Minors Matter: Politics Edition


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On March 25, Messiah held its first “Minors Matter” fair, which encouraged students to supplement their major with a minor in another discipline.  In celebration, two of our politics minors shared how they came to the politics department, and how a politics minor has enriched both their academic and personal lives.  Enjoy!

 Rachel Bauman ’15: English Major

A fine-lookin' dameI am a senior English major with a writing concentration. I had always been more interested in politics and political history than the average person my age, but I had never even remotely considered studying it in college. As I was registering for classes for the spring semester of my sophomore year, I realized that one of the classes I was planning to take was already full and I needed three more credits. I figured I might as well choose a class that sounded interesting since it would be a free elective. After frantically scouring the course offerings in numerous disciplines, I decided on American Government with Dr. Rego. I knew nothing about the politics department, but since it was a lower-level politics class, I thought it would be fairly low-stress, so it would be no big deal if I didn’t like it. Au contraire, I am pleased to say. The class turned out to be more challenging than I expected, but I enjoyed the material and the lectures so much that I was glad to get the opportunity to delve into the subject through readings and class discussion.

I soon realized that I was way too excited about The Federalist Papers (family and friends can attest to this trying time) not to invest at least part of my college career in politics. And I’m so glad I did! Studying politics has enriched my life in so many ways. It has complemented my English major by enhancing my critical thinking skills and my ability to analyze texts. And because the department combines the best of the humanities and social sciences, I have been exposed to writing in and for different disciplines. The department’s small size has enabled me to meet an entirely different set of people from those in my major, and the wonderful professors have taken me in as a member of the politics family. (I’m even the department work study!) My experiences in the politics department have opened my eyes to different career opportunities that I had never previously considered and have changed the way I think about my future. My only regret was that, due to timing and circumstances beyond my control, I was not able to do a double major. But when people ask me what I’m studying at school, I’ve taken to responding “English and politics” anyway!

Jonathan Barry Wolf ’16: Ethnic & Area Studies and English Double Major

Jonathan Barry WolfAs a first year student, I was looking for that perfect major-minor combination that would expand my mind, prepare me for grad school, and look great on a resumé. In order to explore these academic options, I enrolled in a variety of different classes that piqued my interest. One of these classes was American Government. In American Government, I learned about the foundations and operations of our government. I found the subject of politics to be fascinating, and so I continued to enroll in Politics courses. By the second semester of my sophomore year, I declared a double major in English and Ethnic and Area Studies with a minor in Politics.

The way I see it, my Politics minor is the perfect foundation for both my majors. Classes like American Political Thought and Ethnic and Racial Politics in America have informed the way I approach English and Ethnic Studies and have strengthened my understanding of American sociopolitical history. By analyzing the arguments of federalists, antifederalists, pro-slavery writers, abolitionists, as well as the majority and minority opinions of Supreme Court justices in classes like Civil Liberties and Civil Rights, I learned how to shape good arguments and articulate my thoughts clearly and concisely.

Minoring in Politics has also helped me to become a more informed citizen. I have a better understanding of current events, and I am also more aware of how I can affect positive change when I disagree with a situation. My original goal was to find a major-minor combo that would challenge my thinking, prepare me for further education, and intrigue a future employer. I believe I have achieved all this and more as a Politics minor.

Politics at the Movies: Selma and The Imitation Game


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The following guest post was written by senior politics major Casey Daggett.Selma_poster

For as long as I can remember, I have loved stories. No small amount of my childhood was spent surrounded by piles of books borrowed from the local library. As I grew up, that love developed into an equal affection for film. Film is just as transformative, just as powerful a medium, as what we consider to be traditional narrative, and I’ve found it is often through film that I find myself moved, inspired and touched.

Last month, I spent two consecutive Sunday afternoons at the movie theatre in Camp Hill, first to see Selma and then The Imitation Game. Both were nothing short of masterful; each beautifully and poignantly portrayed their respective protagonists as well as the challenges and cultural nuances of their settings. As both ended, the last image on the screen was a title card explaining the fates of MLK Jr. and Alan Turing. Shortly after the events of Selma, MLK Jr. was assassinated, and less than a year after beginning hormone treatments, Alan Turing committed suicide.

After the end of both films, just as the lights began to rise, I heard someone behind me sigh wistfully, “What a shame.

It is, of course, a shame. It is nothing short of a tragedy.

In both cases, the lives of two brave, brilliant men were ended far too early as a result of systematic injustice. For Turing, a government that actively dehumanized homosexuals and worked to ‘cure’ them through either jail or hormone imbalances; for King a government that for far too long had ignored the plight of its own citizens and turned a blind eye to rampant discrimination.

