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The United States. Theodoulou. The U.S., 1945-2003. Theodoulou: “Significant change in the nation’s political institutions has not been accompanied by significant changes in political culture.” “Americans today view politics very similarly to Americans in 1945.”

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The United States

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The united states l.jpg

The United States


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The U.S., 1945-2003

  • Theodoulou:

    • “Significant change in the nation’s political institutions has not been accompanied by significant changes in political culture.”

    • “Americans today view politics very similarly to Americans in 1945.”

    • Discontent leads to transform institutions, but not culture (how can you tell the difference?)

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Contradictory Expectations

  • “Limited Government is good government” (Distrust)


  • The government is expected to “protect, regulate, provide, and govern”

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Struggles & Wars(defined the American political scenario)

  • Civil War

  • The Spanish-American War (1898, acquisition of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Cuba became a U.S. Protectorate)

  • WWI (the U.S. Enters the world scenario as a main power—President Wilson’s League of Nations)

  • WWII (the U.S. Becomes the West hegemon, framing both the political and financial international systems)

     Europe: warfare did not lead to centralization in the U.S.—Striking levels of decentralization

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Years After WWII

  • The U.S. Becomes “the wealthiest nation in the world”

  • Increase in Gvt. Spending & Private consumption

  • Prosperity

  • Improved living standards

  • Social mobility

  • Progressive incorporation of the working class


    Limited Democracy (until 1965, due to racism and segregation). However, authoritarianism did not prevail because of decentralization of power and lack of coordination between elites.

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The U.S. Democratic Development (3 phases)

  • Until the Civil War (1861), with the North and the Midwest being democratic

  • From the Civil War to WWII, an authoritarian system in the South co-existed with a democratic system in the rest of the country

  • After WWII (1965), African American in the South were recognized political rights (as a result of their struggles)

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Republican and Democratic Parties... Between Liberal and Conservative positions


Democrats: plantation owners in the South (but also) supporters of the New Deal and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s

Republicans: traditionally opposed to slavery & Liberal in the North/opposed the Welfare State/supported by some of the most rightist groups


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Post-WWII Administrations

  • Harry Truman (Democrat) 1944-1952

    • Supporter of the New Deal (1946 Employment Act)

    • Civil Rights (1st President to challenge racism)

    • 1st term: governed with a Republican Congress

    • Cold War policies (National Security Act, Red Scare)

    • The Marshall Plan (afer 1947)

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  • 1952-1960 Eisenhower (Republican)

    -Continuation of New Deal policies

    -Prosperity (full employment, productivity rise)


    -Cuts in Defense spending

    1960 John Kennedy

    -Continuation of the Cold War

    -Rise of Social Movements

    Lyndon Johnson (1963-1968)

    -Committed to Civil Rights (Civil Rights Act 1964)

    -Ambitious Reforms (“Great Society” inspired in the New Deal)

    -Medicare, Medicaid, Affirmative Action, 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.

    Problems: the Vietnam War

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  • Richard Nixon (Republican, 1968-1974)

    • Consequences from the Vietnam War (desire of isolation)

      -Relations with China

    • End of Conscription

    • Economic Crisis (1973 Oil Crisis)

    • Corruption ?

  • Gerald Ford (1974-1976)

    • Inflation & Recession

  • Jimmy Carter (1976-1980) Democratic

    • Human Rights

    • Deepening economic crisis

    • (at odds with Congress)

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  • Ronald Reagan (1980-1988) Rep

    • Promised to restore the U.S. Image in the world/Renewal of Cold War

    • Huge military spending

    • The U.S. Became the world’s largest debtor nation

  • George Bush (1998-1992) Rep

    • Persian Gulf War (1991)

    • Growing Deficit (and growing taxes)

  • Bill Clinton (1992-2000)

  • “New” (centrist) Democrat

  • (Failed) attempt to reform the health system

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The U.S. Government

  • 6 Principles (= Downs’)

    • Majority Rule

    • Minorities rights

    • Rule of Law

    • Freedom of opinion/expression/press

    • Equality before the law

    • Gvt. Derives from the people, and must serve them.

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Institutional Fragmentation

  • No coalitions

  • “Gridlock of ungovernability”

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(Typical) Two-Party System

  • SMD “winner-takes-all” plurality system

  • Republican and Democratic parties

    • (Are they any different? Theodoulou: Republicans and Democrats disagree only in details or appearance)

  • Loss of faith in party politics visible in a 50% decline of voting in presidential elections in the last 50 years

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Interest Groups

  • Powerful Interest Groups (American corporations happen to be the biggest corporations in the world)

    • Lobbying= Legalized Corruption?

  • In principle, all kinds of different groups (also groups with little resources) should be able to lobbying successfully... (Are they?)

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The U.S. Constitution

  • Republican Form (open and flexible)

  • Ratified in 1788

  • Principles: Federalism, separation of powers, checks and balances, Supremacy clause (the Constitution is prior to any other law).

    • Amendments to the Constitution (Bill of Rights)

  • Gvt. Seen as a “necessary evil” (influence of Madison and The Federalists)

  • Strong independent judicial power

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The Executive

  • President and Vice-President chosen indirectly (electoral college) 4-year terms, with one reelection.

  • President: Commander-in-chief of the armed forces, conductor of U.S. Foreign relations, head of State.

  • Presidential powers have expanded far beyond that (policy agendas)

  • The President appoints the Cabinet (14 offices now, each led by a Secretary)

  • Frequently, it governs with an opposite Congress (separate elections)

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The Legislature

  • Legislation and Oversight

  • Congress (the main power according to the Constitution)

  • Bicameral Legislature

    • Senate (100 members, 2 from each State)

    • House of Representatives (435 members chosen directly by popular vote to serve two-year terms)

  • Committees and subcommittees (debate laws/ power of “killing” bills)

  • In the last 50 years, the Congress has diminished its law-making role

  • Traditional “friction” between the President and Congress

  • “Incrementalism” in policy reform

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The Judiciary

  • Based on English Common Law

  • Justices are appointed by the President (for life)

  • Judicial Review (at all levels)

    • Sets policy agendas

    • Checks and balances

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The Federal Bureaucracy

  • Carries the Executive functions of government.

  • Appointed

  • Bureaucrats “make” laws through regulating the implementation of laws

  • (Now) includes 14 Executive Departments, in charge of Secretaries responsive to the President

  • 2000 executive agencies dealing with the most diverse issues (fromt the CIA to the Environmental Protection Agency)

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State and Local Government

  • Decentralization of power/gvt. is a main characteristic of the U.S.

  • State governments in charge of most roads, schools, policing

    -(yet, local gvts. are part of the state system and depend on their States)

  • State and local governments receive a part of federal taxes.

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Policy Process

  • Decentralized and fragmented, with many points

    • Of access (what allows for

    • Of Blockage

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