Introduction to American Politics
CMC Government 20 Honors Fall 2015
MW 11AM-12:15 PM, Kravis Center, Roberts South 102

Office Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 1-2 PM, and by appointment


J.J. Pitney

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 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:

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.

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.

Sept 2:  Introduction

"I have a lot of international friends - to them I ask, do you want to know what America is? It's this video. Where a black man and a band made up of Asian men perform a white woman's song so well that a lady in a hijab takes their card - all in front of an Italian restaurant and a waving American flag. I love this place!"  (See: -- Aseem Chipalkatti `15

Sept 7, 9:  Reading and Writing about Politics

"A text without a context is a pretext." -- traditional saying in systematic theology

Sept 14, 16: 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



Sept 21, 23:  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 28, 30: 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

"So this is how liberty dies... with thunderous applause." - Padmé Amidala 

October 5, 7: 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 12, 14:  Congress and the Executive II

“The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties.”  -- Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) in House of Cards

Oct 21: 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 26, 28: Power and Interest Groups I

"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 2, 4:  Power and Interest Groups II

"I've known good criminals and bad cops. Bad priests. Honorable thieves. You can be on one side of the law or the other. But if you make a deal with somebody, you keep your word." -- Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) in Better Call Saul

Nov 9, 11: 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.

Nov 16, 18:  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 23, 25: 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

Dec 1, 3:  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

Dec 8, 10:  Equality III


"Ultimately, equality of voice is the most important equality issue of all." -- Deborah Stone



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