Saturday, April 16, 2016

4/16 The Presidency

Franklin Roosevelt is sometimes considered the first "modern" president because of the massive expansion in the power of the state under his administration. Although other Cabinet departments had been added to the government such as the Department of Agriculture created by Lincoln, the Department of Commerce in 1903, and the Department of Labor created during the Wilson administration, Roosevelt drastically increased the power of the president by enlarging the personal staff of the president, creating the first chief of staff and many other positions.

According to Richard Neustadt, in his book Presidential Power, the power of the President is fairly limited, due to the structutre of checks and balances set up in the Constitution. Neustadt tries to evaluate the power of different presidents by considering three different areas which he feels gives power to presidents. The power of the president, depends on he says: the President's ability to persuade, his or her professional reputation among political insiders, and the public prestige the President has with the public. Being stronger or weaker in any of these areas critically determines how much power the President has, or as Neustadt says:
Effective influence for the man in the White House stems from three related sources: first are the bargaining advantages inherent in his job with which to persuade other men that what he wants of them is what their own responsibilities require them to do. Second are the expectations of those other men regarding his ability and will to use the various advantages they think he has. Third are those men's estimates of how his public views him and of how their publics may view them if they do what he wants. In short, his power is the product of his vantage points in government, together with his reputation in the Washington community and his prestige outside. 
A President, himself, affects the flow of power from these sources, though whether they flow freely or run dry he never will decide alone. He makes his personal impact by the things he says and does. Accordingly, his choices of what he should say and do, and how and when, are his means to conserve and tap the sources of his power. Alternatively, choices are the means by which he dissipates his power. The outcome, case by case, will often turn on whether he perceives his risk in power terms and takes account of what he sees before he makes his choice. A President is so uniquely situated and his power so bound up with the uniqueness of his place, that he can count on no one else to be perceptive for him (Neutstadt p. 150).

Stephe Skowronek, another influential theorist on the powers of the Presidency, in his book The Politics Presidents Make, he describes presidents as being part of presidential cycles that establish "regimes," strengthen those regimes, then eventually destroy those regimes, leading to the beginning of another cycle.  This idea of cycles, or regimes, suggest that there are common features that run through successive Presidents, similar values and ideas that they try to put forward.  In Skowronek's view there have been at least five presidential cycles beginning with Jefferson: The Jeffersonians, The Jacksonians, the Republicans, the New Deal, and the Reagan era. Within each cycle, President's perform the role of Reconstruction (starting the cycle), Articulation (strengthening the cycle), and Destruction (ending the cycle beginning a new one). FDR, for example, is seen as beginning the New Deal cycle, articulated by Lyndon Johnson's vision of the "Great Society" in the 1960s, which ended with the Carter administration of the late 1970s. The end of the New Deal cycle has led to an extremely conservative presidential cycle beginning with Ronald Reagan in 1981. George Bush I could be seen as articulating that cycle (or arguably even Bill Clinton since many of his economic ideas were conservative) and perhaps deconstructed with George W. Bush. This would presume that the Obama administration has begun a new cycle, however some would argue that the conservative Republican cycle has still not ended, given the power conservatives still have over politics. 

When Roosevelt ran for president, he was the Governor of New York (Herbert H. Lehman, Roosevelt's Lieutenant, was then elected Governor of New York in 1932, Lehman is who the college is named after––somewhat more infamously now, also one of the Lehman Brothers formerly of Wall St.) Roosevelt advertised what he called his "Brain Trust" a collection of university-trained intellectuals who analyzed data, did research, and created the policies that became known as the "New Deal," or new social contract, between the public and the government, leading to a much more active government. The FDR administration is known for its first hundred days, where it created many of the institutions that defined the New Deal, but less well known is the great expansion of presidential power in the late 1930s, especially as the U.S. begins to prepare for war with Germany and Japan.  In 1939, on its second attempt, The Reorganization Act is passed by Congress, giving Roosevelt the power to create additional federal offices. 

Once the president was given the authority by Congress, Roosevelt created several new offices within the executive staff, the Executive Office of the President (EOP) that forms the foundation of the modern White House Office (WHO) today. The executive office is headed by the Chief of Staff who runs the day to day affairs of the president and in many cases controls access to the president. Also, an earlier version of today's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) was created to oversee the expenses of the executive branch in the budget, as well as earlier versions of the National Security Council (1947) and the Council of Economic Advisors (1946). 

In all of these cases, offices were to be staffed with scientifically trained intellectuals, overseeing the complex functions of the government. All of these offices, along with the office of the Vice-President, are "Cabinet-level," equal with Cabinet departments, and again, in many cases the presidents have come to rely on the advisors in the EOP more than the Cabinet. Since then, even more executive offices have been created like the Office of the Trade Representative (1962); Office of Environmental Quality (1969); and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (1989), as well as others.

After FDR was elected for a completely unprecedented four terms, many began to fear the growing power of the President. The 22nd Amendment was introduced in 1947 and ratified in 1951, explicitly limiting the number of terms a president could serve to two–or a maximum of 10 years if they assumed office as a Vice-President. In between this time, the Republican Party once again came to dominance which culminated the following year when Dwight Eisenhower (1953-1961), the Allied Commander during World War II, was elected President. Despite briefly winning Congress in 1952 when Eisenhower is elected, by 1954 Congress was still in Democratic control again, and would remain so for decades. 

