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About this book

This extensively revised new edition offers a broad-ranging, systematic and sophisticated introduction contemplating the institutions and processes of government in the US set in a clear historical context.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Washington DC is a magnificent city. Any visitor must be impressed by the splendour of the buildings that house the three branches of the federal government, and the various departments, agencies and commissions that constitute a large part of central Washington. Those walking its sidewalks appear affluent, many dressed in designer office-wear; almost everyone in central Washington speaks English; many are white and many male. Yet, head south just a few blocks from the grand steps of the US Capitol Building — home of the legislative branch — and you begin to see another Washington: walk along South Capitol Street and across the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge (Douglass was a former slave, social reformer, abolitionist and renowned orator), traverse No Taxation Without Representation Street (a section of road renamed by Washington DC council in protest against the lack of voting rights in Congress for the city) and into the neighbourhood of Anacostia. Anacostia shows a very different side to the city: poorer, with mainly African-Americans walking the streets — and few grand buildings — federal or otherwise.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Chapter 1. Beliefs and Values in American Society

Abstract
This chapter examines the fundamental beliefs and values that form the bedrock of American political culture: the collection of values and beliefs held by ordinary voters and political elites. By creating and sustaining among Americans a commitment to a set of fundamental political values, American political culture acts as the glue that binds together a society characterized by a bewildering diversity. These values are embodied in the structures of American government that citizens regard as sacrosanct. The centrifugal forces created by the diversity of the United States are tempered by the centripetal forces of an American political culture built on a shared set of values. However, conflicts within America persist not least because, as we discussed in the Introduction, the meanings that these values are thought to have are intensely contested. Between and within the two parties, as well as in society at large, disagreements about the way that core values should be applied to policy questions has led to forceful disagreements both among political elites and the mass public. Such divisions are not new but the current level of polarization within the Congress is testament to the continuing disagreements regarding the ‘genuine’ embodiment of American values and how best to reflect them when crafting government policy.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Chapter 2. The Constitution: Creating the Rules of the Game

Abstract
This chapter examines the constitutional framework of the United States and the way in which the political culture of the new nation helped shape the institutional framework finally settled on in 1787. The chapter examines the precursor to the Constitution, the Articles of Confederation, before moving to the Philadelphia Convention and the crafting of the Constitution which British Prime Minister William Gladstone described as ‘as far as I can see, the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man’.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Chapter 3. Political Parties: The Politics of Aggregation and Disaggregation

Abstract
The United States has the purest two-party system of any large liberal democracy in the world. The system has undergone a number of significant changes during the history of the Republic, but the parties have remained the glue binding together a governmental system divided both vertically (as a result of federalism) and horizontally (as a result of the separation of powers). The US party system differs sharply from European party systems. This chapter traces the development of the party system, and examines how and why the US party system is different, and shows the significance of these differences. In examining the parties, the chapter considers whether, in an era of partisan polarization where moderate elite politicians are few, the parties remain the institutional glue they once were. To examine the parties in detail, this chapter considers the parties from three perspectives: as organizations (party machines that seek to elect candidates to office), as parties within the electorate (who votes for which party, why and how often), and as parties in government (how do elected officials and activists behave, particularly within the elected branches of the federal government. Finally, in trying to understand what has happened to the parties within the federal government, this chapter suggests that the parties have become more polarized in the last three decades but that the ‘party in government’ (‘party elites’) remain more polarized than voters. The consequence of this ‘elite polarization’ is a governmental system that works less well than it might. The party system is a significant contributor to this failure.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Chapter 4. Elections and the Politics of Participation

Abstract
There are, in the United States, more than 525,000 elective offices. Electoral participation rates are, nevertheless, low. This chapter examines who votes in elections and who does not, and why. It then considers how American elections function, focusing on the oil that wheels the electoral process: money. Campaign finances are central to how Americans run for office and how likely they are to win. Yet, it is essential to focus not only on the role of money, but also on persistent attempts by both federal and state governments to regulate the flows of campaign finances to candidates for public office.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Chapter 5. The Presidency and the Politics of Leadership

Abstract
On first examination, the office of the president of the United States appears to be a powerhouse in which the decisions made are implemented by the other elements within the governing institutions of the United States. However, the Founding Fathers created in the presidency an office with remarkably limited authority in domestic policy. Authority is divided between the two elected branches, and both the authority and the power of each are limited by the decisions made by the Supreme Court. This chapter considers the authority granted to the president in the Constitution before considering the significant changes that have reshaped the presidency since its creation. Consideration is also given to the central elements within the institution of the presidency that aid the president in his attempt to govern within and through a separated system. Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the institutional structure of the Executive Branch increased dramatically with the creation of the Executive Office of the President (EOP). As this chapter shows, the creation of the EOP in 1939 marks the birth of the modern or institutional presidency that exists in only slightly modified form today. The final task of the chapter is to consider both how and why presidential power has grown since the crafting of the Constitution, and to examine how and why some occupants of the Oval Office have sought to overcome the limitations created by a separated system through the use of socalled ‘direct action’.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Chapter 6. Congress and the Politics of Legislative Competition

Abstract
The United States Congress has three primary roles: to represent, to legislate, and to scrutinize (or ‘oversee’) the Executive Branch. This chapter examines how Congress performs the first two of its roles. Its third function, the oversight of the Executive Branch, as well as the many departments and agencies that constitute the federal bureaucracy, is considered in Chapter 9. Congress can be understood as an institution characterized by the interaction of two countervailing forces: one is centripetal and the other is centrifugal. The first comprises those forces that facilitate collective action, while the second force makes collective action hard to secure. In trying to understand how these two conflicting forces interact to shape legislative outcomes, it will be helpful in this chapter to view the legislature in terms of six aspects, or dimensions, which, taken together, help to explain what Congress does, how it does it, and why. These dimensions focus on the structure of Congress with its two distinct chambers, the centrally important relationship between the legislature and the executive and the individualized nature of an institution with 535 men and women, each of whom possesses a form of independence from their parties rare in European legislatures. It also focuses on the incentives and interests of the 535 individuals within the legislature who must work within this set of institutional and procedural structures.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Chapter 7. The Supreme Court and the Politics of Adjudication

