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Table of Contents
Annual Editions: American Government 12/13
Unit 1: Foundations of American Politics
Part A. Basic Documents
1. The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, 1776
This document formally announces that 13 former British colonies have become the free and independent United States of America. It eloquently identifies certain historic principles on which their claim to independence rests.
2. The History of the Constitution of the United States
The Constitution provides an organizational blueprint for the national government and for the federal relationship between the national government and the states. In addition, the first 10 amendments, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, spell out limits on what the government can do. A commentary preceding the Constitution provides a brief account of the writing of the Constitution and also notes some of its significant features.
3. Federalist No. 10, James Madison, The Federalist Papers, 1787
James Madison argues in support of the union of the 13 states under the new Constitution. According to Madison, a system of representative democracy governing a large territory and many people will help control the undesirable effects of "faction."
4. Federalist No. 51, James Madison, The Federalist Papers, 1787
According to James Madison, both the separation of powers among three branches of government and the division of powers between the states and the central government will help preserve representative democracy under the new Constitution.
Part B. Contemporary Views and Values
5. Can America Fail?, Kishore Mahbubani, Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2009
Kishore Mahbubani identifies three systemic failures of American society. He argues that Americans must recognize these problems and correct them, or risk the "unthinkable," failure as a society and world power.
6. What Makes a Country Great?, Bruce Stokes, National Journal, June 4, 2011
Bruce Stokes reports that the first Your Better Life Index, released by the OECD in 2011, shows that Americans' quality of life does not compare particularly well with the quality of life in the other 33 OECD countries. In turn, according to Stokes, the notion of American exceptionalism needs careful re-examination.
7. What They Don't Know, Fred Barbash, CQ Weekly, June 13, 2011
Fred Barbash reports that the vast bulk of Americans see the national government's budget deficit as a major problem, but that they exhibit woeful ignorance about proportions of the national budget spent on different government activities.
8. Changing Faiths, Peter Steinfels, The American Prospect, November 2010
Peter Steinfels summarizes a new book on religion and politics in the American political system that identifies one "earthquake" and two "aftershocks" in Americans' religious beliefs during the past half-century and addresses the so-called God gap between the two major parties. The research in question also reports relatively little overt politicking in houses of worship, but suggests that connections between religious beliefs and partisan politics derive primarily from social networking.
9. Democratize the Grid, Jim Hightower, The Progressive, December 2010/January 2011
Jim Hightower reports great strides in the development of alternative fuel technologies. He argues for more decentralized economic power and against the notion that more and more economic growth is a good thing.
10. Pledging Allegiance to Peace, Tony White, Utne Reader, July-August
Tony White argues that patriotism—fostered at home, in school, and by media—is immoral and that it divides the world's people and makes them passive and obedient.
11. A Decent Proposal, Bill Keller, The New York Times Magazine, July 3, 2011
Bill Keller proposes that governments cease authorizing or overseeing the legal institution of marriage and instead establish legal relationships resembling so-called civil unions within which two adults can become "partners." In turn, marriage would be left to religious organizations such as churches, synagogues, mosques, and the like to address, and the Republican party's gay marriage problems would be solved.
Part C. Constitutional and Legal Matters
12. It Is Time to Repair the Constitution's Flaws, Sanford Levinson, October 13, 2006
Sanford Levinson assesses the adequacy of the U.S. Constitution and observes that many of its structural provisions are obstacles to the practice of democracy in the American political system.
13. Debating Citizens United, Floyd Abrams and Burt Neuborne, The Nation, January 31, 2011
Two respected commentators on freedom of speech and of the press, Floyd Abrams and Burt Neuborne, take opposing positions on the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United decision in 2010.
14. Obama in Libya: A Clear and Arrogant Violation of Our Constitution, Dennis Kucinich, The Progressive, June 2011
Congressman Dennis Kucinich argues that President Obama's commitment of U.S. armed forces in and around Libya violated the constitution's provisions that vest the power to declare war in Congress.
