UVic Torch -- Autumn 2008
Autumn 2008,
Volume 29, Number 2

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Political Science instructor Andrew Wender: a “pivotal election.”

An overwhelming response to a course inspired by the “trans-boundary” significance of the 2008 US presidential election.

All of the intrigue and implications of the race for the White House was enough to generate its own Political Science course this fall. “Obama or McCain: American Presidential Poltics, Canada and the World” brought together a diverse set of students to dissect the campaign.

The class, conceived as a way of bringing together a variety of insights from members of the Political Science department, definitely struck a chord. It attracted 100 credit students and another 60 members of the public who registered through Continuing Studies.

“I was surprised by the overwhelming attention. I’ve been struck by the level of interest,” says instructor and course coordinator Andrew Wender, PhD ’06. “I think there are a number of factors. There’s a compelling narrative involved in the (candidates’) personalities. We have gripping stories of these people. And the election has tapped into profound issues (of) the role of church and state, economics, race, gender—everything is just converging.”

Wender, a US citizen who came to UVic 10 years ago to complete his interdisciplinary doctorate in political science and history, says another key factor generating interest in the next president is America’s changing role in the world.

With the ascendency of China and Russia, the US no longer has the sole status of “hyper-power” that it held after the end of the Cold War.

“It might be weaker. It’s stretched economically and militarily after Afghanistan and the morass of Iraq,” says Wender. “It’s a watershed moment, a new stage for the US role in the world.”

The course, divided broadly into three segments, includes an examination of the American electoral process, how it compares to the Canadian system, US foreign policy, and the international implications of the election’s outcome.

Each week Wender provides an overview of the discussion topic and readings followed by a lecture by a different member of the faculty.

Class discussion, he says, has been “overwhelmingly positive.” With the mix of credit and non-credit students, questions and comments take on a whole new dynamic since the two groups of students approach the course differently.

Weekly topics include campaign financing, “image wars,” politics and religion, and a post-election discussion of the world’s response to the results.

A review of technology and communications draws from the perspectives of influential Canadian media theorists Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan.

For an American living in Canada, Wender says his decade in this country has changed his perspective on US politics. He takes more interest in the candidates’ positions on foreign policy, and he’s fascinated by the way Canadians view the US.

He finds that Canadians can underestimate the complexities of the American electoral system and that “there’s a certain perspective that Canadians often have on the US that Americans don’t have of themselves.” A Canadian identity may be hard to define, but we know we’re different from Americans. In one session this fall, there were audible gasps from the students when Prof. Arthur Kroker spoke about the “apocalyptic” nature of some US campaign narratives and strategies. “It’s that perception,” says Wender, “that the US is fundamentally non-Canadian.”

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