(If you wish to print a copy of this document I suggest copying it into Microsoft Word and then setting your margins at .5 inches)


POLS 100, Sections D001-D005, D007 and H1

Intro to American Government and Politics

MWF 10-10:50 a.m.

Professor Mikel Wyckoff

Office:  Zulauf 403

Hours:  MWF 11-12:00 and by appointment

753-7056   mwyckoff@niu.edu



Discussion Sections:

Section D001           (Art Building 102)               Ms. Kelly Drosendahl             kdrosendahl@niu.edu

Section D002           (Art Building 103)               Ms. Katie Leb                            kleb@niu.edu

Section D003           (Du Sable Hall 246)            Ms. Mary McLean                    mmclean2@niu.edu

Section D004           (Du Sable Hall 459)            Mr. Jesse Peck                         jpeck4@niu.edu

Section D005           (Du Sable Hall 461)            Ms. Danae Patterson              dpatter2@niu.edu

Section D007           (Du Sable Hall 252)            Ms. Katie Stone                        kstone3@niu.edu

Section D006/H1    (Du Sable Hall 440)             Prof. Wyckoff                            mwyckoff@niu.edu





This course provides a college level introduction to the American political system.  Three general topics will be covered during the semester: (1) politics and the democratic process in the United States; (2) Congress and the President in the American separation of powers system; and (3) the Supreme Court and the Bill of Rights.  In addition to the standard textbook topics we will also try to keep an eye on President Obama as he tries to persuade Congress to adopt his health care plan amidst a sea of disinformation and ill will spread by his opponents, and facing a near certain Republican filibuster in the Senate. 





The following paperback textbook should be available at either of the campus bookstores.  Although the seventh edition is relatively new, used copies may be available from online book sellers.  Cengage may also be in the process of setting up a textbook rental program.  Check their web site for more information.    


            Janda, Berry, Goldman and Hula, The Challenge of Democracy, Brief 7th edition, 2009.  ISBN10: 0-547-21631-9


Note that this book also is available at considerably lower cost if you are willing to purchase it as an electronic “eTextbook” from the publisher. 




Electronic textbooks are a relatively new phenomenon and I have little experience with them.  Unfortunately, then, I am in no position to advise you which version of the textbook you should purchase.  If you go this route, be sure to check the ISBN on the book you order. 


In addition to the textbook, please note that several additional required readings must be located online.  Consult the outline below for specific assignments.  If for some reason you feel you are not capable of using the Internet and locating documents online then you should drop this course.  It is my intention that all of the online readings are free of charge.  It is possible that some web sites might insist that you register before using their material, but typically they request only some general demographic information when you register. 





Cell Phones & Class Decorum.  Please silence and refrain from using your cell phone and other electronic devises during class.  Also please be civil, use common sense, and respect the needs of your fellow students, not to mention the needs of the grouchy old professor (“get off my lawn!”) who is trying to offer you a decent lecture each day.


E-mail Contacts.  Feel free to contact us by e-mail.  By the same token, we may contact you from time to time (for example, if I become ill and can’t make it to class I’ll try to e-mail you ahead of time).  For various reasons, it’s good to use your NIU e-mail address when writing to us, and wise to remember to check your NIU e-mail from time to time.  When writing, don’t forget to identify yourself and communicate clearly (using real words and sentences, please :-)    


General Advice.  Your best strategy for success is to attend class regularly, take good notes, keep up with the assigned readings, and then study (!) for the exams.  Study guides are provided (see the “documents” section on Blackboard) but a good set of notes and a familiarity with key readings will be your best guide to the content of the exams.  If you miss a lecture (never a good idea in any course) it would be wise to borrow notes from a classmate.  Sorry, but lecture notes and slides are not made available on Blackboard. 


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.  Barring extraordinary circumstances everyone must take Exam III at that time.  If you have a conflict of final exams, please arrange to reschedule the class with the higher number, as per university policy (see document on Blackboard for more information).


Written Assignments (22.5% of your final grade).  About every other week you will prepare a brief essay (1-2 pages of text, typed and double-spaced) reacting to one of the topics for that week.  The course outline (below) will tell you exactly when papers are due.  Papers not submitted in person during your Friday morning discussion session will normally receive a grade reduction of at least one letter.  Exceptions will be made for persons experiencing extraordinary circumstances as defined above in the discussion of makeup exams.  These papers represent a serious part of the course, so spelling, grammar, and sentence structure will be taken into account when assigning grades.


