The Israeli Right Wins…Again…Haters Should Get Use To It

Benjamin Acosta

In Israel, the political Right continues to reign supreme. On March 17th, Israelis reelected Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu’s Likud party to power. Despite a noisy media opposition and in the face of legions of commentators claiming that Israel’s Left would resurrect, Bibi and the Right prevailed once again. Even a litany of “top” polls the day before the election showed Likud trailing the electoral alliance of Isaac Herzog’s Labor and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah parties. On Election Day, exit polls from the leading Israeli news channels put the tally at a “surprising” tie between Likud and the Labor-Livni list. However, on election night, the slow tallying of the official vote count brought into focus Bibi and Likud’s political trouncing of the Left. How could so many people get it so wrong?

Most of those who wrongly predicted this latest Israel election (as well as the last few Israeli elections) fail to recognize or accept Israel’s demographic realities. In spring of 2014, I published an article entitled “The Dynamics of Israel’s Democratic Tribalism” in the Middle East Journal. The article puts forth a straightforward method for predicting political and electoral trends in Israel. Centrally, I note: “the Israel of today is not the Israel of David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, or Yitzhak Rabin for that matter… Much has changed demographically and thus culturally and ideologically in Israel, and the coming decades promise further change.”

The Israeli electorate consists of seven main sub-national identity groups or “constituencies”: secular-Ashkenazim (Jews of European descent), Mizrahim (Jews of African and Asian descent), religious Mizrahim, ultra-Orthodox Jews, national-Orthodox Jews, olim (Jewish immigrants) from the former-Soviet Union (FSU) and their descendants, and Arab-Israelis (Muslim, Christian, and Druze). Each identity group has a unique collective memory and ideal view of Israel’s future. They maintain distinct preferences regarding the three core components of Israeli national identity: Zionism, democracy, and Judaism. Such distinctions establish the basis of political differences and consequently help explain variation in voter choice. The greatest (albeit gradual) change in the Israeli political landscape over the last few decades relates to the demise of the numerical and thus political strength of the secular-Ashkenazim.

In shaping Israel’s formal and informal political institutions, secular-Ashkenazim laid the cornerstones of national identity. During Israel’s first few decades, the national identity that the Ashkenazi-elite established worked harmoniously with the dominant Ashkenazi populace. The Promethean “ethnic-democracy,” or simultaneously Jewish and democratic state, showed few signs of internal vulnerability. But, as Israel’s population diversified, so did understandings of Israel’s national purpose, political nature, and connection to territory.

After expulsion from Arab states in the 1950s and 1960s, Mizrahi Jews immigrated to Israel en masse. In 1977, Mizrahim made their first major political impact by helping to elect the rightwing Likud party to power for the first time. Mizrahim have since led the charge of political change—seeking an Israel that exchanges Ashkenazi secularism for Mizrahi traditionalism, appreciates the Jewishness and territorial integrity of Jerusalem, and abandons the socialism of Israel’s founders. Over the last few decades, Mizrahi voters have gained allies in FSU-Israelis, national-Orthodox, and remaining revisionist-Zionist Ashkenazim such as Bibi and previous Likud leaders.

As secular-Ashkenazim have continued losing political power to other identity groups, domestic Israeli politics has entered into a state of democratic tribalism. In this socio-political system, distinct ethnic and sectarian groups contest Israel’s national character (See Table 1). The election of rightwing Israeli governments in 2009, 2013, and 2015 illustrate how demographic changes have irrevocably altered the Israeli political landscape.



SIZE (2010)





20% (decreasing) Secular Ashkenazim Democracy Leftwing Labor-Livni; Yesh Atid; Meretz
29% (replacing) Mizrahim Zionist (Jewish) Rightwing Likud
7% (increasing) Religious Mizrahim Judaism (Religious) Religious Shas; Yachad
5.5% (increasing) Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (Religious) Religious United Torah Judaism
4.5% (increasing) National Orthodox Zionist (Jewish) Rightwing HaBayit HaYehudi;


13.5% (decreasing) FSU-Israelis Zionist (Jewish) Rightwing Yisra’el Beitenu; Likud
20% (increasing) Arab-Israelis Democracy Leftwing Joint-Arab List

Two main demographic phenomena evince Israel’s shift to the Right. The first phenomenon concerns the steady growth of Israel’s Arab citizenry and its demand that Israel forsake its Zionist, i.e. Jewish, character. The second phenomenon stems from the gradual rise of a new dominant voting bloc that forms around the overwhelming majority of Mizrahim and incorporates the general political preferences of FSU-Israelis, revisionist-Zionist Ashkenazim, and national-Orthodox. In short, this rightwing “National Bloc” pursues the predominance of Zionism over competing elements of democracy and Judaism.

