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At a time when the U.S. is deeply divided politically and ideologically, Jonathan Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs, is committed to students — democrats and republicans.

The office of Jonathan Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs, houses numerous mementos.

Americans are divided on everything — except division. That’s the not-so-stunning conclusion of an NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll in which 80 percent of respondents described the U.S. as divided.

Helping to bridge this political and ideological rift, Jonathan Wharton, associate professor of political science and urban affairs, is a unifying force on campus — serving as adviser to the College Republicans and the College Democrats.

“I never thought I had to be partisan,” says Wharton of his students-first approach. Wharton is a member of the Republican Party, but was raised with an acceptance of opposing viewpoints by parents, who are members of different political parties. “They actually agree on 80 to 90 percent of things. But they are sticking [with their parties], and it was never problematic or disrespectful,” says Wharton.

The College Democrats and College Republicans work well together. The two student organizations held on-campus viewing parties during the 2016 presidential election. (Inspired, in part, by Wharton’s dual advisory roles, the vibrant gatherings received significant attention from the media.) In 2018, 20-plus students — members of both parties — joined faculty at the gubernatorial debates at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven. More joint events are promised for the 2020 election.

When it comes to political action, Wharton describes himself as “a behind the scenes kind of guy,” drawn to planning fund raisers and networking. “My students would rather do the door knocking, the phone banking, the social media. They’d rather follow the research, get the data,” he says.

Adept at wearing multiple hats, Wharton is also the internship adviser for the department. Many students complete multiple internships, up to 15 credits, working in federal and state congressional offices, law firms, nonprofit organizations, city offices, think tanks, and more.

“Most are much better students because of it,” says Wharton, who finds their commitment inspiring and heartening. “Do you know how many students love to do campaign work? It boggles my mind,” he says.

Wharton was raised in West Hartford but was born in New York City — and his parents came from Boston and Chicago. “As a child, I grew attached to these cities we visited. I think that’s why I studied local politics,” says Wharton, shown participating in Southern’s 2019 undergraduate commencement exercises.

Following, Wharton shares more on his commitment to urban planning, politics, and students.

A born educator: “One could argue it’s in the DNA. Both sides of the family have been educators,” says Wharton. His parents met in the doctoral program at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City. His grandmothers were teachers. Both grandfathers were lawyers; his paternal grandfather an ambassador as well. “There was always this interest in politics, law, and education,” he says.

A career change: Wharton left a position working with the New Jersey State Legislature to pursue a career in education. “The classroom drew me back in every time,” he says.

In the class: “I like to spark debate and discussion. . . . I want students to be intrigued, curious, and provoked.”

Always civic minded: Wharton serves on the City Planning Commission of New Haven.

Thinking local: “What I try to convey to [students] is that you can make a difference in your community at the local or state level. It takes them a while to get their heads around that. But when they recognize it, the potential is there,” says Wharton.

Why he choose Southern: “I was struck by the fact that it was a teaching university. . . . I liked the small classroom sizes at Southern. And I like the regional universities dynamic. They take teaching so seriously, which I think is critical. They do faculty development workshops, analyze teaching methods, and focus on pedagogy concerns.”

Four treasured office mementos:
1) campaign signs — “A great opener with students when discussing the ins and outs of campaign work,” he says.
2) a first-place banner from a National Collegiate Club Golf Association tournament (2017), signed by the participating students. Wharton also is adviser of Southern’s golf team, which competes in the Metro region.
3) several awards for exceptional work as an adviser
4) a “Distinguished Alumnus Award” from Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity (March 2019)

Research focus: Wharton and Theresa Marchant-Shapiro, associate professor of political science, are working with university librarians to accession the archival papers of several former New Haven mayors. The collection was established through the generosity of attorney Neil Thomas Proto, ’67, and is housed in Buley Library.

In the News: Wharton is a monthly state/local politics analyst on WNPR’s Where We Live and The Wheelhouse.

Southern Alumni Magazine cover, Fall 2019, featuring Peter Marra, '85

Read more stories in the Fall ’19 issue of Southern Alumni Magazine.

John Heilemann – a national political analyst for MSNBC and co-author of best sellers “Game Change” and “Double Down” – will discuss the state of the 2016 presidential campaign on Monday (April 11) at Southern Connecticut State University.

The talk will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts, where Heilemann also will touch upon the Washington political scene and the major policy issues affecting the country. The event comes about two weeks before the Connecticut Primary on April 26, when Nutmeggers will join voters from Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware in casting ballots in the Republican and Democratic presidential nomination contests.

