We will discuss the construction of the course, survey class participants on policy concerns, discuss "hot" public policy issues in the news, take an exam (!) and develop preliminary answers to four questions:
- Why does government get involved in some things and not in others?
- How are public problems framed and described?
- What criteria are useful in developing and assessing policy choices?
- How are policy choices and outcomes mediated and influenced by individuals, organizations and political institutions?
Quotes of the Day
When U.S. Senators retire from service, the tradition is for them to give one last speech on the floor in which they address their colleagues and the nation, reflecting on democracy and the problems and opportunities facing the American people. Here are two excerpts from such speeches, known as farewell addresses, delivered in 1996, at the close of the 104th Congress. I chose an excerpt by Senator Howell Heflin (D-AL) because I always admired him during my years as a staffer on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Policy on which he served. He was a moderate Democrat, always seeking common ground between warring factions. And I selected an excerpt from Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY) because he so well captures the distinction between skepticism and cynicism that is important as we contemplate policy issues during the course of this semester.
Senator Howell Heflin [D-AL], "Farewell Address to America," Congressional Record S11241-S11245, September 25, 1996
All of us, therefore, with our own individual, biased viewpoints, will be frustrated on occasion by the results which accrue from “the system.” And sometimes the decisions made in Washington will truly be wrong; be counterproductive, as measured by any objective standard; and policies and processes will need reform and correction. But this does not give us the option of opting out, or of becoming so cynical about the process and about one another that we fail to discharge our obligations as citizens of a democracy.
Our Founding Fathers also placed in our collective hands the responsibility for the welfare of posterity; this responsibility could have been placed with a monarchy, or with a military dictatorship, but it is our great fortune that it has been placed with the electors in this country. Now that the United States is the most powerful and most influential nation on this planet, this is perhaps the greatest responsibility ever borne by any collection of individuals. Nothing less than the fate of humankind rests upon our rising to our responsibilities.
The distinction between skepticism and cynicism is vital. Cynicism is a cop-out. It takes no virtue—or brains—to be a critic. Anyone can qualify. It serves no one—certainly not the children of America—to carp, snipe, and complain, and to leave national challenges unmet.
Skepticism, on the other hand, is essential to the functioning of a representative democracy. We live in an age in which misinformation and error is propagated freely by special-interest lobbying groups, Internet chat-lists, the media, and political advertisers. We can react by abdicating our responsibilities, and simply cursing the difficulty of making sense out of the babble…”
Senator Alan Simpson [R-WY], Congressional Record, September 1996.
Senator Heflin stresses the importance of equal opportunity. How does our system measure up to the vision he has laid out in this quote? Are there instances when you think our government has provided more or less than equal opportunity? Senator Simpson challenges us to differentiate cynicism from skepticism. What frustrates you about “the system?” Are you skeptical or cynical about government and why?
Background for Introductory Class
You come to this course with undergraduate degrees in anthropology, zoology and everything in between. Some of you come from different countries. In this course we focus on American policymaking, particularly at the federal level, yet many of the theories and actual processes we study will be applicable around the world.
As a start, I expect that your view of the appropriate role of government to be informed by political philosophy, your view of the nature of man and the origins of the state. In this class we will briefly review ways of thinking, using the provocative writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Of the Social Contract, ), Aristotle (Politics, [335-323 BC]), Plato (The Republic, [360 BC]), Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan, ) and others.
We will also briefly review texts particular to American policymaking. In The Federalist Papers, published under the pen name Publius in New York State newspapers between 1787 and 1788, authors James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton sought to gain popular support for the then-proposed U.S. Constitution. The debates they initiated are relevant to this day. French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations on the character of American democracy (Democracy in America, Vol I (1835), Vol. II (1840)) continue to frame policy debates over majority rule, social mobility, and voluntary association. What would de Tocqueville say, for example, if he traveled in time and found himself in the U.S. Senate in the spring of 2005 debating the so-called “nuclear option” – elimination of the “filibuster” rule that allows any one Senator to speak non-stop until 60 Senators vote to stop him?
In our first class I will select questions from U.S. Citizenship for Dummies (2003) a primer designed to help immigrants pass the U.S. citizenship test. Will you pass? My impression is that the level of civic education is quite low these days. The first time I taught this class I asked students how many justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court. Not everyone could answer and I pondered out loud whether it was a fair question. A young immigrant from India raised her hand. “I don’t know if its fair or not,” she said, “but next week when I take the citizenship exam, I am required to know it.” That moment has stuck with me. As we debate theories of public policy, let us also use this class to improve our understanding of the basic mechanisms of government as the two go hand in hand. As Michael Delli Carpini and Scott Keeter (What Americans Know about Politics and Why it Matters, 1996) assert, “an informed citizenry is a common thread that implicitly ties together all theories of democracy.”
