Lara Brown Focuses on Putting Political Theory Into Practice at GWU


National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
See more stories about...
Christopher Snow Hopkins
Sept. 19, 2013, 3:30 p.m.

Pon­der­ing the League of Na­tions, the break­up of the So­viet Uni­on, or even car­bon reg­u­lat­ory re­gimes is a far cry from ac­tu­ally get­ting things done on Cap­it­ol Hill.

“Polit­ic­al sci­ence tends to have a the­or­et­ic­al, sci­entif­ic em­phas­is, and one of the things it hasn’t done re­cently is ad­dress what hap­pens in the real world of prac­ti­cing polit­ics,” said Lara Brown, the new head of George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity’s polit­ic­al man­age­ment pro­gram.

In part be­cause of its prox­im­ity to Cap­it­ol Hill, George Wash­ing­ton Uni­versity’s Gradu­ate School of Polit­ic­al Man­age­ment has al­ways had a more prag­mat­ic out­look than some of its com­pet­it­ors in the polit­ic­al-sci­ence arena. Foun­ded in 1987, it is over­seen by former three-term Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn. — who va­cated his seat in 2007 to mount an un­suc­cess­ful sen­at­ori­al bid — and em­phas­izes “ap­plied polit­ics,” or how the saus­age gets made, rather than how the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment ought to run.

“We’re the pro­gram for stu­dents who have an un­der­gradu­ate de­gree in polit­ic­al sci­ence and love polit­ics but don’t really want to go to law school and are not ne­ces­sar­ily in­ter­ested in a spe­cif­ic policy area,” Brown said. “There are a whole bunch of kids like that.”

In short, GSPM is a hatch­ery for polit­ic­al op­er­at­ives. “What an M.B.A. is to an eco­nom­ics de­part­ment, that’s what we are to a polit­ic­al-sci­ence de­part­ment.”

Brown, 43, is well suited for an icon­o­clast­ic pro­gram like GSPM, hav­ing pre­vi­ously served as an Edu­ca­tion De­part­ment of­fi­cial in the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion; she is cur­rently moon­light­ing as a blog­ger for U.S. News & World Re­port.

In the con­text of Wash­ing­ton — where self-made pun­dits abound but few are con­vers­ant in the meth­od­o­logy of polit­ic­al sci­ence — Brown’s ob­ser­va­tions carry spe­cial weight. In the last chapter of her 2011 book, Jock­ey­ing for the Amer­ic­an Pres­id­ency: The Polit­ic­al Op­por­tunism of As­pir­ants, she cites Pres­id­ent Obama’s “op­por­tunism” as the char­ac­ter­ist­ic that pro­pelled him in­to the Oval Of­fice.

“The pro­fes­sion tends to see pres­id­en­tial suc­cess com­ing from am­bi­tion or [for­tu­it­ous] tim­ing or a struc­tur­al is­sue, like a bad eco­nomy,” she said. “But the vast ma­jor­ity of in­di­vidu­als who are party nom­in­ees broke through in a pretty big way the cycle be­fore they were elec­ted.”

In oth­er words, they es­tab­lished them­selves as front-run­ners years be­fore the con­tours of the elec­tion took shape.

Brown, who is not mar­ried and lives in Wash­ing­ton, has a Ph.D. from the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia (Los Angeles), where she wrote her dis­ser­ta­tion on the elect­or­al con­sequences (or lack there­of) of con­gres­sion­al scan­dals. Her thes­is hinged on the “hy­po­crisy factor,” which neatly ac­counts for why mor­al and mon­et­ary im­pro­pri­et­ies af­fect Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats dif­fer­ently.

“If you’re a Demo­crat, and you por­tray your­self as someone who cares deeply about justice and fair­ness while sim­ul­tan­eously tak­ing bribes, that’s really prob­lem­at­ic,” Brown said. “And, con­versely, for Re­pub­lic­ans who spend a lot of time talk­ing about fam­ily val­ues, hav­ing an ex­tramar­it­al af­fair is really prob­lem­at­ic.”

Be­fore join­ing the fac­ulty at GWU, Brown taught at Vil­lan­ova Uni­versity, out­side Phil­adelphia.

What We're Following See More »
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
2 days ago

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
2 days ago

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
2 days ago

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
2 days ago

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Carly Fiorina Will Not Be Allowed to Debate on Saturday
1 days ago

ABC News has announced the criteria for Saturday’s Republican debate, and that means Carly Fiorina won’t be a part of it. The network is demanding candidates have “a top-three finish in Iowa, a top-six standing in an average of recent New Hampshire polls or a top-six placement in national polls in order for candidates to qualify.” And there will be no “happy hour” undercard debate this time. “So that means no Fiorina vs. Jim Gilmore showdown earlier in the evening for the most ardent of campaign 2016 junkies.