POSC 105





Method: Interpretative lectures that evaluate significant facets of the political system. In the process I will try to debunk numerous deeply help but very misleading beliefs people have about how politics works in this country. This is not a sweetly reassuring civics course.

Philosophy: By looking at the American political system from different points of view, one can appreciate its many virtues but also its shortcomings.

Themes: The courses encourages everyone to think about three questions: to what extent can the American government be considered democratic? Are the nation's problems temporary potholes on the road to a bright future or do they indicate fundamental social and political decay? And what reforms, if any, will further strengthen and democratize the United States?

Reading: Three very interesting and important paperbacks, several short essays, and modest reading in a text.

Tests: Three (3) "multiple choice" tests counting 25 percent each.

Quizzes: Daily or weekly class quizzes that cover material discussed the day of the quiz. (20 percent of total grade)

Clipping file: Collection of New York Times articles (15 percent)

Extra credit: some short assignments for a few points of extra credit may be assigned. But note that the points total 110 so you have some leeway.

Electronic (E-mail): No credit but required. Each person is expected to use electronic mail and a "browser" to read the class "web site."

Attendance: Attendance is always required. See the below.

Attitude: Because the material is so important but also at times so complicated and abstract, it is important to have a good attitude toward learning. Thus I hope that everyone considers the requirements as an opportunity to learn about our fascinating political system. But for those who have trouble accepting guidelines and assignments keep in mind what Bret Maverick, a character in a 1950s western tv series used to tell his brother, Bart,

"Like Daddy always said, there are two kinds of trees. Oaks try to stand straight and tall against tornados, but they often get uprooted and smashed to pieces. Willows, on the other hand, just bend with the wind. After the storm's over they're still there."

Can you figure out Bret's moral? Can you apply it to yourselves?


Here's a conundrum, one that you will probably be living with for the rest of your life.

On the one hand, sweeping even revolutionary transformations in American society lie just over the horizon. Their coming raises a host of issues that demand immediate attention: the alleged crisis in social security; the consequences of run away federal spending and the urgency of amending the constitution to stop it; race, ethnic, and now even inter-generational conflict; the rise of new global economic powers; soaring health care costs; and the demise of civic society to mention only a few. Dealing with these challenges almost guarantees that the society you presently live in will scarcely resemble the one you inhabit in 10 years from now.

On the other hand, as a society the United States may be poorly prepared to deal with the problems that lie ahead. Why? Because our political institutions are in such disarray that collective action is hard to achieve. After all, can a government so divided and deadlocked and so widely distrusted by its citizens meet the challenges of adapting peacefully and democratically to the new order?

When thinking about these matters three sets questions arise. The first pertains to democracy: who will and should make the tough decisions that have to be made? If not the people as a whole, then who? Will we be better off turning the reins of power over to engineers, economists, scientists, accountants, lawyers, and other specialists who claim to have the expertise and experience to handle the governance of large, complex, post-capitalist societies? Or will power fall into the hands of small cliques or elites whose accountability to average citizens is tenuous at best? Or will well financed and tightly organized interest groups that look out for their own needs dominate decision making?

Second, what about the country's political capacity, its ability to identify and solve its problems? President Clinton, a Democrat, continues to face a Congress firmly controlled by Republicans. Divided government further deepens the gridlock already created by the constitutional system of checks and balances. The public, moreover, seems schizophrenic: it demands more and more public services even as it demonstrates skepticism and hostility to political authority and institutions. We have grounds for wondering whether, in view of endemic political gridlock anyone will be able to govern effectively. Put bluntly, does the United States possess the institutions, traditions, and moral fiber to fix its many problems. Most of us have been taught to be optimistic about the future. Indeed, optimism is one of the hallmarks of our culture. Yet in view of the growing crisis in governing pessimism is not unwarranted.

Finally, assuming the previous arguments have merit, one naturally wonders what political changes, if any, are necessary and possible. Reform, the third topic, lies at the heart of contemporary debates about the proper size and role of government in collective problem solving. Most Republicans and Democrats clamor to "reinvent government," to make it smaller, more efficient, and especially less expensive. They want to turn many of Washington's responsibilities over to states, municipalities, communities, private organizations or to abolish them altogether. But suppose they are wrong? Suppose only the national government can meet the challenges that lie ahead? We need, then, to separate reforms that will make us feel good from those that will really address our problems.

