When I first began taking political science seriously, it was moving rapidly to the left and demanding a much higher level of empirical support for its propositions. The Old Guard, deplored by my first political science professors, were “conservative” about what the discipline ought to do and were trapped into political ideology.
I remember struggling with one essay which argued against what the author called “intensity.” Since he was one of the bad guys (as the field was being painted for this new guy) I tried to dismiss his argument, but I never got rid of the intensity element. If some people care more intensely than others, it offsets to some extent the difference in numbers. A large listless majority will have its head handed to it on a platter by a small intense strategic minority.
These days, that truth is axiomatic. I’m thinking specifically about North Idaho College in Coeur D’Alene. I was really attracted to a phrase Charles Homans used in his New York Times column on the subject (March 6). The recent struggles at the College were, he said “a volatile experiment in turning grievances into governance.”
Grievances into governance? Why would anyone want to do that?
Governance is supposed to provide the context within which citizens of different persuasions make their arguments. Governance is like the downfield contact rules of a football game or the charging/blocking calls of a basketball game or the size of the strike zone in a baseball game. The players all learn how the game is being called that day and adapt as best they can.
But no one suggests that “scoring” be changed into “yards gained on running plays.” Particularly after the game has already been played. The game continues to be committed to the standard that whoever gets the most points wins. That is why people still trust the game and why they still attend. Since the U. S. has one of the lowest rates of citizen voting of any democratic state in the world, that might be a question worth considering.
Governance is the stable part. It enables conflict about issues. At Northern Idaho College, people have been pulling the fire alarms during the meetings of the board of trustees. Homans says:
Trustees backed by the county Republican Party hold a majority on the board. They have denounced liberal “indoctrination” by the college faculty and vowed to bring the school administration’s “deep state” to heel and “Make N.I.C. Great Again.”
The college has had its debt downgraded by Moody’s. It has received warnings from the regional accreditation agency that could be stripped of its accreditation.
I’d be inclined to assess it the way Kathleen Miller Green, did. She is an assistant professor of child development at NIC and she said, “It’s pretty much a dystopian farce.”
That seems to me a sound, even a witty, assessment, but it isn’t going to help solve the problem. The problem is that the local Republican Party has decided to turn the governance of North Idaho College into a culture war You can tell by the terms used above: “liberal indoctrination” and “the administration’s deep state” and, of course, the “…Great Again” tagline.
There are not likely enough Democrats to make a difference in Coeur d’Alene—If memory serves, Trump won 70% of the vote in Idaho—but there might be some moderate Republicans who are willing to resist the trashing of a local resource. Or even some pragmatists of whatever party label, who would hate to see the college’s well respected technical training programs disappear.
The point here is that someone is going to have to care as much about some practical policy outcome as the current board cares about performing real life caricatures of culture war icons.
It’s the “intensity problem” again. I think those old conservative political scientists were onto something.