The major issue of the election was foreign affairs, specifically the threat of Soviet Communism. During World War II, U.S. propaganda referred to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin as "Uncle Joe" when the Russians were allies against the Germans. After the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, a new conflict emerged between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the fate of Germany and the rest of Europe. By the end of the 1940s, the conflict had extended throughout the world. It is after this period of time that the U.S. begins to transition into the role of global superpower, a reversal of its traditional non-interventionist, or isolationist, position throughout most of its history dating back to George Washington's administration. The shape and design of many international institutions today are clearly influenced by the U.S. political system, as is the still vague notion of "international law." This has created impressive new challenges to balance the requirements of democratic government with the sensitive nature of geopolitical affairs. In many regards the demands of specialized technical knowledge has only increased the distance between the government and the public.

The most traditional role the President has had is dealing with foreign nations especially including the command of the military. In the post-war era, the office of the Presidency was reformulated into the role of maintaining global order.

After the war, Germany was divided up between the allied powers before being finally separated into East and West Germany in 1949. The period between 1945 and 1949 is a strange period of time because it is a lull in between the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union which continued on and off until the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. During these four years the U.S. and Soviets were unlikely allies who slowly became bitter enemies. The Soviet Union exploded their first atomic bomb in 1949, ending a brief four year dominance of when the U.S. was the sole nuclear power in the world, after becoming the first, and so far only, country to use atomic weapons in war in 1945 against Japan.

In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong defeated the opposition led by Chiang Kai-shek, whose defeated Kuomintang party was forced to flee to the isle of Formosa, now known as Taiwan, an island claimed by the communists on the mainland as well. This conflict is still unresolved today. Republicans in the United States attacked Democrats for their perceived weakness towards the Soviet Union and blamed them for "losing China to communism" something they swore would not happen again.

 In 1950, the Korean War began after communist North Korean (supported by China and the Soviets) forces overran the South. The U.S. intervened. This was the first war the U.S. fought since World War II. The war turned into a stalemate, after China and the United States both entered the war against each other. The inability to resolve this conflict also contributed to the Democrats defeat. In 1953, under Eisenhower, a ceasefire was signed, today North and South Korea are still separate. 3-4 million North and South Koreans are estimated to have been killed, and approximately 1 million Chinese soldiers, in what was only a preview of the devastation in East and Southeast Asia in the ensuing decades.

 During World War II, Japan had conquered the colonial empires of the British and the French in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. This had the unintended consequence of creating nationalist movements in these countries that fought, first, the Japanese and then later the remnants of the European colonial empires. The most important French colony was the province of Indochina. France continued to claim a right to rule this territory after the war which it tried to enforce until 1954 when the communist forces in Indochina under Ho Chi Minh defeated the French, leading to the province being split into different countries: Cambodia, Laos, and most notably North and South Vietnam. The French appealed to the U.S. for assistance who filled the void of the departing French. Ho Chi Minh also appealed earlier to the U.S. writing several letters to then President Truman (1945-1953), invoking The Declaration of Independence as a model for what the Vietnamese were trying to accomplish in their own country. Truman never responded. The U.S. tried to support the capitalist South Vietnamese government, until 1963, when the CIA ordered their own puppet leader of South Vietnam to be overthrown and killed. This signaled the direct take over of the war effort by the U.S. (only 20 days later U.S. President John F. Kennedy was also assassinated in Dallas, Texas).

Kennedy represented to many, the kind of "New Americans" that were taking shape in a new United States, one that had now undoubtedly become a superpower that had tremendous influence across the world. By 1890, the U.S. had already become the dominant economic power in the world with more wealth than Great Britain, Russia, and Germany combined, but it took almost another fifty years until the U.S. became the dominant military power in the world as well (or arguably the second most powerful after the Soviet Union at that time). JFK was also, like FDR, a very media friendly politician. However, while Roosevelt was still limited to the technology of radio, Kennedy made great use of the television medium. It is around the same time that conservatives start creating the ideology of the "liberal media," to attack the credibility and reliability of the media mostly coming from the Nixon campaign who is running against Kennedy in the 1960 election and is the Vice-President under Eisenhower. Ironically, many of the claims made about Nixon turned out to be true.

In the 1960s, the conservative movement started to reassert itself after its devastating losses in the 1930s and 1940s. What had happened to the Republican Party in the 1930s was similar to the Democratic Party in the 1860s. It became so identified with something so negative (slavery, or causing the Great Depression in this case) that it took literally decades for it to repair the damage to its image. In the 1950s, a Republican president reigned, but Eisenhower had adopted virtually every major program introduced by the New Deal, in other words Eisenhower was a very moderate republican and in many ways tended to be liberal especially on domestic policy. In fact it was under Eisenhower the first school desegregations were ordered like in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1954. In 1964, the Republicans ran Arizona Senator, Barry Goldwater against Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969), Kennedy's former Vice-President, and someone who modeled himself after FDR, even calling himself LBJ. Johnson won in one of the biggest landslides in American history. 

