Chapter 1 - Chapter 1 Understanding American Politics...

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Chapter 1: Understanding American Politics American politics is full of bewildering complexities Enumerated powers in the Constitution Unwritten rules that govern how Congress works Many policy questions seem hopelessly intractable Reforming Social Security Deciding what to do in Iraq Election outcomes look random or even chaotic Politicians seem more interested in publicizing their disagreements than solving them People given up on American politics b/c: Don’t understand the political process Feel helpless to influence elections or policy making Believe that politics is irrelevant to their lives Examples of Pork Barrel Spending (wasteful spending of federal money on local projects): “Bridge to nowhere” Congressional appropriation in 2005 of $453 million for the construction of two bridges in Alaska Project canceled but not after nearly $26 million on the initial phases of construction Defending of “bridge to nowhere” o Allow much-needed economic development in Ketchikan o Increased traffic flow through Gravina’s local airport ---- bringing jobs Federally funded purchase of a wind-powered ice sled for the sheriff of Ashland County, Wisconsin Purchased after an Ashland teenager fell through the ice of Lake Superior and drowned as sheriffs’, deputies, firefighters, and his father watched helplessly from shore. “Bridge to Nowhere” explained by two features of the legislative process: Funding for the bridge was a relatively small part of a huge bill that included spending for all federal transportation projects for the next five years. America’s transportation infrastructure was in serious need of repair The bill was an important step toward addressing these problems. The congressional norm of reciprocity guarantees that some wasteful projects will be funded even though they could not stand on their own merits Questions we will examine: 1. Why do some people participate in the political system while others do not? 2. How does the Constitution structure our rights and liberties and the broader political system? 3. Why do people vote as they do? 4. Why do so many people mistrust politicians and the political system? 5. Why do most members of Congress get reelected?
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Chapter 1: Understanding American Politics 6. How do Supreme Court justices decide cases? 7. Why do presidents sometimes appear all-powerful, but look powerless other times? 8. How much do the media, interest, groups, judges, and bureaucrats influence policy decisions and why? Why Do We Have a Government? To Provide Order Without government there would be chaos Thomas Hobbes, British Philosopher – life in the “state of nature” (that is, without government) would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” There would be no laws --- people could do whatever they wanted Preamble to the Constitution: two of the central goals of government are to “provide for the common defense” and to “insure domestic Tranquility.”
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