what if 53 percent of u.s. senators were social scientists rather than attorneys?
i lunched today with betsy hodges, a fellow mad grad, now a minneapolis city council member. i came away wishing she was my representative and, more generally, that more elected officials had the theory and methods chops that one learns in a good social science grad program.
i know, i know -- weber hashed out some supposedly irreconcilable differences in politics as a vocation and science as a vocation.* nevertheless, anyone who has dealt with elected officials can aver that some might benefit from a bit more substantive coursework (e.g., stratification, demography, race and ethnicity, orgs, gender, criminology) and a decent stats/methods sequence.
of course, the very best and/or wonkish elected officials could teach fantastic seminars in each of these areas. i've had the privilege of interacting with some brilliant politicians who actually read social science (names will remain undropped), and i've been amused and astounded at their devastating and wholly convincing critiques of ideas and evidence that social scientists take seriously.
but ANYWAY, as local natives and boosters, ms. hodges and i share a similar vision of traditional minnesota values and priorities for public investment. i could tell she was a native minnesotan because neither of us even considered sending the food back, even though the server messed up our orders pretty badly. this isn't because we need assertiveness training. this is because traditional minnesota values dictate that we may only raise hell if the server screws up somebody else's order. then we would have been fightin' mad, picketing outside the restaurant, and leading a rousing chorus of we shall overcome until the poor patron received a sammich that was not slathered in noxious jalapeno tartar sauce.
aside from lunch, we also shared some ideas about public education, crime and civil liberties, and the leaching of social capital from american institutions. as a sociologist now in public service, ms. hodges clearly gets it. she sees political issues involving crime, education, and neighborhood efficacy through a sociological lens -- and i bet she makes better decisions because of it.
i've always aspired to do the sort of research that would advance both science and policy, but i've recently found myself serving more often as a moderater or discussant on political debates. actually, i said yes to moderating a debate this month, but haven't heard back. perhaps the organizers were spooked by this gubernatorial clash with governor tim pawlenty and jonathon "the impaler" sharkey. moderators aside, do we need more social scientists in office? or, do you actually prefer the status quo and think that the lawyers are doing just fine as it is?
*i'd argue that a few things have changed since his insightful explication of these conflicts (including the class of baseline non-sociologist officeholders). i wonder what moynihan thought of weber?
**with regard to university service, this is the best of all possible results -- you've agreed to do the thing, but somebody else decided to go in a different direction. you remain the good citizen but don't have to do any actual work.