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Politics 3: Introduction to American Politics
Pomona College, Spring 2023
Prof. David Menefee-Libey

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9:00 - 9:50 am in Carnegie 109

Office: Carnegie 4
Office Hours: Mondays and Thursdays 2:00-4:00 and by appointment
e-mail: DJML4747(at)pomona(dot)edu or DML(at)pomona(dot)edu (mail sent to either of these ends up in the same account)

Access a live version of this syllabus online at https://DML.sites.pomona.edu/IntroAmerican.html

Table of Contents for This Syllabus:
Go to Course Requirements, Evaluations, and Deadlines
Go to Class Schedule and Assignments

Course Description and Goals

This is a challenging time for you to be systematically studying US politics for the first time in a college course. Americans disagree deeply about what's happening - and what should happen - in this country and in the world right now. (For example, is climate change happening and are humans responsible? Do I want the United States to become more demographically diverse? How bad is inflation and what can or should governments do about it? Is crime increasing or decreasing? Is economic equality important? Should the US be a Christian country? Should we support Ukraine in its war with Russia? What's going on with COVID-19 and how should we respond to it?) Political institutions, norms, and practices in the US feel like they're unstable. Scholars studying and writing about politics are doing research about all this in new ways, and publishing our findings through new channels. It's a lot.

Most of the practices and institutions described and explained in this course's core textbook were established by the mid-20th century, and for decades they drew wide acceptance among Americans of most political stripes. The political "establishment" they built was never stagnant, however. Congress and presidents began modifying it rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, and even more rapidly in the 1990s and after the turn of this century. The 2016 election and its aftermath brought a figurative assault on it that my own academic training did not prepared me to understand fully, and the 2020 election and its aftermath brought a literal assault. We will do the best we can this semester to study this brave new world together, and I hope you continue your study, discussion, and engagement beyond the walls of this classroom and campus.

This course has three goals. One is to introduce you to major political ideas, institutions and practices, especially those at the national level in the United States. We will talk -- and you will read, take tests, and write -- about what they are, where they came from, what they are for, how they have developed, how they work (or don't), and how we might evaluate them:

The second goal of this course is to introduce you to several ways scholars of politics analyze American politics:

The third goal of this course is to provide an introduction to the study of politics in the United States as a foundation for other things that may matter to you. You may learn to empower yourself to participate in public life during this fraught moment in American history. You may use the course as a gateway to one of several majors at Pomona College. It counts toward the American politics course requirement of a Politics major. It is a required course for several interdisciplinary majors, including Public Policy Analysis (PPA); Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE); and American Studies. I encourage students to bring their interests in these majors into our class discussions, and to remember this course as you continue your work in these majors.

Book and Materials:

I have ordered only one textbook for the course: I will often post supplemental readings (which I'll mark with an *asterisk) on the Claremont Colleges Sakai site or through web links, and I will continue to adapt the syllabus as the semester goes on. I will expect you to print out those supplemental readings and bring them with you to class to refer to in our discussions. If I assign a refereed journal article, I will show you how to access it using the Claremont Colleges Libraries pages, where you should also download and print them. All of these materials may be considered by Politics majors as candidates for inclusion in their senior "book lists."

Because we will talk about current politics, it would be helpful to you if you read a good daily newspaper such as the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal. You should also track down and read news on the web, making sure it comes from reliable sources (we'll talk about what that means).

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Politics 3: Introduction to American Politics
Pomona College, Spring 2023
Prof. David Menefee-Libey

Requirements, Evaluations, and Deadlines

Assignments and Grading: You will have several different kinds of assignments:

1. Class participation (ungraded). You will get far more out of the course if you do the readings and prepare yourself to discuss them in class, and I hope you will talk with your fellow students both in and out of the classroom about the substance and ideas of the course. I will especially value contributions that:

Though I will not grade you on this dimension of the course, I do pay attention to who engages in the classroom.

Also, please note: you may bring a laptop, tablet, or smart phone to the classroom, but I ask you to use it only for taking notes or accessing the texts we're discussing that day. I understand and share the temptation to be distracted when you're online, but I want you to try hard to avoid distracting yourself and students around you. I'll ask you to turn off messaging and notifications during class time.

