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Department of Politics

364. Congress &
the Presidency:

Tea Party, Debt Crisis,
Super Committee Edition

October 2011

Dr. Craig W. Allin, Instructor
Paul Waelchli, Consulting Librarian
Shawn Doyle & Laura Farmer, Writing Consultants
Jessica Johanningmeier, Quantitative Consultant


SEPTEMBER 28, 2011

The Following Are Components of This Syllabus:

Calendar & Assignments

Independent Reading Schedule

Rules & Regulations

Accommodating Disabilities

Good Advice



Synopsis: This is a course about Congress and the presidency, the central policymaking institutions of the American Republic. These two institutions are engaged in a permanent struggle for control of American public policy and the bureaucrats who carry it out. The struggle may be moderated when Congress and the presidency are controlled by the same party, but the constitutional division of power assures us that the executive and legislative branches will always be rivals for power. Congressional supremacy is a written into the Constitution, but modern technology and the nation-state system may demand presidential supremacy. It's not always clear who's on top. In recent decades some scholars have worried about an "imperial" presidency; others have worried about an "imperiled" presidency. The relative powers of Congress and the presidency have waxed and waned with events and circumstances, sometimes on an almost daily basis. President Bill Clinton was impeached by a Republican Congress. His successor, George W. Bush, dominated the Congress for six of his eight years and worked assiduously to enhance presidential powers. Two major wars were fought in the Middle East, and the War Against Terror was fought world-wide. Taxes and regulations were cut, and as Bush's term came to an end, the nation's economy imploded. In January of 2009 enhanced presidential powers, the worst economic problems since the Great Depression, and the highest level of national debt since the end of World War II were passed to a formerly little known African-American senator from Illinois, who has so far failed to exercise the powers or vanquish the crises that are the Legacy of George W. Bush. Truth is stranger than fiction. These are no ordinary times. For good or ill, the Presidency of George W. Bush and its aftermath will go down in history as unusually important. I have selected reading materials and designed assignments for this course in order to focus our attention on Congress and the presidency in the 21st century, on the era of George W. Bush and its aftermath.

Approach to Learning: I have planned this course as a journey of collective discovery. Although I have taught this class several times before, I don't plan to lecture. Of course, I can bring some expertise to bear, but we will experience these readings together and engage each other in conversation. I will expect you to raise questions and take considerable responsibility for the discussion. You will have added responsibility on days when you are sharing additional scholarship with the class.

Feedback: Whether or not you are asked to complete a standardized course evaluation, I am interested in your comments and suggestions for improvement of the course, the readings, the assignments and this course description. Feel free to send comments as you think of them. E-mail: There are even free, web-based services that will let you send your comments anonymously.

Instructor: Craig W. Allin, Room 307, South Hall. Telephone: Office, (895-) 4278; Cell: 431-1100. E-mail: Appointments may be scheduled with departmental administrator Cheryl Dake (895-) 4283,

"Normal conditions should be restored in two or three months."
-- Herbert Hoover (May 1930)

"In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed."
-- George W. Bush (May 1, 2003)

Office Hours: If I'm not in class with you, you can probably find me in my office. Feel free to make an appointment or just show up. To help you find me, schedule is available for your electronic inspection over the campus network if you are using Microsoft Outlook.

  1. On the File menu, point to Open, and then click Other User's Folder.

  2. In the Open Other User's Folder box, click Name and select Craig Allin from the list.

  3. In the Folder box, select Calendar from the pull-down menu.

E-Mail Attachments: Please deliver your papers by means of e-mail attachments. Please save your papers and other submissions in Word® (*.doc or *.docx). If you cannot save to Word®, please save to Rich Text (*.rtf) format. Make sure your file does not exceed the 10MB limit for the Cornell e-mail server. Attach your file to an e-mail addressed to For more detailed information about e-mail attachments, click here.

Class Meetings: Generally 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. in Room 300, South Hall. For details and irregularities check Course Calendar & Assignments.

Books: The following are available at the bookstore. Things change rapidly in the world of Congress and the Presidency. Please do not try to muddle through with older editions of the books.

  • James A. Thurber. 2009. Rivals for Power: Presidential-Congressional Relations, Fourth Edition. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. ISBN: 978-0742561427

  • Barbara Sinclair. 2012. Unorthodox Lawmaking: New Legislative Processes in the U.S. Congress, 4th Edition. Washington, DC: CQ Press. ISBN: 978-1608712366

  • John F. Freie. 2011. The Making of the Postmodern Presidency. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers. ISBN: 978-1594517839.

Internet Resources: The Home Page for the Politics Department contains a wealth of valuable information including programs and requirements of the Department of Politics, information about Politics Courses, and research links likely to be useful for this course.

