Covid-19: A Compounding Crisis

by Elisabeth M. Eittreim, author of Teaching Empire; Native Americans, Filipinos, and US Imperial Education, 1879–1918

CNN ran a devastating though not surprising headline on Monday, May 18, 2020: “Navajo Nation surpasses New York state for the highest Covid-19 infection rate in the US.” Two months earlier, the New York City region had shut down, including life in the small suburban town where I live. Schools, businesses, and life in general was (and continues to be) quarantined, and daily news briefings counted the highest number of lives lost and rates of community transmission in the country. Only recently have analyses of nationwide statistics regarding the virus revealed the known but often ignored inequities that plague our nation, as higher rates of COVID-19 infection and death are found among African American, Latino, and other minority communities, disproportionately burdening the most oppressed in the land of the free. Perhaps some of the most ignored and neglected among us are the more than 6 million indigenous peoples living in the United States today.

Despite high rates of compliance to some of the strictest stay-at-home orders in the country, CNN reports multiple risk factors that the Navajo nation faces with the advent of COVID-19: 30-40% of households without running water, multi-generational family units, and limited numbers of grocery stores. Disproportionately high rates of disease and poverty also plague the Navajo and other Native American peoples, increasing susceptibility to the virus.

The Navajo nation’s vulnerabilities today are not indicative of history repeating itself. Today’s vulnerabilities—and those of other minority communities—are historical inequities compounded. Moments of crisis, like this 2020 pandemic, exponentially exacerbate existing inequities: inadequate access to food, health care, medicine, living wages, and safety. Many Americans like to tell themselves that they have worked hard and have thus earned their salaries, their homes, and their lifestyles. And yes, many have worked hard, although most have not been burdened by centuries of generational poverty.

Historically, disease and European then American greed—conquest, warfare, forced removal, and enforced reservation life—decimated the indigenous population of North America. Between 1492 and 1900, more than 85 percent of the population was lost. Assaults on native lives, livelihoods, and culture continued into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, including through institutions that many Americans considered the great equalizer: school.

While missionaries had sought to reeducate American Indians since early contact, by the late 1800s the US government increasingly invested in schooling to resolve the so-called “Indian problem”—that posed by Native Americans who continued to insist on their autonomy despite US expansion. In 1879, the US government opened the first off-reservation Indian boarding school: the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Established in the east, far from most Native American communities, Carlisle and other schools for Indian education sought to “save the Indian” both from their presumed “backwardness” and from extinction itself. Indigenous families were largely coerced into sending their children to such schools, and too many families would never see their children alive again.

From the Carlisle Indian School’s earliest days, disease stole the lives of native children. A Cheyenne child was the first to die in January 1880. Weeks later, an Iowan child died after only three weeks at the school. Diseases like consumption, measles, tuberculosis, and trachoma plagued all Indian schools. Children died of pneumonia, meningitis, and influenza. In the almost forty years that Carlisle was open, more than two hundred student deaths were officially reported, most from disease, though the actual number is much higher, as sick children were often sent home and not counted.

Government-sponsored Indian schools continue to exist today, though their missions now celebrate indigenous heritage and diversity rather than try to squelch it. Still, education alone cannot remedy the poverty plaguing the Navajo nation and other indigenous communities. Education, however well-intended, does not guarantee that households have running water; such children and their families are acutely vulnerable to COVID-19 as they literally cannot wash away the virus.

Most Americans prefer to celebrate the promise of American democracy rather than admit its flaws. We revel in historic victories but minimize the atrocities. We elevate the stories and events of the past that show our best side but ignore those that expose our worst. Such selective storytelling about who we are impacts the policies and perspectives that we hold today. The Navajo nation’s access to running water today may seem disconnected from historic wrongs, but it is the cumulative result of centuries of disease, displacement, deceit, and denial. In fact, most non-native Americans ignore the existence of modern-day indigenous peoples. We confine native peoples to the past, dress up as pilgrims and Indians in kindergarten classroom Thanksgiving celebrations or cheer on a team mascot embodying the bravery and strength of an Indian warrior, but we do not see the plight or resolve of Native Americans today. We do not burden ourselves with the fact that almost half of Navajo households lack running water.

