Chapter one: introducing government in america



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Chapter 1

CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCING GOVERNMENT IN AMERICA


PEDAGOGICAL FEATURES

p. 3 Figure 1.1: The Political Disengagement of College Students Today

p. 4 Table 1.1: Political Knowledge of the Young and Elderly

p. 5 Figure 1.2: Presidential Election Turnout Rates by Age, 1972-2000

p. 9 Issues of the Times: How to Get Students More Involved in Politics

p. 11 Figure 1.3: The Policymaking System

p. 13 Table 1.2: Types of Public Policies

p. 23 Get Connected

p. 24 Internet Resources

p. 24 For Further Reading



LEARNING OBJECTIVES

After studying this chapter, students should be able to:



  • Distinguish among the fundamental concepts of government, politics, and public policy.




  • Understand how government, politics, and public policy are interrelated.




  • Ascertain how people can influence the government's policy agenda.




  • Describe the basic concept of the policymaking system.




  • Determine the essential principles of traditional democratic theory.




  • Examine the three contemporary theories of American democracy: pluralism, elite and class theory, and hyperpluralism.




  • Discuss and analyze the challenges to democracy presented in the text.




  • Understand the importance of individualism in limiting the scope of American government.




  • Begin to assess the two questions that are central to governing and that serve as themes for this textbook: How should we govern? and What should government do?


CHAPTER OVERVIEW

INTRODUCTION
Politics and government matter—that is the single most important message of this book. Despite the fact that government substantially affects each of our lives, youth today are especially apathetic about politics and government. And while political apathy isn’t restricted to young people, a tremendous gap has opened up between the young (defined as under age 25) and the elderly (defined as over age 65) on measures of political interest, knowledge, and participation. Of course, today’s youth have not had any policy impact them the way that Medicare has benefited their grandparents or that the draft and the Vietnam War affected their parents. Also, growing up in a fragmented media environment with dozens of TV channels and thousands of Internet sites has offered today’s youth a rich and varied socialization experience, but also one that has enabled them to easily avoid political events.
Throughout Government in America, students are asked to assess American democracy. Chapter 1 raises two fundamental questions about governing that will serve as themes for the textbook: How should we govern? and What should government do? This chapter introduces the fundamental concepts of government, politics, and public policy, and defines the ways in which the three are interrelated. Government consists of those institutions that make authoritative public policies for society as a whole. Regardless of how their leaders assume office, all governments have certain functions in common: They maintain national defense, provide public goods, use police powers to maintain order, furnish public services, socialize the young into the political culture, and collect taxes to pay for the services they provide.


POLITICS



Politics determines whom we select as our governmental leaders and what policies they pursue. Political scientists still use the classic definition of politics offered by Harold D. Lasswell: “Who gets what, when, and how.” People engage in politics for a variety of reasons, and all of their activities in politics are collectively called political participation.

THE POLICYMAKING SYSTEM

A policymaking system is a set of institutions and activities that link together government, politics, and public policy. In a democratic society, parties, elections, interest groups, and the media are key linkage institutions between the preferences of citizens and the government's policy agenda. Policymakers—Congress, the presidency, courts, and the bureaucracy—stand at the core of the political system.


