Definitions of Phrases, Concepts and Ideas Discussed on ThisNation.com
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amicus curiae brief -
A "friend of the court" brief brief filed by a third party
(not directly involved) in a case aimed at influencing a decision of the
Group opposed to the ratification of the Constitution on the grounds that
it gave too much power to the national government at the expense of the
states. Later became one of the first two major political parties in America.
See also federalists.
Antitrust policy -
Collection of national and state laws (including the Sherman Antitrust
Act of 1890) aimed at preventing a single business from gaining monopoly
control over a particular sector of the economy.
appellate jurisdiction -
Authority to hear appeals of cases arising in a particular
geographic area or sphere of the law. The Supreme
Court has appellate jurisdiction over all cases arising
under the Constitution of the United States. See
also original jurisdiction.
appropriation - Allotment of specific dollar amounts for specific programs or
Articles of Confederation - Document that established a "firm league of friendship" between
the 13 states during the Revolutionary War. Text of
the Articles. Background
and History of the Articles.
authorization - Creation and empowerment of a program to spend money for specified
tendency doctrine - Interpretation of the First
Amendment that would allow the Congress or state
legislatures to prohibit or limit speech or expression
that had the tendency to cause or incite illegal
ballot initiative - A public policy question decided by
a vote of the people. The placement of the question
on the ballot is initiated by the people (usually
by petition). Used only at the state level.
bicameral - Term describing a legislative branch that is divided into
two houses, such as the United States Congress which
consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
bill of attainder - A bill passed by a legislature imposing
a penalty or inflicting a detriment on a particular
individual or group of individuals. Forbidden by Article
I, Section 9 of the Constitution. See "Other
Bill of Rights - First ten amendments to the Constitution
which establish the fundamental rights enjoyed by
the people of the United States
bipartisanship - Cooperation and colaboration between members of the two major political
parties (Republicans and Democrats).
cabinet - Group of key presidential advisors which includes the Secretaries
or heads of each Department of the national government.
Presidents generally hold regular Cabinet meetings.
capitalism - Economic system in which goods and services are produced, exchanged
and owned by individuals with minimal governmental regulation.
caucus (legislative) - A group of legislators
unified by common goals or characteristics. The largest congressional caucusses
are the Republican and Democratic party caucuses. Other caucuses include
the Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus and a variety of
party) - Political party meeting at which voters choose nominees to represent
their political parties in general election contests.
census - An official enumeration or counting of the population
of the United States conducted by the national government
every ten years, as dictated by the Constitution.
checks & balances - Powers held by one branch of government that allow it to limit
another branch's exercise of its own powers, e.g. the
President's ability to veto legislation.
Chief Diplomat - Role of the President as the primary
point of contact between the United States of American and other nations.
Classical liberalism - Political philosophy founded on the
notion that individual human beings are autonomous
agents with inviolable rights and that the powers
of government arise from the people.
closed primary - A primary election in which only voters that belong to
a particular political party are permitted to vote, e.g.
only registered Democrats can vote in a closed Democratic
party primary election.
closed rule - Rule in the House of Representatives which
forbids any amendments to a bill being considered
on the floor
coattail effect - A boost in electoral support realized
by candidates lower down the ballot when a successful
candidate of their party runs strong at the top of
the ballot. For example, a popular Democratic presidential
candidate who won a large percentage of the vote
might carry other Democratic party candidates into
office on his or her "coattails."
Cold War - "War" between the United States and the former
Soviet Union which involved no direct conflict between
the two nations but instead was characterized by a
multibillion dollar nuclear arms race and numerous
conflicts between secondary nations backed (sometimes
publicly, sometimes secretly) by each nation.
Commander-in-Chief - Formal
constitutional role of the President as leader of the
nation's armed forces.
concurrent powers - Powers
shared and exercised jointly under the Constitution by
both national and state governments. Examples include
taxation and law enforcement.
concurrent resolution - A
statement of the "sense" or opinion of the
Congress, passed by both the House and the Senate. Not
binding as a matter of law.
