the Video Unit 14
and Discussion (30 minutes)
Before viewing the video, discuss the following questions:
- According to Madison, how should factions be controlled?
- What kinds of activities do interest groups use to influence
- The general impression of interest groups is that they are
the domain of big business and organized labor. Is this true?
- Think about your own interests. Are they represented by any
organized group? What are they?
Watch the Video
(30 minutes) and Discuss (30 minutes) [Top]
The video includes three segments:
1. The Battle Over Crusader
Most long-lasting interest groups focus on advancing the economic
interests of their members. Because their members have a strong
economic incentive to band together, they are likely to be well-funded
professional organizations that can employ lobbyists and mount sophisticated
public relations campaigns. The battle over the Crusader weapons
system presents an example of how one economic interest used its
resources to influence the policy process. In the end it was decided
that Crusader would remain "canceled," but United Defense
would still retain a $475-million contract to continue the development
of Crusader's cannon. That contract would employ workers in several
congressional districts, which was a major concern of Congress members.
The Army gained progress toward a new weapons system, while the
consultants, lobbyists, and public relations specialists who worked
on behalf of United Defense got nice commissions for their work.
- Why did members of Congress come to the defense of United Defense?
- What kinds of tactics did United Defense use to fend off efforts
to kill the Crusader?
- In the end, was United Defense successful?
- What is the iron triangle?
2. Organizing From the Heart: The Battle Over Reauthorization of
the 1996 Welfare Reform Law
Citizen action groups advocate on a wide range of social and environmental
issues, and use many of the same tactics as economic groups to reach
decision makers. But often they must rely more on mobilizing their
membership to act in an organized and concerted way. The battle over
reauthorization of the Welfare Reform Act illustrates the mobilization
efforts of one citizen action group.
- Who does the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support represent?
- What motivated Ladon James to become involved in the campaign?
- Since this is a citizen action without large cash reserves,
what tactics did the group utilize to influence policy-makers?
3. David and Goliath Go at It Again: The South Pasadena Freeway
Sometimes the most effective groups are local grassroots organizations
dedicated to a single cause. Lacking financial resources and permanent
organizations, these groups rely on committed citizens to write letters,
make phone calls, and sometimes to demonstrate, all in pursuit of
their cause. The fight over a freeway plan in the Los Angeles suburb
of South Pasadena is a good example of a grassroots organization in
- How is the grassroots organization in this story different from
a citizen action group?
- What kinds of tactics did the Anti-Meridan group use to fight
- What do you think has motivated these people to keep up the
fight over a couple of generations?
and Discussion (10 minutes) [Top]
Try the Critical
Thinking activity for Unit 14. This is a good activity to
use with your students, too.
1. What Exactly Is a "Special" Interest? (10 minutes)
In "Federalist No. 10," James Madison developed a theory
of interest groups that he believed supported the cause of constitutional
ratification. Responding to past political philosophers who contended
that a democratic republic could only thrive on a small scale in
societies with few competing interests, Madison advanced a new and
radical conception of organized interests. According to Madison,
the causes of faction are "sown in the nature of man."
Thus, to try to prevent factions from expressing themselves would
be against human nature, and ultimately would undermine the basic
liberty that we value as free people. Instead of removing the causes
of factions, Madison proposed that we control their negative effects.
One way to do this is to encourage the formation of many types of
interests, so that by opposing each other they prevent one or more
factions from violating the rights of all others, and ultimately
the public interest. Madison wrote, "Extend the sphere [of
interests], and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests;
you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have
a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens."
One frequently hears complaints about "special interests"
that seek unfair influence in the democratic process to promote
their particular agenda. Such complaints are not new, but instead
can be found in all periods of American history. In many cases it
is clear that one person's special interest is another's public
interest. Try to develop a definition of a "special" versus
"public" interest, and include real examples. What factors
can we use to determine the difference between special and public
Read the following Readings from Unit 15 to prepare for next week's
Read next week's Topic Overview.
- Introduction-Global Politics: USA and the World
- Tocqueville, Democracy in America: "The Present and Probable
Future Condition of the Indian Tribes That Inhabit the Territory
Possessed by the Union" and "Why Democratic Nations
Naturally Desire Peace, and Democratic Armies, War"
- The Monroe Doctrine
- The Marshall Plan
- Twain, "The War Prayer"
You may want to have your students do the post-viewing activities:
Tocqueville Would Be Proud: Today's Interest Group Universe and
What Exactly Is a Special Interest? They are provided for you as
blackline masters in the Appendix of the print guide.