OPEN UNIVERSITY SEPTEMBER 13, 2006
by Michael KazinHas anyone written a good book or essay about what happens to professors who try to get elected to public office? Some manage to deploy their expertise in practical ways, understanding that appealing to voters is not just a matter of stating positions and raising money. But others seem to think that what works in the lecture hall--or on the page--will also play well out in the streets and the polling booths.
In Tuesday's Maryland Democratic Primary, two professors from American University (in D.C.) exemplified these different strategies in their first runs for office. Jamin Raskin, who teaches in the law school, won a landslide victory for a seat in the State Senate over a long-time, but now aged, incumbent. He energetically articulated precise, liberal positions on the issues, but he also persuaded important pols--like the local congressman--to back him and also won the endorsement of The Washington Post. Meanwhile, Allan Lichtman, an excellent political historian, was finishing sixth in his race for the U.S. Senate nomination. Lichtman tried to run as the candidate of the principled left; he called for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and convinced Daniel Ellsberg and George McGovern to speak at his fund-raisers. But Lichtman only made an impact in the media when he and his wife got arrested for protesting his exclusion from a candidate's debate (only candidates who topped 15 percent in the polls were invited). In the end, he won fewer votes statewide than Raskin did in his one tiny district.