Dpi 101 Political Institutions and Public Policy: American Politics

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DPI 101

Political Institutions and Public Policy: American Politics

Class Schedule: Tuesdays & Thursdays 10:10-11:30 am

Professor Matthew Baum

Taubman 244

Office hours: TuTh 2-3

Email: matthew_baum@harvard.edu

Phone: 495-1291
Faculty Assistant: Marlana Creed

Taubman 379

Email: marlana_creed@hks.harvard.edu

Phone: 496-1472

Course Assistants:


Office Hours: TBD



Office Hours: TBD

A. Course Overview
This course will examine major tendencies in American politics—the “big picture.” The course will give you an analytical and applied understanding of American politics through the use of case studies. The aim is to teach you to “think politically.”
A second purpose of the course is to strengthen your writing and speaking skills, which are tools of political action. The course’s graded assignments require you to communicate your knowledge of American politics. You will participate in a team-based political briefing (which will include a group memo) and individually write an op-ed piece and two political memos, one of which will serve as the final exam.
B. Materials
Required Reading: Except for the text reading, all required reading can be accessed online through links listed on the course website. If something of political significance happens during the period of the course, a reading or readings related to it might be added to the course readings. In that case, you will be notified of the addition, which will be posted at least a week in advance of the class session where it applies.

You will need to acquire an introductory American government text. A familiarity with basic American political institutions and processes is necessary if you are to derive full benefit from the case-study discussions. The suggested course text is Thomas E. Patterson’s We the People, 11th edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2015), which can be purchased at the COOP (reserve copies are available at the KSG library). If you have access to or prefer a different American government text or an earlier edition of the Patterson text, you are welcome to use it. In this case, except for the Patterson text, you will need to correlate its pages with each session’s topic. [NOTE: Tom Patterson’s royalties from HKS students’ purchase of the book will be used to pay for refreshments at the final session of the course.]

C. In-class Debates
Each student will be required at some point in the semester to participate in an in-class debate. These debates normally will take up about 20 minutes of class time and come at the end of the class session. Each debating team will consist of two members. You will be assigned your debate topic and partner. The debate will be graded (on an individual rather than team basis) as part of your class participation grade In addition to the class readings, the debate teams will be provided a small set of additional readings that will help them prepare for the debate. Teams are neither expected nor encouraged to search for other. Confine your reading to what’s provided.
Debate Rules: The debates will employ modified Oxford rules. A proposition will be put forward and we’ll poll class members for their position on the issue. There will be one “pro” and one “con” team for each debate. Each side will have up to three minutes to make its argument, followed by a two minute rebuttal of the opposing argument. You will be “on the clock” during the debate presentations and will be stopped in mid-presentation if you clearly overshoot your allotted time. An extra 15 seconds or so is okay, but an extra minute clearly is not and will be taken as an indication of poor preparation.
Each member of the team must present part of its argument and/or rebuttal, although the team can decide how to divide the time. A team might choose to split both the argument and rebuttal time between its two members. Or, a team might decide to have one member present the argument and the other handle the rebuttal. After the rebuttal round, the debate will be opened to the full class for questions and arguments. Following the full-class debate, we will re-vote the proposition.

D. Class Schedule

First Session (T, JAN 26): Course Introduction & the Art of Writing
1st WRITTEN ASSIGNMENT – newspaper op-ed (assignment is due TH, FEB 11)

This assignment requires you to write a newspaper op-ed on an issue of American politics. Detailed information on this assignment will be provided in a separate document.
This session will provide an introduction to the course and a discussion of the elements of good writing.
George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.” http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

George Gao, “How do Americans stand out from the rest of the world?” Pew Research Center, March 12, 2015.


