The Guardian reports that:
“A huge wealth gap has opened up between black and white people in the US over the past quarter of a century – a difference sufficient to put two children through university – because of racial discrimination and economic policies that favour the affluent.
A typical white family is now five times richer than its African-American counterpart of the same class, according to a report released today by Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
White families typically have assets worth $100,000 (£69,000), up from $22,000 in the mid-1980s. African-American families’ assets stand at just $5,000, up from around $2,000.
A quarter of black families have no assets at all. The study monitored more than 2,000 families since 1984.”
The demon sheep ad produced as part of the Republican Senate primary campaign in California is being widely hailed as a pythonesque absurd spoof, but is actually a sign of poor political taste…read more...»
Barack Obama was always going to find it well night impossible to live up to the expectations that greeted his election in some quarters. Even so, his presidency has been looking more than a little troubled. His personal charisma still goes far (his State of the Union address was masterly, and his televised Question and Answer with Republican senators showed an authority that had them regretting the presence of cameras), which is what perhaps makes the limitations of his governing even more stark. One excellent survey of the ‘Obama problem’ is provided by Edward Luce in the Financial Times. Luce focuses on the four key insiders who were so crucial to Obama’s election in the first place - Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Communications Chief Robert Gibbs and Senior Advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett - and criticises the exclusive nature of their relationship with the president. He is still campaigning rather than governing, suggests Luce, and in the process is excluding a host of able and supportive figures.read more...»
I’m sure teachers of American Politics won’t need reminding about the virtues of watching the Daily Show, but students may need a gentle reminder.
The episode broadcast in the UK last night contained a hilarious analysis of Sarah Palin’s major speech at the Tea Party conference in Nashville. Palin is a phenomenon and never quite manages to steer herself away from unintended controversy. If you’re not sure what I’m on about watch a replay from the Channel 4 website. Of course, Jon Stewart is presenting from a left wing perspective and I share many of his personal biases, so it may not be to everyone’s taste!!
How successful has Obama been in delaing with Congress?
Listen to this audio clip from national public radio to find out!
I’ve just started the power of the presidency, and intend to use Obama’s address to Congress as part of delivery. Here’s the link to the video
Real Clear Politics was a must visit site during the 2008 Presidential Campaign - it continues to provide superb coverage. Here is the link to the regular flow of approval ratings for the President.
There’s a useful two page spread on Obama’s presidency one year on in today’s Independent—here is the link to the web version.
The BBC devotes a special section to the one year anniversary.
And see how you get on with the one year quiz!!!
I’m definitely going to use all the abundant material for students to do a webquest presentation on his first year. A nice way to start Unit 4C having just completed the 3C exam. Andy Lawrence has posted details of a similar exercise on Cameron the t2u Pol teachers forum.
More interesting stuff on Obama for teaching and learning. A great article on Obama and race here. Younge is a corking journalist who has written two very readable books on the US, which are suggested reading for students of America. He has also made a documentary for the World Service entitled “Opposing Obama”, first airing scheduled for the 1st of Feb. List of times is here.
Obama and me on BBC Two might not offer great academic insight, but may give you a slice of insight into modern America.
These lists are always a flawed parlour game, but they are fascinating and they do provoke debate. The Daily Telegraph is the latest to publish lists of the ‘most influential’ American public figures, producing lists for both conservative and liberal individuals. No surprises about Barack Obama as the country’s most influential liberal, but Dick Cheney at the top of the conservative list might prompt more reaction, while George W. Bush languishes at No. 12. Anyway, whether you agree with the rankings or not, the short biogs certainly illuminate a number of key individuals in US politics, and can be used to prompt debate in class.
There’s a raft of material out there on Obama at the moment to coincide with the President’s first year in office. This seems like the second anniversary in recent months since the media sought to celebrate his “first year” back in Nobvember when, of course, this marked 12 months since he was elected, not when he was sworn in.
For the next few days you can see the second part of Simon Schama’s BBC documentary on Obama.
Another documentary heads up
Two great articles for prompting discussion on intra and inter party rivalry in American politics.
First, Andrew Sullivan looks at the rabid right wing nativist nature of the Republicans here. This suggests therefore that there are deep partisan divides in America at present. But closer analysis of the parties also reveals divisions within the Democrats. As far as some within the party are concerned, Obama’s first year has been a let down. Read about how Obama has come under attack from the left here.
Useful US pressure groups example
Questions about the corrosive effects of big business in the US has tended to focus on the political damage they cause. But a new study by the IMF (of all groups!) strongly suggests that the sector of the financial industry that spends the biggest bucks on lobbying is also the most underpeforming and therefore is costing the American public. Thus there is a strong argument to suggest that they are damaging to US society as well.
It often surprises people that America, a country with arguably the most dynamic market economy, possesses a politcal system that lends itself towards stasis. Opposing forces push and pull at each other and this is down to the numerous checks and balances the framers designed into the constitution. As one of them said, ambition must be made to counter ambition. Constitutionally the president is granted only limited powers, must since the 1930s especially he is burdened with enormous expectations. The de jure limits on the president’s powers can only be overcome with adroit use of informal powers. As one constitutional scholar put it, the president has only the power to persuade.
With Obama’s stock in the USA declining it is worth bearing in mind what the 44th incumbent of the White House has achieved.