It is now, in times of crisis, that drastic inequities are revealed and worsened. Let us make it a time where we begin to acknowledge our sins of the past and present, where we strive toward understanding, and where we listen. It is not our job to assume that we have all of the answers, but it is our responsibility to respect and hear native voices.

Elisabeth Eittreim is a lecturer in the History Department at Rutgers University and an adjunct in the Women’s Studies Department at Georgian Court University.

Devine and Kopko discuss “Do Running Mates Matter? The Influence of Vice Presidential Candidates in Presidential Elections”

The American vice presidency, as the saying goes, “is not worth a bucket of warm spit.” Yet vice presidential candidates, many people believe, can make all the difference in winning—or losing—a presidential election. Is that true, though? Did Sarah Palin, for example, sink John McCain’s campaign in 2008? Did Joe Biden help Barack Obama win? Do running mates actually matter? In the first book to put this question to a rigorous test, Christopher J. Devine and Kyle C. Kopko draw upon an unprecedented range of empirical data to reveal how, and how much, running mates influence voting in presidential elections.

Building on their previous work in The VP Advantage and evidence from over 200 statistical models spanning the 1952 to 2016 presidential elections, the authors analyze three pathways by which running mates might influence vote choice. First, of course, they test for direct effects, or whether evaluations of the running mate influence vote choice among voters in general. Next, they test for targeted effects—if, that is, running mates win votes among key subsets of voters who share their gender, religion, ideology, or geographic identity. Finally, the authors examine indirect effects—that is, whether running mates shape perceptions of the presidential candidate who selected them, which in turn influence vote choice. Here, in this last category, is where we see running mates most clearly influencing presidential voting—especially when it comes to their qualifications for holding office and taking over as president, if necessary. Picking a running mate from a key voting bloc probably won’t make a difference, the authors conclude. But picking an experienced, well-qualified running mate will make the presidential candidate look better to voters—and win some votes.

1. What’s your elevator pitch for Do Running Mates Matter? How would you describe the book in two or three sentences?

This is the most comprehensive analysis yet on the effect of vice presidential candidates in presidential elections. Believe it or not, we find that running mates have very little direct effect on voters, in general, nor do they “deliver” targeted geographic or demographic groups. Instead, running mates matter primarily because they influence voters’ perceptions of the presidential candidates who selected them–which means that they are really voting to elect a president rather than a vice president, in the end.

2. What was your inspiration to research and write about the influence of Vice Presidential candidates?

It started back in 2008, right after John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate. We were graduate students at the time, at The Ohio State University, and took a road trip together to see a friend in South Carolina. Naturally, like any political junkies at that time, we were discussing the pros and cons of the Palin pick. One issue was whether McCain should have picked someone from Ohio or another battleground state, to pick up votes in the Electoral College. A lot of pundits were throwing that idea around. We started asking: Is that even true? Has anyone researched this? Back then, we didn’t have internet access on our cell phones and couldn’t look anything up. So we spent most of that drive developing hypotheses and sketching out a research design. That led to our first article, on the vice presidential home state advantage, and then another article and later our first book, The VP Advantage. But we still found ourselves asking whether running mates mattered more broadly, beyond the home state advantage. We wanted to tackle that question in the most comprehensive way possible. So, we knew we had to write this book.

3. You have been researching running mates for most of your career. What is the most challenging aspect of your research?

There isn’t just one way of measuring the effect of a vice presidential candidate, and it’s not always clear which way is best. That’s why, in this book, we use a wide variety of data sources and methodologies to test running mate effects in the most comprehensive way possible. Our conclusions do not rest on a single survey or method of analysis—far from it. We try to show that these results hold up even when you use a range of different approaches. Hopefully, this will give other researchers ideas about how to study this topic and provide further insights into running mate effects in the future.