Conference Committee - Committee
comprised of both House and Senate members charged
with working out the differences between House and
Senate versions of a bill.
Conservatism - Political
philosophy that favors limited government with minimal
regulation and governmental interference in the economy
and other aspects of social life. In general, conservatives
favor giving power to state and local governments rather
than to the national government.
constitution - The
structures and fundamental principles of a government,
usually in written form (Great Britain is notable for
its "unwritten" constitution). The United States Constitution
is the supreme law of the land, meaning that all other
laws (including state laws), executive actions and
judicial decisions must be consistent with it. Granting
power to the government from the people, the Constitution
of the United States can only be changed by the people
(through their representatives). Read
About the United States Constitution.
amendment - A formally proposed and ratified change
to the Constitution that becomes a fully binding
provision of the Constitution itself
of governance based on popular
sovereignty in which the structures, powers and
limits of government are set forth in a constitution.
Constitutional law - Law that finds its basis in the Constitution.
More particularly, "constitutional law" is
the sum of the interpretations of constitutional
questions rendered by the Supreme Court and subsidiary
courts in their written and published decisions.
continuing resolution - A temporary spending bill which funds
government programs until funds are appropriated for them.
federalism - View that the national and state governments
are partners, not competitors, in the exercise of governmental authority
crossover voting - Members of one party voting for candidates of another. Encouraged
by open primaries.
See also split-ticket voting.
debt - Accumulated amount of unpaid budget deficits.
deficit - Amount by which spending exceeds available funds during a
deficit spending - Spending more money than is raised in taxes in a fiscal
delegate - A representative who bases his or her votes on the majority
opinions of the people he or she represents.
democracy - Form of government in which policy alternatives are voted on
by the people with majority determining the outcome.
direct democracy - System
or process that depends on the voice of the people
(and not representatives), usually through referendums
or initiatives, to make public policy decisions.
direct primary - Election
in which rank-and-file members (and not the leaders)
of a political party select nominees to represent
their party in the general election.
discretionary spending - Spending that can be raised, lowered,
kept even or eliminated by the Congress as it sees
government - Situation in which the Congress and
the Presidency are controlled by opposing political
dual federalism - View that the national government
and state governments have distinct realms of authority
which do not overlap and into which the other should
electoral college - Mechanism
by which the President is chosen. Each state has
a number of electoral votes equal to the number of
members it sends to the U.S. Senate and House of
entitlement programs - Benefits
extended to individuals who meet legislatively established
eligibility requirements. Any individual who meets
the requirements is considered "entitled" to
the benefit, regardless of the overall amount spent
on providing the benefit to all eligible individuals.
clause - Provision
in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that guarantees
all people "equal protection under the law."
of finish - Equality of outcomes, generally measured
in socioeconomic status. The "finish" in question generally
refers to accomplishments after entering adulthood.
of start - Equality of opportunity, generally measured
in terms of equal access to quality education and training.
agreement - Agreement
made between the President of the United States and the
leader of another country or countries. Has the same
effect as a treaty but does not need to be ratified by
branch - Branch
of government charged with "executing" or implementing
and enforcing the laws.
privilege - Claim
that the President, as the leader of the Executive Branch,
has the prerogative to divulge or refuse to divulge information
in a manner that he believes most consistent with the
faction - A
group of individuals united in the pursuit of shared political
values. A political party is a large faction. See The
federalism - System
of government in which powers are divided and shared
between different levels, e.g. national, state and
Papers - Series of essays written in support of
ratifying the Constitution. Written by Alexander
Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison.
Federalists - Supporters
of the Constitution during the battle for its ratification.
