Katy Harriger is a professor in the department of politics and international affairs at Wake Forest University and the author of The Special Prosecutor in American Politics. Her research interests include the tensions between executive power and the rule of law as well as young people’s civic engagement. Prior to taking part in a Zócalo Public Square/UCLA Downtown panel titled “Are American Presidents Above the Law?” at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles, she spoke in the green room about her favorite presidents, the strangest job she’s ever had, and the worst special prosecutor.
Who is your favorite president and why?
I have more than one favorite president for different reasons. So, Obama, because he was, and still is in some ways, inspiring. I like the way in which he mobilized young people, and I saw the way my students responded to him. And my son.
I would say FDR. I guess for obvious reasons. Probably because what my parents—well, what I’ve learned about him in terms of the things that he did that were significant—but also the way my parents talked about him. You know, getting through a depression and a World War was pretty big.
And then I’d say Lincoln. I’ve been teaching about him recently. Getting the 13th Amendment passed was pretty inspiring. So, there’s one Republican in there.
What question do your students ask you most often?
“Will the test be hard?” And I say, “Of course.” About politics they most often ask: “Why bother?”
What do you miss about Connecticut?
Going to Boston.
What American figure, living or dead, would you most like to meet?
If you didn’t live in the U.S., what country would you want to live in?
Probably Italy. Nice people. Beautiful countryside. Good wine.
What’s your favorite place to visit in North Carolina?
Probably Asheville, although I love the beach, too. But there’s more to do in Asheville.
Who has the world’s best constitution?
I’m pretty sure it’s not us, although I used to think that we probably did. I would say just in terms of the way it reads, as opposed to necessarily how it works, I would pick South Africa.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
I have a lot. People throwing gum on sidewalks. Or leaving their pushcarts out in the parking lot at the grocery store. In terms of politics, my biggest pet peeve is people who find out I’m a political scientist and ask me what I think about something. But they don’t actually really want to know what I think about it, they want to tell me what they think about it! And they think their view on some political issue is completely informed. Sometimes it is, but it’s usually not.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
Strangest job I ever had. I guess it depends on what you mean by the word strange. The hardest job I ever had was cleaning hotel rooms when I was in college. That’s probably not a job people think that I had. And I was terrible at it
Who was the best special prosecutor of all time?
Probably Leon Jaworski and Watergate. Perhaps Robert Mueller, but we don’t know yet. Although I think he’s been a good one. Kept his head down and done his job.
Who was the worst special prosecutor?
One of them who demonstrated some of the dangers of special prosecutors was Newbold Morris during the Truman administration. He was appointed to investigate whether there had been tax fixing in the Department of Justice. And he decided that as a part of his investigation, he should ask everybody in the top level of the executive branch, which was probably thousands of people, to fill out a form revealing all of their financial records. So basically, he was appointed for a particular task and decided to broaden it—substantially. And he was fired by Truman.
Have you ever been prosecuted?
Have I ever been prosecuted? No, thank God!
Why do you think Americans don’t value deliberation more?
Because they don’t know how to do it. I don’t think it comes naturally to people. You have to learn to do it, and most people never learn.
What’s the best movie or book about a president?
I’m going to say, Lincoln, the movie. That may be because I just watched it recently, but it is a great movie.
What magazines and newspapers do you currently subscribe to?
The New York Times, the Winston-Salem Journal, The Economist, and Bon Appétit.
What would you do if you had one more hour in the day?
Walk more. Go for walks.
Who was your childhood hero?
I’m trying to think of when I first started thinking about heroes—or heroines. It would have been Amelia Earhart. I was very interested in pioneers, as a group. Probably because I read Little House on the Prairie.
What’s hanging on your living room walls?
African art from Nigeria. And a picture, a painting—well it’s a print, it’s not mine—by an artist that I discovered when I spent a semester in Vienna named Hunter Vassar. Interestingly enough, he paints very much like the Nigerian artists.