2. Daily Forum entries (20%). For every day the class meets, post a very brief (one- or two-sentence) observation or reflection about the day's reading on the Sakai Forum by midnight the day before class. Your classmates and I will read them as we prepare for class discussion that day. Forum postings cannot be made up after absences (because nobody will see them), but I will excuse students for legitimate reasons.

3. Textbook chapter quizzes on Sakai (20% of the total semester grade). I'll post on Sakai a brief "open book" quiz on each Lowi chapter, to be completed by the end of the day we discuss that chapter.

4. Three short papers (each 20% of the total semester grade). I will give you prompts to explain what I want you to write about as we go along. I will do my best to be helpful with drafts, but I want to help you to learn to constructively review each other's drafts, and to make good use of the Writing Center.

All papers must be submitted in your Sakai "dropbox" by the deadline named. (Please don't send them to me by email or ask Sakai to send me an email notifying me of your submission!) Important: the file name of the paper you post to your Sakai dropbox matters. Format all paper file names like this before you upload them: Intro.Paper# or Week#.LastName.doc, as in Intro.Paper1.Press.doc or Intro.Week10.Thompson.docx. This may seem picky and trivial, but I will download literally hundreds of papers this semester and it will be hard to keep track of them on my computer. It's easier to keep track of papers named this way. Also, please only submit papers as MS Word-compatible documents or pdfs (not Apple Pages or Google Docs) so I can insert comments into the document file. Any word processor you use will let you save your file in one or both of these formats.

Academic collaboration and academic honesty: I hope you study with other people in the class, and discuss the substance of the course with them. As you do that, I encourage you to read each other's paper drafts and to give advice to each other. When you do that, acknowledge in a footnote those who have helped you. If you draw on a specific idea from someone else (or from me!), cite them specifically in a footnote, just as you would cite any source you find helpful.

I also encourage you to read Pomona College's Academic Honesty Policy, which you learned about in your ID1 class and which you can find online in the college catalog. We actually do have an honor code, and it's important. Note that #1 on this list is "In projects and assignments prepared independently, students never represent the ideas or the language of others as their own." This applies to the new Artificial Intelligence (AI) -driven ChatGPT, which you may know is available online at https://chat.openai.com/chat. It's a fascinating tool that we'll talk about in class, but you should know that it's dumb as a brick about American politics.


Paper 1 due: Monday, February 20
Paper 2 due: Monday, April 3
Paper 3 due for seniors: Wednesday, May 3
Paper 3 due for non-seniors: Monday, May 8

Extensions and Grace Days: These deadlines are real and I will penalize late papers one grade per day unless I announce otherwise in class. I am, however, generous with extensions, which I will only grant in advance, so if you need an extension, ask for one. Beyond that, you have three grace daysthis semester. That is, you have three unconditional extension days (including weekend and break days) to use at any time you want during the term (except for seniors' Paper 3). These will operate on an honor system: I will trust you to let me know when you are taking one or more grace days on an assignment, that you will make a note about it at the top of the paper you submit, and that you will keep track yourself of how many you have used.


1. Sunday Afternoon Study Space: I have reserved Carnegie 110 from 2:00 to 4:00 on Sunday afternoons for the whole semester. Partly, it's a help session for one-on-one conversations with students about their papers, research, thesis projects, and internship issues. Partly, it's just a supportive study space: students are welcome to stay any or all of that time to work on their projects and classes with other PPA and Politics students.

2. The Library: Though most students do most of their research online alone and unassisted, the Claremont Colleges actually has a library with amazing resources and a staff of trained research librarians who can be of tremendous assistance to you in your work. One of these librarians, Mary Martin, has kindly created an entire resource page on U.S. government at https://libguides.libraries.claremont.edu/government. Dieter Mackenbach, another librarian there, has created one resource page on public policy at https://libguides.libraries.claremont.edu/PublicPolicyAnalysis, and another for political science courses at https://libguides.libraries.claremont.edu/PoliSci. If you're every interested in doing research on US politics, I urge you to start there, and to make an individual appointment with Ms. Martin, Mr. Mackenbach, or one of their colleagues. They can help you find things you would never otherwise find, and they can save you countless hours of unnecessary wandering on the Internet. Librarians can also help you with Zotero and with citation challenges.

