PLSC 301: American Government and Politics

This course is designed as an introduction to the institutions of American government and the political environment in which they function.  These institutions are bound and shaped by a complex of democratic ideals and procedures. Among our objectives will be to analyze how effectively the government operates in light of its democratic goals; how effectively citizens are able to formulate and enact their will; and how government influences and manages the will of the people.  To accomplish this we will first examine the constitutional and philosophical bases upon which our government is built and then explore the processes by which citizens translate their aspirations into government action through political parties and elections.  We will then focus our attention on legislative, executive and judicial institutions and the impact of public policy.

Required Texts:

  • Edwards, Wattenberg and Lineberry, GOVERNMENT IN AMERICA (14th edition, 2009).  Please bring this text to class.
  • “New York Times Political News” feed on Blackboard.  Students must subscribe to this feed and keep up with it.

General Information:

This course will emphasize critical reading and analysis of the assigned texts.  Readings should be completed before the class meeting in which they will be discussed. This enables students to get the most out of the lectures and to participate effectively in discussion.  Students are also expected to keep up with current political events by subscribing to and keeping up with the “New York Times Political News” feed on Blackboard.

Discussion: During class discussion you are not expected to have fully developed points of view about the course materials. But you are expected to participate. No one will be penalized for being wrong or imprecise, for expressing uncertainty or frustration, for changing their minds. But it should be clear that you are trying, that you have done the readings and are working toward a mastery of the material.

Questions: None of us, myself included, knows everything about the topics of this class. It is our responsibility to ask others who may know the answer, either in class, in office hours, or over dinner. I expect that you are learning the material, not that you know it. As much as possible, try not to be shy or embarrassed about what you don’t yet know. The biggest failure in learning any material, in college or in life, is to fail to ask questions about things you do not know.

Availability:  I expect that all of you, either alone or in groups, will contact me throughout the semester. I am almost always available to discuss the course material, or other life issues. Because I maintain an “open-door” policy, you should not hesitate to stop by my office during office hours–or at other times. If you would prefer to schedule a time during non-office hours, simply contact me by phone or email and we will schedule an appropriate time.

Evaluation Criteria:

Grades will be based on the following:

  • Midterm exams:  30%  (15% each)
  • Final exam:  20%
  • Two Book Reviews:  20%
  • Class participation:  15%
  • On-line Participation:  15%
  • Extra Credit:  5% + 4% + 3% + 2% (for all additional book reviews) see “Book Reviews” below

Exams: We will have two midterm exams and a final exam.  The first midterm is tentatively scheduled for the sixth week of class. Make-up exams are given only under extraordinary circumstances. Students must request permission to take a makeup exam IN ADVANCE of the scheduled exam day.

Book Reviews:  For instructions on how to write a book review, see Appendix A.  You must write two book reviews.  EXTRA CREDIT will be awarded for any additional reviews submitted.  At least one review must be turned in anytime on or before October 20.  A second review must be turned in anytime on or before December 8.  You are encouraged to do as many book reviews as you desire.  A list of books for review can be found in Appendix B.  If you know of another book that you would rather review, you need to contact me first for permission.

Book reviews must be submitted to SafeAssignments on Blackboard, as well as in hard copy.

Attendance and Participation:  This grade will be measured based on attendance and preparedness (i.e. whether students are prepared to discuss and engage in discussion of the reading).  Occasional reading quizzes will be given over the course of the semester and calculated into students’ grade for attendance and participation.

Students who miss more than three classes will automatically suffer a deduction of one-third of a grade (e.g. a B+ becomes a B).  Students who miss more than six classes will suffer a full grade deduction (e.g. a B+ becomes a C+).

Online Participation:  This course has an online component through Blackboard.  This component will be used to facilitate an ongoing discussion of course themes.  Students will read, watch and listen to online materials and will post contributions to the Discussion Board.  Each week, you must post at least 250 words, distributed in whatever increments you choose.  You are encouraged to respond to the postings of your classmates.  You may contribute to an existing thread or start a new one.   You are encouraged to reference articles from the “New York Times Political News” feed or from other sources.

