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Maureen Dowd argues U.S. presidents reflect paternal influence

November 8, 2012

Elon University students Tweeted about Maureen Dowd’s visit to campus.

One day after the presidential election, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd offered a psychoanalysis of the nation’s leaders, relating the political arena to a theatrical display of family drama.

Dowd, Elon University’s Baird Pulitzer Prize lecturer, turned attention away from the most recent political contest and instead emphasized how father-son relationships influence the behaviors of United States presidents.

“Presidential campaigns have an underlying paternal theme,” Dowd said, referencing promises to protect the house against international invaders or a menacing financial situation.

The candidates continually compete to portray themselves as America’s father, king or hero, according to the Pulitzer Prize winner.

The constructed narrative presents a nobleman’s quest, a revered victory and a shared celebration with their constituents, she said. But, when Dowd questioned President Barack Obama about his heroic accomplishments, the United States’ president identified his relationship with his father as his biggest battle.

“I’m surprised by how much time I’ve spent writing about fathers,” said the political columnist.

Dowd has witnessed President George W. Bush’s attempt to escape from the shadow of his father, has observed Mitt Romney’s unwavering affection toward his dad and has recognized the extent to which the absence of Obama’s father informed the president’s route to the Oval Office.

“Obama’s scattered upbringing accounts for his self-sufficiency,” Dowd said. “That’s why the president sometimes gets faulted for not thanking donors or people who work hard for him. He fiercely claims to the narrative that he made it on his own.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Maureen Dowd discusses the paternal themes apparent in presidential campaigns Nov. 7 at Elon University. Photo by Melissa Kansky.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush, who Dowd simply refers to as W., designed policies to oppose the actions of the 41st United States president. She described their relationship as loving, yet competitive, casting W. as the “boy king” determined to eclipse his father.

“The desire to go from the screw-up son to the son who fixed his father’s screw up informed everything W. did,” Dowd said.

W. treated his father’s presidency as a “reverse playbook.” His rationalization for war with Saddam Hussein challenged his father’s assertion that one nation could not unilaterally invade another.

Yet, the Romney family’s dynamic contrasts that exhibited by the Bush pair. The 2012 Republican presidential candidate carried a piece of paper marked with “Dad” as a source of inspiration along the campaign trail.

But despite the contrast between the Bush and Romney family, the two sons share a commonality, she said; both failed to match their fathers’ enthusiasm.

“Sometimes the sons of famous men don’t have any real reason to run other than to fulfill a presidential dream their more volcanic fathers failed to grasp,” she said.

She criticized Mitt Romney’s lack of passion and continued to condemn the Republican candidate for his antiquated views, which she described as more appropriate for the 1950s.

His policies no longer resonate with American ideologies, she said. She used popular culture to communicate the disconnect, equating Romney’s platform to “a ‘Mad Men’ party in a ‘Modern Family’ world.”

As a result, Dowd will spend four more years analyzing Obama, who she said she is still trying to decipher.

“Trying to get into the heads of powerful narcissistic leaders is like being the president’s shrink,” she said.

Her commentary supports an opinion the renowned journalist Bob Woodward once expressed to her.

“All presidents get the psychoanalysis they deserve,” she said, quoting Woodward.

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State universities exhibit divergent political trends, students think Elon splits evenly

November 7, 2012

Graphic by Natalie Allison. Information compiled from the Elon University Poll.

A recent Elon University Poll revealed North Carolinians’ collegiate basketball preference correlates with one’s presidential choice. The majority of North Carolina State fans supported Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney while those who support University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s team favor President Barack Obama and Duke University sup- porters are nearly divided, according to the poll con- ducted Oct. 21-26.

Elon University was not included in the results because the number of respondents who identified as Phoenix fans produces too small of a sample size to yield conclusive results, according to Kenneth Fernandez, director of the Elon University Poll.

Nevertheless, from observation of the Elon community, Fernandez and students have largely deter- mined the campus is divided on the political spectrum.