Also became one of the first two major political parties
in the United States.
filibuster - Tactic
employed by an individual or group of individuals in the
U.S. Senate aimed at blocking legislation by gaining control
of the floor (simply by standing and making a speech) and
refusing to relinquish control until the rest of the Senate
gives up and agrees to move on to other business.
fiscal policy - Policies and programs establishing budgetary
policy, including types and rates of taxation and
types and amounts of spending.
year - 365-day period, begining October 1st and
ending September 30th, which defines the beginning
and end of the federal government's annual budgetary
tax - Tax collected at the same rate or percentage
regardless of income level.
franchise - The right to vote.
rider - An individual that chooses not to join
or contribute to a group but nonetheless benefits
from the existence and activities of the group.
gap - Difference between women and men in political
ideology or political party preferences. In recent
years, for example, women have been more likely than
men to support the Democratic party.
gerrymandering - The
redrawing of a political district to favor a particular
candidate or kind of candidate, e.g. an incumbent, a member
of a particular political party or a racial minority.
domestic product (GDP) - Monetary
value of all economic activity (goods and services
produced, etc.) in a nation during one calendar year.
national product (GNP) - Monetary
value of the goods and services produced in a nation
during one calendar year.
benefits - Incentives,
e.g. mementos (calendars, mugs, etc.) or financial benefits
(insurance discounts, etc.), given to people who join
a group. These benefits are often unrelated to the primary
purposes and goals of the group.
honeymoon - Period
shortly after an election, especially a presidential election,
during which the winning candidate enjoys a surge in public
and political support.
Rules Committee - Committee in the House of Representatives
that creates a "rule" for each bill to be debated
on the floor. The rule establishes the time and extent
of debate and what, if any, amendments can be offered.
ideologue - Individual
with strong philosophical or ideological leanings. Generally
unwilling to budge to compromise or work with others with
initiative - A
public policy question that is initiated by the people,
usually by petition, and decided by the people at the ballot
group - A
group of like-minded individuals united in the pursuit
of a common goal or set of goals. In the political arena,
an interest group seeks its goals through the legislative
and / or legal processes.
impeachment - Process
by which members of the Executive Branch or the Judiciary
are formally charged with crimes that could be grounds
for removing them from office. A trial follows impeachment
to determine the fate of the impeached individual.
powers - Powers not explicitly stated in the Constitution
but which are suggested or implied by the "general
welfare," "necessary & proper," and commerce
clauses in the Constitution.
committee - A
committee with members from both the House and Senate.
Such committees are generally advisory or oversight committees,
not legislative (law-making) committees.
branch - Branch of government that hears and settles
laissez faire - A "hands-off" approach
to the economy characterized by minimal governmental
interference in or regulation of the businesses and economic
lame duck - A
political office holder who, because of term-limits,
retirement or defeat, will not be returning to office
after the end of his or her present term of office. Presidents
serving in their second terms are not eligible to run
for a third term and are, therefore, "lame duck" Presidents.
legislative branch - Branch
of government with the authority to make an change
the laws of the land
liberalism - Classical
liberalism is based on the notion that individuals
are the sole legitimate source of governmental authority.
Modern day liberalism rests on the positive use of
government to promote individual rights and equality.
libertarianism - Philosophical
perspective based on the premise that the legitimate
sphere of government does not extend beyond the protection
of individuals from harming one another.
veto - A veto which is used
to reject only specific items or parts of legislation
passed by the Congress. The Congress attempted to
give the President line-item veto authority in 1995;
however, the Supreme Court ruled the effort unconstitutional
because it transferred legislative authority from
the Legislative Branch to the Executive Branch. It
had been the hope of the Congress that the President
would use the line-item veto to remove or lower excessive
spending measures from legislation passed by Congress.
lobby/lobbying - The
practice of attempting to persuade members of Congress
to support or oppose particular policies or pieces of legislation.
This practice is called "lobbying" because such
efforts are traditionally conducted in the "lobbies" or
rooms and hallways just off the House and Senate chambers.
lobbying - The
practice of talking with members of Congress to persuade
them to support a particular position or pieced of legislation.
