Introduction to American Politics
CMC Government 20 Honors Fall 2013
MW Noon-1:10 PM, Kravis Center, Roberts South 102
Office Hours: Tuesday and Thursday 1-3 PM, and by appointment
Office: Kravis 232 Telephone: 909/607-4224
Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed: “Some . . . deny the existence of evil and others the existence of grace. The art of politics is to live with the reality of both.” With this comment in mind, we take a realistic overview of American politics. This course aims to:
In addition to providing general background on American politics, this course also emphasizes certain themes. One is the continuing relevance of the Declaration of Independence. Since 1776, Americans have argued about its meaning, particularly the phrase "that all men are created equal." Another is the central role of religion in America political life. Tocqueville said that religion is the first of our political institutions, and we shall ponder what he meant by that. A third is the meaning of citizenship and its connection to deliberation and community service.
Some of the readings are provocative. Do not assume that your professor agrees with everything in the readings, or that you need to do so. Feel free to challenge anything you read, but back up what you say.
Classes will include lecture and discussion. Finish the readings
before class because our discussions will involve those readings.
We shall also talk about breaking news, so you must read a good news source
such as the
The following will make up your course grade:
The papers will develop your skills in writing, research, and political analysis. When grading, I do take the quality of writing into account, applying the standards of Strunk and White. If you object to this approach, do not take this course – or anything else that I teach.
The final examination will test your comprehension of the readings.
In addition to the required readings (below), I may also give you handouts and web links covering current events and basic factual information. The final will cover this material.
Participation includes your activity in class and online. I will call on students at random, and if you often miss sessions or fail to prepare, your grade will suffer. In addition, you may volunteer comments and questions. This experience will hone your ability to think on your feet. I expect that you will post comments and other material online (see below).
As a courtesy to your fellow students, please arrive promptly and refrain from eating in class.
Carefully check the due dates for papers, as well as the date of the final exam. Arrange your schedule accordingly. Do not plan on seeking extensions or make-up work.
Plagiarism will mean referral to the Academic Standards Committee.
Blog Our class blog is at
shall post videos, graphs, news stories, and other material there. We
shall use some of this material in class, and you may review the rest at your
convenience. You will all receive invitations to post to the blog.
(Please let me know if you do not get such an invitation.) I
encourage you to use the blog in these ways: To post questions or comments about the
readings before we discuss them in class; To follow up on class discussions
with additional comments or questions. To post relevant news items or videos.
Our class blog is at http://gov20h.blogspot.com. I shall post videos, graphs, news stories, and other material there. We shall use some of this material in class, and you may review the rest at your convenience. You will all receive invitations to post to the blog. (Please let me know if you do not get such an invitation.) I encourage you to use the blog in these ways:
To post questions or comments about the readings before we discuss them in class;
To follow up on class discussions with additional comments or questions.
To post relevant news items or videos.
Remember that the blog is on the open Internet. Post nothing that would look bad to a potential employer. If you want more confidentiality, post to the forum on the class Sakai page.
Akhil Reed Amar, America's Constitution: A Biography (New York: Random House, 2006).
James W. Ceaser, Andrew E. Busch, and John J. Pitney, Jr., After Hope and Change: the 2012 Elections and American Politics (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013).
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, The Federalist Papers (New York: Signet, 2003 ).
Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010 (New York: Crown Forum, 2013).
William Strunk and E. B. White, The Elements of Style, 4th ed. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999).
Alexis deTocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. George Lawrence, ed. J.P. Mayer (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, [1835/40]). Please use the Lawrence/Mayer edition, which has gone through several printings. Other translations have different wording, which would cause confusion.
Schedule (Subject to change, with advance notice).
In addition to the readings below, I may also supply you with various handouts and Internet links.
