Craig Benzine introduces a brand new Crash Course about U.S. Government and Politics! This course will provide you with an overview of how the government of the United States is supposed to function, and we'll get into how it actually does function. The two aren't always the same thing. We'll be learning about the branches of government, politics, elections, political parties, pizza parties, and much, much more!
In which Craig Benzine teaches you about the United States Congress, why it's bicameral, and what bicameral means. Craig tells you what the Senate and House of Representatives are for, talks about some of the histories of the institutions, and reveals to you just how you can become a representative. It's not that easy. But an eagle gets punched, so there's that.
In which Craig Benzine teaches you about the US Governments Separation of powers and the system of checks and balances. In theory, the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, and the Judicial Brach are designed to keep each other in check and to keep any branch from becoming too powerful. In reality, the system was designed to keep the President from becoming some kind of autocrat. For the most part, it has worked. Craig will call in the clones to explain which powers belong to which branches and to reveal some secret perks that the Supreme Court justices enjoy.
In which Craig Benzine teaches you about federalism, or the idea that in the United States, power is divided between the national government and the 50 state governments. Craig will teach you about how federalism has evolved over the history of the US, what powers are given to the federal government, and what stuff the states control on their own. And he punches an eagle, which may not surprise you at all.
In which Craig Benzine teaches you about the compromises met in ratifying the U.S. Constitution. The United States didn’t always have its current system of government. Actually, this is its second attempt. Craig will delve into the failures (and few successes) of the Articles of Confederation, tell you how delegates settled on a two-house system of representation, discuss the issues of slavery and population that have been embedded into our constitution, and fire up the clone machine to discuss how federalists and anti-federalist opposition provided the U.S. a Bill of Rights. And who knows, maybe all this talk of compromise will even inspire Craig and eagle to find some middle ground.
This week Craig Benzine talks about the importance of elections in the strongest branch of the U.S. Government: Congress. He'll talk about the frequency of elections in the Senate and House, the typical characteristics of a candidate, and the motivating factors our congresspeople follow to get re-elected.
This week Craig Benzine clears up the role of committees in Congress. We’ll talk about standing committees, joint committees, conference committees, and caucuses (and not the candidate-choosing kinds) as well as the staff agencies that help advise these committees and congresspeople. As most bills never even make it to the house and senate floors for a vote, the role of committees, and their respective chairpersons as gatekeepers is pretty important. There’s a lot to demystify here as the legislative process can seem pretty arcane at times, but the model, at least in theory, helps Congress run more efficiently.
This week Craig Benzine explores the leadership structure of congress. We’ll break out the clone machine to examine the responsibilities of the speaker of the house, the majority and minority leaders, and the majority and minority whips in both the Senate and the House. As the leadership heavily influences assignments to committees and acts as the primary point of contact with the media, they wield significant power in influencing public dialog.
Oh my, Craig has his work cut out for him this week. The process of how a bill becomes a law can be pretty complex, fraught with potential bill-death at every corner. As if just getting through committee isn’t difficult enough, bills have to navigate a series of amendments and votes in both houses, potentially more committees, further compromise bills, and even more floor votes, just to end up on the chopping block of the President. And then in one fell swoop, the President can stop a bill in its tracks with a veto! But then again, a presidential veto isn’t necessarily a bill’s end either. As you can see we’ve got to lot to cover, and we’ll be the first to admit this has been covered before, and extraordinarily well might we add, by the folks at School House Rock. But we’ll give it our best shot - without the singing of course. Well, not too much singing anyway.
This week Craig breaks out the crystal ball to try and figure out why our congresspeople do the things that they do. We’ll talk about the three motivating factors of congressional decisions - constituency, interest groups, and political parties - and we’ll break down how each of these factors motivates certain actions like casework, public opinion polls, and logrolling. Craig will even weigh in on which of these factors probably contributes most significantly to the actions and decisions of our congresspersons and he'll do it without even a touch of cynicism!
This week Craig looks at the expressed powers of the President of the United States - that is the ones you can find in the Constitution. From appointing judges and granting pardons, to vetoing laws and acting as the nation’s chief diplomat on foreign policy, the Commander in Chief is a pretty powerful person, but actually not as powerful as you might think. The Constitution also limits presidential powers to maintain balance among the three branches of government. Next week we'll talk about the President's powers NOT mentioned in the Constitution - implied powers.
