Round-Up: The 2012 Presidential Election

With the presidential debates complete and the upcoming election only a day away, many voters still remain uncertain about whom to vote for.

ShelfLife@Texas’ political round-up offers shrewd governmental, political and historical insight on the current affairs, both domestic and international, that these candidates can expect to face as President of the United States of America. Topics range from presidential leadership in divisive times to the controversial topic of nation building to the development of a “presidential accountability system.”

“Liberty’s Surest Guardian: American Nation-Building from The Founders to Obama,Jeremi Suri (Free Press, Sept. 2011)

12040417Nobel Fellow and leading light in the next generation of policy makers, Jeremi Suri, looks to America’s history to see both what it has to offer failed states around the world and what it should avoid. America’s earnest attempts to export its ideas of representative government have had successes (Reconstruction after the American Civil War, the Philippines, Western Europe) and failures (Vietnam), and we can learn a good deal from both.

The framers of the Constitution initiated a policy of cautious nation building, hoping not to conquer other countries, but to build a world of stable, self-governed societies that would support America’s way of life. Yet no other country has created more problems for itself and for others by intervening in distant lands and pursuing impractical changes.

Looking to the future, Americans acknowledge that our actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya will have a dramatic impact on international stability. Suri, provocative historian and one of Smithsonian magazine’s “Top Young Innovators,” takes on the idea of American exceptionalism and turns it into a playbook for the president.

“Presidential Power and Accountability: Toward a Presidential Accountability System,” Bruce Buchanan (Routledge, July 2012)

presidential-power-accountability-toward-system-bruce-buchanan-paperback-cover-artIn response to the belief held by many political analysts that the growth of presidential war power relative to Congress is irreversible, Bruce Buchanan identifies what would be required to restore presidential war power to constitutional specifications while leaving the president powerful enough to do what is truly necessary in the face of any emergency.

Buchanan focuses mainly on diagnosing the origins of the problem and devising practical ways to work toward restoration of the constitutional balance of power between Congress and the president.

Offering specific remedies by identifying the structure and strategy for a new think tank designed to nudge the political system toward the kind of change the book recommends, Buchanan shows how a fictional policy trial could take a practical step toward in rebalancing the war power.

This is a crucial examination of presidential power and the U.S. separation of powers system, with a focused effort on making a course correction toward the kind of power sharing envisioned in the Constitution.

“Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.-Egyptian Alliance,” Jason Brownlee (Cambridge University Press, Aug. 2012)

15842334When a popular revolt forced long-ruling Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign on Feb. 11, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the peaceful demonstrators in the heart of the Arab World. But Washington was late to endorse democracy.

During the Egyptian uprising, the White House did not promote popular sovereignty but instead backed an “orderly transition” to one of Mubarak’s cronies.

Even after protesters derailed that plan, the anti-democratic U.S.-Egyptian alliance continued. Using untapped primary materials, this book helps explain why authoritarianism has persisted in Egypt with American support, even as policy makers claim to encourage democratic change.

Written for students as well as specialists, the book is the first to combine extensive archival evidence, including access to all of the Wikileaks cables and interviews with more than two dozen top Egyptian and American decision makers.

“The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace,” H.W. Brands (Doubleday, Oct. 2012)

13531850From New York Times best-selling author H. W. Brands, a masterful biography of the Civil War general and two-term president who saved the Union twice, on the battlefield and in the White House, holding the country together at two critical turning points in our history.

Ulysses Grant rose from obscurity to discover he had a genius for battle. After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and the disastrous brief presidency of Andrew Johnson, America turned to Grand again to unite the country, this time as president.

In this sweeping biography, Brands reconsiders Grant’s legacy and provides a compelling and intimate portrait of a popular and compassionate man who saved the Union as a first-rate general and consolidated that victory as a resolute and principled political leader.

“The Triumph of Israel’s Radical Right,” Ami Pedahzur (Oxford University Press, Oct. 2012)

13689877To understand the seemingly intractable situation in Israel today, acclaimed scholar Ami Pedahzur offers a comprehensive account and an invaluable and authoritative analysis of the radical right’s ascendance to the heights of Israeli politics.

