Professor of Political Science Iva Deutchman was quoted in a recent Finger Lakes Times article discussing reactions to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday, Jan. 20. Deutchman was one of several political experts quoted in the article, which also included insight from U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Tom Reed, R-23.
In the article, Deutchman shared her view on the cause of some of the difficulties in Washington, D.C. She believes both parties think the people have spoken, either in the 2012 presidential race or the 2014 congressional race, and both think they have rejected the other party’s ideas.
“What they’re not talking about is the fact that we have a divided government because of the electoral system,” Deutchman said. “In other words, we have this crazy electorate where you get small districts and very few voters, and you can end up getting a candidate who represents a very small set of interests that are not in fact shared by a majority.”
Deutchman holds a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in political science from the University of Pennsylvania, and a bachelor’s degree from Hofstra University in political science and economics. She is a professor of more than 20 years who has worked on two continents (Australia and North America). She has a long list of publications in major journals, the latest of which are “Electoral Challenges of Moderate Factions: Main Streeters and Blue Dogs, 1994- 2008,” The Forum, Vol. 8: Iss2, Article 2 (2010) (with DeWayne Lucas); “Five Factions, Two Parties: Caucus Membership in the House of Representatives, 1994- 2002,” Congress and the Presidency, 36:62-84, 2009 (with colleague DeWayne Lucas); and “Fundamentalist Christians, Raunch Culture and Post-industrial Capitalism,” Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Summer 2008.
The full Finger Lakes Times article follows.
Finger Lakes Times
State of the Union: No surprise, reaction to president’s speech is mixed
Jim Miller • Jan. 21, 2015
Watching Tuesday’s State of the Union Address, John Hurley heard a president eager to remind Congress and the nation that the White House still holds major influence despite Republican gains in the November election.
Hurley, who chairs Ontario County’s Democratic Party, thought Barack Obama succeeded in delivering that message with a tone that at times became combative and even feisty.
“If anyone was looking for a concession speech acknowledging that his party got whupped in the last election, they certainly didn’t hear it,” Hurley said.
Sandy King, chair of Yates County’s Republican Committee, picked up on that too. Unlike Hurley, she didn’t like it.
King said Obama ignored the message voters sent in November instead of moving to the center like President Bill Clinton did after his party suffered defeats.
“Look what happened [then],” King said. “The government worked. This man has no intention of working with Congress.”
The views held by King and Hurley echo what Hobart and William Smith Colleges political science professor Iva Deutchman sees as the cause of some of the difficulties in Washington, D.C. Both parties think the people have spoken, either in the 2012 presidential race or the 2014 congressional race, and both think they have rejected the other party’s ideas.
“What they’re not talking about is the fact that we have a divided government because of the electoral system,” she said. “In other words, we have this crazy electorate where you get small districts and very few voters, and you can end up getting a candidate who represents a very small set of interests that are not in fact shared by a majority.”
Obama’s hour-long address was his first to a Republican-controlled Congress. He said the economy is improving while wars overseas have wound down.
“The shadow of crisis has passed and the state of the union is strong,” he said.
Yet Obama also called for change, promising to offer practical ideas that would help middle-class families get ahead. He said he wanted to help people afford childcare, college, homes and retirement through lower taxes and other programs.
“Today we are the only advanced country on earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers,” Obama said. “Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. It’s the right thing to do.”
He called also for a law to ensure that women and men receive equal pay for equal work and for an increase in the minimum wage.
“If you truly believe you can work full time and support a family on $15,000 a year, try it,” he told Congress. “If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”
He repeatedly referred to his program as “middle class economics.”
Obama also called for swift action to combat climate change and spoke about topics ranging from space exploration to terrorism.
“Instead of getting into another ground war in the middle east we are leading a broad coalition … to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group,” he said of ISIS, calling for a Congressional resolution authorizing the use of force.
Hurley liked much of what Obama said, but no single proposal jumped out at him.
“It was not the type of State of the Union where you have the laundry list of legislation that was to come and so forth,” he said. “I thought it was more of a reassertion of where we are and what we believe in. I think it was an acknowledgment that there are, certainly, significant political divisions in Washington, but that there are places where agreement can be found, and that’s where we need to work.”
King, however, saw little sign of outreach. She said voters want smaller government and lower taxes, while Obama seemed bent on doing the opposite.
“It’s no wonder the man can get elected, because he can give a phenomenal speech, but he puts all these things out there and promises the world without any way to pay for any of this,” she said. “I don’t know how he expects businesses to stay in business, because the things he’s putting through are things that would have put me, running a small business, out of business.”
Rep. Tom Reed, R-23 of Corning, also found little to applaud.
Reed called the speech a missed opportunity to discuss issues that matter to western New Yorkers. He said Obama’s policies represent a “retread of last century’s failed tax-the-rich mentality,” and he criticized him for not offering a plan to protect the Social Security Retirement Fund.
“I was especially disappointed that the President did not continue his 2014 call for an ‘all-of-the-above energy strategy.'” Reed said in a press release. “It appears now that his own party also has abandoned that approach. Last year, Obama promised to ‘cut red tape to help states’ develop safe, natural gas. Yet Gov. Cuomo and the Democratic Party here in New York have done the opposite, hurting our Southern Tier cities and towns. By refusing to support our shale gas revolution, President Obama has left American manufacturing firms vulnerable to higher energy costs. This in turn leads to fewer jobs for Upstate New York.”
Unsurprisingly, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., disagreed with Reed’s assessment.
“Tonight President Obama presented a plan to ensure a fair shot at the American dream for anyone willing to earn it,” she said in a press release.
“As I travel throughout the state, New Yorkers tell me they are still struggling even as the economy begins to show signs of recovery. They want action from Congress to ease the burden of the basic costs of living so they can provide for their families, afford to send their kids to college, work good paying jobs, and retire with dignity. Now, Congress must do its part to work together, Democrats and Republicans, to expand economic opportunity for hard working families.”
However, Gillibrand did criticize Obama for not using the speech to demand stronger efforts to combat on-campus sexual assault.
With Republicans unlikely to back most or all of Obama’s proposals and a presidential election looming, the fate of Obama’s agenda looks unclear at best. Deutchman was not sure Obama did much to help his cause Tuesday.
“He’s a very good speaker, but there was nothing very new in it,” she said. “I don’t think he’s decided how to handle a Republican majority. At some points, it sounded like he was trying to reach out, and then, five seconds later, he’d turn around and it sounded like there’s no way they were ever going to compromise. I didn’t see concrete suggestions about ways they could compromise.”
The result for Congress?
“It tells me we’re going to rival the last Congress as a do-nothing Congress, that two years from now the big fight is going to be who did less, which is a pathetic thing,” she said. “And maybe at that point the American people will listen to the larger argument that you need to show up and vote at midterm elections and all other elections.”