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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:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Public Presidency/The Law

The Public Presidency:  Compare and Contrast with the Incumbent


The Evil Empire speech:

White House spin and the Dreyer memo (do not confuse with CMC's David Dreier!)

After Congress passes law, the bureaucracy drafts rules:
Madison in Federalist 62:
The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?
Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow-citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few, not for the many.

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Appellate Courts
The Dangers of the Law

Juries invest each citizen with a sort of magisterial office; they make all men feel that they have duties toward society and that they take a share in its government. By making men pay attention to things other than their own affairs, they combat that individual selfishness which is like rust in society.
Juries are wonderfully effective in shaping a nation’s judgment and increasing its natural lights. That, in my view, is its greatest advantage. It should be regarded as free school which is always open and in which each juror learns his rights, comes into daily contact with the best-educated and most-enlightened members of the upper classes, and is given practical lessons in the law, lessons which the advocate’s efforts, the judge’s advice, and also the very passions of the litigants bring within his mental grasp. I think that the main reason for the practical intelligence and the political good sense of the Americans is their long experience with juries in civil cases.

Six-Page Essay Assignment

Pick a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution concerning elections, political participation, and free expression.  What is the political motivation behind the proposal?  What are the arguments for and against it?  If you were a member of Congress, would you support it? 

Here are some examples from the 115th Congress:

H.J. Res. 28 deals with six distinct subjects (direct election of the president, voting rights, foreign and anonymous influence, redistricting reform, voter registration, and the establishment of election day as a national holiday).  You may write your paper on one of these six provisions.

And from the 114th Congress:  H.J. Res. 80 (redistricting).

Note that bill numbers start over again with each new Congress.  H.J. Res. 80 from the 114th Congress is completely different from H.J. Res. 80 from the 115th Congress.

Your essay must have at least five different sourcesAs I hope that you learned from the riddles, print books are still useful. Other possible sources include:
Your sources may include specialized references such as The Almanac of American Politics, but do not cite general-purpose encyclopedias such as Encyclopaedia Britannica and Encyclopedia AmericanaAnd especially do not cite Wikipedia. 
  • Assignments should be typed, double-spaced, and no more than six pages long. Use 12-point type and one-inch margins.  
  • Cite your sources with endnotes, which should be in standard Turabian format.
  • Endnote pages do not count against the page limit. 
  • Watch your spelling, grammar, diction, and punctuation. Errors will count against you.
  • Return assignments to the class Sakai dropbox (in Word format, not pdf) by 11:59 PM, November 3. Essays will drop one gradepoint for one day’s lateness and a full grade for two or more days’ lateness. 

*The link takes you to a 1967 Star Trek clip.  Fifty years ago, the notion of using a desktop to access laws and law books was still science fiction.

Austria joins the US, UK in Nationalist Turn

The Soon-to-be PM of Austria: 31 Year old Sebastian Kurtz

After a narrow defeat in the early 2017 presidential election, many believed that the far right had been severely weakened in Austria. The legislative elections on October 13th, however, proved otherwise.  The election was unique in that it was almost solely about immigration. The Conservative Party, led by Sebastian Kurtz adopted a strong nationalist position, largely usurping the rhetoric of the more hardline Freedom Party of Austria. The Socialists performed particularly poorly after a scandal emerged from information revealing that their consultants created fake racist Facebook pages that attempted to discredit Kurtz.

Austria has a parliamentary system, meaning that
 Kurtz and his 62 seats (32% of parliament) needs to form a coalition. The most likely outcome is an alliance with the Freedom Party, which won 26% of seats. The result will be a Conservative-Nationalist coalition, which will likely push for Austria to close down immigration channels and resist EU attempts to establish migrant quotas. With this election, Austria joins a long list of European nations moving to the right as voters resist mass migration. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

A Country Divided

In case you couldn't tell already, the country is more divided then ever. Pew Research Center survey released earlier this month documented the growth of the partisan divide: “the median (middle) Republican is now more conservative than 97% of Democrats, and the median Democrat is more liberal than 95% of Republicans.” 