Students must also submit a second, electronic copy of their essays on Blackboard where the paper will be processed by Safe-Assign, a computer program that checks documents for instances of plagiarism.  Students who choose to purchase or “borrow” a paper from someone else, or who steal text from various online sources stand an excellent chance of being caught by Safe-Assign, so please do your own work and write in your own voice.  Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty are serious offenses that may result in serious penalties.  Blatant instances of cheating will result in an F for the course, and possibly expulsion from NIU.  Milder examples will result in an F for the paper involved.  Once you have written your paper, please do not lend it to anyone else “just so they can read it,” or leave it on your roommate’s hard drive or printer, or take any other action that would allow it to be copied.  If I receive duplicate papers, or papers that display substantially overlapping text, I will assume that both writers are equally guilty.


When submitting electronic documents on Blackboard, please go to the “Assignments” page where you will see a green check mark symbol beside each assignment.  Do not use any other method for submitting documents (for example, do not use “digital dropbox”).


If you need more information about plagiarism, please consult the “Statement on Plagiarism,” prepared by NIU’s English Department, that I have posted on Blackboard.  It may also be informative to do the online tutorial available on NIU’s Academic Integrity webpage at http://www.ai.niu.edu/ai/.  It is your responsibility to educate yourself with regard to these issues.  Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse for breaking the rules.


Participation in Discussion Sections.  Students who take the course seriously will want to attend their Friday morning discussion sections because: (1) participation in these meetings will contribute 10% to your final course grade; (2) your discussion leaders are the ones who will be grading your written assignments (worth 22.5% of your course grade); (3) this is a great chance to discuss issues relating to the course in a small group setting.


Computing Course Grades.  At the end of the semester I will compute your final grade using the following formula which incorporates the weights noted above:


            Course Avg. =  .675(avg. grade on three exams) + .225(avg. grade on six short papers) + .100(attendance/participation score)


Makeup exams and grades of incomplete will be provided cheerfully when needed, but only for reasons of significant illness, family tragedy, being away on university business, or other extraordinary circumstances. Furthermore, evidence of the extraordinary circumstance normally must be documented by the student.  Should makeup exams be necessary, I reserve the right to switch to an essay format if I deem it necessary.


Extra credit.  Sorry, none is available.  No exceptions.  If you find you’re having trouble, please seek help early in the semester.  My TAs and I will do our best to help you devise strategies for improving your performance on required exams and assignments.  We can’t help you, though, if you don’t seek our assistance.


Students with Disabilities. NIU abides by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations for qualified students with disabilities.  If you have a disability and require some type of instructional accommodation, please contact the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR), located in the University Health Services building (753-1303).







A.  Basic Questions:  What is government good for?  How much government do we need?  (Week of August 24)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 1, pp. 1-14.

                        John Locke, Chapter 9 from The Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690);

                           locate at:  http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/l/locke/john/l81s/chapter9.html

                        W. Saletan, "What Reagan Got Wrong," www.slate.com/id/2101835

                        Paul Krugman, “Reagan Did It,” nytimes.com/2009/06/01/opinion/01krugman.html

                        Condon, “Obama Deals with Health Care Curveball,” find in “Documents” on Blackboard.


B.  Public Opinion and Ideology in America  (Week of August 31)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 1, pp. 12-20; Ch. 4, all, but especially pp. 100-103.

                        Paul Krugman, “Averting the Worst” nytimes.com/2009/08/10/opinion/10krugman.html?_r=1&ref=opinion

                        Steve Chapman, “False Cures for the Recession,” reason.com/news/show/130398.html

                        Steve Chapman, “A Federalist Case for Gay Marriage,” reason.com/news/show/133109.html

                        Zorn, “Getting Aboard a Health Plan – It’s Time to Throw a Lifeline to 60 Million Americans,”

                           Find among Zorn’s columns at: chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chi-ericzorn,0,1832837.columnist

                        Steve Chapman, “The Truth About Health Care and Infant Mortality,” reason.com/news/show/135603.html

                        Goldfarb, “Let’s Go Dutch,” weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/016/847hvjdk.asp

                        Blumenthal, “Who’s Afraid of Public Insurance:  Health Care Consumers Give Medicare Higher Marks

                           Than Private Plans,” nationaljournal.com/njonline/print_friendly.php?ID=mp_20090629_2600


                        Most of the essays above focus on issues of equality and the proper role of the government

                        in managing and regulating the economy.  Which of the writers are liberal in this regard? 

                        Which are conservative?  One essay deals with issues of order and morality.  What is the

                        author’s ideological position here?  What is his ideological position on economic issues?


            Write:  First, run IDEALOG at idealog10.org/en/quiz/41bf13d  (do the readings and the survey you

                        find there).  Then write a 1-2 page essay briefly discussing the value tradeoffs (freedom vs.