Andrew Sullivan, writing in the Sunday Times, argues that Obama is achieving large change on an incremental basis. This is a useful article to consider when looking at the powers of the president, separation of powers, checks and balances, and the extent to which the constitution is a barrier to good government.
A stunning online slideshow here from Reuters tells the story of a decade of global terror and violence. Many of the images are hard-hitting. All are thought-provoking. An amazing resource to use as stimulus material for Politics units covering global issues.
There’s a great article in the xmas double issue of the Economist on the perils of direct democracy. A useful source of arguments and examples for those covering the UK and US participation in politics modules.
As President Obama announces his long awaited Afghan strategy, attention is starting to move towards assessing the impact of his first year in office. Too timid on health reform? Is Afghanistan the new Vietnam? Is foreign policy a mess? The right think he’s in trouble, the left think he’s too timid (read this excoriating attack from the First Post’s Alexander Cockburn). But as the debate begins, Obama supporters might take heart from this very upbeat assessment in the online magazine Slate.com. Jacob Weisberg goes so far as to suggest that Obama’s first year is the most successful since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s. Read it and weep - if you’re a Republican - or cheer - if you’re a Democrat. And it’s only Year 1!
I wish there was something similar to this available for UK businesses. Here is a fascinating interactive graphic which displays the political leanings of hundreds of leading US businesses and brands - based on their total political contributions.
I wonder if this clip by Tim Harford will provoke debate among students about race, whether in the UK or the USA.
Want to get a flavour of the degree of partisanship in modern American politics?
Say the Observer:
“Glenn Beck is a TV host, bestselling author and the most influential voice on the rightwing Fox channel. Now, even some Republicans worry that the extreme and maverick views of Beck and his supporters will make their party unelectable. Is the TV tail wagging the political dog?”
Read the rest of the article and listen to this classic five minute radio rant by the man himself. It takes a little time to load up, but it is hilarious. And just a little bit scary!read more...»
I’ve just sent this to my upper sixth sets. It may be of some wider use.
The Washington Post has produced time slider to see how Democratic and Republican candidates have fared in presidential and congressional elections over the past 50 years. Here is the link.
For reasons that are possibly too mundane to go into I have just read the special report on Texas from a summer edition of the Economist.
It is absolutely fascinating as a means of gaining a deeper insight into a rapidly changing state, and is a treasure trove of Americana. Did you know for instance that Texas is one of four states where whites are a minority, or that tequila was invented there?
Lone Star rising
The best and worst of Texas
The red and the blue
The new face of America
Once a week my students are expected to contribute something to our media sessions. A useful way to break a double, to be sure, but these are designed to supplement learning. I usually keep something up my sleave just in case discussion doesn’t flow—though thus far it has yet to be a problem.
One of my colleagues at school sent me this link at the weekend which displays a fascinating graphic of job creation and loss in the USA over the last few years. It gives the lie to the idea that there is such a thing as a national economy, even if there is a national picture.
It also serves to explain why despite a recent upsurge in gdp, many Americans are unhappy about the state of the economy—jobs are the pain that communities feel and make sense of. Though a note of caution here since it only gives data to July 2009.
The link is here.
This week for our American Politics media sessions we have been looking at a quite fascinating article about industrial decline in the USA. This tells us a lot about where power lies in America and is a useful basis for considering the extent to which America does really live up to the ideals it proclaims to stand for.
Only the 33rd most powerful man in Washington DC who is not called Obama or Biden.
So says GQ magazine (of all places) in their much anticipated DC power 50. Believe it or not this was one of the buzz topics in the American capital when I was over there recently. Hardly surprising in the most power obsessed city on earth. To paraphrase Michael Heseltine who was commenting on the ranking order of seats in Cabinet, everyone says it doesn’t matter to them, but of course it does. Terribly.read more...»
It’s not so much the graphic and the info on the decline in support for gun control in America, it’s the readers’ comments that are worth looking at. I particularly like the British v American stuff, as if that had anything to do with it: why does a comment on American society and politics by a non-native invite criticism of that person’s country? Touchy!
Readers may be aware that America operates a federal system where national and state governments are theoretically sovereign in certain spheres. In practical terms this vertical separation of power is much more blurred, but it does mean that individual states have much more individual responsibility for policy within their territories than do the devolved regions in the UK. The consequences of allowing states to essentially go it alone are mixed. A magazine article in today’s Observer looks at the current crisis in California. It is interesting, well written and contains lots of good examples for someone wishing to assess the pros and cons of America’s federal arrangements.
Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s (ghostwritten) autobiography is due for release next month, and has already shot to the top of the bestseller charts.
Say the Guardian:
“News of the autobiography’s release has already prompted a string of jokes by the late night talkshow hosts reminding the wider public about Palin’s shortcomings.
“Critics say that it starts out okay, it gets really exciting and then confusing, and then the last 100 pages are blank,” said comedian Jimmy Fallon.”
I’ve been like a child with a new toy today, spending hours browsing on the Washington Post’s “Who runs gov?” pages.
The site contains up to date and interesting to read profiles of the people pulling the strings of American government. A great resource for students and teachers of American Politics.
I’ve come up with a list of 10 of the most influential politicians in the USA, some of which you will have heard of and some you won’t.read more...»
A quick posting to say that the book review pages are often a good source of political info, even for cash and time poor students with no intention of making a purchase. Details of a new publication on Clinton were in the Sunday Times at the weekend and contained some fascinating nuggets.
