Michael Nelson

Michael Nelson is a professor of political science at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He recently edited The Elections of 2000, which will be published in March by Congressional Quarterly Press.

Recent Articles

Democratic Delusions

R ichard Ellis always votes no. Since moving to Oregon in 1990 to teach political science at Willamette University, Ellis has been asked to pass judgment on 74 statewide initiatives, an average of more than 12 per election. Initiatives are proposed laws or constitutional amendments placed on a state's ballot by citizen petition (that's how they differ from referenda, which originate in the legislature). In the last decade alone, Oregonians have been required to make binding decisions on proposals to roll back property taxes, reduce public-employee benefits, impose term limits on legislators, and make prisoners work 40-hour weeks, among dozens of other mostly right-wing measures. This year there are serious efforts under way to make voters decide on such matters as "paycheck protection" (requiring individual workers' explicit permission to spend union dues on political causes), more term limits, and judicial elections with a "none-of-the-above" option. Ellis adopted his "no matter what...

Fantasia: The Gospel According to C.S. Lewis

L ast June, before Hobbits and Harry Potter began crowding out all other arts coverage, The New York Times ran a front-page story about The Chronicles of Narnia , the seven-volume series of children's fantasy books written by the English novelist C.S. Lewis in the 1950s. The article was called "Marketing 'Narnia' without a Christian Lion" -- and apparently the headline was as far as either Andrew Greeley or Charles Colson got before throwing down their newspapers in disgust. Greeley (who is a gadfly sociologist, priest, and romance novelist) and Colson (the famously born-again Watergate-era adviser to Richard Nixon) are widely published Christian commentators. Both took the Times headline to mean that, as Greeley huffed in a syndicated column, Lewis's publisher HarperCollins "intends to censor out of C.S. Lewis's masterpiece that which is most essential to it -- its Christian imagery -- because that imagery would be offensive to secularists." Readers who experience the bowdlerized...

Where Have You Gone, Franklin Roosevelt?

The November 1, 1948, issue of Life magazine is a collector's item because of a picture on page 37 that is captioned, "The next president travels by ferry over the broad waters of San Francisco bay." The picture is of Thomas E. Dewey. Of greater significance is an article that begins on page 65 called "Historians Rate U.S. Presidents." The story was written by Professor Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., who had called on 55 of his fellow historians to grade each president (excluding the incumbent, Harry S. Truman) as either "great," "near great," "average," "below average," or a "failure." When Schlesinger averaged each president's grades, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, and Andrew Jackson scored as great presidents, Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding were rated as failures, and the rest fell in between. Schlesinger followed his 1948 survey with another in...

The Curse of the Vice Presidency

U ntil the election of George Bush the elder in 1988, no incumbent vice president had been elected president since Martin Van Buren in 1836. (Bush opened his first post-election news conference by saying, "It's been a long time, Marty.") Yet it also is true that, starting with Harry S. Truman in 1945, five of the last 10 presidents have been former vice presidents: Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Bush. Death or resignation accounts for the ascensions of Truman, Johnson, and Ford, but each of them except Ford subsequently won at least one presidential election on his own. Does being vice president make Al Gore a stronger contender for president or a weaker one? Until Gore agreed to be Bill Clinton's running mate in 1992, he was pursuing a different route to an eventual run at the White House. After youthful dalliances with journalism and the ministry, Gore had ascended rapidly, winning his father's old House seat in central Tennessee in 1976, then moving up...

College for Dunces

T he electoral college is a constitutional time bomb that has been ticking for more than a century. It finally exploded on election day. Unkind as it is to say so--hasn't Al Gore suffered enough?--it's only fitting that it blew up in the Democrats' face. The explosion, of course, was Gore's apparent loss to George W. Bush in the electoral college even though he won the national popular vote by a margin of around 100,000--the same plurality by which John F. Kennedy surpassed Richard Nixon in 1960. Such an overturning of the voters' will has not occurred since 1888, when Republican challenger Benjamin Harrison unseated President Grover Cleveland despite Cleveland's having been favored by substantially more voters. Harrison's victory tainted his presidency and set the stage for a rematch four years later, which Cleveland handily won. The reason this year's outcome is fitting is that the strategy for winning presidential elections that the Democrats have...

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