A number of events surrounding the March 17th election reflected the new demographic/political realities. The Labor-Livni alliance deceptively adopted the joint list name “Zionist Union” in an attempt to make itself more attractive. Fooling few, Labor-Livni insulted the intelligence of the average Israeli voter by employing the term “Zionist” into its name while promoting policy positions that seek to abandon Judea, Samaria, and East Jerusalem—territories essential to the revisionist-Zionist narrative.

Notably, even if the Labor-Livni list garnered the most seats in the election, the Left was never going to win. The only way it could have formed a government was if it made the Joint-Arab List a coalition partner; such an unprecedented and unlikely coalition would have entailed bringing into the government a Joint-Arab List that unifies a variety of anti-Zionist Arab and Muslim parties, some of which have members that routinely offer support for Palestinian terrorist organizations and call for the overthrow of the Jewish state. Further, the Joint-Arab List openly stated that it had no desire to take part in a Labor-led government.

The Joint-Arab List also exhibits the dynamics of Israeli politics in another way. My 2014 article predicted that a growing (anti-Zionist) Arab-Israeli voting bloc would work to mobilize the Right. Indeed, on Election Day, in a last-ditch effort to maximize the Right’s turnout, Bibi warned that foreign leftwing entities were “busing” anti-Zionist Arab voters to the polls. In response to the ideological threat and in support of Bibi’s declaration the day before that the establishment of a Palestinian state would not occur on his watch, the Right mobilized further than expected—boosting Israel’s voter turnout to the highest levels since 1999 and guaranteeing a blowout victory.

Bibi and the Right once again stand strong and should feel comfortable in the durability of a National Bloc government for the foreseeable future. Bibi would be well-founded to look across at his political rivals on the Left (whether those sitting in Northern Tel Aviv or Washington D.C.) and quote James Franco’s character from the recent film The Interview: “haters gonna hate and ain’ters gonna ain’t.” Leftists can hate the demographic and thus political reality on ground in Israel all they want, but they “ain’t gonna” change it.

Benjamin Acosta is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Department of Political Science at The Ohio State University and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Louisiana State University. He has sole-authored articles in the Journal of Politics and the Middle East Journal. For information on Acosta’s research and publications, see

The Daily Show and Political Culture: Skepticism or Cynicism?

By Meredith Conroy

About a month ago, Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s premiere fake news program, The Daily Show (TDS), announced he would be leaving in a heartfelt “Moment of Zen.”


Once the announcement of his departure spread, speculation around who would take over for Stewart began. But before we start talking about what’s next for TDS, I think the announcement of Stewart’s departure warrants a survey of what in particular academics have uncovered, regarding the political and cultural significance of Jon Stewart’s tenure with TDS.

Over the course of its 17 years on air, TDS has evolved in scope, popularity, and political relevance. A fact not gone unnoticed from political science, and media and communication scholars. The Daily Show has been at the center of studies interested in the changing nature of political news television programs and evolving notions of journalism, in this new age of technology, where production, consumption, and distribution of information no longer rely on an antenna and electromagnetic waves. For example, Aaron McKain explores what makes TDS different from conventional newsGeoffrey Baym tackles the meaning of TDS for broadcast journalismJamie Warner argues that TDS’s dissident humor disrupts the dominant political cultureLauren Feldman finds TDS to prompt journalists to reconsider the hard and fast convention of separating news from entertainmentAcademics in political science have also been interested in the demographic features of TDS audience. TDS audience tends to be younger, smarter, and more liberal than audiences for other cable news programs, such as The Rachel Maddow Show, O’Reilly Factor, and Hardball. Yet what is the political impact, if any, of TDS on its audience? To speculate on the effect, its important to establish what TDS brings that is distinct from other cable shows. 