This class will engage you in policymaking and remind you that you can make a difference. Our assignments will include writing letters to our elected officials on topics we are individually concerned about as well as writing legislation as a class to submit to the Massachusetts State General Court (our legislature) for their consideration.
I hope you vote. Maybe you’re a Democrat. Maybe a Republican. We’ll briefly look at the political parties and their histories (nicely summarized in “Origin of the Species, Political parties have evolved far from the Jeffersonian model” by David von Drehle, The Washington Post National Weekly Edition, August 9-15, 2004). In the 2000 election, 54.7% of eligible voters exercised their right to vote. In 2002, a so-called mid-term election, the number dropped to 42.3%. It is estimated that 59.6% of eligible voters exercised their right to vote in the 2004 election. From a report by the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate: “When all the vote-counting is completed by early December , it is predicted that an estimated 120,200,000 citizens will have cast their votes for President in this election, a 59.6 turnout rate of eligible citizens, the highest since 1968 when 61.9 percent of eligibles voted.”
Have you registered? If you need inspiration, check out the advertisements for voting on Rock the Vote’s website. For most of our classes, you will be provided with useful websites that we will use to augment class readings listed on the syllabus.
Data from the U.S. Census Current Population Survey for the 2002 election.
|Table 2. Reported Voting and Registration, by Race, Hispanic Origin, Sex, and Age, for the United States: November 2002 (In thousands)|
|ALL RACES||Total||Total Population||U.S. citizen||Not a citizen|
|Reported registered||Not registered||Reported voted||Did not vote||Reported registered||Not registered|
|Total 18 years and over||210,421||128,154||60.9||82,267||39.1||88,903||42.3||121,517||57.7||128,154||64,502||17,765|
|18 to 24 years||27,377||10,470||38.2||16,907||61.8||4,697||17.2||22,680||82.8||10,470||13,865||3,043|
|25 to 44 years||82,228||45,553||55.4||36,675||44.6||28,019||34.1||54,208||65.9||45,553||26,541||10,133|
|45 to 64 years||66,924||46,430||69.4||20,494||30.6||35,521||53.1||31,403||46.9||46,430||16,842||3,652|
|65 to 74 years||17,967||13,681||76.1||4,286||23.9||11,339||63.1||6,628||36.9||13,681||3,734||552|
|75 years and over||15,925||12,020||75.5||3,905||24.5||9,328||58.6||6,597||41.4||12,020||3,520||385|
54.7% of eligible voters exercised their right to vote in the 2000 (presidential) election. Data from the U.S. Census Current Population Survey for the 2000 election.
|Table 1. Reported Voting and Registration, by Sex and Single Years of Age: November 2000|
|Source: U.S. Census Bureau|
|Internet Release date: February 27, 2002|
|U.S. citizen||Not a citizen|
|Sex and age||Reported registered||Not registered||Reported voted||Did not vote||Reported registered||Not registered|
|Total 18 years and over||202,609||129,549||63.9||73,060||36.1||110,826||54.7||91,784||45.3||129,549||56,817||16,243|
|18 to 24 years||26,712||12,122||45.4||14,590||54.6||8,635||32.3||18,077||67.7||12,122||11,793||2,797|
|25 to 34 years||37,304||20,403||54.7||16,902||45.3||16,286||43.7||21,018||56.3||20,403||11,831||5,071|
|35 to 44 years||44,476||28,366||63.8||16,110||36.2||24,452||55||20,024||45||28,366||12,068||4,042|
|45 to 54 years||37,504||26,158||69.7||11,345||30.3||23,362||62.3||14,142||37.7||26,158||9,072||2,274|
|55 to 64 years||23,848||17,551||73.6||6,297||26.4||15,939||66.8||7,910||33.2||17,551||5,186||1,111|
|65 to 74 years||17,819||13,573||76.2||4,246||23.8||12,450||69.9||5,369||30.1||13,573||3,660||586|
|75 years and over||14,945||11,375||76.1||3,570||23.9||9,702||64.9||5,243||35.1||11,375||3,207||363|
Major U.S. Political Party Sites
Advocacy Groups for Voters
Election and Voter Analysis
- Massachusetts State Elections Division - http://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleidx.htm
- Federal Election Commission - http://www.fec.gov/about.shtml
- U.S. Census Voting and Registration data from the Current Population Survey - http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/voting.html
- National Election Studies - http://www.umich.edu/~nes/
- Pew Research Center - http://pewresearch.org/
Citizenship and Immigration
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services - http://uscis.gov/graphics/aboutus/history/
- Read the works of Aristotle, Plato and Hobbes. - http://www.gutenberg.org/
- Project Gutenberg eBooks are older literary works that are in the public domain in the United States.
- National Archives and Records Administration - http://www.nara.gov
- For U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and other Federal documents.