Optional reading (if topic is of particular interest)

James Q. Wilson, “American Exceptionalism,” American Enterprise Institute, August 23, 2006. This article addresses the long-asked question of whether the United States is somehow a “special nation.” https://www.aei.org/publication/american-exceptionalism-3/

Second Session (TH, JAN 28): The Constitution: Limited Government
The writers of the Constitution were determined to create a government powerful enough to meet the nation’s needs but not so powerful as to threaten people’s liberty. Accordingly, the Constitution is rooted in the idea of “limited government”—a government of restricted power. The Constitution provided for such a government in multiple ways—denials of power, grants of power, the Bill of Rights, and the separation of power.
Over the past century, as the domestic and international policy demands have increased, power has shifted toward the executive. A central issue in this development is how to constrain the growth in executive power. The “War on Terrorism” that was launched by the Bush Administration after September 11, 2001 included harsh methods of interrogation and detention. The methods were devised in the White House but, as they become public despite the Administration’s efforts to keep them secret, they became objects of inter-branch conflict. More recently, the Obama Administration’s targeted killing program, through the use of drones, has become a source of controversy. This session will explore the limits and the potential of America’s system of divided powers as a mechanism for controlling the use of political power, particularly when exercised by the executive in the context of national security.
Resolved: That the Obama administration’s policy of targeted killings through drone strikes is overly broad and should be subject to constraints established by Congress.
Patterson, We the People

11e, pp. 44-52.

10e, pp. 45-53
9e, pp. 41-50

Mark Tushnet, “Controlling Executive Power in the War on Terrorism,” Harvard Law Review 118 (2005): 2673-2682. http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1558&context=facpub

Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, “Pushing the Envelope on Presidential Power” The Washington Post, June 25, 2007, (Washington: Washington Post, © 2007), pp. A01.
Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, “When Congress Checks Out,” by Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, Foreign Affairs, November/December, 2006 [This article was written when Congress was controlled by Republicans.

Online at: http://www.jstor.org.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/stable/20032144

John Yoo. “Commentary: Behind the ‘Torture Memos.” 2005. (Available online: http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2005/01/05_johnyoo.shtml) Note: John Yoo authored internal White House memos that provided a legal justification for the Bush Administration anti-terrorism policies.
Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006). [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamdan_v._Rumsfeld] This reading summarizes the Supreme Court ruling that the military commissions created by the Bush Administration to try “enemy combatants” violated both U.S. law and the Geneva Conventions.
“US Defends Drone Strikes . . .” The Guardian, 10/25/2013 


“House Committee Rejects Provision Requiring Account of Drone Casualties,” Reuters, 11/21/2013 http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/21/us-usa-congress-drones-idUSBRE9AK1IA20131121
Optional reading (if topic is of particular interest)

“The Social Contract,” Sage Publications. This reading provides an unusual lens through which to look at the theories of Hobbes and Locke; their notion of a social contract and Locke’s idea of limited government influenced the work of the framers of the Constitution.

Third Session (T, FEB 2): The Constitution: Federalism
The writers of the Constitution created the first "federal" nation—one that divided sovereignty between a national government and state governments. By establishing two levels of sovereign authority, the Constitution created competing centers of power and ambition. We will examine this arrangement through the history of federalism as a constitutional issue, highlighting the conflicts between national and state authority that were ultimately resolved in favor of national authority.

The session will explain the division of power between the federal and state governments and also explain how broadly worded constitutional clauses, partisan differences, and changing national needs have combined to make federalism a source of political conflict and change. Among the cases explored in this session is the constitutional dispute provoked by the 2010 health care reform act. We will examine this tendency by looking at the 2010 health care reform act. Enacted by a Democratic-controlled Congress, and signed into law by President Obama, it was contested by virtually every Republican governor and Republican-controlled state legislature on grounds that its individual insurance mandate intruded on the states’ authority under the Constitution.


Resolved: That the health care law’s individual mandate was an invalid exercise of Congress’s constitutional power to tax.

Patterson, We the People

11e, pp. 85-96

10e, pp. 86-98

9e, pp. 86-96

Article I, Section 8 and Amendment 10 of the U.S. Constitution (in back of text or online)
Enacting the Health Care Reform bill—read only the section entitled “Legislative History”


Tom Feeney, “Federalism Under Attack,” Heritage Foundation, May 3, 2010. Written in advance of Supreme Court’s ruling on health care bill.