On the UK front the papers seem to be dominated by analysis of the party political debate on tax and spending. For instance the Observer carries a front page story suggesting that the Tory attacks on Labour spending plans may backfire.
Here a Sunday Times editorial welcomes the development of a more open debate on the issue.
When it comes to American politics, coverage of the debate about Obama and racism dominates with acres of newsprint given over to this story.
Here Paul Harris reports from South Carolina, a state at the heart of the race row.
Keith Richburg, in an editorial piece, argues that Obama’s election victory is not proof of a post racial America.
Andrew Sullivan takes an in depth look at the race debate and outlines its significance for the Republicans.
Former President (1977-1981) Jimmy Carter is the most senior Democrat to comment publicly that the venomous nature of the opposition to Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms can only be explained by racist undertones.
Racism continues to be the most divisive social problem in the United States, an issue that is never far beneath the surface when African Americans are the subject of political discourse. This is partly explained by the legacy of slavery and segregation - both of which were outlawed much later in the USA than other comparable democracies. You may recall, for instance, Muhammed Ali’s visit to the UK recently when the TV news channels broadcasted mini biographies of the boxer’s life, including Ali discussing how he was refised service at a lunch counter despite having won his country the gold medal in heavyweight boxing at the previous Olympics. This was, of course, as recently as the 1960s.read more...»
An energised and passionate President Obama delivered his speech to a joint session of Congress. Will it be enough?
Watch this report by Lyndsey Hilsum from Wednesday’s Channel 4 news.
The significance of the separation of powers is to be highlighted in perfect Technicolor later today when President Obama appears before a joint session of Congress to make a speech that he hopes will save his healthcare reform proposals (well, promises since he hasn’t actually been very specific about what he wants).
Most people expect Obama to be happy with some sort of healthcare package passing, even if it doesn’t include a government backed plan to insure Americans currently without coverage.
Bronwen Maddox in the Times takes up the story:read more...»
This year is a great one to be studying American politics (ditto on this side of the Atlantic given that we have a general election on the horizon that looks odds on to deliver a change in government), as we watch Obama try to transfer the electricity and excitement he generated during his election campaign into doemstic polciy success. Now that the congressional recess is over after the summer, Obama must seek to win approval from sufficient numbers of the House and Senate to bring insurance coverage to over 40 million American citizens currently without it.
There’s a very good piece here outlining the challange Obama faces in trying to reconcile differences between Democrats and Republicans. As the adviser to his predecessor as President points out, failure on healthcare reform could be Obama’s Waterloo. This is why Obama is placing all his cards on the table by making a speech to Congress on Wednesday. Watch out for that!!
The Big Question runs a feature on the rather complex dynamics of choosing a replacement for his vacant Senate seat, which has been controlled by his family for over 50 years.
Do you think that the Obama presidency means that race is no longer a problem in America?
Hillary Clinton is the Secretary of State!read more...»
There are obviously no lessons at the minute since we are bang in the middle of the summer break, but I thought I’d draw your attention to a piece that would be surefire favourite for the Media Monday sessions. It is packed full of detail and analysis on the factors that determine the success of a presidency. I intend to put it to one side until it comes to teaching this topic later in the year.
I’m posting a couple of details for those who are looking to keep up tp date with the Obama presidency.
There’s a good feature on Obama’s diplomatic efforts in the Middle East in the Guardian.
But Lexington argues that Obama is only likely to disappoint his supporters.
That race relations continues to be America’s most intractable social problem was brought to the surface again this week.read more...»
Sometimes when assesing the US Constitution we should be careful that we are addressing the contents of the document and not actions by politicians who claim to be acting out their constitutional role. One such example is the process by which federal judges are confirmed.read more...»
Politics in the US continus to be dominated by health care and the Sotomayor nomination. But I came across this little cut and keep nugget on voter turnout.read more...»
I know there seems to be a lot of emphasis on the blog at the moment on the Obama Presidency, but a new White House incumbent gives us the chance to analyse the intricate workings of politics inside the beltway.read more...»
President Obama’s campaign pledge to widen health coverage to as many of the non insured as possible is stumbling amid partisan wranglingread more...»
There’s a fine piece of writing by Tim Garton Ash in Thursday’s Guardian on how the war on the faltering economy has put thoughts about the so called war on terror to the back of many peoples’ minds.
“The first thing I see every time I come to New York is something that is not there. That soaring absence of the twin towers on the skyline of Manhattan remains this city’s most haunting presence. A landmark of air. But the shadow cast by the absent twin towers is no longer the defining feature of world politics in the way that the shadow cast by the Berlin Wall was for nearly 30 years. Most people don’t any more feel that we live in a “war on terror” in the way that we did feel that we lived in a cold war. Not across the world. Not in America. Not even in New York.”
A combination of reverse jetlag and too many visits to Seattle’s many and varied coffeehouses has resulted in being glued to the late night news shows. The consensus amongst the talking heads, even those on Fox’s far right broadcasts, is that the hearings for Sonia Sotomayor have been a straightforward proces, lacking any real controversy.read more...»
The discussion about Barack Obama’s African heritage has obviously moved on from discussion about whether the USA was ready for a black President. This week Obama shifted the debate onto discussion about how black America could write its own destiny.
This should provide a good point of discussion for students examining racial politics in the USA.read more...»
