Just a quick note about me. I grew up in Idaho and went to Brigham Young University for my undergraduate degree. I then went to Arizona State University for my graduate work. I received my Ph.D. in 2001. I have been teaching at MCC for 10 years now, and I love it!
My research specialty is foreign policy decision-making and political psychology. I don't get much opportunity to pursue that at MCC, but it influences how I approach the subject.
I hope that as you try to make sense of what's going on in this world around you, that you will find it as interesting as I do. I'm looking forward to our discussions!
The term “Retail Politics” refers to the old fashioned practice of candidates and their supporters going door-to-door and working the phones to get one-on-one interaction with potential voters. This type of politics can be seen in the Iowa and New Hampshire campaigns of the presidential candidates. Once those early primaries are over, candidates shift to a media-driven ad campaigns targeting mass audiences around the country, especially in key states.
Some argue that Obama’s use of social networking software like Facebook and cell phone text messages has fundamentally changed campaigns, returning to a modern version of retail politics in the general election.
Is citizen engagement still an important part of American politics in an era of mediated mass politics?
What is the cause of political apathy in America?
What part of the Constitution is the most important? Is there a component that is cumbersome or inappropriate given the politics of the 21st century?
Madison designed a government that removes most of the policy making decisions as far from the people as possible. Some examples of this are the electoral college and the fact that Senators were originally appointed by state legislators, not elected. Is Madison’s distrust of “the mob” well-founded, or should we have a more direct democracy?
Is the constitutional framework idiot-proof? Both parties loudly proclaimed in the past election that the future of the Republic was at stake. Republicans like to argue that Democrats are traitors and cowards who can’t be trusted to defend the constitution and Democrats like to argue that Republicans are closet dictators who are eager to throw out the constitution when it is inconvenient. Of course, only partisan extremists make these claims, but it raises the question, can any one election have constitutional consequences?
Check out political blogs such as:
http://alittlemoretotheright.com/blog/ Do you think a set of essays like the Federalist Papers could be spread by blogs today to start a major political debate?
Local vs Central Govt
Does it matter what level of government provides services? Are there some things that state and local governments are better suited to handle? Are there some things that the federal government is better suited for?
Is the 10th amendment a forgotten relic of 19th century America, or is it still relevant today?
Federal judges have life-time tenure. The only way they are removed is through death, retirement, or impeachment. There are clear advantages and disadvantages to this arrangement. Do you think a judicial reform that would require judges to withstand election or periodic reappointment would be good or bad for the country?
One of the perennial political issues raised in presidential elections and Supreme Court nominations is that of legalized abortion. If Roe v Wade were overturned, the debate would shift to the state level. Do you think it would be healthy to disconnect this issue from the federal judiciary and national politics, or is this were the debate should be held?
Contest between Rights
There are two types of rights, communal and individual. Individual rights are more familiar to students, as they are the political rights we enjoy in a free society. Also, our culture tends to be very individualistic. Communal rights are a new idea to many. They are the rights that a society should enjoy, such as basic standards of living, equity and justice. Another way of thinking of them is that a community has a right to define itself and establish a set of standards for those who live within it.
One example of these rights colliding is the gay marriage debate. Those who focus on individual rights argue that not being allowed to marry places homosexuals in a second class citizen status. Those who focus on communal rights argue that the community has a legitimate interest in traditional families thriving because nothing else in society works when the family is broken. Does thinking in terms of rights as a continuum between these positions help or hinder a solution to this debate?
In the 2008 election, one measure that did not get enough signatures to get on the Arizona ballot would have asked voters to decide whether government entities (like colleges) can take race into account when determining a government benefit (like admission). Is affirmative action still necessary in a society with structured inequality along racial lines? Or are affirmative action policies misguided efforts that are no longer needed or beneficial to the populations they attempt to help?
The Democratic Congress had a knock-down, drag-out fight with President Bush over the budget in 07. As a result, the government had to be funded on stop-gap measures for months. This makes it difficult for agencies to make long-term plans or start initiatives. It was particularly painful for the military, which was trying to fight a war on several fronts. The same dynamic between the Republican Congress and President Clinton in 95 led to a near total shut-down of the government for a few days. Now that the Democrats control both the legislative and executive branches, Republicans are loudly claiming that we are in danger of sliding into a socialist state. Democrats similarly complained about the free-spending Republicans that were bankrupting the nation when the Republicans controlled both branches in 2000-2006.
Our system was designed to be inefficient, and Madison is probably smiling in his grave at all this. Is there any way to avoid gridlock in Washington without upsetting the checks and balances of the system?
Arizona has one of the most innovative redistricting systems in America. Check out the link on the WebCT chapter 6 page. There are groups that try almost every election to place an initiative on the ballot trying to eliminate this system and place it back in the hands of the Legislature. Should redistricting be tri-partisan and independent like Arizona’s commission (equal Republican, Democrat, and Independent members), or partisan like most states (whichever party has a majority in the legislature)?
Al Gore was given more real power than almost any previous Vice-President under Clinton when he was given the task to pare down the size of the Federal Government and trim unnecessary and wasteful programs, a task he worked at successfully and with little fanfare throughout the eight years he held that office. Vice-President Cheney was given even more power by Bush, taking on presidential roles crafting policy and legislation in energy and defense, engaging publicly in policy debates with other White House and Cabinet officials, even publicly contradicting and undermining the President in some areas like gay marriage. While the cartoons depicting Cheney as the puppet-master of Bush are overblown, he clearly has been the most powerful Vice-President in history. Biden’s role in the new Obama administration seems to be more of an advisor. He has taken some foreign trips (usual VP fare) and provided comic relief (also a common VP role), but has not had time to define his term in office yet. In spite of Biden’s apparent return to the pre-Clinton norm for VPs, there is a clear trend toward the VP office being more than a caretaker post.