This week Craig continues our conversation on presidential powers by looking at those NOT found in the Constitution - implied or inherent powers. We’ll talk about how the President uses their power to negotiate executive agreements, recommend legislative initiatives, instate executive orders, impound funds, and claim executive privilege in order to get things done. Implied powers are kind of tough to tack down, as they aren’t really powers until they’re asserted, but once they are, most subsequent Presidents chose not to give them up. So we’ll try to cover those we’ve seen so far and talk a little bit about reactions to these sometimes controversial actions from the other branches of Congress.
In which Craig Benzine teaches you about delegation and informal powers. What are all these federal agencies about? Well, the President has a lot of stuff to do as the chief executive, and as much as Americans like to talk about personal responsibility, the President can't really do all this stuff alone. Because it's a huge job! Same deal with Congress. So, they delegate authority. This is where all the government agencies and stuff come from. Congress creates them to actually get around to enforcing laws. You'll learn about stuff like OSHA, the FDA, and maybe even the FCC. Although you hear an occasional complaint about bureaucracies and such, the business of government wouldn't get done without agencies and delegation.
This week Craig Benzine talks about how the President gets things done. Filling the role of the Executive Branch is a pretty big job - much too big for just one person. It's so big that the President employs an entire federal bureaucracy! Today, we’re just going to focus on those closest to the President, like the Vice President, the Cabinet, and the Executive Office of the President. We’ll figure out which strategy is most useful in helping the President make things happen and we’ll discuss the controversy around the President’s gradual increase in power. Oh, and as many of you noticed - last episode eagle got off too easy. Let’s see if we can make it up to you.
This week Craig Benzine discusses bureaucracies. Bureaucracies tend to be associated with unintelligible rules and time-wasting procedures, but they play an important, though controversial, role in governing. From the FDA to the EPA, these agencies were established to help the government manage and carry out laws much more efficiently - to bring rule-making and enforcement closer to the experts. But the federal bureaucracy (which is part of the executive branch) has a lot of power and sometimes acts like Congress in creating regulations and like the courts through administrative adjudications. It's all a bit problematic for that whole "separation of powers" thing. So we'll talk about that too, and the arguments for and against increased federal bureaucracy.
In which Craig Benzine breaks down the different types of bureaucracies. I mean sure, they’re all part of the executive branch, but some work more directly with the President than others. Some bureaucracies exist solely to independently regulate industry whereas others are expected to operate like corporations and make a profit. And on top of all that, some of these agencies have sub-agencies! It can all get pretty complicated, so we’ll try to discuss some of the most significant agencies out there and the ones you hear a lot about on the news. We’ll talk about how they seem to have steadily gained more and more power, and of course, we’ll talk about what all the agencies are for in the first place!
In which Craig Benzine tells you how we keep bureaucracy in check. So we've spent the last few episodes telling you all about what bureaucracies are and why they are formed. And throughout we've hinted about this ever-expanding power within the executive branch. So today, we're going to finish our discussion of bureaucracy by looking at methods the other branches of government use to manage this power. From watch-dog organizations to reporting requirements there has been quite a bit of legislation passed aimed at taming the bureaucracy.
This week Craig Benzine takes a first look at the judicial branch. It's pretty easy to forget that the courts, and the laws that come out of them, affect our lives on a daily basis. But how exactly these decisions are made and where each law's jurisdiction starts and ends can get pretty complicated. So complicated in fact that you may want to smash something. But don't worry, Craig will clear the way.
In which Craig Benzine talks about the structure of the U.S. court system and how exactly it manages to keep things moving smoothly. You'll learn about trial courts, district courts, appeals courts, circuit courts, state supreme courts, and of course the one at the top - the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s all quite a bit to manage with jurisdictions and such, but it's important to remember that the vast majority of cases never even make it to court! Most are settled out of court, but also terms like mootness and ripeness are used to throw cases out altogether. Today, we're going to focus on how cases make it to the top, and next week we’ll talk about what happens when they get there.
This week Craig Benzine talks about what happens when a case makes it to the Supreme Court of the United States (or the SCOTUS). We're going to focus on court procedure today. We talk about how to petition to get your case heard, how written arguments, or briefs, are made, what actually happens on the courtroom floor, and of course the variety of ways the SCOTUS issues opinions on cases.
Today, Craig Benzine is going to tell you about the Supreme Court's most important case, Marbury v. Madison, and how the court granted itself the power of judicial review. Judicial review is the power to examine and invalidate actions of the legislative and executive branches. It happens at both the state and federal court levels, but today we're going to focus primarily on the court at the top - the Supreme Court of the United States. Now it's important to remember that the court has granted itself these powers and they aren't found within the Constitution, but as with the executive and legislative branches, the courts rely heavily on implied powers to get stuff done.
