TOPIC 1: Domestic and Foreign Policy

Activity 1: Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy

  • Suggested Viewing: 1976 & 1980 debates
  • Suggested Guidelines: 1) View debate clips. Focus student attention on the issue of foreign affairs, particularly the Helsinki Agreement in 1976 and the SALT treaties in 1980. 2) Ask students to identify the positions of each candidate. What are their main points? What are their respective positions? 3) Review with students the Helsinki Agreement, information on the SALT treaties (see Resources), and newspaper headlines. 4) Ask students, in the role of a particular candidate's press secretary or team, to draft position papers on the issue of foreign policy and nuclear weapons. Be sure that students base their position papers on comments and views expressed by the candidates in the debates. Students can obtain transcripts of the entire debates by visiting the Commission on Presidential Debates web site.
  • Questions: In the 1980 debate, what was the principal disagreement between candidate Ronald Reagan and President Jimmy Carter. What was the purpose of the Helsinki Agreement? Why was President Ford criticized for signing it? According to the candidates' statements in the debates of 1976 and 1980, how do Republicans and Democrats differ on their approach to foreign policy issues? How does each party characterize the other party's position? In your opinion, are these characterizations fair? Why or why not?

Activity 2: Government Entitlements and Budgets

  • Suggested Guidelines: 1) Brainstorm/discuss with students the meaning of the terms entitlement and deficit. What are some examples of government entitlements? 2) View debates. Ask students to identify any issues arising from differences of opinion on the role of government in providing entitlements. What are the entitlements in question? What are the positions of the candidates? Are there any patterns or themes associated with a particular candidate? Are there any patterns or themes associated with candidates from different election years. If so, what are these patterns or themes? 3) Ask students to visit the Republican and Democratic National Committee web sites and to read the respective party platforms. Are there connections between the 2004 party platforms and the themes or issues that were raised in the debates of 1980, 1984, 1992, or 2000?
  • Questions: According to Ross Perot, why was the federal budget deficit one of the most important issues in the 1992 campaign? How much attention should the public pay to issues like budgets and deficits? In your opinion, how important are such issues? According to the candidates' statements in the debates of 1980, 1984, 1992, and 2000, how do Republicans and Democrats differ on their approach to domestic issues such as entitlements and taxes? How does each party characterize the other party's position? In your opinion, are these characterizations fair? Why or why not? (Students can obtain transcripts of the entire debates by visiting the Commission on Presidential Debates web site).

TOPIC 2: Presidential Candidates and the Changing American Scene, 1960-2000

Activity 1: Questions of Leadership

  • Other Resources: Newspaper headlines/articles, 1984, 1996 & 2000
  • Activity Guidelines: 1) Brainstorm/discuss with students the characteristics of effective leadership and those qualities that make good and bad leaders. Is age important? Why or why not? Is gender important? Is intelligence important? Is the ability to delegate important? 2) Have students view the suggested clips and read newspaper headlines and articles. Ask them to identify the words, phrases, and exchanges that raise the issue of leadership. 3) Ask students to compare how the issue of leadership is framed in 1984, 1996, and 2000. Is there a difference? How might these differences be related to what is happening in the country at that particular time?
  • Questions: Is leadership an objective or subjective quality? How has our definition of leadership changed over time? How is leadership demonstrated? Is the ability to lead an important ability for the US president to have? Why or why not?

Activity 2: Questions of Character

  • Other Resources: Newspaper headlines/articles, 1976 & 1992
  • Suggested Guidelines: 1) Brainstorm/discuss with students those qualities that relate to character. How is character defined? Is it important? Why or why not? How is character demonstrated? 2) View suggested debate clips and read newspaper headlines/articles. Ask students to focus on and identify how questions of character are suggested in the 1976 and 1992 debates. How is the issue of character framed in each of these years? Is there a difference? 3) Discuss with students how issues of character might impact policy issues.
  • Questions: Compare Jimmy Carter's statements on character in 1976 to the statements of George Bush and Ross Perot in 1992. How are they different? Is character an objective or subjective quality? Is it important for a president to demonstrate character? Why or why not? How has our definition of character changed over time?

Activity 4: Questions of Patriotism

  • Suggested Viewing: 1960 & 1988 debates
  • Other Resources: Newspaper headlines/articles, 1960 & 1988
  • Suggested Guidelines: 1) Brainstorm/discuss with students those qualities that relate to patriotism. How is patriotism demonstrated? How is patriotism defined? 2) View suggested debate clips and read newspaper headlines/articles. Ask students to focus on and identify how questions of patriotism are raised and defended in each of the debate years. 3) Discuss with students how issues of patriotism might impact policy issues.
  • Questions: In 1960, Richard Nixon suggested that John F. Kennedy's criticism of the Eisenhower administration was unpatriotic. In 1988, some people thought that George Bush suggested the same thing of Michael Dukakis because of his membership with the ACLU, a controversial advocacy group. Do you think criticism of the government is unpatriotic? Why or why not? Is patriotism a subjective or objective quality? How has our definition of patriotism changed over time?