4. What has been the most consequential Vice Presidential candidate choice of the past 50 years?

Great question. Joel Goldstein—author of The White House Vice Presidency, also from UPK—provides excellent insight here. His research shows that Jimmy Carter’s choice of Walter Mondale in 1976, and their subsequent election, really started a transformation of the vice president’s role into the more consequential one that we know today. If we’re talking about electoral consequences, though, perhaps John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin in 2008 is the most notable. Our research shows that voters’ perceptions of Palin’s readiness—or lack thereof—to serve as president, if necessary, really affected their perceptions of McCain’s judgment, and even whether he was too old to be president. In that sense, choosing Palin undermined the rationale for McCain’s candidacy—that he had what it took to be president, and Barack Obama did not.

5. What is one common misconception about the influence of running mates in presidential elections?

That running mates are, or can be, “game changers”—in other words, a brilliant strategic choice that can rescue a losing campaign, if needed. This is what the McCain campaign expected in 2008, when choosing Sarah Palin. And, we say at one point in the book, this kind of pick is really quite foolish—and reckless, to boot. Running mates matter, but mostly at the margins, and probably can do more to hurt rather than help a campaign. Chances are, voters are going to see such a desperate electoral strategy for what it is, and think all the worse of a presidential candidate for making an irresponsible choice. But even if that presidential candidate were to win the race, now he or she will be deprived of an effective partner in the White House for four or years to come—or, worse yet, saddled with someone who is a hindrance to the administration, or a distraction. Ultimately, we think—and our research shows—that the best electoral strategy is to choose a running mate who is clearly qualified to be the next vice president, or president, if necessary.

6. Has the importance of running mates increased or decreased since the election of 1952?

We don’t see any evidence, in our book, that running mates have any more effect on presidential election outcomes over time. But, certainly, vice presidents have become much more important since the 1950s—and so the stakes of selecting and electing a vice presidential candidate have increased. Here, we’d refer back to Joel Goldstein’s outstanding research on The White House Vice Presidency. Starting with Mondale in the 1970s, vice presidents have come to play a key role as a general advisor to the president and a liaison in terms of congressional relations and foreign affairs. And it’s very likely that vice presidents will continue to be influential in future administrations.

7. What is one thing you would like readers to take from your work?

We want to give readers the opportunity to put the conventional wisdom about vice presidential candidates to the test. Frankly, there’s a lot of bad punditry out there—on this topic, perhaps more than any other. For years, too many people have treated the “veepstakes” as something of a parlor game—brazenly strategizing about how to buy votes on the cheap through vice presidential selection, as if voters are so easily manipulated (when the presumed strategist, of course, is not) and the whole exercise is merely symbolic. Rarely have their assumptions been put to the test, and nowhere as comprehensively as what we provide in our book. With this research, we hope not only to help inform readers about the myths and realities of running mate effects but also to empower them to reject bad punditry and demand better in the future.

8. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

Joe Biden—or any other presidential candidate who has the responsibility of choosing a running mate, in a given election year. It bears repeating that vice presidents play a major role in modern American government. They can be a tremendous asset to any presidential administration trying to enact its agenda and lead the country responsibly. What a shame it would be—for the president, and for the country—if someone came into that office not because he or she is the most qualified person to do so, but because Joe Biden or any other presidential candidate overestimated a running mate’s ability to influence the outcome of an election. By providing a more realistic assessment of running mate effects, we hope to convince our readers—which, ideally, could include presidential candidates and their advisers—to focus on the real importance of a potential vice president’s qualifications, rather than his or her purported electoral advantages.

 

Christopher J. Devine is assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton. Kyle C. Kopko is associate professor of political science, associate dean, and director of the legal studies major at Elizabethtown College.

COVID-19: Lest We are Forced to Repeat Past Mistakes

by Mary Bryna Sanger, coauthor of After the Cure: Managing AIDS and Other Public Health Crises

When After the Cure was published, the nation was just recovering from numerous public health threats and crises. Now we find ourselves in the midst of a new and serious one with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our experiences in both the policy and management levels and at the federal and local levels have proved uneven at best. Even in areas where the science and effective treatments are clear, public health success often eludes us, even when the stakes are high as they are with COVID-19. Large-scale public health initiatives are complicated, and managing their implementation requires skillful leadership in the face of competing political, organizational, and economic forces. But, as we found in our research, the obstacles to success are often knowable, and “strategic skepticism” of effective public managers can improve the odds.

