The Ideologies of American Politics

Week 4 Discussion Wk 10/24 to 10/30

“The Ideologies of American Politics” Please respond to the following:

  • Based on the scenario and the knowledge gained from this section, address the following:
    • Identify at least three effects on political ideologies that arise from the existence of only two major political parties in the U.S.


Slide # Scene/Interaction Narration
Slide 1 Introductory screen, containing the environment (an outside view of a government office building) and a title showing the scenario topic.  There will be a “begin” button on the screen allowing students to begin the scenario.
Slide 2 Scene 1

Amanda and Dr. Ryan standing in Dr. Ryan’s office.







Photos of one or some of these newspaper and radio logos















































The National Zoo will have a photo of what you’re looking for here.

























Dr. T: Welcome back, Amanda.  Last week we looked at federalism and the states, and this week we will branch off into an entirely new field dealing with the relationship between the media and public opinion in the U.S., focusing on political ideologies.


Any initial thoughts about this topic, Amanda?


Amanda:  This question about the public and the media isa hot-button topic, Dr. Ryan, especially around the time of presidential elections.


Conservatives think media like The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Public Broadcasting Service are too liberal, and liberals think that media outlets like The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are too conservative.  And the truth is both sides have a point.  All of these outlets have political agendas that they want to get across.


Dr. Ryan: But the real question is what, if anything can be done about it?


Or, more importantly, should anything be done about it?


Amanda: I don’t think so. The federal government isn’t allowed to censor anything unless it deals with national security. So legally, there is nothing standing in the way of a newspaper or commentator from printing or saying anything they want to.


Do you know if there are any exceptions at all?


Dr. Ryan: Yes, but they are very narrowly defined by the courts.  If someone is libeled by a newspaper or slandered by a talk-show host, that’s another matter. The problem is that if the person is an actor or politician, for example, he’s considered a public figure and so it’s extremely difficult for him to win a case in court.


Amanda: What effect does this have?


Dr. Ryan: As a result, the media gets away with writing or saying some of the most outrageous stuff and it almost never goes to trial.  It might rate a retraction or an apology, but that’s about it.  That’s why you can be standing in a check-out line and see a front page photograph of Kim Kardashian in TheNational Enquirer, smiling radiantly as she lovingly cradles what looks like a small alligator, with the headline reading, “Isn’t our new baby just beautiful?”


Amanda:  So…do you think that following these media outlets boils down to an issue of whom to trust?


Dr. Ryan:  Exactly. If I’m a Republican I’m not going to read a magazine like The New Republic, and if I’m a Democrat, I hardly think I’ll be spending my afternoons listening to Sean Hannity or Oliver North.  But if I’m one of these very odd people who has a particular fondness for Kim Kardashian and alligators, then The National Enquirer is on my reading list.


Amanda: So what should I take from this?


Dr. Ryan:The thing to remember is that centrist Americans, or the people who consider themselves moderates and make up the majority of voters in this country, will listen to, or read, both sides of an issue.


But the difference between them and hard line Democrats or Republicans is that moderates weigh the arguments from both points of view without taking them at face value, and only then decide how to vote.


These are the people who don’t necessarily have a fixed political agenda going into an election, and, as the expression goes, they vote the person and not the party.


In other words, they will vote on the merits of an issue regardless of the party that’s advocating it.

Slide 3 Scene 2


Amanda and Dr. Ryan do a visual tour of a museum or historical exhibit in Capitol Hill that showcases the material that is covered.  This is sort of a visual tour of Washington D.C. as well as a visual component to the conversation.
























Photo of the book

Amanda: Isn’t that what this free exchange of ideas shows?  I think it’s this more than anything else that is why we live in a healthy representative democracy. Try living in Zimbabwe or Iran or China sometime and criticizing the leadership there. You’ll see how long it takes before the police are at your front door.


Dr. Ryan: Yes, indeed. Expressing one’s views candidly certainly is one of our strongest and most cherished freedoms.

