Political Science 100, Fall 2003

American Government and Politics

Professor Mikel Wyckoff mwyckoff@niu.edu

Office: Zulauf 403

Hours: MW 3:30-4:30 and by appointment

 

I. INTRODUCTION

This course provides a college level introduction to the American political system and serves as a prerequisite for many upper level courses in American Government. Three general topics will be covered during the semester: (1) politics and the democratic process in the United States; (2) basic principles of the Constitution and Bill of Rights; and (3) the national policy making institutions of the United States. In addition to the standard textbook topics, we will also keep an eye on President Bush as he seeks to control the policy agenda in Washington while pursuing the war on terrorism and dealing with potential international crises.

 

II. REQUIRED READINGS

The following textbook is required and should be available at either of the campus bookstores:

Janda, Berry and Goldman, The Challenge of Democracy (7th edition, 2002).

Several additional required reading assignments must be accessed on the Internet. The publishers of your textbook, for example, have a useful web site at uspolitics.org. You will also need to locate newspaper articles at web sites such as: chicagotribune.com, chicagosuntimes.com, washingtonpost.com, nytimes.com, and washingtontimes.com. Additional required readings will be accessed at www.jstor.org and www.findlaw.com.

 

III. COURSE REQUIREMENTS AND RULES OF THE GAME

General Advice. Your best strategy for doing well in the course is to keep up with the assigned readings, attend class regularly, take good notes, and focus on issues presented in the lecture and discussion sessions. If you find you’re having trouble, seek help early in the semester. We will be glad to provide assistance.

Exams. Three hourly exams will be given. All will be multiple choice in format and each will contribute 22.5% to your final grade. Even though it is not a comprehensive final, Exam III will be administered during finals week on Monday, Dec. 8. Barring extraordinary circumstances everyone must take Exam III at that time.

Written Assignments. About every other week you will be expected to prepare, for your Friday morning discussion session, a brief essay (approximately 1-2 pages of text, typed and double-spaced) reacting to one of the lecture topics or readings for that week. Papers not submitted in person during your Friday morning discussion session will normally receive a grade reduction. Exceptions will be made for persons experiencing extraordinary circumstances as defined below under the topic of makeup exams. My TAs and I regard these papers as a serious part of the course, so spelling, grammar, and sentence structure will be taken into account when assigning grades. Together, your short essays will contribute an additional 22.5% to your final grade.

Participation in Discussion Sections. Except on those Friday mornings when exams are administered, you will be asked to locate, and bring with you to your discussion section, a newspaper article, editorial, or op-ed essay from either the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, or the New York Times. The article or essay you choose can relate to the material presented in the lecture for that week or it can simply relate to an important political issue currently in the news. You should be prepared to briefly discuss your article, if called upon, and to submit the article to your TA at the end of the period. Your participation in these and other activities in discussion section will contribute 10% to your final course grade. Makeup exams and grades of incomplete will be provided cheerfully when needed, but only for reasons of significant illness, personal tragedy, or other similarly extraordinary circumstances. Furthermore, evidence of the extraordinary circumstance must be documented by the student. Should makeup exams be necessary, I reserve the right to switch to an essay format.

Extra credit. Sorry, none is available. No exceptions.

Students with Disabilities. NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Eligible students should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building, preferably during the early weeks of the semester.

Department of Political Science Web Site. From time to time you may find it useful to consult the Political Science Department's web site at http://polisci.niu.edu.

 

COURSE OUTLINE AND READING ASSIGNMENTS

I will do my best to adhere to the following schedule, but I reserve the right to delay a particular exam or modify a reading assignment if I find it necessary or useful to do so.

 

PART I: POLITICS AND THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS IN THE U.S.

A. Organizational Issues and Basics of Government and Politics (Week of August 25)

Read: JBG, Ch. 1, pp. 1-24 and Figure 18.1 on p. 596.

Op-ed essay by E.J. Dionne, "The Price of Liberty" (published April 15, 2003)

(locate at www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/politics/columns )

 

B. Thinking about Democracy (Wednesday, September 3)

Read: JBG, Ch. 2 and p. 259. Also read Federalist 10, in JBG, pp. A15-A18. In Federalist 10,

founding father James Madison is worried about self-interested groups (factions) and how to

design a democratic system to protect the nation from them. Where do factions come from?

Can they be eliminated? In dealing with factions does he favor: (1) direct or indirect

democracy? (2) majority rule or pluralistic democracy? (3) a large nation or a small nation?

C. Public Opinion and Ideology in America (Week of September 8)

 

Read: JBG, Ch. 19, pp. 613-616 (the Great Depression and its aftermath).

JBG, Ch. 1, pp. 23-28; Ch. 5, pp. 128-132, 135-151.

Chicago Tribune op-ed essay by Clarence Page, "Lawmakers Peeking in Your Bedroom."

(locate at www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists )

Write: First, run IDEALOG at www.uspolitics.org (do the readings and the survey you find there).

Then write a 1-2 page essay explaining which ideological category you wound up in (liberal,

conservative, libertarian or communitarian) and why. Due Friday September 12.

 

D. Political Parties (Week of September 15)

Read: JBG, Ch. 8.

V.O. Key, "A Theory of Critical Elections," Journal of Politics (1955), pp. 3-11 only. (Find at

www.jstor.org using an NIU Internet connection).

