Saturday, May 2, 2015

Final Exam: Political Science 101, Introduction to Real World Politics

It’s May.  I am a political science and law professor and it is final exam time.  Here are the questions  and suggested answers to the final exam in my class Introduction to Real World Politics.   The final consists of three essay questions.

1.  Independent and self-described democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders has officially declared he is running for president as a Democrat.  The media has declared that he cannot win.  Are they correct?

Much in the same way after Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul declared they were running for president and the mainstream press declared they could not win either the general election or even secure the party nomination, they are saying the same about Bernie Sanders.  The media says that Sanders cannot raise enough money to challenge Hilary Clinton and that she is such a frontrunner and he has positions so liberal that he cannot possibly win and that even the very idea of running seems Quixotic at best.  However, the media and the establishment has been wrong in the past.  Just seven years ago Clinton too was declared the front runner and had a lock on the Democratic nomination and then something happened–It was called Barack Obama.  Both he and John Edwards beat Clinton in Iowa and the former went on to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency...twice.
Clinton has high name recognition and a strong media presence, but she also has huge negatives.  She is well-known and will have a hard time redefining her image.  She does not have a lot of room to recreate herself.  Additionally she has yet to craft a narrative and rational for her campaign.  In effect, she is repeating so many of the mistakes she made seven years ago when the arrogance of her campaign assumed she was inevitable.
True Sanders does not have a ton of money but he has a powerful narrative about economic justice and fairness.  Sanders also appeals the disenchanted left of the Democratic party which does not like Clinton. He will not vulnerable to the criticism that he is a tool of Wall Street and instead will be able to make that argument against Clinton.  Sanders is also good one-on-one talking to people, something really valuable in Iowa and he could pull off an upset there just like Obama did in 2008.  Moreover, while Clinton then recovered and won New Hampshire, Sanders may enjoy terrific name recognition in the Granite state because he is from Vermont.  Combine an Iowa win and a great New Hampshire showing, along with a good narrative and who knows.  Yet again the media could be wrong.  Remember, the media was not only wrong with Obama in 2008, it missed it with Bill Clinton in 1992 and Jimmy Carter in 1976, among many other examples.

2.  The 2015 Minnesota Legislative session ends on May 18.  Do you think they will reach an agreement on a budget by then?
There is barely two weeks left in the legislative session and it is looking less and less likely that there will be a budget by then.  While in January few thought that either not passing the budget by May 18, or by July 1, to avert a government shutdown was likely, what has been most interesting to watch is how the Republicans have hardened their political and policy positions over the last few weeks.  Kurt Daudt and the Republicans have learned how to move their agenda in a coherent fashion (they have learned how to be a majority), while the Senate Democrats and Governor Dayton still seem both unable to articulate a compelling narrative to support their agenda and unable to find the political ability to work together to counteract the GOP.  The governor’s political interests are different from Senate DFLers in that he is not running for reelection while they are and potentially  are vulnerable in 2016.  Thus, their political interests are moving in different directions, thereby preventing them from uniting to oppose the House Republicans.
Many contend that the Republicans are operating in a fantasy world.  They want to make $2 billion in tax cuts (give back all of the surplus) and also spend more on rural and greater Minnesota.  That explains why their recent higher education budget hammered the UMN Twin Cities.  One cannot give away $2 billion and also spend more on greater Minnesota at the same time if one is talking about using the surplus.  That is why the GOP us also proposing other cuts to human services.
But remember that the Republicans are not the only ones living in a different dimension.  The governor and the Senate Democrats too believe that we have a surplus.  The reality again is that there is no real surplus and that between inflation and money that should be placed into contingency, that $2 is already spent.
Perhaps partisan ideology and contrasting constituencies account for many of the reasons regarding why Minnesota this year is perhaps hurling toward another budget impasse.  Yet given all the recent problems with government shutdowns, special sessions, and botched unallotments, the bigger problem is that the budget process is broken.  There are many changes that could be made to improve budgeting.  One example of a good reform would be to adopt an idea from Wisconsin.  In that state, if there is no budget adopted by the due date the current ones continues in effect.  This automatic continuing resolution if adopted in Minnesota would prevent government shutdowns and  would be a good first step in reforming the budget process.  Another good reform would be eliminating the dumb idea that inflation is not calculated for the purposes of determining state budget obligations, even though inflation is considered for the purposes of determining revenue.

3.  Will the screening out of bad racist police officers solve the shooting problems such as what we just saw in Baltimore?  What are these killings occurring?
Police shootings such as in Ferguson and now most recently in Baltimore are not just the product of a good cop/bad cop dichotomy.  By that, the assumption is that only bad cops shot unarmed civilians or racial minorities.  Find a way to screen them out and the problem is solved.  Alas, this is a simplistic solution.
Yes there is individual racism that might motivate some of these shootings, but the problem is far larger than that.  The racism found here is rooted in something larger–the social injustices of American society.  It is about the huge income and wealth gap between Black and White in America.  It is about the educational achievement gap, and it is also about the gap in the demographics of the American population and who is actually elected to office.  The core problem here really is a political economic one.  African-Americans and Latinos, for example, have largely been excluded from the  political structure in the United States and one can argue that the excessive use of political force against them is really the most direct symbol or sign of how the government and society use its power to oppress them.
But even beyond the institutional racism that may be at play here, one needs to consider other factors that may influence why so many people–and not just people of color–are shot.  Unlike in England where there are no police shootings of civilians, this country has a lot of guns in private and personal possession.  England does not.  America is one of the most heavily armed countries in the world.  We are the fantasy world of the NRA where they seem to think if everyone is armed like in the good old wild west of yesterdays then everyone will be able to protect oneself or others.  Guns deter them seem to believe.  They have forgotten though that the old days of the west were violent, and that is what happens when you have guns–people use them, or at least there is a fear that they will be used.  I can appreciate the fear of police who approach people whom they do not know whether they are armed or not.
But yet another issue here is the nature of policing.  Policing is not about roughing up people–it is about interpersonal skills, communications, and problem solving.  Policing now requires  skills more closely approximating negotiator and not a solder.  Yet too often police are badly or ill-trained.  Minnesota has some of the most stringent educational and training requirements for police in the country. Elsewhere across the USA a simple high school degree lets any Barney Fife put on a badge and carry a gun.  The skill of policing is in learning how not to use force, yet that has been forgotten by politicians whose message and arming of police over the last 50 years has been one emphasizing a war mentality.
What all this means is that the political economic exclusion of people of color from the political process, along with a society with too many guns and often bad police training may better explain than individual racism why so many shootings occur.

1 comment:

  1. Up to date look at what we must learn as a society to become more civilized.