3. Zotero: Zotero is free, open-source, public domain bibliographic and citation software that works in most browsers and word processing programs. You download it from https://zotero.org, where you can also find links to instructional videos, faqs, problem-solving threads, and access to free cloud storage for your own bibliographic archive. If you haven't already installed Zotero on your own computer and started using it for research projects and papers, I'd urge you to do it immediately. It will help you immensely with writing papers for this and every other class you take.

4. From the Center for Speaking, Writing, and the Image (formerly The Writing Center): "We open at full capacity after the second week of the semester, but we will be holding limited appointments and drop-in hours as soon as classes begin. Writing and Speaking Partners meet one-on-one with students to talk about their work and provide feedback at any stage of their preparation process. Trained to think deeply about written, oral, and visual rhetoric and communication, these student peers facilitate conversations about everything from ID1 papers to senior theses, lab reports to creative writing, giving presentations to developing strategies for reading and engaging more deeply and confidently in class discussion. Jenny Thomas, Asst. Director of College Writing and Language Diversity, offers specialized writing and speaking support for multilingual students navigating English as an additional language. To make an appointment with a Writing or Speaking Partner, please log onto the Portal and go to Academics - Writing Center or contact us at writing.center@pomona.edu. We offer both in-person and virtual appointments, and we have regular drop-in hours in SCC 148.

5. The Quantitative Skills Center: Like the Writing Center, the QSC can be very helpful to PPA students. QSC peer tutors can help students across projects that involve data gathering and statistical analysis. They can help with many aspects of your project: research design, methodological issues, data sets, data analysis, and presentations of data through visuals, in writing, and in presentations.

6. Accommodations: I welcome every student into my classes, and am committed to the full inclusion of anyone who may need an accommodation based on the impact of disability including mental health, chronic or temporary medical conditions. I recognize that the challenges facing students are different and student accommodation needs may change. I encourage Pomona students who may need some accommodation in order to fully participate in this class to contact Pomona College's Accesibility Resources and Services office, or call the Dean of Students office at (909) 621-8017. (Students from the other Claremont Colleges should contact their home college's disability resources officer.) The Dean will review your concerns and determine, with you, what accommodations are necessary and appropriate. All discussions, information, and documentation of disability are confidential.

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Politics 3: Introduction to American Politics
Pomona College, Spring 2023
Prof. David Menefee-Libey

Class Schedule and Assignments

Note 1: Readings for each day are listed after the date.
Note 2: Readings with an *asterisk are posted on the course Sakai site. Refereed journal articles should be accessed through the Claremont Colleges Library web pages, where you should download them (and enter them into your Zotero bibliographic database!).
Note 3: I may modify this schedule as we go along. If I do, I will post updates online, so you should always check the online syllabus before you start reading.
Week 1: January 18-20
Wednesday: Opening day: Overview of the course & assignments
» no readings assigned
Friday: Introductions and syllabus exercise
» Reading: this syllabus

Week 2: January 23-January 27
Monday: Class norms
» *DML, Class Discussion Norms
» *Bartholomae & Petrosky, "Reading With and Against the Grain," Adapted from David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky, eds., Ways of Reading, 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008, 10-12.
Wednesday: Assignments for the course: forums, chapter quizzes, essays
» Look at the Sakai "Forums" tab, try entering a simple sentence to make sure it works for you.
» *DML, "Grading Standards Explained" (from 1995), on the course's Sakai "Resources" tab, "DML-generated readings, paper prompts" folder
» *DML, "Intro to American Politics, Opening Day" PowerPoint (I'll walk through this in class.)
Friday: What do scholars of Politics think we know emprically, and how do we know it?
» *DML, "Social Science and Its Assumptions"
» Lowi, "Using Data to Make Sense of American Government" the final section of Chapter 1

