AP Government Supplementary Reading Report

Our supplementary readings were the treatises “Intro and ‘The Mighty Middle’” by John B. Judis, “Perspectives on American Political Parties” by Martin Wattenberg, and “Divided We Govern” by David R. Mayhew. The topics therein, political parties and elections, dovetail with Chapters 5, 7, and 8 of American Government by James Q. Wilson and John J. DiIulio, Jr. Some of the excerpts, like the book, precede their material by remarking that political parties in the United States are quite weak and growing weaker (Wilson 149; Supplement 40, 46). Judis, Wattenberg, and Mayhew’s perspectives all coincide with different sections of the book about the nature of political parties.

Judis’s “The Mighty Middle” is a commentary on the 1998 congressional elections. He says the theme of the election was voters’ rejection of extreme candidates and a movement towards the center (Supplement 41). This dovetails with Wilson and DiIulio’s assessment that party identification by voters is weakening and assisting the decline of political parties (Wilson 149-150, 152). Tables 5.3, 7.5, and 7.6 in the book also signal that party leadership is much more ideologically solid than the average American (120, 173, 176). Judis and the book both mention that the Democrats are gaining strength in the middle class (Wilson 113; Supplement 44).

Wattenberg’s eleven roles of political parties fit inside the three areas described by the book: they provide a label in voters’ minds, an organization for recruitment and campaigning, and leaders to run the government (Wilson 150-152; Supplement 46). He also asserts that party decision-making has become more centralized in recent years as the book did (Wilson 151; Supplement 47). Wattenberg disagrees with Wilson and DiIulio about the strength of state organizations; he says they have become more powerful while the book says they have withered (Wilson 161; Supplement 47).

In “Divided We Govern,” Mayhew says that a government divided between parties can function effectively and did throughout the twentieth century (Supplement 48-55). In his thought, he echoes such luminaries as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, and Wilson and DiIulio. Madison thought that separation of powers would best safeguard the people’s liberties by keeping factions from taking all the power in the government (30). Furthermore, in Federalist No. 51 he said that a coalition of rival factions would best safeguard the people’s liberties: “A coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good” (34).

Megan, Charlie, Deepak, and Amanda wrote, produced, and starred in the video in a few hours last Sunday. Amanda then edited it. After the video, Megan and Amanda gave a short speech on the topic. Luobei and James wrote the report.

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