Saturday, December 3, 2016

12/3 Interest Groups




Interest Groups and Social Movements

Interest Groups
Interest groups are organizations like the AFL-CIO that represent labor unions; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents business interests; and others ranging from different political ideologies and agenda: the National Rifle Association (NRA); the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and many more. These groups are formal organizations seeking to influence policy through political channels using methods I will discuss shortly. The U.S. has so many interest groups, the true number of interest groups are unknown. The most well-known groups like the ones mentioned above are highly organized.

Minority interests often win out over the majority in democratic politics. The reason for this is the ability to organize. The early 20th century sociologist Robert Michels developed the "iron law of oligarchy" (oligarchy being a Greek word meaning rule by the few). The "law" states as organizations grow and become more complex, control of the organization is placed in the hands of those who have superior technical and organizational skills.

In the 1960s, economist Mancur Olson Jr. developed what he called the "logic of collective action." Collective action refers to combined efforts pursuing goals, obviously, political action is collective actions. Olson argues that you can separate "diffuse interests," the will of the majority, from "concentrated interests," minority interests. For example, trade policy is made by certain sectors of the economy, whether industry, agriculture, or services, lobbying the government for tariffs on certain products from foreign countries. This would result in higher prices being placed on these items. A majority of people might be opposed to this but since the interests of the minority are much more concentrated, meaning their income, and even their jobs might be on the line, they will work harder to lobby the government. The majority interests are diffuse, meaning increases in price will not hit them as hard as say someone who risks being laid off. This notion of different interests contradicts Madison's notion of politics, constitutional government, and the notion of checks and balances that reduces the influence of the majority. Is it possible that the U.S. Constitution is overly guarded against the will of the majority? If it is true that minority interests often are better organized than the majority and are able to translate that into political policy, then it is very likely to be true.

Related to the idea of diffuse v. concentrated interests is what Olson calls the "free-rider problem." A free rider is someone who benefits from a public service, but contributes nothing to maintaining this benefit. What made Olson's account of collective action so influential was that he argued that it was rational to be a free-rider. If rationality is the ability to figure out what is in your best interest, then Olson argues it is rational to free-ride. This leads to a paradox however, where if everyone free rides than no one will do the work needed to maintain the benefit, for example a clean public park, or well run schools. How then can you solve the free-rider problem? Olson argues four solutions:1) keep the size of the group small enough so people get a feeling of friendship or solidarity, that you do not get in a large organization, this however, will limit the effectiveness of the group; 2) create "selective benefits" that are only given if you participate in the group; 3) use coercion to force people to participate; 4) someone takes it upon themselves to provide the cost of the benefit. Olson offers this as an explanation for the often hierarchical structure of many interest groups, which are hardly run in democratic fashion, whether they are business associations or unions. However some critics argues that Olson and Michels are pessimistic and narrowly focused on individual groups. While it might be true that all organizations degenerate over time even as they grow larger, if you take a step back and look at the larger society there are always more groups forming to replace older organizations. Of course this is not an easy process and often there is intense struggle and conflict for newer groups to replace older ones. Still it offers one possible solution for the "iron law of oligarchy." Understanding this larger process takes us out of looking at interest groups and seeing the larger dynamic between interest groups and social movements, however a few more things about interest groups before moving on.

I already mentioned briefly the different types of interest groups, you also have to consider the different tactics used by groups to influence policy.

  1. Most common is lobbying which refers to meeting directly with legislators and trying to influence their decisions on voting for laws. Lobbyists are not missionaries trying to convert people, but looking for people who think the same way on most issues. Political parties provide a political identity that interest groups can use to determine who to approach, helping establish connections between interest groups and candidates. Lobbyists have direct access to key policy-makers in government and is usually reserved for the most influential groups. 
  2.  Campaign contributions to finance election campaigns, something every politician is looking for.
  3. Economically well-connected groups can use the threat of moving as a way to influence policy, by effectively leaving or exiting the political arena. Sports teams have used this tactic to influence local governments to vote for tax breaks or other concessions.
  4. Outside lobbying refers to large groups who write or phone legislators in order to influence their vote. This is seen as more of a "grass-roots" approach to lobbying. 
  5. Voting against a candidate. Many groups opposing tax increases on the rich have used this tactic against Republicans in the House of Representatives, making sure they do not vote for tax increases. Those who do not comply are voted out of office, even in the primary, during the next election.
  6. Demonstrations and boycotts. This tactic is probably most famous for being used during the early civil movements like the Montgomery Bus Boycott organized by Martin Luther King Jr.
  7. Litigation is another tactic used by the civil rights movement as in Brown v. Board of Ed. To litigate means to bring your issue to court in the form of a lawsuit.
  8. Forming coalitions or alliances with other groups.
  9. Control over information. Many areas for law makers are highly technical (e.g. science and medicine) and depend on interest groups for relevant information.
  10. Public information campaigns are directed towards voters to motivate them to lobby legislators. The flow of information is from interest groups to the broader public.
  11. Sometimes violence is used even by formally organized groups, (e.g. employers have been known to use violent means to disperse striking workers) but usually this tactic is associated with social movements. 