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman."
Bill Clinton, January 26, 1998, White House press conference

"There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, fool me once, shame on—shame on you.
Fool me—you can't get fooled again."
— George W. Bush, September 17, 2002, Nashville


  1. Attendance & Classroom Contribution: Students are expected to attend all classes and to complete all assignments prior to class time on the day for which they are assigned. You should read carefully and be prepared to discuss the assignments intelligently. To protect your right to make up any missed work, even officially excused absences must be communicated to me in advance. No specific portion of the course grade is assigned to attendance per se, but attendance is the minimum condition related to your participation grade. A portion of the course grade will reflect my assessment of the quality and quantity of your contributions to the success of the class.

  2. Individual Independent Reading: Each student will complete one report on independent reading. The schedule for these reports will be established during the first day's class. The detailed description of this assignment and advice as to how to proceed appear in a separate section below.

  3. Group Independent Reading -- Congress: Each student will contribute to a group effort to diagnose and solve the most obvious of many impediments to effective lawmaking in Congress: the ability of a minority of Senators (potentially representing a very small minority of citizens) to prevent the Senate from voting on legislative measures. These are not new problems, but they are highlighted by the degree to which gridlock persists even when one party controls both branches of Congress and the presidency, as the Democrats did from 2009 through 2011. We will devote two class days to this project. The first will focus on the filibuster itself. The second will focus on the controversial process of reconciliation, which has emerged as one of the very few tools by which majorities may be able to achieve their objectives in the face of a united minority.

    The rules for this assignment are similar to the rules for the distributed independent reading assignment. You will select an appropriate scholarly article or book chapter, write an abstract, and e-mail it to the class. In this case, however, rather than seeking to illuminate a specific chapter in the reading, we are all attempting to answer the same important questions about the legislative process. Rather than making a formal report to the class about your reading, we will all be endeavoring to answer these questions by informally sharing what we have read.

    For this project you will be divided into two groups: filibuster & reconciliation.

    If you are in the group addressing the filibuster itself, among the pertinent questions are: What are filibusters? Why do they exist? How have they been used? Are they Constitutional? Are they consistent with democratic theory? Are filibusters more common than they used to be? And, if so, why? What are the alternatives to the present cloture rule? What are the rules for changing the rules? Why does Harry Reid seem like such a wimp today compared for example to Lyndon Johnson? What has brought the Senate to its present state of impasse? What should be done about it?

    If you are in the group focusing on reconciliation, the central questions are: What is reconciliation? How has it been used? Is it Constitutional? Is it consistent with democratic theory? Under what circumstances might it serve as a substitute for cloture? What are the advantages and disadvantages of stretching this budgetary procedure to achieve substantive legislative goals in fields such as health care and climate change?

    You should seek out a reading that contributes to answering one or more of these questions associated with your group's topic, prepare and distribute an abstract, and come to class prepared to talk about your reading in the context of these broader questions. For this assignment, you will want to search journals of political science and law and possibly history.

  4. Group Independent Reading -- Evaluating the George W. Bush Presidency: Each student will contribute to a group effort to evaluate the Bush presidency. Each student will read a different article from Assessing the George W. Bush Presidency: A Bibliography, prepare and distribute an abstract, and come to class prepared to share what you have learned.

  5. Quizzes: There will be three quizzes covering the assigned reading and discussion. Each quiz will count for 10 percent of the course grade. Quizzes may or may not be announced in advance, but don't be shocked if they happen on Fridays. You may use your notes, but not your text books for quizzes completed in class. You may use your notes and your texts for take-home quizzes, if any. Quizzes are conducted on an honor system. In each instance, you will be required to certify that you have not accepted aid from another student, given aid to another student, or used notes or materials except those explicitly permitted. Study groups and group preparation for exams and quizzes are encouraged, but duplicated "group notes" may not be used during quizzes. If your notes reside within your laptop, you should print them in anticipation of quizzes. You may not use your laptop during in-class quizzes.

  6. Individual Project: Each student will complete a research paper and seminar report on an approved topic. This assignment is described in detail in a separate section below. This component will count for 50 percent of the final course grade.


    Classroom Contribution


    Individual Independent Reading


    Group Independent Reading: Congress


    Group Independent Reading: Bush


    Three Quizzes @ 10% each


    Case Study Paper


    Case Study Oral Report


    Case Study Rewrite




"Reader, suppose you were an idiot.
And suppose you were a member of Congress.
But I repeat myself."
— Mark Twain (Manuscript note, c.1882)


As is the custom in many graduate seminars, you have reading and reporting responsibilities that go beyond the assigned texts. The Independent Reading Schedule lists reading assignments for each day of the class beginning on Day #2 and concluding on Day #14. When the responsibility has been assigned to you, you are obligated to locate, read, analyze, and share additional material relevant to the day's reading assignment. Your independent reading assignment for any given day is one chapter in a scholarly book or one article in a scholarly journal. Each selection must be within the scope of the assigned reading to which it is linked.