So claims one of the leading commentators on US politics in a recent column in Time Magazine.read more...»
As if Barack Obama didn’t have enough on his plate as American President, he has taken time to forge a new direction in US foreign policy on Africa. Last week he made a bold speech where he argued that the continent could no longer apportion the blame on the effects of colonialism.
Sometimes the process of examining means that you learn new things. According to one candidate it is illegal to eat chicken with a fork in Gainesville, Georgia.read more...»
What do a couple of the most powerful men in the world get up to at international summits?read more...»
There’s a great feature on the woman who was at the centre in one of the most famous and controversial Supreme Court judgments in American history. Quite how did this woman switch from being the poster girl of the pro-choice movement to fulfilling the same role for the anti-abortionists? Those readers possessing the vaguest familiarity with American politics and society will not be shocked when they discover the answer.
As if the 44th President didn’t have enough on his plate, he is expected to reset the relationship between the USA and Russia. Rupert Cornwell brings you up to speed.
An interesting piece of Americana in today’s Independent: “The American Dream was fading almost before it began, says a study which shows a quarter of all pilgrims gave up on the New World to return to Britain.
The harsh realities of life in 17th-century Massachusetts, where disease was rife, the climate unforgiving and the economy stagnant for long periods, forced thousands to make the treacherous three-month voyage back across the Atlantic within a few years of arriving.”
Further to an earlier posting, I have details of the report I set for my post AS groups entitled “A political introduction to America”. Participation was voluntary and the quality of entries was high.
Congratulations to Rebecca Salkeld, who in 2,000 words produced an excellent piece that is as good as could be expected from a candidate who has only been studying US Politics for a couple of weeks.
Rebecca’s submission is posted below, and the Amazon vouchers will be winging their way to her email account soon.read more...»
Why some people were concerned back in the autumn that this individual would be a heartbeat away from the presidency.read more...»
Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate dropped a bizarre bombshell on the eve of Independence Day by announcing that she was stepping down as Alaksa’s governor.
A twin set of stories from today’s Independent on America’s economic troubles.
This week we have been discussing the implications of the news that Al Franken will become the 60th Senator to vote with the Democrats.read more...»
Today marks one of the most significant points in recent US history, and an event that has largely been overlooked due to the current economic crisis.
There were a number of great features on Obama’s successes and failures in yesterday’s paper. Here are details.read more...»
As part of the LSE’s public lecture series, there is a great even coming up soon on geopolitics and, in particular, the changing role of the USA. Without meaning to prejudice any students university application in the social sciences field, but it would seem to me that participating in events such as these would be the kind of things that would be interpreted as a genuine and active interest in a subject beyond a classroom context. You could say this is purely utilitarian, but, equally, one could consider it as an extra incentive to attend.
For fans of the classic comedy series “The Day Today”, you may think that this is the work of another set of comedians of a similarly twisted disposition.read more...»
I have been holed up in various less than salubrious locations in London this week on examining duties, but light relief has been provided by a number of stories emanating from across the Atlantic.read more...»
I picked up a copy of Justin Webb’s “Have a Nice Day” at the weekend, which lays out a forceful and intense case for what can be considered positives about the modern USA.
The Independent’s Big Question carries a feature on an intriguing and beguiling piece of Americana.read more...»
I have come across a useful page on the BBC containing a series of short videos on the challenges facing Obama as President.read more...»
Anyone looking at synoptic questions about the ability of the UK and US political systems to uphold civil liberties may wish to consider this story.read more...»
In an echo of the MPs’ expenses scandal I have been swamped with requests by students about how reports about Obama’s health care plans can be rolled into US politics exam answers.
I’ve put together a list of resources on President Obama. This could be accessed by students or teachers for a host of purposes.read more...»
It is well known that the executive office of the president (EOP or EXOP) is more important and powerful than the Cabinet. What evidence is there of this being the case in the current administration?
A few quick questions to work on for students starting a US Politics courseread more...»
This week our students have been given a general introduction to its people and politics. During discussion I mentioned the use of three strikes laws in some US states. As chance would have it there is a feature on this in this week’s Economist.
Useful for discussion of the use of direct democracy, how laws vary by state due to the federal structure, what such tough law and order measures might say about where we could place American parties on the political spectrum compared to UK parties.
Book review: an entertaining insight into life in America’s heartland
What is the new White House incumbent’s position on states’ rights?
Some hints and tips with approaching the forthcoming US Politics examsread more...»
One of the modern features of American cabinets is its role in reaching out to the people and representing the diversity evident in the USA. Here are some notes on Obama’s.read more...»
Here are details of an idea about getting something interesting and productive done once students come back after the AS exams. If you are one of the lucky institutions that doesn’t welcome back students after AS exams are over, then this could work equally well as a bit of summer homework.read more...»
How helpful of Barack Obama to nominate his first Supreme Court appointee and thereby dominating the US political news agenda at a time when so many students on this of the Atlantic are likely to be revising the topic for their exams.read more...»
Barack Obama’s worst defeat so far as President is a perfect illustration of the separation of powers and checks and balances in action.
Obama has them rolling around in laughter at last weekend’s Washington Correspondant’s Dinner. His speech was on the 10-day anniversary of his first hundred days
Part two includes some bold claims about what he hopes to achieve in the second hundred days, including a target of getting the second hundred days completed 28 days early!read more...»