Let's move on three fronts. First, we, of course, have to develop a clear idea of what the term "democracy" means. For contrary to popular belief its definition is not self-evident. In fact, some of our nastiest conflicts involve disputes about the meaning of concept. Similarly, we need an understanding of "political capacity," the institutional structures and social values necessary to solve collective problems. Second, we should take the American system apart piece by piece in order to see which parts are most and least "democratic" and effective. And third, we have to evaluate critically various proposed reforms.


Thus, unlike many college courses this will not be a "survey" of or introduction to formal political institutions. Instead, it presents an opportunity to study three concepts--democracy, political capacity, and reform--in an age of change. In the process I suspect that we will destroy quite a few myths about how the system works.

I will present a lecture each day dealing with a specific aspect of American government and politics and attempt to tie it to these concepts. It is important to realize right now that the discussions will not summarize the readings nor describe governmental bodies the such as the Supreme Court. You can and should obtain that information on your own. Instead each lecture will critically interpret and Some of my remarks may seem unsettling if not outrageous. Still, my mission as an educator is to challenge your basic beliefs, arouse your intellectual curiosity, and encourage you to think for yourselves.

The readings merely supply sufficient information to make these lectures informative and interesting. The tests and quizzes, which cover every aspect of the course including readings, lectures, class discussions, handouts, films, and current events, are intended to clarify the major ideas and arguments made during the semester.


Books are available in the University Bookstore unless otherwise noted.

Required Class Reading:

Required Independent Reading:

Keep in mind that the Bookstore returns unsold books to the publisher few days after the start of the semester. You should not delay purchasing any work you might need later.


Your understanding of the material is assessed in several ways:

Three (3) tests: Each worth a maximum of twenty five (25) points. They cover the independent and text readings, lectures, class handouts and notes, films, current events, information on the class web page; and any other matter that comes up in class. The examination schedule is:

Note: you will be told in more detail what each test covers in case we get ahead or behind schedule.

Daily Class Quizzes: (20 points altogether) These will cover material discussed during class. Their purpose is to make certain that you understand important ideas and concepts and that I have explained them clearly.

Current Events Clipping file: (15 points) Although the lectures do not cover current events per se, a knowledge of contemporary political affairs is essential to understanding many of the points that I will be making during the semester. Therefore, you are required to read a major national newspaper, The New York Times. Subscriptions are available from the Newark Newsstand on Main Street. Discounted subscriptions cost about $12.00

To meet this requirement you should maintain a "clipping file" of two or three major domestic (not international or state or local) issues. Tax cuts, political reform, health care, the economy, campaign finances, the federal budget, congressional and presidential politics, and the like would make suitable topics. The file should contain at least three to ten separate articles per week from the Times. (Important: do not use the News Journal or the Wall Street Journal.). Moreover, I want the articles in your file to be cut form the original papers and pasted or taped (neatly!) on 8 X 11 inch plain paper. DO NOT PHOTO COPY THE ARTICLES. Your collection should be neatly bound. Please do not hand in a sloppy folder of miscellaneous articles gathered together at the last minute. Clearly note the date the article was published, not written..

Getting used to reading a major national newspaper is an important part of a college education, and everyone should take this opportunity seriously.

The clipping file is due May 12, 1997 in class at the latest.

Electronic Mail: (No credit but required) Each person in the class must learn how to use electronic (computer) mail and the internet. It is an important part of the course. (In fact, I may ask you to submit some quizzes via e-mail or the internet.) Electronic mail provides a convenient way to ask questions, express opinions, and so forth.

Web Page: I have created a "web page" that contains a great deal of information relevant to the course. I want every one to read it with Netscape or an equivalent "browser." I will provide the necessary instructions during the first week of class. Moreover, this page is the only source of a great deal of required reading.

I believe that you will get more out of the class and your college experience if you think of this part of the course not as a requirement but as an opportunity.


The plus-minus system is in effect in this course.



I have established a voice mail system for the course. You call from anywhere to listen to important announcements such as whether or not class will be canceled due to inclement weather. The voice mail box number is 80433. To reach it dial (302) 831-4000 and, depending on where you are calling from, follow the instructions to leave a message in mail box 80433.


If you kept track of the points in the requirements section, you know that the total adds to 110. If effect, you have a little leeway that serves as extra credit. So if you miss a quiz or do not do well on a test, you still have room to maneuver.


