Presidential scholar eagerly anticipates new administration – whoever wins
by Ann Marie Deer Owens
photo by Daniel Dubois
David Lewis’ part-time job while a student at the University of California at Berkeley proved to be more than a way to help pay college bills. Lewis commuted for three years from Berkeley to Hayward, Calif., to do case work for U.S. Rep. Pete Stark. The experience cemented his interest in politics, especially with regard to public policy and government agencies.
“I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and volunteered for local politicians, but my work with Rep. Stark provided a ‘big picture’ of how various government agencies operate and respond to citizens’ needs,” said Lewis, a professor of political science.
Lewis first thought he would work in public policy after graduate school, but his acceptance into Stanford University’s doctoral program in political science was life-changing.
“It was fortuitous, as Stanford was emerging as one of the nation’s top political science programs,” Lewis said. “Presidential scholar Terry Moe was an important force in shaping the way that I study the presidency. He also contributed to my interest in bureaucratic politics.”
Lewis, who comes to Vanderbilt from Princeton University, is teaching two classes this fall.
“One is an undergraduate course on public policy and government failures,” he said. “Students look at real-life case studies such as Katrina and the 9/11 terrorist attacks as a window into larger questions about government performance.” The other class is a graduate seminar on bureaucratic politics.
Lewis’ book, The Politics of Presidential Appointments: Political Control and Bureaucratic Performance, was awarded the Herbert A. Simon Best Book Award by the American Political Science Association. Lewis’ book explores why and how modern presidents, including George W. Bush, have politicized the bureaucracy and the consequences of doing so. Lewis will closely watch the next president’s cabinet picks, as they can have tremendous impact.
“Presidents who are determined to have a large influence on the bureaucracy can and do make this happen,” he said.
Lewis’ interests in the administrative side of the presidency complement those of Distinguished Professor of Political Science John Geer, who focuses more on campaigns, voting behavior and the public side of the presidency.
“The addition of Dave Lewis to our faculty is simply tremendous,” said Geer. “The blunt facts are that Dave is the leading presidential scholar in his cohort, and his presence brings great visibility to Vanderbilt. But there is even more: Dave’s star power extends into the classroom. Our students will soon realize that Dave is a wonderful teacher as well.”
The two first met when Geer was a visiting professor at Princeton. Lewis said he and Geer stayed in touch the past few years and Lewis was a guest lecturer for one of Geer’s classes on the presidency.
“I knew that the Vanderbilt political science department was aggressively recruiting top scholars,” Lewis said. “The opportunity to help the department continue to grow and become stronger attracted me to campus.”
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