Political Science | American Political Controversies
Y100 | 15335 | French


Despite a Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama has not yet managed to
cultivate the peaceful, post-partisan domestic political climate that
he seeks. Instead, to the chagrin of much of the public, American
political leaders do not appear to be getting along well. As a result,
much of the political debate we are exposed to involves shouting
matches from opposite extremes. This course offers an alternative.
Rather than being encumbered by ideological blinders and recycling old
and stale political debates, we will consider a diversity of
viewpoints, explore the many factors that cause reasonable people to
disagree, and identify avenues for cooperation. The primary goal of
this course is to produce citizens who are well versed in the nuances
of major political issues and who understand viewpoints different from
their own.

We will begin by exploring what it means to be conservative, liberal,
or otherwise, and attempting to account for the sources of people’s
political viewpoints—including psychological and genetic factors. We
will then discuss many important controversies in American
politics—divided into social, economic, and foreign policy issues. We
will touch briefly on historically contentious debates, but we will
place primary emphasis on recent debates that are especially pertinent
for determining the direction of current policy. The specific content
may shift periodically as a result of changes in the national
political agenda. But, among other topics, the course will surely
explore torture, immigration, and the legalization of drugs. We will
also demystify the issue of health care reform and discuss how to
approach such foreign policy problems as security threats and climate
change.

The format of the course will be varied: lectures; class discussions,
debates, and focus groups; guest speakers; various skill tutorials
(e.g., how to write an opinion column); and the occasional video will
all be involved. No prior experience in the study of American politics
is necessary. Students must be prepared to respect a diversity of
viewpoints.