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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy to Call America Home

Despite bad economic times, Americans are still mostly positive about their country. Rasmussen reports:

Although things may be tough in the United States right now, most Americans still would rather live here than anywhere else in the world.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 14% say, if given the choice, they would prefer to live somewhere else. An overwhelming 79% say they would choose to live in the United States. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

That’s down just slightly from June 2009, when 82% said they would still choose to live here.

Sixty-one percent (61%) of Adults believe, too, that the United States is a positive role model for the world when it comes to human rights. Just 22% disagree. Sixteen percent (16%) are undecided.

Only roughly half (52%) of all Americans, though, think the world would be a better place if more countries were like the United States. That's down 12 points from June 2008. Again, 22% disagree, but even more (26%) are not sure.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Attacks and Oppo 2010

Politico reports on GOP admaker Larry McCarthy. He is currently working for outside groups, mostly making negative spots.
McCarthy said, “Our positives are just as good as our negatives,” and gave as an example a celebrated 2004 ad featuring a young Ohio woman named Ashley Faulkner whose mother died in the 2001 terrorist attacks recounting how then-President George W. Bush comforted her during a campaign visit to Lebanon, Ohio.

Progress for America Voter Fund, an outside group funded by many of the same mega-donors now contributing to American Crossroads, spent $16 million airing “Ashley’s Story” in 10 states, and Bob Shrum, a top consultant to Bush’s Democratic rival John Kerry said it had a major impact.

“’Ashley’ was real, was human, people could relate to it,” he said, adding the ad “probably cost us the presidency.”

But [Professor Michael] Franz [of Bowdoin College], who wrote the 2008 book “Choices and Changes: Interest Groups in the Electoral Process” and co-directs the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political ads, said “Ashley” still managed to incorporate McCarthy’s trademark edge, through her father’s recollection that his wife “was murdered by terrorists on Sept. 11.”

“The Ashley ad is not the typical fluff piece where you’re walking down the street with constituents who are listening to your wisdom,” he said. “It still invokes the scariest event on the homeland in many, many years, so there’s a fear message embedded in it subtly.”

McCarthy is better known “for the biting attack — the kinds that are straight in your face, either using fear messaging or angering messaging,” Franz said, adding that the surge of negative ads by conservative outside groups has enabled Republican candidates to benefit while arguing “my hands are clean from these vicious attacks.”

Meanwhile, the Wesleyan Media Project this week reported that Democratic candidates, who have gotten less help from outside groups, are more likely to air negative ads themselves.

But Franz said McCarthy’s outside group ads often are so negative they can risk “boomeranging” and hurting their intended beneficiary.

“Whether you study it in the lab or whether you study it in the real world, there is a tipping point, which we haven’t been able to locate, but it definitely exists and McCarthy is always treading close to that line,” Franz said. “But he’s famous, so he probably gets a little more leeway in terms of how close he hews to that line.”

The Democratic National Committee formally has asked the Pentagon for reams of correspondence between military agencies and nine potential Republican presidential candidates, a clear indication that Democrats are building opposition-research files on specific 2012 contenders even before the midterm elections.An internal Army e-mail obtained by ABC News indicates that the DNC has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for "any and all records of communication" between Army departments and agencies and each of the nine Republicans -- all of whom are widely mentioned as possible challengers to President Obama.

As we mention in the textbook, opposition research has long been a feature of political campaigns. CQ-Roll Call reports that it is now more important than ever:

For starters, the major parties are doing more. John Neumann, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s independent expenditure research unit, said that over the years he’s seen the staff climb from seven to “10 or 11,” and this year they were brought on board earlier in the election cycle.

The Democratic side has shown similar growth. Spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had 10 researchers on staff in 2006; now it has 16.

But practitioners say much of the growth has occurred outside the political parties, with private consultants feeding off the explosion of independent expenditures and nonprofit political organizations that are now allowed to accept direct corporate and union donations.

“After the 2008 election, there was definitely an uptick in people who were out there offering [research] services,” said Kevin Wright, founder and director of the Old Dominion Research Group, a Republican research firm. “A lot of people on the GOP side who were out of a job ... were forced into the position of having to make a living for themselves.”

The Internet has also contributed to the industry’s growth, Neumann said. “You have these campaigns that are not necessarily using sophisticated opposition research techniques, but you are definitely seeing them doing some research.”

Neumann added that “more amateurs are doing it ... people’s ability to use Google makes everyone automatically an opposition researcher. You don’t let your sister go out on a date without doing a basic background search on the guy.”

But opposition research has also become a more integral part of campaigns at all levels, said Tiffany Muller, research director at the Democratic firm Hamilton Campaigns. “Opposition and self-research was utilized fairly well by large campaigns [in prior years] but it was also one of those things that campaigns were willing to cut out of their budget ... they would have volunteers doing it,” she said. Now, “we are getting more and more calls from people who are running for city council or are running for mayor or are not in competitive house races ... people are seeing the value of it more.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

Campaign Money

Nina Easton writes at CNN Money:

Anyone who has been around Washington politics long enough can't avoid this truism: Election-year money is like a rushing river that invariably finds cracks in any dam the reformers erect. In 2002, Congress passed the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law to stop the flow of corrupting special-interest money -- uncapped donations known as "soft money" -- going to political parties.

The result: Special-interest money, from the right and the left, flowed through a widening crack in the dam in the form of tax-exempt 527 and 501(c)4 organizations that took over much of the historical role of the parties, from messaging to getting out the vote. The voices of the national parties, now subjected to the McCain-Feingold limits, and candidates, operating under strict donation caps, are increasingly drowned out. "I approved this message" (a McCain-Feingold requirement) is a joke when it applies only to advertising produced by the candidate, a fraction of what voters actually watch.

Into this imbalance came the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling. As constitutional scholar Floyd Abrams recently wrote in the Yale Law Journal, campaign finance reform is considered so sacred that any ruling like this was bound to be unpopular. The Citizens United decision "was treated as a desecration," Abrams notes, even though Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, likened the overturned restrictions to suppression of political speech in newspapers, books, and television.

The Citizens United ruling did not invent special-interest spending; it enables corporations and unions to advocate directly on behalf of a candidate, rather than running more subtle "issue ads." Nor did it produce the phenomenon of undisclosed donors, as White House officials repeatedly assert. "Such expenditures were lawful (and routinely occurred in significant amounts) prior to Citizens United," Abrams notes.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hispanic Views of Immigration

The Pew Hispanic Center reports on a new poll.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, an estimated 340,000 babies were born in the U.S. in 2008 to unauthorized immigrant parents—8% of all babies born that year (Passel and Taylor, 2010). As guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, all babies born in the U.S., including those born to unauthorized immigrant parents, are automatically granted U.S. citizenship. However, as the debate about immigration reform has intensified in recent years, some prominent elected officials have called for the repeal of birthright citizenship.

