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 America Approaching Equality within Society?
Yes: Barack Obama, from "Remarks at the ‘Let Freedom Ring’ Ceremony Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom," Speech or Remarks (2013)
No: National Urban League, from "2016 State of Black America," National Urban League (2016)
U.S. President Barack Obama honors Martin Luther King, Jr. by discussing how King’s dreams have begun to be realized and continue to fuel the actions and directions of many Americans. The 2016 State of Black America examines racial equality in the United States and ultimately finds that African Americans in America remain only 72.2 percent equal to white citizens.
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, nonmajoritarian, and countermajoritarian 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.”
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: Barack Obama, from "The Future of Our Fight Against Terrorism," Speech or Remarks (2013)
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. American President Barack Obama examines how he has made concerted efforts during his time in the White House to expand consultations with Congress in order to provide the best opportunity for the United States to be successful in fighting terrorism.
Issue: Is Congress a Dysfunctional Institution?
Yes: Ezra Klein, from "What Happens When Congress Fails to Do Its Job?" Newsweek (2010)
No: William Mo Cowan, from "Cowan Farewell Address," U.S. Senate (2013)
Columnist Ezra Klein contends that institutional deadlock and partisan rancor have paralyzed Congress, causing it to lose power to the president and the bureaucracy. Former Massachusetts Senator Mo Cowan describes how he has come to view the work of Congress—along with fellow members—after fulfilling the remainder of John Kerry term upon the nomination of Governor Deval Patrick.
Issue: Should Supreme Court Justices have Term Limits?
Yes: Norm Ornstein, from "Why the Supreme Court Needs Term Limits," The Atlantic (2014)
No: Lyle Denniston, from "Constitution Check: Did the Founders Want Term Limits for Supreme Court Justices?" Constitution Daily (2015)
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. Lyle Denniston, the National Constitution Center’s constitutional literacy adviser, examines comments from one-time Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee about the Founders’ intentions for a Supreme Court with term limits and what Alexander Hamilton said about the issue.
Issue: Should the Senate Be Able to Delay Hearings on Nominations While Waiting for a Presidential Election to Occur?
Yes: William Yeomans, from "The Many Ways Senate Republicans can Block Obama's Supreme Court Nominee," Reuters (2016)
No: Joseph R. Biden Jr., from "Joe Biden: The Senate's Duty on a Supreme Court Nominee," The New York Times (2016)
Former chief counsel for Senator Edward Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee William Yeomans writes that whether it is the right decision or not, Republican Senators have a series of options available on how to block a potential nomination—many of which are rooted directly in the Constitution. Vice President, and former Senate Judiciary Committee member, Joe Biden, on the other hand, argues that the Constitution requires the Senate to take action and past precedent has demonstrated it is the proper thing to do.
Unit 3: Social Change and Public Policy
Issue: Does Affirmative Action Advance Racial Equality?
Yes: Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl, from "Separate & Unequal: How Higher Education Reinforces the Intergenerational Reproduction of White Racial Privilege," Georgetown University Public Policy Institute Center on Education and the Workforce (2013)
No: Dan Slater, from "Does Affirmative Action Do What It Should?" The New York Times (2013)
Policy researchers Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl show there are still wide racial and ethnic discrepancies present in education in the United States and how more direct efforts by government to achieve equality will be needed to level the playing field. Commentator Dan Slater presents information related to the mismatch theory which suggests that affirmative action can harm those it’s supposed to help by placing them at schools in which they fall below the median level of ability.
Issue: Should Abortion Be Restricted?
Yes: Marco Rubio, from "Why Abortion Is Bad for America," The Human Life Review (2012)
No: Wendy Davis, from "Filibuster of the Texas State Senate," Speech or Remarks (2013)
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio discusses why abortion harms American society from multiple angles, including moral, economic, and political, during a speech at the Susan B. Anthony List Campaign for Life Gala. Texas Representative Wendy Davis presents her case for why Texas Governor Rick Perry should not sign a new abortion measure that has been deemed the most restrictive state-level effort anywhere in the United States.
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 Be Able to Consider an Applicant’s Race When Deciding Whether to Accept a Student?
Yes: Anthony Kennedy, from "Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin," United States Supreme Court (2015)
No: Samuel Alito, from "Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin," United States Supreme Court (2015)
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, articulates that colleges and universities should be able to consider race as part of an overarching goal of assuring diversity on campus. He further notes, however, that race should play no greater role than necessary to meet this goal. Justice Samuel Alito, in a dissenting opinion, notes that the diversity goals of the university were not clearly articulated and as such should not be enough to justify race-considered admissions. He argues that race should only be counted in the decision when the reason for doing so is candidly and persuasively stated.
Issue: Should the United States Be More Restrictive of Gun Ownership?
Yes: Barack Obama and Joe Biden, from "Gun Control," Speech or Remarks (2013)
No: Jeffrey Goldberg, from "The Case for More Guns (and More Gun Control)," The Atlantic (2012)
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in the wake of the Newtown shooting, discuss why America needs to take a more proactive stance in limiting control to guns to prevent further mass shootings. Columnist Jeffrey Goldberg presents an argument that Americans own plenty of guns to protect themselves but will only be able to prevent mass shootings if they are more readily able to carry them at all times.
