COMMENTARY | When I received the email from my department chair that the NSF funding for political science would be cut, I wasn't too surprised. After all, we live in an era of tight budgets, right? But what did surprise me is that Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake's proposal tried to make National Science Foundation funds for political science illegal. It didn't cut the NSF budget. It didn't make funding for any other social science illegal. It just singled out political science.
Now I know what you think: I have some personal stake in this matter. Actually, my chances of getting an NSF grant in political science are slightly less than winning the Georgia Lottery, so it won't impact me personally if there's no money in the budget for us.
But this is something different. Here we have a politician telling a scientific review board that decisions must be made on a partisan basis. I know the NSF is a government agency, but aren't Republicans always telling us how they're the party supporting a meritocracy, instead of playing petty politics? Aren't they the ones who say that politicians shouldn't meddle? We don't want our politicians interfering with the military, and that's a fellow government agency, right?
In reality, this is actually about a completely unrelated issue: illegal immigration. Flake is running for the U.S. Senate seat in Arizona, being vacated by Jon Kyl. He's the favorite, but Flake has a problem. He's backed a moderate illegal immigration policy (more legal immigrants, a guest worker program, path to citizenship) that opponents have derided as amnesty for undocumented people living in the United States.
According to the Arizona Capitol Times, Flake is facing wealthy businessman Wil Cardon, who has promised to spend millions on the race, and is hammering Flake on the illegal immigration issue. The fact that another GOP activist (Clair Van Steenwyk) and TEA Party Activist (John Lyon) entered the race shows that there are a lot of Arizonans who think Flake is too moderate for the state.
If you take a political science class, you might learn about the diversionary theory of conflict. That's where a government distracts its people from a scandal or domestic problems by picking a fight with someone else, to unify those they hope to rule. Flake is trying to distract his party's conservatives from his illegal immigration policies by picking a fight with political science. The irony is that he seems to have perfected the political science theory of distraction.