Akhil Reed Amar, “Constitutional Objections to Obamacare Don’t Hold Up,” January 20, 2010. Written in advance of Supreme Court’s ruling on health care bill.

The Supreme Court’s health care decision—National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius (2013). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Federation_of_Independent_Business_v._Sebelius

Public response to the new health care system, as indicated by a recent Gallup Poll

Optional reading (if topic is of particular interest)

Kenneth R. Thomas, “Federalism, State Sovereignty, and the Constitution: Basis and Limits of Congressional Power,” Congressional Research Service, September 23, 2013. This article provides an overview of American federalism. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL30315.pdf

Robert Jay Dilger, “Federal Grants to State and Local Governments: A Historical Perspective on Contemporary Issues,” Congressional Research Service, March 5, 2015 (read only pp. 18-41). This article examines the role of federal grants in extending national authority into policy areas traditionally reserved to the states. https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40638.pdf
Fourth Session (TH, FEB 4): The Constitution: Individual Rights
First writing assignment (op-ed, see information on page 3 of syllabus) is due at the second class session next week (TH, FEB 11).
Under the U.S. Constitution, individuals are guaranteed free expression and fair trial rights. During the nation’s history, these rights have been expanded in practice through action by the Supreme Court. A key development has been their protection from action by state and local governments; the Court’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s due process clause has been the basis for the change. Americans also have less well-defined “democratic” rights, including the right to vote. The Supreme Court has struggled to develop a consistent jurisprudence when it comes to protecting these rights. Major Supreme Court rulings, many of them recent, will be discussed as a means of clarifying the nature of Americans’ rights.
Resolved: That voter registration requirements should be set by the federal government rather than by the states individually.
Patterson, We the People

11e, pp. 102-113, 122-131 208-218.

10e, pp. 106-119, 128-135, 216-227.
9e, pp. 108-119, 128-136, 224-234.

Due Process Clause https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Due_Process_Clause

Kathleen Ann Ruane, “Freedom of Speech and Press: Exceptions to the First Amendment,” Congressional Research Service, September 8, 2014.
https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/95-815.pdf (read only pp. 1-14)

“Voter Suppression in United States,” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voter_suppression_in_the_United_States

William D. Hicks, Seth C. McKee, Mitchell D. Sellers and Daniel A. Smith, “Party Competition Is the Primary Driver of the Recent Increase in Restrictive Voter ID Laws in the American States,” London School of Economics, 2014. http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/60421/1/blogs.lse.ac.uk-Party_competition_is_the_primary_driver_of_the_recent_increase_in_restrictive_voter_ID_laws_in_the_Am%5B1%5D.pdf

Optional reading (if topic is of particular interest)

Elisabeth Zoller, “The United States Supreme Court and the Freedom of Expression,” Indiana Law Journal 84 (2009): 884-916. An overview of the history of the Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression. http://ilj.law.indiana.edu/articles/84/84_3_Zoller2.pdf

Russell Hardin, “Civil Liberties in the Era of Mass Terrorism,” The Journal of Ethics (2004). This reading explores the challenges that the war on terrorism poses for civil liberties. The reading connects this session’s discussion of civil liberties with an earlier session’s discussion of limited government.

James A. Gardner, “Partitioning and Rights: The Supreme Court’s Accidental Jurisprudence of Democratic Process,” Florida State University Law Review (2014): 61-94. This article examines the Supreme Court’s convoluted approach to disputes over voting and the democratic process.