Issue: Should “Recreational” Drugs Be Legalized?
Yes: Bryan Stevenson, from "Drug Policy, Criminal Justice, and Mass Imprisonment," Global Commission on Drug Policy (2011)
No: Charles D. Stimson, from "Legalizing Marijuana: Why Citizens Should Just Say No," The Heritage Foundation (2010)
Law professor Bryan Stevenson focuses on how the criminalization of drugs has led to mass imprisonment with negative consequences for law enforcement. Charles D. Stimson, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, explains that marijuana is not safe and makes more sense than the prohibition of alcohol did in the early 1900s. Further, he demonstrates that the economic benefits would not outweigh the societal costs.
Issue: Should Corporations Be Awarded Religious Freedoms?
Yes: Patricia Miller, from "How the Catholic Church Masterminded the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby Debacle," Salon (2014)
No: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, from "Dissenting Opinion in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores," United States Supreme Court (2014)
Patricia Miller argues that religious institutions have gone to great measures to help corporations have legal protections in order to promote religious causes. Ruth Bader Ginsberg argues that the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty has been seen as a personal right, and any efforts to extend the right to corporations could come with unforeseen consequences society is not fully prepared for.
Unit 4: America and the World
Issue: Should the United States Be More Heavily Involved in Efforts to Defeat ISIS?
Yes: Max Boot, from "Defeating ISIS," Council on Foreign Relations (2014)
No: Barack Obama, from "Address to the Nation by the President," The White House (2015)
Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council for Foreign Relations, argues that the United States will need to increase its commitment in a measured way if it wishes to see ISIS defeated in the Middle East. He advocates not ruling out the option of ground-combat troops as it makes the country appear non-committed and reduces available leverage. President Barack Obama, speaking to the nation in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting, reiterates his desire to destroy ISIS. But, in doing so, does not appear willing to change the country’s current policy, which has been judged by many to be inadequate in addressing the threat of the Islamic State terrorist group.
Issue: Is the United States Doing Enough to Address the Global Threat of Diseases like Zika?
Yes: The White House, from "FACT SHEET: Preparing for and Responding to the Zika Virus at Home and Abroad," The White House (2016)
No: Peter J. Hotez, from "Zika Is Coming," The New York Times (2016)
The White House Fact Sheet on preparing for Zika clearly delineates the steps taken across the country to help mitigate the threat of the Zika virus and handle any responses necessary if the disease were to find itself within the United States. This includes a detailed discussion of available funding and funding priorities. Peter Hotez, Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, warns Americans, however, that Zika will likely arrive within our borders soon—especially in major Southern cities—and that we are vastly unprepared to handle any outbreak.
Issue: Should the United States Accept More Refugees from Syria?
Yes: Katy Long, from "Why America Could—and Should—Admit More Syrian Refugees," The Century Foundation (2015)
No: Martin Pengelly, et al., from "Cruz and Rubio Lead Republican Charge against Obama Over Syria Policy," The Guardian (2015)
Katy Long, a visiting fellow at Stanford, argues America should work to bring more refugees that are Syrian into its borders. She contends that resettling more refugees that are Syrian quickly and equitably will lead to a moral victory, which in turn will help it persuade allies to do more to help resolve the Syrian war and the attendant humanitarian catastrophe. Three reporters, Martin Pengelly, Tom Dart, and Sabrina Siddiqui, from The Guardian highlight opposition arguments waged by 2016 Republican presidential hopefuls, including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. The major arguments against increasing the number of refugees centers on concerns for national safety and security.
Issue: Should the United States Launch a Preemptive Strike Against Iran?
Yes: Matthew Kroenig, from "Time to Attack Iran," Foreign Affairs (2012)
No: Colin H. Kahl, from "Not Time to Attack Iran," Foreign Affairs (2012)
Defense Department Adviser Matthew Kroenig believes that the United States should launch a preemptive attack on Iran because a policy of deterrence would allow Iran to develop powerful nuclear weapons that would endanger the United States and its allies. Defense Department Adviser Colin H. Kahl believes that striking Iran now would not prevent future aggression, and it is undesirable as long as economic and diplomatic means to prevent Iran’s nuclear armament still hold the possibility of success.
Issue: Was President Obama’s Trip to Cuba a Good Step in Normalizing Relations with the Country?
Yes: Barack Obama, from "Remarks by President Obama to the People of Cuba," The White House (2016)
No: Armando Valladares, from "I Was a Prisoner of Castro's Regime: Obama's Visit to Cuba Is a Mistake", The Washington Post (2016)
In his address from Havana, President Barack Obama explains why ceasing isolationist policies with Cuba can benefit both the United States and the island nation. He takes time to highlight the strengths of Cuban society and how he envisions normalized relations occurring in the next few years. Armando Valladares, a poet and artist who spent 22 years in Cuba as a political prisoner under Castro, writes that Obama’s trip was misguided as it sends a message of favoritism for the strong at the expense of the weak. In short, he argues that common citizens will never see the benefits of normalized relations with the United States.