After dissection what they believe in, Pedahzur explains how mainstream Israeli policies like “the law of return” have nurtured their nativism and authoritarian tendencies.

He then traces the right’s steady expansion and mutation, from the early days of the state to today. Throughout, he focuses on the radical right’s institutional networks, how the movement has been able to expand its influence of the policy-making process.

His closing chapter is grim yet realistic: Pedahzur contends that a two-state solution is no longer viable and that the vision of the radical rabbi Meir Kahane, who was a fringe figure while alive, has triumphed.

Government Professor Wins Major Grant to Curb Violence, Urge Diplomacy in Egypt

lg Jason Brownlee, associate professor in the Departments of Government and Middle Eastern Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, has received a $109,484 grant to examine peace-building efforts in Egypt.

The funding, provided by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), will enable Brownlee to determine whether the rise in Egypt’s anti-Coptic violence comes from underlying social tensions or from lack of government interventions.

Nationally known for his expertise in authoritarian rule in the Middle East, Brownlee studies democratization and U.S. foreign policy. In his new book “Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.-Egyptian Alliance” (Cambridge University Press, September 2012), he explains how America’s alliance with Egypt has impeded democratic change and reinforced authoritarianism over time.

As Egypt moves forward in its effort to consolidate a democratic transition, this initiative will provide timely and informed guidance for nongovernmental organization workers, policymakers and officials in Egypt who are working to reduce societal conflict in a country pivotal to U.S. policy in the region, said Steve Riskin, the special assistant to the president for grants at USIP.iran_election1

“The study, which accords with USIP’s mandate to resolve violent conflicts and promote postconflict peace-building, will yield important insights for other Middle Eastern countries with religious minorities, including Syria and Lebanon with Christian and other minority groups,” Riskin said.

Created by Congress to be independent and nonpartisan, USIP works to prevent, mitigate and resolve international conflict through nonviolent means. During the past 20 years, the institute’s grant program has awarded more than 2,100 grants in 46 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and in 87 foreign countries. The grant program increases the breadth and depth of the institute’s work by supporting peace-building projects managed by nonprofit organizations including educational institutions, research institutions and civil society organizations.

If You Understand Them, They Won't Win: A Q&A with Terrorism Expert Ami Pedahzur

Jewish Terrorism in Israel

In his latest book, “Jewish Terrorism in Israel,” author Ami Pedahzur tells a story which has never been told and in doing so helps alleviate the fear of the unknown. He and co-author Arie Perlinger present a historical overview of political violence in Jewish history, post-1967 terrorist groups, and Jewish terrorism in the 1990’s, including the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, former prime minister of Israel and Noble Peace Prize winner. They also provide analysis of more recent times and the hilltop youth who have settled the occupied territories.

By examining Jewish terrorism in particular, Pedahzur, an associate professor of Government at The University of Texas at Austin,  reveals the roots of terrorism in general. ShelfLife recently sat down with Pedahzur to discuss his book, the real controversy and why Americans shouldn’t fear terrorists.

Ami Pedhazur

How do you define terrorism?

It’s scary. It’s surprising. It’s hurts the innocent and it’s evil.

I’m not a big words-person. I’m more interested in the empirical part. For me it’s about identifying a phenomenon. How do I know that something is terrorism and not a guerilla act or insurgency or riot? Terrorism involves the use of violence activated by a political motive with the intention to strike fear in civilian or non-combatant victims and communities.

Terrorism is an tactic not an identity. By reducing a group to the title terrorist group, we sometimes miss its other branches and functions in society and hence lose sight of it importance, magnitude, as well as come up with wrong solutions as for how to deal with it. The same go for individual terrorists. Terrorism in most cases is not a profession. Those who use terrorism vary in terms of their role, tenure with the group function, etc. Hence we need to take a closer  look  at such individuals before we try to offer a profile of a terrorist.