“A private school attracts people from higher socioeconomic background,” Fernandez said. “They’re concerned about the size of government, they’re looking for jobs very soon and concerned about the economy. Mitt Romney has been seen as a better candidate to handle that issue.”

But Obama typically attracts votes from the younger demographic, leading Fernandez to predict the Elon community to be evenly split between the contenders, he said.

“I think because of economic background people are economically more conservative,” said senior Brittany Woodard.

But debates regarding Chick-fil-A’s presence on campus demonstrated students with both liberal and conservative beliefs occupy campus, she said. Furthermore, discussions in class and among friends have indicated a division in support for the presidential candidates.

Junior Nick Schneider said he observed a discrepancy between the political views of his friends and those expressed in class, indicating a variety of views present at Elon.

“Half of my friend group will always talk about Romney’s points and his support, and I will go to class, and most of my classmates are Obama supporters,” Schneider said.

He attributed the diversity of opinions to Elon’s classification as a private school.

While freshman Elizabeth Cozine acknowledged that political ideologies are not strictly divided geographically, the representation of both northern and southern states on campus contributes to the development of the bipartisan atmosphere, she said.

“A lot of people from the north are attracted to the school, and a lot of northern states vote democratic in the Electoral College,” she said. “But at the same time, you have a lot of southern people who do attend the school, and a lot of southern people do identify with conservative views.”

Fernandez applied a similar rationale to the political division within Duke’s fan base. The university’s fan base ex- tends beyond the North Carolina population, generating support from individuals across the country, he said.

“There are so many people who like Duke because it’s been so successful, so it spans partisanship,” Fernandez said.

Nothing New: No change in congressional majority

November 7, 2012

Graphic by Madison Margeson

Balance of power within the Senate and House of Representatives has remained the same following the election Nov. 6. Democrats continue to hold a majority in the Senate with 53 seats, while Republicans maintain a majority in the House with 212 seats.

With President Barack Obama re-elected, the dynamic between the White House and Congress has not altered. Elon University professors have expressed frustration with division in the federal government, citing failure to compromise as the source of the nation’s problems.

“The do-nothing attitude has created problems for the country, and we probably could have bettered our economic situation and most other situations if most people in Congress had been willing to compromise,” said David Copeland, professor of communications.

He faulted members of Congress for their intentional inactivity and said during the next term the president should be more forceful in his approach with leaders of Congress and incite accountability.

David Crowe, professor of history, agreed the president should immediately initiate compromise between political ideologies. The economic situation is dependent on resolutions developed in Congress, he said.

Such divisiveness has prevented the government from addressing the end of the Bush-era tax cuts. With the approaching Dec. 31 deadline, lawmakers are pressured to devise a policy to prevent the United States from falling off the “fiscal cliff,” a process that requires a deal between Congress and the White House.

The gridlock that has characterized Congress the past two years has inhibited a resolution, causing the dilemma to bleed into Obama’s next term.

A change in national leadership would have changed the functionality of the government, Copeland predicted. Nevertheless, Crowe acknowledged creating a culture of compromise would be difficult for either presidential candidate.

Graphic by Madison Margeson.

Although the Republicans continued to occupy the majority of the N.C. House, North Carolina witnessed a party change in three of their 13 districts. In N.C. congressional district 8 Republican Richard Hudson defeated incumbent Larry Kissell; Republican Mark Meadows won the House seat in N.C. district 11; and Republican George Holding defeated Charles Malone in N.C. district 13.

Republicans hold the majority of seats in both the N.C. Senate and N.C. House of Representatives with 32 and 77 seats, respectively.

Undecided voters unlikely to sway popular vote

November 6, 2012

By Melissa Kansky, Caitlin O’Donnell and Derek Wickham

Undecided voters are small in number and even smaller in significance. Typically uninformed on key election-year issues, they are also less likely to show up at the polls on Election Day, according to two professors in the department of political science at Elon University.

