Government and Politics AP Review Vocabulary – Part 1 absentee ballot – Federalist Papers The information found in this presentation is gleaned from a variety of sources including AP review material, AP government websites and my own personal and vast knowledge.
absentee ballot As the name suggests, this is an official ballot that allows citizens of a particular district to vote in absentia. Military personnel and businesspeople are examples of the people who take advantage of this particular service the most. Absentee voting was key to the decision in Florida during the 2000 general election (where Mr. Bush defeated Mr. Gore) and in 2010 during the mid-term election for senator in Alaska (where Sen. Murkowski defeated Mr. Joe Miller).
advise and consent This is the power of the U.S. Senate to have a say in the appointment of federal officials selected by the president and on treaties signed or conceived by the executive branch (Article 2, section 2). Normally, the Senate does not serve as a hurdle to presidential appointees unless there are questions of fitness for a particular position or if politics makes its way into the decision, as often does with Supreme Court nominee hearings. The Senate of the 108th Congress, 2003
affirmative action This policy, first conceived and utilized during the Johnson administration, was an attempt to redress past discriminations by ensuring equal access to employment and education for previously oppressed peoples. However, Supreme Court cases like Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) and Texas v. Hopwood (1996) have placed restrictions on the policy. A 2003 protest against the University of Michigan’s intent to scale back its affirmative action admission requirement.
Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) Signed by President George H.W. Bush, this act mandates that businesses and government offices ensure equal access of their public facilities by those with physical disabilities. It is more often referred to as the ADA. Proponents say that the law allows disabled Americans full access to public facilities but some businesses, as opponents, complain that the costs of such extra accommodations are prohibitive and excessive.
amicus curiae From Latin meaning “friend of the Court,” this term refers to one not related to a case who is brought in as an expert on a particular matter and used to assist the Court in making its decision. The practice began with the Roman justice system and its most recent application is in Argentina.
appellate jurisdiction This refers to a court’s ability to hear cases on appeal and applies to state court of appeals and supreme courts as well as the U.S. Supreme Court, who hears cases based on writ of certiorari. Courts with appellate jurisdiction can review the decisions of lower court cases on the basis of the application of the law but cannot review on the basis of the facts of the case itself. Case being heard by the Texas Supreme Court (2005)
appropriations According to the U.S. Constitution (Article I, section 7), the U.S. House of Representatives hold the purse strings of the U.S. government and determine how and to what degree money can be spent. The most powerful application of this authority is the right of the House to approve a president’s budget for the next fiscal year. Gov. Jim Douglas (R-VT), Gov. Jim Doyle (D-WI) and Gov. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) appearing before the House Appropriations Committee in 2008 to address economic concerns.
Articles of Confederation The first working constitution for the United States, the Articles of Confederation (at the time, opponents called it the Articles of Confusion) gave the majority of governmental power to state legislatures, provided for no president, federal judicial system or make national and foreign policies congruent, among other inadequacies. Such shortcomings eventually led to a new constitutional convention where it was scraped all together.
at large In a political sense, it is a politician who is elected by the whole of voters (in a state or in the country) rather than only those voters in a particular district. Charismatic Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) is the first Indian-American governor and an example of an at-large politician.
Attorney General The position of attorney general refers to the head of the Department of Justice and makes up a portion of a president’s cabinet. In essence, the attorney general is the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the land, speaks on behalf of the U.S. on legal matters and advises the president on the same. The position was created by the First Congress as part of the Judiciary Act of 1789. Eric Holder of New York is the Attorney General and head of the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama.
balanced budget A balanced budget is when aggregate expenditures equal aggregate revenue. Many presidents and governors have won elections or lost re-elections based on their abilities to balance the books – something that opponents point to as a sign (if not accomplished) that the powers-that-be are out of touch with the common people, who must do the same. In 2008-09, the state of California teetered on the brink of economic ruin because of being hundreds of millions of dollars in debt. On a national level, the 1997 attempt by the U.S. Congress to pass a balanced budget amendment failed by one vote. A cartoon observing the budgetary crisis in California
ballot An official piece of paper or card (or more modern facsimile) used to register a vote. Such casting of votes is done in secret but was not always so. English philosopher John Stuart Mill felt that open voting encouraged more responsible voting but most modern democracies observe secret ballot casting. In the 2000 presidential election, irregularities in the casting and counting of ballots led to a period of two months without an electoral decision. In recent years, some districts have gone towards digital voting with votes counted electronically. However, those methods are far from universal.
