Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Political Issues21st Edition
Unit 1: Democracy and the American Political Process
Issue: Is Bigger Government Better Government?
YES: Jeff Madrick, from “The Case for Big Government,” Princeton University Press (2008)
NO: David Boaz, from “The Return of Big Government,” Cato Policy Report (2009)
Humanities professor Jeff Madrick surveys the numerous government interventions in the economy since the end of World War II and concludes that they have been essential to America’s growth and well-being. Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute David Boaz traces America’s libertarian traditions and reminds readers that there are times where government’s best course of action is simply deciding to do nothing.
Issue: Is the Current Presidential Nomination System Actually Democratic?
YES: Jamelle Bouie, from “The Process Worked,” Slate (2016)
NO: William Saletan, from “The Primaries Aren’t Democratic? They’re Not Supposed to Be Democratic,” Slate (2016)
Journalist Jamelle Bouie argues that the current presidential nomination system is in fact quite democratic by allowing states to determine how best to conduct elections within their borders. He notes that even outside of elections, American government has always flourished under a blend of majoritarian, non-majoritarian, and counter-majoritarian elements. William Saletan, also a journalist, acknowledges that the nomination process is not particularly democratic but reminds readers that the goals of primaries and caucuses are to select candidates that best represent party interests.
Issue: Are Entitlement Programs Creating a Culture of Dependency?
YES: Nicholas Eberstadt, from “The Rise of Entitlements in Modern America, 1960-2010,” Templeton Press (2012)
NO: William A. Galston, from “Have We Become ‘A Nation of Takers’?” Templeton Press (2012)
Social scientist Nicholas Eberstadt argues that the increase in entitlement programs is unprecedented in American history and has created a large dependency class that has lost the will to work. Political theorist William A. Galston sees the growth of American entitlement programs as an appropriate response to the needs of an aging population and rising costs of higher education and medicine; he sees them not as evidence of dependency but of “interdependence.”
Issue: Should Free Trade Remain the Backbone of American Trade Policy?
YES: Samuel Gregg, from “Trump's Tariffs and Why America Needs a Patriotic Case for Free Trade,” Public Discourse (2018)
NO: Daniel McCarthy, from “The Case for Trump’s Tariffs and ‘America First’ Economics,” The New York Times (2018)
Researcher Samuel Gregg argues that free trade supporters need to more actively explain to Americans how free trade serves the nation’s long-term national interests and represents the ideals of patriotism more than isolationism. On the counter, conservative news editor Daniel McCarthy describes how economic nationalism can best serve America’s political and economic needs in the current era. Only by building up our domestic economy can the country hope to regain strengths it has seen eroded by foreign nations in recent years.
Unit 2: The Institutions of Government
Issue: Does the President Have Unilateral War Powers?
YES: John C. Yoo, from “The President's Constitutional Authority to Conduct Military Operations Against Terrorists and Nations Supporting Them: Memorandum Opinion for the Deputy Counsel to the President,” Memorandum Opinion for the Deputy Counsel to the President (2001)
NO: Kurt Couchman, from “The War Powers Resolution Doesn’t Let the President Start Wars,” The Hill (2018)
John C. Yoo, a Law Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that the language of the Constitution, long-accepted precedents, and the practical need for speedy action in emergencies all support broad executive power during war. Kurt Couchman, on the other hand, delineates how the War Powers Resolution positions Congress to be the definitive decider of when the American military is sent into action.
Issue: Is President Trump’s Relationship with Vladimir Putin Detrimental for the United States?
YES: Elena Chernenko, from “An Easy Win for Vladimir Putin,” The New York Times (2018)
NO: Paris Dennard, from “Trump Meeting with Putin Is the Right Thing for America,” The Hill (2018)
Elena Chernenko—foreign editor at Kommersant—writes that Russia is holding the power in their relationship with the United States today because President Putin has nothing to lose at home while President Trump has everything at stake. As a result, Trump’s perceived ties to Russia seem to be harmful to the United States’ larger interests. Paris Dennard, on the other hand, argues that Trump’s bold approach to international diplomacy is reviving America’s clout on the global stage. By requesting action, he can get Putin to listen and respond in kind.
Issue: Is Congress a Dysfunctional Institution?