Today, Craig Benzine is going to dive into the factors that influence judicial decisions. As you may have noticed, the Supreme Court recently handed down some pretty big decisions on same-sex marriage (in Obergefell v Hodges) and the Affordable Care Act (in King v. Burwell). Now, it's important to remember that these decisions are not made in a vacuum, but influenced by the other branches of government, political affiliations, and past court decisions. We’re also talk about a judge’s judicial philosophy - that is their relative restraint or activism in making decisions on laws. Judicial restraint is often equated with conservatism, but as we’ll show you, this is not always the case.
Today, Craig is going to give you an overview of civil rights and civil liberties. Often these terms are used interchangeably, but they are actually very different. Our civil liberties, contained in the Bill of Rights, once only protected us from the federal government, but slowly these liberties have been incorporated to protect us from the states. We’ll take a look at how this has happened and the supreme court cases that got us here.
Today, Craig is going to take a look at the First Amendment and your right to freedom of religion. We’ll examine some significant Supreme Court decisions and talk about how they’ve affected our interpretations of the law with respect to stuff like animal sacrifice and prayer in schools. As you’ll see, there aren’t always clearly defined, or bright-line, rules in approaching legal questions. Sometimes tests have to be developed to account for the ever-changing nature of the law and it’s applications - so we’re talk about some of those too.
Today, FINALLY, Craig is going to talk about Free Speech! Now, free speech is so important because it not only allows you to critique the government, but it also protects you from the government. But it's essential to remember that not ALL speech is protected equally under the First Amendment, and just because you have a right to free speech doesn't mean your employer, for instance, can't fire you for something you say (unless your work for the government and then things get a bit more complicated). So we'll take a look at a couple significant Supreme Court cases that have gotten us to our current definition of free speech, and we'll also discuss some of the more controversial aspects of free speech - like hate speech.
Today, Craig is going to finish up our discussion of the First Amendment with freedom of the press. Like an individual's right to free speech, the press has a right, and arguably responsibility, to tell the public what the government is doing. But of course there are some complications in doing so, like if that information will compromise national security or wrongfully discredit an individual. When considering Edward Snowden's NSA disclosures or Julian Assange's Wikileaks, it's just as important as ever to understand the role of the press in informing the public as well as our role as citizens in staying informed.
This week Craig talks about police searches and seizures. Now, the fourth amendment says that you have the right to be protected against "unreasonable searches and seizures" but what exactly does this mean? Well, it's complicated. The police often need warrants issued with proof of probable cause, but this isn't always the case - such as when you're pulled over for a moving violation. We'll finish up with the limitations of these protections and discuss one group of people in particular that aren't protected equally - students.
This week Craig is going to continue our discussion of due process. Technically, we started last week with the 4th amendment and search and seizure, but this week we’re going to look at the 5th and 6th amendments and how they ensure a fair trial. We’ll talk about some stuff you tend to hear a lot on tv, like your right to an attorney and a jury of your peers and also terms like “double jeopardy” and “pleading the fifth”. Now, this stuff can get pretty complicated, which is where lawyers come in handy, but it’s important to know your liberties to keep the police and other judicial officers in check.
Today, Craig is going to talk about the most important part of the Constitution - the Fourteenth Amendment. In particular, we're going to discuss the "equal protection" clause and how it relates to our civil rights. So we've spent the last few episodes talking about civil liberties , or our protections from the government, but civil rights are different as they involve how some groups of citizens are able to treat other groups (usually minorities) under existing laws. We'll talk about the process the Supreme Court follows in equal protection cases, called strict scrutiny, and look at one landmark case, Brown v Board of Education, and explain its role in starting the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
Today, Craig is going to talk about employment discrimination, and we're going to focus primarily on women in the workforce. Discrimination against women tends to be handled somewhat differently in the courts as they are not a minority. Even so, the courts need a method for challenging issues to help further important government interests - this is called intermediate scrutiny. (If you'll remember, strict scrutiny is the most rigorous form of judicial review and rational basis review is the least rigorous.) So we'll talk about things like disparate impact and sexual harassment in the workplace and how these cases are handled in the courts.
