Introduction: Crash Course U.S. Government and Politics


In which Craig Benzine introduces a brand new Crash Course about U.S. Government and Politics! This course will provide you with an overview of how the government of the United States is supposed to function, and we’ll get into how it actually does function. The two aren’t always the same thing. We’ll be learning about the branches of government, politics, elections, political parties, pizza parties, and much, much more!

Transcript Provided by YouTube:

00:03
Hi, I’m Craig. I’m not John Green, but I do have patches on my elbows, so I seem
00:08
smart. And this is Crash Course Government and Politics, a new show, hurray!
00:14
Why are fireworks legal or illegal? We might find out. Will we find out Stan?
00:18
Anyway, I have a question for you. Have you ever wondered where your tax dollars go or
00:22
why people complain about it so much? Or who pays for the highway that runs past your house?
00:25
Or why you use the textbooks you use in science class? Or why you need a license to drive,
00:29
or to hunt or to fish or to become a barber? I’ve always wanted to cut my own hair, back
00:33
when I had it. Have you ever wondered why you have to be
00:35
21 years old to drink alcohol but only 18 to vote? Or gamble. Sometimes voting is a
00:39
gamble – actually always. Do you get confused when you hear people talk about news about
00:43
Wall Street regulations, or Obamacare, or the national debt? Do you wonder why there
00:46
are so few cell phone carriers and cable companies? How about why it’s ok for student groups
00:50
to lead prayers in schools but not for the principal to do so? Have you ever wondered
00:53
if there are any limits on when, where, and how the police can search your home, or your
00:57
car, or your locker, or you, or your friend, or your grandma, or your grandma’s friend?
01:01
And do you know why you can stand outside a government office with a sign and a bullhorn
01:05
complaining about military action that you think is unfair and the police can’t stop
01:08
you, but you can be fired from your job for doing the exact same thing?
01:11
Have you ever been sued? Or fined? Ever wonder what the difference is between being sued
01:14
and being fined? Have you ever wondered why the government
01:17
does the things it does and why it doesn’t do other things? Have you ever wondered what
01:20
it would be like if we had no government at all? That would be anarchy. Can we play the
01:24
Sex Pistols, Stan? That’s probably illegal. Why is it illegal?
01:28
And probably the most important, have you ever thought about how you can change the
01:31
things that seem unjust or unfair or that you just don’t like?
01:35
Ok so that was more than one question, and obviously there isn’t a single answer to
01:38
all of those questions, except in a way, there is. The study of government and politics.
01:43
And that’s what we’re going to talk about today, and this whole series: Crash Course
01:46
Government and Politics – aptly titled.
01:49
[Theme Music]
01:57
So let’s start by doing what human beings do when confronted with complicated questions
02:01
they can’t answer. We’ll answer a simpler one. In this case, what are government and
02:04
politics and why do I need to learn about them.
02:06
Government is a set of rules and institutions people set up so they can function together
02:10
as a unified society. Sometimes we call this a state, or a nation, or a country, or Guam.
02:15
And I’ll use these terms somewhat interchangeably – except for Guam, that might be a little
02:19
confusing. So, we study government in order to become better citizens.
02:22
Studying government enables us to participate in an informed way. Anyone can participate,
02:27
but doing so intelligently that takes a little effort, and that’s why we need to learn
02:30
about how our government works. Politics is a little different. Politics is
02:33
a term we used to describe how power is distributed in a government. And in the U.S it basically
02:37
describes the decisions about who holds office and how individuals and groups make those
02:41
decisions. Following politics is a lot like following
02:43
sports in that there is a winner and a loser and people spend a lot of time predicting
02:46
who will win and analyzing why the winner won and the loser lost.
02:49
The outcome of an election might affect your life more than the outcome of a sports game
02:52
though. Unless you’re gambling – which might be illegal.
02:55
Government is really important. Everyone born in America is automatically a citizen, and
02:58
many people choose to become citizens every year so that they can have a say in the government.
03:02
The USA is a republic, which means that we elect representatives to govern us, and a
03:05
democracy, which means that citizens are allowed to participate. This ability to participate
03:09
is something we take for granted, but we shouldn’t. History tells us that that citizen participation
03:13
is the exception rather than the rule. But we’re not going to look at history. Who
