About this Blog

During the semester, I shall post course material and students will comment on it. Students are also free to comment on any aspect of American politics, either current or historical. There are only two major limitations: no coarse language, and no derogatory comments about people at the Claremont Colleges. This blog is on the open Internet, so post nothing that you would not want a potential employer to see.

The course syllabus is at:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Practice Final Exam, December 2013

The following will give you an idea of the format of the final exam. As you prepare, also take a look at the air midterm.

I. Briefly identify 12 of 14 items (4 points each). Explain each item's meaning and significance.
  • Article II
  • Homogamy
  • Haley Barbour
  • The jury “as a political institution”
  • Majority faction
  • “Full faith and credit”
  • The 10th Amendment
  • Isolates
  • The Creationism Act
  • Treason
  • U-2 (not Bono's group)
  • The Seneca Falls Declaration
  • Voter ID laws
II. Short essays. Answer three of four. (6 points each).
  • Explain the origin and meaning of the following passage: " In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions." 
  • How do caucuses differ from primaries, and how does this difference affect candidate strategy?
  • Explain the origin and meaning of this passage: "Whenever possible, go outside the experience of the enemy."
  • Identify three wars that resulted in an expansion of civil or voting rights.  Very briefly tell what happened.
III. Answer two of three essay questions (17 points each). Each answer should take about large bluebook pages or 4 small bluebook pages.
Bonus Questions (one point each). Very briefly identify the following:
  • Michael Harrington
  • Charles Halleck
  • Richard Herrnstein
  • Tina Hossain
  • Sally Hemings

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness



From The Declaration:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
From The Ethics: (see Murray 253-254).
Since happiness is an activity of soul in accordance with perfect virtue, we must consider the nature of virtue; for perhaps we shall thus see better the nature of happiness. The true student of politics, too, is thought to have studied virtue above all things; for he wishes to make his fellow citizens good and obedient to the laws. 
From Federalist 51 (see Murray p. 297).
 But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

More on Global Inequality

This video discusses the widening income gap in 22 countries, displayed using graphs and data. It is based on an OECD report from 2011, which you can find the press release for and more information about here.  The video shows the way the OECD measures the income gap, using the Gini coefficient, where 0 signifies total inequality, and 1 means that the richest person has all of the nation's income.  The possible solutions given at the end of the video to combat income inequality are: reforming tax and benefit policies, getting more people into the labor force, and making sure those people stay in jobs that pay good wages. Obviously, these are easier said than done, and it appears not much progress has been made in the two years that have passed since the report was completed.

 Clearly, the U.S. isn't the only one suffering from income inequality; it is a global issue that nations around the world are seeking solutions for. Hopefully world leaders can come together to find ways to solve this problem.

Here is a graph that shows the difference between the income gap from the mid-1980s to 2008 in 22 countries, from the same OECD report:

Murray on Education

After reading Coming Apart, I looked into more of Murray's work and found that he also wrote a book on American education titled Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality. The four simple truths are:

1. ability varies
2. half of children are below average
3.too many people are going to college
4. the future of the nation depends on how we educate the academically gifted

Murray argues that people without above average abilities are not fit for true college level education and that many children cannot learn more than rudimentary reading and math. He argues that very few people actually benifit from a BA. He also proposes that America's future depends on how we educate the academically gifted who will run the country. He talks briefly about these views here and less briefly here.

I find it interesting that Murray supports views on education that could further stratify the nation by accelerating the class formations identified in Coming Apart. A large part of what differentiates Belmont from Fishtown is quality and level of education. Murray's views seem as though they support the disparity. Although it is not certain that Murray is completely against class formation, he is certainly worried about the trends that have declined especially in Fishtown. These trends have been witnessed in a time of increasing seperation between the upper class and the lower class. So although his views on  education and social trajectory do not conflict, I found them to be a curious combination. I am interested to hear what you guys think. 

Considering Murray's Conclusion

I was very impressed with Murray's identification of class divergence in America. However I was less persuaded by his proposed solution(s) for this dilemma, and I would like to identify two particular issues that may open up further discussion. 

Central to Murray's argument is the idea that if our lower classes can rediscover traditional American virtues (industriousness, honesty, marriage, religiosity, community, social capital) then they will become more self-sustaining, and we will not have to resort to a "welfare state." Certainly a renaissance in these values would indeed be beneficial for the poor. But through what means does Murray propose to re-instill these values? In his conclusion (pg. 308), Murray addresses this: "there remains a core of civic virtue and involvement [in lower class communities] that could make headway against those problems if the people who are trying to do the right things get the reinforcement they need - not in the form of government assistance, but in validation of the values and standards they continue to uphold." Murray clarifies on the next page who is doing this 'validating': "A great many people, especially in the new upper class, just need to start preaching what they practice"(309). Okay, but what exactly does this mean? What does validation entail, and through what medium is it to be done? Will attorneys, physicians, and executives parade through lower class neighborhoods, patting the backs of local community leaders? I may have overlooked a few points here, but overall I did not come away with a comprehensive understanding of how Murray envisioned the reinstallation of these virtues into the lower class. 

