Difference between revisions of "American Government Lecture One"

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(Why Participate?: listing nearly 10 reasons)
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Participating in the political by "playing on a team" is beneficial by:
 
Participating in the political by "playing on a team" is beneficial by:
  
(list reasons)
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*like playing on a sports team, it's a healthy activity that creates a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment
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*like playing on a sports team, the strategy is fascinating and is helpful to understanding the game
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*one side ''will'' win, and it's important to work against the triumph of bad ideas and hurtful policies
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*contacts are created in political activities that are helpful in business and social activities
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*skills learned in politics, such as dealing with people, are invaluable in other walks of life
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*George Orwell said that "all issues are political issues," political changes affect how many people become or remain Christians
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*the political process determines pro-life issues; Poland reduced its number of abortions by 99% when it changed its political system away from communism in the 1990s
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*the alternatives to participating in politics can be hurtful, such as getting fact, becoming addicted to video games, or mental decline
  
 
== "Midterm" Elections ==
 
== "Midterm" Elections ==

Revision as of 17:30, 1 August 2010

To enroll, see Conservapedia:American Government Fall 2010.

Consider the Tuesday after the first Monday in November: what is special about that day? It is Election Day in the "United States of America."[1] This is the day that determines who runs government.

This year Election Day is the earliest it can possibly be: November 2nd, which is the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Election Day can never be on November 1st because then the Monday would be in October rather than November.

Election Day is only two months from now. With each passing day the political excitement and anticipation will grow. Everyone in Congress and the White House is repeatedly thinking and worrying about Election Day.

In every even-numbered year, 435 members of the House of Representatives and one-third of the members of the U.S. Senate are elected to serve in Washington, D.C. In every year divisible by four, a president is also elected; these are called presidential elections, and other elections are called "midterm elections" because they occur halfway during a president's term.

In odd-numbered years, there are no federal elections (unless there is a special election to fill a vacancy). But two states elect their state officials in odd-numbered years: New Jersey and Virginia.

There are many other election days in addition to the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. There are "primary" election days, on which each political party selects its "nominee" or candidate to represent the party in the November (general) election. On Tuesday, September 14, nine states[2] will hold primary elections so that the Republican, Democratic and other political parties can select one nominee each to be on the ballot for the November general election. This ensures that there will be only one Republican and one Democrat on the November ballot.

American government is like a complex clock, with different parts having their own special functions, often independent of each other. Elections are akin to setting the clock to a particular time, from which point it starts to operate forward.

Politicians think about their moment of reelection nearly every day, and it influences much of what they do. Note that not all politicians are in the same election, and many people in government (such and United States judges and many workers in Washington, D.C.) never face an election. But everyone who creates new laws, from the members of the House of Representatives (called "congressmen") to the members of the Senate (called "senators") to the President, must defeat opponents in elections to attain power or stay in power.

We will discuss this in more detail later, but it is worth mentioning here too. There are three branches of federal government: legislative (Congress), executive (President and numerous agencies under his supervision), and the judiciary (the courts). In addition, there is state government, which is completely independent of the federal government in our unique system of dual sovereigns. There is also free enterprise (the free market), which is regulated by government but has an independent influence on Elections, as the economy has good times and bad and thereby affects how people vote.

Difference Between Politics and History

History is about the past; politics is about the future. Unlike history, politics is constantly changing. In some ways, politics is similar to a game in sports: what happened on the last football play or baseball pitch is not likely to be copied for the next play or pitch. Instead, the way the game is played is constantly changing. How an election was won two or four years ago is probably not how it will be won next time.

Around 1990, newspapers were far more powerful in influencing elections than they are today. Newspapers are pro-abortion, and strongly favored pro-abortion (pro-choice) candidates. They won easily. Now, with newspapers weaker in influence and people being increasingly pro-life, candidates find it helpful to say they are pro-life. An historian might think that pro-life candidates tend to lose by looking at 1990; a political analyst, looking to the future, would say the opposite.

Politics as a Team Sport

Politics is not easy to understand, even by people who have studied it for decades. Many predictions by the greatest experts turn out to be completely wrong.

A first step to understanding politics is to recognize that it is a team sport, and it is never fair to individuals. You might be the greatest wide receiver to play the game of football, but if the running back on your team repeatedly fumbles the ball, then you will lose. If you play in a game where the referees are against you on every play, then you will also lose no matter how good your team is. If there is a massive snowstorm in the middle of the game, then that can cause you to lose also even though your team was better.

In American politics, the two biggest "teams" are the Republicans and the Democrats. Problems with one member of the team affect the ability of other members of the team to win. The "referees" are the media, and they have a big impact also. So does "weather" conditions like the state of the economy, or foreign relations.

This model for politics as a team sport goes far beyond Republicans versus Democrats. Within each political party there are also alliances and teams that form to help candidates win nominations by the party. The team backing John McCain to win the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Arizona on August 24th included Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, and many other prominent Republicans. The team backing McCain's opponent, J.D. Hayworth, included Tea Party groups, anti-illegal immigration groups, the Gun Owners of America, and other conservative groups. Which team proved to be stronger on August 24th, when the primary election was held?

Elections are called "campaigns" because there are many contributing forces that determine the outcome. There are campaign contributions to the candidate for his use in printing materials, paying workers, and buying ads. There are volunteer efforts such as "phone-banking" (calling voters on lists), "door-to-door" (walking up to houses and knocking on doors in support of a candidate), "literature drops" (such as handing out campaign literature at a subway station or bus stop), passing out bumper stickers, and attending public meetings to discuss issues relating to the election. There are also "independent expenditures," by which other groups buy advertisements without any approval or coordination with the candidate.

