Chapter 9: Elections, Campaigns, and Voting
Elections, Campaigns, and Voting are the fundamental aspects of civic engagement. They are important for both the public and the polity-involved in the process. Every state in the United States conducts at least two types of elections that are the primary election and the general election. At the primary election, the voters decide on the party nominees that will participate in the general election. However, in the presidential primaries, the voters do not directly vote for the candidates but instead the popular vote determines the candidate’s delegates that will attend the party nomination and vote for the party’s nominee.
There are two types of primary election; that is the open primary where any the registered voter can vote even coming from another party whereas, in a closed primary election, only the registered members of the party are allowed tom vote. The presidential primaries take place on Super Tuesday early in March especially among the southern states, but the various states retain the liberty to determine when to have their primaries. The general election takes place on first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of the election year.
A referendum is an election in which the voters have a say on a state legislature. An initiative, on the other hand, is a citizen-sponsored proposal that can lead to a new or amended legislation or constitutional amendment and a recall allows the voters to cut short the terms of the office holders. Those running for offices have different motivations for pursuing such offices ranging from a sense of civic responsibility to personal goals and stature. The election process offers the candidates and the public an opportunity to exercise their constitutional right.
Money has played a significant role in the election process in the recent past. However, to regulated the campaign finance to avert corruption of the election process, Congress has [assed various acts including the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1971. There have also been rulings by the Supreme Court that have greatly influenced the campaign finance law to ensure that the campaigns remain free and fair not corrupted by money. Some of the major factors in voter participation include the educational level of individuals, age, race, and income level and also the party competitiveness and voter turnout. The campaigns also have a strong influence on the voting outcome of the individual and hence are essential to assist the voters to make decisions on the candidates.
Chapter 10: The Media
Cellular internet is increasingly becoming the trend and the easiest and most efficient source of media among the young people in America. With the increased media sources, it has also presented the problem of discerning between sources that provide verifiable information from those that are option based. The modern media exists in a variety of forms in the contemporary society ranging from the print media, which are the newspapers and magazines, electronic media meaning radio and television, and the new modes such as the Internet including the social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, websites, and blogs among others.
The media various political functions including provision of information, setting the political agendas and also the interpretation of events and policies within the political sphere, it also provides the platform for political conversations and debates as well as socialization of children to the political culture of the country. Historically, the media has contributed majorly in political agenda setting and shaping the public policy. The print media prevalently the newspapers wee the ideal media channels at first before paving a way for electronic media such as radios and televisions. With the increased consumption of electronic media and the technological advancements in internet use, the prevalent of print media has declined considerably. The various forms of media have significantly contributed and transformed the political sphere over the course of their use.
There are an increasing likelihood and need for the convergence, which is the merging of the various forms of media performing the same task or sharing in resources. Moreover, with corporation’s scramble for providing all digital needs, there is the occurrence of consolidation whereby the large corporations buy the smaller ones. Because of this, the number of companies providing news in America has shrunk from 50 nationally in 1983 to six in the recent past. It has led to the need for the control of the media, but there needs to care not to infringe on the liberty and freedom of media. However, the large corporations have taken a form of control on media and reporting hence the need for oversight to ensure good reporting conduct is maintained.
Chapter 11: Politics and Technology
The internet has had a monumental impact on the way people interact in the recent past. In America, 87% of adults use the internet thus emphasizing the importance of modern technology such as cellular and internet technology as a medium of communication, a tool for political engagement and as a means for rallying individuals at the grassroots level. The digital divide witnessed in America because of inequality in accessing computers, and the internet has been bridged by the continued use of cellular technology as a tool for accessing the internet. Internet use is skewed towards the high income and affluent members of society but the propensity of young people using the internet with an increased number of smartphones, the divide is bound to be bridged. The internet has led to the formation of new virtual communities whereby there are civil engagement and participation with social media.