Abstract
This chapter examines the organization of the Court, its power of judicial review and the ways in which the Court interacts with the elected branches examined in Chapters 5 and 6. The Supreme Court is thickly immersed in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of public policy in the United States. Whether or not the authors of the Constitution intended it, many of the Court’s judgements have political consequences. The Court’s role differs from those of the other branches because its members are politically appointed, not elected. They are, however, bound to maintain the legitimacy of the institution of which they are members. Accordingly, its appointive character does not diminish the extent to which the Court is political, but modulates its expression.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Chapter 8. Interest Groups

Abstract
Interest groups play prominent roles in American politics and there are few areas of public policy in which interest groups are not actively involved. As well as influencing policy directly, there is also the perennial question of how much influence interest groups have over policy outcomes and, crucially, whether such influence benefits or hinders the functioning of democracy. In short, the debate regarding the role of interest groups can be broadly categorized into two opposing views: the pluralists, who consider that group activity enhances democracy, and elite theorists, who consider the political system to be dominated by the few at the expense of the many. As former Senator Edward Kennedy said, ‘we have the best Congress money can buy’.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Chapter 9. Bureaucracy: The Fourth Branch of Government

Abstract
The United States Constitution provides for three branches of government. This chapter examines an unmentioned de facto fourth: the Executive Branch’s bureaucracy. Nearly one in fifty American workers is employed by the federal bureaucracy, yet it is often the focus for the opprobrium of politicians. The significant growth of an institution unmentioned in the Constitution, combined with the execution of its three core functions, has created a powerful and semi-autonomous fourth branch of government. But the bureaucracy must operate within a system that is separated into three branches in which each checks and balances the others, and is also separated by federalism such that the bureaucracy sits alongside a group of state-level bureaucracies independent of their federal counterparts.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Chapter 10. Federalism and Intergovernmental Policy Making

Abstract
Federalism is a core constitutional principle affirmed in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment reflects an American wariness of government in general, and antipathy to a unitary state. Further, it denotes the need to establish criteria for allocating powers to different levels of government without, in fact, determining them. Since ratification of the Tenth Amendment, the authority, capacity and power of the federal government have been augmented beyond recognition but a unitary state has not emerged. Yet, while states retain elements of their sovereignty, their autonomy from the federal government is heavily circumscribed. The states’ constitutional standing has weakened since 1937, when the Supreme Court upheld the authority of the US Congress under Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution to regulate commercial activity effectively without limit. The widespread perceived failure of federal education, welfare and urban initiatives of both the Great Society of the 1960s and the successor programmes of the 1970s weakened Congress’s will to act progressively. The 1980s were marked by President Reagan’s attempt to shift power from the federal government to the states, and the 1990s by an especially sharp reaction against federal government power following the Republicans’ victory in the 1994 mid-term elections.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Chapter 11. Domestic Economic Policy

Abstract
The economic policy process in the United States is the result of the interplay of multiple institutional actors in government and in markets who, between them, shape fiscal and monetary policy. The former, concerned as it is with decisions about taxing and spending, is largely the preserve of the president and the Congress. Given the obvious appeal of fiscal policy as a political tool, both the president and the Congress may use decisions about taxing and spending as a means to bolster political arguments, rather than technical ones. Monetary policy, which is concerned with using the quantity of money and interest rates as tools to control inflation, is the preserve of a formally independent central bank, the Federal Reserve, which has twin goals of delivering low inflation and high employment.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Chapter 12. Foreign and Defence Policy

Abstract
This chapter examines the processes of United States foreign and defence policy by focusing on the key institutional actors which, together, determine the shape and direction of policy. The United States remains the world’s sole superpower, despite the rapid growth of a number of nations since the mid-1980s. China might eclipse the United States as the largest economy in the world by 2020. Some commentators question whether the US will remain the global superpower once its status as the largest economy in the world is lost. Yet, its economy remains not only the largest in the world but twice the size of China’s; and its armed forces remain much the most potent. No other state has the capacity and will to project force around the globe, or in the air above it. Neither does any other state commit such a panoply of financial, technical and human resources to gathering intelligence about the military, political, diplomatic and commercial capacities and intentions of other states, whether friendly or hostile.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon

Conclusion

Abstract
Two major crises dominated the first decade of the twenty-first century: the War on Terrorism; and the financial crisis which erupted in 2007 and thereafter developed into consequential crises of credit markets, banks and banking, production and employment. This exceptional series of events had major fiscal and political consequences, and raised fundamental questions both about the legitimate powers of federal government and about that government’s capacity to shape public policy outcomes, whether in foreign states or in domestic and international markets. As America’s internal fiscal deficit fell sharply in the late 1990s, so did political anxiety about fiscal policy. By the same token, as America’s internal fiscal deficit grew with the fall in federal tax revenues after 2001 in response to the combination of a mild recession, major tax cuts and steep increases in national security expenditure, so anxiety about the resultant rise both in annual deficits and total federal debt grew. Among the public and political debates, many of which were notable more for their noise than for their depth, some academics and journalists reflected helpfully and incisively upon the possible institutional sources of the financial and economic crises. Partisan polarization has worsened the difficulty of overcoming the collection action problem which is, under any circumstances, especially severe in a separated system.
Nigel Bowles, Robert K. McMahon
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