1964 U.S. Presidential Election

At the time, in American political culture, there was a strong commitment among the public for social welfare policies and programs for the poor. Programs like Medicare and Medicaid were created under the Johnson administration as well as the new Cabinet Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Johnson also presided over the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing legal segregation and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Along with these landmark legislative acts, the "Civil Rights" Amendments were passed in the Constitution:

  • 23rd Amendment (1961): Allows Washington D.C. to vote for president which previously had no representation in the electoral college.
  • 24th Amendment (1964): Prohibits a poll tax, literally a fee paid to vote used especially in the South.
  • 25th Amendment (1967): Establishes the presidential line-of-succession, like the 20th and 22nd amendments, this amendment reflects the growth of executive power and its importance.
  • 26th Amendment (1971): Passed during the height of the Vietnam War, this amendment lowers the voting age to 18 from 21.

Three of these Constitutional amendments deal with the crucial issue of the right to vote in a democracy which was also the focus of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, electoral laws are mainly decided by the state, and there has recently been a determined effort by many Republican governors of states like Florida to "purge" registered voters from the voting lists and thus take away their right to vote under the pretext of preventing "voter fraud." It might seem strange that a party that claims to be working in the interest of the majority of people would put so much effort into reducing the number of eligible voters, and many liberals have argued this is an attempt to undermine the Voting Rights Act.

After Kennedy's suspicious assassination in late 1963, plans were set in motion to start the war in Vietnam in 1964, a fake assault on U.S. naval vessels was used as a justification. By 1968, over 500,000 U.S. military personnel were in Vietnam. The combined stresses of Johnson's domestic social programs and foreign wars began to take its toll on the American economy, which began to show signs of inflation, and the confidence in the dollar began to decline worldwide.

The United States became the dominant economic power in the world after World War II. At one point it was responsible for almost half of the world's entire industrial output. This was the material basis of the so-called "Baby Boom" generation in the United States, which reaped the full benefits of the U.S. post-war prosperity in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. It is during this period of time the mythical image of the American way of life is created. Often unacknowledged is the super prosperity of the U.S. during this time was primarily because other major industrial powers of the world were rebuilding from World War II. The two most dominant industrial powers besides the U.S. before World War II were Germany and Japan. By the late 1960s and especially in the 1970s, exports from these countries was seriously eroding U.S. economic power. Arguably, the U.S. has never recovered from this and has pursued a series of artificial means of preserving itself largely through uncontrolled deficit spending, both public and private.
Trade Statistics 1930-2005
Bureau of Economic Analysis

The public assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963, was echoed by the deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the brother of John, assassinated in April and June 1968.

Robert Kennedy had been the favorite in the upcoming Democratic primary for the election in November. Instead, they nominated pro-war Hubert Humphrey. Republican Richard Nixon was elected president in 1968, and re-elected again in 1972, although the illegal tactics used during his re-election, such as Watergate, would lead to his downfall and resignation in 1974, the only president so far to resign in office. 

A major factor was that after 1964, the Democratic party largely lost the Southern vote to Republicans. The Democrats had been a force in the South since the founding of the party in the 1790s. Johnson reportedly remarked as he was signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964, "we have lost the South for a generation." Many have accused Nixon and other Republican presidential candidates as playing to Southern racism without being explicit about it, sometimes called "symbolic racism" or "institutional racism."
1968 U.S. Presidential Election
George Wallace was a segregationist third party candidate

In 1968, Nixon had won the Republican primary against a number of challengers including Ronald Reagan, the Governor of California. After three attempts, Reagan would be elected president in 1980, thus signaling a backlash against the progressive values of the 1960s and 70s.

The Reagan administration was defined by the phrase "government is the problem" and tried to eliminate most government regulations of business. Despite claims to reduce the deficit, the budget deficit of the federal government tripled through the decade, along with an increasing trade deficit growing rapidly since the 1970s. 

The budget deficit grew largely because of a combination of increased military spending and significant tax cuts given to the highest income brackets in the country. Reagan was later forced to reverse many of these tax cuts and ended up raising taxes several times.  Much of the increased military spending was used to finance covert wars in Latin America and the Middle East, but also to "outspend" the Russians on defense, a process that some believe helped pushed the Soviet Union into its downward spiral.

During this period of time a book entitled The Wise Men (1986) was published, chronicling the events of several of the most influential political operatives in foreign policy (the term wise men of course also has religious significance). It followed the careers of six men: W. Averell Harriman, Robert A. Lovett, William Bohlen, George Kennan, John J. McCloy, and Dean Acheson. The authors spend the majority of the book convincing their readers that these men were non-ideological, bipartisan, in short "above the biases" of conflicts that normally characterize politics. 