When people confront government officials with problems they expect them to solve, they are trying to influence the government's policy agenda. A government's policy agenda changes frequently: if public officials want to get elected, they must pay attention to the problems that concern the voters. Public policy is a choice that government makes in response to some issue on its agenda. Public policy includes all of the decisions and nondecisions of government: policymakers can establish a policy by doing something or by doing nothing, as can be seen by the government's original response of “inaction” to the AIDS crisis. Translating people's desires into public policy is crucial to the workings of democracy.
DEMOCRACY
In his famous Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln referred to democracy as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Although Lincoln's definition imparts great emotional impact, such a definition is subject to many different interpretations. For example, what do we mean by “people”? No democracy permits government by literally every person in society. Throughout this textbook, the authors define democracy as a means of selecting policymakers and of organizing government so that policy represents and responds to the people's preferences.
Traditional democratic theory rests upon several principles that specify how a democratic government makes its decisions. Democratic theorist Robert Dahl lists five criteria that are essential for “an ideal democratic process”: equality in voting; effective participation; enlightened understanding; citizen control of the agenda; and inclusion, which means that government must include (and extend rights to) all those subject to its laws.
Democracies must also practice majority rule and preserve minority rights. The relationship between the few leaders and the many followers is one of representation. The closer the correspondence between representatives and their electoral majority, the closer the approximation to democracy.
Theories of American democracy are essentially theories about who has power and influence. This chapter focuses on three contemporary theories of American democracy. Pluralism contends that many centers of influence compete for power and control over public policy, with no one group or set of groups dominating. Pluralists view bargaining and compromise as essential ingredients in our democracy. In sharp contrast to pluralist theory, elite and class theory contends that society is divided along class lines and that an upper-class elite rules. Wealth is seen as the basis of power, and a few powerful Americans are the policymakers. Hyperpluralism is “pluralism gone sour.” Hyperpluralists contend that the existence of too many influential groups actually makes it impossible for government to act. When politicians try to placate every group, the result is confusing, contradictory, and muddled policy (or no policy at all). Both hyperpluralist theory and elite and class theory suggest that the public interest is rarely translated into public policy.
Traditional democratic theory holds that ordinary citizens have the good sense to reach political judgments and that government has the capacity to act upon those judgments. However, it has become increasingly difficult to make knowledgeable decisions as human knowledge has expanded. There is evidence that Americans actually know very little about policy decisions or about who their leaders are. Today, the elite are likely to be those who command knowledge—the experts.
Many observers also worry about the close connection between money and politics. Candidates have become increasingly dependent on Political Action Committees (PACs) to fund their campaigns. Critics charge that PACs have undue influence on members of Congress when it comes to the issues that the PACs care about.
The rapid rate of change of politics over the last three decades makes it more difficult for government to respond to demands. Some feel that this can lead to inefficient government that cannot adequately respond to challenges.
The large number and diversity of interest groups coupled with the decentralized nature of government makes it easy to prevent policy formulation and implementation, a condition known as policy gridlock.
THE SCOPE OF GOVERNMENT IN AMERICA
One goal of Government in America is to familiarize the student with different ways to approach and answer the crucial questions that the authors raise. In particular, the text focuses on one of the most important questions facing modern American democracy: Is the scope of government too broad, too narrow, or just about right?
Our governments (national, state, and local) spend about one out of every three dollars of the gross domestic product.
National defense takes about one-sixth of the federal budget, a much smaller percentage than it did three decades ago. Social Security consumes more than one-fifth of the budget. Medicare is another big-ticket item, requiring a little over one-tenth of the budget. State and local governments also get important parts of the federal government’s budget.
If viewed in a comparative perspective, we find that the United States devotes a smaller percentage of its resources to government than do other economically developed nations. Moreover, the tax burden on Americans is also small, when compared to other democratic nations.
American individualism, which developed from the desires of immigrants to escape government oppression and from the existence of a western frontier with little government, helps account for the relatively small scope of government in America.


CHAPTER OUTLINE

I. TWO CENTRAL QUESTIONS

A. Chapter 1 introduces three important concepts: government, politics, and public policy.

B. Politics and government matter – that is the single most important message of this book.

1. However, many Americans–especially young people–are apathetic about politics and government.

2. And while political apathy isn’t restricted to young people, a tremendous gap has opened up between the young (defined as under age 25) and the elderly (defined as over age 65) on measures of political interest, knowledge, and participation.

C. This chapter raises two fundamental questions about governing that will serve as themes for the text:

1. How should we be governed?

2. What should government do?


II. GOVERNMENT

A. Government.

1. Government, politics, and public policy are interrelated.


  1. The way government makes decisions about public policies is through politics.

3. Government consists of those institutions that make authoritative public policies for society as a whole.

4. Three key institutions make policy at the national level: Congress, President, and the Courts.

B. What governments do.

1. Regardless of how they assumed power, all governments have certain functions in common.

a. Governments maintain national defense.

b. Governments provide public goods: things that everyone can share, such as clean air.

c. Governments have police powers to provide order – as when the National Guard was called in to restore order in Los Angeles after the 1992 Rodney King verdict.


  1. Governments provide public services – such as schools and

libraries.

e. Governments socialize the young into the political culture – typically through practices such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in daily exercises at public schools.

f. Governments collect taxes to pay for the services they provide.

C. Politics.

1. Politics determines whom we select as governmental leaders and what policies they pursue.


  1. Harold D. Lasswell defined politics as “who gets what, when, and

how.”
III. THE POLICYMAKING SYSTEM

A. A policymaking system is a set of institutions and activities that link together government, politics, and public policy.

B. Political issues and linkage institutions.

1. A political issue arises when people disagree about a problem or about a public policy choice.

2. In a democratic society, parties, elections, interest groups, and the media are key linkage institutions between the preferences of citizens and the government's policy agenda.

C. Public policy.

1. Every decision that government makes is public policy.

2. When people confront government officials with problems they expect them to solve, they are trying to influence the government's policy agenda.



  1. Public policy includes all of the decisions and non-decisions of

government.

4. A government's policy agenda changes regularly.



  1. Policy impacts are the effects policy has on people and on society's

problems.