By my calculation Obama’s 100 days will occur next Wednesday. In the run up a number of publications are analysing his policies. In today’s Independent Rupert Cornwell (arguably one of the most informed sources on US politics writing for a UK source) takes a lokk at his foreign policy. Lots of useful content for students and teachers covering presidents and foreign policy for the summer.read more...»
What is the ex-Prez up to these days?
Two great columnists sure to widen and deepen your knowledge of inside the beltway politicsread more...»
The possibility of the USA formally softening its stance with the Caribbean island raises some interesting questions in terms of international relations.read more...»
Self defence, anyone?
If your eyes glaze over when reading more about the intricate detail of Westminster sleaze, read this instead. You don’t have to be a US Politics student to find America’s relationship with the gun fascinating.
Many students write that American parties are catch-all or umbrella organisations
Students of American Politics will no doubt be aware that it is often described as a political body, one of the reasons being that the Justices vote down ideological lines.
I’ve come across this useful primer from the New York Times on the race for the presidency
A note, with links to Amazon, on three new editions in the run up to exam timeread more...»
There is great briefing in this week’s Economist on the new Presidentread more...»
How one of this blogger’s favourite TV shows may help with revision
Professor Richard Thaler was on great form last night during his lecture at the LSEread more...»
President Obama’s appearance on the Jay Leno show did not quite turn out as he hoped.
The US President’s powers are notoriously limited in the legislative sphere, so how does he get Congress to do his bidding?
There’s a short report in the Evening Standard tonight about Gordon Brown giving his stamp of authority to proposals the Labour Party is considering which are designed to usher in a new era of party politics. With party membership in long term decline (although there has been a slight blip upwards for the Tories since David Cameron became leader) parties are considering new ways of connecting to supporters who may help out with campaigning.
I attended an absolutely excellent lecture last night by Larry Sabato, Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia.read more...»
American Politics students will be familiar with the gap between the expectations placed upon the President and the powers he has at his disposal to enact legislation. The Constitution of course hands all power to initiate legislation to Congress but since the 1930s the occupant of the White House has effectively become de facto chief legislator. In other words, the President is essentially hamstrung by the separation of powers put in place by the Founding Fathers who were cautious about creating a new political system that could lend itself to executive tyranny. For this reason modern Presidents must employ a range of techniques that can assist their power to persuade. So how has Obama attempted to deal with this challenge?read more...»
In lessons this week we have been discussing how well the UK and USA protect civil liberties in a comparative sense. This of course is a hugely controversial subject—and one which would be covered even more widely if it weren’t for the economic and banking crisis. Anyway in trying to stimulate thought on this I have found myself referring back frequently to an article I read by Andrew Sullivan at the weekend.read more...»
Students quite frequently write that American parties are loose groupings and largely free of coherent ideology. But this analysis ignores the steep rise in partisanship evident in the USA in recent decades.read more...»
I wrote in a previous article that an American politician once said that campaigns were in poetry and government was in prose. This is a theme picked up in the Guardian:
‘You campaign in poetry, but you must govern in prose. That favoured phrase of New York’s former governor Mario Cuomo now applies with even more force to another progressive Democrat. Soaring rhetoric and a moving memoir combined to create the Barack Obama phenomenon and lift him from obscurity to the heights of the White House. Once installed, however, his main concern has been gritty negotiations over the minutiae of an economic recovery package. After protracted haggling, Congress has all but signed off on his fiscal stimulus plan, and yet the prosaic work remains far from complete.’
Read more of this neat editorial piece on the expectations gap here
I was talking today to my AS class about easy ways to keep up to date with politics as they are so reluctant to read a “proper paper” (no, I tell them, the Metro doesn’t count). I suggested that they dip into some of the range of excellent podcasts that are available.read more...»
It goes without saying that Obama faces the biggest challenges of a new occupant of the White House in over half a century, and that expectations undoubtedly exceed these. But how quickly will his star fade? Cynical? Not really. It was Enoch Powell who was correct in saying that all political careers end in failure. And well before that the honeymoon period becomes a distant memory. For this reason, the Economist ran this interesting feature (in late January, but the blog was, alas, slow to advertse it):
Further detail of the strategies used by presidents to overcome the limitations on their powers can be found in spades in the press at the minute as they analyse Obama’s moves in relation to the economic crisis.
Obama has not had as much success as he would have liked in convincing Congress of the merits of his plan. For this reason he has been on his bike this week touring small towns in order to shore up public support for his bound to be over a trillion dollar proposal. As the Independent reported today:
‘With partisan rancour threatening to blow his economic and financial agenda off course, President Barack Obama will today try to appeal over the heads of members of Congress and shore up public support for his $800bn stimulus plan and a second massive bailout for Wall Street.’
As someone with similarly limited experience in cutting deals in the Capitol, appealing to the public directly was a strategy used by President Reagan in the 1980s to soften up congressmen on his tax cut proposals. The gipper is not regarded as one of the most intelligent politicians to work behind the desk in the Oval Office, but he knew what skills he had. The ‘great communicator’ used his telegenic nature, and acting skills, to appeal to the people on TV. The environment Obama is opertaing in is probably one of higher stakes, but the rewards of success are also greater. Watch this space.