The cellular and the Internet technology indicate a possibility of a shift in the way people exercise control of their democracy. Moreover, the political sphere regarding how campaigns are run and in the way information is passed on as well as service provision by the government. The 2008 election campaign marked the epitome of social media politics that marked the “web 2.0 Election” mostly used by President Obama. Organizations and other civil rights activists have also used the internet to draw attention and protest against or rally support for certain political and civic legislations. The internet continues to transform the political landscape but also faces some adverse effects such as ‘Hactivism’ and ease in passing propaganda and an increase in domestic surveillance thus infringing people’s rights. However, it led to the increased freedom of speech and offered an essential platform for political engagement of the public and as well as mobilization to put the legislative bodies in check.
Chapter 12: Congress
Congress remains unpopular in the United States and at an individual level; it is still performing below their capacity and in an unfavorable manner for a Congress of a stable democracy as the United States. Congress was structured as a powerful legislative arm that would even check the powers of the president but remained within a democratic level to ensure it is not tyrannical. The constitution established a bicameral legislature with the House of Representatives based on population, and the Senate was based on state representation. The House of Representatives closer to people and has the smallest constituencies with an estimated 711,000 people residing in one congressional district. However, the Senate is more elite and deliberative and is not subject to the whims of mass politics like the lower house. Senate members serve for six-year terms through a popular election as per the Seventeenth Amendment, on the other hand, the House representatives are servants of the legislative elected every two years on even-numbered years.
The Congress exudes its power primarily from the Constitution. It can also get power from the Supreme Court decisions, the media, and the people. Congress is mandated with several roles such as policy making that are the primary function, oversight over the executive arm of government, civic engagement, and agenda setting and managing societal conflict. The House and Senate differ in the number of members of the house being larger, the electoral cycle and in their functions. For example, the house originates revenue bills while the Senate ratifies treaties and confirms presidential nominees and in the power sharing where the power of the House is vested in the committee leader while in Senate the power is evenly distributed. However, every bill has to pass both houses to become law, which is a common ground they share. The Congress has a history of protecting their political, social, and economic interest at the expense of the public and hence ignoring the most urgent issues of national importance. They should focus on the most pressing issues such as the economy of the country against a backdrop of whirling international markets in the recent past.
Chapter 13: The Presidency
Presidential candidates positing themselves years in advance to the Election Day and the winners of the election take the oath of office on January 20. At the domestic sphere, the president has to interact with Congress, as they are the chief legislator, serve as the leader of the party, and manage the economy. He is the chief economist and hence employs the tools at his disposal to influence the country’s economic performance. By submitting the budget to Congress, they shape the federal tax dollars spent and, therefore, set the economic priorities of the legislative agenda.
In the foreign sphere, the President is constitutionally authorized to carry out the role of a chief diplomat and a commander in chief of the U.S armed forces. As a chief diplomat, they shape the foreign policy and negotiate treaties and other international agreements with foreign countries. His or her staff aids him in his functions. It is a good idea to have the president liaise and make agreements with both the allies and the enemies to the US to secure the interest of the country as the presidency is the figure that represents the then nation as a whole. However, some functions of the president overlap the domestic and foreign policy.
The president is the chief executive and hence constitutionally charged with ensuring that the laws are executed as per the constitution. The presidency has heavily relied on the Cabinet since the Since George Washington’s presidency for advice on how to run the country. Therefore, the mandate of appointing the cabinet rests on the sitting president. The [president also has a White House Office that develop policies favored by the president to protect the legal and political interest of the president, the office constitutes of the white house counsel, press secretary, and the chief of staff.
The Presidential Succession Law of 1947 determines the law on the succession of the president. However, in the case of incapacitation or death, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, ratified in 1967 establishes the course of action. The president has inherent and expressed powers in the Constitution and enjoys more power from the Congress that grants the presidency statutory power through congressional action. However, the primary source of the president’s powers is the people since they are the electorate. The president’s power is however checked by the possibility of an impeachment if they do not deliver as expected.
