The history of American politics can be traced back to the 18th century when the nation was fighting to gain independence. After decades of struggle, United States declared its independence on July 4, 1776. This was a fundamental achievement because it laid the ground for the making the country’s constitution and in determining the political direction of the country. Many years after this momentous occasion, political figures and the citizens alike have looked back to the spirit of the founding fathers for inspiration and to gain an understanding of what it means to be an American. Therefore, the history of American politics is one colored with stories occasional struggle, great vision, and the need to overcome the challenges on the way.
The nature of the American politics is such that no adult can remain apolitical throughout their lives. This is because there are various issues that touch on the lives of the citizens, and this makes them (citizens) to take specific political stands on some crucial issues of concern to them. The dominant political ideologies are democracy and republicanism, simply described as left-wing and right-wing political ideologies. Right-wing politics is predominantly for the preservation of conservative policies, while left-wing politics is predominantly for the idea of liberal policies. Nevertheless, other political ideologies, that are neither out-rightly democratic nor republican, are still present.
The manner in which people develop their political values and attitudes has been a subject of study for a long time, and there are various survey methods which can give an almost accurate description of an individual’s political affiliation. The fact that political opinions can be grouped into categories makes it easy for pollsters to determine the specific political groups that people fall. A good example of a survey method which can determine the political affiliation of an individual is the typology quiz contained in http://www.people-press.org/typology/quiz/ , and in which I participated.
According to the typology quiz responses that I gave, I lie within a category of people known as post-moderns. This is not entirely surprising to me because I have always considered myself to be an independent, and I do not support any of the main political ideologies (democratic and republican). Instead, I support some political values that the democrats may happen to support, or the republicans happen to support. Nevertheless, I am in good company because 13 % of the public lies within this category (post-moderns).
Among some of the reasons why I fit into this classification is the fact that I support efforts to protect the nation’s environment, I do not think that the government can do much to help the needy, and the fact I think the country has made the necessary changes required to give black people equal rights as the white people. Other reasons why I fit into this category is the fact that I believe newcomers from other countries strengthen the American society, and good diplomacy is the best means to achieving sustained peace.
A quick review of all this political views reveals that I am neither a strict conservative, nor a strict liberal. Therefore, the results of the typology quiz are not entirely surprising to me because I do not entirely support either the right-wing politics or the left-wing politics. There are some issues whereby I take conservative stands, and there some other issues whereby I take a liberal stand. The end result is that these values are mixed up in a way such that I do not lean in either of the main conventional political ideologies. In order to gain an understanding of this complex political values and attitudes, it is important to discuss the role that political socialization has played in my life.
Indeed, it is true that political socialization plays a leading role in shaping one’s political opinions and attitudes. But what is political socialization? In a nutshell, political socialization is the process through which individuals absorb information about the political world, and add it selectively to the core of their knowledge . It is a process which begins pretty much early in life (in the preschool period), and it lays the ground for understanding political ideologies that surround the individual. Political ideology in this sense refers to the consistent set of ideas about particular issues . As individuals mature, so does their opinions on political issues. The metamorphosis is largely influenced by agents of socialization.
The agents of socialization include: the family, religious institutions and peer groups. The education system and the media also play the roles of potential socialization agents. Among all these agents, the most important one is the family. This is because the family ingrains the first political opinions on a child, and this maybe through formal or informal set ups. For example, when the parents discuss some political issues, the children are also likely to grasp and most probably hold onto the same opinions. As Coleman, Goldstein and Howell (239) states, parent to child transmission is still the most reliable means of conveying political ideology, and this is facilitated through the identification with some particular political parties. Therefore, a parent’s partisanship on political matters is ingrained early in life. For some people, the partisanship is even carried over into adulthood.
In my case, the family played a little role in conveying any political values and attitudes. Therefore, my “independence” could partly be explained by the fact that my parents did not discuss politics in front of me, nor did they react to political programs on television. My parents believed that we should make our own choices on political matters, and we are also free to make whichever choice we deem appropriate.
As a result, this partly explains why I did not take political sides early in life; and this is largely because no particular political values or attitudes were conveyed to me. Our family tried to be apolitical as much as possible, and I only gained a slight interest in political matters later on in life. There are various scholars who argue that if the family is apolitical, the children also take a similar stand and this seems to be close to the truth in my case. This is a position which Coleman, Goldstein and Howell (239) support, when they say “further, parents who do are not sure of their own political beliefs are less likely to convey a specific political worldview to their children.”
