The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Could Bipartisanship Have Prevented World War II?

Mon, February 15, 2010

John LewisJohn Lewis, a senior majoring in Government, Middle Eastern Studies, and History, and a member of the Government Honors Program, is heading to the 2010 National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Lewis will present his thesis research, “(Not) Sending Mixed Signals: Presidential Credibility, International Institutions, and Bipartisanship.” He is being supported by a grant from the student organization LAUNCH (Liberal Arts Undergraduate Research Chapter), which gave him the opportunity to present his research last November. Peter Trubowitz is supervising the thesis. 

Lewis’ research cuts across multiple areas of interest and sub-disciplines within political science, but most basically is concerned with the role of bipartisanship in international relations. The main argument is that when U.S. presidents try to craft new international institutions, bipartisanship signals short-term and long-term credibility to domestic and international actors, consequently increasing the likelihood of a successful presidential initiative. Domestically, reaching across the party aisle helps generate broad support, while internationally, doing so signals to foreign onlookers that the president enjoys support throughout the country.

Lewis’ project investigates Woodrow Wilson’s presidency and the failure of the League of Nations and contrasts these to the Roosevelt and Truman presidencies and the success of the United Nations. Concerning the League of Nations, Wilson refused to appoint any Republican senators to the negotiating delegation, refusing even to discuss the Treaty of Versailles with Republicans. The Roosevelt/Truman approach was much different, as Republicans, from the beginning, had a seat at the San Francisco negotiations over the United Nations and their proposals were given due consideration. Whereas Wilson feared the consequences of bringing Republicans into the process, following World War II, Republicans who participated in the UN negotiations subsequently served as spokespeople generating support for the plan.

While a project such as this coalesces for many reasons – pure interest, the right seminar at the right time, attentive faculty – Lewis was heavily influenced by his participation in the Normandy Scholars Program, which is dedicated to the study of World War II. Reaction to visiting Omaha Beach and the American cemetery at Normandy combined with study of the League of Nations’ failure and the human consequences of World War II, and pushed Lewis to question if anything could have been different following the First World War.

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