Write: In this article, Key argues that some Presidential elections are much more important than

others. What are the essential characteristics of a critical election? In his examination of

Massachusetts, why did Key choose the particular communities that appear in his analysis

(Figure A)? What do the trends for those two communities reveal? Explain in a 1-2 page

paper due Friday September 19.

 

E. Interest Group Politics (Week of September 22)

Read: JBG, Ch. 10 and review Ch. 2, pp. 42-45 (pluralistic democracy).

EXAM I: Friday, September 26

 

 

PART II: THE CONSTITUTION AND BILL OF RIGHTS

A. Constitutional Origins (Week of September 29)

Read: JBG, Ch. 3, pp. 54-69, 75-83. Also read the Declaration of Independence, in JBG, pp. A1-A2

and skim the Articles of Confederation, pp. A2-A5.

John Roche, "The Founding Fathers: A Reform Caucus in Action," American Political Science

Review (1961), Intro and Parts 2-4, pp. 799-800 and 803-811 (at www.jstor.org).

 

B. Principles of the Constitution I (Week of October 6)

Read: JBG, Ch. 3, pp. 69-75, 83-end; Ch. 2 (review).

Federalist 51, in JBG, pp. A18-A19. You may also want to review Federalist 10.

Write: Still concerned about the dangers of factions, in Federalist 51 Madison hopes to use the very

structure and organization of government to create a system of checks and balances. How will

his scheme of checks and balances work? One requirement is that every branch have a "will"

of its own. How does the Constitution encourage that? Also, certain branches deserve special

attention. Comment and explain in a 1-2 page paper (due Friday, October 10).

 

C. Principles of the Constitution II: Federalism (Monday, October 13)

Read: JBG, Ch. 4, pp. 95-112, 117-end.

U.S. v. Lopez, 1995 (locate at www.findlaw.com). Read the first 3-4 pages of Justice

Rehnquist's opinion for the court (pp. 2-5 in the copy at findlaw) and the first 3-4 pages of

Justice Breyer's dissent (scroll down some 30 pages to find it). Compare and contrast these

opposing interpretations of Congress' authority stemming from the commerce clause.

D. Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights (October 15, 20, 22)

Read: JBG, Ch. 15, pp. 495-497 and Amendment 14, p. A12 (see especially Section 1).

JBG, Ch. 15, pp. 470-494 and Amendments 1-3, in JBG, p. A11.

Engel v. Vitale (locate at www.findlaw.com)

Write: Read Justice Black’s opinion of the Court in Engel v. Vitale and Justice Stewart’s dissenting

opinion. Compare and contrast these two conflicting interpretations of the establishment

clause. Which is most convincing to you? Why? (1-2 page paper due Friday, October 24)

Read: JBG, Ch. 15, pp. 498-end and Amendments 4-10, p. A11.

 

E. Civil Rights (Week of October 27)

Read: JBG, Ch. 7, pp. 207-212 and Ch. 16.

McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 1950 (locate at www.findlaw.com). Read Justice

Vinson’s opinion for the Court.

EXAM II: Friday, October 31

 

PART III: NATIONAL POLICY MAKING INSTITUTIONS

A. The Supreme Court and Judicial Review (Week of November 3 )

Read: JBG, Ch. 14, pp. 442-end (organization of court system) and Article III, pp. A9-10.

JBG, Ch. 14, pp. 435-443 (judicial review).

B. Presidential and Congressional Elections (Week of November 10)

Read: JBG, Ch. 9, pp. 263-286 and Ch. 11, pp. 340-344.

Federalist Paper #68 ( locate at www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/federal/fed.htm)

John Roche, "The Founding Fathers: A Reform Caucus in Action," American Political

Science Review (1961), Part V, pp. 810-811 (at www.jstor.org ).

Write: Writing in Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton argues that the Electoral College is a

sophisticated institution carefully designed by the great thinkers at the Constitutional

Convention. Based on his reading of the debates that actually occurred at the Convention,

political scientist John Roche has a different analysis of the origins of this peculiar

institution. Explain and discuss in a 1-2 page paper due Friday, November 14.

 

C. The U.S. Congress (November 17, 19 and 24)

Read: JBG, Ch. 11 and Article I of the Constitution, pp. A6-A8, especially sections 8 & 9.

Write: Go to thomas.loc.gov (not www.thomas). Click on "House Committees." Investigate

several of these standing committees. Then write a paper explaining which committee you

would like to work on if you were a member of the House of Representatives. Among the

questions you should consider: (a) What kinds of bills would you be dealing with? (b) How

would this committee help you represent the district from which you were elected? (c) How

would this committee affect your power and prestige within the House of Representatives?

1-2 page paper due November 21)

 

D. The Presidency & the Executive Branch (Week of December 1)

Read: JBG, Ch. 12, pp. 385-389 (the executive branch establishment).

JBG, Ch. 13, pp. 406-422 (the bureaucracy).

Read: JBG, Ch. 12, pp. 371-384, 389-end (presidential power and leadership).

JBG, Article II of the Constitution, pp. A8-A9.

Op-ed essay by Steve Chapman, "Should We Lift Term Limits on Presidents?"

(published June 8, 2003; locate at www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists )

 

EXAM III: Monday morning, December 8, 10:00 – 11:50 in Cole Auditorium.