A recent Elon University Poll indicated 5 percent of likely voters remain undecided, a decrease of one percentage point since August. Click here for an interactive graph of the results.

According to the latest Elon University Poll, conducted Oct. 21-26, 5 percent of 1,238 likely voters reported still being undecided on the presidential race.

While little information may produce an undecided voter, others are simply torn between two issues.

“They like one candidate on one issue, but they like the other candidate on another issue, and so it could be that these various considerations are not fully weighed out in their mind,” said Jason Husser, assistant director of the Elon University Poll.

The 2012 election between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Presidential incumbent Barack Obama saw fewer undecided voters because of the ideological divide between the two candidates, Husser said.

Furthermore, when undecided voters are forced to pick a side, during the Elon Poll for example, undecided voters in North Carolina typically split evenly between Obama and Romney, affecting the outcome of the election little if not at all. Additionally, undecided voters nationally represent such a small sliver of the population that it’s difficult to statistically predict their impact on the election.

“They are not a group that are really indicative or representative of the population as a whole,” Husser said.

As a result, the last week of the campaign is focused more on energizing each party’s base, not necessarily getting undecided voters to the polls.

“In many ways these undecided voters have some sort of intrinsic unlikelihood of actually turning up to the polls,” he said. “(The campaigns) are less concerned with persuading this last 5 percent or fighting over the hard-to-reach people. Instead, they are focused on making sure the people who are already in their camp are showing up when they need to show up.”

Of all party affiliations, those who identify as independent have a higher percentage of undecided voters. Click here for an interactive graphic.

The typical undecided voter either has limited access to information or minimal incentive to review it, often devoting the majority of their time to other activities, he said.

“They’re doing other things, so politics in their mind is peripheral to their main interests, so they tune out,” said Kenneth Fernandez, director of the Poll. “They watch other shows besides news shows, so they’re low-information and they’re not exactly sure where these candidates stand. So they haven’t made a decision, but on Election Day they know it’s their duty, so they go out and vote.”

Students also represent another chunk of voters that are traditionally undecided, typically because they aren’t acclimated to the process, according to Fernandez. Though they may not make up their minds early, student partisanship is usually best determined by that of his or her parents, he said.

Although Fernandez said young voters are typically not acclimated to the election process, junior Raymond Haack discussed politics with members of Elon University’s Political Forum on Election Day at Speaker’s Corner. Photo by Melissa Kansky.

“Often, we don’t see the percentage of undecided likely voter numbers diminishing in surveys,” Husser said.

Since the Elon Poll conducted at the end of August, the percentage of undecided voters has declined one percentage point.

“What happens is this small amount of people end up making their mind when they walk into the voting booth,” Husser said.

Both Husser and Fernandez insisted the population of undecided voters will do little to sway the election, even if they do show up to the polls.

“I think because they split evenly, this election will be decided by turn-out, not by undecided voters,” Fernandez said. “And that’s not to dismiss undecided voters, but I would argue that a one percent increase in African American voters in North Carolina would have a larger impact on outcome than determining what small percentage of undecided voters might lean for the Republican or Democrat.”

President’s top concern during first 100 days should be compromise in Washington

November 5, 2012

Discussions concerning the economy have dominated presidential campaigns, but the topic has revealed a larger issue threatening the nation. The next president should address the functionality of the government and encourage compromise among the various political factions, according to David Copeland, professor of communications.

He identified division within the federal government as the source of problems in the country and said he believes it to be the most important element for the president to address during his first 100 days in office.

He faults members of Congress for their intentional inactivity. He said he believes the president should be more forceful in his approach with leaders of Congress, introducing challenges to the country and inciting accountability.

“The do-nothing attitude has crated problems for the country and we probably could have bettered our economic situation and most other situations if most people in Congress had been willing to compromise,” Copeland said. “Whoever is president needs to work on that.”

Click here for an interactive graphic showing the presidential job approval ratings following the first 100 days in office.