We are asking a more general question. Who uses political violence, under which conditions, and why?

Some might call your book controversial because it concerns only Jewish terrorism. What would you say to them?

It’s controversial if we try to reduce terrorism to a tactic employed only by Muslims, which is something that people who don’t follow the history tend to assume.

The book is not an attempt to protect any particular religion. One of the outcomes of this research, and this is something I firmly believe in, is there’s no particular religious affiliation or association for terrorism. It’s a question of history.

Vilifying a specific religion is not going to get us far.  Take Muslims and Jews. The majority of both religions never engage in violence. They are peaceful people and believers.

For me, the book is completely benign in the sense that it’s just documenting a phenomenon and trying to use the rich data that we’ve gathered for answering the bigger question about the process that turns a believer into someone who commits an act of terror.

How can we stop people from committing terrorist acts?

The depressing answer is terrorism has and always will exist. Instead we should ask “is it really that important?” Is terrorism really that scary or significant? Or are we just subjecting ourselves to the fear they are trying to afflict? The solution is working on our psychology rather than trying to eliminate those who use terrorism as a tactic.

So we should just not be afraid?

Being afraid is not necessarily a bad thing so long as we don’t scare ourselves to death. When we emphasize the role of terrorism in contemporary politics we are only exacerbating the problem.

The impact of terrorism in physical terms and devastation of life, property, etc. when compared to what happened in Haiti two weeks ago is very limited. The impact is psychological. In asking what can actually be done about terrorism, the answer is working on our psychology rather than trying to eliminate those who use terrorism as a tactic.

We need to downplay terrorism for a while.

For Pedahzur, the best counter for terrorism is understanding. That’s why he recently founded the T.I.G.E.R. Lab with the goals of becoming the leading center for the study of terrorism in the country and making publicly available the best data in the world. As Pedahzur explains “These data will portray a story, explain processes, and lead to their own conclusions, and with this wealth and depth of knowledge, [policy makers] can change the world. But, we need to get them the data.”

To learn more about Pedahzur’s work, read The University of Texas Web feature story on suicide bombers.

Texas Book Festival Begins this Weekend

1197052_texas_gov_house_at_austinUniversity of Texas at Austin faculty and alumni authors will share their expertise on topics ranging from the fate of Savannah during the Civil War, to mapping a career path, to the culture of Texas barbecue at the 2009 Texas Book Festival Oct. 31-Nov. 1 at the Texas Capitol and surrounding areas.

More than 200 writers will showcase their books, including a host of authors from our university. Some of the presenters include:

Author: Jeffrey Abramson, professor of law and government
Book: “Minerva’s Owl: The Tradition of Western Political Thought”
When: Saturday, Oct. 31
Where: Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.028

Author: Oscar Casares, assistant professor of English
Book: “Amigoland”
When: Saturday, Oct. 31
Where: Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.016

Author: Jacqueline Jones, the Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History and Ideas and Mastin Gentry White Professor in Southern History
Book: “Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War”
When: Saturday, Oct. 31
Where: Texas State Capitol Extension Room E2.028

Author: Kate Brooks, director of Liberal Arts Career Services
Book: “You Majored in What?: Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career”
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Lifestyle Tent (10th and Congress)

Author: Lucas A. Powe, Jr., professor of law and government
Book: “The Supreme Court and the American Elite”
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.016

Author: Elizabeth Engelhardt, associate professor of American Studies
Book: “Republic of Barbecue: Stories Beyond the Brisket”
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Cooking Tent

Author: Mark Weston, UT Law alumnus (moderated by ShelfLife@Texas contributor Laura Castro)
Book: “Prophets & Princes: Saudi Arabia from Muhammad to the Present
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Texas State Capitol: Capitol Extension Room E2.014

The Texas Book Festival was founded in 1995 by former first lady Laura Bush to promote reading and honor Texas authors. Sessions are free and open to the public. Proceeds from books purchased at the festival benefit the state’s public libraries.

Visit this site for a full list of festival authors.

