Thursday, June 3, 2010

Political Reality Bites Political Scientist

This post and four that follow are largely autobiographical. They are intended to supplement the textbook world of political science with illustrations of political reality. If economics is the dismal science, the study of political science and government is disillusionment.

Freshly-armed with a Ph.D. in Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis, I set out in August 1968 for my first academic job at the University of Rochester in upstate New York. A degree in Political Science signifies an interest in politics and, in most cases, some conviction about what Aristotle called the “good.” For Aristotle, the good and ethics were inextricably interlinked. The study of politics involves citizenship, democracy, rights and responsibilities, tradeoffs, and many other related topics.

Those of us educated during the Vietnam War, new assistant professors of political science, leaned left. We tended to favor government intervention to solve social and economic problems, but disparaged the misbegotten war in Vietnam. Politicians were to be seen as role models, virtuous leaders engaged in public service rather than for-profit enterprise. After all, Veritas, Lux et Veritas, Veritas et Virtus, Meliora, Leges Sin Moribus Vanae, Vox Clamantis in Deserto, and Die Luft der Freiheit Weht, among others, constituted the mottos of universities and colleges.

Our family planning coincided with my ability to earn a living. Accordingly our first child, handsome fellow that he was and is, was born in January 1969. This meant that we had to plan for a trip back to St. Louis to introduce him to his American grandparents (the other set was living in Sydney, Australia).

It was our custom as we drove from one part of the country to another to take in some sights, especially those dealing with American history, During this trip we visited Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry, and Harrisburg Pennsylvania to see the magnificent State Capitol dedicated in 1906.

In we went with child in tow, looked at the rotunda with admiration, but were interrupted by the Sergeant at Arms of the Pennsylvania House Chamber. Banging the floor with his staff, he opened the door for the members to exit, and shouted in a loud voice: “Make way for their eminences.”

I turned to TBW (the beautiful wife) and uttered in astonishment, “It’s the people of Pennsylvania who pay their salaries. They have to make way for their eminences! Shouldn’t their eminences thank the citizens of Pennsylvania?”

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