Govt 322: American Political Parties
An introduction to our course
Tuesdays and Fridays 2:30-3:45pm
James M. Quirk, Ph.D.
Politics is the art of the possible. – Otto Von Bismarck
Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. – John Kenneth Galbraith
All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope. – Winston Churchill
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land – Warsan Shire
I grabbed a book at random from a bookstore, and it was Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton. All I knew about Hamilton was that he died in a duel. So I thought, “This will have a good ending at least.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda
You are about to engage in an ambitious introduction to American Political Parties. We will explore this topic from a wide range of approaches. We will use two textbooks, one from two scholars of history and current developments of political parties, and one from a political philosopher whose earlier work was on labor, justice, and society. Additionally, we’ll draw from shorter selections ranging from Ayn Rand’s brief dystopian novel Anthem, parts of Che Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries, “the” classic work on urban political machines, The Federalist Papers, a recent poke at the circular absurdities of media and politics in Washington today, scholarly articles, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, The West Wing, political speeches, and more.
Beyond traditional readings (and traditional assessments), we will also draw upon our nation’s capital to learn some things about American political parties at work. We are tentatively scheduled to have at least one site visit and/or guest experts to hear from and engage with experienced partisans about their work. The site visit will be scheduled, as best as possible, to allow travel to and from them during our scheduled class time. Due to the nature of their work, the dates for these site visits are tentative; I thank you in advance for your flexibility on this.
You will also attend three of your own “American political parties” off-campus events during the semester and writing short reflections on them. These can range from attending book events, Congressional hearings, think-tank panels, etc. We will discuss this more in class.
Combining these traditional texts and experiential learning opportunities, your Habits of Mind: Socio-Historical learning outcomes include:
- Examine an idea, problem, policy, or institution over a defined period of time
- Employ a critical or systematic method to analyze the relationship between human values, ideas, institutions, policies, or perspectives and their social and historical contexts or conditions
- Analyze and evaluate evidence and sources to develop an argument, or other student work product, that takes into account social and historical contexts or conditions
We’ll fulfill these in a variety of ways. During the course, you should develop the ability to
(1) summarize the broad outline of American political party development,
(2) identify the enduring themes of American politics and American political parties,
(3) apply these enduring questions and divisions to today’s American political parties today,
(4) identify concrete examples of how American political parties shape the debate, laws, and society itself, and
(5) identify the pressures applied to American political parties by various elements of society.
You can do this by actively seeking to:
∙ learn (at an introductory level) the historical development of American political parties,
∙ understand the key questions and identities that divide the electorate into political parties
∙ understand and appreciate the current issues and debates in the field
∙ propose and explore a topic and question of your choice
∙ closely follow current events and consider them with respect to our study of political parties
∙ demonstrate that you can eloquently discuss all this in written and oral formats.
There are four main elements of the course, which we will undertake concurrently:
– What are the key questions to ask about the division of American politics into competing parties?
– What is the history – the evolution – of American political parties?
– What are the issues and problems for American political parties today?
– What can we learn from practitioners about how it works “in the real world”?
In a course of this type, difficult choices must be made about areas covered. Some topics are necessarily treated too briefly or omitted entirely. We will address this in a number of ways. Some topics not directly treated in the readings we will cover in our on-going discussion of current events – more on which below. Additionally, you will have your choice of issues to consider when formulating a question that will serve as your paper topic. By midway through the course you and I will have met individually on research projects – you will choose a topic, and together we will shape a good question and good approaches to it. During the last parts of the course, we will focus on that research, and oral and written presentations of it. Details on this paper are posted on Blackboard > Readings, and we will discuss in class.
Finally, you will find off-campus opportunities to learn more about American political parties. Washington offers one of the world’s best places to do this. You will be responsible for three events and short reflections. We will discuss in class, and details are posted on Blackboard > Readings.
Your full, active, attentive, inquisitive approach to this course should broaden and deepen your understanding of a wide range a political science topics and policy issues, while you strengthen your written and oral communication skills, your critical thinking skills, and your appreciation of history and current events in policy discussions.
A particular note on this course is that it does not require higher mathematics. I urge you, however, to take at least one statistics course during your college coursework.
Finally, ask me about the three numbers you should always know, and why they matter.
Office hours. I will hold regular office hours in Hurst 206P; we can also meet, Skype, phone, etc. by appointment. I would like to meet with each of you at least once during the first few weeks of the semester. In addition, I will hold online “midnight office hours” by Skype during certain parts of the semester by appointment. You can reach me at JQuirk@american.edu, which I will check each morning, or by fb msg, which may be quicker for short Q/A. I invite you to join our Facebook group (link is on Blackboard). It is “closed” – members (including my other classes and some former students) can only see what you have as “public” (maybe this is a good time to check your privacy settings). You are not required to join this group: it will include reminders, links to events or internships, news items I think you might enjoy, etc. All essential course communications will be posted on Blackboard > Announcements and thereby to your email.
