Attenuated Democracy: A Critical Introduction to U.S. Government and Politics
David Hubert, Salt Lake Community College
Copyright Year: 2020
Publisher: Salt Lake Community College
Conditions of Use
This is book is fairly comprehensive, covering most of the big topics an introductory U.S. politics textbook should cover. Some topics I wish had their own chapters include social policy, fiscal policy/federal budget, foreign policy, and social... read more
This is book is fairly comprehensive, covering most of the big topics an introductory U.S. politics textbook should cover. Some topics I wish had their own chapters include social policy, fiscal policy/federal budget, foreign policy, and social movements (as part of the interest groups chapter). Additionally, smaller concepts and terms here and there that are in other textbooks I have used would be useful here (ex. different models or explanations for Congressional behavior and judicial decision-making).
The facts in the book are accurate. However, the textbook also makes many arguments and normative claims. I happen to agree with almost all of these, but I worry that students will perceive the textbook as overly biased, because it does not always present these arguments as arguments.
This textbook, like all introductory U.S. textbooks, will need to be updated every few years to remain relevant, especially after major federal elections and Supreme Court decisions.
The writing is clear and terms are defined. The formatting makes the text easy to understand. Some of the historical background and abstract concepts could probably use a bit more introduction. For example: "The terms liberalism, progressivism, social-welfare liberalism, and democratic-socialism all hang together even though those group’s adherents don’t necessarily agree with each other" (Ch. 35). This might be a bit much for a class of mostly first-year college students.
The book uses concepts related to the circulation of power throughout society as the overarching theoretical framework. It returns to this concept frequently to drive the point home but not in a way that would make it difficult to splice this together with another textbook.
The book is fairly modular. I plan to use sections of it, combined with chapters from other open-source textbooks.
I am satisfied with the organization and flow of the book. However, I plan to teach civil rights and liberties earlier in the semester, after the chapters on the Constitution and federalism. Further, I wish that race, gender, and identity were discussed more explicitly earlier on in the textbook.
The interface is easy to use and understand. The alt-text seems especially useful in making the textbook accessible to readers using text-to-speech technology.
I did not notice mechanical errors.
This book is culturally inclusive, although I wish it discussed race and identity more explicitly earlier on in the book.
I like that this book has a point of view. At times, I worry that that point of view might be made so strongly as to alienate some students. I plan to use parts of this textbook, especially the early chapters, to equip my students to critically understand U.S. government and politics. What I love about these opening chapters is that it opens students' imagination up to a critical (not just reverential) analysis of the U.S. Constitution and political system - one that allows the historical context of the Framers and the ways that institutions empower economic elites to shape students' understanding. This is a valuable resource for instructors hoping to teach contemporary issues in the U.S. (the filibuster, gerrymandering, voting rights) who need their students to understand the institutional and historical origins of those problems. I also love the optimism at the heart of this book, including its assertion that because these issues are rooted in historical choices, contemporary choices could ameliorate them. This message should be useful to instructors and students looking to better understand U.S. politics in times of crisis.
Hubert's textbook is quite comprehensive. The text's seventy short and succinct chapters first provide a detailed overview of the discipline of political science, and social science writ large, and then focuses on the basic political structure of... read more
Hubert's textbook is quite comprehensive. The text's seventy short and succinct chapters first provide a detailed overview of the discipline of political science, and social science writ large, and then focuses on the basic political structure of US government. In the first ten chapters, Hubert gives an informative primer on research in the social sciences including fallacies, data collection, research questions and more. Importantly, the author goes over some of the pitfalls and mistakes in research. While brief, these sections provide a good introduction for undergraduates in an introductory political science course. I believe that this is an important addition as many other textbooks I have used in my classrooms notably lack this information.
The chapters on US government also include a fair amount of information relative to other textbooks on the same subject. For example, Hubert’s introductory chapter on the constitutional foundations of the US government (Ch. 11) provides a good overview of the Enlightenment thought and its influence on the Declaration of Independence.
