A Few Reasonable Words

A Few Reasonable Words features three professors trying desperately to soothe the frayed nerves of the American public with the comforting balm of political science. We analyze current political events through the lens of political theory and research in American politics. Every week we offer a quick reminder about the basics in a segment called Civics for Grownups. We also include recommended readings. Learn more:
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A Few Reasonable Words




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A podcast from three professors trying desperately to soothe the frayed nerves of the American public with the comforting balm of political science.

Check out our website to learn more!

Jul 3, 2018

It's America's birthday! But what exactly does it mean to be an American? We explore theories of what it means to be an American - is it a kind of national identity, a commitment to particular ideas, a set of civic practices, or something else entirely?

Jun 25, 2018

What's the deal with primaries? Why do they happen? Why do they matter? Do we really have to pay attention to them? Do I really have to vote twice this year? (Hint: Yes!) And what is the role of political parties in primaries? What should it be? Can a party really "meddle" in its own primaries? (Hint: No!)

May 26, 2018

What's political about the census? Everything from the apportionment of representatives to the distribution of public resources to the construction of racial, ethnic, & civic identities. It's a big deal, and recent changes are worth paying attention to.

May 17, 2018

We're back (finally)! In our third installment of our long-gestating media discussion, we look at the professional norms of the political media and how understanding them can help us comprehend and critique the media.

Feb 28, 2018

The news media in America has a complicated relationship to partisan politics and political ideology. The mainstream news media continues to prize ideals of objectivity & neutrality, but countless outlets offer an explicitly partisan takes on the news. We should be worried? Is partisan media a problem for democracy, or is it fitting in a democracy with robust protections for freedom of the press? And what are news consumers to make of claims about bias in the ostensibly neutral news media? Is the ‘mainstream media’ really liberally biased? Or do other biases—such as those toward celebrity, scandal, and novelty—outweigh any ideological bias? And how does all of this connect with the business incentives of the media we discussed a couple of weeks ago?

Feb 20, 2018

Despite enjoying popular support, federal gun control legislation seems all but impossible. Is the NRA really bribing representatives? Not exactly, but they have an awful lot of influence, and we explore the politics of interest groups to understand why.

Feb 12, 2018

In the first of our series on how to think about the media, we explore the economics of the news business. Who owns the media? How does the profit motive explain much of what you see, hear, and read? And what--if anything--can we do about it?

Feb 3, 2018

In light of FISA reauthorization earlier this year and the FISA-related accusations leveled against the FBI & the Obama Administration in the Nunes memo, it’s a good time to remind ourselves what exactly FISA is, where it came from, what Americans should and should not be worried about, and what it means that both parties in Congress and the President just decided to reauthorize it without much public discussion or controversy.

Jan 19, 2018

What happens when there's a government shutdown? Why do we shut the government down, anyway? Do all countries shut down their governments, or is this just a silly thing America does?

Dec 25, 2017

In our special holiday episode, we share our Christmas wish lists: what we're asking to get from Political Science Santa. That's a thing, right?

Dec 22, 2017

Congress met their goal of passing a tax cut bill before Christmas, which means its to talk about the basics of taxation, the highlights of the bill, and what is likely to follow from the most significant piece of tax legislation since 2001.

Dec 14, 2017

Alabama elected a Democratic Senator! Democrats ran the tables in Virginia! How did that happen? What does this mean for the Democrats? What does this mean for the Republicans? Did Doug Jones really win this, or was Roy Moore just a singularly weak GOP candidate? Was this an aberration, or might it signal something bigger afoot?

Dec 4, 2017

What is diplomacy, why is it important, and how does it work? How can we know if diplomacy has been successful? Is it just when we’re not currently at war, or is it more complicated than that? Special guest Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli helps us answer all your diplomacy-related questions.

Nov 4, 2017

What exactly do we know about Russian interference in the election? There is a lot of news about Russian interference, shady dealings, meetings, fake news, bots, and all manner of complicated goings on about our last election. In the wake of tech companies like facebook and twitter coming before congress to give an account of their behavior, we thought it might be nice to take stock of what we know about Russian interference and ask some questions about how Americans should feel about foreign meddling in our elections.

Oct 28, 2017

What's the deal with lobbying? How powerful are lobbyists, really? Nobody seems to like it, but it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Should we be mad about that, or is the public image of lobbying as an all-powerful enemy of democracy inaccurate?

Oct 17, 2017

Despite enjoying popular support, federal gun control legislation seems all but impossible. Is the NRA really bribing representatives? Not exactly, but they have an awful lot of influence, and we explore the politics of interest groups to understand why.

Oct 3, 2017

What do NFL Players & tiki-torch wielding Nazis have in common? They put our ideas of freedom of speech to the test! How far do (or should) the legal protections of free speech extend? What exactly is the relationship between the first amendment and the principle of freedom of expression? Does the first amendment really protect speech that many believe by its very nature can harm vulnerable people? What are the best arguments for and against restricting hate speech? Should we try to stop the Nazis from spreading their hateful ideas or do our principles of free speech provide a good enough reason to allow them to speak, no matter how much we hate what they have to say?

Sep 25, 2017

From sanctuary states to repealing Obamacare, How should we think about conflicts between the federal government & state governments? Is there any clear way to determine who has the right to set policy, or is our system built for constant conflict between the states and the federal government? And if so, is that a good thing? 

Sep 19, 2017

How worried should we be about civic ignorance? Most Americans know very little about government, but is that a problem for democracy? And if so, what should we do about it?

Sep 12, 2017

What is (was) DACA? Who is affected by the program? And how well do the administration's claims about needing to rescind DACA for separation of powers reasons hold up to scrutiny?

Jul 26, 2017

Congress gets a recess and our students get summer break, so we figured we could take a vacation as well. 

Jul 11, 2017

Why do politicians seem to never stop campaigning? Has our democracy lost touch with the difference between governing and electioneering? Should we be mad about all this? And if it is a bad thing, how much of it is the media’s fault? (Hint: A lot) 

Jul 3, 2017

Everybody knows the Declaration of Independence, but there’s nothing quite like political scientists nerding out on founding documents, so grab a hot dog and check out the fireworks while we break down America’s great Dear John letter to England.

Jun 24, 2017

The Senate finally released their super-secret bill for restructuring the American Health Care system, so we’ve decided to re-run our “Lawmaking 101” episode in hopes of getting everybody back up to speed just in time for health care battles anew!

Jun 15, 2017

What does it mean for the President to invoke executive privilege? Is executive privilege actually in the Constitution? Do Presidents only invoke executive privilege when they have something to hide? And isn’t getting to live in the White House privilege enough?

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