Saturday, June 3, 2017

Bad Choices: What is Barack Obama's View of Bernie Sanders?

I knew the young Barack Obama while he was a student at Occidental College. As I have reported elsewhere he was a Marxist revolutionary back in the winter of 1980.

See, Articles: Meeting Young Obama

There is no evidence of Obama having some sort of conversion experience so it seems likely that he is still committed to some form of socialism and a major effort to redistribute the wealth.

My take is that he did not think that Sanders could win and that he thought the best hope for preserving his legacy was to support Hillary Clinton. Ultimately, however, his heart was with Bernie Sanders.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.

Bad Book: What Will We Remember About Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father?

Aside from Obamacare, I think Barack Obama is best known for his book, Dreams from My Father.
This book was extremely important to his early political career in Chicago. Over time, many people took the book literally and it became a way for people to learn about Obama in such a matter that it empowered him. Many charismatic leaders write books about themselves which end up building their own fame and charisma including George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, and John F. Kennedy.

This is part of the reason why there is so much intellectual controversy surrounding Dreams from My Father right now, particularly arguments about the extent to which it is historically accurate or is only a historical novel.

To a large extent, I think that presidential historians are coming to the conclusion that the book for which Barack Obama is best know was in large measure a carefully crafted fiction. It included a number of stories in which Barack Obama tried to exaggerate his ties to the African-American community, including claiming he dated black women, which subsequent research has found to be untrue.

According to David J. Garrow’s new book, Rising Star, it appears that Dreams from My Father overstated the closeness of Obama’s parents, understated the time he spend with Frank Marshall Davis, and minimized young Obama’s post-Columbia marijuana and cocaine usage. There are also indications that the young Obama was quite concerned about his weight since he was fat as a child.

All in all, I think that Dreams from My Father will remain as one of the most important of Obama’s legacies, especially since subsequent research has found that much of this first book was highly inaccurate even as it help to form a myth that helped Barack Obama become president.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.

Tiny Towns: Let's Compare the Quality of Education Received at Williams Compared to a Traditional Ivy League School

Someone on Quora recently asked me the following question: "How would one compare the quality of education received at Williams compared to that of one received at an Ivy League school such as Harvard or Princeton?" There were a number of interesting answers in addition to mine. Nevertheless, here's my take on the advantages and disadvantages of a Williams College education compared to a traditional Ivy League education.

Of course, I am an ex-political science professor who taught at Williams in the 1980s and who was a teaching assistant (TA) at Cornell. My sense is that Williams College provided a higher quality education in the sense that the courses I taught there were designed to make everything absolutely clear, creative, and easy to understand for the students. Compared to my TA experience, I did a much better job of teaching while I was at Williams College.

As I recall, I gave students examples of successful papers, provided clear directions, and picked the best possible reading materials. I was among the top teachers on campus according to the reports I received which compared my student ratings with those of the other professors. While I was at Williams College, I was at the top of my game. I completed my doctoral dissertation while I was there and won the William Anderson Award from the American Political Science Association.

Accordingly, the students I worked with at Cornell and at Williams College were both dealing with the same somewhat exceptional scholar and teacher. The difference is that the teaching at Williams College was much better, I mean ten times better.

That being said, I have to say that Harvard, for example, is much harder to get into than Williams College. Williams is in a God-forsaken, hostile, rural area. It is overwhelmingly cliquish and quite unfriendly to conservative or even Republican perspectives. It is the sort of place where a young Christian or conservative can quickly become socially isolated, even disdained by their fellow students. In my experience, the liberal/leftist students at Williams College seem to have a “you’re either for us or against us” attitude which leaves a lot of the students hating each other by the end of four years.

If you run afoul of the liberal establishment at Williams College you have almost no alternative social or intellectual outlets for yourself. At least at Harvard, where my niece graduated, you have a whole city around you and opportunities to get relief from ideological oppression by venturing off the campus into the larger community. This escape is not possible at Williams College and I think that undermines the quality of education you receive out there.

Of course, Cornell University is also in a God-forsaken, hostile, rural environment. Nevertheless, the college is large enough that there are a variety of students to hang out with. One of the students I worked with as a teaching assistant at Cornell was Ann Coulter. I don’t Ann Coulter would have been happy at Williams College.

So, I don’t know if that helps you much at all. I would say, without a doubt, that the teaching is better at Williams College. Nevertheless, this advantage may not make up - in an educational sense - for the restricted ideological and social life associated with the school.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.

What Do Conservatives Even Stand for Anymore?

This somewhat snarky question arose to my attention on Quora. The questioner wrote: "There was a time when conservatives stood for traditional values, smaller government, fiscal responsibility and strong national defense. Yet, many conservatives continue to stand by Trump who napalm those values regularly. Is their sole unifying value in 2017 the shared hatred of liberals?"

Frankly, I just don’t buy the premise of the question, specifically the suggestion that Trump has “napalmed” conservative values. Look at the evidence:

  • He picked Mike Pence as his vice-president.
  • He has submitted a budget that cuts back dramatically on domestic spending.
  • He is making efforts to reduce the regulations that have been strangling the economy and reducing income to the federal government.
  • He seems to be pretty aggressive in both funding and respecting the military.

Republicans are at their strongest level of political power since the 1920s and Trump has managed to win over the white working class in a manner that will make it difficult for Democrats to win again at the national level for at least a generation.

I think the unifying factor here is defending the interests of the white working class. As long as Democrats vilify the white working class, I do not think they will have much opportunity to win significant power at either the state or federal level.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.