Political Science 308, United States Presidency

Fall 2016

Bill Newmann


Office Hours: 318 Founders Hall, Tuesday 3:30-5:00 and Thursday 11-12:30 and by appointment;

E-mail: wnewmann@vcu.edu

Newmann's home page with links to other course syllabi (http://www.people.vcu.edu/~wnewmann)
Links to the Presidency that will be useful or interesting (some might even be both).


Polls and Sites with Electoral College Charts

·         Gallup Poll

·         Quinnipiac Poll

·         Real Clear Politics Poll tracking

·         Pew Center

·         Washington Post polling page

·         New York Times polling page

·         Wall Street Journal/NBC news polls

·         CBS News polling page

·         538.Com polling

·         CNN polling page

·         Fox News polling page

·         Polling Report.Com


Use These for References to Voting in this election and past elections

·         270 to Win (info on presidential elections)

·         Dave Leip’s Atlas of US Presidential Elections The best info on every US presidential election and more


Sites with Coverage from All Perspectives

·         Real Clear Politics links to articles from everywhere

·         Politico comprehensive coverage of political events


Possible the two most important sites that exist (These examine claims made by politicians, candidates, and pundits.  Are they true or are they half-truths, or are they complete lies.  It also checks media stories and official pronouncements of the president and congress)

·         Fact Check.Org From the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania

·         PolitiFact.com From several newspapers

·         The Fact Checker From the Washington Post

·         Snopes.com (fact checking and debunking urban legends and internet hoaxes that are often about politics)



·         Presidential Libraries

·         Statistical Abstract of the United States (US Census Bureau compilation of statistics on social and economic conditions in the US)

·         Charts on Presidential Approval Ratings (from Wall Street Journal; composites of several polling organizations)





The presidency is a huge topic. Recognizing this, the course will take a sweeping look at the US Presidency, arguably the single most powerful office in the history of the planet. Getting a handle on the presidency is a difficult, if not impossible job. Probably the best way to start learning about the subject is to think of the US presidency as the nexus of three streams: (1) the times -- the ebb and flow of American political culture, national trends, and international historical forces; (2) the presidency -- the office and powers of the institution as it has evolved from the US Constitution to the media-focused, celebrity Presidency of the 1980s and 1990s; and (3) The president -- the character, vision, strengths and weaknesses of the man or woman who occupies the Oval Office. As these three streams come together the political history of the nation is shaped. The US has been called a "Presidential Nation." It is in the office of the presidency where the US people have decided to place power time and again. In the historical grappling for power between the president and Congress the US people have continually sided with the president. It is the place where we look for leadership, and direction. The person who occupies that office is given a stature like no other. (Has anyone seen any monuments to senators or representatives?) The president gets too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things go wrong. For better or worse, the president has become the embodiment of the nation, and therefore, his or her character, personal habits and infirmities become the stuff of national obsession, and national security. (During the 1980s, the polyps on Ronald Reagan's colon received more media attention than the workings of the Federal Reserve.)

The office of the president is the repository of the greatest powers in the land, not just in terms of physical power (the authority to use military force, even nuclear weapons), but moral power -- the ability to shift the ethical standards of a nation and to influence, if not define, the national mood. Our presidential elections often focus on issues of personal character, not issues of economic, social or foreign policy. We seem to be choosing not simply someone to run the country, but someone to represent us -- half-prime minister, half-monarch. Our choices see to depend on the national mood.

One of the key issues in the study of the presidency focuses on what really accounts for presidential decisions.  Those who have an institutional perspective believe that the president is no match for the political pressures of congress, the political environment, and the American people.  He responds to them in ways that try to preserve his power by using his own institutional powers. Every president will react roughly the same to the same institutional forces.  The other perspective, often called the persuasion or bargaining model, sees leadership of the president as the key determinant of decisions.  The president matters -- his character, his leadership style, his political skills.