Unit 2: Structures of American Politics
Part A. The Presidency
15. The Founders' Great Mistake, Garrett Epps, The Atlantic, January/February 2009
Garrett Epps argues that the framers of the Constitution created a dysfunctional and dangerous presidency that has caused problems for the United States throughout its history. He offers a number of reforms relating to the office of chief executive and the interaction of the president with the legislative branch.
16. Veto This!, Carl M. Cannon, National Journal, October 13, 2007
Carl M. Cannon places President George W. Bush's infrequent use of the veto in historical context and explores several perspectives on the proper role of the president's veto power in the operation of the American political system.
17. What Happened to Obama's Passion?, Drew Westen, New York Times, August 7, 2011
Drew Westen argues that Barack Obama's biggest shortcoming as president has been his failure to do a good job of explaining problems and needed solutions to the American people. He also addresses why Obama, who was a compelling speaker as a presidential candidate, has been an ineffective orator as president.
18. Bullied Pulpit, David Corn, Mother Jones, May/June 2011
David Corn explains why President Obama and the White House were ineffective in responding to misleading criticisms of the health care reform legislation that the president supported.
19. Studying the Gipper, The Economist, January 6, 2011
This selection idenfies similarities and differences in the Reagan and Obama presidencies.
Part B. Congress
20. When Congress Stops Wars: Partisan Politics and Presidential Power, William G. Howell and Jon C. Pevehouse, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2007
The authors explore the various ways that Congress can restrict presidential war powers. They also note that the party composition of Congress and the presidency is an important factor in how much influence Congress exerts.
21. The Case for Congress, Lee H. Hamilton, Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2004
Lee H. Hamilton defends Congress against a series of frequently voiced criticisms of the institution and of its individual members.
22. How to Get Our Democracy Back: There Will Be No Change Until We Change Congress, Lawrence Lessig, The Nation, February 22, 2010
Lawrence Lessig argues that the U.S. Congress is politically bankrupt because of the centrality of fundraising on Capitol Hill and the way that that phenomenon has shaped Americans' perceptions of Congress. He expresses disappointment in President Obama's failure to try to reform Capitol Hill and identifies two reforms aimed at improving the reputation of Congress.
23. Pulling Apart, Ronald Brownstein, National Journal, February 26, 2011
Ronald Brownstein reports that roll-call voting in the 2010 Congress reached new heights of party polarization and presents quantitative data supporting that conclusion.
24. Being Boehner, Major Garrett, National Journal, June 4, 2011
Major Garrett summarizes the leadership style of Speaker of the House John Boehner and compares and contrasts him with previous speakers.
25. Master of the Senate, Robert Costa, National Review, January 24, 2011
Robert Costa focuses on the leadership style and accomplishments of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a pivotal and powerful figure in a period of divided government.
26. Congress's Man of the Vines, Including His Own, Eric Lipton, The New York Times, July 4, 2011
Eric Lipton reports the relationship between Congressman Mike Thompson of California, himself the owner of a vineyard, and the wine industry. He also addresses the propriety of Congressman Thompson's activities on behalf of wine industry interests.
Part C. The Judiciary
27. Roberts versus Roberts: Just How Radical Is the Chief Justice?, Jeffrey Rosen, The New Republic, March 11, 2010
Jeffrey Rosen assesses Chief Justice John Roberts's five years presiding over the Supreme Court and suggests that Roberts may not be as interested in building consensus on the Court as he has said he was. In turn, according to Rosen, the chief justice and the Court itself may be entering risky political territory.
28. Court under Roberts Is Most Conservative in Decades, Adam Liptak, The New York Times, July 24, 2010
According to Adam Liptak, systematic data show that in its first five years the Roberts Court has been more conservative than any Supreme Court since the 1930s. He also notes that the Roberts Court has overturned fewer laws per year than its immediate precedessor, the Rehnquist Court (1986–2005), did.