Fifth Session (T, FEB 9): Congress & Constituency
First written assignment—your op-ed—is due in class Thursday.
The Congress of the United States was established as the “first branch” of government—the institution that would represent the people. Indeed, nothing looms larger in the political thinking of most members of Congress than does their constituency---the state or district they represent. Unlike legislators in most parliamentary democracies, members of the U.S. Congress depend directly on their constituents—districts in the case of House members and states in the case of senators—for reelection. Recognition of this electoral imperative is central to an understanding of how Congress operates. As political scientist David Mayhew famously said, members of Congress “are single-minded seekers of reelection.”
In this session, we will examine how their constituency affects the behavior of members of Congress, including its influence on the type of bills that members are most likely to support. The 2014 farm bill will be used to highlight constituency influence on senators and representatives


Resolved: That public financing of candidates would improve congressional campaigns.
Patterson, We the People

11e, pp. 329-337, 345-354

10e, pp. 346-355, 363-368

9e, pp. 368-376, 384-393
Summary of David Mayhew’s Congress: The Electoral Connection [Summary of a classic book that argues the behavior of members of Congress is driven largely by their desire for reelection.] http://wikisum.com/w/Mayhew:_Congress#Comments_and_Criticism

Joshua D. Clinton, “Representation in Congress: Constituents and Roll Calls in the 106th House,” Journal of Politics 68 (2006): 397-409. This article examines the question of what “constituency” means to House members, showing they respond more to constituents of their political party than to the district’s population as a whole. Read intro and conclusion. https://my.vanderbilt.edu/joshclinton/files/2011/10/C_JOP2006.pdf

Agriculture Act of 2014

New York Times, “Senate Passes Long-Stalled Farm Bill, With Clear Winners and Losers,” February 5, 2014

Robert Paarlberg (HKS faculty), “The Farm Bill’s Winners and Losers,” US News


Optional Reading (if topic is of particular interest)

Matthew Eric Glassman and Amber Hope Wilhelm, “Congressional Careers: Service Tenure and Patterns of Member Service, 1789-2015,” Congressional Research Service, January 3, 2015. This article describes the progression of congressional membership as a career choice.

Sixth Session (TH, FEB 11): Congress & Parties
NOTE: First written assignment, an op-ed, is due in class today.
2st WRITTEN ASSIGNMENT – memo (assignment is due TH, MAR 3)
This assignment requires you to write a memo for a political official. Detailed information on this assignment will be provided in a separate document.
With its two chambers, numerous committees, and individually empowered members, Congress is a fragmented institution. Nevertheless, there is a unifying force in Congress—its political parties. Congress is organized along party lines—for instance, the majority party in each chamber chooses the top leaders and holds a majority of seats on each standing committee. Shared ideology and a shared interest in their party’s fate in the next election serve to bind together party members in Congress. In the past few decades, as a result of a widening ideological gap between Republican and Democratic lawmakers, partisanship has increasingly defined the actions of Congress.
This session will describe the role of parties in Congress and explain the developments that have contributed to party polarization within Congress. We’ll examine the 2013 government shutdown as a case study in party conflict. The session will also explain why Congress’s fragmented structure makes it difficult for Congress to take the lead on major national issues while making it perfectly suited to taking on scores of smaller issues at once.

Resolved: That the Senate should abolish the filibuster.

Patterson, We the People
11e, pp. 338-345, 355-365, 418-421

10e, pp. 356-363, 372-382, 441-444

9e, pp. 378-384, 394-401, 463-466
Keith T. Poole, “The Decline and Rise of Party Polarization in Congress during the 20th Century,” SSRN paper. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1154067

Sarah Binder,The Dysfunctional Congress,” Annual Review of Political Science 18 (2015). http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/full/10.1146/annurev-polisci-110813-032156

The 2013 Budget Shutdown:
When it started: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/01/us/politics/congress-shutdown-debate.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
When it ended: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/17/us/congress-budget-debate.html
A tongue-in-cheek proposal for a solution to the impasse: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/10/should-democrats-throw-john-boehner-a-lifeline-97944.html
Public opinion: http://firstread.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/10/10/20903624-nbcwsj-poll-shutdown-debate-damages-gop?lite

The political fallout from the 1995 government shutdown: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fact-checker/2011/02/lessons_from_the_great_governm.html

Optional Reading (if topic is of particular interest)
Michael Barber and Nolan McCarthy, “Causes and Consequences of Polarization,” American Political Science Association. This article provides a comprehensive look at the sources and effects of party polarization in Congress. http://www.apsanet.org/portals/54/Files/Task%20Force%20Reports/Chapter2Mansbridge.pdf

John Aldrich and David Rohde, “The Logic of Conditional Party Government: Revisiting the Electoral Connection.” This paper explores how the constituency orientation of members of Congress has been modified by the rise of party polarization.