What Jon Stewart does best on his show is not necessarily his takedown of political foes, or even his ongoing war with Fox News, though this is related, but instead his consistent critique of modern political journalism and news. Night after night, using carefully crafted montage after montage, Stewart lambasts the cable news networks CNN, Fox, and MSNBC, and uses their foibles to bemoan the general state of political news reporting in the US. He famously took his critique to the source, when in 2004 Stewart appeared as a guest on the now canceled CNN show, Crossfire, to plead with hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson to “stop hurting America.” In this Crossfire appearance, and increasingly on episodes of TDS, Stewart is critical of our political news as “partisan,” “theater,” “hackery,” and “not honest.” 

And while this takedown of Crossfire and his other attacks on the media are hilarious and entertaining, the effect, it is speculated, may be detrimental to our democratic system, which rests on a participatory citizenry. Communication scholars aptly refer to the theory that news media hinder civic engagement (political knowledge, trust, and participation), as the media malaise. Although Pippa Norris handily debunks the media malaise, her assessment does not consider the likes of TDS, in all its mocking, satirical, sneering glory. 

In particular, given the snarky delivery, and sarcastic tone, the presumption that TDS contributes to cynicism from its viewers toward government and mainstream media seems rightly founded. Soon after the announcement that Stewart was leaving, Jamelle Boiue, a Slate staff writer, wrote a thoughtful piece, as a liberal who has enjoyed the show, but is unapologetically “thrilled” to see Stewart’s tenure end, because, 

“in the world of The Daily Show, the only politics is cable politics, where venality rules, serious disputes are obscured, and cynicism is the only response that works. Not only does this discourage people who want to make a difference–like the earnest young viewers of Stewart’s audience–but it blurs the picture and makes it hard to see when those arguments really matter.” 

Boiue goes on to note, that Stewart’s “chief influence has been to make outrage, cynicism, and condescension the language of the left.” 

Political scientists of American politics, primarily interested in the democratic health of our politics, have also speculated on the cynicism impact of TDS, and have explored this effect. Using an experimental design, Baumgartner and Norris (2006) find that TDS viewers have less faith in the electoral system and less trust in media, than viewers of CBS Evening News. The authors use perceptions of trust as a means of assessing cynicism, and conclude that TDS leads to cynical attitudes about government and media. 

Moreover, In a 2007 Critical Forum published in the journal, Critical Studies in Media Communication (v. 24, 3), the cynicism effect of TDS was put on trial. Roderick P. Hart and E. Johanna Hartelius take Stewart to task for the way in which Stewart “evades critical interrogation, thereby making him an anti-political creature” (264). Indeed, by presenting the news solo, TDS enables Stewart to dismantle his enemies and take down his opponents without any contestation or debate. Furthermore, by hiding behind his title as a comedian, Stewart shields himself from those who would criticize him for also shirking his journalistic duty. 

In this same Critical Forum, Stewart’s defense was represented by Robert Hariman and W. Lance Bennett. Hariman defends Stewart by questioning whether Stewart is in fact a cynic, and furthermore, whether cynicism is dangerous to democracy. Granting Stewart is a cynic, Hariman argues that TDS humorous cynicism is a welcome relief in a political climate that is often too serious and depressing. But it is Bennett’s defense that wins me over. Bennett suggests that it may not be cynicism that is bred from TDS and Stewart’s approach to the news. Bennett concludes his essay by noting, “people exposed to Jon Stewart do not retreat behind a smug veil of cynicism, but, instead, employ cynicism as a perspective-building took to engage with politics and civic life” (283). While Bennett doesn’t explicitly say so, what I interpret Bennett to be describing in this last passage is skepticism. Skepticism breeds doubt, whereas cynicism breeds contempt. In response to feelings of doubt or questions they may have, skeptics are likely to seek out answers. In this manner, skepticism leads to learning. In response to feelings of contempt, the cynic does nothing, but harbors negative feelings toward an object or idea. And while I may be splitting hairs, I think the key to understanding the impact of TDS, and Stewart’s time as host is whether his show encourages skepticism (of government and media), or cynicism.

