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Annual Editions: American Government, 11/12
Part A. Basic Documents
1. The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, 1776
This document formally announces that 13 former British colonies have become the free and independent United States of America. It eloquently identifies certain historic principles on which their claim on independence rests.
2. The History of the Constitution of the United States
The Constitution provides an organizational blueprint for the national government and for the federal relationship between the national government and the states. In addition, the first 10 amendments, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, spell out limits on what the government can do. A commentary preceding the Constitution provides a brief account of the writing of the Constitution, and also notes some of its significant features.
3. Federalist No. 10, James Madison, The Federalist Papers, 1787
James Madison argues in support of the union of the 13 states under the new Constitution. According to Madison, a system of representative democracy governing a large territory and many people will help control the undesirable effects of " faction."
4. Federalist No. 51, James Madison, The Federalist Papers, 1787
According to James Madison, both the separation of powers among three branches of government and the division of powers between the states and the central government will help preserve representative democracy under the new Constitution.
Part B. Contemporary Views and Values
5. Can America Fail?, Kishore Mahbubani, Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2009
Kishore Mahbubani identifies three systemic failures of American society. He argues that Americans must recognize these problems and correct them, or risk the "unthinkable," failure as a society and world power.
6. The Right Bite, William A. Galston, Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2009
William A. Galston explores Americans’ growing distrust of their national government over the past four decades, and suggests five ways to improve government’s performance.
7. The Purposes of Political Combat: Why Obama Has Been Blindsided by the Strength and Vitality of His Opposition, John Podhoretz, Commentary, April 2010
John Podhoretz argues that the strong and persistent opposition to the significant policy changes that President Obama and his fellow congressional Democrats are trying to introduce is principled and appropriate, and that such opposition should be expected.
8. These People Have No Shame, Bernie Sanders, The Progressive, December 2009 January 2010
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont writes that greedy Wall Street CEOs plunged the country into a terrible recession, and did so at the expense of low- and middle-income Americans. He urges the masses who have been victimized to fight back.
9. The Crisis Comes Ashore, Al Gore, The New Republic, June 10, 2010
Former vice president Al Gore argues that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is one of several dire environmental problems that endanger people around the globe and perhaps even the very future of the human race.
10. Over Time, a Gay Marriage Groundswell, Andrew Gelman, Jeffrey Lax, and Justin Phillips, The New York Times, August 22, 2010
Three political scientists report remarkable changes in Americans’ support for gay marriage over the past 15 years, both nationally and on a state-by-state basis.
Part C. Constitutional and Legal Matters
11. It Is Time to Repair the Constitution’s Flaws, Sanford Levinson, Chronicle of Higher Education, October 13, 2006
Sanford Levinson assesses the adequacy of the U.S. Constitution, and observes that many of its structural provisions are obstacles to the practice of democracy in the American political system.
12. Is Judicial Review Obsolete?, Stuart Taylor Jr., National Journal, July 5, 2008
Stuart Taylor argues that originalism as a way for judges to interpret the constitution is clearly inadequate. Even so, he continues, the imperial judiciary will continue to engage in judicial review.
13. A Triumph for Political Speech: An Important Supreme Court Decision May Mark the End of Misbegotten Campaign-Finance "Reform", Jennifer Rubin, Commentary, May 2010
Jennifer Rubin identifies a fundamental debate on how to approach freedom of speech in a large industrialized democracy such as the United States. One side of the debate focuses on how to equalize political speech by careful balancing and regulating; and the other side, whose views prevailed in the Supreme Court’s 2010 landmark ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, adopts a more hands-off perspective.
14. Corporations Aren’t Persons; Amend the Constitution, Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive, April 2010
Matthew Rothschild takes issue with the Supreme Court’s 2010 landmark ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and argues for a constitutional amendment in response to the Court’s decision.
15. A Title IX for Health Care, Eleanor Smeal, Ms., Spring 2010
A leading feminist, Eleanor Smeal, assesses the implications for women of the major health insurance reform enacted in March, 2010, under the leadership of President Barack Obama.