The rest of the chapters on US government provide a general introduction to students on the general structure of the US federal government, including the three branches of the US federal government, the federal bureaucracy, several chapters on political parties, the media, electoral and voting, and finally Hubert designates the final section of the book to civil liberties and civil rights.
The glossary seems especially useful for students. Within the glossary, students can find a wide range of major concepts and terms that should help them learn and study the new material
The textbook is generally accurate and largely complete. In terms of bias, Hubert does note in the introduction that the textbook has a specific perspective on American politics. That said, most textbooks have their own perspective when it comes to what the authors include and exclude from their texts, but most of these other textbooks are generally not as open about it. In my view, this is a refreshing change. I would have liked to see a bit more on foreign affairs. While there is a short chapter on the presidency and foreign affairs, I would have liked to see a broader exploration of some of the recent concerns with foreign affairs and its connection to domestic US politics. Moreover, I would have liked to see a broader and more expansive citation/source list at the end of each chapter with more scholarly articles and books, which would help students further explore some of the major concerns presented in each chapter.
I believe that Attenuated Democracy will retain its relevance. Hubert’s examples could easily be replaced in the future. Moreover, Hubert’s focus on the basic concepts in American government, such as democracy, make this book relevant for future introductory US government classes.
For the most part, the text is clear and concise. Hubert carefully defines major terms and concepts throughout the book. I believe that this attention to detail is quite beneficial for students. While the number and brevity of each chapter helps with the modularity of the textbook as a whole, it may hurt the overall narrative of the book. It seems to me that some of the narrative flow between chapters is a bit choppy and abrupt.
The textbook establishes a framework and follows it. The definitions of the terms and concepts follow accepted American political science standards.
As noted above, the number and brevity of each of the chapters lends itself towards mixing and matching the chapters according to the class syllabus and what the instructor would like the class to focus on.
Attenuated Democracy follows a traditional pattern for introductory American government textbooks. I would have liked to see the civil liberties and civil rights chapters earlier in the textbook so that students could read these chapters in context of the author’s initial discussion of Enlightenment values and the Bill of Rights. That said, I value the author’s early chapters on research methodology in political science.
Once I downloaded the book as a PDF, several of the graphs and maps were blurry and distorted. For example, the maps and graphs on pages 35, 179, 181, 184 were blurry and difficult to read. That said, when I examined the text online these issues were no longer present.
I did not notice any grammatical errors. The textbook is well written.
The author’s emphasis on democracy, struggle, inequality make for a textbook that is quite relevant for the present moment both within and outside of the classroom. The textbooks more critical stance on the development of American politics is refreshing and I think would be quite useful in the classroom to help students learn critical thinking skills.
I think that this is one of the better OER textbooks that I have examined. The author's more critical explanation of American politics, at least relative to other textbooks, is a needed correction. The biggest strength of the book is the author’s focus on power, struggle, inequality, racism, political violence, and imperial expansion. I think both conservative and liberal leaning students would find this textbook both informative and challenging to their own preconceived notions and assumptions.
I have been looking for an Open Resource textbook that fits my U.S. Government course - or, for that matter, a textbook in any format that addresses the needs of my students. I am delighted to find this resource. This comprehensive text covers... read more
I have been looking for an Open Resource textbook that fits my U.S. Government course - or, for that matter, a textbook in any format that addresses the needs of my students. I am delighted to find this resource. This comprehensive text covers the Constitution, the three branches of federal government, the Electoral College, and Civil Rights / civil liberties. What I most appreciate, however, is that this text addresses the built-in problems of democracy in the U.S., and it encourages students to take action based on the knowledge they are deriving from the text and the course.
I found no significant errors.
This text, published in 2020 and written by a community college professor, could not be more relevant for my course. I have to revise my syllabus every semester in which I teach U.S. Government. The author speaks the language of my classes.
The author, a community college professor, understands that complex ideas can be presented in simple language and idea organization (and that is, in fact, what I consider the highest level of teaching skills.)