Measuring political cynicism has been largely commonplace in political science scholarship. It usually takes the form of questions about trust in government; questions measuring political efficacy are also considered an effective means of capturing cynicism, where low levels of efficacy are tantamount to political cynicism. To capture internal efficacy, the ANES asks respondents to agree or disagree with these statements:

“I feel that I have a pretty good understanding of the important political issues facing our country,” “I consider myself well-qualified to participate in politics,” “I feel that I could do as good a job in public office as most other people,” “I think that I am better informed about politics and government than most people”

To capture external efficacy the ANES asks respondents to agree or disagree with these statements:

 “Public officials don’t care much what people like me think,” “People like me don’t have any say about what the government does,” “Sometimes politics and government seem so complicated that a person like me can’t really understand what’s going on”

 Of the external efficacy questions, 2 of the 3 presume support for government as a necessary condition for efficacy. In particular, question 1 assumes that people who want to influence politics care that elected officials recognize them. Yet this is counter to skeptics belief system, especially those who watch TDS, who are asked to question the validity of our media and government, through its persistent mocking of those institutions. In other words, a skeptic may not grant the necessity of attention from public officials or government to have an impact on politics. Instead, those who watch TDS may be more prone to participate in government through unconventional means. And this participatory element is a far cry from cynicism. Instead, it is motivated skepticism, and crucial to our democratic system.

Night after night Stewart sits at his desk and attacks government and media, without allowing them to respond to his criticism. Furthermore, he shields himself from any obligation by reminding us he’s *just* a comedian. And yet, I would argue that he does his audience, and our political culture, a service, because his audience is asked to question, and be skeptical of our system, and to not accept it, as a cynic would.


Meredith Conroy is an assistant professor of Political Science at California State University San Bernardino. 

The tensions of American federalism

By Zachary Callen

American federalism doesn’t seem like it should be that complicated.  After all, it’s the kind of thing that we are taught in grade school and then have explained to us – again and again – up through our introductory American politics class in college.  So, defining it one more time should be easy:  federalism is the division of power among national and local political actors.  Each level of government has some degree of autonomy and independence, such as a power to tax or to enforce certain kinds of rules.  While each level has discrete powers, there is also a tendency for these levels to cooperate.  This is a useful system because it divides power, preventing tyranny.  More practically, it’s also a great way to govern a large, diverse country.  Finally, federalism also brings government closer to us as citizens:  it is easier to influence politics on the state or local level, and those political actions can still have sort of meaning since states possess meaningful political powers.

But, of course, federalism isn’t quite as simple as all that.  The problem is that this simple “division of powers” among levels of government is not a straightforward problem of dividing tasks between this legislature, that legislature, and whatever other political body we want to talk about.  Instead, as is often the case, interest and politics interfere and confuse this division of political power.

Recently, The New York Times covered a particular federalism conundrum brewing in Texas.  In this case, it’s not an issue of state nullification or cessation.  Instead, it’s something more pedestrian, but just as compelling.  In Texas, several cities have passed a number of local laws against fracking or stores using plastic bags.  And the state legislature will not abide by this local legislating.  The fear is that these kinds of laws make the state unfriendly to business interests.  Thus, the state legislature is stepping into local politics and limiting what kinds of laws cities can – and cannot – pass.  On the one hand, cities do not have constitutional status in the United States, and exist due to state charters – though the presence of home rule changes this in many place.  On the other hand, there is an ideological sense that municipalities should have freedom to make choices about local issues.  One Tea Party Republican, Darren Hodges, argues that if Republicans want to devolve  federal power to states, why not return more state power to local governments?  Now, there might be a legal limit to Hodges’s argument, but it’s certainly a politically compelling point – and it definitely exemplifies the kinds of problems that federalism produces.  In particular, we see from the Texas case how it is not always clear who is responsible for a policy area and that this uncertainty produces tension.  In addition, it also starts to become clear that one’s stance on federalism is probably not just shaped by serious legal concerns, but also by the issues at stake.  In other words, Republicans like the idea of devolution – until devolution makes life harder for other issues they care about, such as economic development.