Before moving on to social movements, there are two main ways to classify interest group politics: pluralist or corporatist

The U.S. system is pluralist. Pluralism refers to large groups acting independently of each other, trying to pursue their own interests. Germany is an example of a corporatist system, with a smaller number of groups: government, business, and labor. In a pluralist system groups like business and labor act as separate, and often antagonistic interests, while in a corporatist system business and labor are brought together in an institutional environment to create cooperation between these groups, characterized by large trade associations with close ties to the government. Economists Peter Hall and David Soskice argue there are six crucial areas that distinguishes a competitive pluralist system (or in their terms a liberal-market economy, LME) from cooperative corporatist system (coordinated market economy, CME).
  1. Finance: Businesses in pluralist systems finance their activities through capital markets (banks) and are publicly traded on stock exchanges relative to their "market value." In a corporatist systems, business firms are self-financed in cooperation with other firms in the same industry, or rely on financing from the state.
  2. Industrial relations: pluralist systems make business and labor adversaries. Wage contracts are negotiated between business and labor representatives. In a corporatist system wages are decided by institutions representing business and labor, union officials even serve on corporations' board of directors
  3. Skill formation: In a pluralist system workers invest in their own skills through education. Employers have little incentive to invest in worker training since workers leave often and find new jobs. Corporatist systems usually have better job training programs, funded by unions and employers, employment at firms is longer.
  4. Product markets: In a pluralist system businesses have to compete against each other for a share or a piece of a certain market. Marketing and advertising campaigns are common ways of increasing market share. A corporatist system divides markets between firms, that negotiate for a share of the market
  5. Inter-firm relations: In a pluralist system, technology is shared by firms through paid licensing. A corporatist system allows for technology sharing in a more cooperative setting.
  6. Firm-employee relations: In a pluralist system corporate managers have much more freedom and power than they do in a corporatist system.

Hall and Soskice argue that in a liberal-market economy like the U.S. or a coordinated economy like Germany these six areas will all complement and reinforce each other.

Social Movements
Social movement differ from interest groups mainly by level of organization, although most social movements have some organization, it is usually not as institutionalized. This has various advantages and disadvantages. Lack of formal organization gives social movements greater flexibility than interest groups, however they often lack the resources of organized interests. At the same time interest groups might have closer ties to government, but often lack the popular support social movements have. Social movements are not necessarily good while interest groups are bad. Social movements can range from anything from the civil rights movement to the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s (and now again). Many social movements use the tactics of interest groups, like bus boycotts for example, but often social movements can use violence as well.

Theorists of social movements like Doug McAdam argue there is a structure for how social movements operate, and must take into account three factors:
  1. The political opportunity structure: meaning what are the options for political action given by the political system. An authoritarian government will have a more restricted opportunity structure than a democratic government.  Political opportunities are also created outside of national boundaries by global social movements and international organizations
  2. Mobilization structure: refers to how the movement is able to generate collective action by mobilizing its supporters. The growth of communication technology and social media has greatly increased the ability to mobilize people.
  3. Framing: refers to how the goals of the movement are articulated. Ideology is important as well because a belief system which ties supporters together and gives them a way of framing or interpreting the goals of the movement.

There is a logic to social movements, bringing up the same problems of collective action, namely the free-rider problem. People have an incentive to free-ride as well, if civil rights legislation is passed it will benefit all minority groups affected, but there is still a tendency not to contribute assistance and to allow someone else to do the work of providing this benefit.