The new Pew Hispanic survey asked respondents two questions about birthright citizenship. First, it asked if they knew birthright citizenship is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Fully 93% of Latinos say they are aware of this. Among the general public, nearly as many (85%) said the same (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2010).

The survey followed up with a question asking respondents if they wanted the Constitution changed to repeal birthright citizenship. On this question, nearly eight-in-ten (78%) Latinos say they do not want the Constitution changed, more than the share (56%) of all Americans who say the same (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2010a).
Hispanic Americans favor a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens, but there has been substantial change in perceptions of the undocumented population:
Hispanics are divided when asked to assess the effect of illegal or undocumented immigration on Hispanics already living in the United States. Three-in-ten (29%) believe the overall impact of unauthorized immigrants is positive. But similar proportions say that the impact of these immigrants is negative (31%) or that there has been no effect one way or the other (30%). These results contrast sharply with the findings of a similar question asked three years ago (Pew Hispanic Center, 2007).3

At the same time, just 20% of respondents three years ago said the impact of the increasing number of unauthorized immigrants was negative. That is 11 percentage points lower than the share of Latinos who say the same today. Meanwhile, the proportion of Latinos who say unauthorized immigration has no effect increased by 10 percentage points—20% in 2007 versus 30% in 2010. Then, half of all Hispanics (50%) said the growing number of undocumented immigrants had a positive effect on the existing Hispanic community—fully 21 percentage points higher than the proportion who say that in the new survey.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Pledge at a Debate

A House candidate in Illinois has a video involving the Pledge of Allegiance:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

American Exceptionalism, Economic Freedom, and Public Opinion

Gary Langer writes at

Optimism in the country's system of government has dropped to a new low when measured against polls going back 36 years, and the public's belief that America is the greatest nation on earth, while still high, has fallen significantly from its level a generation ago.These results from the latest ABC News/Yahoo News poll, coming before next week's midterm elections, suggest that public disenchantment extends beyond its economic and political roots to broader questions about the country's governance and American exceptionalism.

The bottom hasn't fallen out of national pride: Seventy-five percent call the United States "the greatest country in the world." But that's down from 88 percent when the same question was asked in 1984. And nearly a quarter, 23 percent, now take the alternative view, saying America used to be the greatest country "but isn't anymore." That's up from 9 percent.

Canadian Lawrence Martin writes at The Globe and Mail:

Two dominant forces in the country’s dynamic have each lost leverage. One is Quebec, which, with its run of prime ministers and its blackmail threats, set much of the agenda for an astonishing four decades. It no longer does. The other is the United States. Always the reference point beyond our borders, it is now less so. As American exceptionalism wanes, we move out from under the shadow.

At the Globe and Mail, Canadian writer Lawrence Martin says:

Two dominant forces in the country’s dynamic have each lost leverage. One is Quebec, which, with its run of prime ministers and its blackmail threats, set much of the agenda for an astonishing four decades. It no longer does. The other is the United States. Always the reference point beyond our borders, it is now less so. As American exceptionalism wanes, we move out from under the shadow.

In July, at the conservative Heritage Foundation, Terry Miller and Kim Holmes wrote:

In 2010, for the first time ever, the United States has fallen from the ranks of the economically “free” as measured by the Index of Economic Freedom, published annually by The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. With a score of only 78.0 on the Index’s 0–100 scale, the United States has fallen below the cutoff (an average score of 80 or above) that earns countries the right to call themselves truly “free.” The United States’ current status? “Mostly free.
A more hopeful view of American exceptionalism comes from US Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL):

Monday, October 25, 2010

As Jefferson Never Said...

When the people fear the government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty." This quote, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, embodies the unique American relationship between citizen and state and is as relevant today as ever. It's almost as if Jefferson had 2010 in mind.

According to The Jefferson Encyclopedia, however:

We have not found any evidence that Thomas Jefferson said or wrote, "When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny," or any of its listed variations.

Comments: One source attributes this quotation to Thomas Jefferson in The Federalist.[4] The Federalist, however, was the work of Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison; it also does not contain the text of this quotation. This quotation is vaguely similar to Jefferson's comment in an 1825 letter to William Short: "Some are whigs, liberals, democrats, call them what you please. Others are tories, serviles, aristocrats, &c. The latter fear the people, and wish to transfer all power to the higher classes of society; the former consider the people as the safest depository of power in the last resort; they cherish them therefore, and wish to leave in them all the powers to the exercise of which they are competent."[5] To date however, the most likely source of this quotation appears to be a series of debates on socialism published in 1914, in which John Basil Barnhill said, "Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty."

Noncitizen Voting

Our textbook notes (p. 261) that some localities do permit noncitizen voting in certain elections. AP reports:

Portland [Maine] residents will vote Nov. 2 on a proposal to give legal residents who are not U.S. citizens the right to vote in local elections, joining places like San Francisco and Chicago that have already loosened the rules or are considering it.

Noncitizens hold down jobs, pay taxes, own businesses, volunteer in the community and serve in the military, and it's only fair they be allowed to vote, Rwaganje said.

"We have immigrants who are playing key roles in different issues of this country, but they don't get the right to vote," said [Claude] Rwaganje, 40, who moved to the U.S. because of political strife in his native Congo and runs a nonprofit that offers financial advice to immigrants.

Opponents of the measure say immigrants already have an avenue to cast ballots -- by becoming citizens. Allowing noncitizens to vote dilutes the meaning of citizenship, they say, adding that it could lead to fraud and unfairly sway elections.

"My primary objection is I don't think it is right, I don't think it is just, I don't think it is fair," Portland resident Barbara Campbell Harvey said.

In San Francisco, a ballot question Nov. 2 will ask voters whether they want to allow noncitizens to vote in school board elections if they are the parents, legal guardians or caregivers of children in the school system.

Noncitizens are allowed to vote in school board elections in Chicago and in municipal elections in half a dozen towns in Maryland, said Ron Hayduk, a professor at the City University of New York and author of "Democracy for All: Restoring Immigrant Voting Rights in the United States."

