Chapter 1. Introduction: The Study of Politics
· 1Discuss the value of studying politics.
· 2Identify the three basic elements of politics, as well as the dynamics of each.
· 3Analyze the methods, models, and approaches for studying politics.
· 4Evaluate whether politics brings out the best or the worst in human nature—or both.
Politics is not for the faint-hearted. There is virtually never a day without a crisis at home or abroad. Whenever we catch the news on our radio, TV, or computer, we are reminded that we live in a dangerous world.
In 2008, the spectacle of the world’s only superpower paralyzed by extreme partisanship and teetering on the brink of a “fiscal cliff” loomed like a gathering storm. No sooner had that danger receded than a new threat arose in the Middle East in the form of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). There were even rumors of a coming end-of-the-world apocalypse—December 21, 2012, to be exact, the final day of the old Mayan calendar.
The politically charged atmosphere and the pervasive sense of an impending crisis was nothing new, but two events dominated the news in 2008. First, a financial meltdown and plummeting stock market wiped out fortunes and rocked the global economy to its very foundations. Second, Barack Obama became the first African American elected to the nation’s highest office.
Political culture plays a big role in shaping public policy, and optimism is part of America’s political DNA. Despite a deepening recession, there was a new sense of hope—perhaps it was the beginning of the end of two costly wars and the dawn of a new era in America. But by 2012 hope had given way to anger and disappointment.
What happened? In 2009, President Obama had moved to revive the U.S. economy, which had fallen into the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. But the economic stimulus package he pushed through Congress, where the Democrats enjoyed a solid majority in both the House and Senate, was widely viewed as a Wall Street “bailout”—a massive multibillion dollar gift to the very financial institutions that had caused the problem. It was also criticized as a “jobless recovery”; unemployment rose to nearly 10% and youth unemployment (16- to 19-year-olds) rose about 25% in 2010. Nearly half of young people aged 16 to 24 did not have jobs, the highest number since World War II.
The conservative media (most notably FOX News) and the amorphous Tea Party movement eagerly exploited growing public discontent, handing the Democrats a crushing defeat in the 2010 midterm elections. Republicans regained control of the House and cut deeply into the Democrats’ majority in the Senate (see especially Chapters 11 and 13).
Obama also spearheaded a controversial health care reform that satisfied few, confused everyone, and angered many voters on both sides of the acrimonious debate. His decision to order a “surge” in Afghanistan, committing 30,000 more U.S. troops to an unpopular and unwinnable war, did not placate Congress or greatly improve his standing in the opinion polls, nor did his decision to withdraw the last U.S. combat troops from Iraq in December 2011.
Despite a constant chorus of criticism and a vicious media campaign of attack ads from the right, Obama was elected to a second term in 2012. He defeated Republican Mitt Romney by a margin of 5 million votes (51% to 47% of the popular vote) while taking 61% of the electoral votes. The embattled president’s troubles in dealing with a recalcitrant Republican majority in Congress