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12. Political Parties: Mobilizing Agents, Using the Video
Topic Overview Using the Video Readings Critical Thinking Activity Web-Based Resources

Classroom Applications Post-Viewing Activity and Discussion Watch the Video and Discuss Pre-Viewing Activity and Discussion



Using the Video Unit 12

Pre-Viewing Activity and Discussion (30 minutes)

Before viewing the video, discuss the following questions:

  • What was George Washington's view of political parties? Why?

  • What was it that made Tocqueville consider some parties to be great?

  • ; What would political life be without political parties? Would it be more democratic or less democratic?

  • Are the major American political parties alike or do they represent different views?

Watch the Video (30 minutes) and Discuss (30 minutes) [Top]

The video includes three segments:

1. Cindy Montañez, Democrat

A major purpose of political parties is to recruit potential candidates who share their political agendas and can promote those agendas in elective office. Cindy Montañez, a former City Council member and mayor of San Fernando who won election to the California Assembly in November 2002, is widely considered a "rising star" in the California Democratic party. This story profiles the rise of Cindy Montañez from her humble roots in a Mexican American immigrant family to her successful run for the California State Assembly.

Discussion Questions

  • What role did the political party have in enabling Ms. Montañez to run for office?

  • How does Ms. Montañez's career demonstrate an opportunity ladder provided by the political party?

2. Significant Difference Wins the Race: Dinkins Versus Giuliani

Critics of America's two-party system often contend there are no tangible differences between Republicans and Democrats. But what seem like small differences between the two parties' platforms can become significant when the candidates square off in an election. The 1993 race for mayor of New York quickly became this type of election when Democrat incumbent David Dinkins faced the same Republican challenger he had narrowly defeated four years earlier, Rudolph Giuliani.

Discussion Questions

  • Does the New York City election demonstrate that parties matter?

  • Were the differences between the candidates merely personal differences or were the candidates representing long-standing differences between the two major parties?

  • Were the differences between the parties in the mayor's race atypical of the partisan clashes in other elections?

3. Political Party Earthquake: Jeffords's Switch

Americans often criticize the political parties for their contentious and often confrontational behavior. But political parties provide the essential structure for organizing the executive and legislative branches of government. This can be clearly seen when there is a dramatic shift in party control, particularly at the national level.

In May of 2001, Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords caused a seismic shift in American politics by leaving the Republican Party. Although Jeffords declared himself an Independent and not a Democrat, his decision tipped the balance of power in the Senate to the Democrats, who after six years in the minority regained the power to choose committee chairs, set agendas, and claim a greater share of congressional staff and operating budgets.

Agenda changes in the Senate soon followed. For example, while the Governmental Affairs Committee under Republican Chairman Thompson in 1997 investigated the financing of Bill Clinton's second presidential campaign, the same committee under new Democratic Chairman Lieberman in 2002 turned its attention to possible ties between the Bush White House and the failed energy giant, Enron. Over the next year, the Governmental Affairs Committee investigated any possible policy influence between Enron, a heavy donor to political campaigns, including George W. Bush's presidential campaign, and subsequent decisions from the Bush White House or other executive branch regulators that were favorable to Enron. Similar agenda shifts took place on various committees dealing with judicial nominations, budgets, and the environment. The Senate's staffers, both Democratic and Republican, also experienced vast changes as a result of Jeffords's switch, including the size of their offices and office staff, and various other perks including choice parking spaces.

Discussion Questions

  • How did Senator Jeffords's switch from Republican to Independent impact the U.S. Senate?

  • Who benefited from his shift and why?

  • What were some of the consequences of Senator Jeffords's switch?




Post-Viewing Activity and Discussion (20 minutes) [Top]

Try the Critical Thinking activity for Unit 12. This is a good activity to use with your students, too.

1. Founding Your Own Third Party (20 minutes)

Using basic information from this unit, and Web sites listed in the Web-based Resource section of this site, create your own third party based on issues and positions that are most important to you. What is the name of the party? What are the party's main goals or purposes? What are the party's main positions? What kinds of voters would the party try to attract?




Homework [Top]

Read the following Readings from Unit 13 to prepare for next week's session.

  • Introduction-Elections: The Maintenance of Democracy

  • Tocqueville, Democracy in America: "How the Principle of Equality Naturally Divides Americans Into a Multitude of Small Private Circles"

  • Machiavelli, The Prince

  • Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia


  • Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave from Unit 5's Readings

Read next week's Topic Overview.



Classroom Applications [Top]

You may want to have your students do the post-viewing activities: Party Platforms: How Useful Are They for Voters and Politicians? and Founding Your Own Third Party. They are provided for you as blackline masters in the Appendix of the print guide.



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