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Oh, SmAlbany!

Daily posts and occasional longer essays about politics, culture, and life in the Capital Region...updated M-F, midmorning

"I write this not as a booster of Albany, which I am, nor an apologist for the city, which I sometimes am, but rather as a person whose imagination has become fused with a single place, and in that place finds all the elements that a man ever needs..." -W. Kennedy, from O Albany!

Stifling democracy

Stifling democracy, one election law at a time:

UPDATE (8/12/2005):This week's Metroland has an article by Miriam Axel-Lute that references this article and the general debate that took place here and at Democracy in Albany.

Anyone who's been reading SmAlbany this week knows that there's been a spirited exchange both here at Oh, Smalbany! and over at Demcoracy in Albany about "vote fraud" and "election law violations."

Today's news, in my mind, takes the cake and best illustrates how strict interpretation of minor election laws can stifle democratic choice.

Two candidates for the Common Council, Shirley Foskey of Ward 5 and Justin Teff of Ward 11, have been dropped from the Democratic primary ballot because they didn't get enough legal signatures on their petitions to be included on the ballot. They thought they had, but their petitions were disallowed after they were challenged by other candidates. For simplicity of argument, I'll focus on the Foskey case. As the TU reports:
The two county elections commissioners, Democrat James Clancy and Republican John Graziano Sr., found that Foskey's nominating petitions included signatures from voters who were not enrolled Democrats or whose addresses on petitions did not match addresses filed with the elections board.

The commissioners disallowed 63 of 167 signatures filed by Foskey, leaving her six short of the minimum requirement.

"She is the incumbent. She didn't get enough signatures and she should know better," said Timmons, 54, who works as a senior mail and distribution clerk in the state Assembly.

Having the Democratic endorsement is tantamount to winning the general election in November, given that Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city by a 10-1 ratio.

The 5th Ward includes the predominantly minority neighborhood of West Hill.
Yup, clear violation of election law. Foskey should be off the ballot by the letter of the law. But come on, this is overwhelmingly stupid:

1) Foskey is the incumbent: Is there any doubt that she has the public support in her ward to justify putting her on the ballot. I mean, that's the whole point of the petition system - to narrow down the number of candidates on the ballot to only those who have a reasonable chance of winning. Of course she has the support. She got the majority of votes last time. I know she didn't meet the requirements, but the requirements are only in place to assure us of something that is, in this case, utterly obvious to everyone.

2) The people challenging the petitions are her political opponents: No one, and I mean no one, in the public cares about this "violation" unless they are supporters of Foskey's opponents. It pure political tactics, and results in this rosy situation:
Because of the ruling, the sole Democratic candidate for the 5th Ward seat in September will be Willard Timmons, a longtime party committee member who challenged the three-term incumbent.
So yes, Foskey was utterly stupid not get her petition in order. That's inexcusable. But the bottom line is that we are stifiling democratic choice by having such an inflexible system in the first place, where the incumbent council member can't get on the ballot because she alledgedly doesn't have enough support in the community. A clear example of minor technical rules standing in the way of what should be a public policy debate. Well, at least the rules were followed. Geesh.
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At 9:37 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

They did this in DC to Mayor Anthony Williams a few years ago. He was reelected anyway as a right in.    

At 9:38 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

i mean a WRITE in. Where's my brain. I'm so embarassed.    

At 9:42 AM , Blogger Matt said:

Well, I hope Shirley is re-elected in a write-in as well. But it's no guarantee.    

At 10:57 AM , Anonymous Josh said:

If she had enough support, as you claim, then she should have easily got on the ballot, correct? Incumbents can fall out of favor with their constituents.

It is not that difficult to get on the ballot here in Albany - I believe Common Councilors need between 90 and 100 signatures. In wards where there are between 1500-2500 Democratic voters, it should not be difficult.

Unless, you do not have the support.    

At 11:04 AM , Blogger Matt said:

Well, she fell 6 legal signatures short and thought she was 57 ahead of the game. I doubt she would have had trouble.

Petition signatures can be voided for all sorts of reasons - misspelled addresses, signing multiple petitions without knowing the 2nd is no good, etc. While i take your point that her popularity could simply have plumneted, that's not the likely scenario here.    

