Introduction to U.S. Government and Politics


POSC 121: Introduction to U.S. Government and Politics


Instructor:  Joseph J. Braunwarth, Ph.D.
E-mail: (email me from within Canvas if possible)



This is not your instructor. 


"...why am I so interested in politics?  If I were to answer you very simply I would say this: why shouldn't I be interested?  That is to say, what blindness, what deafness, what density of ideology would have to weigh me down to prevent me from being interested in what is probably the most crucial subject of our existence, that is to say, the society in which we live, the economic relations in which it functions, and the system of power which defines the regular forms and regular permissions and prohibitions of our conduct?  The essence of our life consists, after all, of the political functioning of the society in which we find ourselves." (Michel Foucault)


In this course we will examine the political functioning of our society through reference to actual political events occurring as the course progresses.   Some of the central questions that will be examined in this process are:


Student Learning Outcomes:

  • Describe the structure of the U.S. national government and evaluate the roles of major forces shaping the formation of public policy including public opinion, interest groups, and political parties
  • Describe the origins and evolution of the U.S. Constitution, especially with regard to citizens’ rights
  • Evaluate the dynamics of a Federal system with particular attention to the relationship between California and the Federal government.

Course Objectives:

In addition to the official Student Learning Outcomes listed above, learners in this course will:

  • Analyze the question of who rules in the United States and examine the degree to which individuals acting alone, or in concert, have control over society, government, and their own lives.
  • Examine what works well in the United States and ask if this is the best we can do.
  • Apply the ideals of our shared political culture to the current ideological climate and contemporary economic imperatives to understand how and why our government acts as it does.
  • Demonstrate the ability to make sophisticated, critical, and informed decisions about the American political system.


Required Texts:

  • Text: Braunwarth and Langenbach.  Open to Debate: An Interactive Approach to U.S. Government and Politics. This is sold in an electronic format.  This is your main textbook.  You will need a new unopened copy both for most recent updates and in order to access the publisher’s online test bank in order to take assigned texts. This can be found at Grossmont College bookstore, Ross Books, or at HTTPS://
  • Reader: American Government Examined: A Reader. Joseph Braunwarth, editor.  This will be primarily used as a resource for your assignments.  This is sold in an electronic format.  You will need to refer to selections from this reader for your required written assignments.  This can be found at Grossmont College bookstore, Ross Books, or at HTTPS://
  • Online links to articles, videos and the like will be assigned throughout the semester.


This course uses the Canvas online platform for forum, email, quizzes and grades. You can access the Canvas system at:  Your Canvas user name should be your firstname.lastname and your password should be your birth date mmddyyyy.  Login and check your personal information.  An email for you is listed.  Is this the email you want to use?  If not, change it as I will be sending messages and announcements to this email throughout the semester.



Time Management:

This course requires that you keep up with readings and assignments on your own.  Each week you are required to read some chapters from the text and complete some combination of quizzes, discussion boards, or essays as noted on the schedule below.  Write down in your daily calendar when you will be working on the class; write down due dates.  Print out the schedule and check things off.  You can expect to spend 3-6 hours per week (1-2 hours per credit unit) on this course outside of class meeting time. 


Provisions for natural or technical disasters: work ahead so that this is not an issue.  Seriously, don't wait until the last minute to turn something in.  However, things happen and, believe it or not, I am also human and I'm willing to work with you in the event of extenuating circumstances.  I will always accept late work for half credit. 



Academic Integrity:

Honesty and integrity are values considered fundamental to academic institutions. Plagiarism or cheating on an assignment or exam are violations of these values, and can result in any one of a variety of sanctions. Such penalties may range from an adjusted grade on the particular exam, paper, project, or assignment (all of which may lead to a failing grade in the course) to, under certain conditions, suspension or expulsion from a class, program, or the college.  For further clarification and information on these issues, please consult the student affairs statement on academic fraud. You get out of life what you put into it; don’t cheat yourself.




This is a college class.  Please use proper English in communications with your instructor, much as you would with an employer, etc. (if you are serious about improving your academic or occupational situation this might be a good time to lose the " or " email addresses as well; just saying).  If possible, please use the Canvas email to contact me otherwise place your course section number in the subject line and sign your email with your full name as it appears on your college records (your Mom may call you "Pumpkin" but on my roll sheet you're still "Robert").



Turn Around Time:

I will endeavor to respond to all emails within 24 hours during the week and I will endeavor to get assignment and test scores back to you in a day or two but life often intervenes.  This is the flip side to the "I am human also" reference above.




This semester you will be required to complete three tests from the National Social Science Press online supplement to your Open to Debate e-textbook.  When you register your digital text on the website, you will need to enter your unique CD Serial number and choose me as an instructor.  You will then be able to get into the test center.  You have 120 minutes to take the tests, which consist of multiple choice and short answer questions.  You will only have one attempt to complete each test.  Once you close your browser you are done.  If you have additional problems, consult the FAQ/Login link under the Students tab on the website.  There will be a lag time of a day or two between the time you take the test and when your score is entered into the Canvas Grade Center.




Periodic quizzes will be available through the course Canvas site.  You will have two opportunities to take these quizzes and only your highest score will be recorded. Once you complete your two attempts, quizzes are no longer available for review.  Hint (don't tell anyone): questions on the final will be very similar to the questions on the tests and quizzes so take notes if you want to remember or review a particular question.



