The Content of American Politics
SUPPOSE, AS according to supermarket tabloids happens I regularly, you have been picked up by aliens from another planet and taken into their spacecraft. Familiar with the concept of politics from experience on their home planet and in their galactic federation, the aliens ask what American politics is about. They emphasize that their question is not about the familiar topics of political science courses such as parties, elections, courts, Congress, and the presidency, which together make up the structure of our political system, but about the content of our politics. What do we--and our politicians--spend our time discussing and disputing when we talk politics? What do we believe are the major issues that our politicians should be addressing, and what issues do our politicians devote their energies to?
As you struggle to produce a coherent answer to this question in the unfamiliar setting of an alien spacecraft, a host of political issues tumble into your mind, such as the management of the economy, poverty, race relations, crime, the environment, women's rights, defense, and foreign policy. To your relief, the visiting aliens are satisfied with your answers to their original question, but they follow it with two others. Has the content of our politics changed much, the aliens ask, and is there anything distinctive about American politics compared to the politics of other earthly countries they have overflown? Are we