This is the central point we should focus on: Is it possible for a president to "succeed" in "modern" times? What do I mean by "succeed?" It is best to take ideological judgments out of the definition of success. We should not try to define success subjectively -- in terms of individual political goals that those on one side or the other of the political spectrum might have, such as reducing poverty through government action or shrinking the size of the welfare state. Using these notions as the judgment of success would lead to endless debate about the purposes of government from a partisan point of view. We’ll probably have a little bit of that, but we don't want it to dominate the course. It is better to try for some scholarly objectivity, by defining success in the following manner -- did the president achieve what he set out to do? Whether you, as an individual, shared the goals of one president or another, is irrelevant to this question. Analytically, the focus should be upon how successful was any president in attaining the goals that he sets for himself.

By the "modern" presidency I refer to the presidency as it has been defined since Franklin Roosevelt. It is FDR who, with the help of national crises of the Depression and WW II, transformed the presidency into the focus of power that it is today. He also raised expectations so high that it is doubtful that any president can meet those expectations for any length of time. Can the job be done? That is what we will focus on during the course of the semester. We will examine the powers of the presidency, the men who have held the office and the shifting demands that our political culture places on both the office and the individual.

Some of the issues we will discuss include: The Presidency and the Constitution; Presidential Character; The Roosevelt Revolution; "The Personal Presidency;" Presidential Management Styles; Bureaucracy, Organizations, and Presidential Power; The "Imperial Presidency" and Foreign Policy; The White House Staff and its power; Watergate and the abuse of power; The post-Watergate Presidency; The Reagan Revolution; The President and the media; Presidential Campaigns; Expectations of the President; Image making; Shifting Coalitions in Presidential Voting; Red and Blue America; And more, other issues you might bring up.


Texts: You need to read them; you don't need to buy them. There is a lot of reading for this course, but it is fun reading. I've tried to keep the dry political science textbook style to a minimum. I've assigned mostly journalistic accounts that are entertaining and educational.  The books are available at the Virginia Book Company (intersection of Shafer and Franklin) and the VCU Bookstore. Some of them may be found also at the large chain bookstores in town (Borders, Barnes and Noble). You might find them there at a discount. If anyone has problems getting access to the texts, for any reason, let me know as soon as possible so you don't get too far behind in the reading. You may find these texts other places; be sure you get an edition of the text that includes everything that is in the edition I have assigned. Some of these books have been placed on reserve.


Assigned Texts:

·   Fred Greenstein. Inventing the Job of President (Princeton University Press, 2009) E 176.1 .G829 2011 (on line only through VCU library.  Use the advanced search function on the library home page. Search for Fred Greenstein as the author and you can also put the title in another search box if you want, but you don’t need to. Make sure to set the “material type” on the right to “books”)

·   John Sloan. FDR and Reagan (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008) (On reserve at Cabell Library)

·   Ronald Brownstein. The Second Civil War (New York: Penguin Books, 2007) (On reserve at Cabell Library)

·   Keith Olson. Watergate (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2003) (On reserve at Cabell Library)

·   Joe Klein. The Natural (New York: Broadway Books, 2003) (Not available on reserve)

·   George Edwards. Overreach: Leadership in the Obama Presidency (Princeton University Press, 2015) (On reserve at Cabell Library)


Grading System: Grades will be determined through the following:

Exam One

October 13

30% of the grade

Research Paper

December 6

Topic Due September 20

35% of the grade

Exam Two

December 15 1-3:50 PM

Note the time change

35% of the grade



How do you calculate your grade? Use the percentages from the above table. So, if you received the following grades, you would calculate your grades in the following manner:

I give you this very detailed formula for a number of reasons. You should never be unaware of what your class average is. You can calculate it at any point in the semester. If your grade is not what you'd like it to be, you should know, and you should come see me about it. Please don’t wait to come to my office hours until after the final exam and say then tell me that you're having trouble in the class. It's too late at that point; there’s nothing that I’d be able to do to help at that point.  But any time in the semester that you feel you are having trouble, or not doing as well as you feel you should, come talk to me. During my office hours and by appointment I am happy to talk to you about the class


Grading scale: I use a typical scale: A = 90-100; B = 80-89; C = 70-79; D = 55-69. Borderline grades are considered in the following manner.

