I am not surprised when IU political science professor Joshua Weikert, Ph.D., tells me that one of his first childhood memories (at two years old) is Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration. I’m not even surprised when he tells me he is a grand master beer judge. His boyish enthusiasm for life infuses his deep appreciation for both politics and international relations, which were his college majors. As “the” political science professor at Immaculata, no one is surprised that he truly loves teaching politics to college-age students.
When I ask him if the students in his Intro to Politics class engage in class discussion, he laughs at the thought. He acknowledges that politics is a contentious subject unlike economics or even history. “Everyone has opinions about some issues,” he states pointedly. “It is impossible to have or encourage discussion without, sort of, bringing the emotional aspects into it.” Weikert understands that his role as professor also includes his ability to moderate these class discussions. Although the conversations are very lively, he is encouraged by the post-millennials who seem to be very interested in political issues. He tells me that we live in very unusual and unmoored political times, which seems to be a safe way of conveying the political climate without passing judgment on any particular ideal or philosophy.
If he hadn’t become a college professor, Weikert has the charisma, business and communication skills, and the all-important political connections to carve out a serious career in public office. When he was younger, he accepted opportunities to work on political campaigns and was even offered a position as finance director for a congressional campaign in Iowa, a very coveted role he adds – like getting your big break at the Grand Ole Opry. Having to make an immediate career choice, Weikert confesses that one of the deciding factors was the more stable lifestyle found in academia than in politics.
However, he didn’t want to slam the door closed too tightly. In October 2016, Weikert called his local municipality and asked, “how can I help?” One of the township supervisors immediately informed Weikert that there were three new seats coming up for election and asked if he was interested in running for the board of supervisors. Again faced with the decision to “enter politics,” Weikert ultimately decided not to run. However, after making new connections that only increased his visibility within the political spectrum, the experience gave him a greater appreciation for local politics. He obstinately informs me that “we” (as in U.S. citizens) don’t pay enough attention to local candidates, who subsequently often run for a higher office.
“Local governments make decisions every week, every month, that dramatically affect you in ways that national politics never will and yet people don’t pay attention to it,” he says.
After extensive exposure dealing with his local party for the board of supervisors, Weikert discovered that he wanted to explore switching party allegiance. So, he admits, he called the opposition party! He’s still laughing as he tells me that the woman asked him, “have you ever thought about running for office?” Weikert informs the woman that he has occasionally considered it but that he is not politically ambitious – “I just wanted to see how I can help out,” he reiterates to me regarding his motivation. The day after the 2017 election, the woman called Weikert and asked, “Do you want to run for the State House of Representatives!” As Weikert is conveying this conversation, he is obviously reliving the moment, when flabbergasted, “Whoa,” was all he could muster.
Again, he is confronted with the decision to run for public office. Weikert knows that his self-declared introverted personality isn’t “made for politics,” so seeking public office does not truly interest him. I am not surprised when he tells me that he chose not to run. But, he adds “I am happy to throw other bodies in front of me and say ‘hey, if you want to run, I will help you.’” Ultimately, that is the role that Weikert accepted….a supporting role.
As a political science professor, Weikert is in an unusual position of having extensive behind-the-scenes knowledge about both of America’s two major political parties. He takes his experiences and shares it with his students who often have limited exposure to politics except perhaps through Veep or reruns of House of Cards.
What was the biggest lesson Weikert learned during his two campaign “experiments”? His answer is absolute: do we know who is running for office? It’s obvious that he has pondered this question and, as a college professor, he decided to document his personal experience for the benefit of others. By his ethnographic (first-person, participant-and-observer) analysis, Weikert was able to compare and contrast his candidate experiences, which happened roughly at the same point in political history, within the Republican and Democratic parties. With this unique perspective still fresh in his mind, Weikert delivered a presentation on the topic to the Pennsylvania Political Science Association’s annual meeting. After the success of his presentation, he elaborated on his thoughts and wrote a paper, Inside Two Parties: Ethnographic Analysis of Partisan Differences in Political Candidate Recruitment,which was recently published in Research Methods Cases from SAGE.
I then asked Weikert what was the biggest surprise that he discovered about both parties. He contemplated his answer for a moment and then said, with a chuckle, that he was surprised that there was a lot of similarity between the two parties. He explains that although the fundamentals of the parties are different, the process itself is similar. “They are all operating within the same system….all playing the same game,” he concedes. And he adds with mock incredulousness, “they are all incredible gossips!”
Although he does not hold an elected office, Weikert is involved in his local community by serving on the local zoning board and the comprehensive planning committee for his township. He is a senior advisor to a member of the PA State House of Representatives. There is no doubt that Weikert loves politics…well out of the spotlight.
As we conclude the interview, I look around his office. His desk, facing the doorway, is clean and clutter-free. The walls are lined with framed newspaper stories of historical moments throughout history such as the Apollo moon landing, the assassination of JFK, V-E Day, 9/11, the American Bicentennial – victory, tragedy, and memory all in a single long glance. I can see his love of history without him having to say a word.
I feel, as I assume his students do as well, that Immaculata is lucky that Weikert loves teaching even more than politics.