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U.S. Government Institutions

Government 101
Skidmore College

Instructor: Beau Breslin
Time: Tuesday – Thursday, 2:10 - 3:30 p.m.
Room: Palamountain 202
Office: Ladd 319; office phone: 580-5244; home phone: 580-1491
Office Hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 1:00 – 2:30 p.m.
And by chance or appointment

Introduction: Because the U. S. Constitution informs all that is relevant to American politics, our immediate objective in this class is to become intimately familiar with the nature and practice of the American constitutional experiment.
To begin, we will explore the circumstances surrounding America's constitutional beginnings. During our examination of the Founding period, we will study the constitutional precursor to our current text––the Articles of Confederation––the Constitution itself, as well as the arguments for and against constitutional ratification. Included in this general discussion will be an analysis of the major principles that shape the American political landscape: democracy, sovereignty, federalism, checks and balances, and others. Finally, we will conclude this introductory section by exploring the nature of American liberty and the addition of a constitutional Bill of Rights.
Having discussed in detail the original era of constitutional construction, we will then take a close look at the specifics of the text by examining the institutions that constitute the American polity. Beginning with a review of the legislative branch, we will explore both the traditional and contemporary practice of each political institution with an emphasis on understanding the selection process, the powers of each office, and the actors themselves.
After investigating all three branches, we will continue our discussion of the constitutional experiment by delving more deeply into the politics of American government. Those groups that are most prominent and influential in the American governmental scheme will be considered. Included in this assemblage are interest groups, political parties and the media. We will then consider how all actors in American politics work together to form and shape public policy.
To conclude the course, we will examine as a case study the politics of United States Supreme Court confirmations. It seems reasonably clear that there will be at least one, and possibly three or four, vacancies on the Supreme Court during President Bush's second term. With that possibility in mind, we will examine the subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—politics surrounding judicial confirmations. As more informed citizens of the American political system, I expect that we can evaluate the practice utilizing many of the terms, techniques, and lessons we have learned throughout the course.

Style: We cannot hope to fully understand all the trivial aspects of the American political system––nor do I think it would be productive to try. Accordingly, this class will be primarily interested in discovering and dissecting the main issues associated with the American constitutional and political structure. We will attempt to examine the nature of the American political design not through the memorization of facts and dates, but through the thoughtful exploration of theories and themes. It seems appropriate then to conduct the class by utilizing a variety of techniques including general discussions, presentations and simulations. Because this class will be treated more like a seminar, lectures will be kept to a minimum and student participation will be required.

Requirements: 1) Each student will be required to do all the reading prior to the scheduled class, as well as actively participate in all class discussions.
2) Each student will also be required to write two 4-5 page papers during the term. The topics for the papers will be distributed at an appropriate time. The due dates are February 15 and April 7. Late papers not accompanied by a note from the Dean will be penalized 1/3 of a grade for each day missing. (Please note: computer problems do not constitute a valid excuse. It is your responsibility to complete the work in sufficient time to offset any potential mechanical problems you may encounter).
3) Each student will also be required to construct a well thought-out position on the debate surrounding judicial confirmation. In small groups, all students will be required to "represent" different institutions and interests in a mock Senate hearing. As part of this assignment, each group must make a public presentation in which you identify your constituents' interests and provide practical (and political) ways to resolve the issue. Presentation will be given during the last week of class.
4) A midterm exam is scheduled for March 10, 2005.
5) A final exam will be taken at the scheduled time (May 9).
6) Students will be required to attend two events during the week of February 14th. The first is a class with Linda Greenhouse on Tuesday, February 15 from 3:40-5:30 in Emerson Auditorium. The second is the Annual Ronald J. Fiscus Lecture on Wednesday, February 15 at 8:00 p.m. in Gannett Auditorium.

Course Materials: (1) Required books available for purchase at the Skidmore Shop:

• Lowi, Ginsberg, and Shepsle. American Government: Power and Purpose Core Eighth Edition (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2005).
• Canon, Coleman, and Mayer. The Enduring Debate: Classic and Contemporary Readings in American Politics Third Edition (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 2003).
• Additional readings to be distributed in class

Note: All assignments (attendance and participation, two 4-5 page papers, the public presentation, the midterm, and the final) are important and will be weighed equally in the determination of the overall grade. Moreover, I will tolerate no excuses with regard to late or missing assignments, other than those accompanied by a signed letter from the Dean.

