the Video Unit 12
and Discussion (30 minutes)
Before viewing the video, discuss the following questions:
- What was George Washington's view of political parties? Why?
- What was it that made Tocqueville consider some parties to
- ; What would political life be without political parties? Would
it be more democratic or less democratic?
- Are the major American political parties alike or do they represent
Watch the Video
(30 minutes) and Discuss (30 minutes) [Top]
The video includes three segments:
1. Cindy Montañez, Democrat
A major purpose of political parties is to recruit potential candidates
who share their political agendas and can promote those agendas
in elective office. Cindy Montañez, a former City Council
member and mayor of San Fernando who won election to the California
Assembly in November 2002, is widely considered a "rising star"
in the California Democratic party. This story profiles the rise
of Cindy Montañez from her humble roots in a Mexican American
immigrant family to her successful run for the California State
- What role did the political party have in enabling Ms. Montañez
to run for office?
- How does Ms. Montañez's career demonstrate an opportunity
ladder provided by the political party?
2. Significant Difference Wins the Race: Dinkins Versus Giuliani
Critics of America's two-party system often contend there are
no tangible differences between Republicans and Democrats. But what
seem like small differences between the two parties' platforms can
become significant when the candidates square off in an election.
The 1993 race for mayor of New York quickly became this type of election
when Democrat incumbent David Dinkins faced the same Republican challenger
he had narrowly defeated four years earlier, Rudolph Giuliani.
- Does the New York City election demonstrate that parties matter?
- Were the differences between the candidates merely personal
differences or were the candidates representing long-standing
differences between the two major parties?
- Were the differences between the parties in the mayor's race
atypical of the partisan clashes in other elections?
3. Political Party Earthquake: Jeffords's Switch
Americans often criticize the political parties for their contentious
and often confrontational behavior. But political parties provide
the essential structure for organizing the executive and legislative
branches of government. This can be clearly seen when there is a
dramatic shift in party control, particularly at the national level.
In May of 2001, Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords caused a seismic shift
in American politics by leaving the Republican Party. Although Jeffords
declared himself an Independent and not a Democrat, his decision
tipped the balance of power in the Senate to the Democrats, who
after six years in the minority regained the power to choose committee
chairs, set agendas, and claim a greater share of congressional
staff and operating budgets.
Agenda changes in the Senate soon followed. For example, while the
Governmental Affairs Committee under Republican Chairman Thompson
in 1997 investigated the financing of Bill Clinton's second presidential
campaign, the same committee under new Democratic Chairman Lieberman
in 2002 turned its attention to possible ties between the Bush White
House and the failed energy giant, Enron. Over the next year, the
Governmental Affairs Committee investigated any possible policy
influence between Enron, a heavy donor to political campaigns, including
George W. Bush's presidential campaign, and subsequent decisions
from the Bush White House or other executive branch regulators that
were favorable to Enron. Similar agenda shifts took place on various
committees dealing with judicial nominations, budgets, and the environment.
The Senate's staffers, both Democratic and Republican, also experienced
vast changes as a result of Jeffords's switch, including the size
of their offices and office staff, and various other perks including
choice parking spaces.
- How did Senator Jeffords's switch from Republican to Independent
impact the U.S. Senate?
- Who benefited from his shift and why?
- What were some of the consequences of Senator Jeffords's switch?
and Discussion (20 minutes) [Top]
Try the Critical
Thinking activity for Unit 12. This is a good activity to
use with your students, too.
1. Founding Your Own Third Party (20 minutes)
Using basic information from this unit, and Web sites listed
in the Web-based
Resource section of this site, create your own third
party based on issues and positions that are most important to you.
What is the name of the party? What are the party's main goals or
purposes? What are the party's main positions? What kinds of voters
would the party try to attract?
Read the following Readings from Unit 13 to prepare for next week's
- Introduction-Elections: The Maintenance of Democracy
- Tocqueville, Democracy in America: "How the Principle
of Equality Naturally Divides Americans Into a Multitude of Small
- Machiavelli, The Prince
- Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia
- Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American
Slave from Unit 5's Readings
Read next week's Topic Overview.
You may want to have your students do the post-viewing activities:
Party Platforms: How Useful Are They for Voters and Politicians?
and Founding Your Own Third Party. They are provided for you as
blackline masters in the Appendix of the print guide.