My question is: are there any advantages or disadvantages to making the vice presidency a more visible and active role?
I was talking with my friend a few nights before the 08 election and he said he might that sit that election out. When pressed, he said because he had been disappointed in the past by people he had voted for and then they did not meet his expectations. When it came right down to it, my friend actually voted, but his comment raises a question. Given the immense list of duties for a president listed in this chapter, and our heightened expectations, is it possible for one human being to actually have a successful presidency?
Can you think of an example of an Iron Triangle that is not mentioned in the book or chapter powerpoints?
How much Oversight?
The heads of bureaucratic agencies have a great deal of leeway in how they execute their legislative mandate. If there is too much legislative oversight and second-guessing of their actions, very little would get done. If there is too little oversight gross error, incompetence, and corruption may take root. Critics of the Republican 109th Congress argued that they gave the Bush administration too little oversight, resulting in unchecked corruption and waste. Critics of the Democratic 110th Congress argued that they exercised too much oversight, resulting in a public airing of dirty laundry and agencies not doing their job due to having to constantly look over their shoulder.
How much should the legislature get involved with the bureaucracy, and should it err on the side of too little or too much oversight?
Think for a minute about your strongest political, ethical, and moral beliefs. Is there a pattern between them? What has been the strongest agent of socialization in your life?
Have you been interviewed for a legitimate political poll before? How about an illegitimate one? What errors did they make that might skew the results of their poll?
Some argue that socialization is not passive, people aren’t simply sponges soaking up the prevailing culture. They actively interact with life events, and their reaction to those events affects their socialization. For example, my Depression-surviving grandmother stashed cash in bizarre places in her house, my Baby Boomer faculty colleagues haven’t trusted a public official since Watergate, and my friends and I could tell you where we were when the Berlin Wall came down and the world changed. Most of you were children or teens during the attacks of 9/11, a time when you are especially open to socialization effects.
Do you think the events of September 11, 2001 have had a long-term impact on your political beliefs? In what ways?
Many critics complain that the media covers political campaigns like horse races. Instead of informing the public about the candidates’ positions, backgrounds, and qualifications, the media focuses on who is ahead and who is behind in the poll-of-the-day. Where did you go to get substantive information on the candidates for the last presidential election?
At what times (if any) do you feel that censorship by the government should be tolerated?
The text focuses on several social movements associated with the Baby Boomers and their assorted cultural wars. Which movement of the 1960s/70s do you think had the most impact on American society? Why?
Have you ever been involved in an interest group? What prompted you to or prevented you from getting involved?
The two elections before this past one were nail-biters, coming down to a few key states and creating a situation where a candidate who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College lost the race. This has triggered a debate over the relevance of the electoral college. There would be clear winners and losers if we were to move from an electoral college to a popular vote for president. Do you think we should keep or pitch the electoral college?
Arizona has one of the most innovative campaign finance systems in the country, called Clean Elections. It is a voluntary program that provides public financing of state-wide campaigns if the candidates agree to not accept any additional funds. The idea is that it levels the playing field between candidates and makes them less prone to influence by moneyed interest groups. It also means that marginal candidates get much more attention than they otherwise would. Opponents of campaign finance reform, both in Arizona and around the country, have tried to kill the program through ballot initiative unsuccessfully every election since its creation. The federal 9th Circuit court is currently reviewing the law to decide whether it is unconstitutional for the elections fund to match funds spent by privately funded candidates that go beyond the limits. Should we keep the Arizona Clean Elections program around?
If you listen to the two main political parties, there is a world of difference between them. If you listen to talk radio, the hatred and contempt shown to members of the other party is striking (550 AM is the red meat Republican station, 1480 AM was the red meat Democrat station, but it is off the air now). Compared to parties in other countries though, the two parties in America are both fairly mild mannered, middle-of-the-road parties. We don’t have zenophobic nationalist parties, religiously-based parties, radical communist parties, student protest parties, or even a socialist party. They all exist in the US, but none have more than a handful of members.
Can you list two commonalities, and the two main differences between our two parties?
The Next Generation
Parties love to have college-age delegates at their national convention to offset the vast majority of grey hairs doing the party business. They want to have a young face at the convention to show that their party is the party of the future. What could either or both of the parties do to draw younger voters in and become more than a token presence?
Alexis de Tocqueville presented two definitions of equality: the equality of process and the equality of outcomes. People who support the equality of outcomes believe in government actions to create equality. Those who support the equality of process believe that equality occurs if the rules are fair and everyone has the chance to participate. Which of these versions of equality do you think is more important?
Policy changes are generally minor and have little impact due to divisions in the political structure. Many view stability as more important than flexibility when it comes to good government. Should government be able to more easily make sweeping changes?
Most Americans, not being wealthy, pay more in payroll than income taxes. The top tenth of wage earners pay about fifty percent of the taxes. They also own about seventy percent of all the wealth in the country. Though they have a larger tax burden, the wealthy are still able to avoid taxes on large portions of their assets through numerous tax incentives (called loopholes by critics). Should taxes be increased for the upper classes and decreased for the lower classes? Why or why not?
America gives more aid to the developing world than any other nation if you count up total funds given. But when measured as a percentage of GDP, we give one of the smallest amounts of any developed nation. Also, most of our aid is in the form of vouchers for ShopUSA, meaning the money can only be spent buying goods and services from American companies. Viewed this way, most of our foreign aid is really a form of corporate welfare. In spite of the fact that a minuscule amount of our overall budget goes to foreign aid, it is often a popular target for budget cuts. What types of foreign aid programs should be increased? Which programs do you think should be decreased? Why?