Introduction to American Politics
CMC Government 20 Spring 2010
MW 1:15-2:30 PM, Classroom Bauer 23
Office Hours: MW 11-noon, 4:15-5:15, and by appointment
Office: D16 Center Court Telephone: 909/607-4224
E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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.” Although politics often involves self-interest, Americans believe in ideals greater than their own gain. Public debates involve deliberation, that is, reasoning on the merits of policy. And citizens make sacrifices for one another and their country -- as a glance at any military cemetery will confirm. With these thoughts in mind, we take a realistic overview of American politics, with several major themes. One is the meaning of citizenship and its connection to deliberation and community service. A second is the continuing relevance of the Declaration of Independence. Historian Pauline Maier has called it "American Scripture," and since 1776, Americans have argued about its meaning. A third 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.
The course also aims to:
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:
Class participation and blog.......10%
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 factual knowledge and 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.
Class participation will hone your ability to think on your feet. This grade hinges on class discussions. I will call on students at random, and if you often miss sessions or fail to prepare, your grade will suffer.
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. As
part of your class participation grade, all students must post to the blog
at least twice.
Our class blog is at http://cmcgov20.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.
As part of your class participation grade, all students must post to the blog at least twice.
Joseph M. Bessette and John J. Pitney, Jr. , American Government and Politics: Deliberation, Democracy, and Citizenship (Boston: Wadsworth, 2011).
Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay, The Federalist Papers (New York: Signet, 2003 ).
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
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.
Jan 20: Introduction
"This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny. This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall; and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served in a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath." -- President Obama, inaugural address, January 20, 2009
Jan 25, 27: The American Political Order
"Thomas Jefferson wrote the most important words in American history: `all men are created equal.' Jefferson was also a slave owner, which made him a hypocrite. But the fact that Jefferson was living a life that was at odds with his principles doesn’t invalidate and shouldn't weaken the principle; it only means that we, as fallen creatures, need to strive harder to live up to what we know to be right." -- Peter Wehner
Feb 1, 3: The Constitution
"The Constitution affords all citizens life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Such values must not be limited to paper, but extend to public policy. Americans of all stripes pursue the constitutional rights to earn a living wage, to organize their labor, to have equal and high-quality public education; to have universal access to health care; to have unfettered access to capital, industry and technology; to have a government which protects the needy, rather than providing for the greedy." -- Rev. Jesse Jackson
FIRST ESSAY ASSIGNED FEBRUARY 3, DUE FEBRUARY 17
Feb 8, 10: Federalism
"It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country." -- Louis Brandeis
Feb 15, 17: American Citizenship
"I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God. In acknowledgement whereof I have hereunto affixed my signature." -- The oath of naturalization
Feb 22, 24: 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
SECOND ESSAY ASSIGNED FEBRUARY 24, DUE MARCH 10
Mar 1, 3: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights
District Attorney: “Where does it say that you have the right to kick down doors, torture suspects, deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? Why surely you've heard of the Fourth Amendment? What I'm saying is that man had rights.”
Dirty Harry: “Well, I'm all broken up over that man's rights.” -- from Dirty Harry
Mar 8, 10: Public Opinion, Political Participation and Interest Groups
"`This is a very good time to be a Democratic lobbyist . . . it's incredibly exciting to be able to engage with Democrats and really see things happen,' Podesta says one afternoon at her office in one of those cool, restored red-brick buildings on E Street. 'It's always a good time to be Heather Podesta.'" -- Washington Post, 8/23/09
Mar 15, 17: Spring Break
Mar 22, 24: Parties and Elections
"[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
THIRD ESSAY ASSIGNED MARCH 24, DUE APRIL 7
Mar 29, 31: Mass Media
"Follow the money." -- Not "Deep Throat"
Apr 5, 7: Congress
“If forced to tell the truth, most members of Congress would acknowledge that they did not fully or, in many cases, even partially read these bills before casting their votes." -- Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA)
Apr 12, 14: The Presidency
“Sixteen hundred Pennsylvania Avenue is 18 acres of sheer utopia, and like Utopia it can be isolated from reality quickly." -- Karl Rove
Apr 19, 21 Judiciary
"I was convinced that the law compelled a result that I would have opposed if I were a legislator." -- Justice John Paul Stevens, explaining why he backed decisions with "unwise" outcomes.
Apr 26, 28: Bureaucracy and Public Policy I
"I mean, if you think about -- if you think about it, UPS and FedEx are doing just fine, right? No, they are. It's the Post Office that's always having problems." -- President Obama, health insurance town hall, August 11, 2009
Bessette, ch. 15, 17.
May 3, 5: Bureaucracy and Public Policy II
"IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said in an interview that he does not prepare his own taxes because he finds the tax code `complex.'" -- Politics Daily, 1/12/10
Bessette, ch. 18-19.
FINAL EXAM: FRIDAY, MAY 14, AT 2:00 PM
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