Part A. The Presidency
16. Misremembering Reagan, Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review, July 6, 2009
Ramesh Ponnuru argues that President Ronald Reagan performed differently from the way that conservative admirers remember him today. According to Ponnuru, Reagan was skillfully adaptable in applying conservative principles to the problems facing the United States during the time he was president.
17. Small Ball after All?, Jonathan Rauch, National Journal, September 20, 2008
Jonathan Rauch reports that many observers consider George W. Bush to have been the worst president in American history. He argues that Bush’s greatest failure was his handing over to his successor many major unsolved problems that already faced the United States when he first took office.
18. The Founders’ Great Mistake, Garrett Epps, The Atlantic, January/February 2009
Garrett Epps argues that the framers of the Constitution created a dysfunctional and dangerous presidency that has caused problems for the United States throughout its history. He offers a number of reforms relating to the office of chief executive and the interaction of the president with the legislative branch.
19. Happy Together?, Donald R. Wolfensberger, Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2009
According to Donald Wolfensberger, whether one party controls the White House and both houses of Congress—unified party government—or party control is divided between Republicans and Democrats—divided party government—has little effect on the effectiveness or success of American national government.
20. Veto This!, Carl M. Cannon, National Journal, October 13, 2007
Carl M. Cannon places President George W. Bush’s infrequent use of the veto in historical context and explores several perspectives on the proper role of the president’s veto power in the operation of the American political system.
21. Dear Leader, Jonathan Chait, The New Republic, June 24, 2010
Jonathan Chait takes up the cult of the presidency and explains why this notion has affected how Americans view President Obama’s response to the Gulf oil spill and his health care reform efforts.
22. The Obama Enigma: Disconnection from the Main Currents of American Life Turns Out to Be a Political Disadvantage, Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review, July 5, 2010
Ramesh Ponnuru argues that Barack Obama’s lack of firsthand connection with some major currents of American life are turning out to be a considerable liability for his presidency.
Part B. Congress
23. When Congress Stops Wars: Partisan Politics and Presidential Power, William G. Howell and Jon C. Pevehouse, Foreign Affairs, September/October 2007
The authors explore the various ways that Congress can restrict presidential war powers. They also note that the party composition of Congress and the presidency is an important factor in how much influence Congress exerts.
24. How to Get Our Democracy Back: There Will Be No Change Until We Change Congress, Lawrence Lessig, The Nation, February 22, 2010
Lawrence Lessig argues that Congress is politically bankrupt because of the centrality of fundraising on Capitol Hill and the way that phenomenon has shaped Americans’ perceptions of Congress. He expresses disappointment in President Obama’s failure to try to reform Congress, and identifies two reforms that might go a long way toward improving the reputation of Congress.
25. The Case for Congress, Lee H. Hamilton, Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2004
Lee H. Hamilton defends Congress against a series of frequently voiced criticisms of the institution and its individual members.
26. The Case for Busting the Filibuster, Thomas Geoghegan, The Nation, August 31/September 7, 2009
Thomas Geoghegan argues that the contemporary " procedural filibuster " is even worse than its more traditional predecessor, and that members of Congress and citizens should take action to end the filibuster in the Senate once and for all.
Part C. The Judiciary
27. Roberts versus Roberts, Jeffrey Rosen, The New Republic, March 11, 2010
Jeffrey Rosen assesses Chief Justice John Roberts’s five years of presiding over the Supreme Court, and suggests that Roberts may not be as interested in building consensus on the Court as he has said he is. In turn, according to Rosen, the chief justice and the Court itself may be entering risky political territory.
28. Court under Roberts Is Most Conservative in Decades, Adam Liptak, The New York Times, July 24, 2010
According to Adam Liptak, systematic data show that in its first 5 years the Roberts Court has been more conservative than any Supreme Court since the 1930s. He also notes that the Roberts Court has overturned fewer laws per year than did its immediate precedessor, the Rehnquist Court (1986–2005).
Part D. Bureaucracy
29. Marking Time: Why Government Is Too Slow, Bruce Berkowitz, The American Interest, September/October 2007
Bruce Berkowitz addresses why government bureaucracies are typically so slow to produce results. He discusses various factors that explain this phenomenon and suggests ways to improve the situation.
30. Legislation Is Just the Start, Lee Hamilton, Center on Congress at Indiana University, August 9, 2010
Lee Hamilton notes that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of July 2010 leaves many matters for government bureaucrats to resolve. He also suggests that the bureaucrats will be subject to considerable pressure from lobbyists whose clients have a keen interest in how the act is implemented.
31. Teaching a Hippo to Dance, Amy Wilkinson, Wilson Quarterly, Winter 2009
Amy Wilkinson discusses the challenges that American national government faces in attracting and retaining competent employees to work in its bureaucracy. She argues that change must come from within, and suggests that innovative use of contemporary technology might be one way of improving productivity.
Part A. Political Parties and Voters
32. The ‘Enduring Majority’—Again, Jay Cost, National Review, June 8, 2009
Writing in mid-2009, Jay Cost argues that the Democratic party’s ascendance in the 2006 and 2008 national elections should not be taken to mean that the Republican party will continue losing elections for the foreseeable future. He identifies the unusual context in which the 2008 election occurred and says that Republicans and conservatives should not be discouraged.
33. Polarized Pols versus Moderate Voters?, Stuart Taylor, Jr., National Journal, December 5, 2009
Stuart Taylor considers whether the much lamented polarization of American politics today stems more from a polarized electorate or the polarization of elected representatives and party activists. After surveying relevant data and arguments, Taylor concludes that voters are less polarized than party and government elites.
34. The Tea Party Paradox, Jonathan Rauch, National Journal, July 31, 2010
Jonathan Rauch considers the implications of recent polling data for the Republican party, the Democratic party, independents, the Tea Party movement, and the workings of the American political system as a whole. In doing so, Rauch highlights the noteworthy phenomenon of "debranded Republicans."
Part B. The Conduct of Elections and Nominations
35. America Observed, Robert A. Pastor, The American Prospect, January 4, 2005
Robert A. Pastor identifies "dysfunctional decentralization" as the central cause of problems in America’s election system and compares various dimensions of the system with those of other countries.
36. Six Myths about Campaign Money, Eliza Newlin Carney, National Journal, August 7, 2010
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in early 2010, Eliza Carney Newlin identifies and discusses what she views as six myths about American campaign financing.
37. The American Presidential Nomination Process: The Beginnings of a New Era, Bruce Stinebrickner, McGraw-Hill Contemporary Learning Series, 2008
Bruce Stinebrickner reviews four eras in the history of the presidential nomination process, and argues that changes evident during the first part of the 2008 process suggest that a fifth era is about to begin.
Part C. Interest Groups and Political Movements
38. Don’t Call Them Lobbyists, Theo Francis and Steve LeVine, Businessweek, August 10, 2009
The authors explain that influence peddlers in Washington have shifted their tactics, and are less inclined to engage in traditional lobbying than they used to be. Instead, they serve as strategists and advisors for clients who want to shape public policy.
39. Born Fighting, Ronald Brownstein, National Journal, September 27, 2008
Ronald Brownstein notes the ten-year anniversary of the founding of MoveOn.org, a progressive interest group that illustrates the rise of the Internet as a political force.
40. Why They Lobby, Winter Casey, National Journal, May 31, 2008
Winter Casey discusses lobbyists who work on behalf of interests such as gambling, alcohol, and tobacco, and he considers the suggestion that they are living on the "dark side" of American politics.
41. Tea Minus Zero, John B. Judis, The New Republic, May 27, 2010
John Judis suggests that the Tea Party movement is the descendant of a number of insurgent conservative movements of recent decades, and that it also has roots in three general ideas that have been present in American politics since the early days of the United States.