The presidency is usually the favoured topic for students of American Politics on the government of the USA module, so they would be well advised to follow in detail the path taken by Obama. Many have questioned when Obama the prophet, the campaigner who has talked in grand themes, who would become Obama the president, bogged down in the dim realities of everyday politics. An American politician once said that campigns are in poetry, government is in prose. Never was this more true than in Obama’s case.
To keep up to date on a regular basis, students need to look no further than the Economist’s US section.read more...»
We’ve just kicked off our study (after a bonus two days rest due to snow) of the Edexcel Unit 6 paper examining the UK and US political systems in a comparative context. It can seem a bit daunting at first to draw together different strands of the course and compare and contrast them meaningfully. And for some at the moment it seems like I am asking them to compare apples and bananas. Possible, but perhaps a bit pointless. So I thought I’d share some of the thoughts I expressed to my classes on this since there may be blog readers out there in a similar predicament.read more...»
The new edition of first past the post, tutor2u’s digital Politics magazine, has been posted on the site.
Given the importance of the recent American elections, there is a bit of a US slant, but there are great articles covering UK politics, the EU, UK issues, as well as political ideologies.read more...»
A pointer towards a raft of events that will undoubtedly be of interest to teachers and/or students.
First up, notification of an excellent study tour opportunity in April for teachers from the European Atlantic Movement:
‘This is a study tour for Lecturers, Teachers, other Professional and Business People who are interested in visiting the institutions of Western Co-operation and discussing current affairs
The party will visit the European Parliament, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the European Commission, the Council of the European Union among others. Briefings, Q & A sessions and opportunities to gather supportive literature will for part of every visit.
The cost including travel by Eurostar and 3 nights en suite accommodation with breakfast at the 4* Hotel Carrefour de l’Europe which is situated in the centre of Brussels.’
I’m sure I won’t be the first to paraphrase Oscar Wilde in saying that Obama’s loss of one Cabinet nominee may be regarded as misfortune, but to lose two looks like carelessness.
Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, has withdrawn from the nomination to head Health and Human Services. Daschle has apparently failed to pay $130,000 in taxes. This comes weeks after Bill Richardson withdrew from the Commerce post. What does this say about the administration that Obama is running? It is probably to early to question the President’s ability to judge character given that Daschle, who is a multi-millionaire, had been guilty of at most making an error.
Had Daschle not been due to play a key role in guiding through important healthcare reforms, then it is likely Daschle would have ridden the media storm. For more on the withdrawal and the vetting process view an excellent transcript of an online interview with Larry Sabato in the Washington Post.read more...»
This is a great time for American Politics students to be studying anything from the governing part of the course involving the separation of powers, checks and balances, the Presidency or Congress.
The United States is facing its biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression and the American electorate expect one man to put it right: President Obama.read more...»
An article provoking a lot of comment on the Guardian’s comment is free site is a feature by Gary Younge on President Obama’s attempt to woo congressional Republicans on the fiscal stimulus package.read more...»
I have penned an article for the forthcoming of first past the post, tutor2u’s digital Politics magazine, on the future of the Republican Party. There has been, as is often the case when parties lose elections, some navel gazing going on at the heart of the GOP. Essentially the party seems torn between deciding that it has been too conservative, while others believe it is not conservative enough.
In the short term the party seems determined to focus resolutely on tax cuts and government spending. In my article I write that this alone will not be enough to restore the party’s credibility. Anyway, an article by Paul Harris in today’s Observer picks up on some of the latest developments in the world of the GOP.read more...»
Do we as Politics teachers sometimes presume too much about the knowledge base of our students? Should we offer a mea culpa from time to time, pause, reflect and work through what we see as the basics? Probably.
I have stumbled across this excellent guide the operation of US government. Okay, it only covers the federal branches, but it should cover a lot of the ground that I hadn’t realised needed to be covered when doing a quick bit of revision today.
Listening to the radio this morning I heard a report on Barack Obama’s attempt to woo over Republicans to support his economic stimulus plan. I thought that this would make an interesting story to relate to my British Politics students who have just started the Edexcel Unit 2 paper.read more...»
On YouTuberead more...»
Race relations in the US Politics is probably the most interesting topic as far as my current crop of students are concerned. What better time to consider whether pursuit of the American Dream is a realistic proposition for African Americans than now. The inauguration of the first ever black President suggests that equality is possible, but a couple of the YouTube clips I use when considering the issue of race in America here suggest that race remains the main dividing line issue in the USA.read more...»
Direct action events such as the recent Heathrow airport ‘flashmob’ protests lend weight to the argument that pressure groups are instruments which reinforce democratic pluralism. However, there is a disturbing report in the Observer about the emergence of a revolving door involving former Labour government officials and the BAA.read more...»
A heads up for Saturday’s Independent which comes with a free DVD of the original Frost v Nixon interview. This coincides with the release of the Ron Howard film ‘Frost/Nixon’ which is due for general release on Friday. I managed to catch it when in the US recently and it really is superb - a Politics class night out to the cinema?
Also in today’s paper, with Bush’s departure and Obama’s inauguration just days away, is the start of a seven part series on the lives of the presidents. Another reason to go out and get a copy. If you want to access the info online, the web link is here.
One might be inclined to think that after one of the most exciting elections in living memory, which ended with an historic outcome, that electoral reform campaigners in the USA would have lost heart.
Not so. Check out the Presidential Elections Reform Program of the FairVote website, which carries a host of useful stuff on reform of the primaries and the electoral college—the latter is particularly helpful if you are trying to dress up what can be quite a dry topic.