At 11:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

Your "hope" that she wins as a write-in is based only on your dislike of petition challenges. Never mind that she's been an ineffective, disinterested member of the Council with a lousy attendance record.    

At 12:00 PM , Blogger Matt said:

Well, that's your view and you are certainly entitled to it. But whether or not she wins should be decided by an election, not by a sill petition rule. If she's ineffective, let the voters say that, not the political tactics of her opponents. Shouldn't she be easily beaten in a fair fight if she's as lousy as you say? I really don't know about her record, but i do know that she should be judged by voters in an election, not by commissioners in a board hearing.    

At 12:11 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

No special burden was placed on Foskey. Her challenger had to abide by the same "silly" petition rules. You may not like the rules, but they're applied evenly across the board.

More troubling is your assertion that incumbents deserve some kind of special pass, since they have demonstrated prior public support by virtue of getting elected. Incumbency has enough advantages without lowering the bar for petitions. The bar is already low (signatures required vs. number of registered voters) and she didn't measure up.    

At 12:23 PM , Blogger Matt said:

Of course everything you say about even application of the rules is true. That's not my point. My point was exactly what you stated - the rule is ridiculous, and at it's heart, anti-democratic. It's SOLE purpose is to assess viability of candidates. But all too often, it is turned against obviously viable candidates in order to exclude them. I'm not saying the rule was unfairly applied, i'm saying it is a stupid rule that undermines democratic choice and wastes campaign time better spent on issues and candidate positions. If you reread my post, i am crystal clear that she failed to follow the rules and should be dumped from the ballot. I have no complaint with that. I'm just pointing out that it is a worthless rule.

RE: incumbents, i don't think they should have special advantages. I was simply arguing that Foskey's incumbent status is a good hint that she's a viable candidate. It doesn't mean she doesn't have to follow the rules - it just highlights how ridiculous our primary election laws can be, and how easily they can be twisted for partisan advantage.    

At 3:58 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said:


I have done petition verification for local, state and national campaigns. There is absolutely no reason why a candidate’s petitions are toss out unless the candidate is too lazy or dishonest to care. Especially now with the requirements being so easy to meet.

I am a little surprised that someone working on their PhD in political science doesn’t see any value in requiring petition signatures. It is designed to at least guarantee a minimum of support among the voters, forces campaigns to actually meet the voter, and engages the voter himself in the process before being inundated by mass mailings.

By making it easier to vote in an election (motor voter) and making it easier to run for office you are not helping democracy, you are cheapening it. A full 1/3 of the people registered through Motor Voter in Albany County didn’t bother to vote in 2004s election. Is democracy served when people register to vote but don’t bother?

The elimination or weakening of the requirements to run for office only serves to lessen the role of the average citizen in the political process and serves to strengthen roles of the media and of the special interest group. By switching to an “air war” campaign over the volunteer driven “ground war” you do not serve to strengthen democracy, you weaken it.

Maybe you are right. Maybe we should just lower the requirements to the point where they simply don’t exist.

Matt, I do have one question and this isn’t really intended to be an anti-academia question. Have you ever been involved in the day to day operation of a campaign?    

At 4:27 PM , Blogger Matt said:

First off - i can't endorse the idea that you wouldn't want more people registered - are you saying less democracy is better. I, for one, want a more participatory democracy, and that starts with making it easier for people to participate. I never said we need to get rid of the petitions - if we're going to have state controlled primary ballots (which we've had in NY since 1906 and are generally a good idea) we need a way to filter out candidates. However, the current system for doing this, despite your pleas that it is a civic connection between candidates and voters, is more often a tool of opposition candidates for creating headaches in the other campaign. Of course we need some system, i simply don't think the current one is very good. And it's easy to mess up the petitions - New York's laws are extremely arcane, often requiring entire pages of signatures to be tossed if one signature on the page is bad. Typically, laws like this were invented by the major parties to supress internal challengers. Where's the democracy in that?