I find the overall consistency of the organization of the book to be very helpful to me (as professor) and to my students the next time I teach the course.
I teach 15 modules in a 15-week semester and the textbook not only follows my general approach to the subject matter of the course, its 10 chapters fit handily into the overall course pacing.
I find the organization of this text to be one of its strongest features. Each section flows in a logical sequence and meshes very well with my overall course design.
I had no problems navigating the book and I anticipate the same ease of access for my students.
The writing style is exemplary, as it should be in any college text.
The entire premise of the text - that American democracy originated in serving the interests of the elite (white, male, prosperous) - serves to underscore the author's message that American democracy is flawed and needs work. He stresses that all of us need to do that work, and as community college educators, the author and I both know how much of the diversity in our student demographic includes historically underserved populations.
Covers everything and more compared to most other textbooks on this subject. As with any textbook, complete comprehensiveness is impossible, so supplementary exposition in class or providing supplementary readings would be a good idea when using... read more
Covers everything and more compared to most other textbooks on this subject. As with any textbook, complete comprehensiveness is impossible, so supplementary exposition in class or providing supplementary readings would be a good idea when using this textbook. That said, supplementing is probably less necessary with this textbook than with others I've encountered.
Additionally, this book has excellent introductory chapters on political science, political analysis, data collection, research, argumentation and reasoning, critical questioning and ethico-political reflection, close-reading, and political writing. Most American Government textbooks do not include these kinds of topics, but it is a great benefit that this one does because the typical source this book would be used for is often the first (and last) political science class (non-major) undergraduate students take. It also offers a strong foundation for majors. Love that these pieces are included.
While most mainstream textbooks on American Government/US Politics make casual claims that are not necessarily sourced or even entirely accurate, but often these claims are not controversial politically. Attenuated Democracy makes no more unsourced claims than any other textbook on this subject, but the nature of the claims makes them standout (which, at the author states from the beginning, is an important purpose of this particular textbook). And because this textbook is uninterested in telling the story of American Government from the perspective of those who benefit from the dominant perspectives, it is actually more inclusive content-wise of the range of different perspectives on how American Government works (and for whom it works...), producing an overall textbook that is well-above average in its content-accuracy.
The book covers a lot of history and covers it well. The majority of the book will stand the test of time. However, examples drawn from more recent politics are also quite frequent and will necessitate periodic updates to stay relevant. Updates should be relatively easy to produce (and given that this is open access, there is no cost for the students or faculty using this book, such that there will be no competition between older cheaper versions and a more expensive newer edition).
The shorter chapters interfere a bit with narrative flow, but otherwise this structure increases clarity. Each short chapter is internally well-organized and clear. Technical terminology is used throughout, but it is all well-explained (and supported by a detailed glossary).
Framework is consistent. Tone varies somewhat. Not necessarily problematic and could actually be enjoyable for students.
Book is comprised of ~70 small chapters with thoughtful internal organization. Plenty of pedagogical room here for moving sections around or skipping certain chapters to fit with an instructor's own preferences.
Organization is logical and coherent. It uses a pretty standard structure for an American Government textbook, with some additional valuable introductory chapters on political science and other theoretical and metatheoretical issues.
Book is easy to use and navigate. Everything looks clean, with the exception of some of the words and sentences on the PDF version where some of the words and sentences lack spaces between them. This is a minor and infrequent issue that doesn't really interfere with the usability of the text.
No noticeable grammatical issues.
Highly inclusive and diverse. Much more representative than a standard American Government textbook. Generally avoids tokenism and trite portrayals. Substantive treatment of white supremacy and anti-racism, critique of capitalism and economic inequality, feminism, labor struggle, environmental issues, and critical perspective on war. One of the strongest aspects of this book.
Attenuated Democracy foregrounds its critical perspective, but it doesn't let its political motivation get in the way of an accurate description of American Politics (at least as accurate as any other textbook and in this reviewer's opinion, far more accurate)--and one that opens up a range of vital questions for students to consider inside the classroom and beyond. This book will challenge how your students think about American Government, across the political spectrum. I'd argue there is as much controversial in this textbook for liberal students as there is for conservative students.