This led me to consider how many ‘shames’ I will sit down to watch in a theatre thirty or forty years from now. How many instances of injustice that now only warrant perhaps a sad sigh or casual interest wilThe_Imitation_Game_posterl one day appear upon a movie screen and result in the disbelief of an audience? How was such a thing allowed to continue, to endure? Where was the outcry, the rage? Where was the justice?

This is the primary reason why I chose to study politics and why I believe my discipline, contrary to the opinions of many, is critically important. Politics is a study of constitutions, ideologies, and electoral systems, certainly, but the beating heart of the study examines how communities choose to live together and, most importantly, how those within can be given the best possible life. Political activism, an understanding of the nuances of difficult and often uncomfortable issues, works to combat these ‘shames’ and to see injustice defeated.

Viewing both Selma and The Imitation Game reminded me of the necessity of what I study, of the call not only to recognize injustice but to end it through political activism. It is a challenge, absolutely, and one that requires no small amount of determination and strength, but it is unquestionably deserving of the effort. Years down the road, when we’ve a free Sunday afternoon to spend at the movies, let’s work to see as few of these ‘shames’ as possible up on the big screen.


Russians: A Review


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The following post was written by department work study Rachel Bauman.


(New York: Twelve Books) 2014

Russia has been a frequent focal point of international attention since the days of the Soviet Union. The actions of the Russian government continue to confound and frustrate the international community. A recent example is Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, which continues despite ceasefire agreements and international sanctions. Yet Putin remains very popular among Russians, perhaps a partial reflection of Russians’ desire to be taken seriously in the global community, even if it means sacrificing freedoms to a more authoritarian leader.

I am of the opinion that Russia, and its political system, can best be understood through the prism of history and culture. And so, with a semester of post-Soviet Russian politics under my belt and an intense (perhaps obsessive) interest in understanding the Russian people, I picked up Gregory Feifer’s 2014 book, Russians: The People Behind the Power, for a little leisure reading. Feifer, a journalist and former NPR correspondent, has a unique perspective: his American father and Russian mother met at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959. Though he grew up in London and Connecticut, he spent years traveling and living in Russia, experiencing part of his heritage firsthand. There is nothing detached about Feifer’s relationship with Russians—it is peppered with stories of his mother and her family, his parents’ relationship, and his own observations experiencing and writing about Russia.

That being said, Feifer still draws on outside sources—including recent surveys, historical accounts, and literature—for his background information as he argues that the factors shaping Russia today have been doing so for years. Each chapter serves to address one of these factors. Of particular interest is his exploration of “extravagance” in Russian culture—much of it a holdover from the rise of the oligarchs in the early 1990s who capitalized on the privatization of state-owned enterprises and amassed huge amounts of wealth. Moscow alone is home to more billionaires than any other city in the world. Economic inequality in Russia is a source of resentment for many Russians, who rightly conclude that many of the wealthy obtained and retain their wealth due to collusion with the government and other corrupt practices.

Feifer focuses heavily on corruption as a deeply-rooted problem in Russian society. In general, political institutions are nothing more than a front for the “informal networks of crony arrangements” which rule behind the scenes. Personal loyalties take precedence just as they did in medieval Muscovy, during which time, Feifer notes, tsars would distribute their powers among ruling clans. In Putin’s Russia today, power and influence are contingent on support for the President, at least outwardly. Dissidence is easily punished in a society where bribes and threats are more influential than the rule of law, which has little historical precedent in Russia.

Russia’s problems are indeed deeply entrenched, but Feifer reminds his readers that Russia is still grappling with the legacy of 70 years of Soviet rule and cannot be expected to come out of that experience without some trauma. He calls for the West to confront Russia with an understanding that the way Russia operates, and the assumptions its leaders make, are often radically different than our own. Although this book is more than a list of things that are wrong with Russia and the origins of these problems, I found it to be a very bleak read, perhaps too colored by the negative personal experiences of Feifer and his family in the past. Nonetheless, the book is engagingly written and provides many excellent insights into Russian culture and its influence on politics. It is by no means a textbook, but I recommend it as a timely supplement to more academic analyses of contemporary Russia.

Orwell, Language, and Liberty: Part Two


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The following post is the second of two installments by department work study Rachel Bauman. Part One can be viewed here.

