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TeleWEBcourse on
American Government

A presidential election too close to call weeks after ballot boxes were sealed. Economic mood swings that ripple across world markets. Turf wars that challenge the cherished ideals upon which the nation was founded. Never before have the forces of change and their impact on our democracy been as profound as they are today.

Enter On Common Ground: Framework for Democracy – a new series that demystifies the vagaries of government in the 21st century and provides the conceptual tools to understand the future. The series represents an extension of the critically-acclaimed dramatic television series that debuted in fall 1999.


Click HERE to view an entire DVD from this series.
(requires Windows Media Player 9 or higher - Download Windows Media Player 9)

The college edition of On Common Ground probes concepts that are basic to an introductory course in American government. It blends the illustrative strengths of video with Tom Patterson’s highly-regarded textbook We the People, published by McGraw-Hill, and interactive web components to enhance communication and independent learning. On Common Ground: Framework for Democracy combines 26-half-hour television episodes with text and online components to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date treatment of American government for undergraduate distance learning programs.

Compelling television interviews and case studies on a range of issues, both historic and contemporary, combine with the widely acclaimed textbook We the People to provide a fascinating introduction to government; encouraging learners to think about and debate the many questions and challenges confronting our democracy. The television component will feature contemporary case studies and interviews with leading scholars and politically engaged citizens. Students will also hear from respected politicians and policymakers with whom they would otherwise have no opportunity to interact, such as David Gergen, Mike McCurry, and Mickey Edwards among others. In the process, learners will come to understand the power and importance of being politically active and aware. Featured topics include:

n American political culture and ideology
n Development of our constitutional democracy;
n The legislative, executive and judicial branches of government;
n The debate and discourse which surround federalism;
n Granting civil liberties and civil rights;
n The electoral process and voter participation;
n Interest groups;
n Public opinion and the media in politics;
n The creation of economic, social foreign policy.

“In concert with the McGraw-Hill text, On Common Ground: Framework for Democracy will combine essential historical events that serve as an important backdrop for government today with contemporary case studies that bring American government, politics, and policy-making to life for the learner,” says Sally Beaty, the project's Executive Producer and President.

“This new venture will allow We The People to reach more students at various levels across the country. The combination of the Online Learning Center, CDROM, Political Science Supersite and this new distance learning collaboration will enable educators to utilize any medium possible to excite students about American Government.” says Monica Eckman, Political Science Editor at McGraw-Hill.

Framework for Democracy Video Description:

EPISODE 1:  AMERICAN HERITAGE American politics today cannot be understood apart from the nation’s heritage.  Government does not begin over and over again with each generation; it builds on the past.  In the case of the United States, the most significant link between past and present lies in the nation’s founding ideals.  This episode examines the key principles that have shaped American politics since the country’s earliest years.

EPISODE 2:  The AMERICAN EXPERIMENT This episode covers the narrative story of the settlement and early days of the colonies, culminating in the fight for independence and the evolution of a constitutional framework of government for the new United States.  The comments of scholars are interwoven with excerpts from the writings of those who were on the scene.

EPISODE 3:  The LIVING CONSTITUTION  A look at the Constitution in contemporary terms:


a short document, 7,000 words long, shorter than every state constitution except Vermont’s.


difficult to amend; of the more than 11,000 amendments that have been proposed to Congress, only 27 have been ratified.


informal methods of constitutional change by congressional legislation, presidential actions, judicial review (interpreting the intentions of the Framers); custom and use.


the constitution as an unfinished work.

EPISODE 4:  FEDERALISM  One national government; fifty state governments; town, city, and county governments…foreign visitors are often overwhelmed by the complexity of the U.S. system of government.  There are various waves of ordering relations between central governments and local units.  Federalism is one of them.  Understanding federalism and how it differs from other forms of government is critical to understanding the American political system.

EPISODE 5:  CIVIL LIBERTIES—FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND THE RIGHT OF PRIVACY  Without government, people live in a state of anarchy.  With unbridled government, men and women may live in a state of tyranny.  The civil liberties, imbedded in the U.S. Bill of Rights, place specific limitations on governmental power.  For example, the freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly cannot be abridged or taken away.   But the Bill of Rights, like the rest of the Constitution is relatively brief.  The Framers set forth broad guidelines, but the courts apply them to specific situations.  Episode covers first amendment rights and the right to privacy.

EPISODE 6:  CIVIL LIBERTIES—RIGHTS OF THE ACCUSED The United States has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world.  It is not surprising, therefore, that many citizens have extremely strong opinions about the rights of those accused of criminal offenses.  When an accused person is set free because of an apparent legal “technically,” some people feel that the rights of the accused are being given more weight than the rights of society and victims of crime. The courts and the police must constantly engage in a balancing act of competing rights.  At the basis this discussion is the U.S. Bill of Rights.  The Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments deal specifically with the rights of criminal defendants.

