Introduction to American Politics
CMC Government 20 Honors Fall 2016
MW 11AM-12:15 PM, Roberts South 102
Office Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 1:15-2:15 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 is not a victimless offense, because it hurts fellow students. Please study our Statement of Academic Integrity, which reads in part: "The faculty of Claremont McKenna College is firmly committed to upholding the highest standards of academic integrity. Each faculty member has the responsibility to report cases of academic dishonesty to the Academic Standards Committee, which has the duty of dealing with cases of alleged academic dishonesty."
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.
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.
Aug 31: Introduction
"A text without a context is a pretext." -- traditional saying in systematic theology
Sept 12, 14: Equality, Natural Law, and the Declaration
"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
READ STRUNK AND WHITE FIRST!
Sept 19, 21: Equality of Condition and 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 26, 28: Constitutionalism["O]f those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants." -- Alexander Hamilton
October 3, 5: Congress and the Executive I
“Money is the
McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power
is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I cannot respect
someone who doesn’t see the difference.” -- Frank Underwood (Kevin
Spacey) in House of Cards.
Oct 10, 12: Congress and the Executive II
“The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties.” -- Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in House of Cards
Oct 19: Law and the Courts
“What we can decide, we can undecide. But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly. Cf. S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: ‘Spider-Man,’ p. 13 (1962) (‘[I]n this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility’)." -- Justice Elena Kagan
Oct 24, 26: Power and Community Action
Alinsky, pp. 3-97, 125-164
Oct 31, Nov 2: Parties and Interest Groups"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
Nov 7, 9: Parties and Elections
"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.
"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 21, 23: Equality I
"As late as the 80s, California was democratic in a fundamental sense, a place for outsiders and, increasingly, immigrants—roughly 60 percent of the population was considered middle class. Now, instead of a land of opportunity, California has become increasingly feudal. According to recent census estimates, the state suffers some of the highest levels of inequality in the country. By some estimates, the state’s level of inequality compares with that of such global models as the Dominican Republic, Gambia, and the Republic of the Congo." -- Joel Kotkin
Murray, prologue, ch. 1-2
Nov 28, 30: Equality II
"Insulation! That was the ticket. That was the term Rawlie Thorpe used. 'If you want to live in New York,' he once told Sherman, 'you've got to insulate, insulate, insulate,' meaning insulate yourself from those people." -- Tom Wolfe, in Bonfire of the Vanities
Murray, ch. 3-9
Dec 5, 7: Equality III
"How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a
Forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence
Impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?"
-- Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Murray, ch. 10-17.
FINAL EXAM: FRIDAY DECEMBER 16 AT 9 AM
Return to homepage