POLS 100, Sections 2 and 4

Intro to American Government and Politics

Professor Mikel Wyckoff

Office: Zulauf 403

Hours: Tues. & Thurs. 11-12:15 and by appointment

753-7056  mwyckoff@niu.edu


Teaching Assistant: Mr. Jesse Peck    

Office:  DuSable 476


753-1818   jpeck4@niu.edu


(Note:  If you are enrolled in my sections of POLS 100 please consult the official course syllabus that is available on Blackboard.  From time to time, minor adjustments must be made to the syllabus and I have no access to this document once it is placed online at my department’s web site.)




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 a final version of his health care plan amidst a sea of disinformation and ill will spread by his opponents, and as he shifts his attention to other legislative proposals and to issues of foreign policy and defense.  To stay in touch with current events I will occasionally add a brief article to the assigned readings for a given week, so please check the online syllabus regularly to stay in touch with the course.  


Although this course is geared to the introductory level, all of you will need to study in order to do well, and some of you will find the material new and difficult.  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. 





The following paperback textbook should be available at either of the campus bookstores.  Although the seventh edition is relatively new, plenty of used copies should be available.  Cengage may also be in the process ofsetting 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 my limited experience with them has been somewhat negative.  Using them at Cengage requires downloading and installing special decoder software on your computer that you may find difficult to use.  If you go this route, please be prepared to solve any problems that you may encounter on your own, and 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 be free of charge.  It is possible that some web sites might insist that you register prior to using their material, but typically they request only general demographic information when you register.   





Cell Phones & Class Decorum.  Please silence and refrain from using your cell phone and other electronic devices 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 :-)    


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, and typically I will not provide them to you if you miss a lecture.


Exams.  Three hourly exams will be given.  All will be multiple choice in format and each will contribute 22.5% to your final grade.  Together, the exams are worth about two-thirds of your final grade, so it is very important to do well on them (or at least not do poorly).  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).  For each section of the course, you will prepare a brief essay (about 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 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 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. 


Quizzes.  On most Thursdays there will be a brief quiz dealing with the reading assignments for that week.  Quizzes may be objective or essay in format.  Missed quizzes normally will be assigned a score of zero. Together, the quizzes will contribute 10% of your final course grade. 


Attendance.  Although attendance is not formally computed into your course grade, I expect you to come to class regularly and I reserve the right to increase your final grade by up to one-third of a letter for good attendance and participation (for example, a C+ with good attendanceand participation becomes a B- in my grade book).  To make this work, I will need to take attendance each day.  


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:


            CourseAvg. =  .675(avg. grade on three exams) + .225(avg. grade on three written assignments) + .100(avg. score on quizzes)


Extra credit. Sorry, none is available.  No exceptions.  Your grade for the course will be based on the criteria outlined above.  If you find you’re having trouble, please seek help early in the semester. Mr. Peck 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.


Submission of an electronic copy of written assignments to Safe-Assign.  In addition to a hard copy submitted in class, students must also submit an electronic version of each written assignment on Blackboard where it will be processed by Safe-Assign, a computer program that checks documents for instances of plagiarism.  To accomplish this, 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”).  You will not receive credit for your paper until you upload it to Safe-Assign.   


Please do your own work and write in your own voice. 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.  If that happens, serious penalties will be invoked.  Blatant instances of plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty will result in an F for the course, and possible expulsion from NIU.  Other significant instances may result in a score of zero for the paper involved, or a significant reduction in your final course grade.  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 dishonest.  Also, please be aware that submitting a paper written by someone who has already taken the course may well get that person in trouble with the University.  I am required to report instances of plagiarism to the NIU Office of Judicial Affairs.  If you submit a paper written by someone else, that person’s name will appear on my report, as well as your name.  


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 engaging in academic dishonesty.


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.