However, the notion that they were above ideology seems strange when it is so obvious how militantly anti-communist these men were. Harriman, McCloy, and Lovett all had connections with Nazis stemming from before World War II. These men helped create the "containment" strategy that was invoked in the Korean and Vietnam wars, and the coups or attempts at a coup in several countries including: Iran, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Colombia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and of course Cuba (and many other states). Several other men were not included in the circle of wise men even though they had the same background, like John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under Eisenhower, and his brother Allen Dulles, director of the CIA until the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. Both so directly involved in overthrowing foreign governments and assassinations that including them as "wise men" would probably be too controversial. Another notable omission is James Forrestal, the last Secretary of Navy before the Navy and War departments were combined into the new Department of Defense after World War II, and became the first Secretary of Defense. Forrestal another militant anti-communist who was became increasingly paranoid later committed suicide in 1949, something covered up at the time.

It is reasonable to question how appropriate it is to call someone wise when they were unable to foresee that the consequences of establishing brutal and corrupt "puppet dictators" who oppressed their own people would one day come back to haunt the U.S. The term used for this by intelligence operatives is "blowback," and the most famous example could be the Iranian revolution in 1978-79 which began after enduring 25 years of the tyrannical Shah of Iran after a U.S. sponsored coup in 1953. Although many of these men were too old to play a direct role in the late 1970s and beyond, these same ideas were put into effect to train and fund men like Osama Bin Laden to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and Saddam Hussein to fight Iran in the 1980s. Most Americans are not even aware of the huge death tolls as a result of U.S. wars in Southeast Asia, according to some estimates, almost 4 million Vietnamese killed and maybe more than 2 million neighboring Cambodians and Laotians. Between half a million to a million Indonesians were killed in another U.S. supported coup running parallel with the Vietnam war in 1967. If you add in the death toll number from the Korean War which, then you have almost 12 million Asians killed between 1950-1980, or roughly twice as many as the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust by the Nazis from 1942-1945, and about the same as all the people who died in World War II.

To label people as ruthless as this wise is not so shocking. In the 1980s especially there was a strong tendency to mythologize the American way of life in what can be seen as an attempt to break away from the terrible legacy of the Vietnam War, and a stagnant economy since the late 1960s, aided greatly by the ever-developing mass media industries which recreates history when the moment calls for it.

The trade deficit continued to grow in the face of competition from Germany and Japan after the 1960s, and the inability of major U.S. corporations like General Motors to adapt and innovate their product designs, as well as decreasing quality in the automobiles, compounded by multiple Arab oil embargoes in 1973 and 1979. Despite advances in several high-tech U.S. industries revolving around the emerging computer industry in the 1980s, the U.S.'s overall trade deficit continues to rise even today. This did not prevent President Reagan from winning the largest landslide in American history, over a weak Democratic party, still haunted by its past. Despite this, the House of Representatives maintained a Democratic majority throughout the entire Reagan administration. The Senate was recaptured for the first time in 30 years by the Republicans in 1980, but reverted back to Democratic control in 1986 after numerous scandals during the Reagan administration. It was not until 1994 when Republicans were able to take both houses of Congress and hold on to them for more than one election.
1984 U.S. Presidential Election

The U.S. economy grew during the Reagan administration, but the distribution of the wealth is concentrated in fewer hands. Poverty increased during the Reagan administration at the same time in which scandals emerged over Reagan's administration misallocating funds for the poor (literally stealing from the poor to give to the rich) and secret funding of right-wing "contras" in Nicaragua. Many commentators pronounced the return of the "Gilded Age." 
Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
The chart is meant to show that even though economic productivity increased in the 1980s, the actual wages of working people did not keep pace with this change. Also, that productivity was greater during the social welfare period of the New Deal and that wages and incomes raised in proportion with the increase in productivity

In 2008 the biggest stock market crash since the Great Depression occurred resulting from financial speculation in the U.S. housing markets. This was in large part a result of the "deregulation" of the financial industry beginning in the 1980s, overturning laws established in the 1930, but it was the repeal of legislation separating commercial and investment banks, signed into law by Bill Clinton, that many economists argue greatly increased the magnitude of this crisis. Unlike the Great Depression which began in the middle of a Republican administration and helped to discredit the Republicans for more than 40 years, this one exploded, or was timed to explode, shortly before a presidential election, the 2008 election which saw the election of Barack Obama. 
2008 U.S. Presidential Election
"Battleground" states are states that do not have either a solid Republican or Democratic majority
In many regards the divisions into North and South regions still exists
President Obama has so far tried to adhere to a "consensus" approach to politics which has so far produced mixed results at best. Much like Jefferson, another controversial figure of his time, appeals to the unity between Federalists and Republicans, Obama has in many of his speeches appealed to common sentiments between Democrats and Republicans. However, unlike Jefferson whose party came to dominate politics in America, the Obama administration has not had a clear majority in Congress. As a result, he has had great difficulty in getting legislation passed, although, despite this opposition, some of the signature legislation passed during this time were the economic stimulus program in 2009 that supporters argue helped avert another great depression, the Dodd-Frank bill that provides some limited oversight and regulation of the financial industry, and the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as "Obamacare." The ability of Congress to limit the President is a function of the system of checks and balances, as intended in the Constitution, but as critics have pointed out, often this system creates paralysis in government. 

President Obama, for obvious ideological reasons, seeks to portray himself in the lineage of Jefferson and Lincoln. Obama addresses the issue of race in a way Lincoln never could by drawing upon his own experiences with racism, especially as a child of mixed race who has insight into the attitudes of whites and blacks, in his speech on race, considered by many to be his best speech. 