Discussion Boards:

Discussion Board assignments can be linked from the course Canvas page.  There is no single "right" answer or minimum page length for your postings; what matters most is a clear understanding and utilization of the materials assigned. Analytic rigor, thoughtfulness, good writing mechanics, and clear, persuasive writing will affect your grade.  Above average postings will provide some insight or elaboration in addition to clearly presenting the assigned material.  You should be able to complete most of these postings in a few paragraphs.


Tips for Success:

- I will be looking for direct references to assigned readings (author and page number are sufficient).  This is the only way I have of knowing you are reading and learning this valuable information.


- I recommend composing your content in an offline text editor and then copying and pasting in post.  That way you will have an offline copy of all of your hard work!


- You are required to reply to your peers in the forums; don't forget to complete this requirement of the activity or you will lose points.



Short Essay Assignments:

Essay assignments can be linked from the course Canvas page.  There is no single "right" answer to or minimum page length for these essays; what matters most is a clear understanding and utilization of the materials assigned. Analytic rigor, thoughtfulness, good writing mechanics, and clear, persuasive writing will affect your grade. This is one of the few opportunities I have to see if you are keeping up with the material so please integrate as many of the assigned readings in your essay as possible (author and page number are sufficient).  Please also limit yourself to the material assigned in this course. Above average essays will provide some insight or elaboration in addition to clearly presenting the assigned material. Please include your name on the essay.  You should be able to complete most of the short essays in a few paragraphs, please no more than three (double-spaced) pages.



Final Exam:

The final exam will consist of a combination of short essay and multiple-choice questions.  Questions will cover material from the entire course, both lectures and readings.



Important Services at Grossmont College:


Withdrawing From a Course:

Should you decide to stop attending class, it is your responsibility to officially withdraw from the course via Self-Service.  If you do not drop the course on Self-Service, then your name will appear on the final grade roster and you will receive an F for the semester.  Which is kind of a stupid way to get an F; if you're going to fail a class, you might as well go down in flames.



Methods of Evaluation:

  • Four Canvas quizzes (20 points each):  80
  • Three tests from the online textbook site (20 points each):  60
  • Three discussion boards (20 points each):  60
  • Three short essays (20 points each): 60
  • Final exam:  100
  • Good karma (academic honesty, turn things in on time, college-level writing and communications):  infinite
  • Total points:  360 points


Extra Credit:

You can complete up to two extra credit opportunities of up to five points each for a total possible of ten extra credit points.  Extra credit opportunities will be announced throughout the semester.  I will accept extra credit submissions up until the Monday of the last week of scheduled classes.  For each extra credit opportunity, sign in on the attendance sheet, submit a photo of yourself at the event, and submit that along with a write up of your experience including:

  • 3 specific things you learned
  • 1 thing you liked about the event
  • 1 thing you didn’t like about the event.

Your final grade is not curved and will be assigned according to the following table, including pluses and minuses as appropriate:

A = 90%+       (outstanding work)
B = 80-89%    (very good work)
C = 70-79%    (average, satisfactory work)
D = 60-69%    (below average, marginal work)
F = 0-59%       (unsatisfactory work)


An Optimistic Course Schedule:



Open to Debate Readings

American Government Examined Readings

(due Sunday 11:59 p.m.)


Ch. 1 What Government Does


Discussion Board One: Introductions



Ch. 2 Declaration of Independence
Ch. 2 Paine

Open to Debate/ Ch. 1 test


Ch. 2 Constitution

Ch. 2 U.S. Constitution




Ch. 2 Federalist #10
Ch. 2 Federalist #51
Ch. 2 Anti-Federalist #1
Ch. 2 Aichinger

Short Essay Assignment One: Constitution


Ch. 3 Civil Liberties




Ch. 4 Civil Rights

Ch. 4 Susan B. Anthony
Ch. 4 Martin Luther King

Discussion Board Two: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights


Ch. 5 Federalism

Ch. 5 Lincoln
Ch. 5 Stadelmann

Canvas Quiz One: Chs. 2, 3, 4


Ch. 6 Public Opinion

Ch. 10 Mill

Open to Debate/ Ch. 5 test


Ch. 7 Interest Groups

Ch. 7 Eisenhower
Ch. 7 Newton
Ch. 14 Johnson

Short Essay Assignment Two: Public Opinion


Ch. 8 Parties

Ch. 9 Campaigns

Ch. 8 Candee
Ch. 8 Newton
Ch. 9 Saffell

Canvas Quiz Two: Chs. 6, 7, 8


Ch. 10 Media

Ch. 6 Braunwarth
Ch. 6 Lakoff
Ch. 10 Parenti
Ch. 10 Chomsky

Open to Debate/ Ch. 9 test


Ch. 11 Congress

Ch. 11 Dewhirst

Discussion Board Three: Elections


Ch. 12 Presidency

Ch. 12 Dewhirst



Ch. 13 Judiciary

Ch. 13 Saffell
Ch. 13 Meese
Ch. 13 Brennan

Canvas Quiz Three Chs. 10, 11, and 12


Ch. 14 Foreign Policy

Ch. 14 Stadelmann

Ch. 15 Reich

Essay Three: Judiciary


Ch. 15 Economic and Social Policy


Canvas Quiz Four: Ch. 13, 14, 15

Deadline to contact instructor regarding any missing or incorrect scores 5/24

Finals Week