Today, Craig is going to wrap up our discussion of discrimination by looking more closely at those “discrete and insular minorities” referenced in the 14th Amendment. We’ll talk about instances of discrimination of Asian, European, and Latino immigrants, Native Americans, non-English speakers, people with disabilities, and LGBT people. We’ll also talk about federal and state responses to this discrimination. It’s a lot to cover, and we’ll only scratch the surface of the battles these groups fought (and are still fighting) for equality, but we will give you some historical context for the discrimination that has occurred and the court decisioned made to help defend these groups.
So we've been talking about civil rights for the last few episodes now, and we're finally going to wrap this discussion up with the rather controversial topic of affirmative action. We'll explain what exactly affirmative action is, who it is for, and why it still exists. Now, affirmative action is a pretty problematic concept. So we'll get into the court's rationalization for it in the 70s as well as its fall from favor in more recent years. Now, people tend to have pretty strong, and varying opinions, about this stuff - so we'll start talking about how these opinions are informed next week when we start our discussion on politics.
So today, Craig is finally going to start talking about politics. Now up until this point we've specifically been looking at government - that is answering the questions of who, what, and how in relation to policies. But politics is different in that it looks at why certain policies are made. We're going to start today by looking at public opinion - specifically how the public does (and does not) influence our elected officials.
So today Craig is going to talk about where our political opinions come from. Of course, most people’s politics are grounded in their ideologies, but there are also other external influences such as the government itself, interest groups, and the media. So we're going to talk about how these influencers factor into the overall public opinion and how their roles have changed over time. Now this stuff may seem like common sense, but it’s important to know where our opinions come from, especially when you consider how quickly the media landscape is changing.
So today Craig is going to look at political ideology in America. We're going to focus on liberals and conservatives and talk about the influencers of both of these viewpoints. Now, it's important to remember that political ideologies don't always perfectly correspond with political parties, and this correspondence becomes less and less likely over time. So, sure we can say that Democrats tend to be liberal and Republicans tend to be conservative, but we're not going to be talking about political parties in this episode. It's also important to note, that there are going to be a lot of generalizations here, as most peoples' ideologies fall on a spectrum, but we're going to try our best crosses fingers to summarize the most commonly held viewpoints for each of these positions as they are used pretty frequently in discussions of American politics.
This week Craig is going to give you a broad overview of elections in the United States. So as you may have noticed, there are kind of a lot of people in the U.S, and holding individual issues up to a public vote doesn't seem particularly plausible. So to deal with this complexity, we vote for people, not policies, that represent our best interests. But as you'll see, this process was not thoroughly addressed in the Constitution, so there have been a number of amendments and laws at the state level implemented to create the election system we all know and (maybe) love today.
Today Craig is going to talk about a topic that makes voters and politicians alike ANGRY! We're going to talk about Gerrymandering - that is the process in which voting districts are redrawn in a way to favor one party during elections. As you'll see, this is why election outcomes on Census years (which tend to be when districts are redrawn) are a really big deal. So we'll talk about how some of these cockamamie voting districts come to be and explain how Gerrymandering can affect the outcomes (and misrepresent voters) during elections. But even with all these rage-inducing and bizarre district maps, it's important to remember that it isn't ALL political scheming, but also a reflection of the tendency for Democrats to live in urban areas.
So today, Craig is going to try to get inside the heads of voters by discussing how voters make decisions. Now obviously, like all decision making, voter decisions are influenced by a multitude of factors, but the three we are going to focus on today (and the three political scientists seem to think play the biggest role) are party loyalty, the issues involved in an election, and candidate characteristics. Now this all might seem like common sense, and well it sort of is, but it's important to be aware of and take into account the factors that influence our decisions - especially when considering that many voters are not particularly well-informed.
So political campaigns are a pretty big deal in the United States. For instance the 2012 presidential election clocked in at the most expensive ever - at around $6 billion dollars! Needless to say, money plays a very big role in American elections. So today, Craig is going to take a look at why we have campaigns in the first place, why the campaign seasons run for so long, and of course why campaigns cost so much.
Today, Craig is going to talk about political parties and their role in American politics. So, when most people think about political parties they associate them with the common ideologies of the voters and representatives within that party, but the goal of a party is NOT to influence policies. The role of political parties is much simpler: to win control of the government. So today, we’re going got talk about why we have political parties in the first place and then finish with the five functions they use in reaching that goal. It’s a lot to cover, so next week we’ll talk about what each political party stands for and how that has changed historically.
