Politics aggravates a lot of people. Politics confuses a lot of people. And because of this, politics disaffects a lot of people. According to a May 21, 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press,
More than three-quarters (76%) agree that “elected officials in Washington lose touch with the people pretty quickly.” More than half (51%) agree that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does.”
This condition, clearly, is most troubling for a political system and a larger political culture committed (at least in theory) to a democracy grounded in the active participation of citizens. We find ourselves in an irksome paradox: the shape of our politics can’t improve without active citizen involvement, but active citizen involvement is depressed to a large extent due to the state of our politics. What to do? The Political Denizens believe that informed discourse on our public life is a crucial piece to this puzzle.
The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “denizen” as an “inhabitant” or “one that frequents a place.” But it also defines the term as “a person admitted to residence in a foreign country, especially an alien admitted to rights of citizenship.” We like this definition. It captures who we are, as well as our intent for this blog, and for our broader work.
We are Steve Klien and Chris Whitt, professors at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. Our professional home is a small, residential liberal arts college on the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa. At our heartland home, we teach undergraduate students and conduct research about American politics. Steve is a rhetorician in the Communication Studies Department, focusing on political communication, rhetorical criticism, and media studies. Chris is an American politics specialist in the Political Science Department, focusing on the presidency, congressional politics, and the intersection of race, wealth and inequality. We team teach a Learning Community at Augustana that examines the American presidency from our distinct yet intersecting standpoints.
In this work we convey to our students, and remind ourselves, of the importance of understanding political institutions and actions from a variety of contextual standpoints. We provide a liberal arts perspective to consider the issues of the day as well as enduring questions of American political life and the promises and challenges of active citizenship. We also bring our joy and sense of vocation to the work – for all of its problems and sources of frustration, in a very real sense we are politics junkies who love observing this world, and we stubbornly maintain an optimism that our political system and culture can make our lives better.
So we are Political Denizens – we live in the world of American politics, but our views are from Beyond the Beltway. We examine this world from both within and without. We seek to observe this world from different disciplinary perspectives, bringing to bear a liberal arts sensibility to political commentary. We are, first and foremost, teachers, so we seek to demystify and illuminate this world by providing a sense of context to the events and issues, and by providing resources for understanding these events and issues in an accessible way. We believe that informed, engaged public discourse is the best way to smash the barrier between cynical citizens and the systems that disaffect them and to begin, in a small way, to make real the promises of democracy.
We are Political Denizens – and we invite you to dwell in this realm from Beyond the Beltway, and join in the conversation.