Your grade for this portion of the course will depend upon both what you contribute to the seminar discussion and what you submit in writing.

For the class discussion your job is:

  1. to provide the basic bibliographical information on your source,

  2. to summarize the hypothesis, research methods, and conclusions or other major points,

  3. to explain how your selection supports, contradicts or illuminates themes from the corresponding assigned reading, and

  4. to share the lessons you learned from the selection, and

  5. to answer questions from the other participants in the seminar.

Your written assignment is a formal abstract of the selection you read. Your abstract should contain the complete bibliographical entry in an approved format followed by an accurate synopsis of the selection in proper English. It should be typed, single-spaced, and limited to 600 words. The abstract should be distributed to all members of the class by e-mail attachment at least three hours prior to the beginning of the class for which it was assigned. Note: Your abstract synopsizes only the contents of your selection. It does not include the analyses (parts 3 through 5 above) that are part of your oral report. For further information consult How to Write an Abstract. For examples click here and here.

It is my hope that this form of assignment will have at least three benefits:

  1. the opportunity to learn from fellow students,

  2. the opportunity to evaluate and select from among a wide range of appropriate reading, and

  3. the opportunity to enhance your research, analytical and presentation skills.

Here are some hints to get you started:

  1. Read the linked chapter carefully before you select an independent reading. You want to select an independent reading that will effectively supplement or complement the chapter to which it is linked.

  2. Make use of the citations in the chapter to which your independent reading report is linked.

  3. Make use of Cole On-Line and the various on-line indexes available through Cole Library (Ebsco, FirstSearch, Lexis-Nexis, etc.)

  4. Search out recently edited volumes that print or reprint significant articles in areas of interest to our course.

  5. Search out relevant texts which contain notes and/or bibliographies which can help you find relevant reading.

  6. Select only articles and books written since George W. Bush assumed the presidency unless the content of the linked chapter is clearly historical.

  7. Consult A Guide to Accessing and Evaluating Scholarly Resources to make sure you know scholarship when you see it.

"If you're going to go in and try to topple Saddam Hussein, you have to go to Baghdad. Once you've got Baghdad, it's not clear what you do with it. It's not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that's currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundamentalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it's set up by the United States military when it's there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?"
Dick Cheney, April 13, 1991, New York Times


Learning Objectives:

  1. To enhance knowledge of the complex interactions of Congress, the President, and other players as they engage over a specific question of public policy.

  2. To improve knowledge of research methods and materials including scholarly articles and books, government documents, Internet resources, and specialized indexes.

  3. To emphasize the role of grammar, punctuation, spelling, mechanics, usage, and documentation in effective expository prose.

  4. To master the use of a recognized style sheet.

  5. To use critical comment effectively as a means of improving your writing.

  6. To communicate your expertise orally.

  7. To use presentation software effectively.

ASSIGNMENT: Surprise! Your assignment is NOT a policy paper. I have described the interaction of Congress and the Presidency as a struggle for supremacy over American public policy. You are to prepare a case study of that struggle during the presidencies of George W. Bush or Barack Obama and to present it in a paper and in an oral report to the class. As you prepare your case you should attempt to answer the following questions:

  1. What happened in this case?

  2. Why did it happen in this case?

  3. What are the broader lessons, conclusions, generalizations, or hypotheses that arise from this case?

Samples of case studies done for this class on Recognizing the Armenian Genocide: The Congressional Foreign Affairs Dilemma, the Elementary & Secondary Education Act of 1965, the Panama Canal Treaty, the 1996 Clinton-Gingrich Budget Showdown, the Partial Birth Abortion Debate, the Social Security Act of 1935, and American Withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty are available for your examination. Note: the papers linked above were selected as examples of good case studies done by previous students in this class. So as not to compromise any topic you might choose from the era of Bush II through Obama, the sample papers address more historical cases. Because our class is emphasizing the remarkable presidency of George W. Bush and its aftermath, case studies for this class are limited to the period from 2001 through 2011.

The assignment has six distinct procedural phases.

Phase I -- TOPIC SELECTION & CONFIRMATION OF RESOURCES: I will post a roster. Register your case topic as soon as you have selected it. The topic is not yours until it is registered. You may not select a topic that has already been registered by another student. Your case study must be chosen from the period of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama presidencies, and it must involve both the Presidency and the Congress in some effort to make or control public policy. No later than the 6th day of the course you must submit a paragraph describing your case topic and an annotated bibliography sufficiently well developed to guarantee that you have the materials required for your project. Your bibliography must indicate with specificity which sources will provide the information you need concerning Congress and which the information you need about the Presidency. If there are other important players--interest groups, etc.--indicate which sources will provide information on them. Do not include any source in your bibliography that you have not actually consulted. The bibliography is to be a list of sources you have examined, not a list of sources that exist somewhere according to some index. Your submission must be in the form of a proper electronic manuscript with bibliographic entries in proper form according to one of the approved styles. Please consult Guidance on Documentation for the list of approved styles.

