Chapter 1: Government and the People
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I. Two Central Questions
B. This lecture raises two fundamental questions
about governing that will serve as themes for the year:
b. The lecture evaluates the way American government actually works when compared to the standard of an "ideal" democracy.
c. The lecture addresses the question of who holds
power (the capacity to get people to do something they otherwise would
not do), and who influences the policies adopted by government.
b. Debates about the scope of government are among the most important in American political life.
2. The way government makes decisions about public policies is through politics.
3. What is Government?
b. Four key institutions make policy at the national
(2) President (who implement or carry out the law);
(3) the Courts (who interpret and apply the law);
(4) Federal administrative agencies (bureaucracy).
(2) Some changes have occurred through violent revolution — such as the 1917 Russian Revolution
(3) Some changes are less orderly than in the
U.S. but less bloody than a revolution — as occurred when the communist
government was overthrown in East Germany
(2) Individuals have little incentive to provide
public goods because no one can make a profit from them; thus, the task
of providing things like public parks and pollution control is usually
left to government.
d. Governments provide public services — such as schools and libraries (a justification for assessing taxes).
e. Governments socialize the young into the political culture — typically through practices such as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in daily exercises at public schools.
f. Governments collect taxes to pay for the services
3. To insure Domestic Tranquility — Without order, people would live in anarchy.
4. Provide for the Common Defense — The state's security rests on wise defense and foreign policies (relations with other nations).
5. To Promote the General Welfare — The state has a responsibility to provide a variety of public services. For example, the establishment of schools, protection of the environment, and providing laws to preserve the purity of foods.
6. To Secure the Blessings of Liberty —
Freedom is necessary for a democracy.
2. Governments are classified into three categories
in order to analyze them: geographic distribution; relationship between
legislative and executive; and number who can participate.
— An alliance of independent states. A confederate government possesses
little authority to act on its own. The central government has limited
power and can only handle matters that the member states have assigned
to it. Limited power, and usually in matters of defense and foreign commerce.
At the present time, there is only one confederation: the Commonwealth
of Independent States, an alliance of 11 of the 15 republics which made
up the old Soviet Union.
Government — Members of the executive branch are also members of the legislative
branch (the parliament). Executive is made up of the prime minister or
premier and that official's cabinet. Executive is leader of the majority
party or of a coalition of parties and is chosen by parliament. Cabinet
is chosen from members of parliament. Executive is subject to parliament's
direct control. Executive remains in office only as long as policies have
confidence of majority. No confidence vote requires executive resign. No
checks and balances.
b. How people engage in politics is accomplished through actions such as bargaining, supporting, compromising, and lobbying.
c. What refers to the substance of politics and government (the public policies that come from government).
(2) Low voter turnout has an effect on who holds
b. Many politicians feel that single-issue groups
complicate efforts to find a middle ground on various issues.
b. Public policy is a choice that government makes
in response to some issue on its agenda.
b. The government's first response to the AIDS
crisis illustrates government inaction as public policy, even when the
epidemic reached crisis levels.
b. When voters go to the polls, they are partly looking at whether a candidate shares their views on the policy agenda.
2. The acceptance of the basic concepts of democracy
presents Americans with problems and challenges. Those basic concepts of
democracy are built on the following:
(b) A respect for the equality of all persons;
(c) A faith in majority rule and an insistence upon minority rights.
(d) An acceptance of the necessity of compromise;
(e) An insistence upon the widest possible degree of individual freedom.
2. Sometimes the welfare of one person must be subordinated to the interest of the many. People can be forced to do certain things whether they want to or not. For example, individuals must obey traffic signals, pay taxes, go to school, etc. Consequently, in a democracy, the strongest is not always right.
3. When people are forced to do something, it
is serving the interest of many individuals, representing society.
2. Democracy insists on equality before the law.
3. No person should be held back for reasons of
race, color, culture, religion or gender.
2. Democracy searches for satisfactory solutions to public problems. It can be a trial and error process. Democracy recognizes that seldom is any solution to a public problem so satisfactory that it cannot be improved upon.
3. The majority must recognize the right of the minority, by fair and lawful means, to become the majority. The majority must always be willing to listen to a minority's argument, to hear its objections, to bear its criticisms, and welcome its suggestions.
4. The majority must not use its power to crush the minority.
5. There is no guarantee that the rights of the few (minority) must be elevated above the interest of the many (majority).
