John T. Woolley is a University of California Santa Barbara political scientist and co-director of the American Presidency Project website. Before joining a panel discussion for a Zócalo/UCLA event titled, “Does the Expansion of Presidential Power Threaten the Constitution?” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles, he talked in the green room about how a 1946 novel about a populist demagogue is timely right now, and why a 1966 Rolling Stones album is still worth listening to.
Was there a particular teacher or professor who really influenced you or maybe even changed your life?
As an undergraduate at Oberlin College, my international relations professor George Lanyi. He singled out a paper of mine as a great model of how to identify a hypothesis and talk about it. The other was my graduate mentor at the University of Wisconsin, Leon Lindberg, who was really interested in energy policy and advanced industrial societies. He was open to working with people who were basically troublemakers.
Did you have a hero or role model when you were growing up?
My family lived in Birmingham and Nashville in the late ‘60s, an era of tumult. I was definitely very taken with, upset by, and concerned with the civil rights movement. The point when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated was a big deal.
Was King heroic to you?
He was in a sense. My parents were both very religious; my father was an ordained minister. And the fact that King was so articulate and embodied a sort of peaceful approach to conflict was something that they admired very much, and that in turn had a big effect on me.
Do you have a favorite 20th-century American author?
I enjoyed Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, which reflects a lot of fundamental political science principles. It’s very timely at this point.
Which social media website do you spend the most time on?
I don’t do a lot of social media. I quit going to Facebook; it didn’t make me feel good. I realized that people were posting these grandiose, hyper-realistic images of their lives, and I eventually decided I didn’t need to see it. Plus, I connected with old high school friends whose politics I no longer have any tolerance for.
Do you spend much time on any websites?
The place I’m most likely to go is BBC about Britain’s Premier League soccer results, and also my website, the American Presidency Project. I do monitor our president regularly on Twitter.
Which team do you support?
I tend to follow British and European teams that have U.S. national team players on them, like Tottenham when Clint Dempsey was there. I’d love to see Tottenham knock off Chelsea, because I’ve developed a real distaste for Chelsea.
Which musical instrument would you like to play?
As a kid I tried to play piano. And I own a couple guitars that I hardly ever play.
What was the first album you owned?
“Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass)” by The Rolling Stones, and the Temptations’ greatest hits, both of which I listened to a lot. Still very much worth listening to.