According to the New York Times article, part of the reason for Trump's unlikely victory was his ability to take advantage of the divide. If the Democrats don't make a big change in 2020, Trump might just do the same thing again. “More than half of Americans don’t think Donald Trump is fit to serve as president, yet he has a clear path to winning reelection,” Doug Sosnik, who served as President Bill Clinton’s political director, wrote in the Washington Post last week. “Are Democrats Headed for a McGovern Redux?” Alan Greenblatt asked in Politico on Oct. 9. On the same day, a New York Magazine headline declared: “No One Should Rule Out a Trump Re-election in 2020.”

What can Democrats do?

The article offers a number of different academic answers to the question, and it's definitely worth the read, but what do you think? What's the reason for this stark difference in opinion? What can Democrats do to address this divide and capture more of the vote in 2018 and 2020? What should Republicans do? Lastly, in 2020 does Trump stand a chance?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Paranoid Style in American Politics

I was doing some research for one of my essays and came across this piece from 1964:

It was written in response to the fear-driven campaigning of the 1964 election and is incredibly relevant today. It almost reads as if it were published during the last election cycle. I've linked the most relevant page. It's a short read if you have 5 or 10 minutes while waiting in the airport this weekend or sometime.

Context from the first few pages:
It was actually written as a criticism of the right.

"But the modern right wing, as Daniel Bell has put it, feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialistic and communistic schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners as of old but major statesmen who are at the very centers of American power."

Which is ironic since I am writing on the exaggerated claims of an extreme left magazine towards Goldwater during the election and the slander lawsuit that followed.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Presidency and the Executive Branch II

LBJ buys some pants.

Nixon makes a drunk phone call to the chief of staff he just fired.

Congress checking the president -- NAIL:
  • Nominations
  • Appropriations
  • Investigations
  • Legislation
Tocqueville (p. 692) on "The Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear"
It provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principle concerns, directs their industry, makes rules for their testaments, and divides their inheritances. Why should it not entirely relieve them from the trouble of thinking and all the cares of living?…It covers the whole of social life with a network of petty, complicated rules that are both minute and uniform, through which even men of the greatest originality and the most vigorous temperament cannot force their heads above the crowd. It does not break men’s will, but softens, bends, and guides it; it seldom enjoins, but often inhibits, action; it does not destroy anything, but prevents much being born; it is not at all tyrannical, but it hinders, restrains, enervates, stifles, and stultifies so much that in the end each nation is no more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as its shepherd.
For example, skateboards appear in eleven federal regulations. 

Pages in the Federal Register:

Gates: "I came to believe that virtually all members of Congress carried what I called a “wallet list,” a list they carried with them at all times so that if, by chance, they might run into me or talk with me on the phone, they had a handy list of local projects and programs to push forward.
    The presidency and national security:
    • Federalist 8: "It is of the nature of war to increase the executive at the expense of the legislative authority."
    • Democracy in America (126): "If executive power is weaker in America than in France, the reason for this lies perhaps more in circumstances than in the laws. It is generally in its relations with foreign powers that the executive power of a nation has the chance to display skill and strength. If the Union’s existence were constantly menaced, and if its great interests were continually interwoven with those of other powerful nations, one would see the prestige of the executive growing, because of what was expected from it and of what it did."
    • The steps in launching a nuclear attack
    • Gates again: "More important than any of the meetings, the secretary makes life-and-death decisions every day—and not just for American military forces. Since 9/11, the president has delegated to the secretary the authority to shoot down any commercial airliner he, the secretary, deems to be a threat to the United States. The secretary can also order missiles fired to shoot down an incoming missile. He can move bombers and aircraft carriers and troops. And every week he makes the decisions on which units will deploy to the war front and around the world. It is an unimaginably powerful position.

    Cuban Missile Crisis

    Presidential power

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    One on one (If you go to the LBJ Library in Austin, you can put yourself in the picture)

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    The Evil Empire speech:

    White House spin and the Dreyer memo (do not confuse with CMC's David Dreier!)

    Are Democrats Headed for a McGovern Redux?

    Last class, we talked about the future of political parties in our country. This article poses an interesting idea about how, in order to win, candidates must appeal to the "center of political gravity." Trump appealed to the "silent majority" whose political views stray far from the center. What will it take for Dems to win over some of those votes?