Research News

No surprise: Women worked behind the scenes to secure agreement


Credit is being given to a group of women lawmakers for shaping the deal that eventually ended the government shutdown. And that’s no surprise to Alan Wiseman, associate professor of political science at Vanderbilt. His research shows that women lawmakers, particularly ones in the minority party, are more effective than their male counterparts when it comes to negotiating and getting things done. While the male members of the party acted more as “bomb-throwers,” according to Wiseman, women members of the party worked behind the scenes to hammer out a deal that kept the government out of default. Hereis more information on his work.

Shutdown crisis fuels narrative of American decline

The inability of the American political system to work effectively is fueling a narrative of the decline of American power, not unlike that of the 1970s, when the oil crisis, Watergate, and “stagflation,” encouraged a similar view, according to Thomas Schwartz, professor of history.  One of the more interesting contrasts with that period, he says, is the absence of strong conservative internationalism once led by former President Ronald Reagan, which argues for a reassertion of America’s role in the world.  Instead, the rising stars in the Republican Party, such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, exploit an isolationist sentiment, opposing actions such as the President’s call for moves against Syria’s chemical weapons. To that extent, predicts Schwartz, the perceived decline in America’s international leadership is likely to continue.

Personalities, not politics, fueled impasse – and it’s likely to continue

A main issue that produced the standoff is likely to persist because it is in the personalities of many extreme conservatives, says Marc Hetherington, professor of political science. Over the last 40 years, he says that Republicans have often benefited electorally from taking conservative positions on such issues as civil rights and feminism with gay rights and immigration reform being the more recent manifestations of the same strategy.

Their positions – especially those of Republicans in the Tea Party — appeal to people who are uncomfortable with social change, he says. “What is required of lawmakers in the depths of the sausage-making process is negotiation and nuance.  That is difficult for people who tend to see the world in more black and white or good and evil ways,” says Hetherington, who wrote a book on political polarization. “Compromise is not part of such a worldview.”

Hetherington expects similar fights to recur every few months for the next year at least, particularly given the personalities involved and that lack of recent productive work by Congress.  See a video of him discussing how polarization developed in Congress here.

‘Policy extortion’ is a bad precedent

Republicans in Congress engaged in “policy extortion” as part of their quest to undermine the Affordable Care Act, according to Bruce Oppenheimer, a Vanderbilt University professor and expert on Congress.

“This sets a very bad precedent, regardless of what one’s policy preferences are regarding health care,” said Oppenheimer, professor of political science. “The same scenario could occur with a Republican president and the Democrats in control of one house of Congress. Suppose Democrats attached gun control legislation to a continuing resolution as their price for allowing it to pass?”

Public reaction to the inconvenience of the government shutdown, he says, will likely lead to continued gains for the Democrats and waning public sentiment for the Republicans who caused the impasse.