A textbook is just a tool in a broader pedagogical toolbox (something this textbook is more explicitly self-aware of), and therefore should be augmented in the classroom with additional lecture, discussion, and reading materials (obvious, I know). However, one reason this is important to note is because this textbook is not actually any more political than the average American Government textbook, but it does "feel" more political because of the particular critical political approach it adopts. Mainstream, traditional textbooks don't "feel" political because they are reproducing the dominant narratives most students are comfortable with. Students will likely need to be given space to process this different intellectually, from the outset and through its use, or else some students may simple close their minds. Further, supplementary material might be useful because this book debunks a lot of myths about American Politics, and most of the myths are well-explained before or after being challenged. However, this isn't always the case--and therefore some students might be left wondering what is being challenged, if they're unfamiliar with the typical ways that American Government is taught and portrayed by politicians, in the media, and in popular culture.
Highly recommend this book. The question shouldn't be whether you use this textbook--but how!
The glossary for this work addresses important terms that students can turn to when trying to understand complex ideas of American democracy. It is especially helpful that the terms in this book's glossary address relevant court cases, terms... read more
The glossary for this work addresses important terms that students can turn to when trying to understand complex ideas of American democracy. It is especially helpful that the terms in this book's glossary address relevant court cases, terms important to understanding the institutions of democracy, and political science in general.
The content provided in this book is accurate and complete. I found the content to be extremely useful.
This book provides important information about the current system of government within the United States, while identifying relevant actors in that system. Yes, there is current information, but that information will still be important many years down the road. The text is arranged in a way that updates can be easily integrated.
Some of the chapters do seem to be a little confusing, but I believe the author is trying to put in as much relevant information as possible. This text is still good for use in introduction to American government courses.
The terms and framework used in this book are consistence with currently accepted pedagogy within American political science.
It is great that the course breaks down the content into easily digestible chapters.
The fact that the author contextualizes the importance of political science is great. I think it is vital that students understand the purpose of political science before diving into American democracy.
This text looks great; though more photos/images would engage the reader.
I noticed no grammatical erros.
I think this text is applicable and open for all students, regardless of background. There are examples that are applicable to multiple perspectives.
I was excited to find this textbook. It is better than other OER textbooks that I have been researching. I appreciate the author's attention to detail and the structure of the book.
With 70 chapters, the book has sections on all of the topics one would expect from an introductory American politics textbook. That said, many chapters are quite short: the chapter on voting, for example, is only a 2,000 words or so. Many... read more
With 70 chapters, the book has sections on all of the topics one would expect from an introductory American politics textbook. That said, many chapters are quite short: the chapter on voting, for example, is only a 2,000 words or so. Many important topics are quickly moved over: McCulloch v Maryland is given only two paragraphs, and students are never given the details of the case. In other words, the text is has breadth but not always similar depth. Note there are some minor exceptions: collective action problems, for example.
Most of the book is accurate on the major points - how many branches of government there are, when the Constitution was written, and so on. However, the book repeatedly makes numerous errors on smaller points. In the campaign finance section, it is simply stated as a fact that money wins elections - despite the ongoing political science fight over this exact topic. The section on domestic presidential power states that executive orders rarely get media attention, with no citation. Given that the media focused on Obama's orders on immigration and then on Trump's orders reversing the administration's position so heavily, this claim rings false. I could easily go on.
Sometimes, these errors are easily explained by the brevity of each chapter: the US is described as a winner take all system, despite the existence of ranked choice voting in Alaska, Maine, and many city and primary elections. Other errors, however, seem related to the book's clearly stated critical approach: take the way the Boggs case is described as a failure of the government to require the labeling of milk containing rBST - in reality, Boggs allowed non-rBST using farmers to label their milk accordingly. Many of the book's errors seem motivated in this way.
As for bias, the book does clearly state its goal in the introduction. Throughout the book, however, opinions are stated without citation as if they are facts, and many citations are to online news outlets or opinion pieces rather than scholarly sources.