                        order and freedom vs. equality) and policy views of ach ideological type (liberal, conservative,

                        libertarian, communitarian).  Which category best applies to the national Democratic Party?

                        To the national Republican Party?  To columnist Steve Chapman?  To you?  Due Friday,

                        September 4.


C.  Thinking about Democracy  (September 9 and 11)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 1, pp. 20-end and p. 167 (“The Model of Responsible Party Government”).

                        Paul Krugman, "Can it Happen Here?"  nytimes.com/2008/08/11/opinion/11krugman.html

                        Michael Kranish, “McCain Camp Working Out Health Care Details,”


                        David Frum, “The Lunacy of the Birthers,”


                        Timothy Egan, “Palin’s Poison,” egan.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/palins-poison/?8ty&emc=ty

                        Federalist Paper #10; locate at: avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/fed.asp


                        Did we see certain aspects of the responsible party model of democracy in the 2008 election?


                        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.  When

                        trying to control factions does he favor: (1) direct or indirect democracy (does he have a lot

                        of faith in the common man to be well informed and to make make rational policy decisions)?

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

                        democracy?  These are simply questions to think about as you read Federalist 10.  No paper

                        is due this week.


D.  Political Parties  (Week of September 14)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 6.

                        V.O. Key, “A Theory of Critical Elections,” Journal of Politics (1955), pp. 3-8 only.  (Blackboard)

                        Brownstein, “For GOP, A Southern Exposure,” nationaljournal.com/njmagazine/cs_20090523_2195.php


            Write:   In his article, Key proposes the concept of a “critical election” (or, as some would say, the

                        notion of “party realignment”).  What is he talking about, and why did Key choose the particular

                        communities that appear in his analysis (Figure A) to illustrate his ideas?  What do the trends

                        for those two communities reveal?  Brownstein points out a different kind of trend, this time a

                        geographical one.  What does this suggest about the future of the Republican Party?  Discuss

                        in a 1-2 page paper due Friday, September 18. 


E.  Interest Group Politics  (Week of September 21)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 7 and review Ch. 1, pp. 26-28 (pluralistic democracy).  Also, scan the following brief

                        articles to get some notion of the various interest groups lobbying for and against health care reform:


                        Krigman, “AARP Makes Big Push for Health Care Reform”


                        Carney, “Health Care Industry Unleashing Big Money,”


                        Sussman, “American Hospital Association’s Vision for Health Care Reform”


                        Sussman, “AMA: Onboard with the House Bill,”


                        Herbert, “This is Reform?” nytimes.com/2009/08/18/opinion/18herbert.html?ref=opinion


EXAM I:  Friday, September 25 (administered in your discussion section room)






A.  Origins and Development:  A system of separated institutions that share power  (Week of September 28)


            Read:  JBGH, Ch. 2, pp. 40-48, 57-62 and Ch. 8, pp. 232-234 (parliamentary government)

                        Federalist Paper #51; locate at:  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/fed.asp 

                        Zakaria, “More Crises Needed?  The Only Way to Start Reform”



            Write:   Worried about the need to prevent government from becoming too powerful, in Federalist 51

                        Madison hopes to use the very structure and organization of government to create a system of

                        checks and balances.  How is this system designed to work?  One requirement is that every

                        branch must have “a will of its own.”  Another is that the separated branches must have

                        partially overlapping powers.  Finally, one must adjust for the fact that some branches are

                        naturally weak while some are strong.  Discuss in a 1-2 page paper (due October 2).


B.  The Presidency, Part I:  Presidential elections; organizing and staffing the modern presidency  (Week of Oct. 5)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 6, pp. 171-177 and Ch. 9, pp. 244-247 and Ch. 10, pp. 266-272.

                        Federalist Paper #68; locate at:  http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/fed.asp

            Jack Rakove, “The Accidental Electors,.” NY Times (12/19/00).  Find on Blackboard.

            Parsons and Silva, “President Obama To Keep Fed Chief Ben Bernanke for Second Term,”


            “The Federal Reserve Board: FAQs,” federalreserve.gov/generalinfo/faq/faqfrs.htm#1


                        Writing in Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton argues that the Electoral College is a set of

                        procedures carefully designed by the great thinkers at the Constitutional Convention who

                        thought only of selecting the best possible president.  Based on his reading of the debates

                        that actually occurred at the convention, scholar Jack Rakove has a different analysis. 

                        These are just questions to help you think about the assignments.  No paper is assigned.


C.  The Presidency, Part II:  Constitutional powers; successful presidential leadership  (Week of October 12)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 9, pp. 238-244, 247-end and Article II, pp. 392-393.