Often conducted in the "lobbies" just off the House and
lobbyist - Someone
who engages in lobbying (see above). A lobbyist is generally
an individual whose full-time work is representing a particular
interest or set of interests in the legislative process.
leader - Individual
elected to lead a party in the House or Senate that
holds the most seats in the body.
spending - Spending that is largely out of the
control of the Congress. Primarily "entitlements" which
are paid to people on a formula basis regardless
of how much money is available.
bias - Occurs when the media (individually or collectively)
reports something that is inaccurate or one-sided because
of ideology, political favoritism, reliance on limited
(not treating both sides equally), or other factors.
Bias can show up in coverage (or lack thereof) or in
the content and analysis of stories.
institution - An institution which stands between and
connects people with the government. Examples include
the media, political parties and interest groups.
leader - Individual
elected to lead a party in the House or Senate that
does not hold the majority of seats in the body.
policy - Policies aimed at controlling inflation
and unemployment through manipulation of the money
supply and interest rates. Primarily established
by the Federal Reserve Board
sampling - Non-random
selection of respondents for a survey. Problematic
because the group of people chosen to respond to
the survey is not likely to be representative of
the larger population.
"necessary & proper" clause - Provision
in the Constitution which strongly suggests that the
national government has powers other than those explicitly
stated in the Constitution.
of Management and Budget (OMB) - Federal agency
that compiles and reviews budget figures on the President's
primary - Election
held for the purposes of choosing the nominee for a particular
political party in which voters of any party are eligible
rule - Rule in the House of Representatives which
allows for any number of amendments to be made to
a bill being considered on the floor.
jurisdiction - Authority
to hear a cases for the first time in a particular
geographic area or sphere of the law. Courts of original
jurisdiction are generally trial courts in which
decisions are made by juries
journalism" - The tendency of journalists and news
outlets to cover the same stories. Driven by the fear
of being "scooped" by other reporters or news outlets
platform - An official statement and proclamation
of the beliefs, values and policy positions of a
political party. Specific statements or positions
in a platform are sometimes called "planks," e.g.
the "abortion plank" of a party's platform
patronage - Practice
of rewarding jobs in official governmental posts to one's
political allies after an electoral victory.
tax - Paid in equal amounts (7.65%) by employers
and employees to fund Social Security and Medicare.
Also known as FICA.
federalism - View that, because the national government
is supreme, the states only have those powers which
the national government permits them to exercise.
veto - If the Congress adjourns before ten days
have passed since the passage of a bill, the President
can allow the legislation to die simply by failing
to sign it. See veto.
action committee (PAC) - Arm of an interest group
legally permitted to give money to political candidates
competing for federal elective office.
party - A team of office seekers and their supporters,
generally unified by a common ideology, philosophy,
set of values and political beliefs, usually outlined
in a party platform.
sovereignty - Notion that political power or the power
to govern is derived from the people. As such, the people
retain the right to rescind any grant of power to the
pork-barrel - Spending
that is primarily for the benefit of particular local
interestes in a member of Congress's district and not
obviously in the interests of the nation as a whole.
of the purse - The authority to create and raise
taxes and to authorize the spending of the money
raised through them.
pro tempore - Acting president of the United States
Senate in the absence of the Vice President who is
the constitutionally authorized President of the
tax - Tax collected at increasingly higher rates
or percentages as income level increases.
interest group (or PIG) - A
group that exist for the express purpose of pursuing
public interests that would not otherwised be pursued.
Examples include Common
Cause (a group that promotes campaign finance
reform) and Public
Citizen (a broad consumer advocacy group).
sampling - The selection of individuals to participate
in a public opinion poll (or other kind of study)
in a way that is unbiased. See Public
Opinion in the ThisNation online textbook.
Reaganomics - Economic
strategy promoted by Ronald Reagan during his time in office
based on the supposition that cutting taxes would make
individual taxpayers more productive and more wealthy.
Consequently, the taxes paid by wealthy individuals, although
collected at a lower percentage, would be equal to or greater
than before the tax cuts.
recall - Mechanism
authorized in some states by which voters may remove an
individual from office in the middle of his or her term.