I've worked as a serious volunteer on the following campaigns: McNulty primary 1996, MicNulty general 1996, Lazio general 2000, Cusick 2004 general. I have also volunteered in a lesser capacity in a number of other races. Additionaly, I have done strategic consulting work for about a half dozen Congressional campaigns in the 2002 and 2004 elections that need to remain anonymous due to agreements made with those campaigns about academic papers resulting from the related research.

In none of these campaigns did I ever see the petition system being used as a way to "connect" with voters. It was a nusance that was mostly an afterthought, except when it could be used against the opposition.

I take your point seriously about "ground wars" vs. "air wars" in campaigns. But in my experience, the ground wars are typically fought through door-to-doors and lit drops. The petition gathering is almost always done "content-free" and as quick as possible.    

At 6:51 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said:


Good! I am glad to know that you have actually gotten your hands dirty campaigning and I am glad that you worked on campaigns that lost. The best way to learn campaigning is work for people who are underdogs. My friends learned how to un-jam their campaign head quarters’ photo copier. I learned to deal with the press and the candidate’s advance teams.

Petition drives are beneficial to a campaign. Especially to grass root insurgent campaigns that do not have the funds for paid staff. It is the way to identify capable and dedicated volunteers. Anyone that has been involved in presidential campaigns, especially, know the hardest part is putting together a ground campaign on the fly. The best and most dedicated people are those that are willing to knock door to door and ask for support getting the candidate on the ballot. How many Jerry Brown and later Dean supporters started out going door to door and were motivated to continue being involved?

Annoyance? NO! Petitioning is the fundamental base of our republican government!

Lazio. What a clod.

He should have known that Pataki was going to screw him like that. I had a good laugh over the “I didn’t know they donated to me too” fiasco. Of course Lazio didn’t know. His data base was being maintained at one of two places and neither group wanted him to win. Pataki sure as hell didn’t. If Lazio won it would have been that much harder to get rid of Bill Powers and his boss, Big Bad Al. Lazio goes down in flames, Powers looks ineffective and is eventually removed. No OTB chairmanship for you Bill!

Making it easier to participate in our “democracy”sounds really nice, doesn’t it? But is it really healthy for the Republic? Democracy is only successful when you have an informed electorate.

From the National Geographic Society in 2002:
When asked to find 10 specific states on a map of the United States, only California and Texas could be located by a large majority of those surveyed. Both states were correctly located by 89 percent of the participants. Only 51 percent could find New York, the nation's third most populous state.

From a Boston Globe editorial (based on the following study http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa525.pdf )
According to polls taken in 2004, 70% of the U.S. population is unaware that a massive drug benefit has been added to the Medicare program. At least 58 percent say they have heard "nothing" or "not much" about the Patriot Act, notwithstanding the enormous amount of coverage the controversial law has drawn. In 1996, The Washington Post reported that 67 percent of Americans could not name their congressman, and 94 percent had no idea that William Rehnquist was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Only 26 percent knew the length of a term of a U.S. senator, and 73 percent didn't know that the federal government spends more on Medicare than on foreign aid. In January 2000 the Gallup organization found that while 66 percent of the public could name the host of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" only six percent knew the name of the speaker of the House. In 2003, a survey found that 58 percent of Americans could not name a single federal cabinet department.
The ignorant can be found in the highest reaches of academe. Of more than 3,100 Ivy League students polled for a University of Pennsylvania study in 1993, 11 percent couldn't identify the author of the Declaration of Independence, half didn't know the names of their U.S. senators...

If we are intentionally making it easier for the politically ignorant to vote I am curious why you think that it is really beneficial to our country. Is it because it shifts the power in the country away from the “informed voter” to the unelected elitists that run the media and fund special interest groups?    

At 7:02 PM , Blogger Matt said:

Ah, now you're on to a political scinece topic - how can millions of uninformed people sucessfully participate in a democracy? Why should we allow the completely unknowledgable to participate?

Well, I think there are three main answers that people give to this question, I'll levae out my opinion and just present them, i think they all have worth:

1)The Churchill answer - "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others" - what are we going to do, give up and accept aristocracy? American democracy must be spread because it is the best way to prevent violent revolution and also the best of bad alternatives for fulfilling the wishes of the worst off in society. In this view, the main advantage of democracy is that it keeps the elites from draining the poor through war (and yes, despite Bush, it does do that in comparison to other forms of government).

