Term Paper: American Government Question One (Interest Groups)

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American Government

QUESTION ONE (Interest Groups): There are a number of political experts and observers who believe interest groups - or, according to Democracy Under Pressure (Cummings, 224-241), also called the "power elite" - in reality are the forces that make public policy at the federal level. And so, with this system entrenched, it will not be easy to change the way power is wielded in American Government dynamics. Cummings writes (225) that "...lobbyists for interest groups are able to exert influence by means of campaign contributions and fund raising" (229), how healthy is that for the average consumer who just wants fairness and honesty in government? it's unhealthy, and difficult to change.

What changes could be made to reduce interest groups' influence? First of all, Cummings (241) asserts that "...if American Democracy is to become more responsive to the needs of its citizens, the nation's legislators must find new ways to heed the voices of..." people living in poverty, minorities, consumers across the board, "ordinary citizens" and "the powerless." Meanwhile, from what authors assert in the book, the Challenge of Democracy (Janda, et al., 342), chances for change are bleak. "...Business and professional groups have an advantage" in the interest group game because they have more money and "the ability to organize more rapidly..." The bottom line is that changes have not been made to alter the fact that "...interest group[s] clearly compromise the principle of political equality."

U.S. Senator John McCain writes in Newsweek (McCain, 2004), that despite the passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform legislation, "soft money...the corrupting, virtually unregulated slush funds..." which was supposed to be banned from federal elections are being used anyway by so-called "527" interest groups. What change is needed, in McCain's view, is "fixing the FEC" (Federal Election Commission). The FEC has shown "a despicable failure to do its hob...and has refused to take on those who brazenly thumb their noses at the law," McCain writes. So, one way to change the bureaucracy is to enforce existing laws against undue influence, and beef up the agencies whose duty it is to enforce those laws and regulations.

QUESTION TWO (Electoral College and Elections): The most recent example of the built-in unfairness of the Electoral College was the 2000 Presidential Election. While Al Gore won the popular vote, George W. Bush "won" the highly contentious Florida vote to take the most Electoral College votes.

In reality, had the U.S. Supreme Court not put a stop to the hand counting of disputed ballots in Florida, overturning the Florida Supreme Court's decision to allow the counting of disputed ballots to continue, Gore may well have won the Electoral College by squeaking by in Florida. This answers one of the questions - "How democratic is our electoral process and the Electoral College? - from #2 by pointing out how unfair it was from the Gore campaign's point-of-view that a) Gore clearly won the popular balloting by over a half-million votes, and b) Gore basically lost the race for the White House on a 5-4 vote of the U.S. Supreme Court, five Republicans voting for Bush in the Bush v. Gore lawsuit, and four Democrat justices voting for the Gore side of the argument.

In the Challenge of Democracy (Janda, 408-409), the authors note that "The most troubling aspect of the electoral college is the possibility that, despite winning a plurality or even a majority of popular votes, a candidate could lost the election in the electoral college." Janda goes on to mention that this situation has happened "in three elections"; the book was published in 1989, eleven years before it happened again. "This peculiar feature of our system," the authors continue, "has led to calls for the abolition of the electoral college... [because] it is wrong to have a system that allows a candidate who receives the most popular votes to lose the election."

The bottom line for how America elects presidents was arrived at by the framers of the U.S. Constitution: in Democracy Under Pressure (Cummings, 367-68), authors write that "only a few delegates to the Constitutional Convention felt that American Democracy had matured sufficiently for the choice of the President to be entrusted directly to the people"; and hence, direct voting for president took a back seat to the electoral college.

QUESTION THREE (Presidents' staffing strategies): Janda writes in the Challenge of Democracy (415-16) that the president chooses a "chief of staff" - the person who controls access to the president, and who has the complete trust of the president - as both an administrator and an advisor on "crucial political choices." The kind of individual chosen for this important position reflects the president's attitude towards the daily business of government; an example of this is H.R. Haldeman, Richard Nixon's chief of staff, who "ran a highly disciplined operation...prodding staff members to work harder and faster," Janda explains.

Rather than riding herd on staff, Jimmy Carter's chief of staff, Hamilton Jordan, was quite different, according to Janda: "his primary job 'was to settle interagency conflict and make sure that the implementation of presidential policy was well supervised'." That reflected Carter's more relaxed use of power, as juxtaposed with Nixon's tough, iron-fisted control-type approach to staff. In the case of Nixon, his top staff also exhibited a tendency towards secrecy, which played out on the national stage during the Watergate scandal.

White House staff depend "entirely on staying in the president's good graces for their survival," Cummings explains (408-09), and "their power is derivative, though nonetheless real" and it is "not uncommon in the White House to see a cabinet member wanting to confer with a member of the president's staff."

As far as the question - "What effect does such organization have on the management and direction of government?" - some White House staff serve as "links with the executive departments and agencies, channeling problems and conflicts among the departments to the president." Others advise the president on politics, patronage, and appointments, and write his speeches for him. President Dwight Eisenhower's system was "tight" and formal, with his chief of staff "screening all problems and deciding what the president should see" (409). A staff that is too protective, Cummings writes, may cause the president to "become isolated" from the outside world, which can be detrimental to the direction and image of the executive branch.

QUESTION FOUR (Domestic and foreign policy-making): The president has plenty of power in domestic policy-making: he can create legislation; lobby using the power of his office to cajole Congress to pass his legislation; threaten to veto or in fact veto legislation he does not approve of; he can use the "impoundment of funds" (Cummings, 403) to avoid spending money on programs he disapproves of. The president has too much power in matters of foreign policy, however. In fact, the Cummings narrative (430) mentions three important guidelines a president is expected to follow when developing and carrying out foreign policy; "Drawing on a range of advisers and opinions"; "not acting in unnecessary haste"; and "rigorously examining the chain of reasoning that has led to the chosen option, ensuring that presumptions have not been subconsciously equated with what is actually known to be true."

That last guideline is very pertinent to any objective analysis of the decisions and "chain of reasoning" that led to George W. Bush's decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003. Were presumptions "subconsciously" or otherwise "equated with what" the Bush administration knew to be true? Was there a rigorous examination of the "chain of reasoning" that led to his decision to attack Iraq?

According to a 692-page report to Bush from the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, U.S. intelligence agencies were "dead wrong" in their assessments of Iraq's biological, nuclear and chemical weapons; further, the information apparently given to Bush prior to the attack on Iraq was "either worthless or misleading," according to the Washington Post (Pincus, et al., 2005). The analysis of the alleged threat of Saddam Hussein - to have weapons of mass destruction and possible nuclear weapons - was "riddled with errors," the report concluded. The war Bush launched "toppled a dictator but turned up no such weapons" - and even though the report was not designed to lay blame on Bush for going to war with incomplete information, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said "the investigation will not be complete unless we know how the Bush administration may have used or misused intelligence to pursue its own agenda."

QUESTION FIVE (Presidential power in the 20th Century; presidential "greatness"): Cummings writes that the president of the U.S. "has available to him a formidable array of tools, money, and manpower." That includes, "in ever widening circles," a huge White House staff of advisors, counsellors, experts, which was mentioned earlier; the "Executive Office of the President (a conglomerate of presidential sub-staffs)"; the vice president and his enormous staff of advisors and experts; the cabinet - "thirteen cabinet… [END OF PREVIEW]

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