Saturday, November 29, 2008
Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at The University of Texas at Austin, was quoted in the press more than 230 times during the 2008 presidential election.
He was one of several of the university’s experts whose research helped news consumers make sense of what was happening during the campaign. Others included Daron Shaw, Sean Theriault and James Galbraith.
“I’ve kind of defined it as a part of my portfolio as kind of a public service and for that reason I rarely say no,” Buchanan says. “In the middle of an election, the bottom line is that it’s both lots of fun and also demanding because there’s so much of it.”
It helps that Buchanan likes talking to reporters.
“I learn as much from them oftentimes as they do from me,” he says. “A lot of them are out there following candidates around so I have some pretty good intelligence to share with my students in class.”
He filled his students in on the latest thinking in the Barack Obama campaign on whether to respond a certain way to attacks by the John McCain campaign or how the McCain campaign deals with the Obama phenomenon.
Buchanan’s facility in dealing with the press was apparent during the interview for this post. He listened to the questions and was patient when they meandered, was ready with an answer and examples and didn’t go off on tangents.
His portfolio of expertise has included President Bush for reasons that include proximity. (”I’m in the neighborhood,” Buchanan says). Questions of late have focused on the Bush legacy.
Buchanan says it’s too early to rank Bush among the presidents as some political scientists and historians have.
“I argue that, ‘No, you can’t,’ based on the number of reputations that have changed with the passage of time,” Buchanan says. “It’s the fact that I teach and write a little about presidential history that allows me to have that perspective. So when they ask me a question like that, I can say no, look at Dwight Eisenhower, look at John Kennedy, look at Harry Truman, who’s the most high-profile example right now because Bush is focused on him.”
Buchanan did, however, assess Bush’s likely effectiveness in the remaining days of his presidency in a Nov. 14 story from McClatchy News Service.
“He’s the lamest of lame ducks at this point,” added Bruce Buchanan, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.
Buchanan came to the university from the Markle Foundation, which studies public policy. At the foundation he directed a large study on presidential elections and developed relationships with reporters.
That research was particularly pertinent to the 2008 election, Buchanan says.
The study developed a way to show the quality of campaigns from a public policy perspective. Basically, campaigns that dwell on trivial issues are bad and those that deal with substance are good. He wrote a book about it, “Presidential Campaign Quality,” in 2004.
The 2008 election changed from bad to good on one day, Buchanan says, the day the government let the Lehman Brothers house go out of business and the financial crisis grabbed the attention of voters.
“Before the Lehman Brothers failure and the emergence of real panic among the electorate, you will recall that most of this campaign was driven by a fairly tawdry and trivial McCain effort to demonize or de-legitimize Barback Obama rather than address the public’s list of top priorities,” Buchanan says.
“From that time forward, the public only wanted to hear about economic policy and the candidates knew it and had to respond. So we shifted from attacks and trivia to substance.
“I can’t think of another time in history when a campaign had its fundamental nature altered by a crisis that occurred when there were still several weeks in the campaign to go before election day. It just fundamentally altered the dynamics. It was a fascinating campaign from that perspective.”
His research provided an “explanatory framework to help me make sense of what I was watching every day,” Buchanan says.
Here, from a Cox News Service story about the final McCain-Obama debate, is a quote that demonstrates that:
But University of Texas government Professor Bruce Buchanan, citing recent polls showing voters more interested in economics than campaign attacks, said McCain came off poorly when he made light of Obama’s rhetorical skills.
“He veered from the effort to be respectful into sarcasm and scorn,” Buchanan said. “He seemed to be going after Obama as an empty suit mainly characterized by rhetoric. I’m not sure that style helped him much.”
Obama, Buchanan said, came off as “more substantive, succinct, policy-focused, more respectful, more pragmatic (and with) fewer cheap shots.”