Amanda: And something else I really love about this country is the Freedom of Information Act.  Ever since 1966, we, as private citizens, have had the constitutional right to access government information. That is, unless it was classified in the interest of protecting national defense or foreign policy or trade secrets. Or if it’s an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.  Other than that, we can find out just about anything we want to about anyone or any government activity.

Dr. Ryan: I remember when Nixon tried to stop The Pentagon Papers from being published in 1971. He did this because he and Henry Kissinger felt that refusing to oppose their release would set a negative precedent for the classification of future secrets. But the Supreme Court ruled that no harm was being done to national security, and The New York Times went ahead with the project. It even made a best-selling book out of them.

What the papers showed was that the Johnson administration had repeatedly lied to the public about the way the war had been prosecuted almost from its beginning.

The most important issue to come out of the case was the ruling that public interest should prevail over any embarrassment these revelations might cause someone. It was a crucial test of the Freedom of Information Act.

Slide 4 Scene 3

Amanda and Dr. Ryan do a visual tour of a museum or historical exhibit in Capitol Hill that showcases the material that is covered.  This is sort of a visual tour of Washington D.C. as well as a visual component to the conversation.








Maybe a couple of shots of Clinton and Obama holding press conferences

Amanda:  That’s an interesting point. Despite cases like that and like Roe versus Wade,  which were, and are, very divisive, we Americans continue to place great deal more trust in our government to act in our best interests than Europeans do in theirs. And a lot of this has to do with the fact that, despite the conspiracy theorists, our federal government is astonishingly transparent.

What do you think makes it that way and keeps our elected officials honest?

Dr. Ryan: Why? An inquisitive media, of course.

Just watch a presidential press conference some time and listen to the unrelenting questioning from journalists.  If they don’t like an answer or think an official is obfuscating, they’ll dig until they’re satisfied, and they do this because they believe we have the unassailable right to know what our government is doing in our name.

Amanda: I’ve never really thought of it like that before.

Slide 5


Scene 4

Shot of Muskie on the steps of The Manchester Guardian newspaper






Shot of Reagan


Dr. Ryan.  All of this has a tremendous effect on public opinion.  There was a famous case in 1972 when a senator named Edwin Muskie was interviewed while running for president. In response to criticism of his wife, he cried openly with the cameras running.  That’s all the public had to know about him and he was out of the race a week later.  Subsequent polling conducted by major news outlets showed that the public thought he was weak and his political career ended right then and there.


Amanda:  And then there was Ronald Reagan…


Dr. Ryan: Oh, yes, of course.  He was an absolute master of manipulating the media.  As an actor, he was used to working in front of cameras. He came across as a genuinely pleasant and trustworthy person whose self-confidence in his public persona was so solid that he simply wouldn’t get rattled by tough questions.


Amanda: And this had a major effect on his administration, didn’t it?


Dr. Ryan: Well, as a consequence he would go over the head of Congress when it proposed legislation he didn’t like. He would ask people to call their representatives to tell them to change their votes.  And it worked time after time!  Congress was envious and greatly irritated by this tactic, but what was it going to do?  They had no one who could come even close to competing with Reagan’s public image as a very approachable, good-humored man. And it drove them to distraction.  In the field of public relations, Ronald Reagan set a new standard.

Slide 6


Scene 4

Amanda and Dr. Ryan do a visual tour of a museum or historical exhibit in Capitol Hill that showcases the material that is covered.  This is sort of a visual tour of Washington D.C. as well as a visual component to the conversation.


Amanda:  But aren’t there other factors?  What about the role religion plays in politics?


Dr. Ryan:  If a politician is smart, it won’t play any role at all.  We spoke at length a few weeks ago about the Founders assuring the separation of church and state. Americans really haven’t changed since then.  We don’t mind a politician practicing his faith, but he’d better not make a public issue of it like the Reverend Pat Robertson did in the 1980s.


He intimated that a vote for him was a vote for God. But people reacted violently to that and he was run out of the Republican primary immediately.


Amanda:  Okay, but what role do you think education plays in this electoral process?


Dr. Ryan:  A very important one.  Today, people with college degrees and postgraduate education are more likely to be members of the urban middle to upper middle class and vote Democratic. Whereas those living in small towns that have jobs in farming or small to medium-sized businesses tend to vote Republican.  And there are other demographics at work, too.