Professor Evaluates Israel's Struggle Against Terrorism

Four years ago, Associate Professor of Government Ami Pedahzur investigated the use of human bombs in terrorist attacks around the world in the 2005 book “Suicide Terrorism” (Polity).

Now, after a decade of studying terrorism, he turns his attention to Israel’s battle in “The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism” (Columbia University Press, 2009).

In the book, Pedahzur argues that Israel’s counterrorism policy has not been successsful. To learn why, read the Austin American-Statesman’s interview with Pedahzur in the Jan. 18 story “UT expert questions Israel’s big stick.”

Pedahzur is a frequent commentator on global terrorism issues. For his insight about the recent attacks in India, check out the opinion piece he wrote for The New York Times, “From Munich to Mumbai.”

Professor Evaluates Israel’s Struggle Against Terrorism

Four years ago, Associate Professor of Government Ami Pedahzur investigated the use of human bombs in terrorist attacks around the world in the 2005 book “Suicide Terrorism” (Polity).

Now, after a decade of studying terrorism, he turns his attention to Israel’s battle in “The Israeli Secret Services and the Struggle Against Terrorism” (Columbia University Press, 2009).

In the book, Pedahzur argues that Israel’s counterrorism policy has not been successsful. To learn why, read the Austin American-Statesman’s interview with Pedahzur in the Jan. 18 story “UT expert questions Israel’s big stick.”

Pedahzur is a frequent commentator on global terrorism issues. For his insight about the recent attacks in India, check out the opinion piece he wrote for The New York Times, “From Munich to Mumbai.”

An Inside Look at the Supreme Court's Gatekeepers

UT alumnus David Weiden (Ph.D., Government, ‘07) and co-author Artemus Ward, assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, offer a peek inside the Supreme Court’s closed chambers in “Sorcerers’ Apprentices: 100 Years of Law Clerks at the United States Supreme Court” (New York University Press, 2006).

Filled with charts, graphs and quotes from law clerks and justices, the book provides a nuanced overview of the inner workings of our nation’s highest court, focusing on how law clerks significantly influence justices’ decision-making.

Tracing the history of the Supreme Court from the 19th century to the present, the authors compile an overview of the changing world of law clerks, revealing their transcendence from mere clerical assistants in the 1930s to the powerful gatekeepers they are today.

Based on Supreme Court archives, extensive interviews and surveys with 150 former law clerks, the authors track the clerks’ escalating rise in power and define the little-known role of the law clerk, a profession many consider the pinnacle of a young lawyer’s career.

The book’s namesake alludes to the title of the 1797 poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which tells the story of a sorcerer’s apprentice who oversteps his bounds by trying on the master’s robe and experimenting with sorcery. Using this metaphor, the authors pose the question: Are the lines between the “masters” and “apprentices” becoming blurred?

Do Supreme Court law clerks pose a threat to the court’s authority?

An Inside Look at the Supreme Court’s Gatekeepers

UT alumnus David Weiden (Ph.D., Government, ‘07) and co-author Artemus Ward, assistant professor of political science at Northern Illinois University, offer a peek inside the Supreme Court’s closed chambers in “Sorcerers’ Apprentices: 100 Years of Law Clerks at the United States Supreme Court” (New York University Press, 2006).

Filled with charts, graphs and quotes from law clerks and justices, the book provides a nuanced overview of the inner workings of our nation’s highest court, focusing on how law clerks significantly influence justices’ decision-making.

Tracing the history of the Supreme Court from the 19th century to the present, the authors compile an overview of the changing world of law clerks, revealing their transcendence from mere clerical assistants in the 1930s to the powerful gatekeepers they are today.

Based on Supreme Court archives, extensive interviews and surveys with 150 former law clerks, the authors track the clerks’ escalating rise in power and define the little-known role of the law clerk, a profession many consider the pinnacle of a young lawyer’s career.

The book’s namesake alludes to the title of the 1797 poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which tells the story of a sorcerer’s apprentice who oversteps his bounds by trying on the master’s robe and experimenting with sorcery. Using this metaphor, the authors pose the question: Are the lines between the “masters” and “apprentices” becoming blurred?

