America’s Government: the Worst of Both Worlds

What’s wrong with America’s government? Essentially we have evolved into a leaderless Parliamentary system, which is the worst of both worlds.

I had an extended conversation today with two individuals who are expert practitioners of American politics. I can’t say anything more specific but they know from personal experience of what they spoke. And they made the above point. Over the last two decades or so, the two parties in Congress have become ideologically fixated so there is no longer a real possibility of compromise. The most liberal of Republican members is too conservative for the Democrats and the most conservative Democrat is too liberal for the Republicans. This wasn’t always the case. The House and Senate that Baby Boomers remember, during the 1970s and 80s, witnessed a few if not several dozen Republicans and Democrats who would routinely support the other party on certain legislative issues. This just doesn’t happen anywhere near as often any more.

What essentially caused this shift? Gerrymandering districts so they are safe seats is one reason. Another is the fact that the social divide between urban/coastal America and the center of the country has become starker over the last few years. But the policies of Congressional leaders have also contributed. Check out this Washington Post story from 2004 on Dennis Hastert declaring that legislation would only be brought forward if a majority of the majority party supported it–a philosophy that inherently prevents compromise and disrespects bipartisanship.

Parliamentary systems work because the leader of the majority party becomes the Prime Minister. No compromise is necessary because you always have the votes. Of course, our system doesn’t work that way. The President is elected separately and has almost no ability to influence the actions of an ideologically fixated opposition party, which sometimes is also a majority party. (And of course the President’s own party is ideologically fixated.)

So there you have it. Compromise becomes almost impossible because for compromise to work best you need the Democratic and Republican Parties to have some overlapping political territory. The end game right now is about scrambling to have the Senate and House pass separate bills so that the two can be resolved in Conference, where some compromises are possible. But even this maneuver may become less feasible over time if Congress continues to polarize.

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