Steven Schier

Dorothy H. and Edward C. Congdon Professor of Political Science

The American Elections of 2012

Professor Schier talks about a recent book he co-edited.

I was born in Mount Pleasant, Iowa in 1952, in the midst of a presidential election campaign involving Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson.

My "home town," where I lived from age four to nineteen, is Fort Madison, Iowa, an old river town on the Mississippi River in the southeastern corner of the state.

It is the birthplace of Sheaffer Pens, and is home to the Iowa Maximum Security Prison (hence the nickname "pen city"), Catfish Bend riverboat gambling, the world's second longest swing-span bridge, major Santa Fe railroad junction and the Fort Madison High School Bloodhounds (the only such high school nickname on earth).

Why the Bloodhounds? Because they track down the convicts, or so my uncle's high school class thought when they chose the name in the early 1930s. That uncle, Donald S. Schier, taught French literature at Carleton College from 1948-1984, retiring as the Mellon Professor of the Humanities. He was the author of two books and several scholarly articles and lived to the ripe age of 94, departing in 2009. I first visited Carleton on my first solo train trip, from "the Fort" to Northfield at age twelve in 1964, when I visited Uncle Don.

My other uncle, Richard F. Schier, taught American politics for thirty-five years at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. My father and I visited him in Washington when he served as legislative assistant to Senator Joseph Clark (D-PA). It was 1965, at the height of the "Great Society" legislative program. I remember my uncle Dick, who died in 1997, escorting us into a closed Senate committee meeting so that we could watch Bobby and Teddy Kennedy in action.

My parents, Marjorie and James Schier, grew up during the Depression and both served in the Army during World War II. My father became a captain and commanded Saipan Island in the South Pacific once it was liberated from the Japanese. My mother served as a staff sergeant in the WACs in Port Moresby, New Guinea. You can check out her service record at the Women's Military Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington.

While an undergraduate at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, I attended American University's Washington Semester Program in the fall of 1973. While there, President Nixon precipitated the "Saturday Night Massacre" when he sacked Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, Attorney General Elliot Richardson, and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus. A few weeks later, I was on Capitol Hill when Vice President Agnew resigned. My internship with the Coalition for a Democratic Majority took me all over town. I eventually graduated from Simpson in 1974 with a double major in political science and history.

I immediately enrolled in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There I studied American politics with Leon Epstein, a renowned expert on political parties, and, during my time at Wisconsin, president of the American Political Science Association. I studied Congress with the late Barbara Hinckley, and public policy and political theory with Charles Anderson.

I received my M.A. in the summer of 1975 and my Ph.D. in October 1978. By then I was teaching at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. After three years there, Carleton hired me as an assistant professor. I was awarded tenure and promotion to associate professor in 1987 and to full professor in 1993. The Congdon chair was awarded to me in 1997. I received a Fulbright Distinguished Lecturing Award that took me to York University in Toronto to teach in the fall term of 2002.

During my time at Carleton, I have taught widely in American politics--courses on Congress, the presidency, parties and interest groups, political rhetoric, America's future, and public policy. The department's required methodology course was mine from 1981 to 2004. Syllabi for my classes reside at our department's web page.

In 2005, my comps advisee Rebecca Stark won a national award for that year's best undergraduate paper on the presidency, presented by the Presidency Research Group of The American Political Science Association. In 2006, my student Andrew Kaufman also won that best undergraduate paper award. These are the accomplishments of which I am particularly proud.

I founded and conducted the Carleton in Washington program twelve times, most recently in the winter of 2010. On this program, students intern three days a week, and meet with some sixty prominent Washingtonians during the remaining two days. Past speakers have included Supreme Court Justices Harry Blackmun, Byron White and Antonin Scalia; journalists Bob Woodward, Susan Page, John F. Harris and Juan Williams; and Senators Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Richard Lugar (R-Indiana).

My curriculum vita reveals that I have published thirteen books and have authored many scholarly articles and monographs.

My edited book entitled A Post-Modern Presidency: Bill Clinton's Legacy in American Politics was published by Pittsburgh Press. Choice magazine named that book an "Outstanding Academic Book" of 2001. Another recent book, an edited volume entitled High Risk and Big Ambition: The Presidency of George W. Bush was listed as an "academic press best seller" in 2004.

More recently, I coedited (with Janet Box-Steffensmeier of Ohio State) and authored a chapter in The American Elections of 2008 for Rowman and Littlefield publishers. My book, Panorama of a Presidency: How George W. Bush Acquired and Spent His Political Capital, was published by M.E. Sharpe in late 2008. This book also won a Choice magazine "Outstanding Academic Book" award in 2009. In 2009, the University of Pittsburgh Press published my edited volume Ambition and Division: Legacies of the George W. Bush Presidency.

I am also active as a media commentator. My columns have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Washington Monthly, Brookings Review and other publications. My observations on state and national politics are quoted frequently in newspapers and magazines. I also work as a political commentator for local television stations, Minnesota Public Radio, and the British Broadcasting Corporation. I blog on American politics for The Atlantic magazine. 

Outside of work, I play golf, listen to classical and blues music and collect autographs and manuscripts (that are stored safely in a local bank). A few I have collected include George Orwell, Jonathan Swift, Emiliano Zapata, Mary Shelley, Simon Bolivar, Alexander Hamilton, Samuel Johnson, James Madison, Joan Miro, Marc Chagall, Jimmy Cagney, the great filmmaker Preston Sturges, and George Washington Carver (a fellow Simpson alumnus). My personal heroes from that group particularly include Orwell, Swift, Johnson, Madison, Sturges, Zapata and Bolivar. I also love baseball (win Twins) and Sherlock Holmes, and am a member of the Norwegian Explorers, a Twin Cities Sherlockian society. My favorite Holmesian quote: "You see, but you do not observe."

I spend as much time as possible with my wife Mary Lahr Schier, our two daughters, Anna (age 21) and Teresa (age 17) and Lola, the wonder dog. Anna served as a US House intern in 2005.