An Excellent idea

As I’ve consistently pointed out, those of us who are concerned–okay, frantic–about the state of democracy in contemporary America need to do more than share our gloom with others on social media. We need advice about specific steps that would help ameliorate the situation.

Recently, I offered two sets of specifics: one, by Jennifer Rubin, enumerated what journalists ought to be doing (although logic tells me that most established media outlets will ignore those recommendations, it’s important that citizens recognize deviations from best practices). The other was my own attempt to suggest steps each of us can take.

Today’s post focuses on advice to educational institutions–especially universities, although it might be possible to adapt the recommended program for high school seniors. I came across it in a column by E.J. Dionne, who tells us about a program at a “small, distinguished college that has provided a model that other universities should study and adapt.”

Since 2008, Occidental College in Los Angeles has offered students a chance to join a “Campaign Semester,” in which they dedicate themselves to a political campaign of their choice in presidential and midterm years. Students spend 10 weeks working their hearts out in the field and then the rest of the semester reflecting on what they learned and engaging in the academic study of elections.

The program is the creation of Peter Dreier, an Occidental professor for more than 30 years who spent much of his pre-academic life in federal, state and local politics. Along with professor Regina Freer, Dreier supervises students’ independent study projects and runs the seminar they join after their return to campus.
Its origin owes a lot to former president Barack Obama, who attended Occidental before transferring to Columbia University. Obama’s 2008 campaign inspired a lot of young people, especially Oxy’s students, many of whom approached Dreier to learn how they might work on the campaign.

Dreier suggested they take a semester off, as he did to work on Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential effort, but quickly discovered that parents and many students were committed to a four-year college schedule. Campaign Semester was born out of a desire to square this circle.

The program allows students to work for either party, but they have to get involved in a contested race–one where the campaign itself will matter and especially one in which students will have to engage citizens with views very different from their own.

The process, Dreier said, requires learning “the skills that it takes to talk to people that you don’t agree with and persuading them.” Paradoxically, perhaps, partisan campaigns might have a better shot than universities at teaching the need to reach beyond comfort zones.

Dionne quoted one student who participated in the program’s first class and had volunteered for Obama’s 2008 campaign, calling her “a starring example of the program’s impact.” That student is now a state representative in Minnesota. “The nuances of policy can be learned in the classroom,” she said, “but the heart of politics — building a shared vision for improving people’s lives — can only be learned out in the field.”

As someone who spent 20+ years teaching university students about policy, I can echo this sentiment. Even in classrooms with students who have different political opinions, forging “shared visions” rarely occurs. Students can be taught to be civil and courteous about their differences, they can be introduced to the considerable technical concerns that policymakers face (and about which they are too often clueless), but those lessons take place in an environment far removed from the day-to- day realities of a political campaign, where getting your candidate’s message out requires a campaign plan geared to the constituency, the recruitment of volunteers, and funding sufficient to allow communication with voters.

Furthermore, much as it pains me to admit, most elections aren’t won or lost on the basis of policy disputes. (Thanks to the Supreme Court and the Dobbs decision, the upcoming election may well be the exception that proves that rule, but only because of the enormous negative effect of that decision). Some combination of a candidate’s persona–charisma, openness, even looks–will play a significant role. These days, partisan passions and grievances matter even more. Unfortunately, American elections aren’t academic debates in which logic and realistic self-interest compel a voter’s support.

Those realities about the democratic process simply cannot be communicated in a college classroom. Internships with campaigns can help, but relatively few students participate in such internships.

Dionne is right–Occidental’s program should be widely replicated.


  1. That program is a great idea. Anything that helps show young people how things really work can be helpful in many ways. Politics can seem really dirty and that thought drives many people to avoid it. The key is to see what motivates the bargains and compromises that are part of the landscape. In a perfect world we would all agree on the same principles and even then we would still see disparate ways to approach those principles.

  2. “An Excellent Idea”

    In the movie “The Post”, Kathryn Graham (owner) and Ed Bradlee (editor) of the Washington Post conferred privately regarding publishing an issue President Richard Nixon had illegally blocked the New York Times from publishing, used the Constitution to reach their decision to publish. Ms. Graham and Mr. Bradlee agreed that freedom of the press gave them the full right to inform the public the truth about our government by using factual information. Their decision to publish “The Pentagon Papers” made history and they went on to keep the public fully informed about Nixon’s “Watergate” criminal activities and we watched history being made in the media, including Nixon’s “resignation” before the nation.

    The media informing the public of facts vs. fiction is still “An Excellent Idea”; this includes the truth about former presidents, current presidents and the presidential candidates; what they have accomplished and what they hope to accomplish as President and certainly their criminal actions in and out of the White House. We watched it all on our TV screens. The June 27th “debate” is a frightening thought when remembering the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump Debates in 2016; will there be lurking, hovering and wandering around the stage behind President Biden by Trump? And considering the 24/7 coverage of Trump’s trials and the outcome of three of them as we wait for pending trials to happen, along with his rambling, insane comments when left on his own to speak, what is anyone else here expecting to witness in another Trump “historical event”?

