chapter 4 american political culture ap government sept 18 2013 n.
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Chapter 4: American Political Culture AP Government, Sept. 18, 2013. Let’s Start With a Contrarian.

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Chapter 4: American Political Culture AP Government, Sept. 18, 2013

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let s start with a contrarian
Let’s Start With a Contrarian

“… I would rather disagree with a case [Pres. Obama] made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Vladimir Putin, NYT, 9/11/13

are we exceptional
Are we exceptional?
  • Class reactions
how did we wind up with democracy in the u s
How did we wind up with democracy in the U.S.?

Tocqueville’s observations:

  • Abundant and fertile land
  • Countless opportunities for people to acquire land and make a living
  • Lack of a feudal aristocracy that blocked others’ ambitions
  • An independent spirit encouraged by frontier living
why democracy in the u s cont
Why democracy in the U.S. (cont.)
  • But lots of countries have lots of land.
  • So it would seem logical that there is something else about America – perhaps our “political culture.”
what is p olitical culture
What is “political culture”?
  • It is
    • a set of basic values and beliefs about…
    • …how political and economic life ought to be carried out.
  • For there to be a political culture, it must be shared by most (although there can be subcultures).
  • There’s a competition for how to define our political culture every day.
do we have a political culture
Do we have a political culture?

Or stated another way, is there something recognizable about “Americanism”?

our american political culture
Our American Political Culture

The book says we do, and that there are “at least five elements”

1. Liberty

  • Laissez-faire economic policies (to a point).
  • Freedom to do whatever I want as long as I’m not hurting you (my fist, your nose…)
  • And yet… Can I? What limits are reasonable?
american political culture cont
American Political Culture (cont.)

2. Equality

  • Of opportunity, not outcome.
  • US families instill sense of equality and individual worth in their children.
  • And yet… Is there really equality of opportunity? If not, what do we do about it?
american political culture cont1
American Political Culture (cont.)

3. Democracy

  • No titles of nobility
  • Hold elected officials accountable
  • And yet… How do we hold a president accountable? A congressman? Do political minorities in most states have a meaningful vote?
american political culture cont2
American Political Culture (cont.)

4. Individual responsibility (or “individualism”)

  • People should

take of

themselves if

they can.

  • And yet…

So many people

are on welfare.

american political culture cont3
American Political Culture (cont.)

5. Civic duty

  • People should take care of those who need help.
  • And yet… Do we? Yeah, we are pretty good at this. Roughly ¾ of adult Americans give something to charity annually.
there are other things we could add
There are other things we could add

Such as:

  • Belief in private property
  • Rule of Law
  • Ambition
  • Etc.
another way to approach political culture
Another way to approach political culture:
  • What makes a good citizen?
  • Are there inherent tensions in America?
    • Is Edward Snowden a good citizen of America?
    • Or is it better to take the approach of “my government, right or wrong”?
some sources of our political culture
Some sources of our political culture

From the book:

  • Revolutionary War fought over liberty – a defense of natural rights.
  • Constitution a balancing act of effort to reconcile personal liberty with needs of social control.
  • US politics has an adversarial spirit that distinguishes us from countries that did not undergo such a revolution.
  • We also have a distrust of people in power.
whatever your beliefs chances are you have them because of
Whatever your beliefs, chances are you have them because of…

… “political socialization.”

  • This is the process by which a citizen acquires his/her sense of political identity.
  • You learn the values and beliefs our political system is based on.
  • Influences shape political identity from childhood to adulthood.
how is our political culture passed on
How is our political culture passed on?
  • Family the #1 influence.
    • Political views of parents shape those of children.
    • Families in US reinforce notion of worth of the individual – more freedom and equality than in families in other countries.
how is political culture passed on cont
How is political culture passed on (cont.)
  • Churches
    • Through their religious teachings, yes, but also …
    • …through other factors that influence our political culture:
      • Lots of religious diversity. No state-sanctioned religious orthodoxy made it harder for a political orthodoxy to emerge.
      • Churches have ready-made opportunities for developing social skills. A participatory religious culture lends itself to a participatory political culture.
      • Religious tradition of doing good deeds, obeying the law, working hard, etc. all have been important influences.
    • de Tocqueville: “[I]n America, religion is the road to knowledge, and the observance of the divine laws leads man to civil freedom.”
and let s not forget
And let’s not forget…

…schools (how about a shout-out for McGill-Toolen?)…

…and the media,

with growing emphasis

on social media.

as a result we have a lot in common
As a result, we have a lot in common.

Are we all “middle class”?

  • Gov. Romney and Pres. Obama suggested that “middle class” includes those making $250,000 per year.
  • Regardless of how defined, we have comparatively little class consciousness in US.
  • Yes, we have unions but no viable socialist party.
so who are we
So Who Are We?

Take a look at

the changing


in the US:

changing demographics
Changing demographics
  • From the Washington Post (May 17, 2012)

“Minorities now account for more than half the babies born in America, a milestone in the path toward what demographers forecast will be an overall majority-minority population in 30 years.”

