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, interwoven with the discussion of formal politics will be an exploration of 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):
AG: Glen Krutz, et al, American Government 2e. (You can either read it in html or pdf; all references will be to the pdf page numbers)
APP: A Partial Politics, available on Blackboard
FM: Freedom Movt readings: links available, below

Attendance, 30 pts . . . . . 15%
Quizzes, 60 pts . . . . . . 30%
Midterm Essay, Due March 24, 40 pts . . . . . 20%
Final Essay, Due May 21, 70 pts . . . . . 35%
Note: you will be given a separate handout for the essay assignments.
No extra credit will be available. If necessary, there may be changes to the schedule; these will be announced in class & on Blackboard.

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 usually be held at the beginning of the class on Tuesdays; specific dates will be announced in the prior class. 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.

Regarding tablets/computers: You may use for notes as long as WIFI IS TURNED OFF; please stow cell phones.

Regarding food and drink in the classroom: Something to drink is fine, something to eat is not.


Days 1-2: Introduction: Politics, democracy and political culture
Jan 28-30: APP | AG chs. 1-3; Declaration of Independence (Appendix A)

Days 3-4: Foundations
Feb 4-6: AG, chs. 1-3; Constitution, Federalist Nos. 10 & 51 (Appendices B&C)

Days 5-6: Institutions: The courts
Feb 11-13: AG, ch 13

Days 7-8: Political society: Civil liberties & civil rights
Feb 18-20: AG, ch 4

Days 9-10: Civil rights: Freedom Movt
Feb 25-27: AG,  ch 5;

Days 11-12: Freedom movement, interest groups
Mar 3-5: AG, ch 10; and

Days 13-16: Media & public opinion
Mar 10-19: AG, chs 6 & 8; and

Days 17-18: Institutions: The presidency, bureaucracy, & foreign policy
Mar 24-26: AG, chs 12, 15, & 17 . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . Midterm Essay Due

Days 19-20: The presidency, etc., cont.
Mar 31-Apr 2: AG, finish chs 12, 15, & 17

***April 7 Wed schedule: NO CLASS; April 8-16 Spring Recess: NO CLASS***

Days 21-23: Institutions: Congress, Domestic policy
Apr 21-28: AG, chs. 11 & 16;

Days 24-26: Political society and institutions: Parties & elections
Apr 30-May 7: AG, chs 7 & 9;

Day 27-28: Claiming a right to be free
May 12-14:

Final Essay: due May 21