American Political Parties

CMC Gov 123, Spring 2014

Monday and Wednesday 1:15-2:30 PM Classroom:  Roberts South 102

J.J. Pitney -- Office: 232 Kravis

Telephone: 909/607-4224

Office Hours:  Tuesday and Thursday 1-3 PM 

If these times are inconvenient, please make an appointment


See also my page on elections, parties, and campaign finance



In 1885, a political scientist named Woodrow Wilson wrote:  “Neither of the two principal parties is of one mind with itself.  Each tolerates all sorts of difference of creed and variety of aim within its own ranks ... They are like armies without officers, engaged on a campaign which has no great cause at its back.  Their names and traditions, not their hopes and policy, keep them together.”  Was Wilson accurately describing his times?  Does his observation still hold true?  If so, why?  In this course, we shall explore such questions by studying the history of American political parties, as well as their current condition.   This task poses a challenge, since the term party has many shades of meaning, including:
We shall see how the basic features of the American constitutional system -- federalism, bicameralism and the separation of powers -- tend to fragment and disperse the lines of party authority.   In this course, we shall study all the multiple dimensions of American political parties and consider what they mean for democratic government. 



Class sessions will include lecture and discussion.  Finish each week's readings before class because our discussions will involve those readings.  We shall also talk about breaking news stories about party politics, so you must read a good daily news source such as Politico or Real Clear Politics.




Our class blog is at  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:

Remember that that blog is on the open Internet.  Do not post anything that you would not an employer to see. If you want more confidentiality, post to the forum on the class Sakai page.



The following will make up your course grade:


Plagiarism or any other form of academic dishonesty will result in referral to the Academic Standards Committee.  See:

Required Books

Schedule  The schedule is subject to change, with advance notice. 


Jan 22:  Introduction

“A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning Government and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power, or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to human passions, have in turn divided mankind into parties ....”-- James Madison, Federalist 10.

Jan 27, 29:  The American Party System

"You are a Democrat. What's the matter with you? Are you wicked?"  -- Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) in Lincoln
"I remember my body. Flabby, pasty-skinned, riddled with phlebitis. A good Republican body. God, how I loved it." -- Richard Nixon on Futurama

Feb 3, 5:  State and Local Party Organizations

"There's an honest graft, and I'm an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin': `I seen my opportunities and I took `em.'" -- George Washington Plunkitt


Feb 10, 12:  National Party Organization  and Activists

 “Always kick `em when they’re down.” -- Lee Atwater

Feb 17, 19: Campaign Finance and Partisan Outside Groups

"And you can't talk to the campaigns directly. You can't coordinate with to them. But you can play bridge." -- Karl Rove
"We are under no illusion that BCRA will be the last congressional statement on the matter. Money, like water, will always find an outlet." --  Justices Stevens and O'Connor in McConnell v. FEC

Feb 24, 26:   Party in the Electorate 

"What that suspicion and cynicism produce is a huddling effect among partisans. Convinced that the honest brokers simply don’t exist, they tend to seek political sustenance from those who affirm their points of view. They watch the same TV shows, listen to the same radio stations, shop at the same places and live in the same neighborhoods as people who believe like they do. Interactions with people with which they disagree and entities like Congress or the news media dwindle." --Chris Cillizza

Mar 3, 5:  Choosing Candidates

"Oops." -- Rick Perry


Mar 10, 12: Parties in General Election Campaigns

"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.

Mar 17, 19: Spring Break


Mar 24, 26: Parties in Government I

"So, I am to receive thirty percent for finance, for legal protection and political influence. Is that what you're telling me?I said that I would see you because I had heard that you were a serious man, to be treated with respect. But I must say no to you and let me give you my reasons. It's true I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn't be so friendly if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling which they consider a harmless vice." -- Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) in The Godfather
March 31, Apr 2: Parties in Government II

"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

Apr 7, 9: Parties in Government III 

“Democrats are...the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it.” -- P.J. O’Rourke


Apr 14, 16: Technology and the Future I

"To divide 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, Whig circular, 1840

Apr 21, 23: Technology and the Future II

"Technology is not about the tools. It is about people. It's about creating a culture that drives metrics over hunches and BS `message of the day' fire drills." -- Patrick Ruffini

Apr 28, 30: Technology and the Future III

"It's amazing: every year, this part of our job gets easier. Between Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr, people are surveilling themselves." -- Phil Coulson, Agent of SHIELD.


May 5, 7: Appraisal

“Above all else in politics, remember that it isn’t enough just to have a set of principles. You have to have people out there representing them, getting elected on the basis of them.” -- William Rusher



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