New York City allowed noncitizens to vote in community school board elections until 2003, when the school board system was reorganized, and several municipalities in Massachusetts have approved allowing it but don't yet have the required approval from the Legislature, he said.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More Spoilers

In our chapter on political parties, we discuss the "spoiler" effect, by which a minor party draws most of its support from one of the major parties, thereby tipping an election to the other major party. An earlier post showed how a Republican was trying to exploit the spoiler effect in Arizona by setting up Green Party candidates to siphon votes from Democrats. As a New York Times article shows, Democrats are using the same tactic:

Seeking any advantage in their effort to retain control of Congress, Democrats are working behind the scenes in a number of tight races to bolster long-shot third-party candidates who have platforms at odds with the Democratic agenda but hold the promise of siphoning

The efforts are taking place across the country with varying degrees of stealth. And in many cases, they seem to hold as much risk as potential reward for Democrats, prompting accusations of hypocrisy and dirty tricks from Republicans and the third-party movements that are on the receiving end of the unlikely, and sometimes unwelcome, support.

In California, Republicans have received recorded phone calls from a professed but unidentified “registered Republican” who says she is voting for the American Independent Party’s candidate for a House seat, Bill Lussenheide, not for the incumbent Republican, Mary Bono Mack.

The caller says she is voting that way because “it’s time we show Washington what a true conservative looks like.”

The recording was openly paid for by the Democratic candidate for the seat, Mayor Steve Pougnet of Palm Springs

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Unions and Politics

The New York Times "Room for Debate" blog looks at the power of public sector unions:

According to The Wall Street Journal, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is now the largest outside spender in the 2010 political season, turning on the spigot to help the Democrats in the last weeks before the election. The response follows Republican and Tea Party attacks on AFSCME and other public sector unions, which have been put on the defensive amid popular anger about government spending and stories about big pension payouts.

How much does support from public sector unions help or hurt Democratic candidates this year? The party benefits substantially from the unions' financial contributions and get-out-the-vote drives. But favorable views of unions have dropped considerably in the last few years, especially among independent voters.

Dan DiSalvo of CUNY writes at the blog:

The Tea Party and public sector unions oppose each other over the size of American government. The central ideological thrust of the Tea Party is limited government. Adherents seek to reduce government spending, shrink the national debt and keep tax rates low. In contrast, public sector unions have consistently supported higher taxes and more government spending. Unionized public employees provoke the Tea Party’s ire because they are perceived as enjoying privileged positions and wielding political power that far exceeds their numbers.

Despite these sources of conflict, the two forces are mostly engaged in shadow-boxing. Because neither group is evenly distributed across the country, it is often the case that where the Tea Party is strong, public sector unions are weak, and vice versa.

Andrew Kohut of the Pew Research Center writes:

The good news for the Democrats these days is that union members are one voting bloc that continues to strongly back their party’s candidates -- and by a solid margin in our latest national poll, which otherwise finds a double-digit Republican lead in Congressional voting intentions. The bad news is that labor unions have fallen out of favor with the broader public, including independents who will cast the decisive votes in this year’s elections.

opinion on labor unionsPew Research Center Views on Labor Unions

Positive views of labor unions have plummeted since 2007. The Pew Research Center this year found just 41 percent of the public said they have a favorable opinion of labor unions while about as many (42 percent) expressed an unfavorable opinion. In January 2007, a clear majority (58 percent) had a favorable view of unions while just 31 percent had an unfavorable impression.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Repeal the 17th Amendment?

Some in the "tea party" movement would repal the 17th Amendment (direct election of senators). The Los Angeles Times disapproves:

Restoring the original political order to which many tea partyers seem to be drawn would require the repeal of more amendments than one.

For example, America was a different place before the adoption of the 14th Amendment, added after the Civil War. Like the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, and the 15th, which barred racial discrimination in voting, the 14th Amendment overrode what had once been seen as state prerogatives. It is best known for its definition of citizenship: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside." But it also profoundly altered the relationship between the states and the federal government.

The 14th Amendment also says: "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." And it gives Congress the power "to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article" (as it did in enacting civil rights legislation). If tea partyers want to restore the autonomy of the states, the 14th Amendment would have to go, along with the 17th.

Other amendments to the Constitution have expanded political participation, sometimes at the expense of state's rights. That was true not only of the 15th and 17th Amendments but also of the 19th, giving women the right to vote nationwide, and the 26th, granting 18-year-olds the franchise. The latter two amendments limited the states' ability to define qualifications for voting.

The Constitution is worthy of veneration, but many of its most admirable features didn't originate in the era of the three-cornered hats sported by some tea party activists. That includes the rights of the voters to choose — and remove — their senators

Berkeley law professor John Yoo takes a different view:

There’s a lot of truth to the argument that the enactment of the 17th Amendment undermined federalism. State legislatures have a greater institutional incentive to protect federalism than do the people of a state. The people of a state may want to expand federal program spending in order to get their share of tax revenues, even at the expense of greater national power over issues reserved to the states. Although they are also elected by the people, state legislators have more of an incentive to protect the original distribution of powers between the national and state governments.

Here is what James Madison had to say about the matter (during congressional discussion of the Bill of Rights in 1789):

[T]he State Legislatures will jealously and closely watch the operations of this Government, and be able to resist with more effect every assumption of power, than any other power on earth can do; and the greatest opponents to a Federal Government admit the State Legislatures to be sure guardians of the people’s liberty.

The 17th Amendment weakened the states’ ability to resist the expansion of federal powers. The problem is that there is no point to trying to fix this problem — an effort to amend the Constitution will be fruitless. It requires two-thirds of the Congress and three-quarters of the states. The Tea Partiers would be well advised to devote their efforts to achieving significant limits on the federal government — such as limiting federal spending, cutting taxes, and reversing Obamacare — that don’t demand an amendment to the Constitution. They will have a limited political window to apply their political capital; constitutional amendments will only waste it.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oppo Techniques

In The Washingtonian, David Mark writes of opposition research:

In the pre-Internet era, opposition research was laborious work. Digging up tax liens, civil lawsuits, divorce petitions, and other potentially damaging documents took days or weeks; now they often can be discovered with a few keystrokes on LexisNexis and other databases.

“I’ve been in steamy country courthouses in southern Alabama in the middle of summer,” says GW’s Dennis Johnson, who in his spare time runs, a bipartisan look at congressional scandals, corruption, and malfeasance. Now, he says, what used to take weeks and months to research is often available online in minutes.