29. Justices Venture into Court of Public Opinion, Seth Stern, CQ Weekly, January 31, 2011
Seth Stern reports that current Supreme Court justices are increasing their visibility and public presence through memoirs, televised speeches and interviews, and the like. He also provides historical perspective and addresses the potential institutional implications for the Supreme Court.
Part D. Bureaucracy
30. Marking Time: Why Government Is Too Slow, Bruce Berkowitz, The American Interest, September/October 2007
Bruce Berkowitz addresses why government bureaucracies are typically so slow to produce results. He discusses various factors that explain this phenomenon and suggests ways to improve the situation.
31. Legislation Is Just the Start, Lee Hamilton, Center on Congress at Indiana University, August 9, 2010
Lee Hamilton notes that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of July 2010 leaves many matters for government bureaucrats to resolve. He also suggests that the bureaucrats will be subject to considerable pressure from lobbyists whose clients have a keen interest in how the act is implemented.
Unit 3: Process of American Politics
Part A. Political Parties and Voters
32. Polarized Pols versus Moderate Voters?, Stuart Taylor, Jr., National Journal, December 5, 2009
Stuart Taylor considers whether the much lamented polarization of American politics today stems more from a polarized electorate than from polarization of elected representatives and party activists. After surveying relevant data, Taylor concludes that voters are less polarized than party and government elites.
33. Limited War, Thomas B. Edsall, The New Republic, November 11, 2010
Thomas Edsall explains how austerity and scarcity of resources will increasingly shape electoral politics and political party tactics in the years to come.
34. Reagan's Lasting Realignment, Michael G. Franc, National Review, August 1, 2011
Michael Franc presents evidence to show that the presidency of Ronald Reagan had a greater effect on Americans' party identification than any other post-World War II presidency.
Part B. The Conduct of Elections and Nominations
35. America Observed, Robert A. Pastor, The American Prospect, January 4, 2005
Robert A. Pastor identifies "dysfunctional decentralization" as the central cause of problems in America's election system and compares various dimensions of the system with those of other countries.
36. Six Myths about Campaign Money, Eliza Newlin Carney, National Journal, August 7, 2010
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in early 2010, Eliza Carney Newlin identifies and discusses what she views as six myths about campaign financing in the American political system.
37. The American Presidential Nomination Process: The Beginnings of a New Era, Bruce Stinebrickner, McGraw-Hill Contemporary Learning Series, 2008
Bruce Stinebrickner reviews four eras in the history of the presidential nomination process and argues that changes evident during the first part of the 2008 process suggest that a fifth era is about to begin.
38. Three Ways Social Media Will Make or Break 2012 Election Campaigns, Jay Samit, AdvertisingAge (adage.com), June 23, 2011
Jay Samit argues that social media will play an unprecedented role in the 2012 election campaigns because of the size of the social media audience, the inaccessibility of younger voters except through social media, and the effectiveness of advertising and fundraising through social media.
Part C. Interest Groups and Political Movements
39. Big Oil's Big Man in Washington, Tony Newmyer, Fortune, July 4, 2011
Tony Newmyer profiles the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, the powerful oil industry organization headquartered in Washington, DC.
40. Born Fighting, Ronald Brownstein, National Journal, September 27, 2008
Ronald Brownstein notes the ten-year anniversary of the founding of MoveOn.org, a progressive interest group that illustrates the rise of the Internet as a political force.
41. Why They Lobby, Winter Casey, National Journal, May 31, 2008
Winter Casey discusses lobbyists who work on behalf of interests such as gambling, alcohol, and tobacco, and he considers the suggestion that they are living on the "dark side" of American politics.
42. Conservative Juggernaut Melds Politics and Policy, Joseph J. Schatz, CQ Weekly, Feburary 28, 2011
Joseph Schatz reports the growing influence of Crossroads GPS, a political advocacy group that operates in the worlds of both policy and election campaigns. He also explains how recent court decisions have facilitated the growing influence of such groups.