  • What does that mean for US politics/policies?
some possible recent changes
Some possible recent changes
  • From commitment to capitalism and free enterprise to more promotion of the general welfare (see FDR’s "Second Bill of Rights” – to food, clothing, shelter, job, health care, and education).
  • From more trust in the gov’t to less.
  • From a strong sense of political efficacy to a weak one.
  • From a more unified view of the right answer on social views to culture wars.
how is our political tolerance
How is Our Political Tolerance?
  • Your book: “Democratic politics depends crucially on citizens’ reasonable tolerance of the opinions and actions of others.”
  • We need a free expression of ideas and free election of leaders.
  • We can see the consequences of intolerance taken to its extreme whenever we pick up the newspapers these days.
are we bowling alone
Are We Bowling Alone?

See Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone

bowling alone cont
Bowling Alone (cont.)
  • Putnam: There is a declining participation in those networks, norms, and trusts that enable people to pursue more effectively shared interests.
  • Many institutions – Rotary, Kiwanis, book clubs, etc. – are declining in influence and #s. More people are bowling, but participation in leagues is declining.
  • “Social capital” is dropping and individuals, and their communities, are the worse for it.
  • Putnam recommends search for ways to use new technology to build networks, for ways that people can build communities.
if we are bowling alone how might that affect politics
If We Are Bowling Alone, How Might That Affect Politics?
  • Membership in parties is dropping. More people are registering as Independents.
  • Political views appear to be more polarized, perhaps because we seek information from sources that reinforce our ideas.
    • Conservatives watch Fox News and perhaps read the WSJ or The Weekly Standard.
    • Liberals watch MSNBC and maybe read The NYT or The National Review.
    • Where’s the common ground?
conservatives v liberals
Conservatives v. liberals
  • Conservatives:
    • Favor limited gov’t, free enterprise, military spending, prayer in school, lower taxes, pro-life. Oppose affirmative action and gov’t spending on social programs.
  • Liberals:
    • Favor active central government with social and economic responsibilities, more equal distribution of wealth, more gov’t regulation of big business, more gov’t spending on social programs, pro-choice. Oppose large military build-up, school prayer, tax breaks for the wealthy.
race and ethnicity
Race and Ethnicity
  • Whites vote more Republican
    • Support death penalty, more defense spending
  • Blacks vote more Democrat
    • Affirmative action, national healthcare
  • Hispanics vote more Democrat
    • immigration
  • Asians vote more Republican
    • Conservative culture

2008 Democratic primary campaign between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton

  • New England - more liberal
  • Southeast/Bible Belt - more conservative
  • Midwest - more conservative
  • Pacific - more liberal
  • Urban - more liberal/Democratic
  • Suburbs/small towns - more conservative
  • Rural - more conservative/Republican
a word of caution
A Word of Caution…
  • Labels are dangerous.
  • Examples:
    • A blue-collar worker might vote Democrat for pro-union policies but vote Republican due to conservative religious traditions.
    • A “conservative” may favor Republican economic policies but libertarian social ideas.
  • The point: there are lots and lots (and lots) of exceptions to generalities about how someone is likely to vote based on characteristics.
another way to look at things per the textbook
Another Way to Look at Things (per the textbook)
  • Orthodox …
    • Morality and religion should be decisive
    • Need relatively clear, stable rules that are independent of individual preferences
  • … vs. Progressive
    • Personal freedom and solving social problems are more important than religion.
    • Rules are to be evaluated based on personal circumstances.
  • As the book points out, neither side has a monopoly on morality.
culture wars
Culture Wars
  • One challenge is that cultural differences don’t lend themselves as well to compromise as do political or economic issues.
    • Cultural issues go to the essence of who we are as a people, not just how we want to spend tax dollars.
  • Is there a war? Not surprisingly, there are different views here, too.
    • No: The media blows things out of proportion.
    • Yes: People are choosing party affiliation based on these issues.
summing up to this point
Summing Up to This Point
  • We have lots in common,but our demographics and ways of interacting are changing.
  • We need a “civil society” to ensure that the values we hold important survive.
    • The collection of private, voluntary groups that make human cooperation easier and allow us to hold gov’t accountable.
    • Another perspective: it’s the “third sector” of society (the first two being gov’t and b’ness) through which we advance common interests.
how do we compare to other countries
How Do We Compare to Other Countries?

Three points from the text:

  • We have a higher sense of “civic competence” – a/k/a “political efficacy” – than do citizens of other countries.
  • We distinguish the office from the officeholder. We still hold many gov’tal institutions in relatively high esteem (police, army, courts, etc.), even as we rail against da bums.
  • Religion permeates politics in US more than in many other countries. See, e.g., unsuccessful attempts to remove “under God” from Pledge of Allegiance, “In God We Trust” on money, etc.
why the decline
Why the decline?

Some possibilities:

  • Viet Nam War
  • Nixon
  • Clinton/Lewinsky
  • Maybe we were overly rosy in the 1950s?
  • Others?
should we care
Should We Care?
  • In any poll there may be methodology issues.
  • But if the polls are correct, then what?
    • Is it a problem?
    • If it is a problem, what do we do about it?