Chapter 14: The Bureaucracy
Bureaucrats provide the services that the elected officials authorize and hence make decisions that affect people directly. Therefore, the public servants are better trained and competent as compared to the private sector workers because they are primarily motivated by serving the public. According to Marx Weber, a bureaucratic structure is one that has a division of labor, socialization in job tasks, hiring systems based on competency, a hierarchy with a vertical version of command and standard operating procedure. Therefore, bureaucracy is not only found in government institutions.
Following every election, the president publishes a plum book that contains the jobs within the bureaucracy, which are majorly the political appointees, and the president retains the ability to fire or hire them at his discretion. There are national and non-national bureaucrats, and the non-national bureaucrats are at the grassroots level. The government contracts out the non-national bureaucrats to serve the people on a daily basis. The federal officials are there because of the need for service provision at the various departments of the federal government. There are 15 federal departments that the president holds accountable and appoints the head officials for every department who is the secretary. The Department of Homeland Security was created in 2002 and is the newest department. There are also some independent regulatory commissions that are democracies outside the cabinet departments with the authority of developing standards of behavior for various industries and businesses and monitor the compliance with the standards. The government corporations sell a service or product and are government owned. A bipartisan board directs the government corporations.
The roles of then federal bureaucrats include agenda setting, policy formulation, policy approval, appropriation approval, policy implementation, and policy evaluation. There are also some National sunshine laws that illuminate the function of government and hence ensuring accountability of the Federal bureaucracy. The federal government has some programs that are essential and beneficial to the public whereas others are wasteful and inefficient.
Chapter 15: The Judiciary
The judicial system of the United States is adversarial. The trial courts have the original jurisdiction whereas the appellate courts only have appellate jurisdiction. Initially, the federal courts had little effect on the society because the bulk of lawsuits were resolved in the state courts systems. However, the Marbury v. Madison (1803) established the judicial review and today the Supreme Court is the highest court of the land. There is the existence of the state and federal courts, and the citizens are subject to both state laws and federal laws. The sources of the law I the United States include the constitution, executive order, rules, and regulations made by the administrative bodies and the judicial decisions. The common law is a judge-based law grounded on past or previous rulings. The doctrine of stare decisis directs the judges to refer to previously similar cases. The legislation is also a source of law whereby the legislatures write laws called statutes. The US Code constitute all the laws passed by Congress while the penal code is a compilation of all the criminal laws of the state.
The courts identify both the criminal and the civil laws. Civil laws deal with private rights and obligations whereas the criminal law deals with the conduct considered harmful to the society or even directed to an individual and is against any federal or states statutes. In a court of justice, one may have a jury trial that includes a group of citizens who hear the evidence determine guilt or innocence whereas a bench trial it is a judge who listens to the evidence and determines guilt or innocence. There are state and federal laws whereby the states laws apply only to the respective states whereas the federal laws apply throughout the United States.
Chapter 16: Economic Policy
Americans desire a healthy economy so that they can achieve the American dream of financial security, happy and healthy life with an upward mobility attained through an individual’s hard work and persistence. In the US the ability to earn enough money to attain the American dream, the factors that affect it are educational level, work ethics, and the availability of well-paying jobs. The personal income is correlated with the educational standard of an individual whereas the race, and sex is all correlated to the personal income of an individual. In as much as the attainment of the American dream is dependent on personal effort, the national economy has a crucial role to play as well.
The US economy is a classic example of a mixed economy also referred to as the regulated capitalist economy. It is because there are national policies enacted influencing the economy either directly or indirectly. The economic theories that shape the economic policy of the US have been dynamic. At first there was public support for laissez-faire economic policy whereby the government took a “hands off” approach to the marketplace. However, with industrialization and the economic growth experienced in the country, more Americans called for a mixed economy that featured regulated capitalism.