Businessman Donald Trump is seeking to garner enough delegates for a first ballot nomination at the Republican National Convention. But U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are looking to stop him, which if they are successful, would likely lead to a contested convention in July. Not since 1976 have the Republicans entered their national convention uncertain as to their nominee. And the last GOP national convention that went beyond the first ballot came in 1948 with Thomas Dewey becoming the eventual choice.

On the Democratic side, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is well ahead of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont in delegates, but Sanders is hoping to continue with his recent momentum in an effort to turn the tide.

Heilemann is the co-anchor of the MSNBC daily news analysis program, “With All Due Respect.” He is a co-creator, executive producer and host of Showtime’s “The Circus,” which provides an inside look at the presidential candidates on the campaign trail.

Heilemann also is co-managing editor of Bloomberg Politics and is a regular contributor to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“Game Change” was a New York Times bestseller that focused on the 2008 presidential election and led to an HBO movie. “Double Down” examined the 2012 presidential race.

Tickets, which are free, should be reserved in advance as a limited number of seats are available. To reserve tickets, call (203) 392-6154 or email lymancenter@SouthernCT.edu.

 

 

The presidential campaign season is in full swing, with candidates traveling around the country meeting voters, debating each other on television, and competing in caucuses and primaries. Meanwhile, the political pundits provide a steady stream of commentary and speculation on campaign discourse and activities. Among the commentators on the political battlefield are satirists, the critical voices that draw attention to statements that may not be entirely truthful and behaviors that may not be entirely scrupulous. Charlene Dellinger-Pate, associate professor of media studies, says that with political discourse “more bizarre than ever” these days, the goal of those who satirize this discourse is to show that there is no substance, that it is all performance. “We need satire to see what is behind the performance,” Dellinger-Pate says.

She teaches courses on television and media theory, and after teaching a special topics course on “The Simpsons” several years ago, she went on to design a course on TV and comedy that led her to develop an interest in political satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Now she is teaching a course called “Political Satire and New Media” and has turned her scholarly attention to this form of satire.

When it comes to satirizing political discourse, Stewart in particular broke new ground on his news parody show, Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” A longtime “Daily Show” reporter and spin-off, Colbert, with his “Colbert Report,” was just one of several people who got their start as satirists on “The Daily Show,” Dellinger-Pate points out, naming Samantha Bee, Steve Carell, Mo Rocca, Ed Helms, and John Oliver among “Daily Show” alumni.

Dellinger-Pate sees two important moments on the landscape of contemporary American political satire. In 2002, when Stewart took over from Craig Kilborn on “The Daily Show,” he began to give the show more of a political focus than it had had. Then in 2004, Stewart appeared on CNN’s “Crossfire” with Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson and called them both hacks, telling them, “You’re hurting America” by sensationalizing debates and enabling political spin. He called their show “theater” and described it as dishonest. Two weeks later, “Crossfire” was cancelled, and, Dellinger-Pate says, “the network didn’t make a connection [to Stewart’s remarks], but satirists and the public did.” The “Crossfire” interview went viral, she says, and solidified Stewart as a political satirist and critic of punditry.

Since 2004, this was what Stewart did on “The Daily Show”: he looked to what the pundits were saying and pointed out what was wrong with it. He began to focus on “the hypocrisy or the lunacy of what is being said,” says Dellinger-Pate, by “disingenuous and lying pundits.” His show poked fun at cable news, his commentary always with an undercurrent of satire.

A turning point for Colbert’s brand of satire happened after he got his own show in 2005. In 2006 he was invited to speak at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, D.C., and he parodied conservative pundit Bill O’Reilly. “It was a brave moment,” says Dellinger-Pate. “He aggressively satirized President Bush and members of the media at the dinner, and no one laughed.” The next morning, she says, “Good Morning America” didn’t even mention that he was there, although “the blogosphere lit up about him.” Dellinger-Pate says that on “The Colbert Report,” Colbert went after the divisive ideological politics of the post-9-11 era. “There are no venues for satirizing these politics,” she says, adding, “Colbert did it by pretending to be one of them.” Colbert’s style on his show was to play more interactively with the political process than Stewart did, Dellinger-Pate says. “Colbert is like the classic Elizabethan court jester,” while Stewart stayed more removed.

Regardless of their individual styles, satirists are more crucial now than ever, says Dellinger-Pate. “The world of punditry scares me,” she says. “We talk about the Limbaughs, Hannitys, and O’Reillys – they have a demographic, and these folks vote. But there is no informed political discourse – no informed debate – in punditry. So much information is presented as true, with so much money behind it. Without the satirists, there’s a perfect recipe for disaster.”

