POLITICAL SCIENCE PODCAST A BREATH OF FRESH AIR
Civil discourse in the current hyperpolarized political American landscape seems like a distant dream. But three USD political science professors are doing their part to make America informed again.
A Few Reasonable Words — the podcast that Casey Dominguez (left), Cory Gooding (center) and Tim McCarty (right) started recording in mid-2016 — is funny, insightful and chock-full of nonpartisan insight into topics that range from government shutdowns to free speech to federalism, sprinkled with wit and thoughtful conversation.
Each episode starts with McCarty’s cheery intro: “Hello America! Put on your slippers and pour yourself a drink. It’s time for A Few Reasonable Words, a podcast from three professors trying desperately to soothe the frayed nerves of the American public with the comforting balm of political science.”
The idea started in a shared hallway. Most mornings, the trio would find themselves leaning against walls and talking about the news of the day. “This is a way to turn what was otherwise goofing off into productive labor,” McCarty quips.
On a more serious note, Dominguez explains that there was a definite gap that needed filling: “We generally feel like the political media does not do what it needs to do,” she explains. “It doesn’t give context or history. We don’t really give credit to the extent to which the media is shaping the news more and more over the past 20 to 30 years. There’s a lot of hysteria, finger-pointing and very superficial opinion that goes on in the news. What we can offer as political scientists is more of that context and history.”
Gooding thinks it’s important for people to pay attention to the way that the media has become more purposeful in shaping the news. “We provide context and information to allow folks to make their own informed decisions about their engagement with the political system,” he says.
McCarty jumps in: “While Casey says the media doesn’t get enough credit for being an active participant, I would say they don’t get enough blame.”
While all three are in the same field, their areas of expertise diverge. Gooding focuses on the politics of race, ethnicity and immigration. Dominguez describes her field as “American institutions and behavior.” And McCarty is focused on political theory, or, as he puts it: “old weird books.”
On air, there’s a real sense that these are people who like and respect one another, with plenty of good-natured ribbing thrown in. For example, one episode about whether or not voting day should be a national holiday featured an exchange about whether Tuesday elections were random or merely tradition, which ended with this back-and-forth:
McCarty: “So it’s not random. It’s not even arbitrary.” Gooding: “It’s not random. No.” McCarty: “It’s just anachronistic.” Dominguez: “There you go. Thank you for picking that nit for us.”
Their own favorite episodes include a four-part series titled “Should I Vote?” that aired before the 2016 general election. “I thought it was of value,” Dominguez says. “At minimum, we thoroughly examined the question.”
Their conclusion was unsurprising: “You should vote.”
Gooding cites says an episode titled “Guns, NRA and the Politics of Interest Groups” as “really insightful.” McCarty has a fondness for “Our Political Science Christmas Wishes,” which Dominguez hastens to dryly note: “That was not anybody else’s favorite.”
More than 75 episodes in, A Few Reasonable Words is in no danger of running out of topics to discuss. To date, the podcast has had “tens of thousands” of downloads, which doesn’t factor those who stream the episodes. Their audience goes far beyond USD; many political science professors across the country task their students with listening in.
McCarty has even gotten a bit of a taste of celebrityhood from the joint effort. “I was at a big luncheon at a political theory conference,” he recalls. “I was talking — because I’m always talking — and I was being loud — because I’m always being loud — and from across the room a guy said, ‘I knew I recognized your voice! You’re Tim McCarty from A Few Reasonable Words!’”
He laughs, still excited to have been recognized. “He actually uses our podcast in his classroom and makes his students engage substantively with it.”
“It’s exciting because it started off as conversation between just the three of us,” says Gooding. “To know that it’s gone way beyond these four walls is a great thing, especially because it’s not really about us, as much as it’s being able to communicate complex ideas. And it allows us to do what we love, which ultimately is to teach.” — Julene Snyder
Learn more at sandiego.edu/reasonable