There have been other economic theories present in the US over time such as the Keynesian Economics, Supply-Side Economics, and Monetarism among others. All the arguments support the use of various policies to promote a healthy economy of the nation, but there is increased debate on whether there is any one theory that should single-handedly predominate the economic policy framework of the US. A healthy economy is one that has an expanding Gross Domestic Product, low unemployment rate, and low inflation rate. There are other measures of the economic health dealing with the general well-being of the citizens that is considering factors such as poverty, literacy levels and financial situation of individuals.
The economic policy of the country encompasses other policies affecting the economy directly or indirectly. These include the tax policy, which controls national tax on personal income and is the single largest source of government revenue; it also encompasses the spending policy of the country done through the budget. There is also the Federal Reserve System and monetary policy that affects the economy of the country and the regulatory policy that regulates the businesses with an aim of preserving competition in the marketplace. There are trade policies that govern both the global and the local economy of the country that involves the protectionist trade policy Tom protect the domestic producers from foreign competition, tariffs charged on all imported commodities and also the free trade policy that aims at lowering or eliminating tariffs to open up for international trade. The living standards in the United States are getting better as compared to the great economic recession experience five years ago. The international trade also offers an excellent opportunity for the growth of then US economy, but there is a need to monitor the trade to ensure that the country protects the interest of the local producers hence the need for merging both the protectionist and the free trade policies. It will help in curbing the grave problem of the gas and oil prices that face the United States and the global market.
Chapter 17: Domestic Policy
Some of the crucial tools for domestic policy include laws and regulations, direct provision of public goods, cash transfers, loans, insurance and loan guarantees and grants in aid and contracting out to nonprofits, state governments, private businesses and local governments. There is an environmental policy that includes the conservation of natural resources and also limiting pollution. The Environmental Protection Act of 1969 established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to oversee the implementation of the environmental protection laws. There is also a policy to ensure that energy independence is attained I the country and hence the need for support of alternative energy. There are also some income security programs to avert poverty among the citizens. It has been achieved through the social security, instituting of the minimum wage, unemployment compensation, Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to protect those with low income and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to avoid poverty among individuals. The domestic policy also encompasses a heath care system that aims at ensuring that all citizens have access to quality health care following the findings by the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2012 that 15% of the population have not medical cover. There is also the homeland department established to ensure internal security of the population and their property and the immigration policy that aims at curbing the influx of immigrants into the United States and also to protect and offer affirmative action to those that have assumed US citizenship.
Chapter 18: Foreign Policy and National Security
Essential tools for the U.S. Foreign Policy are; first is diplomacy. It is the international relations mainly involving the formation of treaties and other international agreements. The second essential tool is the Trade and Economic Policies in that the foreign policy of the US strongly relies on the trade policies, foreign economic aid as well as financial penalties to induce the foreign government to conform to the will of the US. It can induce economic sanction such as the one on Iran and the foreign aid such as the case with Pakistan. The other tool is the Military option, which is the lat result usually with an aim of regime change in a hostile country. The primary creators and shapers of foreign policy are the executive and legislative branches of the president and the executive playing the dominant role although the secondary forces such as media and public pressure can have some influence.
The US has used the media and the new technologies in the recent past to advance its foreign policy agendas. The media has played a role in the agenda-setting, increasing the public awareness and on investigations on some of the foreign policy agendas. The public opinion plays a relatively small role in foreign policy since the public is predominantly inclined and concerned on local and domestic policy issues. The foreign policy has also revolutionized and changed over the course of time as the US influence in the world increased. However, the USA has had a greater involvement in foreign policy following the 9/11 attacks of 2001 that led to military interventions to wipe out the terrorist group Al-Qaida-linked to the attack. It resulted in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush administration but with the Obama administration, he has taken more neutral stance advocating for negotiations with Iran. The US foreign policy faces threats and challenges because of the Russian expansion, the nuclear proliferation, increased threats of terrorism, environmental issues, and the technological potential in foreign affairs. In my view, the US should handle the domestic policies and challenges and leave out the active involvement in international affairs since the United Nations was instituted for that purpose.