《英语国家国情与文化-美国》PDF电子版教材-U6-精简版

发布时间:2023-04-19 02:04:34浏览次数:58
English Speaking Countries Today – America Unit Six 1 Unit Six Core Text A Short Guide to the American Political System The Constitution Like most nation states, the American political system is clearly defined by basic documents. The Declaration of Independence of 1776 and the Constitution of 1789 form the foundations of the United States federal government. The Declaration of Independence establishes the United States as an independent political entity, while the Constitution creates the basic structure of the federal government. Both documents are on display in the National Archives and Records Administration Building in Washington, D.C. The US Constitution has proved to be a remarkably stable document. If one accepts that the first 10 amendments were in effect part of the original constitutional settlement, there have only been 17 amendments in over 200 years. One of the major reasons for this is that the Constitution is a very difficult instrument to change. First, a proposed amendment has to secure a two-thirds vote of members present in both houses of Congress. Then three-quarters of the state legislatures have to ratify the proposed change. At the heart of the US Constitution is the principle known as 'separation of powers'. This means that power is spread between three institutions of government - the executive, the legislature and the judiciary - and no single institution has too much power and no individual can be a member of more than one institution. This serves to provide 'checks and balances', since each branch regulates and is regulated by the other two. The Presidency The President is both the head of state and the head of government, as well as military commander-in-chief and diplomat. He presides over the executive branch of the federal government, a vast organization numbering about 4 million people, including 1 million active-duty military personnel. Within the executive branch, the President has broad constitutional powers to manage national affairs and the workings of the federal government and may issue executive orders to affect internal policies. The President may sign or veto legislation passed by Congress and has the power to English Speaking Countries Today – America Unit Six 2 recommend measures to Congress. He has the power to make treaties (with the 'advice and consent' of the Senate) and the power to nominate and receive ambassadors. The President may not dissolve Congress or call special elections, but does have the power to pardon criminals convicted of offences against the federal government, enact executive orders, and (with the consent of the Senate) appoint Supreme Court justices and federal judges. The President is elected for a fixed term of four years and may serve a maximum of two terms. Technically the President is not elected directly by the voters but by an Electoral College representing each state on the basis of a combination of the number of Senate members and House representatives. The President may be impeached by a majority in the House and removed from office by a two-thirds majority in the Senate for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors". The position of Vice-President is elected on the same ticket as that of the President and has the same four-year term of office. The Vice-President is often described as 'a heart beat away from the Presidency' since, in the event of the death or incapacity of the President, the Vice-President assumes the office. In practice, however, a Vice-Presidential candidate is chosen (by the Presidential candidate) to 'balance the ticket' in the Presidential election (that is, represent a different geographical, gender or ethnic constituency) and, for all practical purposes, the position only carries the power accorded to it by the President. The official duties of the Vice-President are to sit as a member of the "Cabinet" and as a member of the National Security Council and to act as ex-officio President of the Senate. Although the President heads the executive branch of government, the day-to-day enforcement and administration of federal laws is in the hands of the various federal executive departments, created by Congress to deal with specific areas of national and international affairs. The heads of the 15 departments, chosen by the President and approved with the 'advice and consent' of the Senate, form a council of advisors generally known as the President's "Cabinet". The first US President was George Washington, who served from 1789-1797, so that the current President Barack Hussein Obama is the 44th to hold the office. The Presidency is often referred to by the media as the White House, the West Wing, and the Oval Office. The House of Representatives The House of Representatives is the lower chamber in the bicameral legislature known collectively as Congress. The founders of the United States intended the House to be the politically dominant entity in the federal system and, in the late 18th and early 19th English Speaking Countries Today – America Unit Six 3 centuries, the House served as the primary forum for political debate. However, subsequently the Senate has been the dominant body. The House consists of 435 members, each of whom represents a congressional district and serves for a two-year term. House seats are apportioned among the states by population according to each decennial census. Typically a House constituency would represent around 500,000 people. Members of the House are elected by first-past-the-post voting in every state except Louisiana and Washington, which have run-offs. Voting in congressional elections - especially to the House - is generally much lower than levels in other liberal democracies. In a year when there is a Presidential election, turnout is typically around 50%; in years when there is no Presidential election (known as mid-terms), it usually falls to around one third of the electorate. The House has four non-voting delegates from American Samoa (1981), the District of Columbia (1971), Guam (1972) and the Virgin Islands (1976) and one resident commissioner for Puerto Rico (1976), bringing the total formal membership to 440. Much of the work of the House is done through 19 standing committees, which perform both legislative and investigative functions. Each chamber of Congress has particular exclusive powers. The House must introduce any bills for the purpose of raising revenue. However, the consent of both chambers is required to make any law. Activity in the House of Representatives tends to be more partisan than in the Senate. The House and Senate are often referred to by the media as Capitol Hill or simply the Hill. The Senate The Senate is the upper chamber in the bicameral legislature known collectively as Congress. The original intention of the authors of the US Constitution was that the Senate should be a regulatory group, less politically dominant than the House. However, since the mid 19th century, the Senate has been the dominant chamber and indeed today it is perhaps the most powerful upper house of any legislative body in the world. The Senate consists of 100 members, each of which represents a state and serves for a six-year term (one third of the Senate stands for election every two years). Each state has two Senators, regardless of population, and, since there areyoming represent less th 50 states, there are 100 senators. This equality of Senate seats between states has the effect of producing huge variations in constituency population (the two senators from W an half English Speaking Countries Today – America Unit Six 4 a million electors, while the two senators from California represent 34M people) with gross over-representation of the smaller states and serious under-representation of racial and ethnic minorities. Members of the Senate are elected by first-past-the-post voting in every state except Louisiana and Washington, which have run-offs. Much of the work of the Senate is done through 16 standing committees, which perform both legislative and investigative functions. Each chamber of Congress has particular exclusive powers. The Senate must give 'advice and consent' to many important Presidential appointments. However, the consent of both chambers is required to make any law. Activity in the Senate tends to be less partisan and more individualistic than in the House of Representatives. The Supreme Court The Supreme Court consists of nine Justices: the Chief Justice of the United States and eight Associate Justices. They have equal weight when voting on a case and the Chief Justice has no casting vote or power to instruct colleagues. The Justices are nominated by the President and confirmed with the 'advice and consent' of the Senate. As federal judges, the Justices serve during "good behavior", meaning essentially that they serve for life and can be removed only by resignation, or by impeachment and subsequent conviction. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. The court deals with matters pertaining to the federal government, disputes between states, and interpretation of the Constitution. It can declare legislation or executive action made at any level of the government as unconstitutional, nullifying the law and creating precedent for future law and decisions. The Supreme Court in practice has a much more 'political' role than the highest courts of European democracies. For example, the scope of abortion in the USA is effectively set by the Supreme Court whereas, in other countries, it would be set by legislation. This is why the appointment of Justices is often a very charged and controversial matter. Given how difficult it is to change the US Constitution through the formal method, one has seen informal changes to the Constitution through various decisions of the Supreme Court, which have given specific meanings to some of the general phrases in the Constitution. Below the Supreme Court, there is a system of Courts of Appeal, and, below these courts, there are District Courts. Together, these three levels of courts represent the federal judicial system. Political Parties English Speaking Countries Today – America Unit Six 5 The American political system is dominated by two political parties: the Democratic Party and the Republican Party (often known as the 'Grand Old Party' or GOP). These are very old and very stable parties - the Democrats go back to the 1824 and the Republicans were founded in 1854. The Democratic Party is sometimes represented as a donkey, while the Republican Party is sometimes featured as an elephant. Unlike most countries of the world the color red is associated with the Left-wing party and the color blue with the Right-wing party, in the United States the 'blue states' are those traditionally won by the Democrats, while the 'red states' are those normally controlled by the Republicans. The main reason for the dominance of these two parties is that a new government is selected by simple majority which, combined with the large voter size of the constituencies in the House and the Senate, ensures that effectively only two parties can play. The other key factor is the huge influence of money in the American electoral system. Since a candidate can effectively spend any amount he can raise (not allowed in many other countries) and since one can buy broadcasting time (again not allowed in many countries), the US can only 'afford' two parties or, to put it another way, candidates of any other party face a formidable financial barrier to entry. The Center in American politics is considerably to the Right of the Center in most European states including Britain, Germany, France, Italy and (even more especially) the Scandinavian countries. So, for instance, most members of the Conservative Party in the UK would support a national health service, whereas many members of the Democratic Party in the US would not. As a consequence of the enormous geographical size of the United States and the different histories of the different states (exemplified by the Civil War), geography is a factor in ideological positioning to a much greater extent than in other democratic countries. For instance, a Northern Republican could be more liberal than a Southern Democrat. In the United States, divisions over social matters - such as abortion, capital punishment, same-sex relationships and stem cell research - follow party lines in a way that is not true of most European countries. In Britain, for instance, these issues would be regarded as matters of personal conscience and would not feature prominently in election debates between candidates and parties. In the USA, religion is a factor in politics in a way unique in western democracies. Candidates openly proclaim their faith in a manner that would be regarded as bizarre elsewhere and religious groupings - such as the Christian Coalition of America - exert a significant political influence in a manner that would be regarded as improper in most European countries. The cost of elections is much greater in the US than in other democracies which has the effects of limiting the range of candidates, increasing the influence of corporate interests and pressure groups, and enhancing the position of the incumbent office holder English Speaking Countries Today – America Unit Six 6 (especially in the winning of primaries). Whereas in other countries, voters shape the policies and select the candidates of a party by joining it, in the USA voters register as a supporter of one of the major parties and then vote in primary elections to determine who should be the party's candidate in the 'real' election. The Federal System The powers of the federal government are limited by the Constitution, which leaves a great deal of authority to the individual states. Each state has an executive, a legislature and a judiciary. The head of the executive is the Governor who is directly elected. The legislature consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives (the exception is the state of Nebraska which has a unicameral system). The judiciary consists of a state system of courts. The 50 states are divided into counties (parishes in Louisiana and boroughs in Alaska). Each county has its court. Although the Constitution prescribes precisely when Presidential and Congressional elections will be held, the dates and times of state and local elections are determined by state governments. Therefore there is a plethora of elections in the United States and, at almost all times, an election is being held somewhere in the country. State and local elections, like federal elections, use the 'first past the post' system of election. A Divided Democracy Of course, all nation states are divided, especially in terms of power and wealth, but also - to different extents - by gender, race, ethnicity, religion and other factors. Indeed the constitution and institutions of a democratic society are expressly intended to provide for the expression and resolution of such divisions. However, it is often observed that the USA is an especially divided democracy in at least three respects:  It is divided vertically through the 'separation of powers', so that the executive, the legislature and the judiciary are quite distinct in terms of both powers and personalities.  It is divided horizontally through the federal system of government with the division of powers between the federal government and the state governments a very important issue that arguably was once the subject of a civil war.  It is divided politically through the sharp (and often bitter) differences of view on many social issues ranging from gun control to gay rights.
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