Sept 4: Introduction
Sept 9, 11: Principles of the American Political Order
"[S]ecularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryan, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King — indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history — were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their `personal morality' into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition." -- Barack Obama
Sept 16, 18: American Civic Culture
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers—and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce—and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution—and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” -- Not Alexis deTocqueville
FIRST ESSAY ASSIGNED SEPTEMBER 16, DUE SEPTEMBER 25.
READ STRUNK AND WHITE FIRST!
Sept 23, 25: The Constitution
"The notion of America’s founding fathers as proto-rappers is not far-fetched. The show depicts Hamilton as a revolutionary rebel and volatile genius whose hopes for the presidency were dashed by one of America’s first sex scandals, an extramarital affair. His fatal duel with Burr echoes the kind of verbal and territorial skirmishes that preceded the deaths of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur." -- Stephen Holden, New York Times, January 12, 2012, on "The Hamilton Mixtape."
Sept 30, Oct 2: Congress
"Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.” -- Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in House of Cards.
SECOND PAPER ASSIGNED OCT 2, DUE OCT 16
Oct 7, 9: The Presidency and Executive Branch
“Sixteen hundred Pennsylvania Avenue is 18 acres of sheer utopia, and like Utopia it can be isolated from reality quickly." -- Karl Rove
Oct 14, 16: Judiciary
"If I were king, I would not allow people to go about burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged." -- Justice Antonin Scalia
Oct 23: Power and Interest Groups
"You become a better organizer when you understand that there is nothing new under the sun. All the pitfalls, the problems, the disputes — this is the way human beings are. Politics is a human science and this guy [Alinsky] understood that. He was practical. He understood how to get competing factions and interests and individuals to get in the same room and form what he called a ‘people's organization’ and to move in the same direction to take on city hall." -- FreedomWorks organizer Brendan Steinhauser
Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals (New York: Vintage, 1989), 126-164.
Oct 28, 30: Parties and Elections I
"Look at your houses, your parents, your wives, and your children. Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames, hoary hairs bathed in blood, female chastity violated, or children writhing on the pike and halberd?" -- Connecticut Courant, September 30, 1800, on what the election of Thomas Jefferson would bring.
THIRD PAPER ASSIGNED OCTOBER 30, DUE NOVEMBER 13.
Nov 4, 6: Parties and Elections II
"[D]ivide their county into small districts, and to appoint in each a subcommittee, whose duty it shall be to make a perfect list of all the voters in their respective districts, and to ascertain with certainty for whom they will vote. If they meet with men who are doubtful as to the man they will support, such voters should be designated in separate lines, with the name of the man they will probably support." -- Abraham Lincoln, 1840
Nov 11, 13: Federalism and Domestic Public Policy
"THE SUPREME COURT HAS STRUCK DOWN THE INDIVIDUAL MANDATE FOR HEALTH CARE" -- CNN, June 28, 2012
"CORRECTION: THE SUPREME COURT BACKS ALL PARTS OF PRESIDENT OBAMA'S SIGNATURE HEALTH CARE LAW" -- CNN, June 28, 2012, minutes later.
Nov 18, 20: Citizenship, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights
"I know that a lot of people have hoped and prayed for that moment. A lot of people have come from places where they, of course, did not have freedom. I can empathize with it. I know what they must feel. I retreat to my own moment, when I was given that. The oath of allegiance is very emotional to me— also the flag. I saw the flag going up where the swastika had been flying for years." -- Holocaust survivor Gerda Weismann Klein, reflecting on naturalization ceremonies.
Nov 25, 27: Equality I
"...New York is not Orange County, Calif., which is to say it is a city densely populated with affluent liberals who go to dinner parties and denounce the widening gulf between rich and poor." -- Ginia Bellafante, New York Times
Murray, prologue, ch. 1-2
Dec 2, 4: Equality II
"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters." -- Frederick Douglass
Murray, ch. 3-9
Dec 9, 11: Equality III
"Ultimately, equality of voice is the most important equality issue of all." -- Deborah Stone
Murray, ch. 10-17.
FINAL EXAM: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17 AT 7 PM
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