1984 cover

Orwell clearly ties his thoughts on current political discourse to the state of language itself in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” and these opinions are an integral part of Orwell’s commentary on the totalitarian state in Nineteen Eighty-Four. He begins the essay by asserting that “the English language is in a bad way,” a situation whose origins, he believes, stem from problems in the political sphere (“Politics” 143). Orwell posits a vicious cycle of language degradation, a kind of reciprocity in which “foolish thoughts” lead to sloppy language, and imprecision of language contributes to foolish thoughts (“Politics” 143). It is thus a linguistic renewal which must occur in order to improve the level of political discourse, and Orwell argues that such a change is possible if prose writers, and particularly political writers, would turn away from the “staleness of imagery” and “lack of precision” which belie a “mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence” (“Politics” 143-5). It is on this basis that he constructs Newspeak as one of the Party’s main methods of controlling minds in Nineteen Eighty-Four (Bolton 154).

Newspeak is a tool of the Party; according to Orwell’s appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four, the language was created “to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism” (Nineteen 312). Winston, the novel’s protagonist, receives an explanation of the principles of Newspeak from Syme, a Party philologist. Syme clarifies that, in his belief, “Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak” (Nineteen 55). They depend on the existence of one another, and both wield power over the individual, subsuming their identity into the mentality of the collective. Newspeak’s aim, according to Syme, who is working on the eleventh edition of the Newspeak Dictionary, is to “narrow the range of thought” by systematically narrowing the vocabulary, an idea that corresponds with Orwell’s linguistic determinism— that is, the theory that the structure and content of a given language dictates its speakers’ range of thought (Nineteen 55). By limiting language, then, the Party can control minds, ensuring that “a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc… should be literally unthinkable” (Nineteen 312). With this loss of language comes a loss of liberty—for example, words associated with political freedom, such as “liberty” and “equality,” are subsumed into crimethink and become independent of any meaning other than being associated with thoughts against the Party; other words which could be used to express anti-Party sentiments are deleted entirely from the lexicon (Nineteen 318). Essentially, Newspeak is a combination of Oldspeak words for everyday things and activities, purged of any meanings other than innocuous ones; words created by the Party “to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them,” and specialized scientific jargon (Nineteen 313, 316, 322). It is with this power of limiting language that the Party aspires to perpetuate its social structure, subjugate its citizens, and create its own truth in order to have complete power over its people.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell makes a potent case against totalitarianism by satirizing the elements of the ideology he saw in his own society. Orwell sees politics and language as intricately linked, and the consequences of this relationship play out on a grand scale in Ingsoc. Language is the currency of the Party— it gives the Party the ability to control society as a whole, individuals, and history. With these three elements combined, the Party has the ultimate power to define reality as it sees fit. Orwell calls for a return to awareness: he “wishes us to be attentive to our use of English because he wants us to be alive to our beliefs”—mere passivity will not do (Bailey 43). As Winston writes in his diary, “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows” (Nineteen 84). Where a reflective, unfettered spirit of language is preserved, so too is liberty.

Orwell’s commentary on the state of the English language in political discourse is strikingly relevant today in our media-bombarded society. From the twisted words of campaign ads to the squawking of partisan pundits, current political discourse brings with it an unsettling sense that we’ve heard it all before. Perhaps, as Orwell feared, the language we use to talk about politics has narrowed—whether by simple attrition or by the limitations, even implied, imposed on it by government and society as a whole. We would do well to heed Orwell’s call to use language carefully and critically, with an appreciation for nuance. Language is too valuable, too integral to our reasoning, to be squandered on trite talking points.


Works Cited and Further Reading

Bailey, Richard W. “George Orwell and the English Language.” The Future of Nineteen Eighty-four. Ed. Ejner J. Jensen. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1984. 23-46. Print.

Bolton, W. F. The Language of 1984: Orwell’s English and Ours. Oxford: Blackwell, 1984. Print.

Newsinger, John. Orwell’s Politics. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999. Print.

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-four. London: Secker & Warburg, 1997. Print.

Orwell, George. “Politics and the English Language.” Inside the Whale and Other Essays. London: Penguin in Association with Secker & Warburg, 1957. 143-57. Print.

Orwell, George. “The Prevention of Literature.” Inside the Whale and Other Essays. London: Penguin in Association with Secker & Warburg, 1957. 159-74. Print.

Orwell, Language, and Liberty: Part One


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The following post is the first of two installments by department work study Rachel Bauman.

George Orwell (1903-1950) was a profoundly political writer, with his opinions shaped by his experience with the world wars, revolutions, and political upheaval which characterized the period in which he lived. Though he is arguably best known today for his novels Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), Orwell also wrote prolifically on the political issues of his time, from the problems of British imperialism to his concerns about the Soviet Union (Newsinger x). Though Orwell’s novels were embraced by the political right in both the United States and the United Kingdom, he was actually a staunch advocate for socialism who sought to comment on the corruption of socialism by totalitarian regimes (Newsinger x-xi). Much of his criticism of contemporary totalitarianism, and the general political climate of his time, focused on the significance of language in both freeing and oppressing people, perpetuating social hierarchy, and defining truth and reality (Bolton 15, 143, 154). In Nineteen Eighty-Four, language serves all of these purposes. Language is power, and power is the Party’s ultimate goal— thus, in order for the Party to gain power “not… over things, but over men” (Nineteen 276), the Party must control language and all that it entails.