Very good sources of information about American government are opinion magazines such as The National Review (conservative) and The Nation (liberal). These and dozens of others are available in the Newark Newsstand on Main Street. I strongly encourage everyone to look at them from time to time. Incidentally, you should know that the Newsstand is one of the finest on the East coast and contains a wealth of material on American politics and culture. Anyone who really wants to understand what's going on in the world should spend time looking through this store's magazine racks. We are lucky to have such an establishment in our area; not many communities do.

I also encourage everyone to listen to National Public Radio (NPR), watch the Public Broadcast System (PBS), especially the "New Hour" with Jim Leherer (6:00 pm weeknights),and Sunday morning news programs.

You will soon discover that America's mass media do not do a very good job of informing citizens about their government and the world.

Additional sources of information are also available on the internet page, click on "For Your Information."


My office is in 434 Smith Hall. I will there briefly for about an hour after class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. If these times are not convenient, I am more than willing to meet at other hours of mutual convenience.

Use e-mail or voice mail to set up an appointment.



Attendance is always required. There are no make-up tests or reissuing of handouts except for specifically documented medical or other reasons. If you are sick, seek medical care and do not return to class until you feel well enough. Similarly, if you have a family emergency or face some other personal crisis, attend to it. When you are better or the problem is under control, see me about making up missed work.

Note, however, that if you miss an assignment or a test and want an extension or makeup, you will need to go to your dean to obtain a written excuse explaining exactly why you could not be in class on the specific days and times you were absent. Please do not come to me directly. University policy indicates that you must have your dean's approval (in writing) in order to make up work. This message must state the specific dates that you missed. A note saying simply that you visited the infirmary is not sufficient. Similarly, verbal or e-mail explanations are not acceptable. Please have this documentation with you before talking to me about missed work.

Note also that I should have this information as soon as possible and certainly no later than 24 hours after you return. Do not wait longer.

Keep in mind that I cannot always keep extra class handouts so if you miss a class for some non-excused reason, you will have to rely on your own resources to obtain copies.


See the last page for rules pertaining to the course. These guidelines are important and you should make sure that you understand them. In particular, any behavior that disrupts the class--coming in late or leaving early or talking when some one is asking a question--will not be tolerated. Please cooperate in making this class an enjoyable learning experience for everyone. If you don't feel that you can live with these requirements and constraints, you should not enroll.


You will always be told where you should be in the reading.



Topic 1 Democracy, Political Capacity, and Reform

Topic 2: Rights and Freedoms "Versus" Democracy

Topic 3: The Federal Budget: A Way to Introduce the Real American Political System




Topic 4: American Political Culture: General-welfare liberalism

Topic 5: Constitutional Obstacles to Political Capacity and Democracy



Topic 6: How the Mass Media Affect the Public's Understanding of Government and Politics.

Topic 7: Legal and Political Barriers to Participation and Democracy

Topic: 8 Are Elections Mandates? "The Contract With America"

Topic 9: The Role of Political Parties in a Democracy



Topic 10: Interest Groups Domination of the Political System

Topic 11: What the Successes and Failures of the Clinton Presidency Say About American Government

Topic 12: The "Keystone" of the System: Congress



Topic 13: Myths About the "Welfare System as We Know It"

Topic 14: Helpful and Harmful Reforms


In the interests of making the course as beneficial as possible for everyone concerned, I ask that these guidelines and rules be followed. If you have any questions whatsoever please ask.

HONESTY: The presence of your name on a test (or any other assignment) is, in effect, a statement that the work is yours and yours alone. It is a serious breech of academic honesty to represent someone else's thoughts or efforts as your own. Make sure that you work completely alone.

The point is that a university community ultimately depends on truth and honesty. It is your responsibility to live up to that principle. Failure to adhere to it is, in my opinion, a major wrongdoing and will not be tolerated.

If you have any questions or problems in this regard, please direct them to me. You should also be familiar with the University's publication Academic Honesty and Dishonesty

BEHAVIOR: In the interest of fairness and respect to all, please do not engage in any activity that disturbs the classroom learning experience. This includes among other things: bringing pets or children to class; reading newspapers or magazines; listening to portable radios however small and unobtrusive; talking when some is asking a question; or operating a tape recorder.

It is especially important that you do not arrive late or leave early. Doing so is extremely distracting to me and others. I consider it a classroom disruption.

SEATING: Please sit as close the front of the room as possible. Again, I consider people who sit in the back and talk among themselves as disruptive and will take steps to protect the rights of other members of the class.

ATTENDANCE: I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of class attendance. Do everyone a favor, especially yourself. Do Not Cut Class.

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