Secondly, and on a similar note, I was puzzled by another aspect of Murray's conclusion. Murray lauds the part of American exceptionalism in which "people must be free to live life as they see fit and to be responsible for the consequences of their actions; that it is not the government's job to protect people from themselves"(309). And yet on the previous page Murray quotes economist Robert Fogel: "...it is necessary to address such postmodern concerns as the struggle for self-realization, the desire to find a deeper meaning in life than the endless accumulation of consumer durables and the pursuit of pleasure..."(308). Well is not this "endless accumulation of consumer durables"(and all the lack of 'genuine satisfaction' that it entails) simply a byproduct of a system in which people are "free to live life as they see fit", namely to create a commodity culture? Likewise Murray laments the "unseemliness" of CEOs and their exorbitant paychecks, but once again are these men and women not simply "living life as they see fit" and adhering to the economic principles of Libertarianism? To ground this talk in reality: Walmart executives see it fit to pay most of their employees anywhere from about $8 to $13 per hour - Walmart's website claims its average hourly wage for associates is $12.81 while an organization of Walmart reformers says the figure is actually around $8.81. Regardless there are a lot of meagerly paid Walmart employees. The consequence? A recent Congressional study found that a single Walmart Supercenter may cost taxpayers anywhere from approximately $900,000 to $1,700,000 in government assistance programs for its employees each year. Also keep in mind that Walmart is just one corporation of many paying its unskilled workers scanty wages. In this sense then, the welfare state that Murray laments becomes unavoidable if the government does not "protect the people [i.e. corporate executives in this case] from themselves."

These were just a few thoughts I had. I'm interested to see how others perceive Murrays' proposed solutions to the inequality problem. 

Murray on gay marriage

I found this really interesting article about Murray, which talks about his speech at the conference CPAC, which Republicans gathered after the 2012 election. Many came to talk about a way to move the party forward after the defeat, and Murray surprised him with his remarks. He encouraged the GOP to "accept the legalization of both gay marriage and abortion."

Murray is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and considers himself a libertarian. Yet many Republicans praise his writing, especially Murray's argument that social programs worsen poverty. Murray, however, said that he was inspired to talk about these issues on his drive to the conference, and decided then to change the topic of his speech.

Murray's pro-gay marriage argrees with his arguments about the importance of marriage. If marriage correlates with stable homes and higher prosperity, than the sexual orientation of the couple that marries should not be a factor. Murray spoke about the evolvement of his beliefs based on personal experience and other's arguments. He also talked about the fact that none of his four children (whom agree with Murray on many points) even considered voting for a Republican because of their stances on social and religious views. I really encourage everyone to read the article because it explains his stance farther and it is interesting to have this thought in mind when reading Coming Apart.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Gentrifying Fishtown

When I googled Fishtown, one of the first articles that game up was "A Creative Renaissance in Philadelphia's Fishtown," published in the travel section of The New York Times. The article detailed a few of the trendy places to eat and shop in the once working class Fishtown neighborhood.

Some further investigation led to the realization that the Fishtown that Murray wrote about, based on 1990 and 2000 census data, is rapidly disappearing. After the publication of Coming Apart, some residents of Fishtown argued that Murray didn't understand their community and was mischaracterizing them. In this article, Murray responded to the criticism of Fishtown residents.

Murray contacted an expert on Fishtown, Ken Milano, who told him:
Some of the complaints I heard were ‘What Fishtown is Murray talking about?’ The one in the book is barely recognizable in 2012. Yes, there are still working folks here, but to the newcomers, they are the pain-in-the-ass juvenile delinquents who mess with their cars, vandalize their houses, and make life miserable for the newbies.
 Murray then responded to the criticism:
[There] is a legitimate underlying reason why people living in Fishtown in 2012 believe that I got it wrong: I described Fishtown in its latter years as a working-class community during the late 1990s.
Gentrification is in high gear. I could see it when I visited Fishtown during the writing of the book — abandoned factories that had been turned into chic loft apartments, and blue-collar bars transformed into trendy watering holes for the twenty-something singles who had moved in.
For the newcomers, there are no memories of a tight-knit community organized around the family and the Catholic Church where everybody knew everybody, doors could be left unlocked, and children safely allowed to play outdoors, knowing that neighbors were keeping an eye on them, and where local problems were solved in local ways. There are also no memories among the newcomers of how that community slowly unraveled in the face of the forces that I blame (well-intentioned but disastrously destructive reforms of the 1960s in education, criminal justice, and welfare) and the forces that the left blames (the loss of skilled blue-collar jobs, the decline of unions, globalization).
With gentrification often comes tension between original residents and newcomers. In a place like Fishtown, the tension is exacerbated by the disparities in education, wealth, and cultural background between the original residents and newcomers. As newcomers are often wealthier than original residents, they are often able to change the face of the neighborhoods they enter, opening cafes, coffee shops, galleries, shops, et cetera that cater to their preferences. This article, published on a Fishtown-centric blog, explores some of that tension.

What is happening in Fishtown is not isolated. As I alluded to in class, neighborhoods in San Francisco including SoMa and the Mission District are rapidly gentrifying. Other neighborhoods, including Hayes Valley, Cow Hollow, the Marina District, Outer Sunset, and even the Tenderloin, are feeling the effects of gentrification. Talk to someone from New York, especially residents of Brooklyn, and I'm sure you'll hear much of the same. The gentrification of parts of Philadelphia has even led the city to be referred to, in some cases disparagingly, as the "Sixth Borough," as residents of New York move to Philly en masse. Here's another article exploring the influx of New Yorkers into Philly.