Seventh Session (T, FEB 16): President & Domestic Policy
Presidents operate within a system of divided power. Although they routinely propose legislative initiatives, Congress has the lawmaking power. As a result, presidents’ ability to get their policy initiatives enacted into law depends largely on Congress’s willingness to respond. An exception is executive orders, which are issued by the president through their constitutional authority as chief executive.

This session will examine the factors that affect presidential success in the area of domestic policy. Several factors will be mentioned, but the focus will be the partisan makeup of Congress—whether a majority of its members are from the president’s party. The 1964 food stamp bill and the 1996 welfare bill will be used to illustrate the relationship between presidential success and Congress’s partisan makeup. The session will also look at executive orders and the controversy surrounding several of President Obama’s recent executive orders.

Resolved: That President Obama’s expansive use of executive orders is inconsistent with the intent of the Constitution and sets a troubling precedent.


Patterson, We the People

11e, pp. 372-377, 391-401

10e, pp. 393-399, 413-422

9e, pp. 414-420, 433-443
Norm Ornstein, “The Most Enduring Myth about the Presidency,” National Journal, April 22, 2014.
Matthew Eschbaug-Soha, “The Politics of Presidential Agendas” Political Research Quarterly 2 (June 2005) 257-268. http://www.psci.unt.edu/~EshbaughSoha/jun05prq.pdf
“Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act” (aka 1996 Welfare Reform Act), Wikipedia. This entry provides information relevant to one of the session’s case studies.

Michael Shear, “Obama, Daring Congress, Acts to Overhaul Immigration,” New York Times, Nov. 20, 2014.

Benjamin Wittes, “Executive Power and Immigration Reform,” Lawfare, November 17, 2014.

Julia Preston, Federal Panel Lets Injunction Against Obama’s Immigration Actions Stand,” New York Times, May 26, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/27/us/fifth-circuit-court-of-appeals-rules-on-obama-immigration-plan.html?_r=0

Optional reading (if topic is of particular interest)

William P. Marshall, “Eleven Reasons Why Presidential Power Inevitably Expands and Why It Matters,” Boston University Law Review 88 (2008): 505-522.


Todd F. Gaziano, “The Use and Abuse of Executive Orders and Other Presidential Directives,” Heritage Foundation, February 21, 2001. Written when George W. Bush became president, the article takes an historical look at executive orders and their constitutional basis. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2001/02/the-use-and-abuse-of-executive-orders-and-other-presidential-directives

Eighth Session (TH, FEB 18): President & Foreign Policy
Unlike other policy areas, foreign policy rests on relations with actors outside rather than within the country. As a result, the chief instruments of foreign policy—diplomacy, trade, intelligence gathering, and military force--differ from those of domestic policy. So, too, does the role of the America’s elected institutions. Writing in the 1960s, political scientist Aaron Wildvasky claimed that the United States has only one president but has two presidencies—one when it comes to domestic policy and another when it comes to foreign policy. Although Wildavsky’s thesis is now regarded as an oversimplification, presidents are less constrained in the foreign policy realm than in the domestic policy realm. Although, for example, the Constitution assigns Congress the power to declare war, the decision to send US troops into hostile action in practice rests with the president.

