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The Context of US Politics
The US Constitution
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The Context of US Politics
...the legitimate use of force to control human behavior within territorial boundaries
...requires citizens to surrender some freedom to obtain its benefits
...the more citizens are willing to surrender, the less force necessary
...a government is legitimate when citizens recognize its right to rule
THE POLITICAL COMPASS TEST
(click on the image to take the test)
Left and Right, although far from
obsolete, are essentially a measure of economics
and the Left-Right division between mainstream
parties is increasingly blurred. Instead, party
differences tend to be more about social issues.
In an age of diminishing ideology, the very
unique Political Compass helps a new
generation in particular to get a better
understanding of where they stand politically
and the political company they keep. Click on
the picture above and take the test to find your
II. The Principal Purposes of Government
A. maintain order
earliest function of government
preserve life and protect private property
Without a sense of order man is completely responsible for preservation and
living in their state of nature (with no government). The state of nature of
man was studied by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke during the 17th
"Life without government is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
"But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human
nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were
to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be
necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over
men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government
to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control
itself." John Madison, Federalist #51
The fundamental purpose of government is protection of life, liberty and property.
B. provide public goods
benefit all but are not likely to be produced by individual voluntary acts
the goods and services citizens have available to them that are not produced
by private enterprise sources (i.e., education, highways, parks)
Can be very controversial in regards to government's role in providing food,
shelter, health care, etc.
Abraham Lincoln: Government is to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Do you see any problems with this?
C. promote equality
newest function of government
redistribute income and otherwise help disadvantaged in society
political equality vs. economic equality
Since the 1950s, the US has focused on social equality -- Women,
African-Americans, Disabled, etc.
Efforts at social equality have come from both the legislative and judicial
branches but those laws/rulings may clash with the social values held by
Since the 20th century, the focus of government has been
promoting economic equality.
European nations pioneered policies of economic equality because of high
poverty rates after WWI and WWII (from cradle to grave policies).
What should be the government's role in redistributing income?
Citizens differ on how much they want government to maintain order, provide public goods
and promote equality.
III. The Values Pursued by Government
the original purpose of government was to impose some order on the lawless -- sometimes referred to as government’s police power
people have always been willing to give up some freedom for some order
narrow interpretation: protection of life and property (murder, rape, theft)
broad interpretation: social order, using government power to enforce traditional modes of behavior (abortion, alternative medicine, homosexuality, drug use) or to provide certain public goods
all government diminishes freedom to some extent
narrow interpretation: liberty, freedom to ___
broad interpretation: implies immunity from some type of deprivation and relates more closely to the concept of equality, freedom from ___
newest purpose of government
narrow interpretation: political equality (one man, one vote)
broad interpretation: equality of opportunity (capitalism) and, more recently, equality of outcome (socialism)
original dilemma of government: how much freedom to sacrifice for order
modern dilemma of government: how much freedom to sacrifice for equality
The National Archives Online Exhibits
Designs for Democracy:
explore more than 100 designs highlighting 200 years of government drawings
Every Fours Years: electing a president
Eyewitness: gripping eyewitness accounts chronicle dramatic moments in US history
The Way We Worked: the way we work went through enormous changes between the mid 19th
and late 20th centuries
The Deadly Virus:
the Influenza Epidemic of 1918
IV. Political Ideology
...a consistent set of values
and beliefs about the purpose and scope of government
Political Typology survey
World's Smallest Political Quiz
V. American Politics Can Be Classified in Two Ways:
Scope of Government Activity: single dimension, broad positions without extremes
1. liberalism supports a larger role for government in the distribution of public goods and the regulation of private enterprise BUT opposes regulation of individual rights
2. conservatism favors the status quo or reduction in the size and role of government BUT favors controls over many social issues, e.g. abortion and porn
B. Values Pursued by Government: two dimensions, broad positions but more useful method
libertarians favor freedom over order and equality, very limited scope of government
2. conservatives favor freedom over equality BUT favor order over freedom
3. liberals favor freedom over order BUT favor equality over freedom
populists favor order and equality over freedom
VI. Conflict within Values
A. Created by:
Major Sources of Domestic Conflict
freedom vs. order:
Why can’t I let my dog run loose?
freedom vs. equality:
Why can’t schools limit their athletes to men?
order vs. equality: civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights
VII. Connecting Government, Values and Ideologies
equality and order
equality and order
Values Pursued by Government above and be certain you understand what we mean by the values of order, freedom and equality -- in both a narrow sense and a broad sense. Look again at the definition of a political ideology -- a consistent set of values
and beliefs about the purpose and scope of government. We can take those values pursued by government and, by ranking them based on their values to the individual, we can create four basic political ideologies as represented above. (Please note that this is NOT a definition of political parties. All four ideologies are represented to some extent in both major parties.)