In order to better understand Nineteen Eighty-Four, it is important to first gain a clearer understanding of Orwell’s political views and their development. After a five-year stint with the Indian Police in Burma, beginning in 1922, Orwell emerged from the job a hater of imperialism and a “determined opponent of authority and supporter of the downtrodden” (Newsinger 2-3). This formative time in Orwell’s life led him to adopt what Newsinger calls “a particular idiosyncratic brand of revolutionary socialism,” and he was conscious of its possible applications in the context of twentieth-century Britain (21). This rosy revolutionary idealism soon faded when, in late 1936, Orwell went to Barcelona and signed up to be a member of the POUM militia in Spain, a group that advocated for a complete revolution and subsequent dismantling of the “bourgeois state” (Newsinger 44-5). Orwell’s negative encounters with revolutionary Communists and their brutal tactics led to his claim that “Communism is now a counter-revolutionary force… using the whole of their powerful machinery to crush or discredit any party that shows sign of revolutionary tendencies” (qtd. in Newsinger 59). This distaste for Communism continued throughout Orwell’s life and was a driving force in his later works, such as Nineteen Eighty-Four (Newsinger 89).

Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) during his days in Burma

Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) during his politically formative years in Burma

The imminent approach of war in the late 1930s shifted Orwell’s political perspectives still more. When Britain finally declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939, Orwell, who was originally anti-war, switched to a kind of “revolutionary patriotism”—he hoped that the war would provide an opportunity for socialist ideas to take hold in Britain (Newsinger 62, 66). By the end of 1942, Orwell abandoned these prospects as unrealistic; even so, he remained a socialist (Newsinger 89, 97). His political beliefs were anchored in a strong opposition to the Communism of the Soviet Union, which he believed had bastardized the ideals of true socialism (Newsinger 110). Socialism in Orwell’s mind was “a democratic classless society where private property had been replaced by common ownership of the means of production”—it was nothing like the totalitarian regime which emerged in the post-war Soviet Union (Newsinger 112, 119). Orwell was particularly disturbed by the public’s lack of understanding about the distinctions between socialism and communism as it was being practiced in the Soviet Union, and it became his goal to dispel this false notion in order to restore respect for socialist ideas (Newsinger 110). With this goal in mind, Nineteen Eighty-Four should be viewed as not an attack on socialism, but rather as a satire of totalitarianism, which Orwell viewed as “the culmination of a trend in his own time that alarmed him” (Newsinger 130, Bailey 40). Not a prophetic vision, exactly, but a satirical projection of where Orwell’s conception of the toxic political climate, if not rectified, might lead (Bailey 23-4, Bolton 151).


Works Cited and Further Reading

Bailey, Richard W. “George Orwell and the English Language.” The Future of Nineteen Eighty-four. Ed. Ejner J. Jensen. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1984. 23-46. Print.

Bolton, W. F. The Language of 1984: Orwell’s English and Ours. Oxford: Blackwell, 1984. Print.

Newsinger, John. Orwell’s Politics. New York: St. Martin’s, 1999. Print.

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-four. London: Secker & Warburg, 1997. Print.

Orwell, George. “Politics and the English Language.” Inside the Whale and Other Essays. London: Penguin in Association with Secker & Warburg, 1957. 143-57. Print.

Orwell, George. “The Prevention of Literature.” Inside the Whale and Other Essays. London: Penguin in Association with Secker & Warburg, 1957. 159-74. Print.

An Evening with Doris Kearns Goodwin


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The following post was written by senior Rachel Bauman, department work study and blog manager for the 2014-15 school year.

Doris Kearns Goodwin and Kim Phipps. (Image courtesy of the Messiah College Facebook page.)

Doris Kearns Goodwin with college president Kim Phipps. (Image courtesy of Messiah College.)

On October 30, I had the pleasure of being in a sold-out Parmer Hall, hearing renowned historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Doris Kearns Goodwin speak on her newest book, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. Goodwin is perhaps best known as the author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, which was adapted into the critically-acclaimed 2012 film Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg.

