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Thornton Hall

The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

Biased Against Us All

In the wake of Trump's ascencion, Jamelle Bouie at Slate brought up the term kakistocracy, a Greek word for "government by the worst men."

A perfect society would find a way to funnel the best people into public service. But the Founding Fathers didn't really manage to incorporate this feature into our system. They got part way there: our country has always espoused the notion that we should expect the best from our leaders. 

Shauna Shames, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University-Camden, investigated the attitudes of 700 students in law or public policy at two schools, Harvard and Suffolk University. She's interviewed by Emma Green in The Atlantic  and reveals that the press is not helping:

Green [of The Atlantic]: So what were the reasons why these young people don’t want to run for office?

[Professor Shauna] Shames: The best way to put it is that there are a whole lot of costs, and there are also rewards. But if you add them together, the sum total often hovers around zero.


Green: It was interesting to see how often aversion to the media came up. You even wrote that “repeated portrayals of politics as embattled, acrimonious, and scandal-ridden, while perhaps useful to media outlets in drawing readers or viewers, appear to also exacerbate voter disgust.” That’s a pretty cynical take. How do you think the media factored into your students’ attitudes about running for office?

Shames: The most upsetting things were about their own sense of privacy—that they or their family might become objects of derision, or particularly that they might be attacked. One of the interviewees spoke movingly about the attacks on Chelsea Clinton or the Bush twins when their fathers were in office. That was enough to make him think that he might never want to do politics at all.

There was a sense that voters are kind of like a mob. That’s not a flattering portrayal of the public, but it’s not inaccurate, either. They will often demand scandal coverage, and then be very upset and offended and horrified by it. The public is not rational about its wants or desires from media coverage.

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