This does NOT imply that conservatives don't care about equality or that liberals don't care about order. The rankings refer to the extent government should be involved in shaping society's adoption of that value. So ...
Libertarians may value equality and order as much as anyone but they do not believe government should pursue and enforce equality and order and they are not willing to give up individual freedom for either.
A libertarian may believe society would be better off without recreational drugs (order) or if there were no discrimination in the workplace (equality) and may work privately to bring those things about. However, a libertarian would never approve of government taking away individual freedom (by dictating what individuals may or may not put in their bodies or by telling employers who they may or may not hire) to force others to stop using drugs or discriminating.
Liberals may value order as much as anyone but they do not believe government should pursue and enforce order and they are not willing to give up individual freedom for order. On the other hand, liberals value equality to such an extent that they do believe government should pursue equality and are willing to give up individual freedom to increase equality as a value of society.
A liberal may believe society would be better off without recreational drugs (order) but he would never approve of government taking away individual freedom (by dictating what individuals may or may not put in their bodies) to force others to stop using drugs. However, liberals value equality so highly that they would approve of government taking away individual freedom (by telling employers who they may or may not hire) to force others to stop discriminating.
Conservatives may value equality as much as anyone but they do not believe government should pursue and enforce equality and they are not willing to give up individual freedom for equality. On the other hand, conservatives value order to such an extent that they do believe government should pursue order and are willing to give up individual freedom to increase order as a value of society.
A conservative is the opposite of a liberal. He may believe society would be better off without discrimination in the workplace (equality) but he would never approve of government taking away individual freedom (by telling employers who they may or may not hire) to force others to stop discriminating. However, conservatives value order so highly that they would approve of government taking away individual freedom (by dictating what individuals may or may not put in their bodies) to force others to stop using drugs.
In recent decades, the
divides in political campaigns have raised a critical question as to
whether contemporary conservative segments of the population are
increasingly motivated mainly by economic anxiety or by racial anxiety.
There is ample evidence that
racial isolation and resentment are strongly predictive of
conservative voting patterns. A
Washington Post article reports that racism has motivated
conservative voters more than authoritarianism.
Populists value equality and order to such an extent that they are willing to give up individual freedom to increase both equality and order as values of society.
A populist believes so strongly that there is a correct social order by which society should operate (no drugs) and that equality is such an important part of that social order (no workplace discrimination) that they believe government should pass laws to force individuals to live by those values and so are willing to give up individual freedom for both.
We seldom see populists in a party or movement that we can identify in current times. However, many crusaders - such as Ralph Nader - seem to fit the ideology very well. They are crusaders that we often confuse as liberals because they champion economic equality and the "little guy." However, if you pay attention you will see that they also have a vision of what the correct social order of society should be and are willing to use governmental power to enforce that order as well as equality.
I used recreational drugs and workplace discrimination as examples in all four ideologies above so you could make a straight comparison. Keep in mind, though, that those are only one example each of order and equality. Order, in the broader sense of social order, might include issues dealing with drugs, homosexuality, premarital sex, alcohol, cigarettes, big business, unions, air/water quality, education, child-raising, religion and so on. Equality might include issues dealing with race, ethnicity, religion, gender, income, social status, country of origin, immigration status and so on.
Democrats Helped Build The Social Safety Net. Why Are Many Now Against
THE US CONSTITUTION
was rooted in revolution.
British valued order, while the colonists valued freedom.
taxation (order) without representation (freedom)
Social Contract Theory
Government is a contract between the ruled and the rulers.
Government exists for the benefit of the people.
Government doesn't exist for the benefit of those who govern nor is it divinely given.
Rebellion is the ultimate sanction against the abuse of government power.
Declaration of Independence
Declaration on social contract theory
expressed the reasons for the colonies’ act of independence
major premise: people have the right to revolt when they determine their government is destructive of legitimate rights
minor premise: list of deliberate acts committed by king offered as proof of destruction of government’s legitimate ends
conclusion: therefore, the people have a right to revolt
I. Defining Government Based on How Levels of Government Interact
A. unitary government: national government is supreme over any other units of government
national government has supreme power (sovereignty) over all other units of government within its borders
a loose association of independent states that agree to cooperate on certain matters but each state has supreme power (sovereignty) within its borders
state governments are supreme over the national government
colonies under the Articles of Confederation, CSA
system in which both national and state governments have their own separate spheres of influence which the other cannot infringe upon
In the US, the Constitution is the supreme power (sovereignty) and gives powers to each level of government.
The Articles of Confederation did not work.
A Constitutional Convention was called to try to come up with a new plan.
The single most important factor leading to a constitutional convention was
the inability of the national or state governments to maintain order under the Articles of Confederation.