6. Democracy places its highest value on the free
exchange of ideas.
1. Compromise allows citizens to make public decisions. To reconcile competing views. Must compromise if all are truly seen as equal, and public policy questions seldom are presented in two simple sides.
2. Compromise is not an end in itself but a means to reach a public goal. Not all compromises are good, and not all are necessary.
3. A compromise on the fundamental principles of democracy should always be avoided.
4. Democracy serves the varied needs of its citizens
when framing public policies through the compromise of concepts and ideas.
B. Political issues and linkage institutions
b. The power of the bureaucracy is so great that
most political scientists now consider it a fourth policymaking institution.
3. Few policies are made by a single institution.
2. Translating people's desires into public policy is crucial to the workings of democracy.
2. Winston Churchill — warned that an "iron curtain" had descended across Europe
3. Khrushchev and Nixon — engaged in the famous
"kitchen debate" concerning the future of communism vs. democracy
2. In his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln
defined democracy as "government of the people, by the people, and for
the people. "
b. No democracy permits government by literally
b. Effective participation — political participation must be representative.
c. Enlightened understanding free press and free speech are essential to civic understanding.
d. Citizen control of the agenda — citizens should have the collective right to control the government's policy agenda.
e. Inclusion — citizenship must be open to all
within a nation.
b. Most Americans also feel that it is vital to
protect minority rights such as freedom of speech.
b. There are multiple access points to our government, with power dispersed among the various branches and levels of government.
c. Bargaining and compromise are essential ingredients of our democracy.
d. Electoral majorities rarely rule; rather, as Dahl puts it, "all active and legitimate groups in the population can make themselves heard at some crucial stage in the [policymaking] process."
e. The recent increase in interest group activity
is cited by pluralists as evidence for pluralism.
b. Wealth is the basis of class power: a few powerful Americans are the policymakers.
c. Big business and its power is at the center of most elite and class theories.
d. The Reagan Administration strongly promoted
b. There are too many groups with access to the different levels and branches of government: these groups have multiple ways to both prevent policies they disagree with and promote those they support.
c. When politicians try to placate every group,
the result is confusing, contradictory, and muddled policy (or no policy
(2) Government has the capacity to act upon those
(2) Today the elite are likely to be those who
command knowledge — the experts.
b. Many democratic thinkers express concerns about
Americans' lack of political participation and knowledge.
b. Critics charge that PACs have undue influence
on members of Congress: when democracy confronts the power of money, the
gap between democratic theory and reality widens further.
b. Some observers of American politics wonder if American political institutions are capable of keeping up with this pace of change.
c. The feature "Since Kennedy" will be used in
subsequent chapters to illustrate changes in the American political system
since the early 1960s.
2. Do they apply what knowledge they have to their voting choices?
3. Are American elections designed to facilitate public participation?
4. Does the interest group system allow for all points of view to be heard, or are there significant biases that give advantages to particular groups?
5. Do political parties provide voters with clear choices, or do they obscure their stands on issues in order to get as many votes as possible?
6. If there are choices, do the media help citizens understand them?
7. Is Congress representative of American society, and is it capable of reacting to changing times?
8. Does the president look after the general welfare of the public, or has the office become too focused on the interests of the elite?
2. The national government alone spends more than
$1.5 trillion annually, employs five million people, and owns one-third
of the land in the United States
b. Big-ticket items include national defense (about
one-sixth of the federal budget), Social Security (more than one-fifth
of the budget), and Medicare (about $160 billion per year).
b. National debt — the entire sum of money owed
by the national government (now about $5 trillion).
(2) More policies to help disadvantaged groups
(3) More policies to redistribute income
(2) Fewer governmental policies in the name of disadvantaged groups
(3) Fewer tax laws that discourage business growth
3. Government in America uses the feature "America
in Perspective" to compare the United States with other countries.
b. As Louis Hartz points out, it has helped limit the scope of American government.
c. The existence of a western frontier up until
the early twentieth century allowed people to escape government almost
entirely; this ethos still infuses American individualism.
2. The role and size of government is a theme
that Government in America examines in each chapter:
b. Part Two looks at those making demands on government, including the public, political parties, interest groups, and the media.
c. Part Three focuses on governmental institutions, including elected institutions (Congress, the President) and non-elected institutions (courts, bureaucracy).
Main Page | Course Outline
Chief Justice Richard
Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics
Cathedral High School, El Paso, Texas
Last updated: July 17, 2000