I have been doing some legwork for a forthcoming article for first past the post on campaign finance in the USA. Browsing the Open Secrets site I have been fascinated by their feature on the revolving door.
As the site states:
"Although the influence powerhouses that line Washington's K Street are just a few miles from the U.S. Capitol building, the most direct path between the two doesn't necessarily involve public transportation. Instead, it's through a door—a revolving door that shuffles former federal employees into jobs as lobbyists, consultants and strategists just as the door pulls former hired guns into government careers. While members of the executive branch, Congress and senior congressional staffers spin in and out of the private and public sectors, so too does privilege, power, access and, of course, money."
On the site you can track movement between congressional and executive offices and lobbying firms. The scale and degree of activity is quite staggering.
This is an excellent site for consolidating knowledge on this much discussed, but often misunderstood phenomenon. Note for instance, that lobby firms seek to attract those with agency/executive experience as well as congressional staffers, not just ex-congressmen.>
I wonder if you have been watching this TV miniseries on Channel 4. The next show is on Saturday 10 January at 5.15 pm.
It really is quite excellent and essential viewing for students of American Politicsread more...»
Continuing the Bush focus (we will really miss him when he’s gone, and it will be difficult to believe he really was president for 8 years), here is a link to a BBC feature on Bushisms, those verbal dyslexia moments when 43 was unable to say what he meant.
There is a special section on Bush in the G2 section of today’s Grauniad. This is the web edition link. The print edition has a cut and keep Bush mask. Scary
If you happen to be looking for suitable pictures to pepper your school’s intranet page with, or, say, want to add a bit of humour to a class handout, then try the Ind’y selection of George W Bush images. This link takes you to one of my favourite moments of the Bush presidency; the so called Pretzel incident.
Student’s caveat emptor
It’s fair to say that the British, and Europeans in general, can be somewhat smug when viewing goings on in the USA. On the one hand we want them to do the right thing: scrap the death penalty, tighten gun laws, etc. But on the other hand we like to sneer at their ability to get it wrong: proving what a barbaric and mixed up place it is. This is partly since it makes us feel superior. But it’s also because Americans seem overly proud of their country and their political system - viewing it as an extension of the democratic process that began with the Magna Carta, Bill of Rights, habeas corpus, and the War of Independence, yet seeming to ignore that a raft of other countries in the world have made significant political advances since the birth of their nation. This explains how we can be simultaneously proud that they have elected Obama, but can also be incredulous that they elected Bush - not just once, but twice.
Anyway, reservations aired. They are funny pictures of a man that remains, to me at least, something of an enigma.
Further to an earlier posting by a fellow blogger about Bush’s legacy, I would draw your attention to a rather good article from US News.
It starts by noting how introspective the 43rd president has become in the fag end days of his time in office:
‘He finally admits that his low standing in the polls does bother him. “Everybody wants to be liked,” the normally thick-skinned president told a December 1 forum on global health. He concedes that many voters backed Democrat Barack Obama on Election Day as a protest against the Bush years. He admits to frustration with his big setbacks, especially the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which was one of his main reasons for going to war there. Similarly, he is disappointed by the failure of Congress to pass his measures to overhaul immigration and Social Security, and he is distressed by the soaring level of federal spending and the continuing partisan warfare in Washington.’
Read further here and consider the following exercises:
Outline what Bush himself is said to be proud of.
What does the article view as Bush’s positive legacies.
Summarise comment on each of the following headings:
The ‘war on terror’
The war in Iraq
The financial meltdown
The elevation of Dick Cheney
See here for CNN’s take on another lowlight of the Bush administrationread more...»
The new edition of first past the post, tutor2u’s digital magazine, has just been posted on the website.
There a number of excellent articles in it on a host of topical areas: the UK police force, multiculturalism, the US Supreme Court, the impact of Boris Johnson as London Mayor, a comparative analysis of the representativeness of the UK and US legislatures, the effect of the economic downturn on UK political parties, and look at the ‘what ifs’ of the US election.
I have also written one looking at the outcome of the 2008 presidential election. This topic will inevitably crop up on the American papers of whatever syllabus you are following in the upcoming months.read more...»
We had Michael Crick, Newsnight’s political editor, in school yesterday to speak to the Politics Society on ‘Could politicians ever be trusted?’. One of the points made was that despite appearances to the contrary, British politics is pretty clean, and probably less corrupt than countries such as France, Germany, and the United States.
As if in support of his case, this report has come out of Illinois:
‘The governor of Illinois brazenly put up for sale his appointment of Barack Obama’s successor in the United States Senate.
In recorded conversations with advisers, the governor, Rod R. Blagojevich, seemed alternately boastful, flip and spiteful about the Senate choice, which he crassly likened at one point to that of a sports agent shopping around a free agent for the steepest price, a federal affidavit showed. At times, he even weighed aloud appointing himself to the job, the prosecutors said.’ Source: the New York Times
It’s getting to that time of year when this blogger starts looking for material for the end of term Politics quiz. This year big prizes are on offer: Supreme Court gavel pencils, diaries, Obama stickers (yahoo!). So I thought I’d do a quick scan to see who Obama’s latest Cabinet pickes were.
This page on the New York Times site does a good overview of the new - and potential - team.