In this session, we’ll examine the president’s comparative advantages—for example, control over information—in the making of foreign policy. We’ll briefly examine executive agreements (treaty-like arrangements authorized solely by the president) and then focus on the president’s war power. Although the Constitution assigns Congress the power to declare war, the decision to send US troops into hostile action in practice has rested with president, who is constitutionally empowered as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Few issues have provoked more controversy in recent decades than the “presidential wars” fought in Vietnam and Iraq. In this session, the president’s war powers will be studied through the lead up to President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

Resolved: That Congress should find an appropriate opportunity to invoke the War Powers Act in order to obtain a Supreme Court ruling on its authority over war.
Patterson, We the People,

11e, pp. 387-391, 399-402, 548-549

10e, pp. 421-425, 579-581

9e, pp. 442-441, 603-605

Isaacson, Walter, “Who Declares War,” New York Times Sunday Book Review, January 21, 2010.


Baum, Matthew A. and Tim Groeling. 2010. “Reality Asserts Itself: Public Opinion on Iraq and the Elasticity of Reality,” International Organization 64(July): 443-79. This is a lengthy article; if pressed for time, read introductory sections and conclusion and skim the data sections. http://www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/mbaum/documents/BaumGroeling_IO.pdf

“Invasion of Iraq,” Wikipedia. The leadup to the Iraq invasion is this session’s case study. Read the pre-invasion material, stopping with the sections that discuss the invasion itself. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_invasion_of_Iraq

Howard Kurtz, “The Post on WMDs: An Inside Story,” Washington Post, August 12, 2004. This article takes a critical look at news coverage in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion.


Joe Gould, “Lawmakers Rap Obama on Syria Escalation, Defense News, October 30, 2015. http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense-news/2015/10/30/lawmakers-rap-obama-syria-escalation/74882446/

Optional reading (if topic is of particular interest)

Aaron Wildavsky, “The Two Presidencies,” Transactions 4 (1966); 162-173. The classic article that argued the presidency is a different office in the area of foreign policy than in the domestic area.


Brandice Canes-Wrone, William G. Howell, and David E. Lewis, “Toward a Broader Understanding of Presidential Power: A Reevaluation of the Two Presidencies Thesis,” Journal of Politics 70 (2008). Read only pages 1-6 and page 14. http://home.uchicago.edu/~whowell/papers/TowardABroader.pdf

W. Lance Bennett, “Toward a Theory of Press-State Relations in the United States,” Journal of Communication 40 (1990). This pathbreaking article argues that the news media tend to limit the boundaries of public debate on issues to the range of views expressed by the political elite.

Ninth Session (T, FEB 23): Congress and the Presidency
The U.S. system of divided powers differs from a parliamentary system where executive power and legislative power are vested in the majority party and its cabinet and prime minister. Lawmaking in the U.S. system accordingly rests on the interplay between Congress and the presidency. They differ in their powers and constituencies, and thus in their perspectives, but the requirement for joint action in some circumstances is a defining feature of American politics.

The interplay of legislative and executive power is starkly evident in trade policy, which is simultaneously a domestic issue and an international issue. This session will trace the evolution of America’s position as a trading nation during the post-World War II era, concentrating first on the factors that made America in the immediate post-war period the world’s unquestioned economic power and then on the factors that weakened that position. The session will conclude with an examination of the politics and policies of trade agreements, including NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and more recent ones.

Resolved: That free trade agreements are a net benefit to the United States in almost every instance.


Patterson, We the People

11e, pp. 559-570
10e, PP. 592-602
9e, PP. 614-621

Leslie H. Gelb, “GDP Now Matters More Than Force: A U.S. Foreign Policy for the Age of Economic Power,” Foreign Affairs, November/December Issue (2010). https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2010-10-21/gdp-now-matters-more-force

Ana Eiras, “Why America Needs to Support Free Trade,” Heritage Foundation, 2004.
Jeff Madrick, “Our Misplaced Faith in Free Trade, New York Times, October 3, 2014.
Wall Street Journal/NBC poll on free trade: http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2015/05/04/americans-warming-to-free-trade-wsjnbc-poll/

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