1. Having a policy implies a goal: people who raise a policy issue usually want a policy that works.

2. Translating people's desires into public policy is crucial to the workings of democracy.
IV. DEMOCRACY

A. Despite a global move toward democracy, not everyone defines democracy the way Americans do – or think they do.

B. Defining democracy.

1. The writers of the U.S. Constitution were suspicious of democracy.

2. In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

3. The basic definition used throughout the Government in America textbook is Democracy is a means of selecting policymakers and of organizing government so that policy represents and responds to the people's preferences.

C. Traditional democratic theory rests upon several principles that specify how a democratic government makes its decisions.

1. Democratic theorist Robert Dahl refers to five criteria that are essential for “an ideal democratic process”:

a. Equality in voting – the principle of “one person, one vote” is basic to democracy.


  1. Effective participation – political participation must be representative.

c. Enlightened understanding – free press and free speech are essential to civic understanding.

d. Citizen control of the agenda – citizens should have the collective right to control the government's policy agenda.

e. Inclusion – citizenship must be open to all within a nation.

2. In addition, democracies must practice majority rule and preserve minority rights.

a. The relationship between the few leaders and the many followers is one of representation: The closer the correspondence between representatives and their electoral majority, the closer the approximation to democracy.

b. Most Americans also feel that it is vital to protect minority rights, such as freedom of speech.

D. Three contemporary theories of American democracy.

1. Pluralist theory contends that many centers of influence compete for power and control.

a. Groups compete with one another for control over public policy, with no one group or set of groups dominating.

b. Bargaining and compromise are essential ingredients of our

democracy.

c. Electoral majorities rarely rule; rather, as Dahl puts it, “all active and legitimate groups in the population can make themselves heard at some crucial stage in the [policymaking] process.”

2. Elite and class theory contends that our society (like all societies) is divided along class lines.


  1. An upper-class elite rules, regardless of governmental

organization.

b. Wealth is the basis of class power: a few powerful Americans are the policymakers.



c. Big business and its power is at the center of most elite and class theories.

d. The Reagan Administration strongly promoted big business.

3. Hyperpluralism is pluralism gone sour.

a. Many groups are so strong that government is unable to act.



b. There are too many groups with access to the different levels and branches of government. These groups have multiple ways to both prevent policies they disagree with and promote those they support.

c. When politicians try to placate every group, the result is confusing, contradictory, and muddled policy (or no policy at all).

E. Challenges to democracy.

1. How can the people confront complex issues?

2. Are the citizens doing their job?

3. Is American democracy too dependent on money?

4. Can the political system adapt to today’s rapidly changing world?

5. Does American diversity produce policy gridlock?

F. Some key questions about democracy.

1. Are people knowledgeable about matters of public policy?

2. Do they apply what knowledge they have to their voting choices?

3. Are American elections designed to facilitate public participation?

4. Does the interest group system allow for all points of view to be heard, or are there significant biases that give advantages to particular groups?

5. Do political parties provide voters with clear choices, or do they obscure their stands on issues in order to get as many votes as possible?

6. If there are choices, do the media help citizens understand them?

7. Is Congress representative of American society, and is it capable of reacting to changing times?

8. Does the president look after the general welfare of the public, or has the office become too focused on the interests of the elite?
V. THE SCOPE OF GOVERNMENT IN AMERICA

A. How active is American government?

1. National, state, and local governments in America collectively spend about one out of every three dollars of our gross domestic product (the value of all goods and services produced annually by the United States).

2. The national government alone spends more than $2.3 trillion annually, employs nearly two million people, and owns one-third of the land in the United States.

B. A comparative perspective on the scope and size of government.

1. The government of the United States actually does less—and is small—compared to the governments of similar countries.

2. The tax burden on Americans is also small, compared to other democratic nations.

C. American Individualism.



  1. American individualism is a dominant theme in American political

culture.

a. It developed from immigrants’ desire to escape government oppression.

b. As Louis Hartz points out, it has helped limit the scope of American government.

c. The existence of a western frontier until the early twentieth century allowed people to escape government almost entirely; this ethos still infuses American individualism.

D. Questions about the scope of government.

1. Debate over the role and size of government is central to contemporary American politics.

2. The role and size of government is a theme that Government in America examines in each chapter:

a. Part One examines the constitutional foundations of American government.

b. Part Two looks at those making demands on government, including the public, political parties, interest groups, and the media.

c. Part Three focuses on governmental institutions, including elected institutions (Congress, the President) and nonelected institutions (courts, bureaucracy).