Not surprisingly, this is hardly a new problem for federalism.  In the first part of the 19th century, the United States was a frontier nation with a burgeoning industrial economy.  And a really, really terrible infrastructure system.  But the United States was a liberal, constitutional republic whose Founders had not formally included the power to build turnpikes or canals into the national constitution.  Instead, that kind of work was a state effort.  It turned out, though, that not all states were equally good at constructing infrastructure.  States often lacked the funding and technical expertise to erect rail systems or dig functioning canals.  As a result, state legislatures argued internal improvements should be a national activity, based on their critical importance to national defense and economic growth.  While eventually states that had trouble building railroads were able to secure national support, it was not easily won.  Many states resisted federal action not just on legal or philosophical grounds, but also out of pure political spite:  states like Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York took incredible risks funding their own transit systems and their congressional representatives were, for many years, unmoved by the pleas of their colleagues from western states.  In both the case of 21st century Texas and the 19th century United States, fundamental questions about legal responsibility, the realities of local resources limits, and self-interest collide to confuse the proper way that federalism is meant to function. Significantly, these kinds of debates over federalism – and the tension between local and national responsibilities – is a perennial problem.  In addition to Texas’s debate over who has the final word on fracking laws, we only have to look at conflicts over drug legalization.  More and more states are passing laws liberalizing their drug laws – but federal drug laws still override those state jurisdictions.  Relatedly, the federal government is also considering more online privacy protections for students.  Unfortunately, some of those laws are actually less stringent than existing state laws.  There has been similar conflicts over state environmental law, where some states have passed more demanding requirements than those pursued by the federal government.  Thus, debates around federalism are hardly settled, and are also by no means relegated to seemingly slight debates over plastic bags.  These are very much alive, serious political issues that really do require sincere debate and deliberation.

Unfortunately, It is hard to not see that a great deal of our conflict around federalism is ideological, by which I mean that in many (but not all cases) our interpretation of how federalism should work shifts with the political issue at stake.  When our state cannot afford a railroad, we suddenly find new national powers in the Constitution.  When our state is becoming less attractive to businesses because of intrepid local activists, our dedication to local control starts to wane.  What is interesting is the way that we deploy federalism as a cover to argue for more immediate political issues.  Debates over federalism – what it should be, what level is responsible for what policy – are certainly important to a vital American republic.   But, unfortunately, this debate is often subsumed in the name of cheap political points.

To be clear, I am not arguing against federalism.  Confederalism is generally a bad idea:  local control gives too much power to nasty local biases.  Centralization also comes with costs, notably a loss to the competition, experimentation, and policy specialization that makes federalism so valuable.  What we do need is a frank conversation about federalism, and in particular how it applies in the modern era.  We know, better than ever, how actions in one jurisdiction can produce positive and (usually) negative externalities in contiguous neighbors.  We know how local actors do not always have the means to address big problems.  We also know that national control can generate waste and nonsensical policies that overlook local concerns.  Rather than using claims about national supremacy or local sovereignty to bash other political positions, what is needed is a really serious national conversation about the fluid, changing nature of American federalism – and how to best make use of our overlapping system of governance.

Zachary Callen is an assistant professor of Political Science at Allegheny College. You can check out more of his work on federalism here.

Featured scholarship: A Federal Army, Not a Federalist One: Regime Building in the Jeffersonian Era

by Julia Azari Our featured piece is by William Adler and Jonathan Keller, and it addresses Thomas Jefferson’s approach to the national military. It appeared in the November 2014 issue of the Journal of Policy History. Subfield: American politics Research question: How did Thomas Jefferson’s administration “remake” the national military to serve its values and aims? A strong national military was at odds with Jefferson’s suspicions of centralized government. The authors note that Jefferson had considerable capacity to redirect American public policy according to his own priorities, but that the military was left “very much intact.” Methods: Qualitative, historical What’s here for non-specialists: The main audience for this article will no doubt be students of American political development, especially those with an institutional focus. Adler and Keller use Stephen Skowronek’s political time thesis as their main theoretical framework, and they identify Jefferson’s adaptation, rather than complete transformation, of the military, as an example of the limitations that all presidents, even those who serve at “reconstructive” moments, face. This argument should be of interest to scholars of institutional change and institution-building as well; the unique institution of the American presidency provides a potentially useful basis for comparing the relative capacity of political actors to change or dismantle institutions. In other words, if American presidents have limited to capacity to change institutions, are there other institutional actors – in the United States or elsewhere – who have the ability to do so? Under what conditions is institutional transformation possible? Scholars of the contemporary presidency may also find Adler and Keller’s argument useful. One of their arguments is that Jefferson’s ideology “proved remarkably flexible” when it came to the real demands of governing. This seems like a promising framework for understanding more recent presidents, who take office after running on big ideas but often find their plans thwarted by entrenched institutions and interests. The Jefferson case study produces insights that could be very valuable for those studying later presidential transitions.