Week 3: January 30 - February 3
Monday: One core normative question of US politics: does governmental legitimacy require some degree of democracy?
» *Goodman, Sara Wallace. 2022. “Introduction.” In Citizenship in Hard Times: How Ordinary People Respond to Democratic Threat, 1st ed., 1–28. Cambridge University Press.
Wednesday: Starting in on the Lowi textbook: the authors' core interests
» Lowi, ch. 1, "Introduction: Governance and Representation"
» Be sure to do the chapter quiz on Sakai before the end of the day!
Friday: Three different kinds of political "power"
» *Gaventa, John. 1982. “Power and Participation.” In Power and Powerlessness. Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley, 3–32. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. Especially pp. 3-20.
» [optional, for a current application of the theory Gaventa lays out] *Soss, Joe, and Vesla Weaver. 2017. “Police Are Our Government: Politics, Political Science, and the Policing of Race–Class Subjugated Communities | Annual Review of Political Science.” Annual Review of Political Science 20: 565–91. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-polisci-060415-093825.

Week 4: February 6-10
Monday: Where did the US Constitution come from?
» Lowi, ch. 2, "The Founding and the Constitution"
» Be sure to do the chapter quiz on Sakai before the end of the day!
Wednesday: A Second "Founding" (and a third, and a fourth...)
» *Foner, Eric. 2019. "Introduction: Origins of the Second Founding." In The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, 1-20. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.
» *Foner, "Toward Equality: The Fourteenth Amendment." Chapter 2 of ibid, 55-92. (Note: this is a lot of reading, but it's worth it.)
Friday: Thinking about politics as strategic: people solving problems or seeking goals (but pay attention to *which* people!)
» *Schattschneider, E. E. 1960. “The Contagiousness of Conflict.” In The Semisovereign People: A Realist’s View of Democracy in America, 1–19. Hinsdale, Ill: Dryden Press. [If you want more, chapter 4, "The Displacement of Conflicts," is also famous.]
» *López, Gerardo R. 2003. “The (Racially Neutral) Politics of Education: A Critical Race Theory Perspective.” Educational Administration Quarterly 39 (1), especially pp. 77-82.
» Hand out Paper 1 prompt in class today

Week 5: February 13-17
Monday: Writing papers for me
» The prompt I handed out last Friday
Wednesday: Federalism as one of the defining features of the US governmental system
» Lowi, ch. 3 "Federalism and Separation of Powers," first half
Friday: Is our system a problam?
» *Grumbach, Jacob M., and Jamila Michener. 2022. “American Federalism, Political Inequality, and Democratic Erosion.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 699 (1): 143–55.

Week 6: February 20-24
Monday: Separation of Powers as a second defining feature of the US governmental system
» Lowi, ch. 3, "Federalism and Separation of Powers," second half.
» Be sure to do the chapter quiz on Sakai before the end of the day!
» Paper 1 due to be posted to your Sakai Dropbox by the end of the day today.
Wednesday: In comparative terms, is our Constitution "normal?" Unusual?
» *Dickovick & Eastwood, chapter 8, "Constitutions and Constitutional Design"
» *Dahl, Robert A. 2003. "The Constitution as a Model: An American Illusion," ch. 4 of How Democratic Is the American Constitution? 2nd ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Friday: Liberalism and limits on government
» Lowi, ch. 4, "Civil Liberties and Civil Rights," first half

Week 7: February 27 - March 3
Monday: Obligations of government
» Lowi, ch. 4, second half
» Be sure to do the chapter quiz on Sakai before the end of the day!
Wednesday: Looking beyond an elite-focused approach to the US political system and how it has changed over time
» *Francis, Megan Ming. 2018. “The Strange Fruit of American Political Development.” Politics, Groups, and Identities 6 (1): 1–10.
Friday: The US Congress as a representative assembly: popular sovereignty?
» Lowi, ch. 5, "Congress: The First Branch" sections on "Representation" and "The Organization of Congress"

Week 8: March 6-10
Monday: Congress as a policy-making body
» Lowi, ch. 5, "Congress," rest of chapter
» Be sure to do the chapter quiz on Sakai before the end of the day!
Wednesday: Congress as a collection of politicians
» readings TBA
Friday: Presidents and "The Presidency"
» Lowi, ch. 6, "The Presidency," first half

