American Politics: A Very Short Introduction

ISBN : 9780195373851

Richard M. Valelly
152 Pages
131 x 156 mm
Pub date
Mar 2013
Very Short Introductions


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  • Provides a balanced consideration of both strengths and weaknesses of the American political system
  • Incorporates a historical perspective on the American political system's evolution and its major institutions
  • Presents an original treatment of the presidency's evolution, with an emphasis on how American social science has played a role in that process

This book introduces the vital elements of American politics, emphasizing how these elements have evolved into the form they take today. By using a historical-institutional approach to the various parts of American politics, Valelly communicates that the American political system is, and always has been, a work in progress—one unfolding within, and also constantly updating, an eighteenth-century constitutional framework. Valelly begins by asking what Americans want from their politics and answers with a four-part analysis: (1) the politics of "peace and prosperity," (2) the sometimes illiberal politics of conformity and Americanization, (3) the politics of large-scale problem-solving (e.g., the abolition of slavery) and "perfection of the Union," and (4) the deep public desire for constitutional continuity. The last item provides the organizational framework/theme for the rest of the book. Additional chapters treat parties and polarization (stressing that contemporary polarization reinforces constitutional persistence because it provides for a mix of policy immobility and power-sharing between parties that bitterly disagree); a survey of the basic institutions: the Presidency, Congress, the judicial branch, the unelected bureaucracy of the independent agencies, and state and local governments. A third group of chapters deals with political communication, public opinion, voting and the boundaries of the electorate, and the politics of government steering of the economy. Finally, Valelly considers the puzzle of the persistence for more than two centuries of the basic constitutional forms established in 1787. The author employs a mix of quantitative data and historical examples to illustrate the main themes. 
"Valelly's book is well-written and of use to a lay audienceinterested in a few basic facts about the history of Americangovernment with a brief discussion of contemporary government." - Jessica Andersson-Hudson, Political Studies Review


List of illustrations

Chapter 1: Elements of American democracy
Chapter 2: The presidency
Chapter 3: Congress and its bicameralism
Chapter 4: The legislative-executive process
Chapter 5: The Supreme Court
Chapter 6: Bureaucracy
Chapter 7: Public opinion
Chapter 8: Political parties and democratic choices
Chapter 9: The partisan revival
Chapter 10: Political economy
Further reading

About the author: 

Richard M. Valelly, Claude C. Smith '14 Professor of Political Science, Swarthmore College, US
Professor of Political Science, Swarthmore College; author, Radicalism in the States: The Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party and the American Political Economy (1989), and The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisement (2004)

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