Course Outline and Readings:


Edwards, ch. 1


Edwards, ch. 2, and pp. 739-753


Readings: Edwards, chs. 3, 5


Readings: Edwards, ch. 4

Midterm One


Readings: Edwards, chs. 6-7.


Readings: Edwards, ch. 8


Readings: Edwards, chs. 9-10


Readings: Edwards, ch. 12

Midterm Two


Readings: Edwards, ch. 13


Readings: Edwards, ch. 15


Readings: Edwards, ch. 16


Readings: Edwards, chs. 14, 17-18

FINAL EXAM:  May 19, 10-1

Style Guide:

The Department of History and Political Science mandates that all submitted work adhere to the Turabian/Chicago style delineated in Kate Turabian, et. al., A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, University of Chicago Press (available at the Wilson Library Reference Desk). Here you can find a quick and useful guide to the Turabian/Chicago style for citations.

Exam Proctoring Guidelines:

  1. One seat space between students when possible.
  2. No bathroom breaks except in the case of illness or emergency.  Student should discuss this circumstance with the proctor prior to the start of the exam.
  3. No materials on the desk except for pens/pencils, bluebook or writing paper and exam.
  4. Under no circumstances can students access electronic devices during the exam.
  5. Exam proctors will note any violation of these rules and those will be considered in the final grade.


Your work will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

A— designates work of extraordinarily high quality; reflects unusually thorough and comprehensive understanding of issues at hand; presents a clearly identifiable thesis and argument that demonstrates cogent and creative development and support of ideas.

B— designates work of high quality; reflects clearly organized and comprehensive understanding of issues and hand; presents substantive thesis and argument with evident development and support of ideas.

C— designates work which minimally meets requirements set forward in assignment; reflects some organization and development of ideas, but develops argument in superficial or simplistic manner; may only address part of the assignment or be otherwise incomplete.

D— designates work of poor quality which does not meet minimum requirements set forward in assignment; demonstrates poor organization of ideas and/or inattention to development of ideas, grammar, and spelling; treatment of material is superficial and/or simplistic; may indicate that student has not done reading assignments thoroughly.

F— designates work that does not meet ANY of the standards set above or which is not handed in.


Plagiarism is a prevalent but highly unethical practice. Plagiarism will result in the immediate failure of this course and disciplinary action which could lead to expulsion from the University. If you are having problems in the course please come and talk to me about it rather than doing something that could put your entire college career in jeopardy.

Plagiarism includes, but is not limited to the following:

·The direct copying of any source, such as written and verbal material, computer files, audio disks, video programs or musical scores, whether published or unpublished, in whole or part, without proper acknowledgment that it is someone else’s.

·Copying of any source in whole or part with only minor changes in wording or syntax, even with acknowledgment.

·Submitting as one’s own work a report, examination paper, computer file, lab report or other assignment that has been prepared by someone else. This includes research papers purchased from any other person or agency.

·The paraphrasing of another’s work or ideas without proper acknowledgment.


Appendix A

How to Write a Critical Book Review

You should begin your review with an introduction that includes both an encapsulated summary and a sense of your general judgment. This is the equivalent to a thesis statement.

Each book review should be at least 1000 words in length, and must answer the following two questions:

1. What is the main point of the book? Summarize briefly the main point(s) of the book.

  • What is the author saying?
  • Why did the author write on this subject rather than on some other subject?
  • From what point of view is the work written?
  • What conclusions does the author reach?
  • How does the author support his/her conclusions?

Give examples. Take approximately two to three pages for this part of the review. Do not give a chapter-by-chapter outline, but instead focus on the main points raised in the book and give several examples for illustration.  While you may use direct quotes from the book (make sure you always give the page number), such quotes should never be the bulk of the summary. Much of your grade will depend on how well you describe and explain the material IN YOUR OWN WORDS.