But sometimes the juiciest documents aren’t available on the Internet. The 2009 campaign of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell had to endure weeks of scrutiny after the Washington Post reported on his two-decades-old master’s thesis at Regent University, in which he outlined his conservative social views and spelled out how they should be incorporated into GOP governance. Somebody knew about that document and likely tipped off the reporter, who looked up the 93-page document, says Zilliox, the private investigator.

“You can know everything there is to know about the ‘intertubes,’ ” observes Eustance. “But if you don’t know how to use a microfilm machine or walk into a county courthouse in East Sweet Nowhere, USA, and find old trial records and tax liens, you shouldn’t be doing oppo, period.”

Mark also offers a caution that applies even to college students:

And social-media users who might someday be interested in running for office could unwittingly be helping future opponents.

“You’ll find that Facebook and Twitter are feeding the opposition-research files,” says Tyler Harber, a GOP consultant. “A lot of people who will run for office in the next five or ten years are using these tools—and it could come back to bite them.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Citizenship and the Education Agenda

At Remapping Debate, Diane Jean Schemo writes about the education policy agenda is often overlooking preparation for active citizenship, including civics and citizenship education. The article concludes:

Cathy Corbo, president of the Albany Teacher’s Union, maintained that teachers had their hands full in New York State with the current raft of academic requirements. Why would they demand yet more?

“It’s already a full boat, in terms of getting kids through high school. In urban areas, we’re struggling already with graduation rates that are not acceptable. And a lot of that has to do with the rigor of what people need to do to graduate. Adding something else would probably be a bit of a burden, unless you’re going to pull something else off.”

To a large extent, Corbo said, teachers teach whatever the state curriculum requires. A Baby Boomer herself, Corbo said today’s new teachers lack the political fire of her generation at a similar age. Corbo’s generation famously marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. It joined sit-ins up north to end Jim Crow segregation down south.

Did she think that the apathy of today’s young teachers was related to a lack of education for their roles as citizens when they were students?

Corbo said she was not sure. “When they do protest, it is usually over something related to their working conditions." They worry about the rise of charter schools, which, she said, siphon students away from neighborhood schools only to send them back when problems arise.

I asked Corbo whether she thought it had any direct impact on her and her colleagues when students graduate and become voters unequipped with the tools to evaluate claims and counterclaims in the political arena.

“I guess I’m sure it does," Corbo said, and paused a moment, before adding, “civics has never come up as an issue.”

Drug Cartels Enter the US

In our chapter on federalism, we discuss the relationship between federal and state law enforcement in the war on drugs. In our chapter on citizenship, we discuss border security. Both of these topics come up in this CBS report on how drug cartels enter the United States:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Religion, Freedom, and the Tea Party Movement

In USA Today, Baylor University's Thomas S. Kidd writes:
The Tea Party movement seems conflicted about religion. Prominent Tea Partiers, including Glenn Beck, have steered away from the usual priorities of Christian conservatives: restrictions on abortion, gay marriage, and the like. But in other ways, we see evidence of religion's importance to the Tea Party: Beck's summer rally in Washington, D.C., focused almost exclusively on a return to America's heritage of faith, and a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute suggested that Christian conservatives represent the core of the Tea Party.

This identity crisis reflects a deeper question about religion's role in public life: Does faith restrict or enhance our freedom? Some might believe that the Tea Party's emphasis on liberty over moral restrictions represents a repudiation of the traditional agenda of the Religious Right. But instead, the Tea Party may actually represent a return of religious conservatism to its origins in Revolutionary America, when the Founding Fathers universally paired religion and freedom.

The Founders, writes Kidd, believed that religion leavened freedom with compassion (a major point of our chapter on civic culture) and provided a basis for national community. He cites a passage from Tocqueville:

In France, I had seen the spirits of religion and freedom almost always marching in opposite directions. In America I found them intimately linked together in joint reign over the same land. My longing to understand the reason for this phenomenon increased daily. To find this out, I questioned the faithful of all communions; I particularly sought the society of clergymen, who are the depositaries of the various creeds and have a personal interest in their survival. As a practicing Catholic I was particularly close to the Catholic priest, with some of whom I established a certain intimacy… I found that they all agreed with each other except about details; all thought that the main reason for the quiet sway of religion over their country was the complete separation of church and state. I have no hesitation in stating that throughout my stay in America I met nobody, lay or cleric, who did not agree about that.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Spending-Limit Amendment

In National Affairs, Jeffrey Anderson writes:

In the eyes of America's founders, unlimited government was a recipe for tyranny. It was with this in mind that they designed a series of carefully planned restraints for our republic, establishing a government with powers that are specifically enumerated, and explicitly granted by the people. Indeed, in Federalist No. 45, James Madison stressed that the new Constitution would not be the "same doctrine" of the "old world" — namely, "that the people were made for kings, not kings for the people" — simply "revived in the new, in another shape." Rather, Madison promised, "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined."

But Madison's expectations about the self-containing nature of America's new government proved a bit too optimistic. In the two centuries since, the size and scope of the federal government have sporadically, but steadily, expanded. And in the past few years, a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, a $787 billion economic-stimulus package, and the passage of a major health-care overhaul — which aims to inaugurate a trillion-dollar-plus entitlement and dramatically reshape the relationship between individuals and the state — have brought the tension over federal spending to a head. Tea Party protests have sprung up across the country; their participants object primarily to the centralization of power in Washington at the expense of individual liberty, and to the profligacy of Congress at the expense of the nation's future solvency. To a degree not seen in many decades, Americans appear determined to provide a correction to the expansion of federal power.

In Madison's defense, however, this expansion has not been a product of the Constitution as written and ratified, but rather of changes to it, through rulings and amendments. These include the Supreme Court's expansive reading of the power to regulate interstate commerce, its severing of the power to tax from Congress's other enumerated powers, its narrow reading of the Tenth Amendment's reservation of powers to the states or the people, and, above all, the addition of the 16th Amendment, granting the federal government essentially unlimited power to tax Americans' income. All are developments that have inflated federal power well beyond the limits originally established by the Constitution.

Yet this warping of the framers' intent is less a cause for alarm than for action. If nothing else, the growth of the state clarifies our responsibilities as citizens. After all, the Constitution didn't emerge from the clouds: It was written by flesh-and-blood Americans, in response to the events and challenges of their day. And it includes an amendment provision allowing later generations to adapt the document to the events and challenges of our own times. Today, a correction is in order — and our founders wisely furnished us with the means to provide it.

The correction, he says, would consist of a constitutional amendment to limit spending growth. More here.