Another approach to the logic of collective actions is given by Albert Hirschman, who argues there are three primary responses from a group or individual to a declining institution: exit, voice, or loyalty. Hirschman developed his analysis originally by looking at the responses of consumers to businesses but then argues this model can be used for politics as well. The most common response of a consumer to a product they do not like anymore, is to exit, meaning to take their business elsewhere, but in a political sense this can be done as well, for example sports teams which threaten to leave a city, or even people threatening to leave a country (e.g. various celebrities vowing to move out of the country—of course no one ever leaves). However, the idea of threatening to leave, or exit leads to the second response, voice, to express your discontent with the institution and desire to change or reform it. So when confronted by a situation one does not like, one can either exit the situation, or voice their discontent and try to change the situation. What then determines the influence of voice? There are many factors involved like resources and connections, but also the threat of exit has to be considered as well. Simply put, if I am threatening to leave you but you do not take this threat seriously then you are less likely to give in to my threat, however if you do believe I might actually leave you might be more willing to make concessions. For example, if an employer feels that a union's threat to strike (exit) is credible, it is more likely to give in to demands. Counter-culture groups that refuse to participate in mainstream society is also a kind of "exit" tactic. Finally, there is loyalty, which means you do nothing and wait for things to change. The level of loyalty influences the threat of exit. If I am loyal, I am less likely to leave. Hirschman's goal was then to specify in real situations the values of exit, voice, and loyalty and to predict the likelihood groups would use these responses in situations. Hirschman's logic like Olson's can be used for both interest groups and social movements.

To sum up, the goals of interest groups and social movements can be very similar, as are the problems that limit their effectiveness.The tactics chosen by interest groups and social movements are related to their level of organization and ability to mobilize people, and these tactics can be thought of in terms of exit, voice, and loyalty as possible responses. Many social movements as they become more formalized over time become more like interest groups (or in some case change into political parties). In many ways, the more successful a social movement, the more it risks losing what makes it effective.

Assignment Due: Choose a passage from the reading. Write it out, explain what it means and why you chose this passage.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

11/19 The Judiciary

The American legal system is based on the idea of "common law," taken from the older English legal system. In a common law system the authority of the judges to decide cases are emphasized. Many other countries have a "civil law" system where laws are laid out in written codes of law, and the task of judges are to interpret when the laws apply in specific cases. In common law, obviously the judges still have to follow the written laws, but are given more freedom to come to their own decisions. 

However, past decisions of judges are carried over into present cases, so before a case is decided, lawyers and judges consult past court decisions, this is known as "legal precedent," or stare decisis, since judges cannot contradict previous decisions (except in rare circumstances) the authority of past decisions has a strong hold on legal outcomes in the present. Furthermore, another feature of the American legal system are the high frequency of "plea bargains." Again, since common law allows for more interpretation, court cases can be very time consuming. To compensate for this, many cases are "plead out," meaning that the defendant will plead guilty to a lesser offense without a trial, in order to speed up the process of coming to a legal decision. Almost 80% of legal decisions in the U.S. are the result of plea bargains.

Many conservatives, oppose what they call "judicial activism" or what they consider to be the judicial branch of government taking too much of a pro-active role in deciding legislation, rather than interpreting the law, as it says in the Constitution. However, this criticism seems to overlook the features of how a common law system works. That being said, the judicial branch has almost always tended to be the most conservative branch of government, the branch least influenced by popular majorities. It should not be surprising, that Alexander Hamilton, the most conservative of the founders, spent the most time emphasizing the importance of the judiciary in the Federalist Papers.


The federal judiciary (of which Hamilton was a prime architect) set up under the Constitution went into effect, along with the Judiciary Act of 1789 which further specified the structure and duties of federal courts. One of the busiest was the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The Judicial branch of the government, makes up so much more than the Supreme Court. The 94 federal district courts are the lowest level of the federal judiciary. Above them, presently, there are 13 U.S. Courts of Appeal, in most cases these are the highest federal judicial authority most people will deal with if they have to. Higher than this is the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) but it limits the amount of cases it hears every year to about 100. The Supreme Court has a maximum of nine justices of the court including the Chief Justice, and Associate Justices. They are nominated by the President, approved by the Senate and serve life-terms. The power of the court is specified in Article III of the Constitution. 