·         If your grade is 69.5, 79.5, or 89.5 or higher, then you may be a candidate for a round up to the higher grade (Notice those numbers in the sentence; do not ask for a higher grade if your average is a 68 or 78 or 88 or lower; those are not borderline averages).

·         You may become a candidate if your grades are borderline and if your grades have been going up during the semester.

·         That means that if you are borderline, but your last exam is lower than the previous exams (you are between a B and C, but your third exam is a C for example), you will probably get the lower grade.

·         If you are borderline, and your last exam is higher than the previous exams (you are between a B and C, but your third exam is a B), you will probably get the higher grade.

·         Another factor I consider is the typical grade you receive. Let’s say we have three grades for the class and two are grades of B and one is a C (bad day) and your average is a 79.6, you are a candidate for receiving a B.  If you have three grades and two grades are grades of C and one is a grade of B, you are probably not candidate for a round up to the next grade.

·         There is no extra credit for this class.  Please do not ask.


One more thing: The withdrawal date is November 4


EXAMS: The exams will be short answer and essay. One week before the exam I will place a review sheet on line, linked to this syllabus, below this paragraph. This review sheet should be used as your study guide for the exam. The review sheet will include some terms that are from the readings only, so that you can go back and review those items from the readings. Once you have the review sheet, feel free to ask me questions about the terms. This is the best way to study for the exam. If you understand the terms on the review sheet, you can define each one and see how each one relates to the larger concepts and issues we've discussed in class, you should do just fine on the exam. The exams will consist of short answer/identifications and one essay. I will give more details on the exams in class as we approach the first exam.


Review 1

Review II


Research Paper: Follow this link for information.  The paper will be an 8-10 page research paper.  Paper Topics will be chosen in consultation with me. They are due September 20. Details can be found in the link above and I will explain in class. The paper is due December 6.  You may turn in an outline, rough draft, partial paper, whatever, for review up until one week before the paper is due (November 29).  This is optional, just something to help you out if you have questions. The following instructions are important. Please pay attention to them.  If you don't you will wind up hurting your grade:  

·         LATE PAPERS: The late penalty is ten points per day, meaning that after class begins your paper, if a 95, is now an 85, after two days it is a 75, after three it is a 65, and so on down to zero.



Attendance and Class Behavior

First, I will be passing out an attendance sheet each class period.  I have noticed the past few semesters that some students feel class attendance is optional.  They feel that way until they get back their first exam then they want to do extra credit to get their grade back up.  The simple answer is: be there the first time.  Second, you may use computers in class to take notes.  However, that is all you should be doing with your computer – taking notes.  If you surf the web, check your facebook page or play Angry Birds etc, you will be disrupting other students in the class.  They can see your computer.  This qualifies as the type of class behavior that can result in your removal from the class.




(page numbers are included as necessary; if there are no page numbers, it means read the entire chapter) 


Week 1: August 22-26: Origins of the Presidency

Read the Constitution

·         Official US Government Printing Office version

·         National Archives original text annotated version (with links to changes in the constitution)

Greenstein, Chapters 1-3

2016 Election

Introduction PPT

President’s Park PPT

Being a Good Political Consumer

Presidential Library Tour



Week 2: August 29—September 2: Pre-Modern Presidency

Greenstein, Chapters 4-9

Pre-Modern Presidents PPT




Week 3: September 5-9: The Roosevelt Legacy

Brownstein, Chapters 1-3




Week 4: September 12-16: Management and Leadership: Truman, Eisenhower, and JFK


·   Chapter 2

·   Chapter 4 (66-82)

·   Chapter 5

Agendas, Management, Advising PPT



Week 5: September 19-23: LBJ and the Power of Persuasion

Paper Topic Due: September 20

Sloan, Chapters 7 and 9




Week 6: September 26-30: Nixon’s Rise and Fall

Brownstein, Chapter 4 (93-127)

