I’m heeere …

May 27, 2014
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.

Replacement-level player: Like Andrelton Simmons, I hope to be better than the average wonk. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

An introduction, by way of an explainer, since I hear those are all the rage now:

Who are you?  My name is Daniel W. Drezner.  I’m a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.  I’ve written a couple of books, including one (The System Worked) that is coming out very, very soon.  I’ve also written a lot of scholarly articles and not-so-scholarly articles on topics ranging from celebrity activism to visiting the NSA to bizarre Harry Potter fan fiction.

What do you know?  What are you going to write about here?  I have an MA in economics, and an MA and PhD in political science, so I’ll be writing a fair amount about those topics.  My day job is being a professor, so the role of the academy in public life will be a topic of conversation.  I also geek out about large swathes of popular culture, so that stuff will come up as well.

What is “political science”?  Opinions vary. To some, it’s a pseudo-science mooching off of the government teat; to others, it’s a hidebound discipline producing jargon-filled obscurantism. To me, my profession, and an increasing number of journalists, however, political science is the systematic study of actors and institutions seeking to acquire and utilize power, and the effects that these pursuits have on the world at large.  Knowledge of political science can help someone like me be provide better, more informed analysis than a replacement-level pundit.

What is a “replacement-level pundit”?  Baseball sabermetricians like to talk about “replacement-level players” as those that can be hired off the scrap heap and employed for the league-minimum salary – i.e., career minor-leaguers.  I’d wager that this concept applies to a lot of professions with an ample supply of eager enthusiasts and restricted demand:  actors, artists, musicians, writers, and yes, pundits.  Of course, good baseball teams, like good opinion sections, try to employ individuals that are far better than replacement-level.  I’m hoping to provide better-quality analysis than the 23-year old college graduate who would gladly leap at the chance to do this gig as an unpaid internship.

Why should we believe that you are better than a replacement-level pundit?  Listen, bub, I was writing about zombies long before the U.S. Strategic Command got around to drafting a plan combating the undead menace.  If that’s not being ahead of the curve, I don’t know what is.  Somewhat more seriously, I hope to bring a few comparative advantages to the table.  First, I’m not going to pull any punches to advance my career. My aspirations to serve in government were squelched long ago. So, to use the language of Larry Summers, I’m someone who has little compunction about criticizing insiders when I think they’re wrong — and they’re wrong a lot.  Second, I’ll be willing and able to admit when I’m wrong — which will also happen a lot.  Finally, I’ve met Mel Brooks, and I’ve shaken his hand. In my world, that’s huge. HUGE.

So these are your opinions.  What is your partisanship?  I am, truly, a RINO – a registered Republican who has voted Democratic in the last three presidential elections.  Think of me as someone who embraced conservative and libertarian principles … and then found difficulty reconciling those principles with, say, the aftereffects of Operation Iraqi Freedom and the 2008 financial crisis. That doesn’t mean I don’t still embrace some of these views – but I’m a bit more prone to doubt them than I was, say, 15 years ago.  If I have any biases, they’re more about process than politics or policy.  So, for example, when explaining why things go wrong, Ill be more inclined to buy incompetence and ideology over malevolence and omnipotence.

What are “spoiler alerts”?  They are revelations of key plot twists in films and television shows that might lessen your enjoyment of watching them.

So why are you calling this “Spoiler Alerts”?  They sound like a bad thing?!  It’s a bad thing for quality entertainment, but it’s a good thing for dubious punditry – and that’s something I’ll be writing about in this space.  Whether it’s those who try explain the world hopping from one first-class airport lounge to another or those who opine on macroeconomics when they probably should not, pundits shop around an awful lot of bad narratives.  One of the things I’ll be trying to do here is to ruin those narratives before they calcify into Beltway conventional wisdom.  I’ve been around long enough to appreciate the awesome power of that consensus, when it exists, to warp policy debates.  Spoiler alerts are only worth doing if one can offer some alternative interpretation, so my opinions will also be on full display.

Do you have a manifesto? A code?  A Declaration of Principles?  Don’t go overboard on a joke … so we’re done here.

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