The text uses up to the Trump Administration examples - most of which could be easily replaced going forward. Some of this is surface level, such as opening chapter quotes from current notables, but it serves its purpose.
The book repeatedly veers from an academic or scholarly tone, describing the difference between types of federal funding to states; to writing that would be too simple for high school students in a civics class; to pure opinion (Hammer v Dagenhart was summarized as "weird"). The biggest issue is not any of these tones in particular, but rather that the text jumps from tone to tone with no warning, making the text as a whole hard to process. A student would not know whether any given sentence is a sourced and cited fact, a simplified summary, an attempt at humor, or the author's opinion.
The book is well laid out, uses the same terms it introduces for a given topic, and holds to its overall framework.
The small chapters, while posing a hazard in other areas, serve to make the text accessible and easily reorganized.
Overall, the book follows a very well-tested and classic pattern. There are some minor issues - First amendment cases and other Bill of Rights issues are far removed from their relevant section, instead simply placed at the end of the book - but overall the organization would work well, with only minor work on the part of an instructor needed.
Charts are clear, images are well laid out, and the text remains clear and readable. All formats (PDF, EPUB, and web) I tested worked well on both desktop and mobile devices.
I found no grammatical errors.
I found no potential offensive material. Most examples use a variety of names from various backgrounds, and the text treats difficult material with sensitivity.
Overall, this is not a book that I could use as a main course textbook. I understand and appreciate what is being attempted: the idea of drawing in student interest by focusing on a more critical, rather than simply descriptive approach to US government, is appealing. However, the text veers between simple descriptions and randomly interjected critical phrases or sentences, instead of a cohesive approach to criticism or description. The factual errors and tone would make this unusable for a class meant to serve as a introduction to US government, and the critical approach is weighed down, not served, by having to also serve as a primer on basic governmental facts.
Table of Contents
- Part 1: Thinking Like a Political Scientist
- Part 2: Constitutional Foundations
- Part 3: Congress
- Part 4: The Presidency
- Part 5: The Supreme Court
- Part 6: The Federal Bureaucracy
- Part 7: Linkage Institutions
- Part 8: Electoral Politics and Public Opinion
- Part 9: Individual Political Behavior
- Part 10: Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
About the Book
The U.S. political system suffers from endemic design flaws and is notable for the way that a small subset of Americans—whose interests often don’t align with those of the vast majority of the population—wields disproportionate power. Absent organized and persistent action on the part of ordinary Americans, the system tends to serve the already powerful. That’s why this text is called Attenuated Democracy. To attenuate something is to make it weak or thin. Democracy in America has been thin from the beginning and continues to be so despite some notable progress in voting rights. As political scientists Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens wrote, “The essence of democracy is not just having reasonably satisfactory policies; the essence of democracy is popular control of government, with each citizen having an equal voice.” (1) Since this is likely to be your only college-level course on the American political system, it is important to point out the structural weaknesses of our system and the thin nature of our democracy. Whenever you get the chance—in the voting booth, in your job, perhaps if you hold elected office—I encourage you to do something about America’s attenuated democracy.
About the Contributors
David Hubert received his B.A. in Political Science from Colorado State University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Connecticut. He makes his home in Utah where he serves as Associate Provost of Learning Advancement at Salt Lake Community College (SLCC). He led the development and implementation of SLCC’s ePortfolio requirement in its General Education program, directed SLCC’s Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, and helped the college receive a commendation from the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities for its assessment of General Education learning outcomes.
Active as a professor of Political Science, Dr. Hubert developed three separate online Political Science courses, one of which has used open educational resources since 2008. He led four different study abroad trips to London that centered on active learning. In collaboration with colleagues, he developed two different learning communities. He serves as a faculty member at the AAC&U’s Summer Institute on High Impact Practices, and the Summer Institute on General Education. He is Treasurer and board member of the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL). In his spare time he loves tennis, photography, camping, and stargazing in Utah’s southern wilderness.