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American Political Culture

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1 American Political Culture
Definition: “a patterned set of ways of thinking about how politics and governing ought to be carried out” Includes beliefs, attitudes, and opinions people have about how well our government works, how much influence they have over it (political efficacy), and how tolerant they are of other’s views Internal efficacy (personal competency): “Sometimes politics and government seem so complicated that a person like me can’t really understand what’s going on.” External efficacy (governmental responsiveness): “I don’t think public officials care much what people like me think.”

2 This is crucial to democratic politics.
Almond and Verba, The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and Democracy in Five Nations (1963) Five-nation study Americans had strong sense of civic duty and civic competence, institutional confidence, pride in country and willingness to fight for it. This is crucial to democratic politics.

3 Characteristics of a Civic Culture
pride in aspects of one's nation expect fair treatment from government authorities talk freely and frequently about politics emotionally involved in elections tolerance toward opposition parties valuing of active participation in local government activities, parties, and in civic associations self-confidence in one's competence to participate in politics civic cooperation and trust membership in a voluntary association Source: Daniel Schugurensky, History of Education

4 The Culture War The most explosive political issues include abortion, gay rights, drug use, school prayer, and pornography. Supreme Court cases that contributed to the country becoming so politically divided on moral and ethical issues: Engel v. Vitale (1962) banned official prayer from public schools. Roe v. Wade (1973) struck down a Texas law that made abortion a crime except when necessary to save the life of the mother.

5 The Culture War, cont. The culture war differs from other political disputes in three ways: (a) money is not at stake, (b) compromise is almost impossible, and (c) conflict is more profound. We have two cultural classes locked in a war over values.

6 Two Camps Orthodox (Fundamentalist): there is a right and wrong, and good will be rewarded and evil will be punished Progressive (Secular-Humanist): consenting adults should be able to do just about anything in the name of personal freedom

7 Two Camps, cont. Orthodox (Fundamentalist) associated with fundamentalist Protestants or born-again Christians Progressive (Secular-humanist) associated with liberal Protestants (for example, Episcopalians and Unitarians) and those with no strong religious beliefs

8 Orthodox (Fundamentalist) Camp
Christian Coalition (1989-Present) Pat Robertson Moral Majority ( ) Jerry Falwell

9 Paul Weyrich on the End of Moral Majority
In 1999 Weyrich, the president of the Free Congress Foundation, said “ that politics itself had failed. And politics has failed because of the collapse of the culture. The culture we are living in becomes an ever-wider sewer. In truth, I think we are caught up in a cultural collapse of historic proportions, a collapse so great that it simply overwhelms politics.”

10 The Progressive (Secular-Humanist) View

11 Two Factors Intensifying the Culture War
More people consider themselves progressives than previously. Rise of media (television, radio talk-shows, the Internet) makes it easier to wage cultural war on a large scale.

12 The Orthodox (Fundamentalist) View
The progressives (or secularists) are using the Constitution to bludgeon any form of spirituality in the public arena. The orthodox (fundamentalist) camp maintains that this strategy goes against the intention of the Founding Fathers to keep God in the public arena and uppermost in the thoughts of the people. They argue that what the Founders did not want was any one religion imposed by the government. For example, in 1781, Jefferson said: “The God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?”

13 The Establishment Clause and the Wall-of-Separation Principle (page 509 in the Wilson text)
Amendment I: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ….” The Supreme Court has interpreted this vague phrase to mean that the Constitution sets up a “wall of separation” between church and state.

14 The Establishment Clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ….”
“Up to the last minute the clause was intended to read ‘no religion shall be established by law’ or ‘no national religion shall be established.’ The meaning of those words seems quite clear: whatever the states may do, the federal government cannot create an official, national religion or give support to one religion in preference to another.” (Wilson, p. 509)

15 The Establishment Clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion ….”
“But Congress instead adopted an ambiguous phrase, and so the Supreme Court had to decide what it meant. It has declared that these words do not simply mean ‘no national religion’ but mean as well no government involvement with religion at all, even on a nonpreferential basis. They mean, in short, erecting a ‘wall of separation’ between church and state.”

16 Evidence of the Assault on Moral Values
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled that the word of God is unconstitutional in the Pledge of Allegiance. In Alabama, a federal court ordered the Ten Commandments removed from a state courthouse. In Santa Fe ISD v. Doe (2000) , a 6-to-3 Supreme Court decision held that a student in a Texas public school violated the Constitution by offering a public prayer before a high school football game.

17 Evidence of the Assault on Moral Values, cont.
Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens stated: “School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible.” Chief Justice William Rehnquist, one of the three dissenting justices, wrote: “Even more disturbing than its holding is the tone of the court’s opinion; it bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.”

18 Lawrence v. Texas (2003) 6-3 ruling, said individuals have a constitutional right to engage in homosexual acts Reversed Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which upheld sodomy laws The decision established a precedent that threatens any law based on moral choices. In his dissenting opinion Justice Scalia wrote: “The court has taken sides in the culture war,” adding that he has “nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means.”

19 Significance of the Culture War
Tensions generated by the culture war affect our views as to how well the government works (or trust in government), sense of political efficacy, and tolerance for views we dislike (fragile under the best of circumstances). How have trust in the federal government, public confidence in institutions, and views of tolerance and morality changed over time?

20 Figure 4.1: Trust in the Federal Government, 1958-1998 (Page 93)
When did trust in the federal government begin to decline? Why? When did the largest single decline in trust occur? Why? What do you think is the level of trust in government today?

21 Figure 4.1: The Decline of Trust in the Federal Government, 1958-1998 (Page 93)
In the early 1960s about 75% trusted the federal government to do “what is right” all or most of the time. After 1964 there began a precipitous drop. In 1974, trust in the federal government declined to 36% … 25% in 1980 (following the Carter years) … 20% in 1994 1994 – Republicans took control of House

22 Page 94 Which two institutions suffered the greatest losses in popular confidence during the 26 years covered by the surveys? Between which of the years covered by the surveys did each of the greatest declines take place? How confident are Americans in other institutions?

23 Figure 4.4 Views of Toleration and Morality (Page 97)
What is the greatest worry of Americans? What is most important to Americans? What do most Americans see as a major cause of problems today? Figure 4.4 Views of Toleration and Morality (Page 97) Source: The American Enterprise (January/February 1999): 37, reporting data from Roper, Washington Post, Harvard, and Kaiser Family Foundation polls.

24 Figure 4.5: Changes in Levels of Political Tolerance, 1930-1999 (Page 99)
Source: Gallup poll data, various years, as compiled by Professor John Zaller, Department of Political Science, UCLA; The Gallup Organization, Poll Releases (March 29, 1999), 2-6. Which categories of candidates have gone from less than 50 percent acceptability to more than 50 percent? Which categories are still not acceptable to the majority?

25 Conclusion: Are the linchpins for America’s democracy still in place?
“The American system of government is supported by a political culture that fosters a sense of civic duty, takes pride in the nation’s constitutional arrangements, and provides support for the exercise of essential liberties. In recent decades mistrust of government officials has increased, and confidence in their responsiveness to popular feelings has declined.” (Wilson, p. 99)

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