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GROUP PROJECT ABSTRACTS:
Is All Politics Local? Credit Claiming and the Quest for Reelection
Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill is famous for his often-repeated claim that “all politics is local.” O’Neill believed that taking care of the concerns of one’s district ensured electoral success. David Mayhew includes credit claiming—providing particularized benefits to the district, pejoratively referred to as “pork”—among the tried and true strategies incumbents use to ensure their reelection. Using the press releases of Representative Bizz Johnson (D-CA) this research examines patterns of credit-claiming activity over his twenty-year career. In particular, we examine the hypothesis that credit claiming increases during election years as Johnson sought to ensure his reelection to Congress. Group members: Langford, Lopez-Mercado, Rodriguez, Thai.
War and Political Position Taking: A Case Study
War presents a special political challenge for members of Congress. They are cross-pressured by concerns of national unity, the positions of party leaders and, most important, the opinions of their constituents. In an attempt to navigate these cross-pressures members of Congress engage in position taking. As David Mayhew elaborates position taking involves “The congressman as position taker is a speaker rather than a doer. The electoral requirement is not that he make pleasing things happen but that he make pleasing judgmental statements. The position itself is the political commodity” (1974, 62). Using constituent correspondence and Johnson’s responses to his constituents, this project examines how one member of Congress, Bizz Johnson (D-CA), shifted his position taking activities to respond to changing pressures on the Vietnam War. We explore how the cross-pressures that Johnson faced were reflected in his position taking activities. Group members: Barnes, Cervantes, Cortes-Chacon, Makinano, Zepeda.
Civil Rights and Political Position Taking: Walking on the Razor’s Edge
Civil Rights legislation was the most divisive domestic policy issue of the 1960s. Individual liberty and equal treatment under the law were in direct competition. Civil Rights legislation sought to enforce equality of public accommodations and fair housing laws. Opponents argued that these provisions forced business and property owners to surrender their right to offer their services and properties to people of their choosing. Passions ran high on both sides of the Civil Rights debate. This project focuses on the opinions of constituents in the district of one member of Congress: Bizz Johnson (D-CA). Using constituent correspondence and Johnson’s responses to these letters we explore how Johnson used position taking strategies to encourage supporters and obfuscate his support for Civil Rights to those who opposed the legislation. We conclude by discussing the normative implications of position taking for the legitimacy of individual representatives. Group members: Aguilar, Altman, Gabrielson, Hawatmeh, Holtke.
Position-Taking and the Water’s Edge
The “two presidencies” thesis suggests that members of Congress respond differently to domestic and foreign policy issues. Representatives, the argument goes, will be more deferential to presidents on foreign policy issues than domestic policy issues. That is, politics stops at the “water’s edge.” The thesis suggests that members of Congress may behave differently toward expressed constituent opinions depending on the locus of the policy (foreign policy or domestic policy). In particular, a member of Congress may be more likely to share his/her views on domestic policy in a manner quite different than foreign policy. Using primary source documents we compare the political position taking of a single member of Congress–Bizz Johnson (D-CA)–on the Vietnam War and Civil Rights. Both issues elicited strong opinions. We focus on whether Johnson responded to constituents differently. Was he more likely to deflect opinions about the war while taking more definitive positions on Civil Rights? Results of this study have implications for the conjecture that representatives make distinctions between foreign and domestic policy. Group members: Brenner, Fabela, Kelley, Perusset, Starks.
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