The real reason for Obama’s new resolution on ISIS

By Jesse H. Rhodes 

On Wednesday afternoon President Obama sent a draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force to Congress, seeking explicit congressional authority for a limited military campaign against ISIS. The president wants the new authorization to supplement the 2001 AUMF – adopted in the wake of 9/11 – which Obama has already cited as legal authority to conduct military strikes in nations such as Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. He’s also already claimed authority to battle ISIS under the War Powers Resolution.

This raises an interesting question: given that Obama has already interpreted the 2001 AUMF to permit military strikes around the globe, why seek new authority from Congress to battle ISIS?

Over at Vox, Matthew Yglesias has argued that Obama’s main objective in seeking the new resolution is to limit presidential power in national security affairs. According to Yglesias, Obama is deeply concerned with the concentration of power in the executive provided by the 2001 AUMF. While he has been relatively restrained in exercising his authority under the AUMF so far, Obama is fearful that a future president might use the ambiguous terms of the authorization much more aggressively – for example, by “dispatching hundreds of thousands of troops to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram.” As Yglesias notes, Obama’s draft Authorization is a (slight) improvement on the 2001 AUMF: in addition to setting the precedent that new actions should be authorized under a new resolution, it limits the scope of authorized actions and sunsets after three years.

Pointing to these features of the resolution, Yglesias concludes that Obama’s ultimate objective is to “jolt Congress into limiting executive authority…not just his own authority, but his successor’s.” But there are several problems with this argument.

First, as Yglesias notes, the new AUMF would not actually tie the president’s hands as a practical matter. The 2001 AUMF would continue to stand; and, in any case, Obama and his successors would have little trouble creating new justifications for using force beyond the terms of the proposed authorization if they found it necessary or desirable.

Furthermore, Yglesias’ interpretation of Obama’s motives – that Obama wants to hem in future presidents’ room for maneuver in fighting terrorism – doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Obama faces the very serious and difficult problem of fighting ISIS right now; it’s unlikely that he’s overly worried with dealing with the longer-term (and much more abstract) problem of excessive presidential power. Furthermore, to the extent that Obama is concerned the scope of presidential power as a general matter, chances are that he would prefer to expand it. After all, one of great lessons of American history is that presidents have relentlessly pushed the envelope in foreign affairs, seeking to concentrate authority in the executive branch. It’s hard to see why Obama would be any different in this regard; indeed, Obama has already pushed the envelope.

Why, then, is Obama requesting a congressional vote for new authority to fight ISIS? Part of the answer is politics, plain and simple. Obama realizes that any fight against ISIS is going to be extremely difficult, involving considerable risks to American soldiers and uncertain prospects of success. The fact that Obama is requesting more authority suggests he believes further military action against ISIS is necessary. The political value of requesting a formal vote on a new resolution is that it forces members of Congress to stand up and register their support or opposition to broadening the fight. In effect, Obama is saying that if members of Congress want to expand the conflict against ISIS, they have to own it: no taking ambiguous positions now, and then criticizing the president later when things don’t go as well as hoped.

This move will have an especially devastating effect on congressional Republicans’ capacity to criticize the president’s dealings with ISIS. Arguably, Republicans’ strongest criticism of Obama to date is that he is weak on national security. Republicans have also been especially vocal in calling for more vigorous action against ISIS. However, if Republicans support the president’s request, they will suddenly lose the ability to mount an effective attack on his policy (unless things go terribly wrong, which of course is possible). Just as George W. Bush made political hay between 2002 and 2005 by attacking as “flip-floppers” Democrats who supported the 2001 AUMF and then criticized his policy in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama could charge Republicans with hypocrisy if they support his request and then turn against his management of the war.

Interestingly, though, Obama’s request is also good for American politics (though a request for a formal Declaration of War would be much better). As Yglesias notes, most members of Congress would probably prefer to remain ambiguous on this issue, for fear of picking the wrong side and then being punished in a future election. Put frankly, this kind of “blame avoidance” is bad for democracy, because it prevents voters from holding their representatives accountable for the decisions they make. By forcing members of Congress to vote on the authorization, Obama’s request will clarify to voters where their representatives stand on a matter of pressing national concern. This, in turn, can help them make more informed decisions in the voting booth in 2016. Small wonder many representatives aren’t thrilled about voting on the resolution!