2) The people are ignorant, but it doesn't matter! Just read "The Rational Public" by Benjamin Page, and learn all about how the ignorant can survive and their preferences can be counted in a democracy. The easiest point is party cues - even in the 19th century, when mych of the electorate couldn't even read, nevermind find Texas on a map, preferences about real issues (war, slavery, expansion, tariffs, etc.) were expressed in elections. How could this be? Well, the political parties give voters shortcuts - if you know which party represents your interests generally, you can make an "informed" choice with almost no information. And as stupid as it sounds, it works!

3) The people aren't that ignorant! So what if you can't find states on a map - that's not what matters. What matters is public policy, and most people can offer a reason why they voted for who they did, and it is typically connected to a rational expectation about public policy and their self interest. Amazing but true!

4) Participatory democracy is more important that substnative results - this theory holds that democracy is better even if its all a charade, and the choices don't matter. The very act of going to vote is good for a public, and reduces the possibilities of civil war and other deadweight loss events in a nation. Again, largely true.    

At 7:04 PM , Blogger Matt said:

P.S. - I'm amused at having someone on this blog riding a Hamiltonian, anti-democratic line. Usually I'm the one playing Hamilton, arguing against all the rights-based liberals who hang out here.


At 12:26 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

Oh come on Matt: I would have preferred your opinion over referenced material, and I wasn’t even expecting you to provide source references.

But, as it is what it is...

1) Churchill’s “Democracy” comment was uttered in the completely different world that existed prior to 1965. While I couldn’t find an exact date for the quote, I do know that it was said in a country that has a constitutional monarchy where the then King could dismiss the government and where the upper house of the Parliament was made up of heretical piers and still had some political might.

Parliamentary opposition could demand a vote of no-confidence and most importantly, the excesses of the post war labor governments later led to economic problems that griped GB during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s.

Here in the United States we have four year lame duck presidencies, 10 year long Presidential Campaigns, and a pork barrel politics.

I agree with you that American democracy as it currently stands, is the best way to fulfill the wishes of the worst off in society. In 1989 the Boston Globe released a study that showed that a person had to make something like $34,000 a year to equal what a person on welfare in Boston was receiving in subsidies and benefits. That’s 34K in 1989 dollars, factor in the inflation factor
and its over 40,000 in today’s dollars. There were politicians and “community leaders” that wanted to buy people on welfare new cars so that they could “get a job.”

American democracy- can not be spread to societies with populations that have never experienced any sort of social freedoms. It will lead to either social collapse or a totalitarian regimes. The Weimar Republic was a liberal democracy forced upon the monarchial subject of Germany (read Churchill’s comments on that). In many regards that government was more liberal than our own some 80 years later. End result? The democratically elected National Socialist candidate, Adolf Hitler. Loved the revolution in France. Vive, la France! Opps, Hello Napoleon- how was Moscow?

Democracies enter wars and invade countries all the time. Actually, the only democracy that I know that has stayed out of conflict is the oldest one, Iceland.

The only value that a democracy has over totalitarian states in warfare is that we spend more money figuring out ways to kill off their poor folks more economically then they spend trying to kill ours. The Soviet Union had to maintain a far larger military than ours because we went for quality over quantity.

2) I will consider reading the Rational Public after I am done reading my current study of democracy, the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

I put forth that comparing the 19th century electorate with the 21st century is invalid. We certainly do not have the same work ethic, moral values, or family structure that freed the slaves, built the transcontinental railroad and expanded the nation. The large majority of the people came from rural areas and small towns where they had to have an at least a basic understanding of monetary policy because a large segment of the economy was based on the ability of farmers to get loans (cheap money) to buy seed.

Life was slower, people talked to each other more, and we all shared a basic core of values that simply does not exist today. Can you imagine having a discussion of the social and economic ramifications of the 140 million abortions that have resulted from Roe v Wade with Abraham Lincoln? How value of Midnight Basketball, illegitimacy rates and drug abuse in suburban towns with ANY 19th century church minister?