Virginia Plan divided power among 3 branches
2-house legislature for lawmaking
1-person executive for law enforcing
judicial for law interpreting
New Jersey Plan single-chamber legislature
states would have equal representation in the legislature
multi-person executive would be elected by the legislature
Great Compromise 2-house leg with population represented in one and the states represented equally in the other
1-person executive chosen by an electoral college
II. The US Constitution’s Political Principles
A. republicanism power resides in the people and is exercised through elected reps
B. federalism division of sovereignty among two levels of government
C. separation of powers lawmaking, law enforcement and law interpretation are assigned to separate and independent branches
so one branch doesn’t dominate
D. checks and balances each branch has some means of checking and controlling the others
III. The Structure of the US Constitution
Article I Congress
implied powers: the necessary and proper clause
Article II President
Article III Supreme Court
right of Congress to create lesser federal courts
Article IV state-state relations
full faith and credit
privileges and immunities
protect state from invasion
Article V amendment procedures
formal procedures, ex/ 26 amendments
judicial review, ex/ right to privacy
political practice, ex/ electoral college
Article VI constitution as supreme law of land
Article VII ratification process
IV. Checks and Balances
The Constitution creates a system of separate institutions that share powers. Because the three branches of government share powers, each can (partially) check the powers of the others. This is the system of checks and balances. The major checks possessed by each branch are listed below.
1. Can check the president in these ways:
a. By refusing to pass a bill the president wants
b. By passing a law over the president's veto
c. By using the impeachment powers to remove the president from office
d. By refusing to approve a presidential appointment (Senate only)
e. By refusing to ratify a treaty the president has signed (Senate only)
2. Can check the federal courts in these ways:
a. By changing the number and jurisdiction of the lower courts
b. By using the impeachment powers to remove a judge from office
c. By refusing to approve a person nominated to be a judge (Senate only)
1. Can check Congress by vetoing a bill it has passed.
2. Can check the federal courts by nominating judges.
1. Can check Congress by declaring a law unconstitutional.
2. Can check the president by declaring actions by him or his subordinates unconstitutional or not authorized by law.
D. In addition to these checks provided for in the Constitution, each branch has
informal ways of checking the others. For example, the President can withhold information from Congress (on the grounds of executive privilege) and Congress can try to get information from the President by mounting an investigation.
1600 Penn: links to the three branches of national government
and to most independent agencies under the control of the president
V. The Bill of Rights: Ratified on December 15, 1791
The First Ten Amendments to the Constitution Grouped by Topic and Purpose
PROTECTIONS AFFORDED CITIZENS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE POLITICAL PROCESS
Amendment 1: Freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly; the right to petition the government.
PROTECTIONS AGAINST ARBITRARY POLICE AND COURT ACTION
Amendment 4: No unreasonable searches or seizures.
Amendment 5: Grand jury indictment required to prosecute a person for a serious crime.
No double jeopardy -- being tried twice for the same offense
Forcing a person to testify against himself or herself is prohibited
No loss of life, liberty or property without due process
Amendment 6: Right to speedy, public, impartial trial with defense counsel and right to cross-examine witnesses.
Amendment 7: Jury trials in civil suits where value exceeds $20.
Amendment 8: No excessive bail or fines, no cruel and unusual punishments.
PROTECTIONS OF STATES' RIGHTS AND UNNAMED RIGHTS OF PEOPLE
Amendment 9: Unlisted rights are not necessarily denied.
Amendment 10: Powers not delegated to the United States or denied to the states are reserved to the states.
Amendment 2: Right to bear arms.
Amendment 3: Troops may not be quartered in homes in peacetime.
America Has a Free Speech Problem
VI. Ways of Amending the Constitution:
Under Article V, there are two ways to propose amendments to the Constitution and two ways to ratify them.
To propose an amendment
Two-thirds of both houses of Congress vote to propose an amendment, or
Two-thirds of the state legislatures ask Congress to call a national convention to propose amendments.
To ratify an amendment
Three-fourths of the state legislatures approve it, or
Ratifying conventions in three-fourths of the states approve it.
Some Key Facts
Only the first method of proposing an amendment has been used.
The second method of ratification has been used only once, to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment (repealing Prohibition).
Congress may limit the time within which a proposed amendment must be ratified. The usual limitation has been seven years.
Thousands of proposals have been made, but only thirty-three have obtained the necessary two-thirds vote in Congress.
Twenty-six amendments have been ratified.
The basic premise of federalism is that two or more governments share power over the same land and people.