ballot box stuffing This is the practice of one person voting multiple times or fabricating multiple ballots to ensure the victory of one candidate over another. This has been a common form of corruption seen in elections at all levels throughout the history of the United States.
ballot proposition Better known as a referendum, this is a measure that is conceived by a legislature but put to the voters for approval. The city of Arlington, Texas addressed a referendum on the usage of tax dollars to partially fund the new Dallas Cowboys stadium. They agreed and the city has a new landmark. The new Cowboys Stadium opened for business in 2009.
bandwagon effect This is when voters choose a candidate based on the likelihood of their victory, convinced so by either those around them or in the presentation of the news by the media. In 1980, NBC News called the presidential election hours before polls closed on the west coast. While most experts think that Ronald Reagan would have won either way, the pre-mature call no doubt made the margin of victory larger. In 1980, NBC and its anchors John Chancellor and Tom Brokaw declared Ronald Reagan had defeated Jimmy Carter to become the 40th president of the U.S.
battleground states The Republicans’ key battleground states during the 2008 presidential election. Battleground states are those that could be won by any presidential candidate and could represent a significant impact on the electoral count. Some recent examples include Illinois and Texas (won by Mr. Johnson in 1960), Florida (won by Mr. Bush in 2000), Ohio (won by Mr. Bush in 2004) and Virginia and Colorado (won by Mr. Obama in 2008).
the Beltway “The Beltway” is a pejorative term that is used to showcase the shut-off and out-of-touch characteristics of those who serve in Washington, D.C. It is meant to highlight the fact that those within the Beltway are not connected to the American people and ergo, have no clue to the needs and wishes of the average American. Politicians who brag about being from outside the Beltway tend to strike a populist tone with large regional support, such as former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, former governor of Alaska. Some politicians garner support by positioning themselves as being from outside the Beltway, such as former governor Sarah Palin (R-AK).
Bicameral legislature A bicameral legislature is one with two houses and characterizes the U.S. Congress as well as 49 of the 50 U.S. states (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature). The original constitution allowed only a single house Congress but the U.S. Constitution allowed for a lower house (House of Representatives) where representation is calculated by population and an upper house (Senate) which has equal allotment of representatives (two for each state). The breakdown of both houses of Congress along party lines from 1992 and 2004 (Source: Washington Post).
bill A bill is a proposed legislation that is being considered by the Congress. Members of Congress drop their bill into a box (the hopper) and a member of the same house ask to introduce said bill. Once it is officially recognized, it is assigned to a committee to be discussed and finalized before it is brought before a vote and if passed, sent to the other house. However, very few bills make it out of committee. Two passed versions of the same bill (one by each house) is consolidated or can be by a conference committee in the house of origin. Upon its successful passing of Congress, it is sent to the president for a final “yes” vote, in which it is signed, or “no” vote (rejected through various forms of veto). If there is enough congressional support, the Congress can override a presidential veto. “I’m just a bill, yes, I’m only a bill and I’m sitting here on Capitol Hill…”
Bill of Rights The Bill of Rights are the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The additions were meant to mollify the anti-Federalists who did not trust a powerful federal government and wanted protection of the citizens and the power of the states. These amendments detail the freedoms and rights of citizens as well as the powers of the states and limitations of the powers of the federal government.
bipartisanship Bipartisanship is the practice of legislators from both parties coming together to create policies and bills that are agreeable to both sides. The lack of it is often used by both sides to characterize the other side as obstructive and therefore, “uninterested in helping out the American people.” A recent example of such actions include the McCain-Feingold bill that sought to limit campaign contributions. The two co-signers were Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and Sen. Russell Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin.
Blue Dog Democrat Blue Dog Democrats are moderate-to-conservative members of the Democratic Party who first emerged by name with the support of Republican President Ronald Reagan’s tax-cut measures in the early 1980s. The conservative Democrats are seen as the descendants of the Boll Weevil and Dixiecrat Democrats. Such Democrats tend to come from largely conservative and Republican districts who were elected to maintain a conservative and security minded stance while in office.
