The American System of Government
Chapter 4 We – the People Dividing Power: The American System of Government The Basics •Americans have distrusted any concentration of political power ever since its founding •American form of government was written down in a Constitution o1787, after thirteen colonies gained independence from Great Britain •“Tyranny” of King George III – the Americans wanted to make sure no person was allowed to have too much power •Representative democracy Elected representatives who could be regularly shifted out oPower rested with the people •Federal system oIndividual states which give only certain specific powers to a central government oFederalism •The separation of powers oDivided the power into three oNo one is too powerful Federalism •The federal government can only do what it has specifically been given the power to do in the Constitution oDelegated powers by the states •Reserved powers are for the states and the people oState rights The states gave the federal government power over the following areas oForeign affairs (treaties and relations with other countries) oDefense (defending the nation and declaring war) oMonetary policy oTrade (among states, between states and government, between the nation and other countries) Separation of powers •Breaking power into three oThe Executive (the President) oThe Legislative (Congress) oThe Judicial (Supreme Court) •Main idea – power could never be combined under one man oThreaten people and democracy The Founding Fathers created the system of checks and balances oEach of the branches can limit the power of two The Congress – legislative powers •Two “chambers” – the House of Representatives and the Senate •The smaller states were afraid of being controlled of the larger states •The number of representatives each state got in the House of Representatives was based on the population of the state •In the Senate, each state was given two representatives no matter how small or large •Congress has the power to: Pass laws (legislation) oLevy taxes oDecide how federal money is used •No one in the federal government gets paid nothing gets funded unless Congress has passed a “bill” approving the use of money •Members of the House of Representatives – Congressmen o435 members, all its members are elected every two years (democratic) •Members of the Senate – Senators o100 members, two from each state, elected for six years of the time (stable) •Checks on Congress oThe President can veto a bill by refusing to sign it The Supreme Court can declare laws “unconstitutional” The President – executive powers •The President is Head of State and represents the people of the US at home and abroad •The President is Chief Executive oHeads all federal organizations, has a “cabinet” with political advisors •The President is Commander-in-Chief oHe is head of the armed forces of the only superpower in the world. Only Congress can declare war, but the President can ask Congress for the power to use “necessary force” •The President is Chief Diplomat Decides foreign and defense policy, appoints ambassadors, sets up embassies and negotiates treaties (only become law if two-thirds of the Senate approves) •The power of the President has increased since 1787, he leads three million people who work for this branch of the government •Checks on the President oThe Supreme Court can declare his actions unconstitutional oCongress can change or refuse to pass the legislation suggested by him oCongress can override a presidential veto with a two-third majority oCongress and Supreme Court can “impeach” the President (remove him) The Supreme Court – judicial powers Highest court in the land, all courts must accept its interpretation of the law •States have their own laws and their own supreme courts, but if there is a conflict, the federal law overrides the state law (to make sure the law is applied the same way everywhere) •Decides what laws are in compliance and what laws are unconstitutional •A law that is unconstitutional is “null and void”, no longer valid •Nine members of the Supreme Court oNine to make sure it can’t split evenly o“Justices” are appointed for life •Checks on the Supreme Court oCongress can change the Constitution Congress and the Supreme Court can “impeach” a Supreme Court Justice Checks and balances in action •Every year the President must submit a bill for federal budget to Congress •Congress never passes it as it is, both the House and the Senate make changes •If president gets a majority, he may then accept a compromise. He can refuse to sign the bill, and send it back to the Congress, both must a compromise Appointing a Supreme Court Justice •When a justice dies, the President nominates a judge to fill the seat •Since the President can choose someone he finds beneficial for the job, he Senate must first approve “ratify” the choice before the President can appoint a nominee •If it does not, the President must find someone else (checks and balances) Separation of powers – advantages and disadvantages •It has worked as intended •It has kept government under democratic control •When Richard Nixon broke the law (Watergate scandal) he was forced from office •On the other hand, when the President is a Democrat and Congress has a majority of Republicans (or vice versa), the division of powers can paralyze the political system •Some say it would’ve been better with a parliamentary democracy (the Congress chooses the President).
