Sunday, October 17, 2010

Two must-reads

I wanted to call your attention to two recent pieces by friends of mine.  These articles are concise, accessible, and interesting, and I'll surely be assigning them to my students in the future.

The first is Hans Noel's recent Forum article "Ten Things Political Scientists Know that You Don't."  He touches on a number of the key findings that political scholars have more or less settled on that are nonetheless at odds with the conventional wisdom, from the importance of the economy in elections to the fiction of electoral mandates to the necessity of interest groups and parties to a functioning democracy.  He also does a very nice job explaining a pretty complex topic -- the difficulty of translating voters' preferences into a coherent policy agenda.  He concludes with a short section on things that the public just kind of knows but that political scientists haven't been able to prove one way or the other.

The second is a recent blog post by Jonathan Bernstein, entitled "Sterner Stuff." Here, Jon makes the case for political ambition as a good thing.  A sample:
The system needs -- is dependent on -- people who crave election and re-election so badly that they're willing to do whatever it takes. Madison recognized the downside of that in Federalist 51, but he also realized that all that energy could be an enormous positive as well, because it could be harnessed. Ambitious politicians are going to work hard to figure out what voters really want, and deliver it to them. They're going to want a healthy economy...because that will get them re-elected. They're going to take the nation to war reluctantly and only when positive outcomes seem very likely at low costs (or if avoiding war will be highly costly)...because it will get them re-elected.
He also suggests that one of the things that made George W. Bush a relatively unimpressive president was his lack of ambition.  (While I agree with this characterization of Bush's personality, I think it was augmented somewhat by the fact that Bush's vice president had no aspirations for the presidency, creating even less incentive to do the stuff that voters care about.)

There. You have your orders.

No comments: