Introduction to American Politics
CMC Government 20 Honors Fall 2011
MW 2:45-4:00 PM, Kravis Center, LC63

Office Hours: MW 11-noon, 4:15-5:15, and by appointment

J.J. Pitney
 Office: Kravis 232    Telephone:  909/607-4224
E-mail: or



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.  Historian Pauline Maier has called it "American Scripture," and since 1776, Americans have argued about its meaning.  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 RealClearPolitics or Politico


The following will make up your course grade: 


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:

Required Books

Schedule (Subject to change, with advance notice).

In addition to the readings below, I may also supply you with various handouts and Internet links.

Aug 31:  Introduction

"[S]ecularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, 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 5, 7:  Principles of 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

Sept 12, 14:  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 



Sept 19, 21: 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

Sept 26, 28: 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." -- former Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA)


Oct 3, 5:  The Presidency

“Sixteen hundred Pennsylvania Avenue is 18 acres of sheer utopia, and like Utopia it can be isolated from reality quickly." -- Karl Rove

Oct 10, 12: 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.

Oct 19: Bureaucracy

"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

Oct 24, 26: Federalism and Domestic Public Policy

"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


Oct 31, Nov 2:  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.

November 7, 9: Electoral Process

"[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

November 14, 16: Parties 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, 8/23/08

November 21, 23:  Media and Popular Culture

"Follow the money." -- Not "Deep Throat"

Nov 28, 30:  Political Warfare


"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

Dec 5, 7:  Political Warfare and the Future of American Politics


"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



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