WOOSTER, Ohio – This month’s political headlines, featuring clashes between progressive freshmen Democratic members of Congress and the Trump administration on immigration reform, reflect some of the findings Jeff Lantis hits on in his latest book, “Foreign Policy Advocacy and Entrepreneurship: How a New Generation in Congress is Shaping U.S. Engagement with the World,” just released by the University of Michigan Press. Lantis is a professor of political science and chair of the global and international studies program at The College of Wooster.
In “Foreign Policy Advocacy and Entrepreneurship,” Lantis explores how newly-elected members of Congress can become highly influential in policymaking, and immigration policy reforms are just one prominent example of the cases he studies. Whereas in the past, junior lawmakers would fall in step with the party line, these new, dynamic leaders have boldly inserted themselves into key issues, sometimes in the face of opposition within their own party leadership.
“The younger generation in Congress are conducting fairly sophisticated advocacy and activist campaigns to move the policy needle. While traditionally, new members can be seen as less influential, my book shows how they can achieve their goals by using new tools like social media and forming coalitions with civil society groups,” Lantis explained. “The face of Congress is changing, and new members are bringing fresh and diverse perspectives to the policy process.”
One effective method being used by this new generation is what Lantis labels an alternative “outside-inside strategy.” He details in the book how savvy members of Congress have borrowed this approach from social movements and interest groups. They work with other members of Congress “to push for inside legislative change while the same time creating outside pressure to support and encourage that change.”
In addition to immigration policy, Lantis examines other hot topics that some of the freshest faces on Capitol Hill are trying to impact, such as stopping the Iran nuclear deal, mitigating climate change, promoting roles for women in combat, and more. The book features case studies and research that Lantis conducted alongside Wooster students Ethan Barham ’18 and Matthew Mayes ’20, each of whom collected data on the background and motivations of Congress and their engagement in the foreign policy process.
Among the conclusions Lantis draws is a stern warning to the so-called old guard of American politics. “My research suggests that leaders who dismiss insurgent voices often do so at their own political peril. These younger entrepreneurs are making a difference in the long-run development of policies. They are changing public sentiments and creating pressure for Congress to move the policy needle,” he said.
These issues—and the clash between policy entrepreneurs and the establishment—will continue to be major stories up through the 2020 general election cycle, and Lantis, who has now written nine books and published dozens of research articles, welcomes the discussion of these topics with members of the media. His areas of expertise include foreign policy analysis, entrepreneurship, nuclear nonproliferation, and critical constructivism.
For more perspective on how junior members of Congress are making a difference, check out Lantis’s recent podcast interview with the “New Books Network.”