Part D. Media
42. The Revolution Will Not Be Published, Clay Shirky, Utne, July/August 2009
Clay Shirky assesses the revolution currently engulfing newspapers as we know them, and discusses how the competition between electronic and hard-copy news reporting will eventually play out. On the basis of what happened after Gutenberg’s printing press appeared on the scene in the fifteenth century, he expects that the transition from the current communications era to the next era is likely to be chaotic and unpredictable.
43. Build the Wall, David Simon, Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 2009
David Simon addresses the publishers of The New York Times and The Washington Post, and urges them to take immediate steps to charge readers for on-line access to the news coverage that their organizations currently provide free-of-charge. Otherwise, Simon continues, written news coverage of the quality provided by The Times and The Post will be at risk of disappearing.
44. A See-Through Society, Micah L. Sifry, Columbia Journalism Review, January/February 2009
Micah Sifry makes the case that the American political system is entering "a new age of political transparency." He argues that the Web is changing the ways that Americans access and consume all sorts of information at all levels of government.
45. Governing in the Age of Fox News, Paul Starr, The Atlantic Monthly, January/February 2010
Paul Starr traces the history of American media through it first two stages, and argues that the third and current stage is a hybrid system that combines elements of the first two. He notes the emergence of partisan media outlets such as Fox News and MSNBC, both of which co-exist today with what he views as less partisan professional journalism.
Part A. Domestic Policy
46. The Realities of Immigration, Linda Chavez, Commentary, July/August 2006
Linda Chavez tries to set the record straight about immigration and immigration reform, and uses historical, economic, sociological, and policy perspectives to do so.
47. The Real Infrastructure Crisis, Burt Solomon, National Journal, July 5, 2008
Burt Solomon discusses the state of the nation’s infrastructure and the American public’s interest in spending on roads, bridges, water supply facilities, wastewater plants, and the like.
48. The Other National Debt, Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, June 21, 2010
Kevin Williamson discusses and sums the national government’s conventional debt, unfunded liabilities stemming from Social Security and Medicare liabilities, and state and local government debts. He arrives at the staggering total of 106 trillion dollars.
49. In Defense of Deficits, James K. Galbraith, The Nation, March 22, 2010
James K. Galbraith explains the critical role that government budget deficits play in stimulating economic growth, and argues that current economic circumstances require continued deficit spending by the national government.
50. Meet the Real Death Panels, James Ridgeway, Mother Jones, July/August 2010
James Ridgeway explores the issue of large health care expenditures for the oldest generation of Americans, and, in doing so, addresses many essentials of the American health care delivery system.
51. Clean, Green, Safe and Smart, Michael T. Klare, The Nation, August 2–9, 2010
Michael T. Klare argues for a comprehensive national energy plan to reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels and increase reliance on renewable energy sources.
52. A Flimsy Trust: Why Social Security Needs Some Major Repairs, Allan Sloan, The Washington Post, August 2, 2009
Allan Sloan calls attention to the problems facing the country’s biggest social program, the Social Security old-age pension program that began during the New Deal. Sloan understands that other pressing problems besetting the United States today will likely get—and may indeed deserve—more immediate attention, but he argues that Social Security problems will inevitably become greater in the next few years and that reforms are urgently needed.
Part B. National and Homeland Security
53. How Globalization Went Bad, Steven Weber et al., Foreign Policy, January/February 2007
The authors argue that the combination of globalization and the status of the United States as the world’s sole superpower has led to dangerous instability in the world.
54. Worth Fighting—or Not, Burt Solomon, National Journal, June 13, 2009
Burt Solomon assesses the major wars in which the United States has participated and notes that both unintended and intended consequences must be taken into account.
55. The Carbon Footprint of War, Bruce E. Johansen, The Progressive, October 2009
Bruce Johansen reports the extraordinary amount of fossil fuels that U.S. military forces consume and laments that consumption because of its adverse effects on global warming.
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