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Talking Politics

Don't talk politics in the office, at the dinner table, or in any polite social setting where heated debate might make people uncomfortable or get you into trouble. Or so we're told. But isn't there value in reasonable people disagreeing? In discussing such disagreements? In standing — or giving — ground in an intellectual arena? Isn't that how we make progress?

These questions formed a running theme of this issue, which was under way as the nation watched a new president take office. It came up in freelance writer Jeffrey Anderson's interview with Eliot Cohen ("The Outsider," page 44). Cohen is a professor at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and, for nearly two years, he was a counselor to then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He says the secretary brought him — an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war — into the fold because she wanted the kind of "freewheeling conversation that academics have with one another." It came up in my interview with Christopher Dreisbach, A&S '81 (MA), '88 (PhD), an ethics professor in the School of Education's Division of Public Safety Leadership ("Your Other Life," page 72). In the classroom, he hashes out moral issues with law enforcement officers and intelligence agents, many of whom, Dreisbach says, are on the opposite end of the political spectrum from him. But he emphasized that they discuss those issues with respect and affection. It also came up in "Tiny Cells, Huge Possibilities" (page 28), senior writer Michael Anft's story about stem cell research. That debate raises issues such as when human life begins and whether embryos should be used for science and medicine — just the kinds of discussions that go on in research labs and ethics think tanks around the university.

That's the point. During those times when political debate rages, it's not just reassuring that there are spaces, especially at a place like Johns Hopkins, for meaningful, respectful give-and-take. It's imperative. In that spirit, we didn't hold back from political topics in this issue. In fact, add to the above "All This from Hip-Hop" (page 36), Krieger School political science assistant professor Lester Spence's thoughts on rap's role in last fall's election. And speaking of debate, I'd love to hear what you think.
— Catherine Pierre

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