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Parties and interest groups
Edward Ashbee

There has been considerable debate around claims that the established political parties are in decline. Certainly, they no longer undertake some of the core functions they were traditionally associated with. Nonetheless, the Republicans and Democrats are still largely unchallenged and there are almost insuperable barriers facing minor parties. Furthermore, the major parties continue to be very important sources of political identity and they co-ordinate processes of government between the executive and legislative branches. The chapter also assesses organised interests and considers the factors (such as the resources they command) that give particular interests extensive influence within the political system.

in US politics today (fourth edition)
Theories and comparisons
Edward Ashbee

This chapter considers the reasons why theoretical frameworks should be employed in the study of US politics. Such theories make the assumptions underpinning particular arguments or claims explicit. The chapter also makes the case for comparative study so as to test propositions effectively. On this basis, it introduces and assesses structural theories which focus on the ways in which economic factors or institutional structures shape, constrain, and empower political actors, cultural theories that seek to explain political behaviour through the prism of shared beliefs and cultural traditions, and rational choice approaches that draw attention to the architecture of incentives and disincentives facing individuals and groups.

in US politics today (fourth edition)
Edward Ashbee

The chapter surveys the powers assigned to the president by the Constitution and those de facto powers that have emerged over time. It argues that the president has, in particular, secured foreign and defence policy powers. This is in part because Congress is institutionally ill-fitted to take quick or proactive decisions. Although there were efforts to rein in the presidency in the wake of the Vietnam War and presidents have sought to secure Congressional backing for military action overseas, the White House still has substantial scope for unilateral action. Presidents are more constrained, however, if domestic policy issues are considered. Partisan polarisation has limited their capacity to construct coalitions in Congress and they have often had to fall back upon executive actions (most notably executive orders) which only offer some opportunities for reform and change. The chapter concludes by considering different presidencies and ways in which historical circumstances create regimes that have either constrained or empowered individual office-holders.

in US politics today (fourth edition)
Edward Ashbee

It was established as early as 1803 that the US Supreme Court, created under Article III of the Constitution, had the power of judicial review, allowing it to strike down laws or provisions within them if they were deemed unconstitutional. Shortly thereafter, judicial review was extended to state as well as federal laws. The chapter considers the variables shaping the nomination and confirmation of judges, the history of the Court and the approaches that judges have taken to the process of constitutional interpretation. Whereas those on the left have invoked the principle of a ‘living constitution’ and argue that judgements should be made on the basis of the US Constitution’s underlying principles and implications the conservative right has argued for narrower forms of interpretation or a search for the original intent of the Constitution’s authors. The Trump administration’s appointments to the Court shift it decisively towards the right.

in US politics today (fourth edition)
Abstract only
Edward Ashbee

Chapter 2 details the powers of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. These include the passage of legislation, oversight of the executive, the capacity to declare war, the ‘power of the purse’, and impeachment. The chapter compares the two chambers and notes the defining features of both, in particular the rules requiring super-majorities in the Senate. The chapter assesses the process of partisan polarisation from the 1970s onwards and the ways in which this has inhibited the passage of legislation and the confirmation of federal court judges and federal government officials. The chapter suggests that Congress faces challenges if considered as a legislature and in terms of its record in scrutinising the work of the executive branch but has been much more effective in its handling of individual and constituency grievances in the states and districts.

in US politics today (fourth edition)
Abstract only
Edward Ashbee

Chapter 1 considers the background to the writing of the US Constitution in 1787 and the compromises that had to be made. It surveys the Constitution’s defining principles. These include separated institutions sharing powers, checks and balances, and federalism, but also counter-majoritarianism and constraints upon popular sovereignty. The chapter then looks at the Constitution’s individual articles, the powers that are assigned to each branch of government, and the institutional structures that were established, such as the Electoral College. It also discusses the Bill of Rights (along with subsequent constitutional amendments), the nature of the rights that it established and the extent to which these were, or in many cases were not, extended to all citizens. The chapter concludes by outlining contemporary conservative and progressive critiques of the Constitution.

in US politics today (fourth edition)