The Week That Was

Looking back on what was, by all accounts, a historic week, a few moments stand out:

On the morning of the third presidential election day I was spending as an academic, I already knew something was afoot, when I found the quad at Columbia busy with activity – at 8 o’clock in the morning. Confirmation came as I crossed the quad to my office, overhearing not one, not two, but three cell phone conversations in which students were asking about, or reporting on, the length of the lines at their voting locations.

That evening, at the home of a Columbia Law colleague, those in attendance kept excusing themselves to the back room, to take congratulatory calls from friends and family overseas. One reported a brief voicemail they received from Europe: “Thank you!”

At the very end of the night, as I hailed a cab, I debated whether to try to catch a train back to Princeton, or spend the night in the city, given how late it was. I asked the young driver how long it would take to get to Penn Station, to see whether I would make the next train. “Everyone’s out in the street, so it may take a while. Where are you going?” Princeton, I told him. “I’ll take you!” No, no need to go all that way. “No, it’s Obama night! I want to take you!” I protested, but he insisted. “As long as you don’t mind that I yell “Obama!!!” out the window once in a while, let’s go.”

The next day, finally, I had lunch – as is the custom at the Institute for Advanced Study – with faculty members Joan Scott and Danielle Allen, emeritus professor Michael Walzer, and Sarah Hirschman, the wife of emeritus professor Albert O. Hirschman. Each wore a yellow smiley face sticker, distributed by the cafeteria’s sous chef. Perhaps more notably, one-by-one, each offered a report on their canvassing and phone banking work of the day before, for the Obama campaign.

Quite a historic week.

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8 Responses

  1. ok says:

    And quite a shameless and embarrassing namedropping self-promoting post

  2. Robert Ahdieh says:

    Sorry you thought so.

    I had the same concern, but given what I wanted to convey, about the range of people who were moved by the election, the alternatives seemed worse. Would it have been preferable to reference “prominent scholars at top schools” or something of that sort?

    And presumably you weren’t all that impressed by the cab driver, in any case, though he got more attention than anyone else…

  3. Robert Ahdieh says:

    P.S. I also thought the image of Walzer wearing a smiley face sticker was worth a bit of shameless name-dropping…

  4. ok says:

    the cab driver was driving you to princeton after you spent the day at columbia from a home of a columbia colleague.

  5. Anon says:

    And many say that there is no liberal bias in academia.

    Thanks for proving a point.

  6. Paul Horwitz says:

    Robert, can I make a slightly less snarky point? I’m not sure there’s really much evidence about the range of people moved by the election — although, as it turns out, I think a wide range of people *were* moved by the election. The problem is not your conclusion, but your sample. Questions of liberal bias aside, I think the range represented by students and prominent faculty members at Columbia and Princeon runs the gamut from A to B, as Dorothy Parker once wrote. A young cab driver in New York doesn’t add much to the sample. Now, if you’d been in Paducah, that would be a different story.

  7. Robert Ahdieh says:


    As an attempt at capture a representative sample of the population, you’re absolutely right. I think what struck me more than the wide range of folks moved by the election, however, was the relatively exuberant/engaged response of those who were.

    Thus, students, people overseas, academics, and maybe even New York cabbies may well have been pleased when Bill Clinton was on the ballot and elected in 1992. What I’m less sure of is whether they woke up early to vote, called friends in the States to thank them, canvassed and wore smiley faces at work, or gave free rides to their passengers. If not, then each case becomes (at least for me) somewhat striking.


    P.S. And on the question of liberal bias in academia, if by that we mean a greater representation of liberals in academia than in the general population, are there actually folks who dispute that, as a descriptive claim? Surely the report of my day can’t possibly constitute significant new proof of that point…

  8. Frank says:

    For Paul: Folks in Newark, NJ seemed quite thrilled to me. And Iselin, NJ. And up in Harlem. And the workers at the gym I go to, and the people at the cafeteria and security desk. Don’t know if we’re getting close to Sarah Palin’s “real America” yet, but we’re trying!