In that way, the budget would always pass in congress •However, this would give the President a lot more power State government •American states are “real states” oThey make their own laws, collect their own taxes, have their own welfare systems, police forces, educational systems and so on •Most “governing” goes on at the state and local levels •Any American is bound to respect federal law, state law and local city and county law •Most states use the federal government as a model for their state government oAll have a written constitution All practice the separation of powers into three branches •The executive branch is headed by a Governor •The legislative branch is divided into two chambers (except Nebraska) •All states have a state supreme court and separate court systems •The 50 states are all different, and are looked at as 50 “laboratories of democracy”, which means that they come with new solutions to new and old problems •The US is proud to have an extremely large degree of local democracy and variation
Advantages and disadvantages •Local democracy > source of strength and innovation, but hard to govern •E. g. the school system. The President and Congress can have an opinion on what is best for the school systems, but they can’t order the states to adopt these measures, because education is a “state right” and not a federal responsibility •Variety > inequality. Some states are rich, some are poor Political Parties in the United States The electoral system There are two basic things to keep in mind about the electoral system in America oAll federal and state elections are in single-seat election districts •Only one representative from each district will be elected oA candidate can win an election with either a majority of votes, or a plurality of votes •The winner is candidate C, because that candidate has a plurality of votes. “The winner takes it all”. The other votes are “wasted”. 85306 •If A and B goes together and supports one candidate, that candidate could easily win with 60% of the votes •Problems: finding someone they both support The US only has two parties: The Democrats and the Republicans. Both are giant coalitions of wildly different political groups. Shooting for the center •Both parties are coalitions > neither party presents a very clear political profile •A clear ideology would send away some interest groups, weakening the party •Both parties are vague about what they stand for •No one wants to come out with strong ideological statements that might scare away any voters, because to win you have to win the votes of the electorate, which basically is divided into two
The Democratic Party (donkey) •Supports stronger federal authority, more liberal, willing to use government in the service of the people at the expense of “states’ rights” •Wants to involve the federal government in shaping American society (more than the Republicans), reducing the gap between rich/poor •Support welfare programs more strongly than Republicans •Taxes are a resource that can be wisely used •Have support in large cities and states on the coasts The Republican Party (GOP, the elephant) More conservative party, support state rights and resist a large role for the federal government •Wants to give a great deal of free play to market economy and are opposed to government regulations of the economy •Lower level of taxation •Every-man-for-himself tradition, are suspicious of welfare systems •Have support in the Midwest and the south and among businesspeople Democrats and Republicans •Some Democrats are more conservative than Republicans and some Republicans are more liberal than Democrats. •Different histories and tradition Serious political consequences > the Republicans have grown more powerful because conservative southerners have left the democrats Advantages and disadvantages of a two-party system •Gives a stable foundation to build on •Forces the parties to look for voter support from the center of American politics, encouraging moderation, an agreement, a “consensus” •The two-party system helps create such broad agreement •Wastes votes of millions who vote for candidates who are not elected oUndermines democracy •No directions other than leading the country Blocks new ideas and movements (they are drawn into the coalitions) Interest Groups and Lobbyists •Joining or supporting a political party is not the only way to influence the political process in America •A more direct route > INTEREST GROUPS oPolitical organizations which seek to influence government policy about one specific issue or related set of issues oCompromise without being part of one of the great party coalitions oCan be more straightforward, aggressive and ideological PACs •Political Action Committee Organized specifically to elect (or defeat) politicians or to promote legislation •Collects contributions and use them to support or oppose candidates oHard money > goes directly to the candidates oSoft money > pays for campaigns in various ways Lobbyists •Interest groups make use of lobbyists who try to persuade individual politicians to support the interests they represent. They have recently become more active (16 000>34000) •Can be done in many ways: Taking them out for dinner, paying their way to conferences and seminars, finding jobs for their relatives and so on •Lobbyists are found near the centers of power.
