Join John Sides and Lynn Vavreck for a free online discussion and Q&A on The Gamble [Change in Date!]

Event logoJoin and political scientists John Sides (GWU, The Monkey Cage blog) and Lynn Vavreck (UCLA) for a free online talk about The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election followed by an audience Q&A session.

Date: Friday, October 7, 2013 [Change in date!! this was originally scheduled for September 27, but is postponed to October 7]

Time: 3:00 PM EST

Place: Your computer — all that’s needed is a fast internet connection and access to an internet browser

Sides and Vavreck will reveal their Moneyball approach to campaign analysis and discuss the writing process for The Gamble, a book praised by Nate Silver as “the definitive account of what really happened and what really mattered in the campaign.” Sides and Vavreck specialize in bringing hard data to bear and casting doubt on a lot of commentary and conventional wisdom. As a result they inject a dose of much-needed reality into a discourse too often dominated by speculation and folklore.

You can learn more about Sides, Vavreck, and The Gamble at the book’s dedicated web site:

Check out the event page at Shindig: Let us know if you’ll be there by RSVP’ing below, though this is not really necessary — you can just show up if you want.

Joseph Nye talks presidential foreign policy with WNYC’s Brian Lehrer

You might also enjoy reading Joseph Nye’s thoughts on how external forces can change a presidential style from transformational to transactional or in the reverse.

Some critics complain that US President Barack Obama campaigned on inspirational rhetoric and an ambition to “bend the arc of history,” but then turned out to be a transactional and pragmatic leader once in office. In this respect, however, Obama is hardly unique.

Many leaders change their objectives and style over the course of their careers. One of the great transformational leaders in history, Otto von Bismarck, became largely incremental and status quo-oriented after achieving the unification of Germany under Prussian direction. Likewise, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s foreign-policy objectives and style were modest and incremental in his first presidential term, but became transformational in 1938 when he decided that Adolf Hitler represented an existential threat.

Transactional leadership is more effective in stable and predictable environments, whereas an inspirational style is more likely to appear in periods of rapid and discontinuous social and political change. The transformational objectives and inspirational style of a leader like Mahatma Gandhi in India or Nelson Mandela in South Africa can significantly influence outcomes in fluid political contexts, particularly in developing countries with weakly structured institutional constraints.

By contrast, American foreign-policy formation is highly constrained by institutions like Congress, the courts, and the constitution. Thus, we would expect less opportunity for transformational leadership.

But even the US Constitution is ambiguous about the powers of Congress and the president in foreign policy. At best, it creates what one constitutional expert called “an invitation to struggle.” Moreover, much depends on external conditions. Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman developed transformational objectives only in response to external events after they entered office.

Read the complete article at Project Syndicate:–nye


Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era
Joseph S. Nye, Jr.

Mitt Romney and When to “Settle”

Don’t settle for less. Striving is an ideal our culture worships. We’re in love with the romantic notions of ‘having arrived’, of forging ahead—black and white ideals that seem oblivious to the complexity of real life. We tend to equate settling with acknowledged failure, and in making the act so derogatory, we often set up unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others. Are we blindly aspirational by nature? At what cost? Robert Goodin‘s forthcoming philosophy book On Settling is an intriguing look at how this maligned practice is not only more realistic, but also more useful than striving. It easily recommends itself as required reading for anyone trying to get into college, survive relationships, or weather a less than direct career trajectory.


But what about voters and candidates? Many of us settle on a candidate to vote for without really being over the moon with any of them, so I asked Professor Goodin if this is actually a good thing. Read on for his response, including his advice on when he thinks our leaders themselves should ‘settle’.





Bob Goodin


So the Republicans have settled on – and settled for, without any discernable enthusiasm – Mitt Romney.  (Which is not to say there is not a ton of money keen to unseat his opponent, from which even lackluster Mitt Romney will benefit.)


Were the Republicans wrong to do so?  Well, they had to settle on someone.  They need to have some name on the November ballot, after all.  And in settling it typically happens that you settle for something less than the absolute ideal.  In order to get on with things, you settle for something that is good enough for now – on the clear (self)understanding that you may come back and revisit the matter sometime later, as the Republicans quite certainly well come the 2016 election (assuming the Republicans don’t win the White House in 2012, which seems like a pretty safe assumption).


Democrats, for better or worse, are stuck with Barack Obama, an inspirational but ineffectual leader whose vacillation drives those who love him to utter despair.  The problem with Obama, ironically, is a constitutional incapacity to settle on some policy and push it through – deriving perhaps from an overweaning desire to be liked, or at least accepted.


One of my colleagues, who also runs an organization on which many people’s lives depends, embraces the slogan, ‘I may be wrong, but I’m never uncertain!’   Obama needs to take a leaf from that playbook, acknowledge that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and learn to settle on some course of acting reasonably expeditiously and pursue it unwaveringly.


Pick horses and back them.  At least for a time.  There may come a time to have a review of policy, reconsider, perhaps change course.  But unless a leader is prepared to commit firmly, at least pro tem, he is utterly incapable of acting effectively.  Obama needs to find some courage behind the convictions that he so clearly harbors, but that he so clearly has difficulty in actually acting upon.  Settle down.  Focus.  Do something, before your term in office is totally wasted.  (And putting tons of money into the pockets of health insurance companies is pretty shocking as the only feather in your cap.)


None of these matters are actually discussed directly in my book On Settling (forthcoming from Princeton University Press in a couple of months).  But such thoughts emerge naturally from my discussion there.


Robert E. Goodin is professor of government at the University of Essex and distinguished professor of philosophy and social and political theory at Australian National University.