Introduction to American Politics 

CMC Government 20 Honors Fall 2019
Tuesday & Thursday 11AM-12:15 PM, Roberts North 104

Office Hours: Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday 1-2; Friday 11-12; 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. Finally, we will consider the idea of  the role of mores and norms, the unwritten practices, habits, and attitudes that guide political activity.

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.  Because constructive disagreement sharpens thinking, deepens understanding, and reveals novel insights, I not only  encourage it, I expect it. Feel free to challenge anything you read, but back up what you say. Bring light, not heat.


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 5:  Introduction

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s genius — he was, in a sense, the final Founder — was in understanding what the University of Pennsylvania’s Rogers M. Smith terms the “Declaration of Independence-centered view of American governance and peoplehood.”  -- George F. Will
Sept 10, 12:  Reading and Writing about Politics"“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced." -- Aldous Huxley

Sept 17, 19: Equality, Natural Law, and the Declaration

"If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people." -- Calvin Coolidge



Sept 24, 26:  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

Oct 1, 3: 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 8, 10: Congress and the Executive I

"I ask @SenJohnKennedy [R-Louisiana] if he would support lowering U.S. tariffs ... `Absolutely," he says at first, '… except on sugar. Sugar’s different. And crawfish and shrimp.'"  -- Anshu Siripurapu 

Oct 15, 17:  Congress and the Executive II

"In a president, character is everything. A president doesn't have to be brilliant; Harry Truman wasn't brilliant, and he helped save Western Europe from Stalin. He doesn't have to be clever; you can hire clever. White Houses are always full of quick-witted people with ready advice on how to flip a senator or implement a strategy. You can hire pragmatic, and you can buy and bring in policy wonks.  But you can't buy courage and decency, you can't rent a strong moral sense." -- Peggy Noonan

Oct 24: 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 29, 31:
 Citizenship, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights

"The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent & respectable Stranger, but the oppressed & persecuted of all Nations & Religions; whom we shall wellcome to a participation of all our rights & privileges, if by decency & propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment." -- George Washington

Nov 5, 7: Parties and Elections 

"At CMC, [Steve] Bullock was a PPE major, and he was actively involved in campus government. Maybe he wasn’t dreaming of political service as an undergrad, but that didn’t prevent him from running for freshman class president. Even now, more than 30 years later, his campaign is difficult for some to forget. One afternoon, in the fall of 1984, students encountered a small corral set up outside Collins Dining Hall. The corral held a couple of sheep that Bullock had borrowed—temporarily, of course—from the animal husbandry department of nearby Cal Poly Pomona. It amused everyone, but Bullock’s target audience for this stunt was his fellow freshmen. His campaign slogan? `A Vote for Steve Will Be a Vote for Ewe.'"  -- CMC Magazine

Nov 12, 14:  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 19, 21 : Power and Community Action

"Both seafood and politics are best local." - Casey Pick `06

Nov 26: 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 3, 5:  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 10, 12:  Equality III and Concluding Thoughts


"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



"And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is `what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.' It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal. -- Click here to learn who wrote these words.

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