Historically, the first 100 days of one’s term indicates the politician’s agenda and is considered to be a time when the president’s power and influence is at its greatest.

The theory developed following President Franklin Roosevelt’s address to Congress in 1933, during which he referred to the first 100-day session of the 73rd United States Congress as a means to measure the legislature’s success and predict its accomplishments.

Political commentators have since applied the theory to the president’s term, using it to assess the climate of one’s presidency.

Nevertheless, David Crowe, professor of history, questioned the significance of the first 100 days.

“I’m not certain the 100 days are the most telling about what the president’s going to do because there is a learning curve and on-the-job training,” he said.

For a full article about Romney’s first 100 days, click here.

Few experiences prepare an individual for presidency and, as a result, the first 100 days are a period of acclimation rather than action, he said. Rather, the first year is more indicative of the president’s agenda, according to Crowe.

Nevertheless, Crowe still said the president should immediately initiate compromise between political ideologies. The economic situation is dependent on resolutions developed in Congress.

While expiration of the Bush tax cuts, set to end Dec. 31, 2012, will reduce government spending and the budget deficit, the average household will experience a tax increase of almost $3,500, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank. As a result, lawmakers are pressured to devise a policy to prevent the United States from falling off the “fiscal cliff,” which requires a deal between Congress and the White House.

If the dilemma is not resolved by December, the responsibility falls to the next president.

For a complete article about Obama’s first 100 days in office, click here.

With the threatening financial situation, the president’s attention should focus on the economy, according to sophomore Chelsea Lindsay.

“He should work with both tax raises and program cuts to make the budget something that is reasonable,” Lindsay said.

The economy was the most important factor for her during this election, she said.

“Long range, these are not the most important, but in terms of the immediacy, it can push us back in the recession if they are not dealt with by the end of December,” Crowe said. “In terms of the immediate issues, they are the most important.”

A new president could change the dynamic between Congress and the White House, according to Copeland.

Compromise is more attainable if a republican is elected president and there continues to be a majority of republicans in the House, he said.

“But if the current political situation stays status quo, compromise has to be brought back,” Copeland said. “Democracy only works through compromise. I think the first 100 days the most important element is getting the government back to work and listening and supporting the people.”

Nevertheless, Crowe acknowledged it is going to be a challenge for either presidential candidate.

In addition to the economy, Copeland recognized the international situation as an issue deserving of immediate attention. The president should remove the United States from international confrontations as a means to reduce government spending, he said.

Freshman Hannah Rolland also suggested reducing military spending in order to diminish national debt. She identified the War in Afghanistan as one of the issues the president should immediately address.

“Hurricane Sandy was devastating and it affects so many people. We can’t focus on health care or the economy or international issues until we get people power and back in their homes” – Emily Haley

Additionally, freshman Robert Linklater agreed the War in Afghanistan is one of the most pressing issues.

But for some others, social issues take prominence. Sophomore Alex Shahade said she believes women’s issues should be a top priority.

“Women are half of the population,” she said. “Women deserve to have the right to make decisions about their bodies.”

While most individuals focused on issues prevalent throughout the campaign season, for sophomore Emily Haley the president should also work immediately to resolve problems erupting from a more recent event: Hurricane Sandy.

“It affects the entire country,” she said. “It was devastating and it affects so many people. We can’t focus on health care or the economy or international issues until we get people power and back in their homes.”

Oaks residential neighborhood to display name of four university honorees

November 4, 2012

The Elon University Board of Trustees voted during its fall meeting to name four buildings in the Oaks residential neighborhood in honor of four emeriti faculty and staff.

“This is done on rare occasions,” said Jeff Stein, secretary to the Board of Trustees and assistant professor of English. “Most namings are a result of philanthropic gifts to the institution. On rare and special occasions, facilities are named in honor of distinguished emeriti faculty and staff.”

The buildings will display the names of Jo Watts Williams, vice president emerita and professor of education; John Sullivan, professor emeritus of philosophy; Janie Council; late professor of accounting; and Janie Brown, professor emerita of physical education.