Again, it is important to note that no religious institutions played a role in shaping my political opinions. In most cases, if the family does not ingrain particular political values on a child, the religious institution which the children attend is most likely the next source of political values and attitudes. In the absence of family and religious influence, peer groups play that role. However, in my case, peer groups did not play any major role in shaping my political ideology. This is because we rarely discuss political matters – except on a few occasions. This is a position supported by Coleman, Goldstein and Howell (240) who argues that “political communication among adolescents is generally limited, and the resulting peer-to-peer socialization of political attitudes is similarly limited.”
Political communication is something which takes place almost on a daily basis. It can take various forms, and it can involve different levels of participants. For example, it can be communication between the leaders, communication between the leaders and the citizens, and even communication between the citizens themselves. Several political topics come up every other day, with the conventional media channels acting as the most vital means of transmitting political issues. Nonetheless, there are other channels that maybe used to drive political information home without necessarily getting to the media. A good example is bumper stickers that are found on vehicles.
People may voluntarily or involuntarily place bumper stickers with political messages to spur discussion on a particular political issue, or to explain their political stand on a current political issue. A walk to the parking lot proved that people use bumper stickers to drive some political message. For example, I saw one sticker which read “the people say guilty.” Coming after the recent jury verdict in the State of Florida, which acquitted George Zimmerman of any charges, I quickly saw the connection. Most probably, whoever put the stocker there has a different opinion from that of the jury.
The issue of race has been out of the national politics picture for quite some time, and there are signs the recent incident in Florida will rekindle the discussion all over again. Whether the jury was right or wrong will not be the main focus. The main focus will be on the populist statements that will come out - either in support or against the verdict. It may also strengthen the resolve of the people who think that black people do not have equal rights as the whites.
Another bumper sticker that I saw had the words “we are the tea party” inscribed on it. Again, this yet another prove that people use bumper stickers to drive political messages. As subtle as it may look, the bigger picture is to influence political opinion. Perhaps, the bumper sticker makes a reference to the tea party movement that has gained momentum in the recent past. The Tea Party Movement is driven by the desire to reduce government debt and spending. The Tea Party Movement draws its inspiration from the Boston Tea Party of 1773 hence the use of the word Tea Party. The rest of the bumper stickers that I saw did not have any explicit political messages.
A bumper sticker carrying the words “coexist” may seems subtle, but it carries a bountiful political message. Firstly, it may implore the people within the same neighborhoods to live harmoniously with one another. The focus here is on peaceful living. The message may also call upon people to accommodate other people who were conventionally not considered part of the society. For example, historically, homosexuals were not easily assimilated into the society. It is only in the recent years whereby public opinion has somehow changed to accommodate them.
The process of integrating them into the society is work in progress, and some states are still in the stages of coming up with pieces of legislation which recognize the rights of homosexuals. When viewed from a different angle, the message of coexistence may refer to religious tolerance. Although there are various religious groupings within the United States, some elicit fear in the public. For example, Muslims are revered by the people because of the misconception with terrorism. This may lead to discrimination of innocent citizens due to their faith hence the message of coexistence is appropriate in this context. Again, the message of coexistence may implore the public to be accommodative of people from different races, ethnicities and backgrounds. Historically, minority groups have faced unfair discrimination, and the message of coexistence would be appropriate.
Another bumper sticker message which may draw subtle political message is “Visit the Yellowstone National Park.” One of the issues that arouse debate in the Yellowstone National Park is the issue of wildlife. On many occasions, wolves within the park wander to the park’s boundaries. This creates a conflict within the surrounding three states because they rely on the livestock industry heavily. While wolf enthusiasts enjoy watching the animals with their binoculars, the people outside the park on the other hand worry about what the wolves will do to their livestock. Again, the livestock keepers outside the park are worried about bison which transmits brucellosis to their cattle.
Another issue that elicits debate is the construction of tourist amenities at the expense of the environment. On one hand, the resorts within the park need to construct amenities which will attract clients and make huge profits, while on the other hand conservationists are worried about the damage that the construction projects will inflict to the environment and the ecosystem within the park.
