American Government and Politics
MWF 11-11:50; DuSable 246
Professor Mikel Wyckoff
Office: Zulauf 403
Hours: M and by Appointment
Teaching Assistant: Mr. Paul Vasholz
Office: DuSable 476
Note: Review Questions for Exams 1-3 can be found at the end of this online syllabus. Scroll down to find them.
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 try to keep an eye on the 2008 presidential race.
II. REQUIRED READINGS
The following textbook is required and should be available at either of the campus bookstores:
Also, please note that several additional required readings must be located online at various Internet websites. Consult the outline below for specific assignments. Occasionally this may involve using a computer at an NIU computing lab to gain access to sites for which NIU has paid subscription fees (e.g., www.jstor.org ). For an online version of this syllabus with links to required readings go to www.polisci.niu.edu. Please look for the syllabus associated with POLS 100, Section 7. (Note that I also teach Sections 1-6 in Cole Auditorium).
Cell Phones & Class Decorum. Please silence your cell phones prior to the start of class. I ask also that you be civil during class and respect the needs of your fellow students, most of whom actually will be trying to do well in the course! If you don’t, the grouchy old professor may ask you to leave.
General Advice. Your best strategy for success is to keep up with the assigned readings, attend class regularly, take good notes, and then study (!) for the exams. Study guides are provided (see the online syllabus) but a good set of notes and a familiarity with key readings will be your best guide to the content of the exams.
Exams. Three hourly exams will be given. All will be multiple choice in format and each will contribute 22.5% to your final grade.
Written Assignments. About every other week you will prepare a short essay (1-2 pages of text, typed and double-spaced) reacting to one of the lecture topics for that week. The course outline (below) will tell you exactly when papers are due. Papers not submitted by the due date will normally receive a grade reduction of at least one letter. Exceptions will be made for persons experiencing extraordinary circumstances as defined below under “makeup exams.” My TA, Mr. Paul Vasholz, 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.
Attendance and Participation. 10% of your final course grade will be based on attendance and participation in class discussion. To get to know you better I will set up a seating chart and take attendance on a daily basis.
Computing Grades. Your final course grade will be a weighted average of your scores on the exams, the papers, and attendance/participation in discussion section:
Final Score = .675(Avg. Exam Score) + .225(Avg. Paper Score) + .100(Attendance/Participation).
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, seek help early in the semester and devise strategies for improving your performance on required exams and assignments.
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 let me know. If you have not already done so, you will need to register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources, the office on campus that provides services for students with disabilities. The CAAR office is located in the University Health Services building (753-1303).
COURSE OUTLINE AND READING ASSIGNMENTS
PART I: POLITICS AND THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS IN THE
A. Organizational Issues and Basics of Government and Politics (Week of January 14)
Read: JBGH, Ch. 1, pp. 1-12.
John Locke, Chapter 9 from The Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690);
W. Saletan, "What Reagan Got Wrong," locate at www.slate.com/id/2101835
B. Special Topic: Presidential Primary Elections (January 23 and 25)
David Greenberg, “How Presidential Primaries Backfired,” locate at:
C. Public Opinion
and Ideology in
Read: JBGH, Ch. 1, pp. 12-17; Ch. 4, especially pp. 91-102 & 109-end.
Krugman, “A Socialist Plot” (
Steve Chapman, “Clinton’s Learning Curve,” (10/11/07) and “Is Pornography a Catalyst of
Sexual Violence,” (
Write: First, run IDEALOG at www.uspolitics.org . Then write a 1-2 page essay briefly discussing
the value preferences and policy views of each ideological type (liberal, conservative,
libertarian, communitarian). Can you find examples of all four types among the current
Republican and Democratic candidates for president? (Due Friday, February 1)
D. Political Parties (Week of February 4)
Read: JBGH, Ch. 6.
V.O. Key, “A Theory of Critical Elections,” Journal of Politics (1955), pp. 3-8 only. (Find at
www.jstor.org using an NIU Internet connection).
Note: There are many ways to locate articles on jstor. One way is to “browse” the political science
journals and then click on the journal you need – in this case the Journal of Politics. Once
you’re inside that journal, click on the dates associated with the volume you need. Remember
that you need to access jstor through NIU because it is a subscription web site. The easiest
way to do this is to use a computer on campus, but it is also possible to access jstor while off
campus via the NIU Library web site.
Write: In this article, Key proposes the concept of a “critical election.” 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, February 8.