On rare and special occasions, facilities are named in honor of distinguished emeriti faculty and staff- Jeff Stein, secretary of Board of Trustees and assistant professor of English

  • Jo Watts Williams: Williams served as an instructor in the departments of education and psychology before working as associate dean of academic affairs and director of the learning resource center. She also served as vice president for development and special assistant to the president for 16 years. Williams demonstrated community involvement, as well, and was active on local boards. She was awarded Elon’s Distinguished Alumna of the Year in 1995 and received the Elon Medallion for service to the university in 1998.
  • John Sullivan: Sullivan was a member of the department of Philosophy from 1970 until he retired 2001. He received the Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1980. Sullivan has been continually recognized by the university for his work and has been the first recipient of two Elon-specific awards: the Maude Sharpe Powell Professor and Elon’s Distinguished University Professor.
  • Janie Brown: Brown worked at Elon for 39 years as a professor of physical education and served more than 20 years as the chair of the department. She has been recognized for her contributions to the women’s athletics program and has endowed the Dr. Janie P Brown Women’s Athletic Scholarship. She exhibits continual dedication to athletics. Brown is currently president of the board of directors of North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
  • Janie Council: Council, the first recipient of Elon’s Daniels-Danieley Award for Excellence, taught accounting at Elon from 1960 to 1984. Elon’s Student Government Association named Council Outstanding Professor of the Year, which is currently named in her honor, on seven occasions. Council died in 1992.

Math Tools for Journalists chapters 1-4

November 2, 2012

Journalists aim to facilitate comprehension and generate an informed public. In order to fulfill this responsibility, journalists need to understand the significance of numbers and put them into context for their audience. Furthermore, journalists’ commitment to accuracy requires them to develop math skills. As Kathleen Woodruff Wickham argues, “don’t assume the person who prepared the documentation has good math skills” (18). The author offers brief instruction to improve her readers’ math literacy.

Journalists use specific language when writing about numbers.

  • Temperatures are described as “higher” or “lower,” rather than “warmer” or “cooler.”
  • “Farther” is used when referring to a physical distance, but “further” is used to discuss degree, time or quantity.
  • “Fewer” is used for items that can be counted, and “less than” is used for mass items or time terms.

Describing values in terms of percentages help readers grasp the scope of the numerical value and put things into perspective. Especially when discussing money, using percentages help readers understand the percent of the whole. Percentages are good when talking about:

  • Interest
  • Government/School budget
  • Salary increase

Wickham argues knowledge of statistics help journalists recognize when data has been skewed or manipulated. Also, calculating the standard deviation can help one notice inconsistent results. Additionally, standard deviation can signify diversity within data sets. Mean, median and mode are common terms when discussing statistics, but it is necessary to understand when each is appropriate to describe the data.

  • Mean is best used when there is an even distribution of the numbers, so the calculation would accurately portray the average.
  • Median is best used when there is a significant outlier that would otherwise skew the data.
  • Mode is best used when a number appears repeatedly and there is an outlier that would impact the results of the mean.

Statistics are commonly used to explain:

  • Percentiles
  • Probabilities, such as the lottery or risks

Once journalists are familiar with equations for statistics, it is necessary to apply these formulas to relevant information that impacts society. Federal agencies often use numbers to explain the economic situation or one nation’s relationship to another. Unemployment rates are frequently discussed this election season, and reporters need to understand what the numbers reveal about society and the nation. The same can be said for Gross Domestic Product. As Wickham explains, alone the GDP value does not have any significance. Only the change in GDP reveals the direction of the country’s economic activity. Furthermore, the GDP per capita offers insight into the “relative well-being of populations” (64) and the financial situation of individuals within a nation.

Federal Statistics are useful for discussing:

  • Unemployment
  • Inflation
  • Consumer Price Index
  • Gross Domestic Product
  • Trade balance