The American Presidency

POLS 308- Section 01

Spring 2010

Room: DU 459

Time: MWF 11-11:50am

Instructor: Neil Wright


Office Hours (Dusable 476):

Mondays: 11:55am-1:25pm

Wednesdays: 11:55am-1:25pm



Phone: 815.753.1818

Course Overview:

The objective of this course is to introduce students to the theoretical justifications for the American Presidency, its historical development, the role it has played and currently plays in the American political system, and the various contemporary debates concerning the presidency. We will examine the formal and informal powers of the office, the factors influencing presidential leadership and success, the influence of the presidency on American politics and American political culture, and how these have changed over time. The instructor will encourage students to think critically about these issues and challenge students to consider the appropriate role for and powers of the President.


Prerequisite: At least sophomore standing or consent of department. Recommended: POLS 100 or 150.


Required Texts:

Kernell, Samuel. Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership. 4th Edition. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2007. ISBN:9781568028996

Milkis, Sidney and Michael Nelson. The American Presidency: Origins and Development, 1776-2007. 5th Edition. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780872893368

Neustadt, Richard E. Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents: The Politics of Leadership from Roosevelt to Reagan. New York, NY: The Free Press, 1990. IBSN:9780029227961

Pika, Joseph A. and John Anthony Maltese. The Politics of the Presidency. 7th Edition. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2008. ISBN:9780872894686


Note: There are several other readings and supplemental materials that will be distributed or presented by the instructor in class. If you fail to attend these classes, it is your responsibility to see to it that you receive them.


Preparation, Attendance, and Participation:  Each student must complete and give serious thought to each session's readings.  Each must come to class prepared to discuss these readings and to ask for any needed clarification. 


Attendance will be taken at the start of each class. Students not in the room when attendance is taken will be considered absent. Students who leave class early without prior permission will also be considered absent.  Attendance accounts for half of your participation grade.  Students are responsible for any material missed due to absence.


Participation is also an important factor in your evaluation.  Obviously, one cannot participate in class if they are not present in that class, so again, come to class. All students will be expected to participate in class discussions. The instructor will see to it that he fosters a classroom environment conducive to open, civil, and productive discussion. 


Classroom Decorum: This is a 50 min class, so come on time. Late arrivals are  disruptive not only to your peers but to your instructor as well. Cell phones and other communication devices should be turned off (except in special circumstances cleared with the instructor). Be respectful both in your behavior and comments. We will discuss issues many feel passionate about, and though lively debate is encouraged, disrespectful comments will not be tolerated.



Blog Entries and Responses:  Throughout the course, each student will submit a total of 2 three-page original blog entries and 4 one-page blog responses in their group's “Discussion Board” forum on BlackBoard. The purpose of the blogs is to refine your writing and critical thinking skills, establish a dialogue with your fellow students about key topics from the class, and to provide a forum for applying ideas from class to analyses of current events.  Your blog entries and responses are essentially short papers, which I expect to be of the quality you would submit as such. This means they are structured and written like a formal essay, use standard formatting, and cite sources properly.


All students will be assigned a blog group and a member number within that group.  Your member number corresponds to the order in which your entries are due.  Member 1 from each blog group will post a blog entry first on the first entry due date.  The other group members will then each respond to this entry on the first response due date.  Member 2 will post the next blog entry likewise, and so on. Due dates for entries and responses are listed in the course schedule.  If your group ends up having less than three members, you will need to write a response to the group whose number is directly below yours (so, if you were in Group 8, you'd write your extra response to Group 7.  If Group 1 loses a member, the remaining will write their extra response to Group 8).  If your group member has not posted his or her blog by the time you go to write your response, go ahead and write a blog response to the blog group directly below yours in number.


Your first entry will make an argument about some controversial topic related to the presidency discussed in class (the topic is up to you, but you must run your topic by me first). Your second entry will provide an analysis of a recent newspaper opinion article (you must provide a link to your article in your entry), relating it back to ideas discussed in the course. Responses must engage in dialogue with the original entry, making a case for your disagreement, agreement, and/or points of contention with the original entry. In all entries and responses be sure to utilize concepts and information from the course effectively, as this factor is an important part of how they will be evaluated.


The instructor will make himself available for any help you might need with this and other assignments.


Research Paper:

Each student will submit a 10 page research paper on some aspect of the modern presidency. Topics must be relevant to the course and approved by the instructor. Topics must be approve by March 19th. Students should utilize standard formatting and cite their sources properly. Excellent papers will include the concise and coherent development of a strong thesis backed by compelling evidence. Although you are encouraged to make use of materials covered in class, this paper must also include at least 3 scholarly sources outside the course material.



