Education and Communications

Introduction: Crash Course U.S. Government And Politics

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