American Political System
Key Terms and Concepts
Activist: An individual who is extensively and vigorously involved in political activity, either within or outside the party system.
Administrative oversight: The attempt by Congress to ensure that the executive branch bureaucracy is doing what Congress has told it to do and is doing it efficiently.
Agenda: A list of specific t\items of business to be considered at a legislative session, conference or meeting.
Amendment: (Constitutional) Changes in, or additions to, a constitution. Proposed by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or by a convention called by Congress at the request of two-thirds of the state legislatures. Ratified by approval of three-fourths of the states.
Bicameral Legislature: A lawmaking body made of two chambers, or parts.
Bill of attainder: A law that declares a person, without a trial, to be guilty of a crime. The state legislatures and the Congress are forbidden to pass such acts.
Bill of Rights: The first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. Contains a list of individual rights and liberties, such as freedom of speech, religion and the press.
Caucus: (Legislative) A meeting of the members of one party in a particular house of Congress for the purpose of selecting party leaders and deciding on legislative business.
Caucus: (Nominating) A meeting of the members of one party in a particular house of Congress for the purpose of selecting party candidates. The term was originally an Indian word meaning 'to consult.'
Civil liberties: The freedoms of speech, press, religion, and petition, together with freedom from arbitrary arrest or prosecution.
Civil Rights: The rights of citizens to vote for, or receive equal treatment before the law, and to share equally with other citizens the benefits of public facilities (such as schools).
Coalition: A combination of two or more factions or groups for the purpose of achieving some political goal. The multi-ethnic Rainbow Coalition, initiated by Rev. Jesse Jackson, is a good example of coalition politics.
Community development: A series of coordinated activities aimed at increasing the inner coherence, competence, self-reliance and resourcefulness of a community. Usually this is done through education, organization and mobilization.
Conflict of interest: A situation in which an official's public actions are or may be affected by his or her private interests.
Convention: A meeting of party delegates to chose candidates for the presidency and vice presidency of the United States.
Delegates: A person chosen by party members to represent them at a convention.
Due process of law: Protection against arbitrary deprivation of life, liberty or property as guaranteed in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Electoral College: A group of persons called 'electors', selected by each party on a state-by-state basis. These electors officially elect the president and the vice president. The number of electors in each state is equal to its number of representatives in both houses of Congress.
Interest group: An organization of persons that seek to influence the making of public policy.
Lobbyist: A person, usually acting as an agent for a group, who seeks to bring about the passage or defeat of legislative bills or to influence their content.
Logrolling: Trading votes on different bills: 'You scratch my back, I will scratch yours.'
Markup: The act of revising or modifying a legislative proposal in a committee.
Party platform: The principles, policies and promises officially adopted by a party.
Pork barrel: Legislation that gives tangible benefits (such as highways or dams) to the constituents of a member of Congress. A technique to keep the constituents happy.
Private bill: A bill that deals only with specific private, personal, or local matters rather than with general legislative affairs. The main kind includes immigration and naturalization bills.
Public bill: A legislative bill that deals with matters of general concern. A bill involving defense expenditures is a public bill; a bill pertaining to an individual becoming a naturalized citizen is not.
Super-delegates: A small number of party officials who get to attend and vote at the party convention by virtue of their office.
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