Religion and Politics in Kentucky Political Ads

Politics and Political Science

In The Forum, John Petrocik and Frederick Steeper note that practitioners of politics know some things that academic political science tends not to study:
This essay offers some experience-based observations about electoral phenomena that academic political science misses because of a focus on conceptual and theoretical debates that often take pride of place over the empirical phenomena that gave rise to the ideas and concepts that we highly value. We suggest that academic political science is increasingly committed to models and methods that serve a theory or an idea more than they account for observable empirical regularities. Practitioner methods and innovations for persuading voters and winning elections under varying electoral conditions are largely unknown to scholars, with consequences for our collective factual knowledge and ability to test current hypotheses and theories about elections in an appropriate wide range of circumstances.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Tea Party Movement and the Constitution

Critics have attacked the tea party movement for seeking to limit the role of government. In The Wall Street Journal, Peter Berkowitz writes:

But far from reflecting a recurring pathology in our politics or the losing side in the debate over the Constitution, the devotion to limited government lies at the heart of the American experiment in liberal democracy. The Federalists who won ratification of the Constitution—most notably Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay—shared with their Anti-Federalist opponents the view that centralized power presented a formidable and abiding threat to the individual liberty that it was government's primary task to secure. They differed over how to deal with the threat.

The Anti-Federalists—including Patrick Henry, Samuel Bryan and Robert Yates—adopted the traditional view that liberty depended on state power exercised in close proximity to the people. The Federalists replied in Federalist 9 that the "science of politics," which had "received great improvement," showed that in an extended and properly structured republic liberty could be achieved and with greater security and stability.

This improved science of politics was based not on abstract theory or complex calculations but on what is referred to in Federalist 51 as "inventions of prudence" grounded in the reading of classic and modern authors, broad experience of self-government in the colonies, and acute observations about the imperfections and finer points of human nature. It taught that constitutionally enumerated powers; a separation, balance, and blending of these powers among branches of the federal government; and a distribution of powers between the federal and state governments would operate to leave substantial authority to the states while both preventing abuses by the federal government and providing it with the energy needed to defend liberty.

Whether members have read much or little of The Federalist, the tea party movement's focus on keeping government within bounds and answerable to the people reflects the devotion to limited government embodied in the Constitution.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Marijuana and Federalism, continued

The New York Times reports:

The Department of Justice says it intends to prosecute marijuana laws in California aggressively even if state voters approve an initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot to legalize the drug.

The announcement by Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general, was the latest reminder of how much of the establishment has lined up against the popular initiative: dozens of editorial boards, candidates for office, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other public officials.

Still, despite this opposition — or perhaps, to some extent, because of it — the measure, Proposition 19, appears to have at least a decent chance of winning, so far drawing considerable support in polls from a coalition of Democrats, independents, younger voters and men as Election Day nears. Should that happen, it could cement a cultural shift in California, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996 and where the drug has been celebrated in popular culture at least since the 1960s.

But it could also plunge the nation’s most populous state into a murky and unsettling conflict with the federal government that opponents of the proposition said should make California voters wary of supporting it.

Washington has generally looked the other way as a growing medical marijuana industry has prospered here and in 14 other states and the District of Columbia, but Mr. Holder’s position — revealed in a letter this week to nine former chiefs of the Drug Enforcement Administration that was made public on Friday — made explicit that legalizing marijuana for recreational use would bring a whole new level of scrutiny from Washington.

Mr. Holder did not fully spell out the reasons for the decision, but he did allude to the reluctance of the federal government to enforce drug laws differently in different states. “If passed, this legislation will greatly complicate federal drug enforcement efforts to the detriment of our citizens,” he wrote.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Polarizing Endorsements

In our chapters on parties and campaigns, we talk about the role of polarization in American electoral politics. Themes and endorsements that may help a candidate in a primary may be problematic in a general election campaign. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

While the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee has flexed her political muscle by endorsing some conservative candidates who have won Republican primaries from Delaware to Alaska this year, the jury is still out on what Palin's blessing can deliver in a general election, when voters are not uniformly conservative. In California, Palin's endorsement of Fiorina in the spring helped reshape the Senate primary, giving the first-time candidate and former Hewlett-Packard CEO credibility with conservative voters who didn't know much about her.

"In a low-turnout election, which it looks like this one will be, that could help," said Richard Fox, a professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and author of "It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don't Run for Office."

"But I think nobody in a close race would want to appear with her," Fox said. "She is still very polarizing."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why It's Important to Follow the Supreme Court

Andy Barr writes at Politico:

Republican Christine O’Donnell was tripped up during Wednesday night’s Delaware Senate debate, seemingly unable to name a recent Supreme Court decision with which she disagrees.

Asked to name such a court case, O’Donnell paused before responding, “Oh gosh. Give me a specific one.”

When moderator Nancy Karibjanian of Delaware First Media said that she could not give her an example because the point of the question was for O’Donnell to name a case, O’Donnell apologized and acknowledged she could not name a case.

Here is one answer that she could have given. As we discuss in our chapter on federalism, in Kelo v. City of New London a 5-4 majority held that a city's taking of private property to sell for private development qualified as a "public use" within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment's takings clause. The decision was highly unpopular, particularly among conservatives and libertarians. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the decision, and even he was not happy with it, saying "the law compelled a result that I would have opposed if I were a legislator.''

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Local Deliberation and Citizenship

Making Local Democracy Work, a new report from the National League of Cities, focuses on deliberation and citizenship, key themes of our textbook. The data come from a 2009 survey of elected and managerial officials regarding “proactive efforts to involve people in deliberating public issues and in helping to solve public problems.”