Late Paper Policy:

Both the blogs and the research paper will be docked a full letter grade for each day (not each class period, but each calendar day) that they are late.  The instructor will only make exceptions in extreme circumstances, at his discretion. It is very important not only for your own grade, but also for the convenience of both the instructor and your fellow group members that you submit your written work on time. 


Quizzes: 6 quizzes will be given over the span of this course. Only the highest 5 quiz grades will count toward final grades. Quizzes will cover the required text materials, material presented in class/discussions, and all other supplementary material, including hand-outs and videos. They will be administered on dates to be determined by the instructor. There will be NO MAKE-UPS granted for quizzes.

Exams: There will be a mid-term and final exam. Both exams will consist of a mix of multiple choice, short answer, and essay questions. Students will need to bring their own bluebooks. The final exam will not be cumulative.


Points Breakdown:

Blackboard Blog: 100pts (30 pts per blog entry, 10pts per blog response)

Class Participation and Attendance: 50pts

Quizzes: 50pts (6 quizzes, lowest dropped)

Research Paper: 100pts

Mid-Term Exam: 100pts

Final Exam: 100pts


Grading Scale:













Incompletes will only be given in rare circumstances, such as illness, death in the immediate family, or other unusual and unforeseeable circumstances. Incompletes are given at the discretion of the instructor and only when it is possible that the completion of the remaining work could result in a passing grade. An incomplete must be resolved within the appropriate time limit or it will automatically be changed to an F. The student is responsible for seeing that incompletes are made up before the expiration date.

Academic Dishonesty

Regarding plagiarism, the NIU Undergraduate Catalog states: "Students are guilty of plagiarism, intentional or not, if they copy material from books, magazines, or other sources without identifying and acknowledging them. Students guilty of, or assisting others in, either cheating or plagiarism on an assignment, quiz, or examination may receive a grade of F for the course involved and may be suspended or dismissed from the university." The above statement encompasses a paper written in whole or in part by another; a paper copied word-for-word or with only minor changes from another source; a paper copied in part from one or more sources without proper identification and acknowledgment of the sources; a paper that is merely a paraphrase of one or more sources, using ideas and/or logic without credit even though the actual words may be changed; and a paper that quotes, summarizes or paraphrases, or cuts and pastes words, phrases, or images from an Internet source without identification and the address of the web site. Still unsure what constitutes plagiarism? Take a lot at this website:


Students with Disabilities

Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have an impact on their course work must register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building (753-1303). CAAR will assist students in making appropriate instructional and/or examination accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.

Department of Political Science Web Site

Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, research career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to

Undergraduate Writing Awards

The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies. Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing. Winners are expected to attend the Department’s spring graduation ceremony, where they will receive a certificate and $50.00. Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary by the end of March. All copies should have two cover pages – one with the student’s name and one without the student’s name. Only papers written in the previous calendar year can be considered for the award. However, papers completed in the current spring semester are eligible for the following year’s competition even if the student has graduated.

Political Science Website

Students are encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science website on a regular basis. This central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, and researching career options. Undergraduates may find this website especially useful in tracking down department events and for accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach this site, go to


Tentative Schedule:

BB= Reading available in the “Course Documents” section on BlackBoard

MN= Sidney M. Milkis and Michael Nelson

PM= Joseph A. Pika and John Anthony Maltese

K= Samuel Kernell

N= Richard Neustadt


Note: The instructor reserves the right to adjust the schedule and readings as he deems appropriate.




Week 1



Introductions and Course overview


Part I: The Origins and Establishment of the Presidency

Lecture 1: Is an Executive Necessary?


MN: Ch. 1 p. 1-22,

BB: Mikhail Bakunin “Power Corrupts the Best”

BB: Selected Writings of Abraham Lincoln “Reverence for the Law” p 42-47


Lecture 2: Is an Executive Necessary (cont.)?/ If an Executive is needed, what should it look like?


MN: Ch. 2 p. 26-63

BB: Anti-Federalist Papers “Cato V”

Week 2


No Class: Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Lecture 3: Should there be Bounds to Executive Power?


BB: John Locke p 226-231 (paragraphs 159-168)

BB: Federalist #23


Lecture 4: The Presidency in the Constitutional System


PM: Selections from the US Constitution

BB: Federalist #51

BB: Federalist #71

Week 3


Lecture 5: The President's Constitutional Power (cont.)