Introduction to the American Political System

Part I: The Constitutional Polity

January 25: Introduction

January 27: Pre-constitutional America
American Government (Chapter 1)
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 1)
The Declaration of Independence (Appendix in Lowi book)

February 1: The Constitution and the Founding, Part I
American Government (Chapter 2)
The Articles of Confederation (Appendix in Lowi book)
The Constitution of the United States (Appendix in Lowi book)

February 3: The Constitution and the Founding, Part II
Federalist Papers, No. 10 (Appendix in Lowi book)

February 8: Federalism and Separation of Powers
American Government (Chapter 3)
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 2)
Federalist 51 (Appendix in Lowi book)

February 10: The Bill of Rights
American Government (Chapter 4)
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 3)
The Bill of Rights (Appendix in Lowi book)

Part II: Institutions

February 15: Congress
American Government (Chapter 5)
Paper number 1 due

February 17: Congress
American Government (Chapter 5)
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 4)

February 22: The President
American Government (Chapter 6)

February 24: The President
American Government (Chapter 6)
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 5)

March 1: The Executive Branch
American Government (Chapter 7)
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 6)

March 3: The Judiciary
American Government (Chapter 8)
Marbury v. Madison (1803) (Appendix in The Enduring Debate)

March 8: The Judiciary
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 7)

March 10: Midterm Exam

The Theory and Practice of American Politics
Part I: Theory


March 22: Elections, Part I
American Government (Chapter 10)

March 24: Elections, Part II
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 9)

March 29: Political Parties
American Government (Chapter 11)
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 10)

March 31: Interest Groups
American Government (Chapter 12)
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 11)

April 5: The Media
American Government (Chapter 13)
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 8)

April 7: Public Opinion
American Government (Chapter 9)
Paper number 2 due

Part II: Practice

April 12: Economic Policy
American Government (Chapter 14) (to be distributed)
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 13)

April 14: Foreign Policy
American Government (Chapter 16) (to be distributed)
The Enduring Debate (Chapter 15)

April 19: Case Study: United States Supreme Court Confirmation
Scholarly and mainstream readings to be distributed in class

April 21: Case Study: United States Supreme Court Confirmation
Scholarly and mainstream readings to be distributed in class

April 26: United States Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings
Simulation

May 28: United States Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings
Simulation

May 3: Conclusion

May 4-8 Review Session (time to be announced)

May 9: Final Exam

Some Useful Secondary Sources
(For additional or supplemental reading)

The Constitution: The Founding Period
• Gordon S. Wood. The Creation of the American Republic
• Herbert Storing. The Complete Anti-Federalist
• Bernard Bailyn. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
• Alexis de Tocqueville. Democracy in America
• James Madison. Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787
• Clinton Rossiter. 1787: Grand Convention
• Max Farrand. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787
• Forrest McDonald. The Foundation of the American Republic
• Merrill Jensen. The Articles of Confederation
• Joseph Story. A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States


Article I – The Legislative Branch
• James Sundquist. The Decline and Resurgence of Congress
• James Burnham. Congress and the American Tradition
• Barbara Sinclair. The Transformation of the U.S. Senate
• Congressional Quarterly, Inc. Origins and Development of Congress
• David R. Mayhew. Congress: The Electoral Connection
• Gary Jacobson. The Politics of Congressional Elections
• Norman Ornstein and Shirley Elder. Interest Groups, Lobbying and Policymaking
• Lawrence Dodd and Bruce J. Oppenheimer (eds.). Congress Reconsidered
• Morris Fiorina. Congress: Keystone of the Washington Establishment
• Elizabeth Drew. Senator


Article II – The Executive Branch
• Richard Neustadt. Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents
• Jeffrey Tulis. The Rhetorical Presidency
• Nelson W. Polsby and Aaron Wildavsky. Presidential Elections: Contemporary Strategies of American Electoral Politics
• Terry Eastland. Energy in the Executive: The Case for a Strong Presidency
• Craig Rimmerman. Presidency by Plebiscite: The Reagan Bush Era in Institutional Perspective
• Arthur Schlesinger. The Imperial President
• James David Barber. The Presidential Character
• Edward S. Corwin. The President: Office and Powers
• Theodore J. Lowi. The Personal President: Power Invested, Promise Unfulfilled
• James P. Pfiffner (ed.). The Managerial President

Article III – The Judiciary
• Laurence Tribe. Constitutional Choices
• Alexander Bickel. The Least Dangerous Branch
• Christopher Wolfe. The Rise of Modern Judicial Review
• Mark A. Graber. Transforming Free Speech: The Ambiguous Legacy of Civil Libertarianism
• David M. O'Brien. Storm Center: The Supreme Court in American Politics
• John Agresto. The Supreme Court and Constitutional Democracy
• Archibald Cox. The Court and the Constitution
• Robert H. Bork. The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law
• The Federalist Society. The Great Debate: Interpreting Our Written Constitution
• Donald L. Horowitz. The Courts and Social Policy

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