I. Models of Federalism
A. dual federalism
implies distinct layers of government that do not mix or share power
in their own spheres
constitution is a compact between sovereign states
states are viewed at powerful components of the federal system
equal in some respects with the national government
B. cooperative federalism
emphasizes intermingling of government activities at different levels and
in various spheres
people are viewed as citizens of both state and nation
stresses the role of the national government
Oregon Death with Dignity Act: A History
II. Factors Leading to the Increase in Power of the National Government
attempted secession of the southern states from the Union
the fundamental issues of the Civil War was states’ rights
the national government reasserted its power
problems created by the Great Depression in the 1930s were too great for states or private business to remedy
emergency relief measures enacted by Congress centralized the
power of the national government in financial and social areas
national government assumed its greatest power during the Great Depression
McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)
supported the doctrine of implied powers and national supremacy
New Deal legislation
Supreme Court first ruled unconstitutional but then reversed itself
imposed national income tax
states' poll taxes
Rights Act of 1965
setting speed limits
E. Financial Incentives
money paid by one level of government to another level to be spent for a specific purpose often awarded on a matching basis
categorical grants: targeted for specific purposes (disaster assistance)
formula grants: distributed by a given formula specifying who is eligible and how much each recipient will receive
project grants: awarded on the basis of competitive applications
block grants: awarded for more general purposes (community development)
The President uses negotiation and persuasion to influence state governors.
New Fiscal Federalism - decentralized national policies
Partnership Federalism - cut national aid to states
New Regulatory Federalism - reduced federal contributions to states
but not programs, ended revenue sharing,
gave more discretion to states and localities
Representational Federalism - states retain their role merely
by selecting the president and members of Congress, not by any
constitutional division of powers, continuation of New Federalism
Reinventing Federalism - less funds and more discretion to states
and localities, emphasized greater efficiency and responsiveness,
limited national unfunded mandates, provided waivers to encourage
state experimentation, devolution (passing responsibilities from the
national government to the states)
Coercive Federalism - centralization, sacrificed federalism
considerations to specific policy goals, increased federal
expenditures and mandates,
gave an extreme amount of power to the national government including
an extreme version of preemption (when the national government
overrides state and local government), reintroduction of unfunded
mandates albeit by other labels
Nuanced / Progressive Federalism - hybrid model of federal policy
innovation and leadership; mixes money, mandates and flexibility in
new and distinctive ways; a mixed approach of coercion and
collaboration; increase in federal funds to states but with
requirements attached, increased state involvement in development
Political writers/theorists have characterized Pres. Trump’s
view of federalism in 3 different ways:
- fixate on the outer limits of the president’s powers while
giving short shrift to the many courses of action well within
the executive branch’s purview
- dole out federal largesse according to political loyalty so
that some states slavishly follow federal dictates in flagrant
disregard of local needs, while others are abandoned as national
issues appear and Washington does little to shepherd a national
Laissez Faire Federalism
- a claim on total authority by president paired with a total
abdication of responsibility
III. Powers Reserved for the Federal Government
The US government is federal in form. The states and national government share powers, which are wholly derived from the Constitution.
Constitution, the national government derives:
Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution of the United States puts limits on the powers of the states. States cannot form alliances with foreign governments, declare war, coin money or impose duties on imports or exports.
IV. Powers Reserved to the States
The Tenth Amendment declares, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." In other words, states have all powers not granted
exclusively to the national government by the Constitution.
These powers have taken many different forms. States must take responsibility for areas such as:
ownership of property
education of inhabitants
implementation of welfare and other benefits programs and distribution of aid
protecting people from local threats
maintaining a justice system
setting up local governments such as counties and municipalities
maintaining state highways and setting up the means of administrating local roads
regulation of industry
raising funds to support their activities
In many areas, states have a large role but also share administrative responsibility with local and national governments. Highways, for example, are divided among the three different levels. Most states classify roads into primary, secondary and local levels. This system determines whether the state, county or local governments, respectively, must pay for and maintain roads. Many states have departments of transportation, which oversee and administer intrastate transportation. US highways and the interstate system are administered by the national government through the US Department of Transportation.
States must also administer mandates set by the national government. Generally these mandates contain rules which the states wouldn't normally carry out. For example, the national government may require states to reduce air pollution, provide services for the handicapped or require that public transportation must meet certain safety standards. The national government is prohibited by law from setting unfunded mandates. In other words, the national government must provide funding for programs it mandates.
The national government pays for its mandates through grants-in-aid. The government distributes categorical grants to be used for specific programs. In 1995, national grant money totaled $229 billion. Block grants give the states access to large sums of money with few specific limitations. The state must only meet the national goals and standards. The national government can give the states either formula grants or project grants (most commonly issued).
Mandates can also pass from the state to local levels. For example, the state can set certain education standards that the local school districts must abide by. Or, states could set rules calling for specific administration of local landfills.
Federalism and the Constitution