Required texts. There are four required texts, although two of them you can read online if you prefer. The library has a copy of Muirhead and White&Kerbel, but I chose these books with cost considerations in mind – you can get each of them cheaply online.
Muirhead. The Promise of Party in a Polarized Age. Harvard Univ Press. ISBN-13: 978-0674046832. Required; any edition, used or new. Up to three students at a time may use the ebook available at American.edu/library
White and Kerbal. Party On! Political Parties from Hamilton and Jefferson to Trump. Routledge, 2017, second edition Be sure to get the second edition please, used or new. ISBN 978-1-138-10305-4
Rand. Anthem. ISBN-13: 978-1503250703. Required; any edition, used or new, is fine; or you can find the complete text free online.
Riordan. Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. Signet. ISBN-13: 978-0451526205. Required; any edition, used or new, is fine; or you can find the complete text free online.
The following are only Recommended – they are not required. I will put any assigned readings from them on Blackboard:
Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987). Not required to purchase – I will provide the necessary sections, but you can get it cheaply online if you like.
Diamond and Plattner. Democracy: A Reader. Johns Hopkins Univ Press, 2009. Not required to purchase – I will provide the necessary sections, but you can get it cheaply online if you like – any edition, and a good edition to your library.
Frank, Thomas. Listen, Liberal. Holt/Metropolitan, 2016. Not required to purchase – I will provide the necessary sections, but you can get it relatively cheaply online if you like, and I suspect you will enjoy it, whatever your political partisanship.
Guevara. The Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey Around South America. Ocean. ISBN-13: 978-1876175702. Not required to purchase – I will provide the necessary sections, but you can get it cheaply online if you like – any edition.
King, Jr., Martin Luther. Why We Can’t Wait. 1964, any edition. Not required to purchase – I will provide the necessary sections, but you can get it cheaply online if you like – any edition.
Sabato and Ernst, Encyclopedia of American Political Parties. We will not use this book in the course. Do not pay $95 – you can get it used very, very cheaply. In any case, it is not required at all for this class – but it’s a nice addition to your library.
The required books should be available from the AU bookstore. They are also widely available online used and new.
Additional readings will be posted on Blackboard.
All the regular stuff: do the readings, come to class and participate, submit the assignments on time.
You are expected to complement your study of American political parties with an increased awareness of current events. At a minimum, you should be familiar each morning with the front page of the New York Times (nytimes.com) and the Washington Post (washingtonpost.com), spending significant time with at least one of them, and also looking at the Washington Times (washingtontimes.com/). If you don’t already look at politico.com, rollcall.com, and thehill.com, you should find those too. We will discuss a number of other academic, news, and punditry outlets as well.
Your responsibilities include thorough reading of the assignments before class, class attendance, and class participation. You are responsible for all the reading material regardless of whether we discuss it in class, and for all class discussions regardless of whether the material relates to an assigned reading. Attendance is not optional; you need to meet with me to discuss any absences, before class. Unexcused absences will count against your grade. Additionally, there may be required attendance for guest lecturers at times other than the normal class schedule.
Each class will begin with at least one student selected, without prior notice, to discuss and answer questions about the readings or current events. The pedagogy here is to prepare you for meetings when you are, unexpectedly, asked to give a presentation to a client, boss, etc., not just to ensure you do the readings. Notice: unscheduled quizzes may be assigned.
I will post items I think you might find interesting, such as an internship availability, an event on campus, etc. You are invited to do so as well.
You will have three exams, including the final exam, worth 15, 15, and 20% each. In addition, you will write a short (2,000 words) but intensely analytical paper, worth 25%. We will discuss the paper well in advance of its due date, and a complete set of written instructions is on blackboard > Readings. The individual off-campus event reflections, along with any possible unscheduled quizzes, will be worth a combined 15%. We will discuss all these assignments in class. You may earn up to ten percent based on consistent, high-quality class participation and contribution to the course. Late assignments cost one letter-grade per day.
Our Best Selves: In the classroom, online, and elsewhere, we will approach each other and our material with respect, humility, generosity, and what we’ll call micro-benevolences. We will all assume best intentions among each other, and we’ll approach disagreements and misunderstandings with honesty, integrity, and the intention that we will grow together as a community in the classroom, on campus, and in Washington.