As most Democrats look to the New Deal era of FDR and LBJ as the high-point of the Democratic party in the modern era, he has tried to expand upon these policies. Most notably, healthcare which Roosevelt declared was a right, and advanced by Johnson who established Medicare and Medicaid. The current president has also kept in place the coercive and surveillance apparatus created during the Bush administration to fight the "war on terror."

Although winning the election of 2012, it is obvious that the Obama administration has been unable to achieve the massive victories that other Presidents were able to, notably: FDR, LBJ, Nixon and Reagan. Note also the similarities between the election results of the previous election, and the changes in certain "battleground states." Although President Obama has presided over one of the most polarized presidential administrations, it is likely the incumbent after the 2016 election may face an even more embattled presidency, as the intense political and social antagonisms that run through American life, and reflected in its government, show no signs of relaxing.

Assignment: Due 4/30 Choose a passage from the speeches by JFK, Reagan, or Obama. Write out the passage, explain the meaning of it, and why you chose this particular passage.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

4/9 Congress

In the next section of this course we will be looking more at the institutions that make up the government: Legislative, Executive, Judicial, beginning with the legislative branch, the Congress.

We have already covered the basic structure of Congress and how members are elected. The U.S. Congress is divided up into two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House is the larger and more democratic body, made up of 435 representatives drawn from multiple districts within each state. House Representatives serve two-year terms with no term limits meaning there is no limit to the number of times they can be re-elected. Senators serve six-year terms also with no term limits. However, until now we have not spent that much time covering the problematic issue of elections for the House, this is known as gerrymandering. The origins of the term are not important, but the meaning of the term is not very clear (perhaps intentionally?). It really refers to the strategy of dividing up districts in each state to benefit your party. Besides this issue, we should cover how the leadership structure in Congress works, that in many ways is a system of representation within our system of representation, as well as how the system of committees in Congress works.

The House is supposed to be more democratic because they represent smaller districts, so they are supposed to be more accountable to the people who make up those districts. Although overall approval of Congress is low, according to public opinion polls, the re-election rate of members of Congress is almost 90 percent, meaning that once someone is elected to Congress they have an enormous advantage over un-elected challengers. It also suggests that while people may disapprove of the actions (or lack of action) of Congress as a whole, most people seem to be satisfied with their Congressional representation. However, members of Congress do not seem to react the same way in every issue area, meaning in some areas, they are more representative of what the people in district or state want, in some areas they seem to act with more independence. Generally speaking, members of Congress seem to be more receptive to their districts or state on domestic issues, but on foreign affairs issues seem to act more on their own.

As we discussed in class, the number of representatives from each state depends on the population of each state. Changes in the population, changes the number of representatives from each state. So for example a state like New York which has a declining population over the last twenty years has lost representatives, while states like Florida or Texas which have growing populations have seen increases in their representation over the last few decades.

One important consideration in determining electoral districts for the House, is what has come to be know as "gerrymandering." State legislatures in each state are tasked with re-drawing the electoral districts in accordance with population fluctuations in the state. Predictably, this has a partisan bias, meaning simply, that whatever party has a majority in the state will seek to draw the boundaries in the district to benefit their party and disadvantage the other party. This has led to some oddly shaped electoral districts, like this one in Chicago.

With the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, federal authorities were given the right to redraw districts in Southern states to empower racial minorities and allow them to elect representatives, this is sometimes referred to as "minority-majority" districts, meaning that minority areas are grouped together in order to form a majority in a district.  The 4th district in Illinois, or the "earmuff" district is one such example.

The Senate has a more equal representation with two senators from each state who represent the entire state. There are 100 senators altogether.

Of the two, the House has a more complicated leadership structure, due in part both to its larger size and the rules of debate in the House. At the top is the Speaker of the House who directs the agenda and issues that are debated. In theory the Speaker is supposed to be non-partisan and often refrains from voting on legislation, but over the last twenty years or so the position has become more partisan. Besides the Speaker there is a Majority and Minority Leader, and a Majority and Minority Whip. The leaders then oversee the direction of each party in the House and coordinate the agenda that each party is trying to put forward. The Whips are responsible for making sure party members vote the right way and enforce party discipline. The Senate has a Majority and Minority Leader, but lacks the other leadership positions.

Both houses of Congress are further divided into several committees. It is at the committee level where most of the hard work of passing legislation is done, this is also the level at which so-called special interests or factions have the most influence. Committees are often just a few to maybe twenty or so people, who debate the fine points of each piece of legislation and try to figure out the best ways to make the legislation practical. Due to the smaller number of people in the committees and the relative low visibility of committee meetings, this again allows interest groups to have more influence over the legislation. Before the entire House or Senate votes on a piece of legislation it goes through a committee first. Of course both the House and Senate must past the same legislation before it can become law. There is even a special committee that works to resolve differences in a bill if either part of Congress passes a bill that is similar but somewhat different from the other bill, the final law must be identical in both the House and Senate.