Boll weevil The Boll Weevils were a group of conservative Democrats from southern and western states that voted for and supported Republican Ronald Reagan in 1980. The group was led by Phil Gramm (D-TX) who supported President Reagan’s economic policies. This group would later transform into a group known today as the Blue Dog Democrats, noted for its fiscal conservative and hawkish tendencies. Sen. Phil Gramm (D-TX) speaks with his new political leader, President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Brady Law In 1981, President Ronald Reagan was leaving a hotel in Washington, D.C. when the deranged John Hinckley, Jr. shot the president in the chest and White House Press Secretary James Brady in the head (a Secret Service agent and D.C. police officer were also wounded). Brady took over a decade to recover to the point where he could speak publicly. When he did, he pushed President George H.W. Bush and finally President Bill Clinton to pass and sign the Brady Bill, a subsequent law that required background checks and waiting periods before merchants could sell guns. The attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan and the near fatal wounding of Press Secretary James Brady (lying on the ground) eventually led to the passage of the Brady Bill.
bully pulpit The bully pulpit is a term to describe a politician’s use of their authority, charisma and perceived mandate to push through their agenda on the city, state or federal level. The term was first coined by President Theodore Roosevelt, using the word “bully” which at the time, meant incredible or wonderful. Today, it has a bit more negative connotation of a person abusing their power and authority. Criticisms against Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) and his tactics against “unfriendly” press reporting in his home state.
cabinet The cabinet is the formal set of advisors the president uses and comprises the vice-president and the head of each executive department, as well as other invited officials. While the Founding Fathers assumed the president would use officials as advisors, the notion of a cabinet was never mentioned in the Constitution but was born out of the practices of George Washington. President Barack Obama and his cabinet
canvassing Canvassing is a direct approach to voters in order to ascertain how they will vote or how they feel about particular issues. However, in recent decades, such methods have given way to more sophisticated and ubiquitous methods of newspapers and television news networks, as well as polling organizations. In a more general sense, it refers to one who goes out to campaign for a candidate and rally support. Canvassing is common in many democracies, like the United Kingdom.
caucus A caucus, a word that might have origins from Native American tribes, is an exclusive meeting of a party’s members to decide delegates to a nominating convention as well as presidential candidates during the primary season. The most famous of these meetings is the Iowa Caucus, the first of the primary elections during the primary season prior to a general election campaign. As a method of voting, it is more time-consuming and laborious but it also highlights examples of the greatest amount of citizen participation. The Iowa Caucus in 2008
centrist A person whose political beliefs are not nor cannot be characterized as either liberal or conservative but have elements of each side. These people are often referred to as moderates or if their distance from each side leads to dealignment, independents. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) is known as a centrist.
city clerk A city clerk is an elected position on the municipal level and is responsible for the keeping of all city records and legislative measures. City Clerk Sandy Harms and Assistant Clerk Chris Graser (2010) of Allison, Iowa.
city council A city council is the major legislative body on the municipal level and are normally composed, not of professional politicians but, of business or civic leaders who normally work a full-time job in conjunction with their city duties. The city council (2010) of Jackson, Alabama
city manager A city manager is the overseer of municipal affairs and works with a council. The notion of a city manager stems from Frederick W. Taylor’s “scientific management” and the Progressive movement of the early 1900s. A town in Virginia was the first to adopt such an idea but it was Dayton, Ohio, recovering from massive flooding, which was the first major city to adopt the city manger-council municipal government structure. City Manager Amy Murray (2010) of Glennville, Georgia
Clean Air and Clean Water Acts Both acts, signed during the Nixon Administration, was designed to curb pollution through government regulatory policies. The Clean Air Act created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to monitor and limit the amount of certain pollutants injected into the atmosphere. The Clean Water Act was in response to the dumping of pollutants into rivers and other waterways – such activities were highlighted when Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire. Again, the EPA was used to monitor and prosecute violations of such restrictions.
closed primary A closed primary is an election where only members of one party can vote in that party’s primaries.
cloture A cloture is a measure enacted within the U.S. Senate to end debate and proceed to a vote on a motion, bill, amendment or conference report. In December 2009, Senate Democrats passed a cloture measure, ending debate on a health care bill and leading to its eventual passage. Sen. Charles Schumer spoke with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius after the successful vote.
coattails The idea of “coattails” is when the success and popularity of one candidate/politician will lead voters to elect other candidates of the same party. For example, if one is elected president and does a great job in the first two years, it could lead to success for the president’s party candidates in the mid-term election. Unfortunately, the opposite is true as well. In 1994, a strong negative reaction to President Bill Clinton’s (D) first two years by a significant amount of people led to a Republican sweep of the House of Representatives during the mid-term election.
Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) The CPD was created in 1987 and its purpose is to conduct debates between viable presidential and vice-presidential candidates as well as conduct research and studies on the debate. The organization is non-profit and nonpartisan. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) listens to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during one of their presidential debates in 2008.
concurrent power Concurrent power is that power which is shared by different levels of government. For example, taxation can and is conducted by both the federal government as well as the state governments. These shared powers can extend through all three branches of federal and state governments. Supreme Court Justice John McLean made several key decisions on the validity of and limits to concurrent power.
concurring decision Supreme Court Justice Antony Scalia is the second most senior justice on the Court today and is often termed an originalist – meaning he embraces the original intent of the Constitution’s words and uses that perception in deciding modern cases. A justice’s concurring opinion upholds the general outcome of the Court’s decision but disagrees with the reasoning and logic behind the decision. If there are too many concurring opinions, providing too many constitutional reasoning behind the Court’s action, it can render the decision useless for the purposes of precedent.
conference committee Every time the House and Senate passes a bill on the same issue, there are likely to be a veritable plethora of differences between the two bills but before the bill becomes a law, it must be the same, word for word. In order to reconcile both bills, they are sent to a conference committee whose job it is to create a single document that everyone can agree to. The September 11 Bill Conference Committee, chaired by Sen. Bennie Thompson (D-MS)
Congress The United States Congress is a bicameral legislature with population determining representation in the lower house (House of Representatives) and an equal allotment of representatives given to each state in the upper house (Senate). The Congress represents one of three major parts of the federal government and is also seen on the state level. Its primary focus is to pass laws, statutes and amendments. German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress in November 2009
Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 Angry over President Richard Nixon’s tinkering with congressional changes to the yearly budget, the Congress passed the law that created a House and Senate Budget Committee and estimate revenues and expenditures by the government for the coming fiscal year. While the president is no longer allowed to impound (not spend) funds passed through Congress, the act permits the president to ask the Congress to cut or reconsider spending. The U.S. Senate Budget Committee, chaired by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND).
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) The CBO is responsible for providing non-partisan assessments and estimates of the costs associated with pending legislation as well as analyzing the costs of the budget. The CBO also publishes the Budget and Economic Outlook and An Analysis of the President’s Budget so that members of Congress can make informed decisions. President Obama answers questions brought up by the CBO’s predictions of his health care reform bill’s costs.
congressional caucus A congressional caucus is a group of members of Congress who have formed caucuses to pursue common objectives and promote common causes. Such caucuses fall under several categories: party caucuses (Senate Democratic Caucus), groups created on philosophical grounds (Republican Study Committee), those created on ethnic or racial grounds (Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus) and interest groups (Congressional Bike Caucus). Such groups are also called conferences or coalitions. The leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus at a press conference in 2005.
Congressional District (CD) CDs are created areas of a state that are represented by one representative who serves in the House of Representatives. CDs are reassessed every ten years, after the census, and sometimes redrawn. Some state legislatures have drawn CDs to ensure a particular party is elected. Such drawing of CDs is called gerrymandering as it creates an artificial response in the form of a politician representing a particular party.
congressional oversight Congressional oversight is a function of members of Congress in the form of standing committees which supervises the actions and spending of government agencies, such as the military. Sometimes, oversight committees can look into particular incidents that require further investigation or examination.
conservative In the American political tradition, a conservative is one who argues for smaller government. The Republican Party is generally associated with conservatives and includes both fiscal and social conservatives. However, the Democrat Party also has members who call themselves conservatives. Fiscal conservatives focus on restricting government spending and limiting taxes while social conservatives are concerned with issues like limiting abortions, restricting gay marriages and promoting traditional values. Typical of conservative thought was Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) who said, “Any government large enough to give you everything you want is large enough to take it all away.” President Ronald Reagan is considered the most influential conservative politician in the last fifty years.