When the 250 individuals attending a recent forum at Southern that analyzed the 2014 gubernatorial and midterm Congressional elections were asked whether they had ever donated money to a political campaign, dozens of hands were raised. A similar number acknowledged that they had volunteered for a campaign.

Ordinarily, the response may not have surprised too many people. After all, those who would come out at lunchtime to hear an analysis about the 2014 political landscape are probably political engaged. And those who are politically engaged are more likely to contribute to a campaign, either with money or time.

But what made this an eye-opening moment was that more than half the crowd consisted of high school students. And it was clear that many of those kids were among those who hoisted their hands into the air at those two questions about political activism.

About 130 students – hailing from six high schools in the area (Amity of Woodbridge, Cheshire, East Haven, Hillhouse of New Haven, Seymour and West Haven) – attended the forum at Southern called, “Election 2014: Polls, Pundits & Popcorn.” Walking through Southern’s Grand Ballroom, you could see some of the high school students taking notes as the panel of speakers shared their analyses about the elections.

Amity High School students listen intently during the SCSU forum on the 2014 elections.
Amity High School students listen intently during the SCSU forum on the 2014 elections.

While the students were generally those in honors or Advanced Placement (AP) social studies classes, it showed a real engagement of young people in the political process – a healthy sign for the future of our democracy.

Cheshire High School, for example, has a Young Politicians Club, which includes students with a range of political views.

Most of the Cheshire High School students attending the SCSU forum are members of their school's Young Politicians Club.
Most of the Cheshire High School students attending the SCSU forum are members of their school’s Young Politicians Club.

West Haven High School’s AP U.S. Government and Politics students were enthusiastic about attending a college lecture before the event taught by Art Paulson, chairman of Southern’s Political Science Department.

Art Paulson, chairman of the SCSU Political Science Department, delivers a lecture on the history of midterm elections to advanced West Haven High School juniors. The talk came just before the start of the SCSU forum on the 2014 elections.
Art Paulson, chairman of the SCSU Political Science Department, delivers a lecture on the history of midterm elections to advanced West Haven High School juniors. The talk came just before the start of the SCSU forum on the 2014 elections.

The forum included a look at polls, TV ads, campaign strategies and some historical analysis of state and national elections. The event – a veritable summit of Connecticut’s political analysts – included Power Point presentations by Jennifer Dineen, director of the University of Connecticut poll, and Laura Baum, project manager of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Jennifer Dineen, director of the UConn poll, analyzes the Connecticut gubernatorial race.
Jennifer Dineen, director of the UConn poll, analyzes the Connecticut gubernatorial race.
Laura Baum, project manager for the Wesleyan Media Project, discusses the advertising 'air wars' between Democrats and Republicans in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
Laura Baum, project manager for the Wesleyan Media Project, discusses the advertising ‘air wars’ between Democrats and Republicans in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

It also included a panel of three of the top political scientists in Connecticut:
*Art Paulson”, chairman of the SCSU Political Science Department
*Gary Rose, chairman of the Sacred Heart University Government/Political Science Department
*Scott McLean, professor of political science at Quinnipiac University

Art Paulson makes a point during the panel discussion. Also pictured are: Scott McLean (left), professor of political science at Qunnipiac University, and Gary Rose, chairman of the Sacred Heart University Department of Government and Political Science.
Art Paulson makes a point during the panel discussion. Also pictured are: Scott McLean (left), professor of political science at Qunnipiac University, and Gary Rose, chairman of the Sacred Heart University Department of Government and Political Science.

Christine Stuart, editor-in-chief of CTNewsJunkie, an online news publication that focuses on governmental and political stories, served as the moderator.

Seymour High School students pause for a moment outside the SCSU Grand Ballroom.
Seymour High School students pause for a moment outside the SCSU Grand Ballroom.
Hillhouse High School students gather.
Hillhouse High School students gather.
East Haven High School students take a moment.
East Haven High School students take a moment.
Amity High School brings a large contingent of students.
Amity High School brings a large contingent of students.
West Haven High School students swarm in the lobby before the event.
West Haven High School students swarm in the lobby before the event.

“Democracy works best when the citizenry is engaged in politics and government,” Paulson says. “The fact that so many high school students indicated that they are already active and enthusiastic about elections and campaigns is a positive sign for the future of our country. I hope it will be a lifelong interest.”

The forum is available online via CT-N.