03:15
has time? That’s what history courses are for with that other guy.
03:18
So one way people can participate in government is through voting. And many people will tell
03:22
you that that’s pretty much the only way we can participate in government and politics,
03:25
but THEY’RE WRONG. And I love pointing out when people are wrong. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble.
03:29
Sure, when you mark a ballot, you are participating in the political process, but there are so many other
03:33
things you can do to be an active citizen. You can contact your representatives and tell
03:36
them what you think about a political issue. People used to do this by writing letters
03:39
or sending telegrams, but now they tend to call or send email, although there’s nothing
03:43
like a good old-fashioned angry letter. People can work for campaigns or raise money
03:46
or give money. They can display yard signs or bumper stickers. They can canvass likely
03:50
voters, try to convince them to vote or even drive them to the polls on election day.
03:54
You participate in politics when you answer a public opinion poll. Or when you write a
03:57
letter to the editor or comment on an online article. You participate in politics when
04:01
you blog, or tumbl, or make a YouTube video, or tweet. I guess even YouTube comment counts.
04:05
First! Ever been to a march or a rally or held a
04:08
sign or worn a t-shirt with a slogan on it, or discussed an upcoming election at the dinner
04:11
table and tried to convince your parents who to vote for? You’ve participated in the
04:15
political process. And if you’ve actually run for office you’ve
04:17
participated, even if you didn’t win, and if you did win, congratulations, now get back
04:21
to work. You should already know this. But probably the most important thing you
04:24
can do to participate in government and politics is both the easiest and the most challenging.
04:28
Become more educated! Anyone can be a citizen, but to be a good citizen requires an understanding
04:33
of how government works, and how we can participate. It requires knowledge and effort and we have
04:37
to do it because otherwise we end up being led rather than being leaders. We learn about
04:40
politics because knowledge is our best defense against unscrupulous people who will use our
04:44
ignorance to get us to do things that they want rather than what we think should be done.
04:48
Thanks, Thought Bubble. That was my first Thought Bubble narration! Hurray! You guys
04:54
are fun. This is fun. So that’s where we comes in. Over the course
04:57
of this series we will be looking in depth at American government and politics.
05:00
We’ll be talking about stuff like the structure and function of the branches of government,
05:04
the division of power between the national government and the state governments, what
05:07
political parties are, what they do, and how they are different from interest groups.
05:10
We’ll examine the role the media plays in government and politics, how the legal system
05:14
and the courts work and how they protect civil rights and civil liberties.
05:16
We’ll look at political ideologies: what it means when you say you are a liberal or
05:19
a conservative or a libertarian or a socialist or an anarchist – okay we probably won’t
05:24
talk about anarchy because that’s sort of the rejection of government. Again, Sex Pistols,
05:29
Stan? Can’t… copyright issue.
05:31
I’ll take care of it. ANARCHY – WOOO! I’ve been known to do that from time to time.
05:36
We’ll try to understand the forces that are shaping American government and politics
05:39
today. And we’ll work towards becoming more involved and developing our knowledge so that
05:42
we make our government more responsive and our politics more inclusive.
05:45
By the end of this series – and actually before the end – you will understand how
05:48
our government works and how you can make it work better for you and your community.
05:51
Not only will you be able to answer most of the questions I started this episode with,
05:54
but you will become, if you pay attention and think for yourself, a more engaged and
05:57
active citizen. And you might have a beard – if you don’t shave.
06:01
Next week we’ll talk about Congress, how it works, and what it does, when it does anything.
06:04
Thanks for watching, I’ll see you next week. And that’s my first Crash Course episode!
06:09
Are we out of poppers Stan? I’ll just throw ‘em… wooohoo! Bang! Wooo! Bang!
06:17
Crash Course Government and Politics is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support
06:22
for Crash Course U.S. Government comes from Voqal. Voqal supports non-profits that use
06:26
technology and media to advance social equity. Learn more about their mission and initiatives
06:30
at Voqal.org. Crash Course was made by all of these nice people.
06:33
Thanks for watching. Can we call Craig Course, Stan? No? Crash Course Craig? …Can’t.


This post was previously published on YouTube.

Photo credit: Screenshot from video.