Goodwin admitted that her interest in strong leadership has framed her studies thus far; she has written extensively about some of the most dynamic presidents in American history, including FDR, Lincoln, and now Theodore Roosevelt. Some of our best presidents showed their strength in times of national crisis. But, Goodwin noted, there were no large-scale crises during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. What then contributed to TR’s leadership? She outlined ten characteristics that defined leadership to her, including conquering the self, resolutely addressing the problems of the time, and taking criticism “with grace.” TR conquered his sickly childhood through rigorous self-training. As President, he took steps to address the social crises that came with the industrial revolution, like poor working conditions, unsanitary food production, and monopolistic business practices. And TR was well-known for his rapport with journalists of every persuasion; he even invited some of his fiercest critics for meals at the White House!

“He adored being president,” said Goodwin of TR. He was a master communicator and traveled around the country more than any previous president, talking simply and persuasively to the American people about citizenship and the importance of virtue. Because he had already been in office for seven and a half years following the assassination of William McKinley, he decided not to run in 1908. He put his full support behind his Secretary of War and close friend William Howard Taft, who he was sure would carry out his progressive policies. Unfortunately, noted Goodwin, “not everyone who is number two is meant to be number one,” and Taft’s kindly personality was not well-suited for an effective presidency. This led to a rupture in Taft and TR’s relationship, reaching its peak during the 1912 election season when TR, who failed to secure the nomination of the Republican Party, ran under the Bull Moose Party of his own creation. The Republican votes were split between Taft and Teddy, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the election. Before Roosevelt’s death in 1919, however, he and Taft were fully reconciled, which was a joyous occasion for both of them.

Interspersed throughout Goodwin’s summary and discussion of her book were lively stories about her time working with Lyndon Johnson when he was President and later as he wrote his memoirs at his Texas ranch. Johnson opened up to Goodwin, whom he hired even after she wrote a condemnatory article about his handling of the Vietnam War, about his concerns that the war would tarnish his reputation. She recounted that LBJ was always working—even while floating in his pool, and that his only real solace from the stresses of the presidency was found in the support of his wife, Lady Bird. Goodwin also discussed her childhood love of storytelling, which led her to become the “narrative historian” she is today, and her experience working with Steven Spielberg and Daniel Day-Lewis on Lincoln. Goodwin also noted that Spielberg has already purchased the rights to her new book on TR and Taft, which is sure to be impressive.

The most memorable part of the evening for me was during the question and answer session, when Goodwin considered whether or not her great love for the historical figures she studies clouds her objective judgment about them. She stated that her research always begins with respect and admiration of some kind, and a desire to like the person she’s researching—after all, she has to “live with them,” as she calls it, for years. But this affection doesn’t mean she won’t be occasionally disappointed. Her admiration for FDR, for example, is tarnished by his call for internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. But, Goodwin noted, it is important to balance the strengths and failures of such figures when analyzing their decision.

Goodwin’s message can easily apply to our current political context. We must remember that our leaders in government are indeed fallible human beings, with both strengths and lapses in judgment. Leadership is more than just getting it right all the time; it is a consistent pattern of principles mixed with pragmatism. It is an attempt to secure the most good for the most people, even if it requires self-denial. At the end of his life, Goodwin said, Theodore Roosevelt wanted to feel as though he had lived with integrity, doing his best with what he had been given. May our present and future political leaders strive to do the same.


The Gospel of Lear



The following guest post was written by senior politics major Casey Daggett.

King Lear, undoubtedly one of Shakespeare’s greatest masterpieces, if not his crowning achievement, reveals the profound complexities of human nature. While it presents a troubling picture of the human condition, the text wrought with violence, selfishness and suffering, its difficult lessons cannot be ignored and remain just as relevant to our society as they did in Elizabethan England.  Shakespeare’s tale of an aging, maddened king has the capacity to reflect our modern political environment.

King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s most complex figures. From first introduction, we learn that he is proud and that this hubris will be the undoing of both him and the innocent Cordelia. Lear is obsessed with his status as King and furious with Regan and Goneril for denying his requests to house both him and his men in an attempt to diminish his power. He then flees into a great tempest alongside the disguised Kent, his fool, and Edgar, walking through the countryside naked and raving.

However, it is in this moment, when King Lear has been robbed of everything that has designated him as a king—his power, prestige, and even the garb which would signify him as royalty—that he sees beyond the pride that has doomed him. For the first time in the play, King Lear sees beyond himself, crying out, “Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are / that bide the pelting of this pitiless storm / how shall your houseless heads and unfed sides / your loopt and window’d raggedness defend / you from such seasons as this?” (III.IV) When Lear has lost everything, only then does he think of those beneath him: the homeless and the hungry. He wonders how the marginalized people of his kingdom will survive such a wild storm as the one raging around him, those whom he has never before felt any commonality with.