The primary concern of the Southern District today includes Manhattan and the Bronx and handling cases under "admiralty law" or cases involving trade or shipping disputes with foreign countries or interstate trade from other states. This is a highly sought after position and has been used a springboard for even higher offices, for example before he became Mayor of New York City in 1993, Rudolph Giuliani was the State's Attorney (or federal prosecutor) for the Southern District of New York. This is distinct from the Government of New York State and the City of New York, and you can see now how the different layers of government: federal, state, and municipal all overlap with each other depending on authority and function.
Southern District of New York

Legal matters involving trade with a foreign country come under the jurisdiction of federal law. Since the port of New York was the busiest port in the country, most cases involving disputes over shipping and international trade would occupy most of the court's activity.


The Supreme Court (as the federalists intended) has tended to play a more conservative role in government, often siding with business interests against attempts to regulate commerce through legislation. However, in the public imagination the court is seen as a crucial part of the civil rights movement, as the institution which finally ended legal segregation in the nation in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Ed. By looking at some of the most important cases to come through the Supreme Court we begin to understand better the dual role the court has played in American history.


In judicial history the first really important case heard by the court was Marbury v. Madison in 1803. This case is important because it established the importance of judicial review in the U.S. The power of judicial review is the most important power of the court, and it is a power which is fairly unique to the U.S. supreme court, although all nations have a judicial branch of government, not all nations have this power. Basically, the power of judicial review gives the court the power to cancel out laws passed by Congress or actions undertaken by the executive branch, by determining the constitutionality of laws and actions, the court can deem them to be unconstitutional and thus invalidate them. This power was not clearly specified in the Article III of the Constitution, and it was not until Marbury v. Madison that the power of the court was established.

Since then, the court has weighed on many important matters from the regulation of businesses (Swift & Co. v. U.S.), to freedom of speech (Schenck v. U.S.), civil rights (Brown v. Board of Ed; Loving v. Virginia), abortion (Roe v. Wade), legalization of drugs (Gonzales v. Raich) and the notion of "corporate persons" and the role of money in government (Buckley v. Valeo). As mentioned already it has tended to side more with business interests in cases regarding it, but has also supported the civil rights of minorities. In other words, the court has tended consistently to support minority interests (whatever they may be) against the majority. That being said, at times, the court has been more susceptible to the dominant values of the day, e.g. the court's decision in Brown v. Board of Ed, contradict earlier decisions which affirmed segregation like Plessy v. Feguson or Dred Scott v. Sanford which denied the citizenship and even the humanity of African-Americans. 

Many of the court's decisions have relied on the 14th amendment, specifically, the due process and equal protection clauses. The equal protection clause states that the same standards of law must be applied to everyone, and obviously laws that harm one group of people would fail the test created by the equal protection clause. The concept of due process is something inherited from British political institutions, dating back to the Magna Carta of 1215. The idea of due process states that government must have sufficient reason, and must follow established rules, before it can deprive an individual of their rights. In a modern context, the idea of due process can be broken down into procedural and substantive aspects. Procedural due process establishes formal rules followed by government, and includes things like a warrant to arrest or search someone's property must be obtained; before being charged with a major crime a person must be indicted by a grand jury; that individuals have a right to a trial by jury, that in turn must render a unanimous decision, all of these are procedural aspects of due process, as are prohibitions against torture and cruel and unusual punishment, especially as a means of gaining a confession. If authorities are to gain intelligence they must do through legal means. 

Most of the major cases were not about issues of procedural due process, but substantive due process, which asks whether or not the government has a good reason to deprive someone of their rights. In many cases, the Supreme Court has said no, and have defined many more rights than originally specified in the Constitution, since the 9th amendment mentions "unenumerated" rights that are not specifically named. In some cases, maybe, you want the court to say yes, like the issue of unlimited financing of political campaigns. Many of the rights we enjoy today are a result of rights implied by the Constitution, but defined by judicial review looking at concrete cases. The notion of substantive due process then guides the process of judicial review, which itself has a defined procedure it follows, applying "strict scrutiny" in only the most important cases:


Procedural Due Process: Rules are followed
·      Warrants—4th Amendment
·      Grand Jury—5th Amendment
·      Trial by Jury—6th Amendment
·      Torture—8th Amendment

Substantive Due Process: Does the government have a good reason to deprive someone of liberty?
      Freedom of contract (Lochner v. New York)
·      Right to custody (Troxel v. Granville)
·      Right to privacy (Griswold v. Connecticut)
·      Right to marriage (Loving v. Virginia)

Judicial Review:
·      Rational basis review: “rationally related to a legitimate government interest”
·      Intermediate scrutiny: equal protections
·      Strict scrutiny: fundamental rights or suspect classification
1.     compelling government interest
2.     narrowly tailored

3.     least restrictive means

The judicial branch continues to play an important role in protecting the rights of minorities (whether it be business interests or ethnic/racial minorities), however it does raise the question of whether the courts are too independent of the majority will. With life terms for federal judges and the lack of any accountability to the populace through elections it is relatively easy for the courts to ignore or defy popular will. The recurring question that will always be associated with the courts are what is the proper balance between the independence of the judges and the demands made by popular majorities?