EPISODE 7:  THE STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal…The struggle for equality is never easy.  When these words from the Declaration were written in 1776, the term “men” had a somewhat different meaning than it has today.  It did not include slaves, Native Americans, men without property, or women.   It has taken this nation over two hundred years to strengthen and to expand constitutional guaranties of equality to all persons in our society…a struggle that still continues. Minority rights have often been called civil rights.  In this program we examine the rights of minorities and groups, and their struggle for equal treatment in the United States.

EPISODE 8:  PUBLIC OPINION AND POLITICAL SOCIALIZATION   In The Federalist Papers James Madison and others argued that because public opinion is potentially dangerous, it must be diffused through a large republic with separation of government powers. At times in the recent history, we have seen public opinion play a powerful role in the politics of the United States.  When public opinion became divided over the Vietnam War in the mid-sixties and there was a surge of support for antiwar candidate Eugene McCarthy in the New Hampshire primary, president Lyndon Johnson decided not to seek re-election.  When the scandal surrounding the 1972 Watergate break-in unfolded and Congressional hearings and tape recordings began to reveal the role President Richard Nixon may have played, the president’s approval rating dropped to less than 25%.  Threatened with possible impeachment proceedings, Nixon resigned from office.

EPISODE 9:  VOTING AND POLITICAL PARTICIPATION   In recent years, voter participation in the United States has declined.  Some view low voter turnout as a threat to representative democracy, whereas others believe it simply indicates greater satisfaction with the status quo.  What factors influence why some Americans vote and others do not?  Studies have shown an association between voting and a person’s age, education, and economic status.  Another factor is the competitiveness of the race itself. In addition to voting, people participate in the political process through community and campaign activities, lobbying groups, actively following political news, and participating in social movements and protests.

EPISODE 10:  POLITICAL PARTIES  A political party is an ongoing coalition of interests joined together in an effort to get its candidates for public office elected under a common label.  Such organizations can be looked at from several points of view.   There is, first, the electorate, those individuals who run for public office under its label.  Although the U.S. electoral system discourages the formation of third parties, there have been more than a thousand minor parties in the nation’s history.  Most of them have been short-lived and only a few have had a lasting impact.  Only one minor party, the Republican Party, has ever achieved majority status. This episode explores patterns of party politics in the United States.

EPISODE 11:  CANDIDATES AND CAMPAIGNS  Today, party organizations are alive and well in America, but they are not the driving force in contemporary campaigns.  Much of what goes on is better described as candidate-center politics in which candidates for the presidency and Congress raise their own funds, form their own campaign organizations, and choose the issues on which they will run.   This episode will look at both the people who run for office and the modern campaign, from organization and financial support to strategy.

EPISODE 12:  INTEREST GROUPS Alexis de Tocqueville observed in 1834 that “no country of the world has the principles of association been more successfully used or applied to a greater multitude of objectives than in America.”  The French traveler was amazed at the degree to which Americans formed groups to solve problems, establish social relations, and speak for their economic or political interests. The structure of the American government invites the participation of different interest groups and has many points of access in the decision-making process where interest groups may make their opinion known.

EPISODE 13:  THE NEWS MEDIA The media is an increasingly important political actor.  New technology--from television to cable to satellites--has dramatically increased the reach and speed of communication.  In addition, the press has filled some of the void created by the decline in political parties and other political institutions. Like political parties and interest groups, the media is a key link between the public and its leaders.  On a daily basis, Americans connect to politics more through television and newspapers than through the activities of parties or groups.  The media brings events and problems into public view, serves as a channel through which political leaders can address the public, and scrutinizes political behavior for evidence of deceitful, careless, or corrupt acts. However, it cannot do the job of political institutions, even though increasingly it tries to do so.

EPISODE 14:  CONGRESS I  The founders of the American republic believed that the bulk of power exercised by a national government should be in the hands of the legislature.  Article I of the Constitution deals with the structure, the powers, and the operation of Congress, beginning in Section I with the separation of powers.   The division of Congress into two legislative houses—the House of Representatives and the Senate—was an outgrowth of the Connecticut Compromise, which attempted to balance large-state demands for representation based on population with small-state needs for an equal voice in policymaking.   The Constitution is both highly specific and vague about the powers Congress may exercise.  The first seventeen clauses of Article I, Section 8 gives Congress the right to “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department of Officer thereof.” This episode looks at why Congress was created and how congressmen and women are elected. The episode also examines congressional lawmaking powers and congress’s ability to balance the needs of constituents and society as a whole.  Finally, it looks at congressional oversight and conflict-resolution.