E. Interest Group Politics (Week of February 11)
Read: JBGH, Ch. 7 and review Ch. 1, pp. 22-24 (pluralistic democracy).
EXAM I: Friday, February 29
A. Constitutional Origins (Week of February 25)
Read: JBGH, Ch. 2, pp. 31-42, 48-51.
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 (Week of March 3)
Read: JBGH, Ch. 2, pp. 42-48, 51-end; Ch. 3, pp. 62-79, 81-end.
Federalist Paper #51; locate at : www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/federal/fed.htm
Write: In an effort to prevent any single group from having complete control of the national government,
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, because certain branches are naturally stronger, and certain branches are naturally weaker than
others, steps had to be taken to promote a more equal competition among them. Discuss in a 1-2
page paper (due Friday March 7).
SPRING BREAK: Week of March 10
C. Democracy and the Constitution (Monday, March 17)
Read: JBGH, Ch. 1, pp. 17-end and p. 163 (“The Model of Responsible Party Government”).
Federalist Paper #10; locate at : www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/federal/fed.htm
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? When trying to control factions does he favor: (1) direct or indirect
democracy? (2) majority rule or pluralistic democracy? (3) a large nation or a small nation?
D. Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights (March 19, 21, 24, 26, 28)
Engel v. Vitale (1962); locate at www.findlaw.com
Note: To find Supreme Court cases on findlaw first toggle to “For Legal Professionals” at the
of the first page. Then click on the “
Finally, scroll down to the “Party Name Search” block and insert one of the names contained
in your case title (for example, in this case type in “Engel”). Then click the Search button.
The software will list several cases with “Engel” in the title. Select Engel v. Vitale (1962).
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, March 28)
E. Civil Rights (Week of March 31)
"The Heterosexual Revolution," at: www.stephaniecoontz.com/articles/article21.htm
EXAM II: Friday, April 4
A. The Supreme Court and Judicial Review (Week of April 7 )
Read: JBGH, Ch. 11 and Article III, pp. A9-A10.
C. Krauthammer, "From Thomas, Original Views," locate at:
How would you describe Justice Thomas’ general philosophy of Constitutional interpretation?
Which side do you think he would have voted with in the Olmstead case? How would you have
voted in that case? Why?
B. Presidential and Congressional Elections (Week of April 14)
Read: JBGH, Ch. 6, pp. 163-175 and Ch. 8, pp. 205-210.
Federalist Paper #68 ( locate at www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/federal/fed.htm)
Jack Rakove, “The Accidental Electors,.” NY Times (
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,
scholar Jack Rakove comes to different conclusions regarding the origins of this peculiar
institution. Which interpretation seems most convincing to you? Why? Discuss in a 1-2
page paper due Friday, April 18.
Read: JBGH, Ch. 8 and Article I of the Constitution, pp. A3-A6, especially sections 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, May 2)
D. The Presidency & the Executive Branch (April 30, May 2, May 5, May 7)
Read: JBGH, Ch. 9, pp. 235-238 and Ch. 10, pp. 254-263 (executive branch organization).
JBGH, Ch. 9, pp. 229-234, 238-end and Article II, pp. A7‑A9 (pres. powers and leadership).
EXAM III: , Wednesday, May 14.
REVIEW QUESTIONS FOR EXAM I
1. Define: government, politics, public policy. What functions do governments perform for society? What alternatives to government are available to us?
2. Be familiar with basic terms: (1) totalitarianism, libertarianism, anarchism; (2) socialism, capitalism, laissez-faire.
3. Be familiar with the values of freedom, order and equality as defined in the textbook and lecture.
4. In 20th Century
5. By cross-classifying economic liberalism-conservatism with order/morality liberalism-conservatism Janda generates four different ideological classifications. Be familiar with them (liberals, conservatives, libertarians, communitarians) and the value tradeoffs that underlie them.
6. Define "political party." What functions do political parties perform for democratic political systems, according to the lecture? Be familiar with "responsible party democracy" as one approach to majority rule democracy.
7. What is a "critical" or "realigning" election and how
did V.O. Key demonstrate that critical realignment occurred in the
8. How do interest groups differ from political parties? How do interest groups try to influence public policy? What type of democracy do interest groups tend to promote? What are the pitfalls of relying too much on interest groups to provide democracy?