YES: Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Nicholas Fandos, from “As Gridlock Deepens in Congress, Only Gloom Is Bipartisan,” The New York Times (2018)
NO: Thomas Petri, from “Our Government Is Messy—But That Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Working,” Washington Post (2016)
Congressional correspondent Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Nicholas Fandos discuss how gridlock in Congress has reached an all-time low and both parties seem to only agree on how poorly performing Congress is to the American people today. On the other hand, Thomas Petri, a former member of the U.S. House from Wisconsin, argues that Congress is actually operating exactly how the Framers intended despite public perceptions of dysfunction.
Issue: Should Supreme Court Justices Have Term Limits?
YES: Norm Ornstein, from “Why the Supreme Court Needs Term Limits,” The Atlantic (2014)
NO: Alexander Hamilton, from “Federalist No.78,” The Federalist Papers (1788)
Writer Norm Ornstein argues that the most effective way to address the problems created by an increasingly politicized Supreme Court is to limit all justices to 18-year terms. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, on the other hand, argues that the judiciary will be the weakest branch of government and life terms protect judges from political pressures while preventing the invasion of their powers by either the president or Congress.
Issue: Should the Senate Be Able to Delay Hearings on Nominations While Waiting for an Investigation to Conclude?
YES: Paul Schiff Berman, from “A Better Reason to Delay Kennedy’s Replacement,” The New York Times (2018)
NO: Jonathan Turley, from “No One Can Use Mueller Probe to Hold Up Supreme Court Nominee,” The Hill (2018)
Law Professor Paul Schiff Berman argues that people under the cloud of investigation do not get to pick the judges who may preside over their cases. Consequently, he believes presidents under any type of investigation should not be able to appoint judges who may ultimately be involved in deciding their legal fate. Jonathan Turley—also a public law academic—instead points to a complete lack of historical precedent or statue for holding such a view. Instead, he argues such arguments are typically politically opportunistic and not rooted in substantive law.
Unit 3: Social Change and Public Policy
Issue: Should Access to Abortions Be Restricted?
YES: Berny Belvedere, from “Abortion Is Wrong Even If the Fetus Is Not a Person,” National Review (2017)
NO: Julie Hirschfield Davis, from “How New Abortion Restrictions Would Affect Women’s Health Care,” The New York Times (2018)
Philosopher and writer Berny Belvedere argues that debates between pro-life and pro-choice groups are rooted too much in rhetoric and not enough in reality. Regardless, he examines how moral arguments suggest abortion should not be legalized in any way. On the other hand, Julie Hirschfield Davis—a reporter and political analyst—examines how increased restrictions regarding abortion access would negatively affect women’s health care, which directly counters arguments made by some anti-abortion advocates.
Issue: Is Lethal Injection as a Method of Execution Still Constitutional?
YES: Samuel Alito, from “Glossip v. Gross,” United States Supreme Court (2015)
NO: Sonia Sotomayor, from “Glossip v. Gross,” United States Supreme Court (2015)
Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito argues that lethal injection remains a viable and constitutional method of execution despite some states experimenting with different protocols given the inability to acquire sodium thiopental or pentobarbital. Writing for the minority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued that she believes capital punishment, in any form, likely violates the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment. As such, too much responsibility is being placed on petitioners to demonstrate certain drugs are not available, leading to a slippery slope of possible execution methods.
Issue: Should Colleges and Universities Consider an Applicant’s Race When Deciding Whether to Accept a Student?
YES: Maureen Downey, from “Trump Doesn’t Think College Admissions Should Consider Race. Do You?” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (2018)
NO: Shane Croucher, from “Campus Diversity: Will Trump End Affirmative Action in College Admissions?” Newsweek (2018)
Reporter Maureen Downey argues that not considering affirmative action as part of college admissions will have negative—and potentially unanticipated—consequences on the composition of campuses across the country. Shane Croucher, on the other hand, describes the changes being administered by the Trump administration and why they believe they assure federal guidelines better align with the prevailing sentiment of recent Supreme Court decisions.
Issue: Does the NRA Hold Too Much Power in the Gun Control Debate?
YES: Bill Scher, from “Why the NRA Will Always Win,” Politico (2018)
NO: Mel Robbins, from “The Real Gun Problem Is Mental Health, Not the NRA,” CNN (2014)
Author and editor Bill Scher argues that the National Rifle Association’s power as a lobbying group is not rooted in the money it has been able to raise but instead in the permeation of a culture that believe gun ownership is a way of life, central to one’s freedom, and deserving of defence on a daily basis. Either way, the influence of the organization is vast. Mel Robbins—a legal analyst—argues that the NRA is not the main problem with gun violence in the United States. Instead, she points to concrete examples that demonstrate how and increased focused on mental health could better alleviate current issues.