"King Lear and the Fool in the Storm" by William Dyce

“King Lear and the Fool in the Storm” by William Dyce

Lear continues, shouting above the tempest that “O, I have ta’en / too little care of this! Take physic, pomp; / explore thyself to feel what wretches feel, / that thou mayest shake the superflux to them / and show the heavens more just” (III.IV). He realizes, naked and exposed to the fury of nature, that he has shown too little care towards the poorest and the neediest of his kingdom, that in his great pride he has overlooked those that needed him most. Lear goes on to advise the powerful to go out and truly understand what sorrow and poverty the poor experience in order to serve them better, to make the world a better place through empathy, generosity, and kindness. Only when Lear is stripped of all that has made him powerful, all that has designated him as king and given him wealth, can he understand the needs and fears of the poor.

Lear’s warning and regret serve as a powerful message to our own society, where the gap between the poor and the wealthy grows increasingly larger. Amidst the despair and darkness of King Lear, one brief moment of hope flickers, and that hope calls for the wealthy and privileged to aid the marginalized and the needy. Are we not also called to help those around us and to hold our political leaders to the same standard?

In a culture where fame and fortune is glamorized, what does it take for us to remember poverty and inequality? Must we first hit our absolute lows, be stripped of our status and our prestige to empathize with the marginalized and the downtrodden? Does it take an economic recession, low unemployment rates, business closings, and a downgrade in credit for not only our political leaders, but ourselves to help the poor? Will we then be able to empathize with those we previously overlooked?

Lear’s desperate cries into the storm serve not only as a warning, but as a message of hope. We are called to consider “the least of these,” to aid and serve them as our equals and peers, and to help them before political and economic tempests. As the ever-increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor grows, the message of social justice within King Lear is as relevant to our own society as it was to Shakespeare’s. The privileged and powerful have a duty to serve and aid those beneath them, to embrace them without disdain before a political or economic crisis strikes.

However, does our political culture reflect this calling?

Fall 2014: News and Happenings

I’m pleased to announce that our blog is back (and with a new look!) We’re now about a month into the Fall 2014 semester. The leaves are changing, sweaters are emerging from closets, and hot coffee is being sipped (or chugged, in some instances.) And here at the department of Politics and International Relations, classes are in full swing! Here’s just a sampling of what we’ve been up to:

Constitutional Law (POLI 214)

Dr. Rego is teaching the first of SCOTUSbuilding_1st_Street_SEa two-part sequence in Constitutional Law. This class, Governmental Power and Constraints, examines landmark constitutional cases regarding the allocation of power among the various institutions of government. General topics include the politics of constitutional interpretation, judicial power, legislative power, presidential power, separation of powers in action, nation-state relations, and economic liberties. Of special interest is the role of the Supreme Court in interpreting the Constitution. Throughout the semester, students are challenged to consider both the judicial and the political factors that influence the decision-making of justices, as well as the belief of many that the Supreme Court is, or should be, the ultimate/exclusive interpreter of the Constitution. Regardless of whether this is or should be the case, the Court is a major player in our political system. For this reason, students are expected to become proficient in reading and comprehending the judicial opinions through which the Court speaks to the nation in order to explain why it has done what it has done.

Theories of International Relations (POLI 362)

The millennial generation of students has been referred to as the “first globals;” that is, the first generation of young people to be networked to the culture, economics and politics of the global community. Just a couple of decades ago relatively few American students had travelled outside of the United States. Today, the majority of students have spent some time in another country, even before they got to college. It is not surprising, therefore, that student interest in studying international relations is growing. At Messiah College there are several options for students interested in global education. The Department of Politics and International Relations offers a popular major track in international relations that attracts students with interests that include diplomacy, public policy, intelligence work, non-governmental organizations, international law, and multi-national business. During the current fall semester Professor Dean Curry is teaching the IR track’s capstone course, Theories of International Relations. This upper division seminar, and sequel to the International Politics (POLI212) course, introduces students to the major theoretical approaches to IR as well as provides students with an opportunity to rigorously reflect on contemporary issues of global politics. According to Dr. Curry, one of his main objectives in teaching the KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAcourse is to connect the ivory tower of academic ideas to the gritty real world of the global political economy. The format of the course is structured on a graduate school seminar model with class discussion and group presentations focusing on timely articles as well as six recently published books addressing a range of IR issue areas.


In addition, be sure to check out our newly-uploaded department video, which features students and professors discussing the benefits of studying politics at Messiah College:


Be on the lookout for more blog entries later in the semester!