9. Nominations: (1) what are primary elections and how did we come to use
primaries as the principal method of making nominations in the
10. Presidential nominations involve both primaries and conventions. Explain. What does it take to win a presidential nomination?
REVIEW QUESTIONS FOR EXAM II
1. In the 1760s and 1770s, the British government adopted a variety of policies that greatly offended the colonists. Why, given their history, did the colonists react so negatively?
2. What body served as a national government for the colonists during the Revolutionary War? What two significant founding documents were adopted by this body (one with the help of Thomas Jefferson)?
3. What kind of national government operated in the
4. What kinds of people attended the Constitutional Convention of 1787? What major issues were debated and what major agreements were achieved there? According to Roche, what does all of this tell us about the founders of the Constitution?
5a. 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 gotten rid of? In dealing with factions does he prefer: (1) direct or indirect democracy? (2) majority rule or pluralistic democracy? (3) a large nation or a small nation? Explain.
5b. Still concerned about the dangers of factions, in Federalist 51
6. There are many ways to think about democracy and how democratic political
systems work. Discuss and evaluate democracy in
7. Why isn’t the Bill of Rights found in the main body of the Constitution? Identify: the federalists, the anti-federalists, the Federalist Papers.
8. Over the course of our history, the relative powers of the national and
state governments have varied with the outcomes of presidential elections,
wars, and Supreme Court decisions (e.g., McCulloch v.
9. Know the opinion of the Supreme Court in Barron v.
10. In Engle v. Vitale, the Court’s majority decision and Justice Stewart’s rebuttal display two different interpretations of the establishment clause. Compare and contrast these two conflicting interpretations. Which is most convincing to you? Why?
11. Know the key provisions of Amendment I (discussed in class) and how those provisions have been interpreted by the Supreme Court in Near v. Minnesota (1931), N.Y. Times v. U.S. (1971), Miller v. California (1973), Schenck v. U.S. (1919), Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971).
12. Know the key provisions of Amendments IV- VIII (discussed in class) and
how those provisions have been interpreted by the Court in Mapp v.
13. Know how a Constitutional "right to privacy" was defined by the
Supreme Court in Griswold v.
14. Be familiar with major events and turning points in the struggle for racial equality (e.g., Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857; Civil Rights Cases, 1883; Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896; Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; the Civil Rights Act of 1964; the Voting Rights Act of 1965) discussed in the lecture on civil rights in America.
15. Be familiar with major events and turning points in the struggle for women’s equality.
16. Be able to identify the basic contents (e.g., Article I defines the legislative branch of government) of Articles I - VI and Amendments 1 - 15.
REVIEW QUESTIONS FOR EXAM III
1. The American court system: (1) in reality we have two different court
systems; why? (2) within each system there are courts with different functions;
what are those functions and what names do the courts go by? (3) how do judges
2. Judicial Interpretation: (1) what is the power of judicial review, and what is the source of that power? (2) There are two general schools of thought with regard to how judges should go about interpreting the Constitution: "judicial activism" and "judicial restraint." Be familiar with the basic tenets of each.
3. According to
4. Be familiar with legislative reapportionment redistricting. When do these processes occur and why? Who is responsible? What is gerrymandering?
5. What factors favor incumbents in House and Senate races?
6. Bicameralism: Know the basic differences between the House and Senate.
7. Be familiar with the various stages in the legislative process: (1) introduction and referral; (2) processing in committee; (3) scheduling (e.g., by the House Rules Committee); (4) floor debate (note House and Senate differences here); (4) conference committee adjustments; (5) presentment to the president.
8. Regarding party leadership and organization: (1) what is a party caucus? (2) who are the day-to-day party leaders in the House and Senate? (3) who are the Constitutional presiding officers in each house and why are two of them relatively unimportant most of the time? (4) why is it advantageous to be a member of the majority party in Congress?
11. Know the basic rules and procedures involved in the Electoral College. What potentially undesirable outcomes can occur with this method of presidential selection? Why did the Framers of the Constitution adopt the Electoral College?
12. What are the major elements of the White House Executive Office and why are these groups sometimes more important than the Cabinet?
13. Define the term "bureaucracy." Know the major kinds of bureaucratic organizations found in the federal government (departments, independent executive agencies, independent regulatory boards, and government corporations).
14. What major Constitutional roles or powers are granted to the President in Article I and II? What other kinds of informal powers and resources are required for effective presidential leadership? Why are some presidents more successful with their legislative proposals than others?