Although most of the committees overlap with each other there are some differences. In the House for example, there is the "Ways and Means Committee, this committee as stipulated in the Constitution is charged with creating all laws regarding taxation. Tax laws must always originate in the House. Once passed, they are referred to the Senate Finance Committee who can either approve or reject the proposed law. All other proposed laws, can originate in either House or Senate and does not have to follow a specific order, although, again, all laws must be approved by both before it becomes an official law. Although the House has a Foreign Affairs committee, it has much less power than the Senate Foreign Relations committee, again because of the Constitution, power is given only to the Senate to approve treaties with foreign countries, the House does not have to approve to make it official. Some other aspects of legislation have changed as well. For example regarding trade, before the Great Depression this was an area that Congress controlled. Trade law involves raising or lowering tariffs on foreign imports. A tariff is like a tax, so this was an area reserved for the Ways and Means Committee. Since the 1930s, more power has been granted to the President to conduct trade deals with Congress taking only a secondary role of approving or disapproving but not directing the content of trade deals. This fairly radical change occurred because Congress tended only to raise tariffs on foreign imports, thus raising the prices of important products for consumers and producers of goods. The reason for this is again due to the influence that lobbyists and interest groups have over members of Congress. The President is not influenced as much by interest groups and so is believed to make trade deals that are more beneficial for the whole of the country and not responsible to specific interests in various states. For example Congressional members in steel producing areas like Pennsylvania would tend to pass laws that would benefit the industry by making foreign imports of steel more expensive, whereas the President might act to lower tariffs on foreign steel since it may be more beneficial for the country as a whole.

Once Congress as a whole has approved a bill it goes to the President for signature, where if signed it becomes an official law. However, the President has what is called "veto power" meaning he can refuse to sign the bill, in which case it will go back to Congress for further debate and amending. Although it is rare, Congress can override a Presidential veto if both parts of Congress approve the bill again with a 2/3 majority in both.

Assignment Due 4/16: Choose a section from either of The Washington Post articles. Write out the passage. Explain the meaning of the passage and why you chose it.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

4/2 Equal Rights

Welcome back everyone! In the last class we looked at the idea of civil liberties through some of the most famous champions of liberty in American history. In this class we are now looking at the idea of rights. 

The idea of rights itself is more complex than it may first appear. In today's reading by Marshall we can see that we consider to be "rights" has a civil, a political, and social aspect. Rights are connected with the idea of citizenship. To be a citizen means that you are entitled to certain things, and it suggests the equality of all members to these entitlements. Part of the confusion over rights comes because, as Marshall, says at one point all aspects of rights were combined, but that in modern times the idea of social rights conflicts with a capitalist economic system. In modern times, there has been a separation and it is important to understand the differences between the three. Marshall is writing about England, but the argument about the three dimensions of rights can be applied anywhere, that, and the fact that so many of American ideas and institutions are influenced by English institutions makes it easy to compare the idea of rights in the U.S.

Of course in the U.S. we have the Bill of Rights, but the concept of rights, sometimes grouped together as "human rights" has found expression in other sources as well. The best example is the United Nation's International Bill of Rights, composed of three separate documents the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESER, signed by the U.S., but not ratified). Some argue, that the concept of "human rights" conceals Western and secular biases, but supporters argue these rights make up only general statements that everyone can agree on. Islamic feminist scholar Riffat Hassan, for example, argues that despite calls for Western bias, the notion of human rights is compatible with Islam.

Civil rights refer to certain protections each individual is granted, and where they are free from any kind of government interference. In Western political philosophy, the idea of civil rights can be summed up by what John Locke referred to as "natural rights": life, liberty, and property. Locke was a profound influence on Thomas Jefferson, and most of the founders, who rephrased it "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. Marshall shows that civil rights, although it is inherently against the idea of slavery, by itself, is fairly limited in what it means, and serves to justify denying social protection to people :
The explanation lies in the fact that the core of citizenship at this stage was composed of civil rights. And civil rights were indispensable to a competitive market economy. They gave to each man, as part of his independent status, the power to engage as an independent unit in the economic struggle and made it possible to deny him social protection on the ground that he was equipped with the means to protect himself.

Of course, we are familiar with the "civil rights movement" for equality. The very denial of these rights for so many years, and the hypocrisy of American rhetoric explains why Douglass cannot join in the celebrations of Independence Day, and also reminds people that the meaning we give to events is influenced by our values and perspective. But, many of aspects of the civil rights movement also contained a demand for greater political participation as well as social protections. After civil rights were established the next demand came in the form of greater political participation, the right to vote and hold office. Unlike pure civil rights which poses no threat to the capitalist system, extending the right to vote to the whole population could lead to a greater demand for equality by passing laws to that effect:
The political rights of citizenship, unlike the civil rights, were full of potential danger to the capitalist system, although those who were cautiously extending them down to the social scale probably did not realized how great the danger was. They could hardly be expected to foresee what vast changes could be brought about by the peaceful use of political power, without a violent and bloody revolution.

The extension of political rights then leads to the demand for social rights:
But the normal method of establishing social rights is by the exercise of political power, for social rights imply an absolute right to a certain standard of civilization which is conditional only on the discharge of of the general duties of citizenship. Their content does not depend on the economic value of the individual claimant.

