In the post-war United States, a permanent national security state has been created. It is expensive and complex, comprised of everything from the nation’s conventional military forces to expensive weapons programs and intelligence operations. At the end of wars, Congress has influence over the size of the national security state, but the president determines its trajectory. By analyzing federal spending for the Department of Defense, I argue that presidents prioritize certain types of cuts, such as a reduction of force structure, to meet their long-term goals. But to implement further reductions, a president must overcome opposition from subordinates, in the military as well as Congress. President Eisenhower did this in the 1950s by innovating; he implemented new policies, embraced new solutions to old policy problems, and adopted suggested alternatives by others in order to secure greater reductions in defense spending.

Modern Supreme Court nomination hearings are contentious political events, as evidenced by the four held during the 109th and 111th Congresses to confirm John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Senators appear to purposely raise suspicion of nominees through their questioning during Judiciary Committee hearings, connecting the label of “judicial restraint” with candidates who are men, white, straight, and prone to “reason.” This is contrasted by appointees thought to embody the feminine, non-white, queer, and emotional practices of “judicial activism.” This dichotomous construction has made debates during the nomination process destructively reductive. A paradox thus emerges: by ignoring the importance of descriptive representation, the identity of potential justices to the Supreme Court becomes one of the most salient issues during the hearings; subsequently, this has resulted in senators using cues to create a caricature or “straw man” of nominees belonging to one or more minority groups in order to weaken and discredit otherwise qualified jurists and achieve a party “win” against the White House.

  • “JFK, George W., & Men on the Moon” (in progress)

Why did the United States heed JFK’s 1961 call to put an American on the moon by the end of the decade whereas George W. Bush’s call for a permanent moon base four decades later was summarily dismissed? I argue that follow through with the plan to land humans on the moon was made possible due to two factors: the convergence of the motivations of various political actors involved with the Apollo Program combined with the presence of an external challenger to the United States’ position within the international system. I conclude that Bush’s 2004 proposal ultimately failed because of its singular purpose and lack of an international competitor.

  • “Less is More: Eisenhower, Carter, & Security-Based Retrenchment” (in progress)

With several administrations during the Cold War, presidents chose to pursue cuts to defense spending despite heightened threats to national security.  This is surprising, as one might expect that an increase in the perception of threat would lead to corresponding increases in defense expenditures. By analyzing the presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s and Jimmy Carter in the mid-70s, I argue presidents engage in security-based retrenchment and cut defense spending during times of heightened threats in order to maintain economic prosperity. These cases demonstrate that executives view their role in maintaining national security as necessitating a strong national economy. Economic vitality ensures the maintenance of the components of the national security state that would be required should a hot war start.