Interview with Dr. Lauermann, Politics Professor and Author of New Book


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Congratulations to Dr. Robin Lauermann on the upcoming release of her new book titled Constituent Perceptions of Political Representation: How Citizens Evaluate their Representatives. Below is an interview with Dr. Lauermann that highlights a synopsis of her argument, and outlines the process by which she wrote the book.

RobinLauermannDr. Lauermann, congratulations on your new book! Could you give a brief synopsis of the book and your central argument?

My book provides a look at the less studied aspect of representation – evaluations of officials by their constituents (not the member behavior or the citizen vote, but the link between these two). Specifically, I look at how policy, casework, earmarks and symbolic actions affect evaluations.  I find that symbolic behavior, which creates feelings of trust, is the most important factor affecting evaluations of U.S. House members.  This factor has not been incorporated in previous analyses which examined a variety of factors.  While this finding provides some comfort, in that it provides stability for our system, it also reflects that the public does not set high expectations for officials.  That facet in turn means that we are unable to hold them accountable in ways that produce constructive outcomes.

What inspired you to write this book? Why are you interested in the topic? 

It was originally the focus of my dissertation, though I have done much more extensive research and revision since that time, including taking two week long and intensive graduate level specialty statistics classes.  The genesis of this topic began with three classes: Legislative Process (Congress), Public Opinion, and Empirical Theories of Democracy.  These classes helped introduce me to the topic of representation, how it was intended to work (and does work here and in other countries), as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the system.  So much emphasis was on representative issue positions and I wanted to uncover more about the various factors shaping the representational process.  The work of Morris Fiorina, especially in the “personal vote” literature – which focuses on member activities beyond policy voting —  was inspirational to my own.

Tell me about your writing process for this project, i.e. how long have you been researching, how did you collect your data, and how long did it take you to write the completed version? 

I have been working on this project for over a decade, longer if you realize that some of the foundational ideas were sparked in my undergraduate and graduate classes.  I worked on each of the analytical chapters as independent articles, presenting at a number of conferences.  One chapter was published in the 2009 volume of Commonwealth: A Journal of Political Science.  My analysis is based primarily on data in the 1978-2000 National Election Studies, which provides a large and representative sample; it is a widely respected data source.  In addition, one chapter includes data from legislative voting scores which were added to one of the larger data sets; it was a work intensive process for which I was thankful to have a student serve as a Smith Scholar Intern (program at Messiah where students can intern as research assistants for faculty).  I also included narrative examples as well as contemporary data.

The publisher which accepted my manuscript was the second one to which I submitted the completed project and, in my opinion, a more noted one. Once it was accepted, I had to thread a theme within the manuscript, which sprang from an insight which developed from an op-ed that I had published last year.  The revisions took about three weeks and I had one final set of copyedits which were mostly stylistic – that is, how they preferred to present certain common aspects of writing such as words versus symbols, types of dashes, etc. – rather than revisions to my writing.  I had some personal satisfaction that the product that I submitted, much like the journal article, was accepted “largely,” which means that only modest edits were needed and that it was otherwise strong in content, organization, style and mechanics.  For a long project, I find that to be an accomplishment!  I credit the use of writing techniques – techniques which I share with students in my general education and major classes – for the final product.

Dr. Lauermann presents Democracy in America.

Dr. Lauermann presents Democracy in America.

What struggles did you face along the way?

The biggest challenge was persevering with the time to write amidst responsibilities of teaching and administration, as well as some difficult family circumstances.  I have a strong sense of self-discipline, but was sidelined by a number of competing priorities.  My knowledge in Political Science has helped me develop talents as an administrator; while highly rewarding, as I was able to pursue visions in policy as a leader in my roles as chair, director of advising and now assistant dean of general education and common learning, significant projects often crept into time that I planned for my research.  However, I was able to keep my oar in the water and, moreover, I think it is an improved product because of these experiences.

I also had to wrestle with a serious health issue of a family member for whom I took on legal responsibility/financial representation.  While I would not have chosen to do otherwise, fulfilling that need resulted in less time than I would have liked for the project at the time.

Finally, once I had the manuscript together, I was disappointed that the first submission was ultimately not accepted – initial reviews were positive, but upon revision the original reviewers were not available and the new reviewers were not as enamored of the project.  However, as was the case from the start of my research, when a graduate school professor questioned my topic, I believed strongly in its relevance.  In the end, being able to tweak the focus this last year as a result of some other writing on separate projects, I think the product and the publisher is of better quality.  Thus these struggles have shaped me and my work in indelible ways – ways which, in hindsight, I would not wish to undo.

What insight did you gain from writing on this topic that prior to research you were unaware of?