In short, Obama isn’t calling for a new AUMF because he thinks he needs it, nor is he doing it because he wants to limit presidential power. Rather, the president’s request is a smart political play, but one that also serves the interests of the political system. If there is going to be a war, the least members of Congress can do is stand up and vote for it.

Jesse Rhodes is an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. He is the author of An Education in Politics: The Origins and Evolution of No Child Left Behind. 

Did Mitt Romney just lose a presidential campaign? Yes and no

By David A. Hopkins, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Boston College 

If you’re a strong believer in the idea that presidential nominations are determined by the coordination of party elites during the invisible primary period, with the choice of “the Party” merely ratified by the voters once the actual state primaries and caucuses begin, then Mitt Romney’s announcement on Friday that he will not seek the 2016 Republican nomination, after a month-long period in which Romney was very obviously measuring support for another bid for the presidency, should be interpreted in the following manner: Romney did in fact run for president in 2016–and he lost badly. His publicly-revealed decision not to embark upon another “presidential campaign” occurred after he in fact actively ran another campaign, dropping out of the race after discovering that he stood almost no chance of winning the nomination, just as he would have if he had placed seventh in the Iowa caucus a year from now.

While I agree that (1) candidates seek elite support because it helps them win votes, and (2) Romney decided to remove himself from consideration after concluding that he wouldn’t have as much of that support as he wanted, I still believe that it’s useful to continue drawing a distinction between the testing-the-waters phase and the active-campaign phase of the nomination process. In Romney’s case, there’s plenty of reason to believe that he would judge his chances of winning the nomination in 2016 as significantly greater than zero. Putting aside the fact that most politicians are more likely to overstate than understate their own appeal, Romney would have some evidence on his side for this view. His standing in the national polls is very strong (often placing first by a wide margin in surveys testing the Republican presidential field); he has plenty of money and access to much more; he has a natural advantage in the influential New Hampshire primary; and he already proved the ability to win the nomination in 2012. According to the Washington Post, Romney advisors had collected polling data showing that he indeed retained “broad and deep” support among Republican primary voters, suggesting that he indeed viewed his chances as far from remote. However, whatever probability of success Romney thinks he would have had must be weighed against the cost of failure—and for Romney, more than most potential candidates, that cost would have been high. To lose a third presidential campaign would be something of a humiliation, and to lose in the primaries after having won them last time around would be especially so. If it’s an honor just to be nominated…well, he’s already had that honor.

So even if Romney thought he had at least a legitimate shot to win, once it became clear to him that most party elites were not spontaneously exploding with joy about the prospects of another campaign, that he would have to really fight hard to hold off Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, and that his chances of victory, even if well above zero, were probably below 50%, the idea of slogging it out on the campaign trail once again probably lost most of its appeal. Whereas another candidate, differently situated, might take similar odds as sufficiently encouraging to jump in the race. Certainly Barack Obama must have concluded that he would likely lose to Hillary Clinton in 2008, but the cost of running anyway and hoping for some lucky breaks (which, in the end, he got) was much lower for a young, first-time candidate taking on the party favorite than it would be for Romney today. Other candidates take the plunge in other years—and no doubt many will in 2016 as well—despite what they themselves must view, and certainly other party elites with whom they converse view, as fairly long odds of success. Once a candidate formally joins the race, however, the calculation changes. If you’re already openly running, there’s usually no reason not to keep going until your chances of winning truly dwindle to effectively zero. After all, you’ve already taken the step of publicly presenting yourself to the electorate for their approval, so there’s no reason not to try to collect on that risk until it’s no longer possible to do so. By bowing out gracefully before he officially jumped in, Romney manages to avoid the danger of being openly rejected by the voters who embraced him in 2012, in exchange for trading his presidential ambitions for the role of an elder statesman in the GOP.

Martha Derthick’s legacy

by Paul Nolette, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Marquette University 

As my colleague Julia Azari remarked to me, it’s been a rough month for political science. In December, the discipline lost two of its pioneering scholars in Maurice Duverger and Philip Converse. Now comes news that one of our foremost scholars of federalism and public policy, Martha Derthick, has died. Derthick’s contributions were numerous and varied, including crucial insights into American intergovernmental relations, administration, and the regulatory state. While much political science scholarship focuses on the moment of policy enactment, Derthick had a keen interest in the intricacies of policy implementation. This drew her attention to where so much of the action is in contemporary American politics – in the trenches of the bureaucracy and in the nitty-gritty details of the process following policy adoption.

