By Julie Schumacher
Lawrence R. Jacobs, the Walter F. and Joan Mondale Chair for Political Studies and director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance in the Hubert H. Humphrey School, is a political scientist and policy analyst. He is also a pundit, appearing regularly on TPT’s Friday evening Almanac and offering commentary on NPR, MPR, and CNN, to name a few examples. But who is he, really? As his spouse, I have an inside track and am willing to answer a few essential questions.
On the news, why do I always see Professor Jacobs interviewed outdoors—even in inclement weather—in what appears to be his front yard?
Remember the BBC interview with a South Korean scholar that was so charmingly interrupted when the scholar’s kids and then his wife erupted frantically into the room, the baby lurching along in his infant walker like a planet recently released from its orbit? That would have been us, 20 years ago. No one wants to see a chain of naked Barbie dolls or a food fight when they turn on the news. Eventually our children grew up and moved out, but the front sidewalk, by then, had become a default. The only interruptions now come from leaf blowers, dog-walkers, and (on a recent Mother’s Day) the sight of Jacobs’s mud-caked, sunburned spouse mulching the lawn.
Illustration by Eric Hanson Jacobs seems to be a natty dresser: Is he a formal suit-and-tie person 24/7?
Hardly. At home, he prefers clothes that might be mistaken for unusable castoffs from Goodwill.
He’s fairly serious on air and on camera. Does he have a sense of humor?
Let me just say that, in my study at home, I have occasionally opened a drawer or looked upon a shelf and found a realisticlooking rubber rat or plastic crow, neither of which could have been set in place by anyone other than my spouse. And it’s probably worth noting that, on Halloween, during election years, he has been known to hold a fake microphone and preside over a haunted voting booth (12-and-under voters only) in our front yard. It’s amusing to watch concerned parents try to correct the vote their 2-year-old has just cast with a red or blue crayon.
What’s it like to live with someone who’s always on the hook for a political soundbite? Is your daily conversation filled with politics?
LJ: “Did you see what the mayor said about [lengthy paragraph follows]?”
JS: “Um, no. By the way, there’s a poetry reading in Minneapolis tomorrow night.”
LJ: “Tomorrow? Hm. I think I might have to be at—”
JS: “I checked your calendar already. It looks like you’re free.”
LJ: “Right. Are there more beans on the stove?”
JS: “No, we ate them. I went to your political event last week.”
LJ: “Yes, but that political event was—”
LJ: “I thought it was—”
LJ: “It might have run long, but it was definitely timely. The mayor—”
JS: “Two and a quarter hours isn’t timely. Do you know what William Carlos Williams said about poetry?”
LJ: “You don’t need to tell me who William Carlos Williams was.”
JS: “He said, ‘It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men . . .’”
LJ: “Pass the ketchup? I read Williams in high school.”
JS: “‘. . . die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there.’”
LJ: “I’m not going to die, miserably or otherwise, from a lack of poetry. And if we’re keeping score, I think you owed me at least one political evening, so after last week’s event we should be even; now you’ve caught up.”
JS: “Wrong. In fact you owe me two poetry readings—or one poetry and one fiction. Remember that fundraiser I went to? The reading starts tomorrow at 7.”
LJ: “But I—”
JS: “It’s a plan, then. Seven.”
LJ: “How about I try to get there by 7:30?”
What was Professor Jacobs’s training? Do you know how he came to be a pundit?
Well, I first met him in a freshman English class in 1978. He missed class a few times and asked if, in order to catch up, he could borrow my notes. I made a deal with him: He could borrow my notes (which were handwritten and elaborately color-coded) if he did my laundry. I hated doing laundry. This was an important precedent: He is still very skilled when it comes to laundry. I don’t know whether his experience with the washer and dryer contributed to his professional success, but it couldn’t have hurt.
You both teach at the U. Do you ever get together for lunch on campus?
He’s on the West Bank; I’m on the East. He studies facts; I make stuff up. (He once told me he was relieved that we have different last names.) I don’t think we’ve ever run into each other on campus. People on the West Bank, I’ve found, are better dressed.
The state of politics these days could stress almost anyone out. How does he cope?
We have three very needy and very sociable cats. We keep a regular cocktail hour. And there is always the catharsis associated with doing laundry.
Your spouse carefully cultivates a nonpartisan profile: Which way does he really lean, politically?
I might be headed for divorce if I answered that question.
Julie Schumacher is the author of 10 works of fiction, including Dear Committee Members, which won the Thurber Prize for American Humor, and the recent novel The Shakespeare Requirement. She directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of Minnesota and is married to Lawrence R. Jacobs.
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