Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Evolving Nature and Style of Representation

Thirty-three years ago this week, on March 19, 1979, the U.S. House of Representatives inaugurated live, televised debate on the House Floor. Representative Albert Gore, Jr. of Tennessee was the first Member to speak before the cameras on the historic occasion: “It is a solution for the lack of confidence in government,” Congressman Gore said, alluding to the public’s post-Watergate demand for a more transparent government. “The marriage of this medium and of our open debate have the potential, Mr. Speaker, to revitalize representative democracy.”

Today, we are in the midst of another media revolution: email, text messages, websites, mashups, wikis, blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Foursquare, Quora, RSS Feeds, LinkedIn... today, the Internet is social, interactive, and collaborative. All who are connected to the Internet have the whole world at their fingertips in ways that Congressman Gore and Speaker O'Neill could never have imagined! On the other hand, it is possible that Representative Gore's comment from 1979 has implications for us today - as we consider ways that social media shape legislators' evolving relationships with their constituents.

With today's assignment in mind, please share your opinion on the question below:

What impact should social media have on the way legislators represent their constituents as trustees and delegates today?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Presidential Power - for the 21st century

More than once over these last several months, I've mentioned that our reading for the day is a "classic" or that the author is a "giant" among famous political scientists... well... today you'll be reading Richard Neustadt, the "greatest of the greats" in terms of scholarship on the modern presidency. Before he began his career in academia, Neustadt worked as a special assistant in the Truman administration.
After Democrats were swept out of the executive branch by the 1952 elections, Neustadt took a teaching job at Columbia - where he soon began to realize that "current theory" of presidential leadership did not mesh well with his experiences in the White House staff.

In 1960, Professor Neustadt published his transformative study of the presidency, called Presidential Power. In it, Neustadt suggests that that formal powers of the presidency, as outlined in the Constitution, are "rather minor" and that the Presidency "amounted to little more than a clerkship, by which the occupant of the White House is in the position to provide services to others in the Federal government" (Shea, 222.
Neustadt's book is also a prescription: it's a guide for presidents to understand the true breadth of their informal powers. Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan, and Clinton sought Professor Neustadt's advice; Neustadt's book was required reading among President Nixon's aides; and it is said that both Presidents Kennedy and Clinton kept copies of Presidential Power next to their beds in the White House.

Does information available to the public via the Internet (generally) and social media sites (specifically), make it more or less difficult for President Obama to be persuasive in the ways that Professor Neustadt has described? (Explain with a connection to Neustadt's work!)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Reflecting on the Fiscal Cliff

The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (H.R. 8) was passed by the United States Congress on January 1, 2013. President Obama signed the bill into law on January 2nd.

Writing for the Associated Press, Alan Fram has called it "Congress' excruciating, extraordinary New Year's Day approval of a compromise."

The U.S. Senate approved the bill first by a bipartisan margin: 89–8. Three Democrats and five Republicans voted against. The House passed the bill by a vote of 257–167. Note again the bipartisanship: 85 Republicans and 172 Democrats voted in favor while 151 Republicans and 16 Democrats were opposed.

The final votes on the bill came near the last possible minute on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day: just before the end of the Congressional session. (All pending legislation expired when the 112th Congress ended at 12 noon on January 3, 2013.)

Reactions have been strong... and mixed:

Janet Hook of The Wall Street Journal wrote: "the compromise bill... represented the largest tax increase in the past two decades."

On the other hand, Jonathan Weisman wrote in The New York Times that the compromise "makes permanent virtually all of the Bush tax cuts — a goal that Mr. Bush chased through the rest of his presidency."

You are a well-informed, engaged citizen... what are your thoughts on the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 - IS THE COUNTRY BETTER OFF BECAUSE OF THE DEAL?