Pol 166: American political system

How do we do politics in the United States? This is the question which will animate this course on American government. As an introduction, this course will focus heavily on the federal government, its various branches, and its functions; by the end of the semester you should have a solid understanding of the basics of American governance. Yet this is not just a course on the formal institutions of government, but also on the ways that citizens interact with one another and other levels of government, and how those interactions affect policy at all levels.

To that end, the latter half of the course will be given over to a particular moment in American history: the mid-1960s conflicts over civil rights. While there were many actors in those conflicts (and recognizing that the push for civil rights began long before and has lasted long after the 1960s) we will focus on the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), how and why they emerged, how those activists organized themselves, and how they related to others both pushing for and against civil rights.

While we are looking at SNCC for many reasons, the main reason is to consider the power relationship between citizens and those who would rule them. Note, of course, that not all who seek to rule are a part of the government—power in a democracy is widely, if unevenly, distributed— and that, crucially, the government that may be used to oppress may also be used to liberate.

Required readings (available at Lehman bookstore or online):
WTP: Benjamin Ginsberg, Theodore Lowi, Margaret Weir, Caroline Tolbert, & Robert Spitzer, We the People, 10th ed., ISBN 978 0 393 93705 3
SNCC readings: These will be available online; specific readings will be announced in class

Attendance, 30 pts 15%
Quizzes, 60 pts 30%
Midterm Essay, Due April 24, 40 pts 20%
Final Essay, Due May 22, 70 pts 35%
Note: you will be given a separate handout for the essay assignments.
No extra credit will be available.

Attendance is mandatory, and will be taken at the outset of each class. It is expected that you participate in every class session. Lectures will cover both the course readings and additional materials. Try to complete the readings before the Tuesday class, and certainly by the Thursday session: You will be better prepared both to ask questions about the readings and to participate.

The quizzes will be short in-class closed-book fill-in-the-blank tests and cover a chapter or two. Quizzes will always be held at the beginning of the class on Tuesdays; specific dates will be announced in class the prior Thursday. The midterm and final essays, on the other hand, are scaffolded papers designed to get you to think about the connection between citizen actions and government functions.

Days 1-2: Introduction: Politics, democracy and political culture
January 30-February 1: Introduction; WTP chs. 1-3; Declaration of Independence

Days 3-4: Foundations
February 6-8: WTP chs. 1-3; Constitution, Federalist Nos. 10 & 51

Days 5-7: Institutions: Congress and the presidency
February 13-15, 22: WTP chs. 9-10

***No Class Tuesday, February 20: Monday schedule***

Days 8-9: Institutions, cont.: The presidency and foreign policy
February 27-March 1: WTP chs. 10, 14

Days 10-11: Institutions, cont.: Foreign policy and the bureaucracy
March 6-8: WTP chs. 11, 14

Days 12-13: Institutions, cont: The bureaucracy and the judiciary
March 13-15: WTP, chs. 14 & 12

Days 14-15: Institutions, finish
March 20-22: WTP, chs. 14 & 12

Days 16-17: Political Society: More in than out
March 27-29: WTP, chs 5-8;
SNCC readings:
. . . Julian Bond, SNCC: What We Did
. . . Greensboro sit-ins, others: Read ‘Greensboro sit-ins (Feb)’ and ‘Sit-ins Sweep Across the South (1960-64)’
. . . SNCC Founding Statement
. . . SNCC Founded (April)
. . . Gallup poll on Freedom Riders, pp. 1-2

***No Class April 3 & 5: Spring Recess ***

Days 18-19: Political Society: More in than out
April 10-12: WTP chs. 5-8; media readings

Days 20-21: Political Society: In and out
April 17-19: WTP chs. 5-8, 4; SNCC readings

Days 22-23: Political Society: The connection between in and out Midterm Essay Due
April 24-26: WTP, chs. 4, 13; SNCC readings

Day 24-25: Political Society: The connection between in and out
May 1-3: WTP, chs. 4, 13; SNCC readings

Days 26-27: Claiming a right to be free
May 8-10: SNCC readings

Day 28: Democracy, politics, and democratic politics
May 15: Wrap-up and review

Final Essay: May 22