EPISODE 15:  CONGRESS II  The committees and subcommittees within Congress perform most of the actual work of legislating because more bills are introduced in Congress than any single member can handle.  Hence, the committee system is a division of legislative labor, a way to provide for specialization. This episode explores the committee structure and formal leadership of Congress, and follows a bill through what is often a torturous route, from its initial inception to its final enactment as a new law.

EPISODE 16:  THE PRESIDENCY I The writers of the Constitution created the presidency of the United States without any models on which to draw.  At the time, there was no democratically selected chief executive anywhere in the world.  After much debate, the delegates created a chief executive who had enough powers to balance those of Congress. The requirements for the office of the presidency are outlined in Article II, Section I, of the Constitution.  This episode explores the foundations of the modern presidency--how presidents are nominated and elected, and how the office of the president is staffed. 

EPISODE 17:  THE PRESIDENCY II The president operates within a system of separate institutions that share power.   Congress in particular—more than the courts or the bureaucracy—holds the key to presidential success.  Without congressional authorization and funding, most presidential proposals are nothing but ideas, empty of action.  Theodore Roosevelt longed to “be the president and Congress, too” if only for a day, so that he would have the power to adopt as well as propose programs. Whether a president’s initiatives are likely to succeed or fail depends on several factors-- the force of circumstance, the stage of the president’s term, the president’s support in Congress, and the level of public support to name a few.

EPISODE 18 AND 19:  THE BUREAUCRACY I AND II Modern government would be impossible without a bureaucracy.   The government’s enormous administrative capacity makes it possible for the United States to have such ambitious programs as space exploration, social security, environmental protection, interstate highways, and universal postal service.  In fact, it’s the only practical way of organizing large-scale government programs. Yet the bureaucracy is also a problem.  Even those who work in federal agencies bemoan its rigidity and costliness.  Although agencies are subject to scrutiny by the president, Congress, and the judiciary, bureaucrats are able to achieve power in their own right.  They tend to take an “agency point of view” because of their own expert knowledge, the support from clientele groups, and the backing whenever possible of both Congress and the president. These episodes depict the nature of the federal bureaucracy and the politics that surround it.

EPISODE 20 AND 21:  THE JUDICIARY I AND II  The writers of the Constitution were determined that the judiciary would be a separate branch of federal government but, for practical reasons, did not spell out the full structure of the federal court system.  Article III establishes the Supreme Court of the United States, and then grants Congress the authority to establish lower federal courts of its choosing.  Unlike the executive and legislative branches, there are no age, residency, or citizenship qualification for federal judicial office; nor are top officials elected by the people.  Federal judges are nominated by the president, and if confirmed by the U.S. Senate, appointed by the president to the office. In recent years the judiciary has become an increasingly powerful policymaking body.  Although judicial decisions are constrained by applicable constitutional law, statutory law, and precedent, the courts have considerable discretion in the way they interpret these laws.  This has caused some people to question the judiciary’s proper role in American democracy.  These episodes examine the federal judiciary and the questions that surround it.

EPISODE 22:  IN ORDER TO PRESERVE MORE DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY… ECONOMIC POLICY  When The Great Depression struck in the 1930s, there were no programs in place to stabilize and stimulate the U.S. economy.  Businesses cut back on production, investors fled the stock market, depositors withdrew their bank savings, and consumers slowed their spending—responses that only made the situation worse. This episode looks at the economic role of government, focusing on the promotion and regulation of economic interests through fiscal and monetary policies.   It also looks at the politics of economic decision-making and the public debt.

EPISODE 23:  SOCIAL WELFARE AND EDUCATION POLICY   Poverty is a large and persistent problem in the United States, deeply affecting about one in seven Americans, including many of the country’s most vulnerable groups:  children, female “head of household” families, and minorities.  Just what government’s role should be in alleviating this problem is an intensely debated partisan issue.  Democrats tend to support the view that government should provide sustained assistance to those who are less equipped to compete effectively in the marketplace, whereas Republicans believe that welfare payments discourage personal effort and create welfare dependency. Social welfare programs are designed to reward and foster self-reliance or, when this is not possible, to provide benefits only to those individuals who are truly in need.   A public support tends to be higher for social insurance programs, such as social security, than for public assistance programs, such as TANF.

EPISODE 24:  HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY   Despite attempts to provide an equitable baseline of healthcare for Americans, an estimated 44 million people in the United States have no health insurance at all, public or private.  This episode looks at various governmental attempts to insure a “healthy” America, from the work of various research agencies (NIH and CDC) and regulatory units (EPA and FDA) to specific governmental programs, like Medicare and Medicaid.

EPISODES 125 AND 126:  FOREIGN, TRADE, AND DEFENSE POLICY   The primary goal of United States foreign policy is the preservation of the American state.  This requires not only military readiness to protect the territorial integrity and international interests of the United States, but also global policies that foster economic growth and “protect” the nation’s position in the international marketplace.

Here to View Chart with Key Civics & Government Concepts Standards


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