Political parties were also structured differently back then and they could legally exclude those who did not share the party’s political ideals. Today political parties can not control their own membership.

Today’s political party is the political equivalent of Hardy’s “Paris Hilton Car Wash Slut” commercial. Great wash job promoting a fantastic tasting monster burger. But it the end, I will never get the play with Paris (she isn’ part of the Hilton Rewards Package-I asked when I signed up), I get indigestion and will likely have a heart attack from being over weight and eating hamburger made from a hormone enhanced mad cows.

Most of our social policy is dependent on the electorate having a shallow understanding of issues and the media controlling the dissemination of what little information is given in 30 second sound bites.

3) People are that ignorant and will spend more time defending their own self righteous stupidity then actually thinking about policy. Ask someone to find the “Right to Privacy” in the US Constitution after they first read the section dealing with specific powers... Ask them to find where the Social Security Trust Fund is deposited.

You are absolutely correct about people voting their self interest. I am just not sure why you think that is amazing. Baby Boomers are well known for caring only about their own self interest and electing people that will give them what they want.

What would really be amazing if the electorate demanded that politicians look to the future good of the republic instead of squandering tax dollars now.

4) Participatory democracy led to the rise of Hitler, the Spanish Civil war and the election of Duke’s of Hazzard ‘Cooter” to Congress. Having the muddle headed masses rule also leads to economic and social deterioration, anarchy, and ultimately the authoritarian rule by a small elite.

I seem to remember a political science lecture where the bearded wonder talking said that you could gage legitimacy of the government by the number of law enforcement officers and organizations needed to enforce the laws. Notice all those State Police uniforms riding with APD?

PS: I am a modified Jeffersonian- libertarian at heart and can see a time in the future where the tree of liberty is going to be refreshed. I believe in democracy. I believe that we have it within us to have the informed electorate. I just fear that it will happen during France’s Fifth Republic and our second.    

At 1:52 PM , Blogger Matt said:

You make 30 or more points in your recent argument, some I agree with and others i do not. One thing Iam an expert on, however, is 19th century American politics, and you seem somewhat misinformed about it's dynamics:

1)You are right about the parties as private clubs, and i wholly agree that the move toward parties as legal entites of the state has been a major mistake.

2)Your basic core value argument is nonsense. Whatever the immorality of abortion (and i think it is immoral), in terms of divisivness it pales in comparison to the fundamental issues of the 19th century: slavery, tariffs, labor regulation, immigration, and national expansion. Recall that many, if not most, Americans of the early 19th century did not consider people of different states/regions to be of the same nationality as themselves, and a vast majority of people held allegiance to their state prior to their nation. Both major parties of the second party system collapsed under the strain of competing "core values" within their party, and the only parties that could be fashioned to survive from 1854 into the 20th century were parties that were strictly sectional in character. So although most Americans shared core values on the issues that are divisive today, they did not share core values over the things in conflict in the 19th century, and the fissures were far greater. Remember, 600,000 americans died fighting a war over a core value. I don't see that kind of fury among abortion demonstrators on either side of the aisle.

3) Understanding of monetary policy because they came from small towns? Hey - i hate big cities as much as the next person (as this blog is a testament to), but it ridiculous to say that anyone without a high school education could even begin to grasp 19th century economics. They knew which party was good for their interests and they voted for that party. Then they let the elites worry about how to regulate tariffs, borrow money, and keep the dollar happy. The situation was worse in the cities, obviously, where the immigrants had no money, awful conditions, and little support.

4) Life was slower, we talked to each other more? Sure, life was slower, in the sense that it took weeks to talk to someone who didn't live in your town. And it's true that people were more involved with people in their local community. But i don't see how that translates into better national government. I see how it affects local government, but not anything else. And for every great thing you can say about political culture in the 19th century, i can come up with a bad thing. I love the 19th century, there's lots in it to recommend. But the political culture is probably not high on the list.

I'm generally a libertarian too, but to be a libertarian is to believe in a set of policy prescriptions for society. It is not a form of government. You can be a libertarianand like monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, or any of their good/bad derivatives. I happen to think democracy is best because I believe it ultimately maximizes popular hapiness, well-being, and security in a nation. If you bone with modern american democracy is the policy preferences chosen by the people, don't blame the system. Just tyr change the people's minds.    

At 9:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

Personally my take is make it one candidate, two petitioners, get the signatures and that's it.

I'm fed up with how the Party committees "endorse" a "candidate" before petitions even go out, and then carry for him or her. The incumbent is practically guaranteed of being on the ballot in this scenario. In many cases, if 20-plus committee members each get two sheets (20 signatures), the candidate doesn't even *have* to petition to get the minimum (although naturally anyone with half a brain has to get more than the minimum to avoid challenges).

If you really want to encourage real democracy, and let the primary system operate as it should, ban all involvement in primaries by any party until the registered voters of that party have decided who the candidate will be -- on their own.    

At 10:35 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

I realize I am a bit rusty on some of 19th century political history as its been a decade since I was a graduate student and now I only read what interests me instead of what someone else tells me is going to be of interest to me (my old professors- not your recommendations!) . I do understand that United States before the War Between the States is far different that the United States after the Civil War.

2) So then, I right when putting forth that it is incorrect to equate the 19th century with 21st century voter. The people voted to separate from the United States and then took up arms, either to protect their state’s sovereignty or to preserve the Union really can not be compared to the yammering idiots who sign up to vote at the DMV and then base their vote on who has the best hair cut and the under ware they tell people they are wearing when asked on national television.
3) You are incorrect to state that they could not begin to grasp economics. They had to. Prior to the 1860s banks were issuing their own paper money and the politicians were fighting over gold, silver and a central bank. The farmer, the merchant, and the mechanic all had to know the value of the paper that was being traded and the solvency of the bank issuing it. This led to the discounting of paper from certain areas and the use of foreign coin in others.

Following the creation of the national system during the civil war there were battles over hard money and paper and that directly affected the farmers who wanted to have cheap paper to repay loans and mortgages.

To say that they didn’t have a clue simply is false.

4) Lets compar and contras political debates. Lincoln- Douglas vs Lloyd Benson- Dan Quayl. Political speeches were events, not sound bites. Candidates wrote their own and people based their votes on the content- not on how well someone reads a prepared speech. Even small towns had political rallies. Now we have people that stand on street corners with signs telling us to honk for peace.

The very isolation that caused people to be more involved in their communities caused better national government. The national government was limited in its ability to interfere in state and local maters by both logistical constraint and because, even after the Civil War, the upper house of Congress, the Senate, was appointed by the state governments and not by popular election. A US Senator would not do anything that took local control away from the people that appointed him.

Instead of relying on some big unaccountable bureaucracy thousands of miles away people were able to hold their local governments accountable. If there was a problem the people either solved the problem on the local level or lived with it. Now we have expensive failed federally mandated programs and we still have to live with the problems.

And, of course, hindsight is always 20/20. We can look back through history and pick and choose our examples. But as far as contemporary politics goes for every proposal that you have to “better” our democracy I am sure that I can come up with a ton of reasons why it will exasperate the problem you are trying to solve. I firmly believe that Political Scientists should stick to theories and keep out of the practical.

I think one of the absolute worse trends that this country faces is the rise of the professional campaign staff, by the way. Although from my own personal experience it does pay rather well and is a lot of fun.

My personal brand of libertarianism comes from my Catholic upbringing. You should have the right to sin but you have the responsibility not to. You should live your life as you see fit. You do not have the right to tell me that I should appreciate, accept, condone or pay for your life style choices, however.

I believe that an informed and educated public is necessary for a viable democracy. While you may see democracy as maximizing public happiness, well being and security I see the rise of the uniformed rabble as the cause of our democracy’s ultimate failure. To over simplify an example, our current brand of politics is like going on a drinking bing. Oh what fun it is to go out and really get sloshed. But the hangover for this democracy is going to be fatal.

I don’t blame the system, I blame the people who dictate that we must change for change sake. I blame the people who do not bother to consider the consequences of the feel good policies they are using to buy votes. I blame the people who have cheapen our democratic experience.