Olson, Chapters 1-3

Nixon PPT

Scandals Comparison



Week 7: October 3-7: The Post-Watergate, Post-Vietnam Presidency: Ford and Carter

Olson, Chapters 4-8

Carter PPT



Week 8: October 10-14: The Reagan Realignment

Exam 1: October 13

Sloan, Chapter 3 (for second exam)



Week 9: October 17-21: The Reagan Impact


·         Chapter 4 (82-100)

·         Chapter 6

·         Chapter 8

Reagan PPT



Week  10: October 24-28: The Post-Reagan Presidency


·         Chapter 5 (149-174)

·         Chapter 5 (175-220)

Bush 41



Withdrawal Date: November 4




Week 11: October 31 –November 4 The Wacky 1990s

Klein, Chapters 1-4.




Week 12: November 7-11: Polarization?

Klein, Chapter 5-8

Red and Blue States



Week 13: November 14-18: Bush 43 and Presidential Power

Brownstein, Chapter 7-8



Week 14: November 22-25: From Bush to Obama

Edwards, Introduction and Chapters 1-2

Bush 43



Week 15: November 28-December 2: 2016 and Beyond

Last for turning in optional rough draft: November 29

Edwards, Chapters 3-7




Week 16: December 5-9

Research Paper due December 6 (in hard copy at the beginning of class or it is late)

No Readings (catch up if you’re behind)



Exam 2: December 15, same room, 1-3:50 PM.  Notice the time change!!!



VCU Policies

Campus emergency information

What to know and do to be prepared for emergencies at VCU:

Sign up to receive VCU text messaging alerts. Keep your information up-to-date. Within the classroom, the professor will keep his or her phone on to receive any emergency transmissions.

Know the safe evacuation route from each of your classrooms. Emergency evacuation routes are posted in on-campus classrooms.

Listen for and follow instructions from VCU or other designated authorities. Within the classroom, follow your professor's instructions.

Know where to go for additional emergency information.

Know the emergency phone number for the VCU Police (828-1234).

Report suspicious activities and objects.

Keep your permanent address and emergency contact information current in eServices.

Class registration required for attendance

Students may attend only those classes for which they have registered. Faculty may not add students to class rosters or Blackboard. Therefore, if students are attending a class for which they have not registered, they must stop attending.


Honor System: upholding academic integrity

The VCU Honor System policy describes the responsibilities of students, faculty and administration in upholding academic integrity, while at the same time respecting the rights of individuals to the due process offered by administrative hearings and appeals. According to this policy, "Members of the academic community are required to conduct themselves in accordance with the highest standards of academic honesty, ethics and integrity at all times." In addition, “To support a commitment to the Honor System, all members of the VCU community are required to:

More information can be found at in the VCU policy library.


Important dates

You can view important dates for the semester in the academic calendar.


Managing stress

Students may experience situations or challenges that can interfere with learning and interpersonal functioning including stress, anxiety, depression, alcohol and/or other drug use, concern for a friend or family member, loss, sleep difficulties, feeling hopeless or relationship problems.  There are numerous campus resources available to students including University Counseling Services (804-828-6200 MPC Campus, 804-828-3964 MCV Campus), University Student Health Services (MPC 804 828-8828, MCV Campus 804 828-9220) and the Wellness Resource Center (804-828-9355).  24 hour emergency mental health support is available by calling 828-1234 and asking to speak to the on-call therapist or utilizing the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-784-2433).