As we have already discussed, since there are no term limits for federal judges, most serve until they die or retire. The recent death of Antonin Scalia, long considered the most conservative member of the SCOTUS, has recently caused yet another constitutional controversy between the Obama administration and the Republican Congress. Although it clearly specifies in the Constitution that the President is the sole authority to nominate candidates for the federal government (approved by the Senate), Republicans have already declared they will not listen to any nominees put forward by the President. This is blatantly illegal, and does not follow any precedent set in this country. The president serves a four-year term and during the entire length of that term is empowered to make replacements in the federal government when they come up, there is no rule at all that the president cannot do this in their last term of office. Yet, another example of the unpatriotic and frankly illegal obstructionism shown by Republicans. It should be said though that the President has also once again disappointed his liberal supporters, by nominating a conservative judge, Merrick Garland, to take Scalia's place. Although, it certainly make Republicans look bad, since some have actually named Garland in the past as a good candidate for a judge, only to disapprove once Obama nominated him, it does not say much for the current President's willingness to stand up to the conservative establishment.



Assignment: Choose one of the Supreme Court case summaries and select a passage, write out the passage, explain how the decision was made, and then explain why you chose it and why you believe this case is important.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

11/12 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: 1) the President's ability to persuade, 2) his or her professional reputation among political insiders, 3) and the prestige the President has with the public, or popular support. 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.


 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).




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 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.







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 Reagan scandals. 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.










After the 2016 election, what lessons can be drawn? If we think of each election as a specific outcome, what explanations or what causes can we find that gives us a clear understanding? First, racism, sexism, homophobia, and bigotry in general play a role in every election. If you look at the number of votes, less people voted for Trump than voted for Mitt Romney or Bush in 2004, so the notion of a white backlash might not be as strong as people think, the real question is why did so few people vote for Hillary Clinton? As we all know, Trump lost the popular vote, and both candidates failed to get a majority of the popular vote (about 48% each). Trump won in many Mid-West states that have been particularly hard hit by economic policies over the last 20-30 years, and many feel it was Trump's vague promises of bringing jobs back that won his support even among unionized workers who normally vote Democratic and who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 (Clinton won just over half of union workers). Trump also did surprisingly well among minority voters, "According to exit polls, Trump lost Hispanics 65–29, besting the performance of the mild-mannered and courtly Mitt Romney, who, despite being about as likely to utter an ethnic slur as Pope Francis, lost Hispanics 72–27." To get almost 30 percent of the vote is pretty astounding considering Trump's racial rhetoric. Also: 
"With blacks, exit polls show Trump claimed 8 percent of the vote to the previous Republican nominee's 6 percent.
That means Trump — who called Mexicans "rapists" and "killers" — garnered more support from Hispanics than a candidate whose most controversial position was telling undocumented immigrants to "self-deport."
Trump has frequently linked blacks to "inner city" slums and crime at rallies. Yet he performed better among African American voters than a considerably more moderate Republican nominee."

The electoral college also amplifies the influence of certain states and regions of the country, and so by losing all those industrial states, Clinton lost just enough electoral votes to put Trump over the top, even though again as in 2000 winning the popular vote. Voter suppression in states like Florida and North Carolina most likely played a role as well. Democracy Now states that almost 900 polling places were closed between the 2012 and 2016 election, making it harder to vote, increasing the wait time at some places, as well as other restrictions designed to make it harder to vote. I think the lingering question though, is what would have happened if Bernie Sanders ran against Trump, would he have won? Also, how will Democrats in Congress fight against Trump and a Republican majority in Congress? During the first years of the Obama administration, Republicans were able to stall most legislative attempts because the Democrats lacked a 60 vote "supermajority," something the Republicans lack now. Democrats in the Senate, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, will have to play this role now. 



Assignment: 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.