The public is not as apathetic as more historical scholars thought, but that we still have a responsibility to become more effective citizens in our critical thinking and information literacy  — social media has some creative aspects, but it speeds the communication of ill or un-informed perspectives and has the potential to boil things down too simplistically (like bumper stickers).

What significance does this topic have to students of politics?

We have a lot of thoughts and opinions about politics, but they are not always driven by knowledge.  If we think more about our role as citizens, we have the opportunity to promote a more constructive decision-making process, one which focuses on deliberation to reach the better outcome rather than just push an agenda which may or may not be based on actual understanding of problems and how to effectively solve them.  After all, the key element of politics IS decision-making, whether in government or any other organization.  All of the other pieces help us understand how the process works, why it may not and how to improve it.

When can we expect your book to be released, and where will it be sold?

It will be available December 3 on a variety of websites, directly from Palgrave MacMillan and also on others like Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the like.

Thank you, Dr. Lauermann, for sharing about your new book, and congratulations on your success! We look forward to reading it and gaining insight to further inform our knowledge on constituent perceptions of political representation.

Heavy Workloads, Rain, and Obamacare: a Typical Day at Oxford


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Current junior Politics major Johnathan Hershey is currently spending his semester studying abroad in Oxford. Below are his reflections on Oxford and what he learned from European students about their views on America’s health care debate.

Greetings from across the pond!

Messiah has graciously granted me the opportunity to study abroad at Oxford for a semester, so here I am in the UK!

096The Oxford system is pretty different. I recently wrote about it on my own blog (a shameless plug for johnathanhershey.wordpress.com) so you can check out how it works there! It’s so different from anything we experience in the States, and requires A LOT of time management skills, which has taken some adjustment for me (for those of you who know me, you would understand). I definitely encourage anyone interested to check it out. It’s definitely an experience I would recommend; I love it here. Fall has set in here in England with winter not far behind, which means a lot of rain, a lot of clouds when there is no rain, a lot of rain, really short days, cold weather, and, last but not least, a lot of rain.

One thing I have always heard about in the U.S. is how British people typically look down upon U.S. politics, and how they may see their system as “superior”, or in the 092very least, more effective. One night, I was talking to a new British friend who identifies himself as a staunch member of the Conservative party (for those of you who don’t know, there are three major parties in Parliament – Conservative, Liberal Democrats, and Labour). My friend spent his time railing against the evils of what he perceived as Socialist ideals advanced by the Labour party, and how he simply didn’t understand their view on economics and the government’s role in the economy. He thought that government should take a decreased role, and essentially, stay out altogether. Sound familiar?

Like any good students of politics, our topic of conversation eventually shifted to what was currently happening at the time – the American government shutdown over the funding of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly referred to as “Obamacare”. My original perception coming to the UK was that Conservatives here were much more “liberal” (in the American sense of the term; in terms of government control) than Republicans in America, fueled by the memory of one of my more conservative friends from Northern Ireland calling the American Republican Party “pointless”. My new friend here was shattering all my preconceived notions, voicing his support for Conservative policy that sounded much like Republican rhetoric I have heard many times in good ole’ Central Pennsylvania. This shift in conversation, however, put all of my previous thoughts back into play.

“The fact that your government shut down over universal healthcare is just [silly] to me. Why shouldn’t you give anyone healthcare? And you are denying it to the most 097vulnerable and the most helpless of your citizens. This is [absurd]. Here in the UK it is simply a given, everyone deserves free healthcare and everyone has it,” my friend remarked (comments have been edited to make them more appropriate). Our shutdown was childish to him. Even though it was quickly resolved, he saw no point in this overtly partisan conflict. My German roommate shared the same sentiment with me as my British friend: why prevent access to healthcare for the lowest income bracket of people? Aren’t these the people we should be helping onto their feet? My German roommate, needless to say, is a member of the Christian Social Union: Bavaria’s Christian conservative party.

Whether you support the Affordable Care Act, the government shutdown, or neither (there are certainly cogent arguments from both sides of the aisle), I believe that studying a broader array of viewpoints is helpful to anyone, regardless of field of study. Additionally, their thoughts reflect on two fundamental beliefs of Christianity that can sometimes become a paradox: helping the poor and financial stewardship. How do we begin or continue to assist the “least of these”, while efficiently stewarding the resources we have been blessed with? I found my European friends’ opinions to be immensely helpful in my own studies, and beneficial for this student of politics and international relations for living in this increasingly pluralistic world.

Thank you, Johnathan, for sharing your experiences! We wish you luck at Oxford, look forward to hearing more about your semester as it progresses!  

(Pictures: first depicts the main entrance to the Bodleian library, second is a quick view of Magdalen College, third is Radcliffe Camera – part of the Bodleian library)


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