Mandatory responsibility of faculty members to report incidents of sexual misconduct

It is important for students to know that all faculty members are mandated reporters of any incidents of sexual misconduct/violence (e.g., sexual assault, sexual exploitation and partner or relationship violence). This means that faculty cannot keep information about sexual misconduct/violence confidential if you share that information with them and they must report this information immediately to the university's Title IX Coordinator. In addition, department chairs, deans, and other unit administrators are required to report incidents of sex or gender-based discrimination to the university's Title IX Coordinator. Once a report is made, you will receive important information on your reporting options, on campus and off campus resources and remedial measures such as no-contact directives, residence modifications, and academic modifications. If you would prefer to speak with someone confidentially for support and to discuss your options for reporting, contact:

·         VCU's Wellness Resource Center     804.828.9355 | myoptions@vcu.edu | thewell.vcu.edu

·         Greater Richmond Regional Hotline (Community program)   804.612.6126  | 24-hour hotline

·         VCU’s Counseling Services       804-828-6200

·         For more information on how to help, please click here. The Policy on Sexual Misconduct/Violence and Sex/Gender Discrimination, can be found in the VCU policy library. For more information about the University's Title IX process, please visit equity.vcu.edu.


Military short-term training or deployment

If military students receive orders for short-term training or for deployment/mobilization, they should inform and present their orders to Military Student Services and to their professor(s). For further information on policies and procedures contact Military Student Services at 828-5993 or access the corresponding policies.


Student conduct in the classroom

According to the Faculty Guide to Student Conduct in Instructional Settings, "The university is a community of learners. Students, as well as faculty, have a responsibility for creating and maintaining an environment that supports effective instruction. In order for faculty members (including graduate teaching assistants) to provide and students to receive effective instruction in classrooms, laboratories, studios, online courses, and other learning areas, the university expects students to conduct themselves in an orderly and cooperative manner." Among other things, cell phones should be turned off while in the classroom. The Student Code of Conduct also prohibits the possession of or carrying of any weapon. For more information see http://register.dls.virginia.gov/details.aspx?id=3436.


Student email policy

Email is considered an official method for communication at VCU because it delivers information in a convenient, timely, cost-effective, and environmentally aware manner. Students are expected to check their official VCU email on a frequent and consistent basis in order to remain informed of university-related communications. The university recommends checking email daily. Students are responsible for the consequences of not reading, in a timely fashion, university-related communications sent to their official VCU student email account. This policy ensures that all students have access to this important form of communication. It ensures students can be reached through a standardized channel by faculty and other staff of the university as needed. Mail sent to the VCU email address may include notification of university-related actions, including disciplinary action. Please read the policy in its entirety at the VCU Policy Library.


Student financial responsibility

Students assume the responsibility of full payment of tuition and fees generated from their registration and all charges for housing and dining services, and other applicable miscellaneous charges. Students are ultimately responsible for any unpaid balance on their account as a result of the University Financial Aid Office or their third party sponsor canceling or reducing their award(s).


Students representing the university – excused absences

Students who represent the university (athletes and others) do not choose their schedules. Student athletes are required to attend games and/or meets. All student athletes should provide their schedules to their instructors at the beginning of the semester. The Intercollegiate Athletic Council strongly encourages faculty to treat missed classes or exams (because of a scheduling conflict) as excused absences and urges faculty to work with the students to make up the work or exam.


Students with disabilities

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, require that VCU provide "academic adjustments" or "reasonable accommodations" to any student who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. To receive accommodations, students must register with the Disability Support Services Office on the Monroe Park Campus (828-2253) or the Division for Academic Success on the MCV campus (828-9782). Please also visit the Disability Support Services website and/or the Division for Academic Success website for additional information.

Once students have completed the DSS registration process, they should schedule a meeting with their instructor (s) and provide their instructor (s) with an official DSS accommodation letter. Accommodation letters will outline the required classroom accommodations. Additionally, if coursework requires the student to work in a lab environment, the student should advise the instructor or a department chairperson of any concerns that the student may have regarding safety issues related to a disability. Students should follow this procedure for all courses in the academic semester.


Withdrawal from classes

Before withdrawing from classes, students should consult their instructor as well as other appropriate university offices. Withdrawing from classes may negatively impact a student’s financial aid award and his or her semester charges. To discuss financial aid and the student bill, visit the Student Services Center at 1015 Floyd Avenue (Harris Hall) and/or contact your financial aid counselor regarding the impact on your financial aid.