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Robert Spitzer (political scientist)

Robert James Spitzer (born September 12, 1953) is an American political scientist, commentator, and author. Spitzer is the author of numerous books, articles, essays, papers, and op-eds on many topics related to American politics. His areas of specialty include the American presidency and gun politics.[1][2][3][4][5]


  • Career 1
  • Views 2
    • On the American presidency 2.1
    • On gun control 2.2
  • Published works 3
    • Partial bibliography 3.1
  • Personal life and education 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Spitzer is a distinguished service professor and chair of the political science department at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Cortland.[4][6] He has taught at Cortland since 1979, and as a visiting professor at Cornell University since 1988. At Cortland, he has served as chair of the Political Science Department from 1983-1989, 2005-2006, and from 2008 to the present. He served as a member of the New York State Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution from 1986-1990.


On the American presidency

In 1983 Spitzer's first book, The Presidency and Public Policy, challenged the model for presidential success espoused by Richard E. Neustadt with a policy approach based on Theodore J. Lowi's "arenas of power." Spitzer argued that the type of policy proposed by a president, not personal political skill, shaped the president's success in Congress. Michael A. Genovese felt "a more explicit application" to Lyndon Johnson's and Ronald Reagan's early years would have improved Spitzer's study, but otherwise gave it a collegial thumbs-up.[7]

Prior to 1988's The Presidential Veto, there had been no analytical, book-length account of the subject in almost 100 years. Spitzer's work examines its history and concludes that the presidential veto has lost the revisionary power as the Founder's understood it at the Constitutional Convention. Melvin A. Kulbicki called the book an excellent text and a "well-written blend of theory and practical politics."[8]

Spitzer served as president of the Presidency Research Group of the American Political Science Association from 2001-2003.[9]

On gun control

Since the 1980s, Spitzer has written books, spoken at public gatherings, written articles for newspapers, and appeared on numerous radio and television shows about gun control.[10][11] His written work on the subject has appeared in the Washington Post[12] and the New York Daily News.[13] He has appeared on NPR's Fresh Air With Terry Gross[14] and on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann.[15]

After former president Jimmy Carter wrote an op-ed about the assault weapons ban,[16] the New York Times asked its readers, "Where do you stand on assault weapons?" Spitzer replied that one approach to "breaking the political deadlock over gun control" would be to treat it like international arms relations and "renounce disarmament but embrace arms control, especially for weapons of military origin."[17]

Prior to and since the United States Supreme Court rulings in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), Spitzer also argues that history and prior law do not support the individualist interpretation of the Second Amendment reflected in these two recent court rulings.[18] Since the cases were handed down, he wrote: "The Heller and McDonald rulings established, as a matter of law, an individual rights interpretation of the Second Amendment. But while judges can change the law, they cannot change history, and the historical record largely contradicts the bases for these two recent rulings."[19]

Spitzer is the author of five books on gun control: The Politics of Gun Control,[20] The Right to Bear Arms,[21] Gun Control: A Documentary and Reference Guide,[22] coauthor, along with Glenn H. Utter, of Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights[23]and Guns across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights[24]

Published works

In addition to the American presidency and gun politics, Spitzer has researched and written on many topics related to American politics and public policy, including the behavior of American institutions, national elections, the mass media, the Constitution, and New York State politics and policy. His monograph The Right to Life Movement and Third Party Politics was a close examination of the New York-based Right to Life political party.[25] His book Saving the Constitution from Lawyers: How Legal Education and Law Reviews Distort Constitutional Meaning,[26] argues that legal training serves the practice of law well, but, according to the Harvard Law Review, "presents a sharp critique of the 'wayward constitutional theorizing' published in law journals."[27] Pulitizer Prize winning historian Jack Rakove said of this book, "Nowhere is the gap between pretension and performance [in legal education] more evident than in the realm of constitutional law, and Robert Spitzer explains why."[28] Since 1997, Spitzer has been series editor for the book series on American Constitutionalism published by SUNY Press.[5]

Partial bibliography

  • 1983 The Presidency and Public Policy
  • 1987 The Right to Life Movement and Third Party Politics
  • 1988 The Presidential Veto
  • 1990 The Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution
  • 1993 President and Congress
  • 1993 Media and Public Policy
  • 1995 The Politics of Gun Control (6th edition, 2015)
  • 2000 Politics and Constitutionalism
  • 2001 The Right to Bear Arms
  • 2002 Essentials of American Politics
  • 2005 The Presidency and the Constitution
  • 2008 Saving the Constitution from Lawyers
  • 2009 Gun Control: A Documentary and Reference Guide
  • 2011 Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights (with Glenn Utter)
  • 2015 We the People: Essentials Edition (10th ed., co-author)[29]
  • 2015 Guns across America: Reconciling Gun Rules and Rights[30]

Personal life and education

Spitzer was born in Utica, New York in 1953.[31] He received his A.B. degree, summa cum laude, from SUNY Fredonia in 1975, his Master's degree from Cornell University in 1978, and his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1980.


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External links

  • Faculty/Staff Detail: Robert Spitzer Biography at State University of New York (SUNY) Cortland
  • Presidents and Executive Politics section of the American Political Science Association
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