BB: Pacificus-Helvidius Debate (Abridged) or p. 19-25, 52-65

In Class:

Quiz 1


Lecture 6: The Vice President


MN: Ch. 2 p. 63-64, Ch. 16 p. 451-461

PM: 267-269


Blog Entry 1 Due


Lecture 7: Studying the Presidency


PM: Ch. 1 p. 1-33

Week 4


Part II:Development of the Presidency in the 18th and 19th Centuries

Lecture 8: Washington's Legacy and the Presidency of John Adams


MN: Ch. 3 p. 68-93


Blog Response 1 Due


Lecture 9: Jeffersonianism and the Presidency


MN: Ch 4 p. 97-115


Lecture 10: Jacksonian Democracy: The President as Demagogue?


MN: Ch. 5 p. 121-147

Week 5


Lecture 11: Lincoln and the Expansion of Presidential Power


MN: Ch. 6 p. 151-170


Blog Entry 2 Due


Lecture 12: Reaction to Expansion


MN: Ch. 7 p. 173-203


Lecture 13: TR and the Revival of Presidential Power


MN: Ch. 8 p . 208-232

In Class:

Quiz 2

Week 6


Lecture 14: Woodrow Wilson


MN: Ch. 9 251-255, Ch. 10 p. 258-277

BB: Woodrow Wilson Constitutional Government in the United States (selection)

BB: Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918


Blog Response 2 Due


Part III: The Modern Presidency

Lecture 15: The Evolution of Presidential Selection


PM: Ch. 2 p. 36-42

MN: Ch. 12 p. 341-342


Lecture 16: Presidential Nomination and Campaigning


PM: Ch. 2 p. 49-59, Ch. 3 p. 136-137

BB: Browse's data on President Obama's Campaign Financing


Week 7


Lecture 17: General Election, the Electoral College, the Permanent Campaign


PM: Ch. 2 p. 59-83

In Class Video: 2000 PBS Debate on Electoral College


Blog Entry 3 Due



Lecture 19: Laissez Faire and Capitalism's Crisis


MN: Ch. 10 p. 258-277


Lecture 20: FDR and the Modern Presidency



MN: Ch. 11 p. 280-298

BB: FDR “Commonwealth Club Campaign Speech”

In Class:

Quiz 3

Week 8


Lecture 21: Sustaining the Modern Presidency


MN: Ch. 11 p. 298-317


Blog Response 3 Due


In Class



Mid-Term Exam

Week 9


No Class: Spring Break!!!

Week 10


Part IV: Institutional Environment of the Modern Presidency

Lecture 22: Executive Politics


PM: Ch. 6 p. 246-289



Lecture 23: EOP and Bureau of Budget


PM: Ch. 9 p. 388-407

MN: Ch. 11 p. 285-308


Lecture 24: The President's Formal Legislative Role


PM: Ch. 5 p. 200-221

Must have topic approved by this date.

Week 11


Lecture 25: The President's Informal Legislative Role


PM: Ch. 5 p. 221-238


Blog Entry 4 Due


Lecture 26: The President and the Judiciary


PM: Ch. 7 p. 298-327


Part V: Presidential Leadership

Lecture 27: Presidential Leadership


N: Preface-p. 49

In Class:

Quiz 4

Week 12


Lecture 28: Professional Reputation and Public Prestige


N: 50-90


Blog Response 4 Due


Lecture 29: The Personalization of the Presidency and Presidential Character


MN: Ch. 12 p. 323-360


Lecture 30: The President and his Public


PM: Ch. 3 p. 93-119

In Class:

Informal discussion of research papers.

Research Paper Due

Week 13


Lecture 31: The President and the Media


PM: Ch. 3 p. 120-136


Lecture 32: Going Public


K: 1-45


Lecture 33: Going Public (cont.)


K: 48-106

In Class:

Quiz 5

Week 14


Lecture 34: Going Public (cont.)


K: 110-144


Lecture 35: Going Public (cont.)


K: 148-177

MN: Ch. 11 p. 311-317


Part VI: Public Policy

Lecture 37: President and Domestic Policy


PM: Ch. 8 p. 333-362

Week 15


Lecture 36: National Security and Foreign Policy


PM: Ch. 10 p. 412-446

In Class:

Quiz 6





Week 16


In Class:

Discussion of the expansion of Executive power and how it has been used.


In Class:



No Class: Reading Day

Week 17



Final Exam: Wednesday 10-11:50AM DU 459