Amanda: What do you mean?


Dr. Ryan: More women are Democrats than men and more men are Republicans than women.  Older people tend to vote Republican more than younger men and women, who are predominately Democrats. Meanwhile the poor and minorities vote Democratic and wealthier whites swing Republican.


It’s been this way for some years now and both parties are working on ways to change their approach to appeal to disaffected voters.


Amanda: I’ve noticed those trends myself.


Dr. Ryan:  And don’t forget…the Internet plays a big role in this because younger people tend to use it more to gather information than older people, who still read newspapers more.  Then there’s the issue of regions.  Northern and far western states are almost exclusively Democratic because they are manufacturing and techno-centric areas where labor unions proliferate. But Southern states are anti-labor union and generally Republican because whites there tend to be more politically and socially conservative.


Amanda: It’s rare that someone doesn’t have a political ideology of some kind. The goal of the media and the political establishment is to identify who believes in what and tailor their editorial policies and messages accordingly.


It’s a real art, because if you’re inconsistent, then you’re done for.  Isn’t this is the mistake Mitt Romney made in the 2012 election?


Dr. Ryan:  That’s exactly right.  He was a Republican governor of Massachusetts, a very traditionally liberal Democratic state. While in office he supported gun control, immigration reform, same sex marriage and a complete overhaul of health care insurance. But as soon as he decided to run for president, he had to win the primaries, which are dominated by right wing Republicans. He was forced to change his stance on all of these positions by one-eighty degrees.


Amanda: But I participated in that election.  He didn’t keep his stance there either, did he?


Dr. Ryan: Well, he ran in the general election against Barak Obama and tried to steer back to the middle. He tried to explain away all of his policy shifts, but the voters rejected him out of hand and he got beaten badly. Voters didn’t trust someone who flip-flopped so easily on a core ideology.  People thought he was a very decent man, but they didn’t care much for his political inconsistency.


Amanda: Did the media also have an effect in this case?


Dr. Ryan:  Actually, the press played a very important role in this. This was because they would go back to earlier news conferences that he had held while he was governor. They would cite statements he made about this issue or that and then ask him to explain why he was now dead set against what he stood for only a few years before.


He couldn’t talk his way out of what was already on record and he came across as indecisive.  It was all a matter of how he was perceived, and it goes to the very substance of this week’s discussion on public opinion and the media.

Slide 7 Scene 5

Amanda and Dr. Ryan do a visual tour of a museum or historical exhibit in Capitol Hill that showcases the material that is covered.  This is sort of a visual tour of Washington D.C. as well as a visual component to the conversation.


Amanda: Is there anything else I should know about political ideologies and the media for now?


Dr. Ryan:  I think two more points are in order and then we can call it a day.


First…and this is something we’ve touched on a couple of times so far…for the media to influence public opinion, it must advance information that actually changes the way people think.


Ostensibly, the print and television press are supposed to be neutral. But everyone knows that the use of a strong or emotional verb here or there can have an immense impact on the slant of a story.


Amanda: And what’s the other thing you wanted to mention?


Dr. Ryan: The second point I wanted to make is that the reverse can also hold true.


Remember that skillful politicians can affect what gets into print in a number of ways.  They can do this by using good press officers, by timing the release of stories, spinning an event to put themselves in a more attractive light, leaking information to sympathetic journalists, and finally, by sanctioning other journalists who write unflattering pieces and denying them future access.


Now, let’s head back to my office and review what we’ve covered today.

Slide 8 Interaction


There will be a tabbed interaction where students will review why they have access to non-classified data from the government.  Then, they will do another drag and drop interaction where they place potential voting groups into either Republican or Democratic categories.


Slide 9 Scene 6

Amanda and Dr. Ryan back in Dr. Ryan’s office.


Great job, Amanda.  That takes us to the end of our examination of the relationship between media and political ideologies. Next week we can look forward to discussing how political parties and interest groups interact.


Make sure to participate in this week’s discussions on political ideologies.


I’m very impressed with your progress, Amanda. Take care for now. We will get together again later.