Politics as Usual? Not this campaign season


The 2008 race for President has been, by turns, surprising, exhilarating, ugly and divisive. And that’s just the Democrats! 

The 2008 race for President has been, by turns, surprising, exhilarating, ugly and divisive.

And that's just the Democrats!

While that may sound like the intro to a Jay Leno monologue, rest assured it’s no laughing matter (hey, maybe it is a Jay Leno monologue!)

Crazy as it's been, for Rowan University political scientists this nail-biter of a primary season is as good as it gets - high drama and higher stakes - and a boatload of lessons.

"Without a doubt, this is the most interesting election of my lifetime," said poly sci Assoc. Prof. Dr. Bruce Caswell.

That's no small statement. Caswell was a volunteer for John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1960 and was politically active in the tumultuous decade following JFK's assassination - from the struggle for Civil Rights to the slayings of Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Caswell even protested outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago where, for eight days, police in riot gear clashed with demonstrators on the city's streets.

Despite the history he's witnessed firsthand, Caswell, a Rowan faculty member since 1988, said the race for president in 2008 may also be the most important election in his lifetime.

"We know already in terms of foreign policy it will be very important going forward," he said.

Caswell noted that America's strength at home and abroad will be greatly defined by the next president. Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee, is likely to maintain the Bush policy of a protracted engagement in Iraq while both Democrats seeking the nomination, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, speak of ending the costly, unpopular war.

"McCain has always been a strong supporter of this war but a bigger problem for him will be the economy," Caswell said of McCain's electability. "When people are unhappy about the way things are going they blame it on the incumbent party."

So, is there a science to political science?

Like sociology and psychology, political science is a social science in which practitioners study behaviors.

"We study all sorts of issues related to voting, from interest groups and campaigns to voting technology," Caswell said. "We study media in relation to voting, political institutions, public policy, government and the courts."

He said about 30 percent of Rowan's poly sci majors attend graduate school, many of them for law, but the vast majority enters the work force upon graduation, often in a position with the government.

Department chair Dr. Lawrence Butler, author of Claiming the Mantle: How Presidential Nominations Are Won and Lost Before the Votes Are Cast, said the 2008 election season has provided some great teaching opportunities simply because the race has been so dynamic.

"We've never had a problem keeping students interested but it's really been heightened this year," Butler said. "I'd expect this level of interest in the fall of a presidential campaign, not in the early spring. The fact that everybody's following the news so closely gives us a common set of knowledge to work from."

Like the public at large, students are fascinated with the issue of "superdelegates," elected officials who may vote their conscience at the Democratic National Convention in August, Butler said. If neither Obama nor Clinton wins the requisite 2,024 pledged delegates to cinch the nomination, superdelegates may decide the nominee.

Butler said despite some public anxiety about the possibility that superdelegates may swing the election, there would be nothing improper or invalid about that scenario if they did.

Created after the 1980 Presidential election, the phenomena of Democratic superdelegates was designed "to look out for the interest of the party - to make sure the party is best positioned to win in November," Butler said. "The idea is that if the voters are divided evenly enough superdelegates would provide a counterweight to swing the nomination to the strongest nominee."

To run or not to run, that is the question

For junior Bill Moen, Jr., 21, of Runnemede, lessons in class are morphing into lessons in life. He actually seeks elected office and is considering a run for the Runnemede Borough Council. And, like a true politician, he won't say when.

Moen, president of the Rowan Democratic Club, supported former Sen. John Edwards early on but now favors Obama for President.

"I think domestically and from a foreign policy standpoint we'd be greatly improved under Obama," he said. "I don't see Hillary being the President she's campaigning to be."

Across the aisle, senior Caitlin Stopper, 22, of Cherry Hill, campaigned for former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for President and was heartbroken by his campaign's implosion. Despite his one-time status as presumptive Republican nominee, Giuliani withdrew from the race Jan. 30 after garnering zero delegates in early primaries.

"I tend to vote Republican but don't categorize myself as Republican," said Stopper, the president of the Rowan Republican Club. "I know that doesn't seem as if it makes sense but it does. I consider myself a paleo-conservative civil Libertarian."

In other words, she votes with her head and not necessarily the party's choice.

"I believe in smaller government and a strong defense," she said.

That said, she doesn't like McCain. A former Congressional intern, Stopper said the Arizona senator's attendance record was abysmal and that most Republicans she knew were not keen on working with him.

"I really do like Obama as a person," she acknowledged. "He's got the charisma and the ability to mobilize young voters."

But would she actually vote for him?

"Probably not," Stopper said. "In the end I'll probably go with McCain but I won't be too excited."