The history of COVID-19 and the needless death and suffering experienced will surely be seen as a new reminder of what is needed to face these challenges head-on—and how leaders can plan. This will not be the last pandemic.

The lessons we identified in After the Cure bear careful attention today. And it is a failure to heed them that explains much of the chaos and fear we are observing. The COVID-19 crisis, despite its broad spread and massive economic impact, is not so different from many of the public health crises the United States has faced over the years. But the current environment of political denial, weak and uneven policy response, poor and confusing communication, and contentious intergovernmental relations are predictable and typical threats to effective response. They are, in many ways, challenges of management and competence more than they are failures of science or public health. As we analyzed the successes and failures of past efforts in previous US public health crises, we found that management played an outsized role in predicting outcomes. And several key dimensions of management appear crucial.

The lessons of our book seem more relevant today than ever. We considered the discovery and implementation of the polio vaccine initiative, the swine flu vaccine implementation program, reemerging multidrug resistant tuberculosis, the childhood immunization crisis, and the early responses to the AIDS epidemic. All of these efforts faced serious obstacles and challenges, and their successes or failures when they occurred were the result in large part of the quality and nature of executive management by government actors faced with responding to these crises. All major public health crises by their very nature pose a complex combination of social, political, economic, and governance challenges. Failure to identify these challenges and develop a plan to address them in advance explains much of the historical failure in government response to public health emergencies.

Many of the dimensions of the public management challenges we found most important in both the disastrous swine flu debacle and the success of the reemerging tuberculosis epidemic in New York City are key to understanding the COVID-19 story. We documented market failures for important medical supplies, political fights over the implications of scientific findings, the politicization of government research, interagency conflicts, tensions between the federal government and the states, coordination challenges, imperfect dissemination of information through the news media, and questions of distributional equity relating to treatment of different groups and communities. These are all too familiar to our current experience.

Effective responses in past crises featured actors who were able to anticipate and deal with each of these areas—in the case of the COVID-19 response, little or no attention was directed, in advance, to anticipating and developing plans to manage these areas. COVID-19 is not the first time that governments faced challenges with supply chains or disagreements between federal and state actors. But this crisis is remarkable for a lack of planning for how to resolve such inevitable challenges.

But as the pandemic rages on, it is not too late to learn lessons from the past.

Common solutions can be found through the study of historic public health cases. They are as meaningful now as they were then. The overarching lesson is to acknowledge and anticipate these dimensions of resistance and to plan for them. Creative anticipatory responses are needed and facing the challenges with initial skepticism and planning for contingencies is key. New York City’s health commissioner Margaret Hamburg faced multidrug resistant tuberculosis through a carefully orchestrated collaboration with numerous organizational and political stakeholders. She managed the conflict between client advocates and public health nurses who met their homeless patients daily to ensure the administration of directly observed therapy—a key determinant of success among a population spreading the disease. This is not unlike the need to plan for developing a corps of contact tracers to contain virus spread of COVID-19.

Arming executive managers with alternative responses in the face of obstacles takes preparation. Indeed, it requires a way of thinking: learning from the past and anticipating the future. Program design and implementation needs to anticipate what can go wrong and plan for it, such as by sourcing and distributing protective equipment, ventilators, and testing kits. Complex logistics with a global supply chain should have been anticipated and federal leadership to support the states could have provided rational distribution chains to where they were needed. Some of the demands on executive leadership are daunting, but not all of what is needed is rocket science. Some generic types of responses can be built in advance, as the childhood immunization crisis did through legislation that provided cost sharing and indemnification.