A hallmark of Derthick’s work was her recognition that politics is best understood not as a series of snapshots but as a complex process that unfolds over time. One of her great talents was to grasp this complexity and use it to engage with larger questions of American democracy. She was one of the best at exploring, for example, how the insights of Hamilton or Madison operate in the contemporary world of grants-in-aid, unfunded mandates, and administrative rulemaking.

Derthick appreciated that the complexity of contemporary politics required close attention to the dynamics of interbranch relationships. Her magisterial studies of Social Security, for example, illustrated that while social policy is made for many reasons, rarely do policymakers concern themselves with pesky details of administration. Presidents aiming to leave a legacy seek grand policy innovations without thinking about the practicalities for policy implementation. Legislators, so often seeking to claim credit for new policies while shifting the costs of those policies elsewhere, place unreasonable demands and timetables on agencies. The courts, empowered to oversee implementation, then place additional legalistic requirements on agencies to do something about all of those (impossible to achieve) missed deadlines and demands.

The result of all of this, as she argued in Agency under Stress, is a long-term expansion of policy ends without much thought about the means of carrying it all out – something that, among other things, provides the true source for the “regulatory failures” so often highlighted by the media and our political discourse. By exploring policy development across the web of interbranch relationships and over time, Derthick’s scholarship pointed to the roots of seeming contemporary governmental dysfunction. It also provided a model of scholarship for a great many scholars operating in the American political development tradition (and beyond).

Of course, many of Derthick’s finest contributions came in the area of federalism and intergovernmental relations. Throughout her work, Derthick realized that the profound impact America’s federal system has on policy – and vice-versa. In her earliest book, for example, she examined how the federal government sought to transform public assistance – long a local concern – by liberalizing benefits, equalizing expenditures across jurisdictions, and placing more power in the hands of appointed administrators. She built upon this work to explore the many nuances of the contemporary American system of “cooperative” federalism.

Overall, Derthick was optimistic about the idea of federalism, particularly the ways in which the levels of government could complement one other. She was fond of Madison’s statement in Federalist 46 that “the federal and State governments are in fact but different agents and trustees of the people, constituted with different powers and designed for different purposes.” Contrary to the rhetoric of many ideologues, she recognized that the federal and state governments could both bring advantages to the practice of policymaking.

Nevertheless, she was less optimistic about the practice of contemporary federalism. While recognizing that federalism was not “dead,” as the constitutional scholar Philip Kurland lamented in 1970, Derthick keenly understood the many ways the system had fundamentally changed from earlier eras. The system of “dual federalism,” to the extent that it had existed at all before the pre-New Deal, had been replaced with a system of tight interdependence between the states and the federal government. Many contentious and wide-reaching areas of the American regulatory state, such as environmental policy and health care, have become highly fragmented, with the federal government setting rules and leaving much of the responsibility of administration up to states and localities.

She often highlighted the perils of over-centralization within this contemporary regime, which she characterized as the powerful secular trend in American politics, especially as federal courts got more involved in policy. She lamented the federal government’s tendency to establish unrealistic goals and foist them on states, including in areas that had traditionally in the jurisdiction of states and localities (a leading contemporary example, as she noted, being No Child Left Behind).

A recurring theme throughout her work was how the fragmentation of American policy led policymakers to find innovative ways to shift costs and responsibilities to other parts of the political system. This had a tendency to empower the federal government vis-à-vis the states, especially as the feds used various policy tools in attempts to coerce the states to adopt new policies. However, it also served to strengthen the states as well – at least in a certain way. As the federal government placed more and more responsibilities on the states to carry out federal programs, states gained more leverage to influence the direction of national policy. Derthick’s Up in Smoke: From Legislation to Litigation in Tobacco Politics (incidentally, one of the first books I read in graduate school) captured this dynamic well. National tobacco politics was transformed by state actors who used their place in the “cooperative” Medicaid system to expand government control over the tobacco industry. (Though, as she notes throughout, not in a way that made for good public policy).

It is, of course, impossible to do justice to Martha Derthick’s remarkable legacy of scholarship in just a short post. I’d conclude simply by noting that she operated in the best tradition of political science engagement with the world of practical politics. Her body of work is one that scholars will continue to ponder, engage with, and build upon for years to come. She will be missed.