“Long Division: Measuring the polarization of American politics.”

Jill Lepore in the New Yorker:

The study of government, like the government itself, is in a tight spot. In 2009, during a vote on a House appropriations bill, Tom Coburn, a Republican senator from Oklahoma, tried to abolish the National Science Foundation’s Political Science Program, which supports academic research in “citizenship, government, and politics.” The motion was tabled after the American Political Science Association staged a same-day e-mail campaign to oppose it. Last year, the measure met with success in the House; House members who have few qualms about closing the Centers for Disease Control are not, generally speaking, daunted by the prospect of stifling the pursuit of social science. And, earlier this year, when Coburn re-introduced his amendment in the Senate, it passed with no more quibbling than the addition of a proviso that some political science could be funded: research whose purpose is “promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States.” The President signed the bill into law in March.

The movement to defund political science stems from the belief that the National Science Foundation has no business funding political science, because political science is all politics and no science—except when it advances national security or boosts the American economy, in which case it is, naturally, apolitical and scientific. The political and unscientific stuff is the study of, for instance, gridlock. According to Coburn, one reason the federal government should not pay for political-science research is that “studies of presidential executive power and Americans’ attitudes about the Senate filibuster hold little promise to save an American’s life from a threatening condition or to advance America’s competitiveness in the world”—a statement that is difficult to square with the damage done to the U.S. economy by the ongoing budgetary brinkmanship. . .

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