SPRING BREAK: March 11-19

Week 9: March 20-24
Monday: Presidential power
» Lowi, ch. 6, second half
» Be sure to do the chapter quiz on Sakai before the end of the day!
Wednesday: Much of the "permanent government" and "deep state" are in the executive branch
» Lowi, ch. 7, "The Executive Branch"
» Be sure to do the chapter quiz on Sakai before the end of the day!
» Hand out Paper 2 prompt today.
Friday: The Judiciary in the U.S. political system
» Lowi, ch. 8, "The Federal Courts," first half

Week 10: March 27-31
Monday: What is a court? What do they do?
» Lowi, ch. 8, second half
» *Toobin, Jeffrey. 2012. “Money Unlimited: How Chief Justice John Roberts Orchestrated the Citizens United Decision.” The New Yorker, May 12, 2012. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/05/21/120521fa_fact_toobin.
» Be sure to do the chapter quiz on Sakai before the end of the day!
Wednesday: Shifting to political behavior: what is it"
» Lowi, ch. 9, "Public Opinion and the Media," sections on "What is Public Opinion?" and "Origins and Nature of Public Opinion"
Friday: Cesar Chavez Day: no class meeting
» Go read about Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

Week 11: April 3-7
Monday: The claim that Trump and Trumpism are illiberal
» Serwer, Adam. “The Nationalist’s Delusion," The Atlantic Monthly, November 20, 2017. Online at https://www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/546356/.
» Paper 2 due in your Sakai Dropbox by the end of the day
Wednesday: What do people know? What do they believe and why?
» Lowi, ch. 9, sections on "Knowledge and Instability in Public Opinion" and "Shaping Opinion"
» *Ellis, Christopher, and James A. Stimson. 2012. “The Meaning of Ideology in America.” In Ideology in America, 1st ed., 1–13. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Friday: What roles do the media play in the US political system? Why would Lowi put a section on the media in this chapter?
» Lowi, ch. 9, section on "The Media as an Institution"
» Be sure to do the chapter quiz on Sakai before the end of the day!

Week 12: April 10-14
Monday: Parties in the US political system
» Lowi, ch. 11, "Political Parties" sections on "Functions of the Parties" and "Parties in Government"
Wednesday: Parties as mediators of the US election system
» Lowi, ch. 11, rest of chapter
» Be sure to do the chapter quiz on Sakai before the end of the day!
Friday: Dennis C. Dickerson, Ph.D., is the James M. Lawson, Jr. Professor of History at Vanderbilt University
» *Isaac, Larry W., Cornfield, Daniel B., Dickerson, Dennis C., Lawson Jr., James M., and Coley, Jonathan S. 2012. “‘Movement Schools’ and Dialogical Diffusion of Nonviolent Praxis: Nashville Workshops in the Southern Civil Rights Movement.” In Nonviolent Conflict and Civil Resistance, 155–84. Howard House, Wagon Lane, Bingley, GBR, BD16 1WA: Emerald Group Publishing Ltd., 2012.

Week 13: April 17-21
Monday: Elections in the US political system
» Lowi, ch. 10, "Elections," sections on "Institutions of Elections" and "How Voters Decide"
Wednesday: Campaigns and recent elections
» Lowi, ch. 10, rest of chapter
» Be sure to do the chapter quiz on Sakai before the end of the day!
Friday: Friday: No class - annual PPA Senior Thesis Conference in SCC 201 from 9:00 am - 4:00 pm

Week 14: April 24-28
Monday: Collective action
» Lowi, ch. 12, "Groups and Organized Interests" first half
» Hand out Paper 3 prompt today
Wednesday: Collective action, continued
» Lowi, ch. 12, rest of chapter
» Be sure to do the chapter quiz on Sakai before the end of the day!
Friday: Government as coordinator of the US economy
» Lowi, ch. 13, "Economic and Social Policy" first half

Week 15: May 1-3
Monday: Reflection on the big questions
» Identify a single reading you found most helpful or interesting, post a quick note about it on the Sakai Forum, and come to class ready to discuss it.
Wednesday: Reflections on the semester, and how to make the course better next time?
» Readings: this syllabus
» Seniors: Paper 3 due today

Paper 3 due for non-seniors on Monday, May 8.

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Last modified: April 2, 2023