A few highlights:
  • Municipal officials report that their municipalities use public engagement processes often (60 percent) or sometimes (21 percent).
  • They report use of a range and variety of local practices. Some of the venues include town hall meetings, neighborhood councils, online forums and community surveys.
  • Virtually all the respondents (95 percent) report that public officials in their city value public engagement processes. They see important benefits such as developing a stronger sense of community, building trust between the public and city hall and finding better solutions to local problems.
  • The report observes that it takes the efforts of the whole community to create and sustain effective democratic governance. Many municipal officials say that important players (including citizens, the media, community and special interest groups and their own city halls) are not stepping up to their proper roles.
The study confirms that deliberation depends on information:
In a separate question asking which three of this same list of factors are considered
most important to the effectiveness of a deliberative public engagement process, by far the most frequently selected item was “public receives useful, balanced information about the subject.” This factor was identified as most important by 78 percent of municipal officials; the next closest response (“People who can answer questions are in the room”) was selected by just 35 percent and would seem to reflect a similar concern about information.
The survey asked about barriers to public engagement in deliberation:
Far and away, the most frequently selected item was “public apathy and/or ambivalence,” chosen by 69 percent of municipal officials. No other item was chosen by more than 40 percent of respondents. What’s more, when asked to identify three of the 17 obstacles that are the most difficult to overcome, public apathy and/or ambivalence topped the rest of the list. It was selected by 58 percent of respondents; the next closest response was selected by 20 percent. The second and third most frequently selected obstacles to and risks of public engagement were: “media are not paying attention and/or is not fair and balanced” (chosen by 39 percent of officials); and “youth and other segments of the community are hard to reach” (36 percent).
More detail on criticism of the media:
Respondents’ negative opinions of the media’s role in public engagement showed up in their answers to other questions in the survey. For example, only one in four municipal officials (25 percent) rated the media as being good at informing people and local public affairs with fair and balanced reporting; 30 percent rated the media as poor in this area. (See Figure 19). In addition, more than half (53 percent) said the media does a poor job of involving people in deliberation and problem solving, and 47 percent said the media does a poor job of contributing to constructive debate.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reading the Bills

At the Washington Examiner, Byron York finds a point of agreement across ideological lines:

There’s a scene in “Fahrenheit 911,” left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore’s mostly forgotten 2004 tirade against George W. Bush, that some of today’s unhappy voters might recognize.

Moore was angry that Congress passed the Patriot Act so quickly that some lawmakers hadn’t read the whole bill. So Moore went to Democratic Rep. John Conyers for an explanation.

“How could Congress pass this Patriot Act without even reading it?” Moore asked.

“Sit down, my son,” Conyers said, lowering his voice as if to reveal a trade secret. “We don’t read most of the bills. Do you really know what that would entail, if we were to read every bill that we passed?”

Years have passed, and we’re in a completely different political environment today. But there is still no single complaint about Congress that resonates more with voters than the charge that lawmakers do not read the bills they vote on. How can they enact far-reaching legislation that touches almost every part of American life without even knowing what they’re passing?

See the "Read the Bill" website, and the relevant clip from the movie:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Public Employee Pensions

In The California Journal of Politics and Policy, D. Roderick Kiewiet coins a useful term:
Ledyard’s Law is simply a statement that human beings seek to enjoy benefits today and defer costs until the day after tomorrow. It is one of the cornerstone principles of modern political economy. Studies of public opinion have repeatedly found voters reluctant to make tradeoffs between taxation and government services. They much prefer the cheery premise that they can obtain something for nothing— or at least that somebody else will pay for it later.
The abstract of the article spells out the consequences:
The Pew Center estimates that as of July 2008, state and local governments in the United States had promised current and future retirees $3.34 trillion in benefits but had only $2.35 trillion of projected assets to pay for them. The investment losses that public employee pension funds experienced during the market downturn of 2008-09 made the trillion dollar gap much larger. In this paper I discuss how the pension funding gap has developed, compare the situation in California with that of other states, and discuss the ways in which the state government and local governments in California are responding to the increasing strains pension obligations place on their finances. I recommend that the constitution of California be amended to forbid the state and all local governments from ever again issuing pension obligation bonds, and to forbid the state of California, as well as all local governments within the state, from ever again offering their employees defined benefit pension plans.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Portrait of a Candidate

Sometimes, the political ambitions of future candidates are evident when they are still in college. A case in point is Kevin Yoder, a Republican running for the open seat being vacated by Rep. Dennis Moore (D-Kansas). The Kansas City Star reports on Yoder's time at the University of Kansas:

On a large, strange campus, Yoder found a simple way to navigate the uncharted territory: Getting involved.

“I saw getting involved in KU’s campus as a way to meet people and sort of break down a campus that was huge — 25,000 people,” Yoder said. “And I found that as you joined groups, as you got involved, you developed families and friendship.”

It turned out he was good at this — at running for office, talking to people, digesting issues and understanding what folks want and how to get it for them.

As the years went by, Yoder steadily moved to the right on the political spectrum — starting as a Democrat in college, followed by a stint as a moderate Republican in the Kansas Legislature, and now a conservative just in time to fit the national mood.

It’s a series of changes some opponents attribute to ambition rather than a true believer.

“Even then (in college), clearly he wanted to be a professional politician,” said Burdett Loomis, a professor of political science at Kansas and a Democrat. “Even then he was trying to position himself — he’s always positioning himself.”

Yet Jay Shadwick, a former Johnson County Republican chairman, countered that Yoder’s one-time status as a Democrat puts him in good GOP company: “So was Reagan,” Shadwick pointed out.

Yoder rejects the notion that his views shift with the political winds.

“I think it was Winston Churchill who said, ‘If you’re not a liberal at 18 you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative at 40 you have no brain,’^” he said. “So you see a lot of people go through this liberal viewpoint in college and as they get closer to the real world or go to graduate school or pay their first mortgage or have to deal with the realities of the economy, cause and effect and those sorts of things, you’re perspective starts to change.”

By 2000, he was firmly Republican. He interned for David Adkins, a moderate Republican state senator, and then in 2002, straight out of law school, served as a state representative from Kansas’ 20th District.

Two years ago, Yoder was named chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

But he swears he’s not running for Congress out of political ambition. Instead, “when the call comes to lead, I stand up.”

“I enjoy the politics of it,” he adds. “I enjoy campaigns.”

Saturday, October 9, 2010

"Obama's Wars"

Obama's Wars, a new book from Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, offers insights into the administration's deliberative process about Afghanistan.

One passage deals with the size of the troop surge:

Later that same day, Obama held his regular weekly meeting with Gates in the Oval Office. The room is so well lit, bright with no shadows, that it has a stark feeling. It is assuredly a setting for business.

Jones was also there; Mullen was traveling, so Cartwright attended in his place.

Under the redefined mission, Obama told Gates, the best I can do is 30,000. "This is what I'm willing to take on, politically," the president said.

Gates had worked for seven other presidents. Each had his own decision-making style. They often floated assertions and conclusions, sometimes emphatically, sometimes tentatively. It wasn't always evident what they meant.

"I've got a request for 4,500 enablers sitting on my desk," Gates said. "And I'd like to have another 10 percent that I can send in, enablers or forces, if I need them."

"Bob," Obama said, "30,000 plus 4,500 plus 10 percent of 30,000 is" - he had already done the math - "37,500." Sounding like an auctioneer, he added, "I'm at 30,000."