43. The Radical Right Returns, Paul Starobin, National Journal, October 2, 2010
Paul Starobin examines the contemporary Radical Right in American politics in the context of nativist sentiments that have repeatedly manifested themselves throughout American history.
44. Group Think, Jonathan Rauch, National Journal, September 11, 2010
According to Jonathan Rauch, the Tea Party movement began as a "network," not an organization; manifests radical decentralization; is essentially leaderless; and may leave its most important legacy in an organizational, not political, context.
Part D. Media
45. A See-Through Society, Micah L. Sifry, Columbia Journalism Review, January/February 2009
Micah Sifry makes the case that the American political system is entering "a new age of political transparency." He argues that the Web is changing the ways that Americans access and consume all sorts of information at all levels of government.
46. Governing in the Age of Fox News, Paul Starr, The Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2010
Paul Starr traces the history of American media through two earlier stages, and argues that the current stage is a hybrid system that combines elements of the first two. He notes the emergence of partisan media outlets such as Fox News and MSNBC, both of which co-exist with less partisan professional journalism.
47. Serious Fun with Numbers, Janet Paskin, Columbia Journalism Review, November/December 2010
Janet Paskin identifies a deficiency in most reporters' skill sets, and reports how one journalist acquired relevant quantitative and software skills to analyze publicly available data and won a Pulitzer Prize for his efforts.
Unit 4: Products of American Politics
Part A. Domestic Policy
48. The Realities of Immigration, Linda Chavez, Commentary, July/August 2006
Linda Chavez tries to set the record straight about immigration and immigration reform and uses historical, economic, sociological, and policy perspectives to do so.
49. The Other National Debt, Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, June 21, 2010
Kevin Williamson discusses and sums the conventionally cited national government debt, unfunded liabilities stemming from Social Security and Medicare programs, and state and local government debts. He arrives at a staggering total of $106 trillion.
50. In Defense of Deficits, James K. Galbraith, The Nation, March 22, 2010
James K. Galbraith explains the critical role that government budget deficits play in stimulating economic growth, and argues that current economic circumstances require continued deficit spending by the national government.
51. Meet the Real Death Panels, James Ridgeway, Mother Jones, July/August 2010
James Ridgeway explores the issue of large health care expenditures for the oldest generation, and, in doing so, addresses many essentials of the American health care delivery system.
52. Clean, Green, Safe and Smart, Michael T. Klare, The Nation, August 2/9, 2010
Michael T. Klare argues for a comprehensive national energy plan to reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels and increase reliance on renewable energy sources.
53. A Flimsy Trust: Why Social Security Needs Some Major Repairs, Allan Sloan, The Washington Post, August 2, 2009
Allan Sloan calls attention to problems facing the country's biggest social program, the Social Security old-age pension program that began during the New Deal. Sloan understands that other pressing problems besetting the United States today will likely get—and may indeed deserve—more immediate attention, but he argues that Social Security problems will inevitably become greater in the next few years and that reforms are urgently needed.
54. What We Don't Know Can Hurt Us, Tim Fernholz, The American Prospect, December 2010
Tim Fernholz notes that accurate information is necessary to craft good public policy. He identifies six areas in which missing information is handicapping the government's ability to make sound policy.
Part B. National and Homeland Security
55. The Tyranny of Metaphor, Robert Dallek, Foreign Policy, November 2010
Robert Dallek identifies three historical myths that have undermined prudent foreign policy and national security decisions for the better part of a century. He also provides relevant examples and analysis.
56. Worth Fighting—or Not, Burt Solomon, National Journal, June 13, 2009
Burt Solomon considers the major wars in which the United States has participated and notes that both unintended and intended consequences must be taken into account in assessing them.
57. Back to Normalcy, Paul Kennedy, The New Republic, December 30, 2010
Paul Kennedy argues that the United States is changing from an abnormally dominant role in world affairs that has lasted for a half-century or more to the more normal role of being one of a small group of great powers. He also analyzes the current strength of each of three factors on which a nation's status in world affairs is said to rest.