The idea of social rights then speaks to the idea that everyone is entitled as he says "to a certain standard of civilization" meaning that people are entitled to the things necessary for a healthy and productive life. Political struggles for these rights only increased during the 20th century. In the U.S. the greatest period for the extension of social rights occurred between the 1930s and 1970s beginning from the New Deal to the civil rights movement. When Dr. King was assassinated in 1968, he was in Memphis for a sanitation worker's strike, and he even renamed his movement, the "poor people's campaign" showing that he saw his struggle as something evolving, first to eliminate legal segregation which did consist of the government interfering in the lives of black people by telling them where they could eat, work, etc., to a movement that struggled to secure the basic necessities of life for all people.

Since the 1980s, and especially after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, there has been a dramatic scaling back and reduction of the idea of social rights which has only increased as time has gone on.

Marshall argues the demand for social rights really begins with the idea of public education. If civil rights literally means only that the government cannot interfere with you, then on that basis alone there is no clear right to provide education for all the people. Same with political rights and the right to vote. It is of course a commonly accepted value that everyone is entitled to go to school, at least primary school, but this is only because we accept the idea of education as a kind of social right that everyone needs. In today's politics, things like healthcare would be considered a social right. This however makes it clear, that not everyone agrees on the idea of social rights. When it comes to healthcare most other countries have accepted it as a social right, this is still something debated in the U.S. With education there is a continuing effort to privatize education and de-fund and eventually shut down many public schools.

Next class, we begin discussing Congress and the different branches of the federal government.

Assignment: Due 4/9    Choose a passage from the Marshall or Douglass write it out. Then, explain the meaning of the quote. And then explain why you chose this quote.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

3/19 Civil Disobedience

In this class, and the next we will be focusing on civil liberties and civil rights, both important concepts and inseparable from the idea of citizenship. This class we will focus more on "civil liberty," which stresses areas where the government restricts the rights of citizens, and talk about "civil rights" (and other kinds of rights) next class which usually suggests the government taking a more active role to protect its citizens. In this class we will look at the idea of civil liberties through the writings of three of the most important figures in American history, all known as fierce champions of liberty and ready and willing to call out the abuses of a government which restricts the liberty of its citizens.

Henry David Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), wrote, the famous essay "Civil Disobedience." The idea of civil disobedience is peculiar to democratic societies. It means breaking the law and thus challenging the authorities, but usually in a non-violent fashion. In Thoreau's case he refused to pay his taxes in 1846 because he believed the money was being used for an immoral purpose, and he was put in jail. He was bailed out the next day by his friend and famous poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882). Supposedly, there was an exchange between the two, where Emerson questioned Thoreau on why he was in jail. Thoreau allegedly responded "why are you not in jail?" In other words, the idea behind civil disobedience is that  morality requires you to disobey unjust laws. To passively accept a corrupt society, Thoreau would argue, makes you almost as morally guilty as the people who actually oppress others and do violence to people. It is even worse in a democracy because here the citizens actually have some ability to alter the course of laws and government.

This idea is also a core component of the civil religion, and refers to the higher authority that is referred to in the Declaration, as "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights," in other words, a form of law based on natural rights higher than the laws of political states. The basis of civil disobedience can be found in the Declaration itself which explicitly authorizes disobedience to the extent in which government departs from protecting the rights of its citizens.

Thoreau sees the natural law and human law as antagonistic and separate from each other, as he says: "Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first and subjects afterward" (p. 222).

Thoreau was very conscious in which respect for laws or traditions and mores can easily turn into a mechanical and unthinking submission to whatever the authorities may be:
The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army; and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgement of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well. Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens (p. 223).

Government is only as good or bad as the people who run it. It is not evil in itself nor is it good in itself, or as  he says, "But, to speak practically and as a citizen unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government. Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it" (p. 222). In other words a government closer to the ideas of equality and justice that we are entitled to according to the Declaration.

He is very clear on the source of his disgust for the current government, "I cannot for an instant recognize that political organization as my government which is the slave's government also" (p. 223) (referring to the slave owners not the actual slaves)

In The Federalist we discussed how the ideal of government was supposed to function like a machine and thus create an impersonal system of control that is not under the control of any one person. As long as the machine functions properly and maintains justice in society but what happens if the machine is creating injustice:
If the unjustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth––certainly the machine will wear out. If the unjustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank,  exclusively for itself, then perhaps you may consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil; but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say break the law. Let you life be a counterfriction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn (p. 226).

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902), Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), and Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) were all active members of the abolition and women's rights movements, which originally were united, and who used the idea of civil disobedience that Thoreau spoke of, as a means to agitate the political system, to initiate radical reforms, and ultimately to win full citizenship. 
Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Susan B. Anthony
Stanton and Anthony were leaders of the Women's Rights movement which since the 1840s had been organizing to win for women the right to vote. They shared leadership of the movement, with Stanton being more of a writer, and Anthony being more of an orator. Stanton's Declaration of Rights and Sentiments is modeled after the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights..." (pp. 231-32). 