When a candidate wins or loses, it is really his team that wins or loses. His opponent may have put together a stronger team, or had better strategy, or the "referee" (media) may have been biased, or events outside of the control of the candidate (such as the economy) may have determined the outcome. Often, but not always, the candidate who spends the most money wins, because he is able to get his message out to voters the best.

Why Participate?

Many Americans fail to participate in the political process; they do not help any "team". They are too lazy, or fail to understand the process, or fail to see the beneits in participating. They are making a mistake.

There is no "free lunch." Participation in the political process is like exercise or other forms of self-improvement. One needs to find a way to enjoy it.

Participating in the political by "playing on a team" is beneficial by:

  • like playing on a sports team, it's a healthy activity that creates a sense of camaraderie and accomplishment
  • like playing on a sports team, the strategy is fascinating and is helpful to understanding the game
  • one side will win, and it's important to work against the triumph of bad ideas and hurtful policies
  • contacts are created in political activities that are helpful in business and social activities
  • skills learned in politics, such as dealing with people, are invaluable in other walks of life
  • George Orwell said that "all issues are political issues," political changes affect how many people become or remain Christians
  • the political process determines pro-life issues; Poland reduced its number of abortions by 99% when it changed its political system away from communism in the 1990s
  • the alternatives to participating in politics can be hurtful, such as getting fact, becoming addicted to video games, or mental decline

"Midterm" Elections

On November 2nd, all 435 House seats are up for election, and at least 33 out of 100 (U.S.) Senate seats are likewise on the ballot. (Sometimes more Senate seats are on the ballot due to special elections to fill vacancies; without vacancies the number would be 33 one year, 33 two years later, and 34 two years after that.) The president is not on the ballot because this year, 2010, is not divisible by 4; the presidential term is 4 years and Barack Obama was elected to that position in 2008.

There are two vacancies in the House as of August 1st, and of the remaining 433 House seats, the Democrats hold a 38-vote majority. Stated another way, the Republicans can win a vote only if 38 Democrats cross over to their side on the issue (and no Republicans cross to the Democratic side on the issue). From this information you can figure out the answer to Question 2 below: how many House seats are Democratic, and how many are Republican. In the Senate, the Democrats hold a 9-vote majority, but because the Vice President is also a Democrat and his job is to cast a vote if there is a tie, the Democrats essentially hold a 10-vote majority there.

Due to gerrymandering, however, fewer than 100 out of the 435 House seats are "in play," such that either party could win it. Gerrymandering is one many new terms you will learn as part of this course. Its name comes from a cartoon making fun of Governor Eldridge Gerry of Massachusetts in 1812, who signed into law a redistricting for state that used odd shapes in order to help his political party be elected. This is possible because voting patterns become predictable over time: many neighborhoods are known to vote heavily Democratic or heavily Republican based on prior elections.

For example, San Francisco is a heavily Democratic area, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi represents a "safe seat" there. Indeed, over 335 out of the 435 House seats represent districts that are safely Republican or safely Democratic. In those districts, the only way to defeat an incumbent (the person in office running for reelection) is to defeat him in the primary.

With the advent of the internet, there is up-to-the minute analysis of the likely outcomes in every election. One site, "Realclearpolitics" (you might consider that website name to be an "oxymoron", or self-contradictory term, because politics is rarely "clear") provided this analysis on August 1:

  • U.S. House of Representatives: 202 seats likely to be retained or won by Democrats in the election, 201 seats likely to be retained or won by Republicans in the election, and 32 "toss-up" seats that can be won by either side.
  • U.S. Senate: 49 seats likely to be retained or won by Democrats, 43 likely to be retained or won by Republicans, and 8 "toss-up" seats. Note that in the U.S. Senate there are two "Independents", but they vote for Democratic control so they are treated as Democratic.
  • State Governors: 14 seats likely to be retained or won by Democrats, 24 likely to be retained or won by Republicans, and 11 seats are "toss-ups"

concept of "political machines." (Note that the election of the governor of New Jersey occurs in an odd-numbered year, not this year.)

Homework

List the different factors that affect the outcome of an election, such as the status of the economy (consumer confidence), the extent of media bias in favoring one side, the strength of the candidates with respect to electability, special world or national events that may sway the public more to one side than the other, and so on. Ponder how much "weight" or emphasis to give each consideration (with the totals adding up to 100%, as in 30% to the economy, 35% to media bias, etc.). Then answer these questions:

1. List what you think are the top six factors affecting the outcome of the election this November 2nd, and give relative "weights" to each according to your opinion.

2. Identify the total numbers by political party in the House and Senate, before the election (e.g., the House consists of __ Democrats and __ Republicans, for a total of 435). Include the Independents in the Senate in the Democratic totals because they vote for the Democratic leadership.

3. Is the President on the ballot this November? If not, then why not?

4. Using your answers questions 1 and 2 above and any other information, make a prediction of composition by political party of the House and Senate after Election Day. Explain briefly the basis of your predictions.

Extra credit:

5. What tactical change by either party between now and the election would cause you to change your prediction significantly?

References

  1. The term the "United States of America" was first coined in the late 1700s by Thomas Paine, the author of Common Sense.
  2. The states holding primaries on September 14 are Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin.