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A Little Political Science (Or: Who's Afraid of Rick Perry Now?)

September 3, 2011, 9:23 PM

So I'm in Seattle at the meeting of the American Political Science Association.

The APSA meeting has to be one of the diverse and tolerant academic associations in the world.  There's no dominant methodology, ideology, or whatever.  Instead, there are dozens and dozens of small groups, each of which is defined by a particular approach and background. It's true that the groups don't interact or exchange views all that much.  Most of the panels, roundtables, and all that represent a fairly narrow and homogeneous part of my so-called profession.

So the convention really is like a bunch of lunch tables at a huge high school.  You sit with and are comfortable with your guys—3both proud of your superiority to and uncertain of your status in relation to the guys who at the other tables. 

That's not right, you might say!  The emphasis should be on getting out and about, challenged and even abused by those not like you.  The nerds and the jocks, the traditionalists and ther radicals, the numbers guys and the philosophy guys should be mixing it up.

But life is too short at the convention. People are here for "safe" networking and self-affirmation.  They're looking (as Darwin tells us) to herd with their own.  Academics in general don't make a lot of money and don't get out much, and so we have to allow them the luxury of enjoying Seattle.  I'm certainly about seeing my friends and former students here.

I might get around to telling you about the two talks I gave at the convention, which were well received by those of my kind, but would have been regarded as trivial yet suspicious quackery by the self-identified real scientists here.  The truth is they were really, really profound.

In lieu of a proper transition, let me call attention to the results of the most recent poll on the upcoming presidential election. It turns out that RICK PERRY is the one Republican now running who's running ahead of President Obama.  And it wouldn't be hard to call attention to other polls showing Perry running comfortably ahead of all the other Republican candidates. 

What about Sarah Palin!?  The studies show that an overwhelming majority of Republicans don't want her entering the race.

I tend to talk to a lot of political scientists here who vote Republican or are open to voting Republican or who at least grant that Republicans aren't all idiotic, selfish religious nuts who want the poor to starve.

Most of them sort of admire the way the swaggering Perry displays his devotion to his God and his guns.  But few think he would be such a good president.  So I've heard the following array of opinions:

1. We should man up and accept the fact that Perry will be the nominee.  Obama is so weak that anyone could beat him.  Perry's principles are solid enough, and he'll ally readily with THE TEA PARTY and such against big government.  He's not a rocket scientist, but he's cagey and astute.

2. Don't worry, the Perry campaign will implode.  He'll be terrible in the debates, and scandals about him are about to break.  At the end of the day, Romney will prevail.  He won't be a great president, but competent enough.  And disgruntled Republicans (of, say, THE TEA PARTY) won't follow through on their promises not to vote for him.  They want Obama gone too much.  Romney will end up beating Obama.

3. Don't worry, the Perry campaign will implode.  And then someone else will beat Romney, probably someone [Chris Christie?] who hasn't entered the race yet.  Romney is so unpopular among Republicans that anyone could take him out.

4. Don't worry, Perry will take Romney out, but then the voters will realize their mistake and  then turn to Huntsman.  He's the kind of moderate who'll appeal to independent voters. 

5. Perry's riding high now.  He'll probably get the nomination. But he's actually the Republicans' weakest candidate, the only one who can lose to Obama.  He has too much baggage—like his out-there hyper-evangelical moments.  He will repulse the key swing voters; he's just too "redneck" for them.  Plus, Democrat journalists will save the dirt they have on him until after he's clinched the nomination.

I will add that I do talk to Democrats too.  And Democratic women are actually somewhat fascinated with Bachmann and think she shouldn't be counted out.  Almost all Repubicans count her out. 

And here's what Democrats don't think:  That Obama's progressive agenda will be vindicated by a landslide victory.  They tend to think he'll win narrowly only because the Republicans are such loathsome screw-ups.  That is, his reelection will be more negative than positive, a rejection of THE TEA PARTY, not an affirmation of the incumbent's good work.

A small (but significant) number of Democrats now also wish they had or could get a better candidate.


A Little Political Science ...

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