Douglass in his fourth of July speech, points to a glaring gap in the creed of America, which according to Chesterton is embodied in the Declaration of Independence. Douglass here indicates an essential contradiction in all universal ideologies or beliefs. Every belief that claims to include all of humanity (and can be said to be universal) always in reality excludes somebody, and that these exclusions are concealed and made invisible:
Frederick Douglass
But such is not the sate of the case. I sat it with a sad sense of disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeather by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrevocable ruin! I can to-day take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people! 
What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy-- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour. 

In his other writing, Douglass distinguishes between various forms of the abolition movement that in his eyes are inadequate. He refers to the Free Soil Party founded in 1848 of former Democrats and some radical abolitionists. The party failed to win any presidential elections, but helped transition anti-slavery democrats to the   Republican Party, originally formed as an anti-slavery party in 1854 and supported by papers like Horace Greeley's New-York Tribune.

The Democratic Party at the same time which was so powerful in the South and New York has become the party of slavery. However, in Douglass' view the Free Soil movement does not go far enough because it only wants to restrict the further expansion of slavery, not to abolish it where it already is. Although scientific reason was opposed to slavery it did create the "cautious" attitude that you do not do things too radically––this is a good example of that mentality. Douglass is equally opposed to the Garrison Abolitionists, named after William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), a New England journalist who became one of the most well known abolitionists. Garrison favored total abolition, but he was apolitical, in other words he thought the best way to fight slavery was not to deal with it or people who benefit from it. Douglass saw this as little better than closing your eyes to a problem, and like the Republicans, favored political involvement, but like Garrison, wanted total abolition.

Besides their ideological strength, they were skilled organizers and were able to create a network of political institutions composed of voluntary associations, small political parties, and specialized newspapers. All were involved early on with the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS) which was supported by newspapers like The Liberator or the National Anti-Slavery Standard. Frederick Douglass published his own abolitionist paper The North Star, which later merged with the newspaper of the abolitionist political party, the Liberty Party to form Frederick Douglass' Paper. Anthony published her own women's rights paper The Revolution which was the official paper of the National Women's Suffrage Association (NWSA) formed by Stanton and Anthony in 1869. The NWSA was formed after the breakup of the earlier American Equal Rights Association between 1866-1869, which split over the issue of granting voting rights (suffrage) to women and freed slaves. The text of the 15th amendment to the Constitution (1870) shows clearly that the right to vote cannot be taken away because of a person's race or color, but it does not specify gender. Women would not win the right to vote in the country until 1920 (after Stanton and Anthony had died) with the passage of the 19th amendment. 

In today's literature the network of organizations, media, and activists is referred to as civil society, but the development of civil society was supported by the beneficial economic advantages of the U.S. including relative economic equality, as well as a highly literate population that was better educated on a whole than Europeans. We can see here also that civil liberties which, of course, include freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press actually serve to strengthen the republic and revive it when suffering from periods of stagnation when one group wields power for too long, in part by allowing criticism of the government and the way in which society is being led. A vibrant and robust civil society provides the circulation of different groups and interests which contribute to a stable political order, one that can also adapt to changes.

Anthony was arrested in 1872 after attempting to vote in New York. The same year women's rights activists Victoria Woodhull ran a presidential campaign under the the Equal Rights Party, with Frederick Douglass as Vice-President (Douglass never responded to the nomination), though they received no electoral votes and a very tiny amount of the popular vote. The excerpt here is from the closing statements of the trial United States v. Anthony. Anthony is skillfully able to turn the trial itself into a trial of the American system by pointing out the obvious hypocrisies and contradictions in a political system based on the idea of citizenship and equality but that excludes almost half the population from being a real citizen, which she notes emphatically is impossible without real political rights including of course the right to vote:
All my prosecutors, from the 8th Ward corner grocery politician, who entered the complaint, to the United States Marshal, Commissioner, District Attorney, District Judge, your honor on the bench, not one is my peer, but each and all are my political sovereigns; and had your honor submitted my case to the jury, as was clearly your duty, even when I should have had just cause of protest, for not one of those men was my peer; but native or foreign, white or black, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, awake or asleep, sober or drunk, each and every man of them was my political superior; hence, in no sense, my peer (p. 297). 
The 14th amendment to the Constitution explicitly states that all people born or naturalized within the United States are citizens of the United States and are entitled to all the protections of the law and all the rights and privileges that come with citizenship. Anthony argues quite clearly that her arrest and trial clearly contradict her rights as defined by this amendment in the Constitution.

As important as the formal rights in the Constitution are, the preservation of these rights, depends on certain political institutions and an open society that provide the space for this. However, culture is equally important, and it is the culture of freedom and tolerance in the U.S. that make actions like this resonate with the public. In other words, seeing a woman get arrested for trying to vote would make most people think this is an abuse of authority. But, people would only think that way in the first place, if they already had strong cultural values or "mores," mœurs, of freedom. Even if mœurs can sometimes prevent change as they become dogmatic, because of the struggles of people like this and its origins in the Declaration of Independence, civil disobedience itself is an established mœur in American political culture, in other words somewhat paradoxically, a tradition of opposing authority.

Assignment Due (4/2): Choose a passage from Thoreau, Stanton or Douglass. Write out the passage, then explain what the author is saying and how it relates to the themes of the lecture, and then explain why you chose this quote.