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 requiresome type of instructional accommodation, please contact the Center forAccess-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?  (January 12 & 14)


            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


B.  Public Opinion and Ideology in America  (January 19 & 21)


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


                        The following brief essays are intended to be read fairly quickly, and for their main points.  No need

                        to study them and become an expert on the subject matter.  Most of the essays focus on issues of

                        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?  Two essays deal with issues of order and

                        morality.  What is the author’s ideological position on that kind of issue? What is his ideological position

                        on economic issues?


                        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

                        Steve Chapman, “Rationalizing Torture,” reason.com/news/show/135700.html

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

                           (see Blackboard Documents)

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


            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?  Due Thursday, January21.


C.  Thinking about Democracy  (January 26 & 28)


            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,”


           Brownstein, “What Steele Left Out: The RNCChairman's Pledge to Preserve Medicare is Incompatible

                           with His Party's Visions of Sweeping Change,”nationaljournal.com/njmagazine/hc_20090828_8654.php

                        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.  To create the best possible

                        democratic system 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 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  (February 2 & 4)


            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


                        In his article, V.O. 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 idea?  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?   


E.  Interest Group Politics  (February 9)


            Read:    JBGH,Ch. 7 and review Ch. 1, pp. 26-28 (pluralistic democracy).  Also, skim 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,”



EXAM I:  Thursday, February 11






A.  Origins and Development:  A system of separated institutions that share power  (February 16 & 18)


            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 asystem 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 February 18).


B.  The Presidency, Part I:  Presidential elections; organizing and staffing the modern presidency (February 23 & 25 )


            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,”



            Suggested (not required) if you want to know more about the Federal Reserve Board: 

            “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  (March 2& 4)


            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,”



SPRINGBREAK:  Week of March 8


D.  The U.S. Congress, Part I:  Constitutional powers; getting elected and getting a committee assignment (March 16 & 18)


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


                        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 think

                        about 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? 


E.  The U.S. Congress, Part II:  The legislative process; party leadership and organization  (March23)


            Read:    JBGH, remainder of Ch. 8.

                        Hulse and Pear, “Health Care Poses Stiff Test for Top Democrats,” (see Blackboard Documents)


EXAM II:  Thursday, March 25





A.  Constitutional Origins:  The founding fathers and limited government; American federalism (March 30 & April 1)


            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 in Course Documents section

                        at Blackboard.


                        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  (April 6 & 8)


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

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


                        Justice Brandeis’ dissent in Olmstead v. U.S. (1928).  Locate excerpt in Documents section

                        of Blackboard.


                        As you read excerpts of Justice Brandeis’ dissenting opinion, consider that the founding fathers

                        could not have been thinking about wire tapping when they wrote the 4th Amendment since

                        telephones did not exist in the late 1700s when they wrote the Constitution and Bill of Rights. 


                        In this case, Olmstead has been convicted of a crime by wire tap evidence obtained without a

                        search warrant.  Is this evidence acceptable or does it violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition

                        on “unreasonable search and seizure?” The Court majority, led by Justice Taft, ruled against

                        Olmstead and let his conviction stand.  In his dissenting opinion, Justice Brandeis argued that the

                        defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights had been violated and that the evidence obtained from the

                        wire tap must not be used against him. Which opinion best exemplifies judicial activism?  Which

                        reflects the philosophy of judicial restraint (as well as the philosophy of originalism?)  How would

                        would you have voted and why?  Given Clarence Thomas’ approach to interpreting the Constitution,

                        how do you think he might have voted in the Olmstead case?            


C.  Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights I:  Selective Incorporation; 1stAmendment; Criminal Procedure (April 13 & 15)


            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.  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 “370 U.S. 421 (1962) in line five.


                        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 April 15)


D.  Civil Liberties and the Bill of Rights II:  Criminal Procedure (finish) and Right to Privacy  (April 20 & 22)


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


E.  Civil Rights  (April 27 and April 29)


            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, should those principles be extended to protect the

                        rights of gay men and women who wish to marry? 


EXAM III:  10:00a.m., Thursday, May 6  (Section 2, which normally meets from 9:30 to 10:45)

                     12:00Noon,Thursday, May 6  (Section 4, which normally meets from 12:30 to 1:45)