Obama had never been quite so definitive or abrupt with Gates.

"I will give you some latitude within your 10 percentage points," Obama said, but under exceptional circumstances only.

"Can you support this?" Obama asked Gates. "Because if the answer is no, I understand it and I'll be happy to just authorize another 10,000 troops, and we can continue to go as we are and train the Afghan national force and just hope for the best."

"Hope for the best." The condescending words hung in the air.

Yesterday, National Security Adviser Jim Jones resigned. His deputy, Tom Donilon, succeeded him. Another passage deals with the relationship between Donilon and Secretary of Defense Gates:

The Pentagon also had concerns about Donilon. When criticism of Jones had reached a high-water mark the previous year, Gates had decided to publicly embrace him. "I think of Jim as the glue that holds this team together," Gates told The Washington Post's David Ignatius, whose "Jim Jones's Team" ran prominently on the op-ed page.

Gates did this in part, he told an aide, because he did not think Donilon would work out as Jones's successor. Gates felt that Donilon did not understand the military or treat its senior leadership with sufficient respect. The secretary later told Jones that Donilon would be a "disaster" as Obama's national security adviser.

ABC reports on damage control efforts:

A defense source tells ABC News that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates no longer feels that Tom Donilon would be a “disaster” as National Security Adviser, as Gates is quoted telling National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones (ret.) in Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars.”

“They had some issues during the Af/Pak review, which everyone knows got contentious at times,” the defense source says. “But since then, they have addressed and overcome those issues and now enjoy a good working relationship.”

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Congressional Oaths and Pledges

In a recent speech at the American Enterprise Institute, House GOP Leader John Boehner said:

We always hear members of Congress talking about swearing an oath to represent their constituents when in reality the only oath we take is to the Constitution. We pledge "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States." No more, no less.

But we have strayed far afield from our job description. Members go out and promise their constituents the moon, and to try and fulfill those commitments, they agree to conform to a system that emphasizes seniority and party loyalty. The ropes they are shown lead to passing more bills, micromanaging more bureaucracies, and raiding the federal treasury.

That is why, in the Pledge to America, the governing agenda my colleagues and I issued last week, we state that every bill that comes to the floor of the House should contain a clear citation of constitutional authority. If we cannot do this much--we should put down the pen and stop right there.
Representative John Shaddegg (R-AZ) proposed such a rule in HR 450.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Oaths and Afghanistan Policy

Bob Woodward reports on the deliberations behind the president's policy in Afghanistan. He notes that Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, provided only limited options to the White House:
The only distinctly new alternative offered to Obama came from outside the military hierarchy. Vice President (Joe) Biden had long and loudly argued against the military's 40,000-troop request. He worked with Gen. James E. Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to develop a "hybrid option" -- combining elements of other plans -- that called for only 20,000 additional troops. It would have a more limited mission of hunting down the Taliban insurgents and training the Afghan police and army to take over.

When Mullen learned of the hybrid option, he didn't want to take it to Obama. "We're not providing that," he told Cartwright, a Marine known around the White House as Obama's favorite general.

Cartwright objected. "I'm just not in the business of withholding options," he told Mullen. "I have an oath, and when asked for advice I'm going to provide it." [emphasis added]

Waiting for Superman

A new documentary, "Waiting for Superman," looks at the failures of American education and the enormous political obstacles to reform.

According to the libertarian Cato Institute, inflation-adjusted spending and school employment have gone way up, with no effect on outcomes:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Tea Party and the Midterm

The post-election version of our textbook will discuss the "tea party" movement.

The Culpepper (VA) Star-Exponent reports:

Amid the Great Recession, passage of the federal stimulus package in February 2009 sparked a fire of discontent that spread rapidly across the country.

Fanned by bank bailouts and health-care legislation, what began as protests became a movement. Less than two years later, a federation of tea-party groups across the U.S. has become a potent political force united in distaste for taxes, big government, big spending, and the political elite.

"It's a mixture of conservative ideology, a return to founding principles, and this really vehement anti-establishment piece -- and all three of those strands have come together and given this its scope of power," said Daniel Palazzolo, a professor of political science at the University of Richmond.

"I don't think people expected it to grow this large and be this influential."


Growing interest in the tea-party movement comes as no surprise to Palazzolo, who traces its roots to the administration of President George W. Bush.

"There were a lot of disaffected Republicans who were concerned about too much spending, not by [President Barack] Obama, but by Bush and other Republicans," he said.


Palazzolo said the tea party's growing popularity does not surprise him, but he called the difference it has made in the midterm primaries "kind of unprecedented." He added that part of the movement's success "has to do with the fact that the Democrats have not offered a very strong counterweight to it."

And while some Republican insiders worry that the tea party could splinter the vote in November, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released last week showed that 71 percent of Republicans supported the movement.

Monday, October 4, 2010

"God in America"

The New York Times writes about "God in America," an upcoming PBS documentary series by Marilyn Mellowes. She developed an interest in the topic, the article notes, when she discovered Thomas Jefferson's version of the New Testament.

“God in America” takes from the example of Jefferson and Jesus a thesis: America cannot possibly be understood without understanding the role that religion has played over the centuries. And that role, the series demonstrates, is not only to stir personal faith but also to inform civic values and political decisions.

“As you look at the history,” said Ms. Mellowes, 64, who is the series producer, “it’s just a historical fact that while the founding fathers may have wanted to separate the institutions of church and state, they didn’t want to separate religion and politics. Those are two different things. It’s fair to say they were wary that religion could incite conflict and on the other hand they saw religion was essential to the composition of a moral citizenry. Which was necessary for the survival of this fledgling republic.”

A preview from PBS:

Watch the full episode. See more FRONTLINE.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Repeal Amendment and Constitutional Conventions

There has not been a constitutional convention since the original in Philadelphia. A 1995 report from the Congressional Research Service discusses the process of calling a convention, as well as the questions and uncertainties surrounding that process. In the 1990s, the issue came up in the context of a balanced budget amendment.

The Daily Caller reports on the"repeal amendment," the subject of an earlier post:

A Tea Party activist is working to get state backing for a constitutional convention to pass a constitutional amendment that would give two-thirds of the states the ability to repeal congressional acts, such as the new health care law.

“It restores a lot of the sovereignty and a lot of the power that the states have lost,” said Marianne Moran, executive director of and *former executive director of Tea Party In Action.