Issue: Should “Recreational” Drugs Be Legalized?
YES: Alex Suskind, from “Cory Booker Explains Why He's Making Legal Weed His Signature Issue,” Vice (2017)
NO: David Brooks, from “Weed: Been There. Done That,” The New York Times (2014)
Writer and interviewer Alex Suskind interviews New Jersey Democratic Senator Cory Booker about his proposed legislation to legalize marijuana at the federal level. Through the interview Booker explains why he wants to see marijuana legalized and how he sees government being able to repair the egregious harm the War on Drugs has causes to targeted communities. David Brooks—New York Times columnist—argues that making marijuana more accessible raises important moral and ethical questions that must be considered as part of the larger policy argument.
Issue: Should Business Owners Be Able to Refuse Clients Based on Religious Beliefs?
YES: Anthony Kennedy, from “Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al., v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, et al.,” United States Supreme Court (2018)
NO: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, from “Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd., et al., v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, et al.,” United States Supreme Court (2018)
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, identifies the fundamental conflict between freedom of religion and civil rights. In the matter of a businessman’s decision on whether to serve a gay couple, Kennedy acknowledges how imperative it is to balance religious sincerity with the rights of a group to be served. In this case, however, he sides with the business. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agrees with much of Kennedy’s argument but believes at a fundamental level it is not right that a business provides services to one group that it wouldn’t provide to another.
Unit 4: America and the World
Issue: Should the President Have the Power to Limit Immigrants and Refugees from Specific Countries?
YES: John Roberts, from “Majority Opinion: Trump v. Hawaii,” United States Supreme Court (2018)
NO: Sonia Sotomayor, from “Dissenting Opinion: Trump v. Hawaii,” United States Supreme Court (2018)
Writing for the Court, Chief Justice John Roberts argues that the Trump Administration based its immigration policy on a sufficient national security justification to survive a rational basis review. Regardless of politicized statements made, the president’s broad power over immigration matters trumps potential concerns that are not in direct violation of any Constitutional provisions. Writing for the minority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor points to both Trump’s statements about Muslims and the Establishment Clause to argue that the president should not have the power to ban immigrants from specific countries—especially when there is a strong religious correlation.
Issue: Should the United States Build a Border Wall with Mexico?
YES: Reece Jones, from “Why Build a Border Wall?” North American Congress on Latin America (2012)
NO: Vanda Felbab-Brown, from “The Wall: The Real Costs of a Barrier between the United States and Mexico,” Brookings Institute (2017)
Geographer Reece Jones writes that a possible border wall would serve a greater purpose than responding to immigration and drug problems. Instead, it can help establish sovereignty, protect the wealth of impacted states, and limit the possible dilution of cultural practices by immigrants. On the other side, Vanda Felbab-Brown—a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute—demonstrates the true costs of building a wall between the United States and Mexico. Her argument focuses on real costs and potential negative externalities of such a decision.
Issue: Should the United States Expect North Korea to Denuclearize?
YES: Eleanor Albert, from “What Would Denuclearization Look Like in North Korea?” Council on Foreign Relations (2018)
NO: Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, from “Trump Should Learn to Live with a Nuclear North Korea,” Washington Post (2018)
Eleanor Albert—a writer for the Council on Foreign Relations—interviews Melissa Hanham (a Senior Research Associate in the East Asia Non-proliferation Program) about how denuclearization could happen in North Korea. Through the interview, she emphasizes ways the United States could help encourage and assure a denuclearized North Korea in the future. On the other hand, Aaron David Miller (a vice-president at the Woodrow Wilson Center) and Richard Sokolsky (a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) argue denuclearization is an unreachable dream and instead the United States should identify more achievable outcomes from continuing talks with the once rogue nation.
Issue: Is the United States Too Tied to Israel When Deciding Policy in the Middle East?
YES: Ramzy Baroud, from “The Uneven Alliance: How America Became Pro-Israel,” Al-Jazeera (2017)
NO: Tamara Cofman Wittes and Daniel B. Shapiro, from “How Not to Measure Americans’ Support for Israel,” Brookings Institute (2018)
Ramzy Baroud—an author and media consultant—examines how and why Israel’s influence on the United States has grown over time. He believes this has had a direct impact on American policy choices within the Middle East and negatively impacted many Arab nations. Tamara Cofman Wittes, a senior fellow at Brookings, and Daniel Shapiro, a former ambassador to Israel, argue that Americans continue to support their country’s relationship with Israel even as attitudes regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continue to demonstrate increased polarization.