Do Supreme Court law clerks pose a threat to the court’s authority?

Post-Election Reading Roundup

As our nation’s new President-Elect Barack Obama prepares to make his transition to the White House, millions of Americans wait in anticipation to see how he will turn the weakening economy around and make good on his promise for “a new dawn of American leadership.”

Three books by professors from the College of Liberal Arts, offer keen insight into the challenges our new president will face. From scandals in the White House to party polarization to the issue of race in political campaigns, these books provide timely perspectives into hot-button issues facing the nation in 2009.

“Race, Republicans, and the Return of the Party of Lincoln”

Is it possible for a political party to successfully revamp its image without changing its political platform? How do voters respond to these seemingly promising campaigns?

Tasha Philpot, assistant professor of government and African and African American Studies, examines these questions in her book “Race, Republicans, and the Return of the Party of Lincoln” (The University of Michigan Press, 2007).

Using the 2000 Republican National Convention as a case study, she analyzes how parties rebrand themselves to reach out to minority voters. Philpot examines experiments, focus groups, national surveys and newspaper articles to explore how voters perceive changes in political parties.

As the U.S. electorate becomes more racially diverse, how will political parties rebrand themselves in the future? Add your insights in the comments section.

“Party Polarization in Congress”

What propelled the rise in polarization among party lines? To put it simply, why can’t Democrats and Republicans just get along?

Examining more than 30 years of congressional history, Sean Theriault, associate professor of government, explores the “Right vs. Left” phenomenon in his book “Party Polarization in Congress” (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Theriault defines the building blocks for party polarization in the U.S. Congress by examining the increasing homogony in congressional districts and the evolution of legislative procedures. His studies on redistricting and political extremism reveal how both parties have grown more ideologically polarized and less diverse.

With the landslide win of Democrats in both the Senate and the House, will they reach across the divide to their Republican counterparts in 2009?

“On Scandal: Moral Disturbances in Society, Politics and Art”

From Bill Clinton’s nationally publicized indiscretions with Monica Lewinsky, to Richard Nixon’s infamous Watergate scandal, moral transgressions in the political arena generate overwhelming amounts of media buzz.

These are just two of several case studies Ari Adut, assistant professor of sociology, examines in his book “On Scandal: Moral Disturbances in Society, Politics and Art” (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

From a sociological perspective, Adut analyzes a broad range of case studies, including the vulnerabilities of presidents, the rise in sexual politics and reactions to controversial content in modern art. He reveals the conditions that cause scandals, while others slip under the radar.

What do you think has been one of the most visible but irrelevant political scandals in American history?

Election Day Reading List

Election Day is finally here! It’s been a long and grueling campaign season, but if you’re still hungry for insight about the important issues facing the nation, check out these three books by faculty members from the Department of Government.

From voter mythology to gender and religion, these books address the gamut of contentious issues from the 2008 presidential election.

“Unconventional Wisdom: Facts and Myths About American Voters” (Oxford University Press, 2008), by Karen Kaufmann, John Petrocik and Daron Shaw.

Frustrated by the media’s perpetuation of inaccurate analysis about American voters, Shaw and his colleagues decided to set the record straight with “Unconventional Wisdom.” Learn more in the feature story “A Red and Blue Nation?

“The Constitution as Social Design: Gender and Civic Membership in the American Constitutional Order” (Stanford University Press, 2006), by Gretchen Ritter.

In her book, Ritter argues that women’s struggles to gain equality are both inspired and constrained by our understanding of the Constitution and the social roles it creates. Learn more in the feature story “Citizen Jane.

“Politics in the Pews: The Political Mobilization of Black Churches” (University of Michigan Press, 2008), by Eric McDaniel.

Political scientists have documented and examined the impact of church-based political activism for years, but McDaniel says they’ve neglected to examine why churches become politically active in the first place. Learn more in the feature story “Politics in the Pews.”

What political books are on your nightstand this election year?