As for trying to change peoples minds, every day.

The idiots got thrown off the ballot for bad petitions didn’t do it because the color of their cover sheets were wrong, they got thrown off because they didn’t care enough about the voters to meet the basic requirements.    

At 10:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

Rereading what I just posted I think I want to clarify something so it doesn’t sound like a cheap jab about your degree work. I worked under a PhD/ Political Science. He is brilliant. He really knows his stuff and is likely one of the best in his field of expertise. He teaches, he advises, he pontificates. But he seems limited in his ability to see past his narrow field of expertise. Some of those around him used to say he had a PhD in the obvious. Because if it wasn’t in his narrow field of expertise he generally didn’t see it.

Do you find that the higher you progress the less you understand the grand scheme? Is your PhD work focusing your understanding or expanding it?    

At 11:09 PM , Blogger Matt said:

I understand that you are limited government proponent. I am too. But that shouldn't make you a 19th century nostalgic, which you most certainly are. Politics was far scummier, corruption far more rampant, and the average voter far less informed. It is true that most people were more into electoral politics than they are today, but that's because electoral politics was the sum of politics and many people's livelihood depended on party favors. Forms of particpiation unimaginable in 1860, such as this blog conversation, are commonplace today, even among people who don't ever vote. I suggest you re-examine your ideas about 19th century politics. Pick up one of the classics - I suggest Bryce's two volume "American Commonwealth." It's an evenhanded and fair assessment of American democracy circa 1892.

Since you desire an educated populous, but continually knock my education, you must want everyone to have some middle level education with a large does of civic knowledge/virute. You might as well join the dreamers in academia.

What you say about your mentor with the Ph.D. is the exact reason i don't plan to stay in academia. Everyone is very narrow minded, not street-smart in any sense. They are all egoists who have no practical knowledge about anything. I'm not joking. It really is disturbing to hang out with the "best and the brightest" at yale. Many of them can't tie their own shoelaces, so to speak.

I actually don't think we disagree about all that much. The written format tends to make people respond to points with counterpoints, but i actually think we share most of our common political values, especially as matters of public policy. I agree with you that something is not better simply because it is more democratic (I, for one, do not favor direct primaries), and that gives us much more in common with each other than we have with most other people.

I'm enjoying these converstaions, although you do seem to have a chip on your shoulder about the modern federal establishment. My advice: don't blame the average person, just blame the democrats and the big government conservatives like bush.    

At 12:36 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

My favorite period is actually the colonial period through to the beginning of Washington’s first term.- not the 19th century.

As I keep telling my wife, Cholera epidemics were also very Victorian.

I am a dreamer. You got me. Civic virtue is my hope and I fear the over specialization of America. Besides, the last time I could take cheap shots at views of a political scientist I had to refrain because of the whole depending on the grades thing.

You are right about my views of the modern federalism. I believe that the relationship between the state and the citizen has drastically changed over the past 30 years. Instead of the government having to be responsive to the needs of the people, the people are now required to be responsive to the needs of the government.

While I don’t want to get into the particulars- as I am sitting here at my desk typing this and trying to eat my lunch I had to stop and explain to someone that I was prohibited by state and federal regulations from doing the simply thing that they had asked me to do. For all I know they may have been dispatched from a state agency to “test me” which the division of licensing is known to do.

We have all been afraid of a small group of elite taking over. Instead this becoming the tyranny of the civil servant. Wasn’t it the large inefficient bureaucracy that helped bring down the USSR and the last dynasty in China?

Bush is just like his dear old dad. A Conservative when it is election time and a Liberal when it is time to govern.

By the way, for some reason your site is not loading right if you use IE. I had to load it with mozilla.    

At 7:17 PM , Blogger Matt said:

what exactly went wrong in IE - it looks fine when i load from IE, but i must admit that i code the page from Firefox, and thus only spot check it's appearance in IE.

let me know, mg    

At 7:39 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said:

It loaded extremely slow and for some strange reason it started using up 99% of the CPU and then it locked up and stopped responding. It doesnt do it with mozilla and I restarted the computer and retried IE and it happened again.

So what are you planning to do with your degree?    

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