techies would gravitate to a politician who is socially liberal, fiscally conservative, anti-war, and conspicuously educated. ("Dr. Dean," the newspapers call him.) It wasn't Al Sharpton who won the "blog primary."
- If these tactics work, they will benefit independent candidates who have little or no institutional base but who take unconventional positionsto the disadvantage of organized movements such as unions, churches, and parties. Dean is a quirky guy from a small and quirky state; his success contrasts starkly with the troubles now facing Rep. Dick Gephardt, an urban midwesterner who gradually built support in unions, his state and national party, and Congress. As a general matter, I think that average people (those without special skills or capital) desperately need such organized institutions to represent them. Therefore, it may not be a good thing if someone like Howard Dean can easily beat someone like Dick Gephardt by using new technologies. (And I say this as someone who would probably vote for Dean over Gephardt on the issues.)
- These tactics will work best in multi-person competitions with small numbers of voters. In such races, a candidate can stake out an unusual position, capture a small but energetic constituency, and come in first. In contrast, two-person races, especially at the national level, require mass mobilization. Blogs and peer-to-peer networks don't have the necessary reach. Imagine that Dean won the Democratic nomination on the strength of the Internet. I believe he would be crushed by George Bush, who has a party and other organized political movements behind him. In fact, Bush has raised three times more than Dean this year, relying on just a few fundraisers. One could argue that blogs and peer-to-peer networks will grow until they are truly mass phenomena. I doubt it. Their growth will be limited by shortages of education, background knowledge, and motivation.
July 3, 2003
soft support for Iraq
My Maryland colleagues at the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) recently released a national survey concerning Americans' attitudes toward Iraq. I thought these were the highlights:
62 percent of Americans think that the US government was at least somewhat misleading about weapons of mass destruction. But 58 percent still believe that Saddam had wmd's before we invaded.
71 percent think that before the war, the US government implied that Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks.
52 percent think that we have found evidence of an Iraq-al Qaeda link, and 23 percent believe that we have found wmd's in Iraq. The latter figure has fallen, however, since May.
53 percent think that the post-war process is not going well.
80 percent think we have a responsibility to stay in Iraq and reconstruct the country.
It seems to me that if no wmd's are found, no link to al Qaeda is discovered, and the postwar reconstruction process remains troubled, then public support for the war will likely erode.
July 2, 2003
strategy issues for civic ed
As I've noted before, people in the civic education world are now seriously discussing a national campaign to revive "civic ed" in schools. But there are interesting debates about strategy. It seems to me that people variously believe:
1) All the action is at the state level, where standards, assessment methods, and textbooks are chosen. So we have to intervene there, and right away. Any federal legislation that actually passes will be small potatoes.
2) A new campaign should focus at the federal level, since others are advocating in the states. Federal legislation is significant because it can generate national interest and leverage resources, and it needs to be good.
3) We need a public relations campaign to get people concerned about civic education and to raise the public salience of the issue.
4) Public relations is irrelevant, because policymakers are going to make decisions about standards and assessment too soon to be influenced by popular opinion. Besides, it would be far too expensive to raise public concern sufficiently.
5) We need to develop grassroots-level campaigns in favor of civic education, involving various local stakeholders and young people themselves.
6) We should tailor messages for select decision-makers, especially officials in state departments of education, stressing ways that they can improve civics without huge financial costs and without risking lower test scores in reading, writing, and math.
I have views on these matters (leaning toward 1 and 4, and 5 and/or 6), but I'm by no means sure that I'm right.
July 1, 2003
DC blog map
It's been a bad day for bloggingmany long meetings. One meeting concerned the possibility of creating a blog for the geographical community of Prince George's County, with many hand-picked regular contributors who would generate frequent postings about the local arts scene. In the process of investigating this idea, a colleague discovered the DC Metro Blog Map.