It’s a shame that Arnie seems to have disappeared from the reckoning, but at least there is a ripple of excitement to be had in consdireing the exotically named Cassandra Quin Butts.
As chance would have it, all my A level groups are doing a mock today and our weekly Friday focus sessions will not take place. But I thought I’d share a couple of articles that would make excellent discussion pieces on two of the most popular Politics topics.
First up is an excellent feature on the impact Peter Mandelson has had on Gordon Brown’s premiership. Students will be familiar about the debate on PM power and that it is more or less common knowledge that the PM is more intimate with some Ministers than others. Scholars have variously referred to this phenomenon as a kitchen Cabinet, or spheres of influence. The article in today’s Independent suggests that Peter Mandelson has penetrated Gordon Brown’s inner circle and he carries as much weight as either Alistair Darling or Ed Balls. Interesting
Over in the Economist there is great piece on Barack Obama and race relations. Racial inequality and the debate over measures used to try to overcome it always stimulate student interest. The key thing is to develop an intelligent appreciation of arguments on both sides. I think this article will help students in this respect.
There was an excellent documentary at the weekend on the possibly declining influence of the religious right. You can access for the next 29 days on Channel 4’s catch up site
I can’t find any way to download it permanently, so if there are any technophiles out there who know how…!
I have also included the first part here from YouTuberead more...»
Hardly. If he did, he would have chosen her as his running mate. So why does he seem set to appoint her as the USA’s top diplomat, especially since most of the running in this courtship seems to be by the Clinton camp?
Andrew Sullivan (yes, I know I have been plugging his columns endlessly, but you really must appreciate their infinite beauty) comes up with a few ideas in today’s Sunday Times. Read it here
It may have escaped your attention that Saturday was not only the 45th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, but also the 18th anniversary resignation of Mrs Thatcher as PM.
Perhaps an opportune time to consider the importance of each historic figure.
There is almost unlimited information out there on the web on both, but my contribution is the link to a clip of Oliver Stone’s film on JFK’s shooting. I think it is some of the best politics on film.read more...»
There’s a raft of stories relevant to British politics students in today’s papers.
First there is a report on the government’s plans to press ahead with the controversial ID card proposal
Then there’s a fairly thorough analysis of David Cameron’s response to Brown’s buy now, pay later plans to get the economy moving
There’s quite an interesting piece here on the BNP’s most high ranking elected official
I would also draw the attention of readers to this excellent overview of the financial crisis in the US by Larry Elliot
In response to a string of misdemeanours by students in the fag end of this term, I have been quoting the current incumbent of the White House. It is likely that during this speech, Bush attempted to say “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me”. This is what he actually came out with (lol as facebookers are inclined to write)...read more...»
As a follow up to an article in first past the post about the extent to which blacks have achieved political equality now that they have elected their first ever black president, I was going to do a further one about the self congratulatory state America has got itself in. How many times have we heard that only in America can any child grow up believing that they could one day be in the White House? Or that Britain could never have a black Prime Minister any time soon.
But Matt Frei, the BBC American correspondent, has done an excellent overview of the issues on the BBC blog.
Before going on to read it, I would ask readers to consider a couple of points. First, Britain elected a female premier in 1979. Second, how many African Americans will there be in the Senate after Obama is sworn in as president?
Read Frei’s article here
Obama obsessives like me are wandering around with a feeling of post-election emptiness. No polls to scrutinise; no electoral college scenarios to run. It seems we’re not alone, according to this hard-hitting news report from the Onion News Network…read more...»
It is unlikely that news that Rahm Emanuel has been chosen as Barack Obama’s Chief of Staff has escaped the attention of blog readers.read more...»
How many presidents were over 6ft tall? Which have had their faces on bank notes?
Find out via this jpg file, which would make a handy wall display:
I can’t seem to find the victory speech by Obama in Grant Park in full on YouTube, but this is the link to the BBC version:
A quick heads up for students and teachers. This weekend watch out for a US elections 2008 poster in the Independent on Sunday. If recent graphics in the sister paper are anything to go by, the elections outcome map may contain a few statistical errors, but at least they are promising a picture portrait of the president elect on the other side.
So says Matthew Syed in The Times.
With wall to wall coverage of the election results possibly weighing us all down, I thought I’d point out this excellent article on race and ethnic politics in the USA – it’s gone straight into my folder of teaching notes for the topic.
In an intelligent article, Gideon Rachman in the FT points out that Barack Obama will not only be the first ever black President if elected today, he will also be the first Democrat elected to the White House on nearly half a century that does not hail from a southern state.
“We are on the brink of history. On Tuesday the US could elect its first ever blue president.
The fact that Barack Obama would also be the first black president has obscured the significance of his political colouring. If he wins, he will be the first northern, urban liberal to win the presidency since the culture wars broke out in the US in the 1960s.”
See the rest of the article here
The Independent today contains a feast of politics for students and teachers.
First off is their Great American Quiz The same links takes you to the answers. Teachers should be able to plunder this for many end of terms to come!
Some entertaining presidential trivia here
Away from the US elections, here’s a good feature for UK issues coverage on the allegedly increasingly fluid nature of social mobility in the UK in the Big Question
What better than to have a genuine Barack Obama Action Man figure on your desk or to display in the staff room. We’ve got one of the last Barack Obama action figures left in NYC as the prize for this quick Politics Teacher Quiz…read more...»