As a nail-biting presidential race stretched into the early morning, it became apparent that the next commander in chief would be determined by only a razor-thin margin. But had the vote been decided by some of Yale’s experts on American politics and history, Sen. John Kerry ’66 would have won by a landslide.
Though Republican-leaning professors, notably Charles Hill and Mary Habeck, followed the election returns with confidence in a Bush win, most of Yale’s professors cheered for Kerry through the night’s travails. Watching the election returns in the comfort of their homes, with friends or with other professors, most of Yale’s scholars spoke with urgency about the necessity of electing the Massachusetts senator. But no matter their political leaning or the eventual outcome of the election, most agreed that the country faces a quagmire of difficult issues at home and abroad.
Approximately 20 professors and some 80 other international fellows and political science graduate students attended an election viewing party hosted by political science professors Ian Shapiro and David Mayhew and the Yale Center for International and Area Studies. Gathered around three television screens in the Luce Hall common room, the professors and students snacked and chatted while watching the returns.
“If Bush were elected, I am concerned about the message this sends all the future presidents,” political science professor Jim Vreeland said at the YCIAS party. “Given that they have created this mess [in Iraq] under false pretenses, it’s important that we hold them accountable. Otherwise, what does this send as a message?”
As the pro-Kerry scholars like Vreeland watched the returns throughout the evening, their confidence in a Kerry victory swung almost as much as the race’s key battleground states. Bush supporters, however, seemed more sure that their candidate would prevail.
History professor Habeck, who watched last night’s returns at home with several friends, predicted a bigger Bush electoral victory than many political pundits. Around 10:30 p.m., Habeck said she thought Bush had a fighting chance in states such as New Mexico, Minnesota and Wisconsin and could end up with over 300 electoral votes.
“My feeling is that we probably won’t know until after midnight tonight,” Habeck said, echoing several other professors.
Although she supports Bush, Habeck said she actually has a better sense of what a Kerry administration would mean for American foreign policy. Drawing on her scholarship in armed conflict, Habeck said she thinks Kerry will bring significant changes to the war on terrorism.
“He’s promised summits to deal with about every problem we’ve faced and he’s promised to turn the war on terror into a law enforcement issue,” Habeck said. “He would believe playing defense is enough against the terrorists.”
But political science professor James Scott said he thought a Kerry victory would bring a much-needed improvement in perception of the United States overseas.
“People will be so relieved [if Kerry is elected] that he will start with a moral capital to repair relations with the European union,” Scott said.
Watching the election returns at home, history professor John Merriman spoke even more vehemently about a Bush victory.
“The real axis of evil is in the White House,” he said.
Yet even with a Kerry victory, Shapiro said, he thinks the United States would not automatically gain international support in Iraq.
“It’s hard for me to see why other countries would want to help us now in Iraq,” Shapiro said. “Why would they want to do that? Maybe they would in the next Iraq but not in this one.”
Before any of the race’s key battleground states were called last night, Yale historian and professor emeritus Gaddis Smith, a Kerry supporter discouraged by early returns, agreed with Shapiro’s sentiments that a Kerry victory would not immediately bring about change. Smith said whoever is the next president will have a difficult four years ahead.
One of the greatest challenges will be to unite a divide country, professors said. Political science professor Stathis Kalyvas said he has never seen a more polarized country.
“I have never been to a country in which there has been such political segregation,” said Kalyvas, a Greek citizen. “In the ’60s, American politics were more in the center whereas European politics were polarized. Now it’s completely the flip side.”