Executive management needs to embrace the inevitability of threats to success and approach the design and implementation role with strategic skepticism. Scenario-building is a powerful way to engage in this kind of thinking and planning. Stakeholder mapping, for example, helped in early AIDS response to identify and to plan for the opposition from conservative groups and the Christian coalition. The process helped public health officials neutralize their impact of aggressive early investments in treatments. While the threats of dangerous diseases face complex forces, some unique and idiosyncratic, there is a striking similarity in the obstacles that threaten to derail them. Anticipation can help. Sometimes merely envisioning negative consequences mobilizes ideas and resources to counter them in advance. What Albert Hirschman called “an action-arousing gloomy vision” can and does serve to galvanize executives about impending danger and thus produce strenuous effort to overcome it.

COVID-19 is a reminder of all that can go wrong without planning and executive leadership. Now is a time to revisit the lessons of the past, lest we are forced to repeat them.

Mary Bryna Sanger is professor of urban policy analysis and management and the Deputy Provost and SR. VP for Academic Affairs at the New School University. She is a coauthor of Making Government Work: How Entrepreneurial Executives Turn Bright Ideas into Real Results.

You May Also Enjoy: Our Binge-Worthy Books.

As the global battle against COVID-19 stretches from weeks into months, many people are bound to their couches to binge-watch another show. The staff here at UPK is no different. As an opportunity to turn off the tube, may we suggest some analog matches for your digital favorites.

 

If you enjoyed Ozark’s story of the mob in Kansas City, you might like Wide-Open Town: Kansas City in the Pendergast Era. Edited by Diane Mutti Burke, Jason Roe, and John Herron, the book dives deep into the interwar period when political boss Tom Pendergast reigned and Kansas City was said to be “wide open” because of the vices available.

 

Did you get caught up in the Tiger King drama (Carol did it, right?)? You might also enjoy Dan Flores’s American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains, which tells the history of when large cats and other big game naturally ruled the middle of the map.

 

If you can’t wait for Sunday evenings so you can watch two more episodes of ESPN’s brilliant The Last Dance, you might enjoy spending Monday throughSaturday reading Andrew Malan Milward’s Jayhawker: On History, Home, and Basketball. In this book that begins with one fan’s passion for a game, Milward takes a deep dive into sports culture, team loyalty, and a shared sense of belonging—and what these have to do with character, home, and history.

 

Speaking of basketball, if you enjoyed the beautiful story of a Navajo high school team in Basketball or Nothing, you might also (definitely, actually) enjoy Native Hoops: The Rise of American Indian Basketball, 1895–1970. The Native American passion for basketball extends far beyond the Navajo, whether on reservations or in cities, among the young and the old. Why basketball—a relatively new sport—should hold such a place in Native culture is the question Wade Davies takes up in Native Hoops.

 

Now that you’ve mastered every single recipe featured on The Great British Baking Show, you may also enjoy cooking something a bit closer to home. The New Kansas Cookbook: Rural Roots, Modern Table offers modern makeovers of Midwestern mainstays like sloppy joes and sweet custards to dishes influenced by a wide variety of world cuisines. These recipes bring Kansas tradition into the twenty-first century with a new burst of flavor and sense of fun.

 

As the natural world works itself back to normal, binge-watching Our Planet can be inspirational. The End of Sustainability: Resilience and the Future of Environmental Governance in the Anthropocene might be a good fit. The book examines how the continued invocation of sustainability in policy discussions ignores the emerging reality of the Anthropocene, which is creating a world characterized by extreme complexity, radical uncertainty, and unprecedented change.

 

If watching historical reenactments of religious compounds, as shown in Waco, is fun, you may also enjoy Rebecca Barrett-Fox’s stunning God Hates: Westboro Baptist Church, American Nationalism, and the Religious Right. The first full ethnography of this infamous presence on America’s Religious Right, her book situates the church’s story in the context of American religious history—and reveals as much about the uneasy state of Christian practice in our day as it does about the workings of the Westboro Church and Fred Phelps, its founder.