In most cases your bibliography should include some mix of scholarly books; articles in scholarly journals devoted to political science, public policy, or law; and primary sources, such as government documents. See Research in the Social Sciences: Politics and the linked Research Guides. High quality journalism is likely to play an important role as a source for your case study, but a paper that is overly reliant on popular magazines and newspapers is not appropriate at the college level. If you are unable to find significant real scholarship or primary materials relevant to your proposed topic, you should interpret that as a bad omen and change topics.

The Internet is both a blessing and a curse. Much of what is available on line is exceptionally valuable and comes from reliable sources. Examples include Supreme Court decisions from the Supreme Court and Congressional documents from the Library of Congress. On the other hand, much of what is available is garbage. Consider that scholarly books and articles have been reviewed by experts prior to publication as well as by editors employed by the publisher. Even popular newspapers and magazines contain information that has been subjected to a modicum of checking for accuracy and balance. "Information" appears on the Internet without any guarantee of accuracy beyond the professional reputation of the individual or organization that posted it. This places an enhanced responsibility on you to determine the reliability of your sources. See Evaluating Internet Resources. Don't be duped into representing somebody's misinformation or propaganda as fact. Don't expect me to accept Internet sources that are not documented to the high standard outlined in Documenting Digital Sources.

Phase II -- RESEARCH: Give particular attention to the Congressional and Executive Branch documents that can provide data and insights relevant to writing your case history. A good primer for this kind of research is A Guide to Legislative History, Presidential and Executive Agency Documents, and Advocacy Research. Explore for relevant scholarly articles and books. Contrary to popular belief, not everything is digital. Remember the central questions are: (1) What happened in this case? (2) Why did it happen in this case? (3) What are the broader lessons, conclusions, generalizations, or hypotheses that arise from this case? Target your research to answer these questions. Remember that real scholarship--including scholarship that predates your case--may be valuable in understanding and interpreting what happened in your case.

Phase III -- OUTLINE or ABSTRACT: On days #10 and #11 I will meet with each of you to review your progress. Please come with two hard copies of an outline or abstract of your paper with working bibliography attached. Your outline or abstract should include the answers in brief to the key questions: (1) What happened in this case? (2) Why did it happen in this case? (3) What are the broader lessons, conclusions, generalizations, or hypotheses that arise from this case?

Phase IV -- PAPER: Your case history, analysis, and conclusions will be presented in a formal paper with appropriate manuscript format, proper citations, etc. It is quality, not quantity that counts, but case studies by definition require quite a lot of description. I would guess that many of you might end up in the range of 4000 to 6000 words exclusive of notes, illustrations, appendices, etc. Your work product in this form is worth 20% of the final course grade.

Phase V -- SEMINAR PRESENTATION: Your case history, analysis, and conclusions will also be shared with the class in the form of a seminar report. You will have 15 minutes to make your presentation. You will not have sufficient time to read your paper, nor would it be appropriate to do so. You will want to rework your material, including text and illustrations (if any), for the most effective possible oral presentation. Generally a good oral report will require you to simplify the presentation and to give even greater attention to organization and to communicating that organization to the listener. Effective oral presentation depends on your knowing your material well. Presentation from notes is preferred to reading from a text, but reading from a text is better than rambling and confusion. Visual aids often support, clarify, or add interest to oral presentations. We have the luxury of a classroom equipped for digital projection, so use it to good advantage. Clarity of organization is even more important in oral presentation than in prose. A listener can't go back and rehear what you just said the way a reader can go back and reread what you wrote. It's simple-minded and formulaic, but it's often wise to preview your presentation ("tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em") at the beginning and to review your presentation ("tell 'em what you told 'em") at the end. Oral presentations don't have formal notes or bibliographies, but it is still wise to communicate sources of specialized information to the listener. E.g., "A 1997 study by University of Michigan law professor Melissa James concluded that. . . ." Unobtrusive source notes on your PowerPoint slides help you to create a professional impression. Your instructor and selected classmates will provide you with critiques of your oral presentation, which is worth 20% of the final course grade.

Phase VI -- REWRITE: I will provide you with a written critique of your paper. You will utilize this feedback to rework and improve your paper. The rewrite is required and accounts for an additional 5% of your course grade. Making the obvious changes will preserve your original grade. Significant improvements in substance or presentation will increase your original grade.

Please consult "Common Sense for College Students: Papers," for information and suggestions pertinent to writing any paper, as well as requirements that apply to all papers written in courses I teach.

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