Monday, 9 January 2012

Thought Provoking

I've returned from an excellent conference held in Manchester by the American Politics Group. If you are a teacher of American politics or a postgrad researching the area (and it is not confined to just one approach - members represent those who rely heavily on statistical analysis [whilst I do some, I wouldn't count myself among their number]; those whose emphasis is on historical studies; Congressional and Presidential scholars; and lawyers doing comparative studies) - it is worth joining. Details are available on the APG website.

It was a real feast (and I'm not only referring to the dinner in the Midland Hotel on Thursday night and the informal meal at a Chinese restaurant on Friday).

The first panel looked at Health Care. Alex Waddan (Leicester University) presented a paper on "Health Care and the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act". It considered the background to the passage of the Act and its significance. Carmina Serrano of Complutense University of Madrid then gave a very interesting paper on the use of anti-trust law in reforming healthcare in the United States. It highlighted the exemptions which had allowed a number of anti-competitive practices to thrive within the pharmaceutical industry in the US..

Our second session was on the Tea Party. Michael Bailey of Georgetown University presented a paper giving a very detailed statistical analysis of the impact of four different activities associated with the Tea Party. He looked at the impact of Tea Party activists; the level of Tea Party support within districts; Group endorsement activity and the activities of people within the political elite (Congress and Party leaderships) who identified themselves as "Tea Partiers". The impact of the four upon electoral outcomes and rollcall votes was considered. Clodagh Harrington of De Montfort University gave a very interesting paper on the Tea Party movement(s) - looking at the background; the sources of the anger and the differing agenda. I had read the paper prior to the conference and was prompted to buy an ebook of essays by Richard Hofstadter, including his famous 1964 essay on "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". I read them over the weekend. Many thanks to Clodagh for prompting this - and I will be writing a post specifically on those essays within the next few days.

The third session looked at some of the history behind the development of the Right. Alf Tomas Tonnessen looked at the significance of events in 1978. His will be a paper I will be using as a starting point for further research. Tom Packer, who has just submitted his Ph.D. thesis at Oxford University gave a fascinating presentation the Jesse Helms. Luca Trenta (Durham University) gave an excellent paper about Risk versus Risk trade off in Foreign Policy. It was very strong on theory, then went on to apply it to the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

The final panel on Friday included a paper by Onawa Lacewell and Annika Werner (WZB, Berlin) which considered the impact of state party autonomy on Electoral success in the 2008 and 2010 elections - which highlighted the contrasting nature of presidential and mid term elections. They are continuing their research and have already drawn out some important conclusions. Marco Morini (Padua) then looked at the impact of the economy on presidential approval ratings.

John Berg of Suffolk University (Massachusetts) considered the Tea Party; the union protests which began in Madison, Wisconsin and the Occupy movement. A very useful background to each was given and he drew out the potential electoral implications of each. A very interesting paper! Eddie Ashbee of Copenhagen Business School also provided some thought provoking material in his paper "The Obama Presidency, the Left and Narratives of Failure".

The Final session of the conference looked at an important "institution" - the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) - and how it had developed. It was a great historical study - and Andy Rudalevige has found some real gems amongst the memos and documents produced within the Office and the Executive Office of the President. Christine Harlen of Leeds University spoke about her research into the Small Business Innovation Research Programme - and how it developed despite some strong opposition (and some surprising Congressional alliances).

A great start to the year for me - and the conference has stimulated a lot of thought. The papers are not available online - but many are due for publication in the coming months. Some will be contained in a forthcoming book which John Dumbrell of Durham University is editing, and others are early drafts of papers which will appear in the academic press. I will be passing on details when they are published.

[I used the photo of Starbucks, 1-5 Oxford Road, Manchester because - after the conference had finished - I spent a couple of hours there reading my newly downloaded ebook of Richard Hofstadter's essays]