Today, Craig is going to dive into the history of American political parties. So throughout most of United States history our political system has been dominated by a two-party system, but the policies and the groups that support these parties have changed drastically throughout history. There have been five, arguably six, party systems since the election of John Adams in 1796 (George Washington’s presidency was an unusual case, and we’ll get to that), so we’ll look at the supporters and policies of each of the parties during these eras and look at how historical contingencies cause these policy shifts. We’ll also talk a bit about the benefit of a third party, which although rarely ever wins, helps to influence political debate.
Today, Craig is going to talk about something you fans out there have been demanding for months - money in politics. Specifically, we're going to talk about special interest groups and their role in the U.S. political system. Special interest groups are groups of individuals that make policy-related appeals to government - like the NRA, AARP, or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It's all pretty controversial, as money plays an important role in the policies and people these groups influence, so we'll bring in the clones to argue for and against them.
So last week we talked about what special interest groups are and how they influence the political system, and today we’re going to focus on why we even have them in the first place. As to avoid getting too cynical, we’re going to focus on five benefits of special interest groups and look at how these factor weigh in a group’s formation and size. We’ll also talk about lobbyists, recent congressional action to limit their influence, and finish with a discussion of both insider and outsider strategies that interest groups use to influence policy.
So today we're going to look at the rather thorny issue of the media and its role in politics. Wether you're talking about older forms of media like newspapers and radio or newer forms like television and the Internet, all media serves the same purpose - to provide information to the public. So we're going to discuss their strengths and weaknesses and examine how both content creators and consumers play a role in the information that is told. It could be argued that because the media only relays information it isn't actually important to the American political system, but when you look more closely at what and how this information affects voters as well as their elected officials, we can more clearly see its importance as a political institution.
Today we wrap up our discussion of the media by talking about how the government interacts with and influences the content we see. Now it may be easy to assume that because we live in a free-market capitalist society, the only real regulation of the media is determined by the consumers, but this isn’t necessarily true. The government controls a number of factors including the potential for lawsuits, spectrum licensing, FCC fines, and has even tried to pass a bit of legislation. So we’ll talk about how all of these factors influence the media and end with a discussion of a pretty hotly debated topic these days - net neutrality.
Today, we’re going to take a look at how the government plays a role in the economy. Specifically, the way the government creates and maintains our market economic system. Now sure, the government’s role in the economy can be controversial, some may even say completely unnecessary. But there are some deficiencies in a free market, and we’re going to look at those, and the tools the government uses to combat those issues in maintaining a healthy and stable economy.
Today, we’re going to wrap up our discussion of economic policy by looking at government regulation. We're going to talk about the government's goals for the U.S. economy and the policies it employs to achieve those goals. Ever since the New Deal, we've seen an increased role of the government within the economy - even with the deregulation initiatives of President Carter and Reagan in the 80's. Now this is all pretty controversial and we're going to talk about it, as this is a long way from the federal government handed down by the framers of the constitution.
Today, Craig is going to dive into the controversy of monetary and fiscal policy. Monetary and fiscal policy are ways the government, and most notably the Federal Reserve, influences the economy - for better or for worse. So we’re going to start by looking at monetary policy, and specifically how the Federal Reserve uses interests rates as a means of controlling (or at least attempting to control) inflation. We’ll then move onto fiscal policy - that is the government’s use of taxation to raise and spend money. It’s all, well, pretty controversial, but as it seems Americans hate taxes the most, monetary policy is most often used - meaning that the Federal Reserve plays a hugely significant role in steering the U.S. economy.
Today, Craig is going to talk about social policy - in the United States this means achieving one of three goals: protecting Americans from risk, promoting equal opportunity, or assisting the poor. Many Americans strongly believe in individualism, that is self-reliance, but since the Great Depression and the New Deal the government’s role has increased significantly. We’re going to focus on two social policies that came out of the New Deal - Social Security and what we tend to think of as “welfare” - and talk about why they’re still around now and potentially the future. These and other social policies are not without controversy, as things tend to be when involving our tax dollars, and we’re going to talk about that too.
Today Craig finishes up our series on U.S. Government and Politics by talking about both the least and most important aspect of government: foreign policy. Foreign policy is important because it has the potential to affect the largest number of people, but at the same time, it tends to play a minimal role in our perception of the government (unless we’re at war). Foreign policy addresses diplomacy, security, human rights, economics, and the environment at a global scale, and we’re going to talk about how our government has approached each of these policies in the past and which it tends to hold most important. As with all things political, the decisions made in fulfilling these policies can be pretty controversial, especially when considering that the President often has the last word in these issues.