Spent 2. 4 billion in 2005 Advantages and disadvantages •Make the citizens politically active •They show that the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are being put to good use •Some worry about the increasing role of interest groups oWeakened political parties? oSplits the electorate up in warring groups? •Another reason for concern is the skyrocketing expense of getting elected •Senate campaigns costs minimum 3 million dollars, rising to 10 million in big states •House of Representatives: 1 million dollars every two years oA great deal of the money comes from lobbyists
Electing a President •To major stages in the election process oDeciding nominees for candidates for President and Vice President oElecting President and Vice President •Primaries > winner > national convention > nomination > Vice President/platform > campaign > election (people) > election (electoral college) > President The nomination race •Exhausting process •January > June: Primaries are held in most states oChoosing a party nominee •Earlier they were chosen by state party conventions Not good, because they ended up being controlled by a party elite •Decided to choose nominees by a special state-wide election •Protects the public from the leadership of its own political parties •Primaries are held at different times in different states and often with different rules •Each party emerges with a man or a woman as winner in each of the states holding a primary oWinner is the state’s delegates at the party’s national convention •As the primaries proceed, the number of persons running for the nomination is gradually reduced to two or three per party •Failure > losing support •Succeed > momentum and fresh funding Earlier the primary season was longer, and that gave relatively unknown candidates the chance to gain support oExample: Jimmy Carter •Recently, primaries are held earlier and earlier oNo point in holding a state primary after other primary elections have already determined which candidate has a majority of delegates at the national party convention •Held as early as possible, on the same day in several states •This favors well-known candidates with a lot of money who can campaign in several states •Ironically, the money comes from powerful special interests, forces primaries were created to avoid Tickets and platforms Late August/early September, a national convention is held in a major city •A party chooses its final candidate for President •Used to be an exciting event (unknown who would become candidate) •These days, the results are almost always already decided from the primaries •The nomination is “ritual”, with balloons and speeches and cheering crowds •However, a good deal of interest is still connected to the choosing of a party “ticket” and the creation of a party “platform”. •The party ticket is the team of candidates running for President and Vice President •The choice of Vice President is up to the President Often a secret until the presidential nomination is accepted •A BALANCED TICKET, to reach a broad section of the electorate oCandidate from South, other one from North/West oCandidate is woman, other one is a man oCandidate is conservative, other one is liberal oCandidate is inexperienced, other one is a seasoned politician or statesman •All interests can’t be balanced in two people, but an effort is made •Once the ticket is clear, the two sit down with the party leadership and write a party platform oThe team will run for election Party platform > closest thing to an ideological statement •It consists of political statements or promises which together make the party’s political program •They differ from year to year and election to election, addresses the different issues of the day and incorporate with new political trends •They want to meet the expectations of as wide a group of voters as possible oFuzzy and broad, both parties promise the same things
The election and the Electoral College •Finally there is the actual election •Serious campaigning starts in September and lasts until voting day, the first Tuesday in November •The candidates travel all over the country, speaks at meetings, takes part in official debates, appears on TV, gaining recommendations from important people, TV-ads, press releases, e-mails, books, pamphlets and etc •Expensive, in 1996 it amounted together 448. million dollars. In 2008 it doubled to over 1 billion dollars, 500 million dollars on each. •The President and Vice President are not elected directly by the popular vote •They are elected indirectly by a majority of the electoral votes cast by the nation’s fifty states system •The 41 days comes from the old days (1787), when it was a lot harder to travel around. Most people didn’t know who the candidates were, but they trusted someone in town.
Votes were cast for these men as electors from each state. They assembled, discussed the candidates, and sent their decision to Washington D. C. •The candidate who had won a majority of the popular vote in a state got all the electoral votes in the state (Winner takes it all) The Electoral College •Each state is given a number of electors equal to its presentation in Congress oTwo Senators + a varied number of Congress man •D. C. , which belongs to no state has three electors The number of electoral votes is equal to: o435 congressmen o100 senators o3 from the District of Columbia •538 electoral votes •To win the Presidential election a candidate must have a majority of these votes, that is 269+1 = 270 votes. •It is possible for a President to be elected with a majority of the votes in the Electoral College while having a minority of the popular vote nationwide. oSmall states are over-represented in the Electoral College