The US Congress (the legislative arm of the government) is a bicameral institution which consists of two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The structure of the Congress is such that members in both the House of Representatives and Senate are assigned to various committees that oversee various policy directions. On various occasions, members of Congress have been accused of focusing more on how the bills they legislate affect their chances of reelection rather than how the legislation affects the people they represent. This view is supported by the fact that over 90 % of the members of Congress are reelected.
There are various means through which members ensure that they get reelected. Firstly, the members only support the legislation that is popular within their states or districts. No member will want to commit political suicide by supporting legislation which is not popular within their states/district. This is a situation which is worrying because form time to time, members of the Congress fail to give the necessary leadership to their constituents when legislating on some important issues which the public might not understand well. As a result, it has become a norm for the members of the Congress to take a conservative approach on paradigm pieces of legislation which may introduce revolutionary changes. Again, the members of Congress make sure that whatever is distributed nationally will reach their constituents in a bid to win reelection. Since they only operate within a short period, they make sure that their constituents benefit from any services or funding that is targeted on a nationwide scale. This ensures that constituents enjoy a piece of the national cake.
Another strategy used to win reelection is the use of casework. Members of the Congress ensure that they provide direct assistance to individuals and groups within their districts or states. Their staff members also ensure that they do a lot of work in helping individual constituencies. Nevertheless, there are pros and cons that come out despite the intense focus to get reelected.
For instance, the members of Congress tend to represent the interests of people who do not, or cannot, vote. For example, the interests of the young people always get a lot of attention because they cannot vote, and therefore put a lot of pressure on the members of Congress. Another good thing is that the members of Congress use the resources at their disposal well because they have a short period of time to build a very long list of resources.
The bad side about the intense bid to get reelected is that members of the Congress do not really represent the interests of the people whom they represent because they can exert pressure on them. Again, members of the Congress are easily influenced by interest groups that are well funded to make sure their interests are protected in the Congress. Another downside is the fact that most members vote along party lines and this is something which has become much pronounced in the recent past. Nevertheless, once the reelection strategies are well-executed, chances of reelection will always be high. As a result, members of the Congress have always been accused of being out of touch with the interests of everyday citizens.
Participation and Voting
One of the means used to entrench political participation and influence what happens in the political world is through voting. This makes voting an important right bestowed on the people by the constitution, and the country was founded to protect this right. Nevertheless, the level of participation in the voting exercise varies across different groups. The decision on whether to participate in the voting exercise or not largely depends on the individual, and the benefits perceived to be accrued from the voting.
Historically, political scientists have restricted themselves to understanding personal, legal, and environmental factors which influence an individual’s perception of costs and benefits of participating in the voting exercise, but nowadays the sphere has been increased to capture other non-conventional factors such as the impact of internet. On a broad scale, the truth of the matter is that the internet has introduced both positive and negative impacts on the voting exercise. This is clear when issues to do with mobilization of the citizens are looked at.
For instance, it has now become easier to mobilize the young people to go out and vote through the internet, and participate in political campaigns and in volunteering. A good example is the campaign machinery employed by President Obama’s campaign team to win the 2008 presidential elections. The campaign secretariat was able to mobilize many young people to volunteer to join the campaigns, and in the voting exercise itself. The real motivation for this scenario shift is the fact that the candidate (President Obama) offered a fresh breath of politics, and inspired young people. Therefore, the young people saw the benefit of being part of the group that would usher in a new political direction in Washington.
In the same way the internet can be used to positively to mobilize and engage the people, it can also be used instill fear among the potential voters, and even mislead them. In the recent years, there have been reports of social media sites being used to misdirect voters in the areas where an opponent does not have a strong following. The premise behind this is that if few people show up on the voting day, the competitor with a strong following in that specific area will not garner enough votes as expected. Therefore, the opponents will have a competitive edge. However, this is an act of hooliganism which should not be encouraged.
Nevertheless, the initial optimism about the promise of internet as the element which would change participation in voting exercises for the better has continued to wane over the years. Instead, political scientists have become skeptical on the use of the internet as a tool of mobilizing citizens and encouraging political participation. The argument is that the use of internet does not have an impact on political outcomes in the real life, but only makes the participants to feel good about themselves.
Therefore, the focus should still be on the conventional factors that influence the participation of individuals. This includes things like the perceived costs and benefits of voting. If people believe that the benefits of voting far outweigh the costs, many more people will go out to vote and participate in the political processes. Otherwise, the status quo will be maintained.
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