I shall post videos, graphs, news stories, and other material there. We shall use some of this material in class, and you may review the rest at your convenience. You will all receive invitations to post to the blog. (Please let me know if you do not get such an invitation.) I encourage you to use the blog in these ways:
To post questions or comments about the readings before we discuss them in class;
To follow up on class discussions with additional comments or questions.
To post relevant news items or videos.

There are only two major limitations: no coarse language, and no derogatory comments about people at the Claremont Colleges.

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Congressional Elections: Context

Why was the Massachusetts election such a big deal? Consider:
If you are writing on a House election, check out this site:

The president's party tends to lose seats in midterm elections.
What of 2010?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Conflicts Between Congress and the President?

I'm sure many/most of you have heard about this by now. Today President Obama answered questions from Republicans at a GOP retreat. He responded to a number of their critiques with calls for real progress and bipartisanship in lawmaking rather than political posturing. As a side note, it was interesting to see how the different cable news channels covered this. MSNBC aired it in full while Fox News cut it off during the middle and later seemed to splice together the clips in a way that made it look like Obama wasn't answering the questions he was asked.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Congressional Members at SOTU

Sadly, I haven't seen the speech yet (curses, Jesse Jackson!)

But I did see a story earlier in the day about Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY).

He gets to the House chamber very early - 8 A.M. - so that he's seen on TV shaking the President's hand. His view:

People say, five months after, I’ll bump into them in my district and they say to me, ‘Oh, Mr. Engel, we saw you on TV.’ And I would have done eight wonderful interviews in August and 12 brilliant interviews in September and they say, ‘No, you were shaking the president’s hand.' It’s what people remember. And my attitude is, if my constituents love it, I love it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

First Essay Assignment, Spring 2010

Choose one:

  • Identify a non-incumbent candidate for a 2010 House or Senate election (e.g., Chuck DeVore, CMC `85, for US Senate in California; Adam Kokesh `06, for US House in New Mexico). Write a memo explaining how that person can win either the primary or the general election. Consider the positions and resources of your candidate and the opposition, as well as the makeup of the electorate.
  • Pick one of the congressional party leaders (Pelosi, Boehner, Reid, or McConnell). Appraise the leader’s effectiveness with a letter grade. Explain how well this leader is doing in comparison with predecessors and in light of the opportunities and constraints of the current political climate.

Essays should reflect an understanding of class readings and discussions. Many resources, including CQ Weekly and Politics in America are at

http://library.cqpress.com. Also go to the library and see The Almanac of American Politics. You should check other sources as well. See:

The usual specs:

  • Essays should be typed, stapled, double-spaced, and no more than three pages long. I will not read past the third page.
  • Put your name on a cover sheet. Do not identify yourself on the text pages.
  • Cite your sources. You may use either endnotes or parenthetical references to a bibliography. In either case, put your documentation in a standard format (e.g., Turabian or Chicago Manual of Style).
  • Watch your spelling, grammar, diction, and punctuation. Errors will count against you.
  • Return essays by the start of class, Wednesday, February 10. Essays will drop one gradepoint for one day's lateness, a full letter grade after that.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Development of Congress & Its Two Chambers


But it is not possible to give to each department an equal power of self-defense. In republican government, the legislative authority necessarily predominates. The remedy for this inconveniency is to divide the legislature into different branches; and to render them, by different modes of election and different principles of action, as little connected with each other as the nature of their common functions and their common dependence on the society will admit. It may even be necessary to guard against dangerous encroachments by still further precautions.

A Senate session.

A House session:

One major difference between the chambers is that few House members run for president, and seldom get far when they do (see Duncan Hunter and Dennis Kucinich). But a fairly large fraction of senators have gone for the White House.
  • Lamar Alexander (R-TN) 1996, 2000
  • Sam Brownback (R-KS) 2008
  • Robert Byrd (D-WV) 1976
  • Chris Dodd (D-CT) 2008
  • Tom Harkin (D-IA) 1992
  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT) 2000
  • John Kerry (D-MA) 2004
  • Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) 2004
  • Richard Lugar (R-IN) 1996
  • John McCain (R-AZ) 2000, 2008
  • Arlen Specter (R-PA) 1996

And of course rememember President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Clinton.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Descriptive Representation and the 111th Congress

..............................................House Senate USA

  • Average Age*...................57.0... 63.1... 37.8
  • % Women..........................18....... 17..... 50.7
  • % African-American ......9.0..... 1.0...... 12.8
  • % Latino.......................... 6.2..... 1.0...... 14.8
  • % Asian .............................1.6..... 2.0...... 4.4
  • Income......................... $174,000... $52,175**
* Age at the start of the 111th Congress.
**Median household income

Thaddeus McCotter:
Compare and contrast Congress with the British House of Commons:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Senators on Facebook

As Roll Call reports, Facebook and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee have reached an agreement enabling senators to set up an “official” Facebook pages that follow the Senate rules. (Many already have unofficial pages.) There are, of course, certain photos that the chamber's newest member probably won't be posting.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Big Campaign Finance Decision

Hotline reports:

Major trade organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will be able to spend unlimited amounts of money in this year's midterm elections thanks to a SCOTUS ruling today that experts said represented a major overhaul of the nation's campaign finance rules.

"It is a sweeping decision. In one opinion, the Court struck down all bans on corporate independent spending," said Marc Elias, a leading Dem election lawyer at Perkins Coie.

The long-awaited Citizens United v. FEC decision overturned the Court's ruling in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which banned corporations from using company money to fund political ads. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy cited First Amendment concerns and criticized the FEC for allowing the government to regulate political speech.

The case "will reflect a huge sea-change in campaign finance law," said Robert Kelner, a GOP election lawyer at Covington & Burling. "The Court went all the way. It really relieves any restrictions on corporate spending on independent advertising."