However, not all conservative state legislators and Tea Party activists have been quick to endorse this amendment or the call for a constitutional convention.

“This would upset the scheme of federalism that has worked for us over the past couple hundred of years,” Republican Pennsylvania state Rep. Curt Schroder told TheDC. “I’m not unsympathetic to many of their concerns, but I don’t think we should change the balance.”

Other conservatives, such as Tea Party Express Chairman Amy Kremer, worry the convention’s scope could become too broad and get out of hand.

“It would be opening Pandora’s box and we do not need that. We have a perfectly strong and viable Constitution,” Kremer said. “We need to work with the perfectly good document upon which our country was founded. We need to find and use other mechanisms to repeal or defund ObamaCare.”

She continued, “I personally cannot speak for everyone within this movement, but I think that most people within the Tea Party movement would agree on this and would not support a constitutional convention.”

Howell defends the idea, saying state could limit the convention’s scope to keep it from turning into a circus.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

God at the Capitol Visitor Center

A report in The Huffington Post from the Religion News Service:

A federal judge has dismissed a suit arguing that engravings of "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center here are unconstitutional.

The suit by the Freedom From Religion Foundation was dismissed Wednesday (Sept. 29) by U.S. District Court Judge William Conley of Madison, Wis., due to lack of standing. He said the Wisconsin-based organization did not make a sufficient link between their taxpayer status and the money spent on the engravings that included the national motto and the words "under God" in the pledge.

"Any funds used by the government will necessarily result in the use of taxpayer money," Conley wrote.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative Christian law firm that filed a brief on behalf of dozens of members of Congress seeking a rejection of the suit, hailed the decision.

"This challenge was another misguided attempt to alter history and purge America of religious references," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, in a statement.

The Christian Examiner explains the background:

When it opened in December 2008, the $621 million underground center was void of any tribute to the nation’s religious heritage and incorrectly promoted the national motto as E Pluribus Unum, which means “Out of many, one.” While lacking in religious references, the 580,000-square-foot complex boasts numerous theaters, a gift shop and food. In addition to its permanent exhibits showcasing the role of Congress, the center has provided information on a variety of topics touting American culture and ingenuity, including information about Earth Day, industry and an AIDS rally, according to World Net Daily.

Seven months later, Congress ordered the two phrases to be installed at the center after numerous people, including U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, a Virginia Republican, California Rep. Dan Lungren, a Republican, U.S. Sen. Jim, DeMint, R-S.C., and actor Chuck Norris, a conservative activist, lobbied the legislature to add the phrases to the center citing their historical significance.

DeMint spoke about it on the Senate floor:

Blogging in the Classroom

In PS, Christopher N. Lawrence of Texas A&M University and Michelle N. Dion of McMaster University make incisive points about political blogs and their role in the classroom. Here is one of their observations, which cites an episode that we discuss in the textbook:
The best political bloggers are critical consumers of media content. They evaluate the evidence that politicians and pundits bring to bear in support of their conclusions and search for inconsistencies between statements by various observers. For example, the controversy over memos alleging President Bush was derelict in his National Guard duties, which ultimately led to Dan Rather’s departure from CBS News, would not have come about had bloggers not recognized that a key document in question was apparently produced by computer software unavailable in the early 1970s. Similarly, we often expect students to engage with primary and secondary sources and evaluate their arguments and the evidence supporting them.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Teaching Citizenship: A Survey of Social Studies Teachers

The American Enterprise Institute has just issued a new report, High Schools, Civics, and Citizenship What Social Studies Teachers Think and Do, by Gary J. Schmitt, Frederick M. Hess, Steve Farkas, Ann M. Duffett, Cheryl Miller, Jenna M. Schuette. This study asks: what are teachers trying to teach about citizenship and what it means to be an American? The findings are based on a national, random sample survey of 866 public high school social studies teachers, an oversample survey of 245 Catholic and private high school social studies teachers, and three focus groups.

The report (full text here) is worth quoting at length.

Fully 83 percent of social studies teachers believe that the United States is a unique country that stands for something special in the world; 11 percent see it as just another country, no better and no worse than others. This finding is remarkably close to the results of a study of parents with children in public schools conducted over a decade ago. In that survey, 84 percent said they believed the United States stands for something special in the world, while only 13 percent saw it as just another country, no better or worse than others.
[The United States] is the only country where Israelis and Palestinians can live neighborhood to neighborhood, there’s no bombs going off, no rockets being fired. It is very unique here. We have such a mixture of people. —New Jersey teacher

This appreciative sentiment carries through to concrete issues, such as how we should view the military. About three in four social studies teachers (76 percent)—and an even higher percentage of those who teach ELL students (84 percent)—say that respect for military service is something high schools should impart. This finding may be strongly influenced by current events and experiences that hit close to home. Sadly, in each focus group conducted for this project, at least one teacher spoke about having a former student who had served in the military and been killed in the line of duty. Each used this experience to communicate to students the importance and value of military service.
I’ve already been to three student funerals who have died in the Marines. . . . Do it because it’s something you truly believe in, because all three of the [funerals] I’ve been to have been for kids who truly believed that [service] was their way of being involved. It was an ideal, it wasn’t cash, it was “This is what I should do.” —Arizona teacher
In the morning, if they have [the] Pledge of Allegiance or play the national anthem, I will not let a student sit down. . . . I’ve had various students who have gone into the military. I say [to students], “If anything, you are going to respect their service.” . . . A month ago when one of my students died in Iraq . . . the whole school went out into the street. It had to be one of the greatest days in the school, because you saw the school come out and give thanks to that student for his service. —New Jersey teacher
According to social studies teachers, most schools do signal the implicit message of loyalty to the nation during school activities. About eight in ten (79 percent) say it is typical for their high school to play the national anthem at schoolwide assemblies or sports and cultural events.

The survey asked teachers to elaborate on this question: what are the specific characteristics, behaviors, and knowledge of citizenship you try to impart to your students? The list is long and thorough. Nearly eight in ten (78 percent) say it is absolutely essential to teach high school students “to embrace the responsibilities of citizenship such as voting and jury duty.”

Ultimately, one is inclined to caution against a surfeit of optimism or pessimism. In the survey, only 18 percent of social studies teachers are “very confident” that most graduates from their high school embrace the responsibilities of citizenship such as
voting and jury duty; combined with the “somewhat” category, a total of 65 percent are confident. In reality, 48.5 percent of citizens eighteen to twenty-four year sold voted in the 2008 presidential electio—supporting neither the best- nor worst-case scenario.