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American Political System

POLS 021 Summer 2015

Dr. David J. Plazek
Office Hours:

T 1:00-3:00
WLLC 309 (Johnson State College); 802-635-1348.

Course Description
This class is designed to survey the landscape of politics and governance in the United
States. We will examine Constitutional principles, rights and liberties, and the institutions that
were designed to maintain the U.S. system of governance and avoid tyranny. We will investigate
the political process and the politics involved in the creation of national policy. The class places
special emphasis on issues of American federalism. In other words, we will examine the
distribution of power within and among national, state, and local governments within the context
of American society. The class begins by examining the origins of the U.S. system. Through the
rest of the term, we will investigate how the system has evolved since its inception. These steps
enable the student to critically examine the American political process. The class, therefore,
seeks to sift through ideology, myth, and spin to discover the realities of American politics as
best as we can understand them.
Course Requirements
The final grades for this class are based on 5 sets of Module essays. Each set amounts to
20% of your grade:
Module 1 Essays:
Module 2 Essays:
Module 3 Essays:
Module 4 Essays:
Module 5 Essays:

20% (Due July 6 @ noon)

20% (Due July 13 @ noon)
20% (Due July 20 @ noon)
20% (Due July 27 @ noon)
20% (Due Aug. 5 @ noon)

Module Essays: Each section of reading is accompanied by an introduction and a set of essay
questions. Students have to complete the two essays, except for Module 5 which requires a book
review. In the essays, I will be looking to see how well you incorporate the readings. This step
is absolutely necessary as this is an on-line course. In particular, I am looking to see if you can
see the forest from the trees. What this means is can you see the big picture and not get
encumbered by minor issues or minutia. Moreover, when I am asking you to make an argument,
I look for three things (what I call the three steps to a powerful argument): (1) provide a powerful
explanation, (2) provide evidence in support of that explanation, and (3) undermine alternative
explanations. By doing this, you will be doing fact-based analysis. This is how we weed
through a field of study that quite naturally is influenced by ideology (i.e. the way people think it
ought to be). Although ideology is impossible to avoid, following these rules helps you present
arguments that demonstrate critical thinking and are reality-based. This is a skill that will serve
you whenever making cases. The questions and the due dates are listed in the modules. Your
essays should be e-mailed to me (david.plazek@jsc.edu) by noon on the due date.

Academic Honesty: Plagiarism is claiming the work of others as your own and is considered one
of the most serious of academic offenses. So to put it bluntly, do not do it. You are encouraged
to cite others research. After all, we cannot understand the state of our knowledge without
knowing what work others have done. Moreover, one cannot know what holes exist in our
knowledge without being aware of the prior literature. As they say, the best research requires us
to stand on the shoulders of giants.
Sources: When it comes to citing other sources, make sure they are good ones. Leave the
opinion page stuff for the opinion page. Good sources are those that honestly seek truth rather
than promotion of a particular ideological perspective. The best sources are peer-reviewed
academic journals and books written by authors with strong academic backgrounds and/or
experience relating to the subject. Magazines and newspapers are lesser sources as fact-checking
is constrained by time pressures (see deadlines) and a general relaxation of sourcing standards in
US media culture. TV is weaker still, especially the 24 hour news networks (i.e. in general,
avoid citing them). Finally, there is a lot of chaff on the internet that is not fact-based so be leery
of the website. The bottom line is thiswe seek truth through the pursuit of fact-based
evidence. This is what gets us closer to the truth as best as we can understand it. Logic is
indispensable in what we do, but it is not sufficient on its own. This is particularly the case in
the study of politics as different ideologies hold different common sense logic.
All non-textbook readings are outlined in the modules and are required. Students are also
encouraged to follow current events and relate such developments in your essays. We will be
reading from the following:
Theodore Lowi, Benjamin Ginsberg, Kenneth A. Shepsle and Stephen Ansolabehere (latest
edition). American Government: Power and Purpose. W.W. Norton and Company.
Richard Neustadt, 1990. Presidential Power and the Modern Presidents. Free Press.
Additional Readings will be posted on Blackboard. In some cases readings may be sent to you
via e-mail.