Over at his Tumblr blog, Politicalprof answers a question from a reader about what makes the US political system “so weird” with some insightful comments. As a comparativist, I won’t belabor the point about how important—perhaps critical—it is for Americans to be familiar with the differences in how our democracy functions and how it functions in other countries.
But I will recommend this great introductory textbook that caught my eye at a conference: The American Anomaly: US Politics & Government in Comparative Perspective. It’s a slim little volume packed with all the basics you’d expect in a POL 101 textbook. But each chapter focuses on (at least) one specific other country and uses it to explain (through contrast) core concepts in American politics. For example, the chapter on federalism looks at Germany (federal) and Japan (unitary); the chapter on the judiciary looks at France (a code law system). I’ve actually toyed with the idea of using it to teach POL 102.
As someone particularly interested in electoral systems, I find the frequent dissuasions of redistricting (and the inevitable gerrymandering) amusing. But I’m also troubled that no one in the US (not politicians, not activists, not media) seems to seriously question the root of the problem: our quaint "first-past-the-post" (or single-member district plurality) system. Countries with proportional representation systems don’t have to worry about redistricting issues. And if you’re committed to SMD, then you can always consider the instant-runoff vote (IRV) system. My point is: There are other alternative solutions to the problems of redistricting than simply fighting it out through the courts and/or public opinion.
If you’re interested in taking an upper-level seminar in comparative politics next semester (Spring 2012) at the University of Mississippi:
This is a broad survey of democratic politics around the world. The course focuses equally on institutions & processes and public opinion & participation across a range of new and established democracies.
The course familiarizes students with the range of democratic politics around the world.
Lawrence LeDuc, Richard G. Niemi, and Pippa Norris. Comparing Democracies 3. Los Angeles: Sage, 2010.