There is no provision for a recall at the national level.
referendum - A
public policy decision referred to the people by a
legislative body. Used only at the state level.
tax - Tax collected at increasingly lower rates
or percentages as income level increases.
republic - Form
of government in which decisions are made by representatives
who are chosen by the people.
rider - An
attachment to a piece of legislation that is generally
unrelated to the rest of the bill.
of Four - Decision rule used by the Supreme Court
in deciding which cases to hear. If four of the nine
Justices agree to do so, the Court will hear a case.
safe seat - A
congressional seat that is very likely to be held by the incumbent (current
occupant of the seat) after the next election.<
error - Error
that arises as a matter of chance in the process of selecting
individuals for participation in a public opinion poll
or other study.
of powers - The division governmental authority
and powers and assigning them to distinct branches.
powers - Powers which are held and exercised by
more than one level of government.
socialism - Philosophy
and form of government based on the notion that the
governmental authority ought to be used to promote
fair and equal socioeconomic outcomes in terms of education,
wealth and other important ways. Socialistic governments
generally own or exercise substantial control over
sectors of the economy that impact large portions of
the population and maintain significant wealth and
income redistribution programs.
money - Political
contributions not regulated by federal campaign finance
laws. It is money given directly to political parties
for the purposes of "party building." It is
not to be used on or given directly to candidates in
support of election efforts.
Speaker - Individual
selected by the House to preside over the proceedings of
the House in formal session. The Speaker of the House is
almost always a member of the majority party.
voting - The practice of casting votes for candidates
of different political parties on the same ballot, e.g.
casting a vote for the Democratic presidential candidate
while voting for the Republican congressional candidate.
standing - The
legal right to bring a suit before a court. To have
standing, and individual must show that he or she has
been harmed in a real way, not merely that he or she might be
harmed in the future.
committees - Permanent
legislative committees in the House and Senate with
established issue and policy jurisdictions.
decisis - Literally "let the decision stand." General
practice followed by the Supreme Court of adhering
to previous decisions when it makes new ones.
subcommittee - Smaller,
more specialized committees which are organized and
operate under the authority standing committees.
subsidy - An
economic benefit given by the government to an individual,
business or group that engages in behavior deemed beneficial
by policy makers. Subsidy payments can take the form
of direct cash payments, tax credits or tax deductions.
surplus - Amount
by which available funds exceed spending during a fiscal
limits - A legal prohibition against running for
a political office after holding it for a prescribed
number of years or terms. For example, Presidents
cannot serve more than two and a half terms (ten
compromise - Compromise
between the Northern and Southern states at the Constitutional
Convention stipulating that slaves would be counted
as 3/5 of a person for purposes of representation
treason - Crime
committed against one's country. Espionage or spying for
an enemy nation is treasonous.
treaty - Legally
binding agreement between two nations. United States treaties
are generally negotiated by the President and must be ratifed
by the Senate.
trustee - A
representative who bases his or her decision not on
public opinion but on what he or she believes is right
presidencies" - The distinction between the President's
roles in domestic and foreign policy making. Presidents
generally have more discretion in the foreign policy
universe - Group
of people about which a survey research is trying to generalize when conducting
a public opinion poll. See Public
Opinion in ThisNation's online textbook.
veto - Latin
for "I forbid." The Constitution authorizes the President
to reject any bill passed by both houses of Congress
if he disapproves of it for any reason. See also line
item veto and pocket veto.
I, Section 7 of the Constitution.
override - If
the President vetoes a bill, the Congress may override
the veto by a two-thirds majority vote in both houses.
The bill would then become law, the President's objections
Watergate - Hotel
that was home to the Democratic Party's campaign headquarters
which were broken into by operatives of the Richard
Nixon campaign. The resulting scandal known as "Watergate" led
to Nixon's resignation.
whip - Political
party official in a legislative body charged with the duty
of encouraging party members to vote with their parties
on key pieces of legislation.
of habeas corpus - Documented
legal justification for holding an individual prisoner.
The Constitution provides that an individual suspected
of a crime cannot be held without a writ of habeas
of mandamus - A judicial order directing
a government official to perform a duty of his
or her office.
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