    Do we really need a college education to see and understand the difference between the current dilemma; deciding between democracy and dictatorship in the November 5th presidential election?

  3. Back during the Nixon-McGovern election of 1972, my PoliSci professor at UC Santa Barbara made it part of his class. Every student had to choose one side or the other and actively work on that candidate’s campaign. It was not as grand as “campaign semester” but it was an enlightening experience. I doubt that many students chose the Nixon side, but the professional campaign leaders were able to read the runes and knew in advance that McGovern was going to get wiped out. In the actual election, it turned out that the student community of Isla Vista went something like 98% for George. Before the next election cycle Isla Vista was gerrymandered into the Bakersfield district, solid red about 150 miles inland from Santa Barbara.

  4. How best to spend the years following high school is a topic that has been considered and talked about for as long as I have been paying attention. Peace Corps? Americore? Military? College? Trade School? There are perhaps too many choices, and the decision is complicated by finding which fits the relative immaturity of 18-year-olds. When I think of 18-year-old me, I am appalled.

    Integrating some real-world experience into the college curricula adds another good idea.

    There is nothing better than acting grown up for becoming grown up.

  5. “Campaign Semester” is a great idea. But, yes, this time around seems that there is little ground for gentle persuasion, on either side, I suppose. Still, a hands-on education stays with people.
    The June 27th debate? I can not stomach seeing tfg, or hearing that insipid, putrid lying voice of his. I expect to see a lot of reporting after the thing is over, and i will NOT get mine from Faux Poo. I do not believe that he will be allowed to “haunt” President. Biden, as he did Hillary, when he should have been told to sit his fat ass down.

  6. It is indeed an excellent idea for students to take a semester off to learn, “the skills that it takes to talk to people that you don’t agree with and persuading them.” These were skills that were effective in the 1968 RFK campaign.

    However, as psychologist Dr. Robert Epstein has pointed out recently, elections are far more easily, and massively, affected by skewing on-line users of Google search engine results to turn undecided voters in the desired direction so the intended candidate wins.

    Dr. Epstein has sounded the alarm about this, noting that Google is the most powerful lobbying group in Washington, and that the function of Google is not, as it appears, to serve users with unbiased search results. Its main function is to influence society.

    Satisfy your curiosity about this issue by reviewing real-time data now being gathered by Dr. Epstein’s website:

    See the interpretation of recent elections that allegedly have been influenced through the simple process of skewing search engine results.

    Though readers of this blog may not like the Liberal vs. Conservative results of the data Dr. Epstein’s site has plotted since late 2022, the underlying bipartisan danger is that the Google bias can be changed from Liberal to Conservative with the flip of a programming switch.

  7. Happy Father’s Day!
    When I was in college we involved ourselves in music ministry, contemporary music was the new thing much to the chagrin of some church members who didn’t care for all the hype and breathy performance singing. When a friend started a music ministry many singing groups made it clear we needed to be working with those in the community, helping the poor and disadvantaged, widowed, and elderly. Which is what they began doing!
    These Christian music groups annoyed me as to why, but maybe they were not only musicians but truly understood what we college students needed, compassion and understanding, not just be entrrtained.
    Even at my family reunion I began discussing with those who were well off, doctors or lawyers. Some of them are working with people in prisons and others in clinics.
    Understanding those that are disadvantaged and their mindset not only allows us to advise them but gives us another vantage point. Some people don’t know the law and are accomplices to crimes losing several years by hanging with and not reporting those who do know what they are doing.
    Today access to social media is driving people into different areas of social justice without them knowing the real problems of society at hand.

  8. Hands-on experience is the fastest way for most young, elastic minds to learn. Practical learning is also more exciting than reading about politics from a book – memorization and regurgitation for a test. Once the test is over, you retain very little.

    It’s also great for many campaigns that need plenty of volunteers to prepare for elections. I am surprised more universities haven’t offered these internships for young people since it’s a win-win.

    The knowledge industry is booming again with the advent of AI. Tech-savvy kids are way ahead of the curve, so the conning ways of our media and nearly all political campaigns will not work. The Boomer generation has been lied to by the media and politicians for so long that we cannot differentiate the truth from the false. As Gordon mentioned, not even Google is as it seems. Julian Assange told us that in 2011, after meeting with Eric Schmidt. This article is well worth the read if you want to understand the Deep State and who is behind Silicon Valley:

  9. I met my future husband when he was running for a seat in the Indiana State Senate in 1972. His opponent was the President Pro-Tem, so it was an uphill climb. Having grown up in a Republican family, this was a learning process for me, but I managed to change some views over to my new boyfriend. He lost the election, but led the ticket and won my heart. We married in 1974 and he continued to be active in politics, working for a variety of candidates on both sides. I lost him to cancer seven years ago. I miss his political “smarts”.

  10. For we adults looking to do helpful things, check out Braver Angels and

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