                        Schaller, “Is Obama Spending His Capital, Wasting it … or Wuz He Robbed?”


                        Dan Balz, “Health-Care Town Hall a Platform for Obama’s Economic Defense,”



D.  The U.S. Congress, Part I:  Constitutional powers; getting elected and getting a committee assignment  (Week of Oct. 19)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 8, pp. 210-218 and Article I of the Constitution, pp. 387-392, especially sections 2, 3, 8 & 9.


            Write:   Go to thomas.loc.gov.  Click on “House of Representatives,” then on “Committees” (see

                        left column, both pages).  Investigate several of these standing committees.  Then write a

                        paper explaining which committee you would like to work on if you were a new member of

                        the House.  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?  (1-2 page paper due Friday, October 23)


E.  The U.S. Congress, Part II:  The legislative process; party leadership and organization  (Week of October 26)


            Read:    JBGH, remainder of Ch. 8.

                        Cohen and Friel, “Chairmen Rising in the Democratic Congress,”



EXAM II:  Friday, October 30 (administered in your discussion section room)





A.  Constitutional Origins:  The founding fathers and limited government; American federalism  (Week of Nov. 2)


            Read:   JBGH, Ch. 2, especially pp. 35-43, 49-57; 61-62; Ch. 3, pp. 64-74, 85-end.  Article IV, pp. 394-395.

                        Declaration of Independence, in JBGH, pp. 385-387. 

                        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.  Locate under Course Documents at

                        the POLS 100 Blackboard website.


                        What is the most useful way to think about the founding fathers?  Were they simply, “Great Men?”

                        Were they greedy, devious elites trying to protect their wealth?  Or were they experienced politicians

                        acting like state representatives, not unlike contemporary members of the U.S. Congress?  These

                        are questions for you to think about as you read the assignment.  No paper is assigned this week.               


B.  The Supreme Court and Judicial Review  (Week of  November 9)


             Read:  JBGH, Ch. 11 and Article III, p. 394.

                        C. Krauthammer, "From Thomas, Original Views," locate at:


                        Olmstead v. U.S. (1928); locate at www.oyez.org.  Once at Oyez, type the title of the case into

                        the search box in the upper right corner of the page and click on “Go.”  When results appear, click

                        on the case you need.  When the title page for that case comes up, do read the case summary but

                        also locate the full decision by clicking on the case citation number that appears in line five in the

                        “Case Basics” box.  In this particular instance you will click on “277 U.S. 438 (1928) in line five.

                        Read only Justice Brandeis’ Dissent (scroll down the page to find it). 


            Write:   Given Clarence Thomas’ approach to interpreting the Constitution, how do you think he might

                        have voted in the Olmstead case?  How would you have voted and why?  As you think about

                        these questions, consider that the founding fathers could not have been thinking about wire tapping

                        when they wrote the 4th Amendment since the technology had not yet been invented.  Discuss in

                        a 1-2 page paper due November 13.


C.  Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights I:  Selective Incorporation; 1st Amendment; Criminal Procedure  (Week of Nov. 16)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 12, pp. 326-328, 311-326 and Amendments 1-3 & 14, p. 396 and 399.

                        Engel v. Vitale (1962); locate at www.oyez.org. 

                        Krauthammer, "Let's Have No More Monkey Trials," locate online at:



                        JBGH, Ch. 12, pp. 328-end (criminal procedure) and Amendments 4-10, pp. 397-398.


            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 November 20)


D.  Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights II:  Criminal Procedure (finish) and Right to Privacy  (November 23)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 12, pp. 328-end and Amendments 4-10 & 14, p. 397-398.


E.  Civil Rights  (Week of November 30)


            Read:    JBGH, Ch. 5, pp. 131-133 and Ch. 13.

                        Loving v. Virginia (1967); locate at www.oyez.org.  Before gay marriage became an issue,

                           some argued that it was also unnatural for certain other people to marry.       

                        "The Heterosexual Revolution," at:  www.stephaniecoontz.com/articles/article21.htm.


                        Gay marriages challenge our traditional notions of what marriage is all about, but less than

                        fifty years ago many people argued that inter-racial marriages were also “unnatural,” and

                        they relied on many of the same arguments that opponents of gay marriage use today.  If the

                        decision in Loving v. Virginia is correct, shouldn’t those principles be extended to protect

                        the rights of gay men and women who wish to marry?  (no paper is due this week)


EXAM III:  10:00 a.m., Monday, December 7, Location TBA (but probably in your discussion section rooms

                     if those rooms are available)