2. What is your overall reaction to this book? This will necessarily be subjective, but you must defend your reaction clearly and logically. It is not sufficient to simply state that you liked it or did not like it. Why did you like or not like the book?

  • How did the book affect you?
  • Were any previous ideas you had on the subject changed, abandoned, or reinforced due to this book?
  • What personal experiences you’ve had relate to the subject?

Be specific. Take one to two pages for this part of the review.


Appendix B

Books for Review

  • Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals
  • Eric Alterman, When Presidents Lie
  • Theresa Amato, Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny
  • Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism
  • Matt Bai, The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Drive to Remake Democratic Politics
  • Randall Balmer, God in the White House:
  • Benjamin Barber, Fear’s Empire: War, Terrorism and Democracy
  • —————, APassion for Democracy
  • Edward Bernays and Mark Crispin Miller, Propaganda
  • Sidney Blumenthal, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment: The Conservative Ascent to Political Power
  • Eugene Borgida, The Political Psychology of Democratic Citizenship
  • Emmett Buell, Attack Politics
  • E.J. Dionne, Stand Up, Fight Back: Republic Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge
  • —————, Why Americans Hate Politics
  • Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, Grand New Party
  • Mickey Edwards, Reclaiming Conservatism
  • Stephen Elkin, Citizen Competence and Democratic Institutions
  • Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas
  • David Frum, Comeback: Conservatism that Can Win Again
  • Frank Getlein, The Politics of Paranoia
  • Barry Goldwater, Conscience of a Conservative
  • Amy Goodman and David Goodman, Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders and the People Who Fight Back
  • Al Gore, The Assault on Reason
  • Stanley Greenberg, The Two Americas
  • William Greider, Who Will Tell the People?
  • Mark Halperin, The Way to Win
  • James Harding, Alpha Dogs: The Americans Who Turned Political Spin into a Global Business
  • Chris Hedges, American Fascists
  • Jacob Heilbrunn, They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons
  • Mark Hertsgaard, On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency
  • Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation
  • David Cay Johnston, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill)
  • Samuel Kernell, Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership
  • Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine
  • George Lakoff, The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain
  • —————, Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think
  • —————, Whose Freedom?: The Battle over America’s Most Important Idea
  • —————, The Political Mind
  • David Levine, Attack on Government
  • Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince
  • —————, The Discourses on Livy
  • Scott McLellan, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception
  • Kevin Mattson, “What the Heck Are You Up to Mr. President”
  • D. Menefee-Libey, The Triumph of Campaign-Centered Politics
  • Jonathan Morris, Laughing Matters
  • Dan Nimmo and James Combs, Subliminal Politics
  • George Orwell,
  • Rick Perlstein, Nixonland
  • Charles Pierce, Idiot America
  • Publius, The Federalist Papers
  • Frank Rich, The Greatest Story Ever Sold
  • Mort Rosenblum, Escaping Plato’s Cave: How America’s Blindness to the Rest of the World Threatens Our Survival
  • Rick Shenkman, Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth about the American Voter
  • Adam Simon, The Winning Message
  • David Sirota, Hostile Takeover
  • —————, Uprising
  • Glenn Smith, The Politics of Deceit
  • Karen Stenner, The Authoritarian Dynamic
  • Cass Sunstein, Going to Extremes
  • Chuck Todd, How Barack Obama Won
  • Jeffrey Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency
  • Paul Waldman, Fraud: The Strategy Behind the Bush Lies and Why the Media Didn’t Tell You
  • Henry Waxman, The Waxman Report
  • Drew Westen, The Political Brain
  • James Q. Wilson and Peter H. Schuck, Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation
  • James L. Wood, Political Consciousness and Student Activism
  • Slavoj Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real

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