Key Terms and Concepts
Democracy: a means of selecting policymakers and of organizing government so that policy represents and responds to the people's preferences.
Elite and class theory: argues that society is divided along class lines and that an upper-class elite rules on the basis of its wealth.
Government: institutions that make public policy for a society.
Gross domestic product: the total value of all goods and services produced annually by the United States.
Hyperpluralism: argues that too many strong influential groups cripple the government's ability to make coherent policy by dividing government and its authority.
Individualism: (according to Alexis de Tocqueville) where members of the community willingly separate themselves and their families from society; it is a belief that individual problems can be solved by individual, not governmental, solutions.
Linkage institutions: institutions such as parties, elections, interest groups, and the media, which provide a linkage between the preferences of citizens and the government's policy agenda.
Majority rule: weighing the desires of the majority in choosing among policy alternatives.
Minority rights: protecting the rights and freedoms of the minority in choosing among policy alternatives.
Pluralist theory: argues that there are many centers of influence in which groups compete with one another for control over public policy through bargaining and compromise.
Policy agenda: the list of subjects or problems to which people inside and outside government are paying serious attention to at any given time.
Policy gridlock: where each interest uses its influence to thwart policies it opposes so that no coalition forms a majority to establish policy.
Policymaking institutions: institutions such as Congress, the presidency, and the Courts established by the Constitution to make policy; the bureaucracy is something considered a fourth policymaking institution.
Policymaking system: institutions of government designed to respond to each other and to the priorities of the people by governmental action.
Political issue: this arises when people disagree about a problem or about public policy choices made to combat a problem.
Politics: determines whom we select as our government leaders and what policies they pursue; in other words, who gets what, when, and how.
Power: who influences or exerts control over policies adopted by government.
Public goods: goods that everyone must share.
Public policy: a choice that government makes in response to some issue on its agenda.
Representation: the relationship between the leaders and the followers.
Traditional democratic theory: a set of principles which specify how a democratic government makes its decisions, including equality in voting, effective participation, enlightened understanding, citizen control of the agenda, inclusion, majority rule, minority rights, and representation.

TEACHING IDEAS: CLASS DISCUSSION AND STUDENT PROJECTS


  • Today, large proportions of Americans believe that most or all politicians are corrupt, that government serves the interest of the few, and that government is dominated by the wealthy and powerful. Ask your students to evaluate these statements.




  • Debate over the role and size of government is central to contemporary American politics, and it is a theme that is examined in each chapter of Government in America. The authors ask: Is the scope of government too broad, too narrow, or just about right? Ask students to discuss, using contemporary examples, what is meant by government being "too big." Do students disagree as to what "too big" is? Why? Ask students to develop a set of criteria, or values, with which they could evaluate what is "too big" about government today.




  • Discuss the importance of interest groups in politics today. Do students identify with any groups? Are they members of any groups? Are they represented by any groups, whether they are members or not?




  • Have students use the Internet to visit some Web sites of civic groups devoted to encouraging political participation or providing election information. Discuss in class what students learned from these sites. Ask students if they think that the Internet can improve the quality of democracy in the United States. Why?




  • Before starting your first lecture, or right after distributing the syllabus, ask students to take out a piece of paper. Have students briefly define what governments are, what governments do, what politics are, what democratic theory is, what liberals and conservatives believe, and why the size of government matters. This exercise serves to heighten students' awareness of how little they really know about the nature of American politics and government. By the end of the first lecture, have students compare what they wrote with the lecture material.




  • This chapter discusses four challenges to democracy: increased technical expertise, limited participation in government, escalating campaign costs, and diverse political interests. Ask students to identify which one of these challenges is most critical and to discuss what might be done about it. This assignment could be a writing assignment or a debate format in class.




  • Use the beginning of the twenty-first century to stimulate a discussion on the text’s theme of how we should be governed. What are the strengths of our democracy in the new millenium? Our weaknesses? Why? And what should we do about them? This topic could also be used for a reading and writing connection, asking students to keep a journal that focuses on these questions throughout the semester.



BACKGROUND READING

Bok, Derek. The State of the Nation: Government and the Quest for a Better Society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Dahl, Robert. Democracy and Its Critics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.

Domhoff, G. William. The Power Elite and the State: How Policy is Made in America. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1990.

Hartz, Louis. The Liberal Tradition in America. New York: Harcourt Brace, and World, 1955.

Huntington, Samuel P. American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981.

Kingdon, John. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies, 2nd ed. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1995.

Hibbing, John R. Stealth Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2002.



MEDIA SUGGESTIONS
1984. A movie dramatization of George Orwell's classic novel depicting a grim perspective on a society where individualism is suppressed and information is distorted by government to achieve ultimate control over its population. The 1956 version is less haunting and grim than the 1984 remake, but not nearly as good.
Tocqueville's Europe: The Paradoxes of Tocqueville's Democracy in America. 1995. An analysis of Tocqueville's observations and criticisms of American democracy. Insight Media.







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