Until recently, I was an assistant professor of political science at Thomas College. Presently, I am the national policy manager at the Sunlight Foundation. This blog expresses my personal reflections on the socio-political environment as I experience it.
I used to want to be a poet. My high school yearbook page shows me asleep on the grass against a background of the text of Whitman’s Song of Myself. Maybe a little pretentious of me, but I really did love that book.
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me, and you shall possess the origin of all poems;
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun—(there are millions of suns left;)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books;
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me:
You shall listen to all sides, and filter them from yourself.
Politics is exploring the world of tension between many kinds of opposing forces. Just as Whitman mocked the reader “so proud to get at the meaning of poems” against his world of direct experience, politics lives in the pull between so many binaries: us and them, right and left, language and act. The study of politics reflects this as well, in its combination of academic white tower abstraction and the bloody and mud-covered struggle of real politics.
Also, I find that the older I get the more I come around to accepting Whitman’s point. I’ve been thinking about Walter Lippmann lately, who observes in the very attractively named Public Opinion:
Each of us lives and works on a small part of the earth’s surface, moves in a small circle, and of these acquaintances knows only a few intimately. Of any public event that has wide effects we see at best only a phase and an aspect…an unfamiliar scene is like the baby’s world, “one great buzzing, blooming confusion”…[in this confusion] we do not first see and then define, we define first and then see.
I’m coming to believe that the most fundamental experience and source of opinion is what affects us most day-to-day, and that has led me back to a deep affection for (and borderline obsession with) state and local politics.
Given this long and winding introduction, you won’t be surprised to learn that I’m interested in a wide variety of subjects. The subject of rhetorical persuasion seems be my underlying preoccupation; in particular, I’m interested in understanding the kinds of arguments that lead individuals to view certain policies as being “in their interest.” Currently, I focus on Maine politics and policy, voting and political participation, and polling and interviewing methods. I also have incipient interests in the politics of health care and comparative American-Canadian political development. In the past, I focused on presidential rhetoric, political applications of social identity and the former Yugoslavia.
Every year I get a little bit closer to figuring it all out.
Or at least I’m hoping that’s the case.