 

Are you binging old episodes of Veep? Maybe get some proper background of how the vice presidency has evolved with Joel Goldstein’s The White House Vice Presidency: The Path to Significance, Mondale to Biden. The book presents a comprehensive account of the vice presidency as the office has developed from Mondale to Biden. Or check out our upcoming book Do Running Mates Matter? The Influence of Vice Presidential Candidates in Presidential Elections. In the first book to put this question to a rigorous test, Christopher J. Devine and Kyle C. Kopko draw upon an unprecedented range of empirical data to reveal how, and how much, running mates influence voting in presidential elections.

 

Maybe you’ve been watching the president’s daily press conference and are interested in an explanation of how the executive branch got to this point. Check out The Lost Soul of the American Presidency: The Decline into Demagoguery and the Prospects for Renewal by Stephen F. Knott. Taking on an issue as timely as Donald Trump’s latest tweet and as old as the American republic, the distinguished presidential scholar documents the devolution of the American presidency from the neutral, unifying office envisioned by the framers of the Constitution into the demagogic, partisan entity of our day.

Meet the Press: Debra Diehl

Few things are more interconnected with the University Press of Kansas than Direct Mail and Exhibits Manager Debra Diehl.

Diehl’s responsibilities at UPK extend far beyond those covered by her job title. She’s the resident expert on Press history, official favorite person in the office of visiting kids, and long-time recruiter of local wildlife.

“Deb is easily one of the most warmhearted, generous, and sincere people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting,” said Kelly Chrisman Jacques, managing editor. “She carries her good nature with her through every aspect of her position and fosters genuine connections with UPK staff, authors, customers, and vendors.”

Diehl has extensive experience that reaches beyond UPK’s walls. She’s represented the Press at meetings across the country and made sure books have traveled to events large and small. If there’s an event at which UPK books might be displayed, Deb knows about it.

“Deb is hands down the best exhibits manager I’ve worked with in over thirty years in publishing,” said Joyce Harrison, editor in chief. “It’s such a joy to come into an exhibit space, with tables to be put into place and boxes to open, and know that all of the books and supplies you need are there. Exhibits require a lot of advance work, and Deb goes about this work with stunning efficiency, especially considering the number of conferences we attend each year.”

1. What do you do at the Press and how long have you worked here?

I’m part of the marketing department team. My responsibilities focus on promoting our books via the mail—postal and email—and arranging for them to be on display at conferences and events. I’ve been at the Press since (gulp) 1986. It is my second full-time job after graduating from college in 1985.

2. What is your history at the Press? What other positions have you held?

Originally I was hired as an office assistant and did work for every department at the Press. It was the perfect way to learn about the publishing process. My degree is in journalism with an emphasis in advertising. When the Press was able to increase its staff, a marketing assistant position was created and I was hired for that. Eventually the marketing department added another position, and I became the direct mail and exhibits manager.

3. What about academic publishing appeals to you?

I’ve always loved books and discovering good writers that were new to me. After working in the advertising department of a daily newspaper, I knew I wanted to be back in an academic environment. I didn’t know much about book publishing at the time I started at UPK, but in just a short while I felt like I had found “my people.” The projects and authors I learned about were interesting and important. They still are.

4. What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Something that has become more challenging in recent years is getting direct access to individuals through a mailing list, whether it’s a postal address or an email. Many academic associations, as well as small organizations, do not rent their membership lists as they did in the past. We continually work on building our in-house lists to promote our books as well as the Press itself. We’ve recently started offering publishing services and that adds another category of customers we want to reach.

5. What are the most rewarding aspects of working at UPK?

I’m glad that I help market a quality product. Seeing a book “do well,” whether that’s defined by sales, an award, or getting the author’s next project, is gratifying. But the most rewarding aspect of being at UPK is that I work with great people— people that I respect and like and admire. That’s been the case since day one. After many years, I still feel lucky to be here.

6. When not at work, how do you spend your time?

I spend a lot of time with dogs! My husband and I have two dogs that we take on walks and rides and sometimes on vacation. I enjoy being with friends (and their dogs!), going to live music, and spending time with my mom.

7. You’re a townie. What’s something about Lawrence you want everyone to know?

Lawrence has an amazing off-leash dog park and outstanding breweries.