Skip to comments.Should the US Switch to a Parliamentary System? (This Question Hasn't Been Asked Since Jimmy Carter)
Posted on 04/23/2013 6:28:06 PM PDT by DogByte6RER
Institutions Worthy of Our Parties: Should the U.S. Switch to a Parliamentary System?
Efforts to curb legislative partisanship have weak track records, so maybe we should consider changing the other side of the equation in order to establish a government that can actually get things done.
Rick Hasen has a really interesting paper up discussing partisan polarization and the possibility of changing the Constitution to deal with it. (And you should really read Jonathan Bernsteins response, too.) Hasen starts off by asking whether we should be considering moving toward a more parliamentary style of government.
Its a fair question. We have what looks like a serious mismatch between our parties and our governing institutions. We live in an era of sharply distinct, internally disciplined, programmatic parties with very different visions of how the nation should be run. Thats finewe have some time-honored institutions, such as elections and majority-rule legislatures, for settling disagreements, even when the disagreements are sharp.
But thats not all we have. Under our constitutional system, we have many rules designed to thwart majority rule and slow down lawmaking. A bicameral legislature and separation of powers, for example, are built into the system, with the explicit purpose of making it harder to pass lawsand over the years weve added things like the filibuster and debt ceiling votes that slow things down further. At times when parties are weak, as they were in the mid-20th century, its possible for legislators to come together across party lines and work out agreements despite these impediments. But when parties are strong, the minority party has a lot of tools to keep the majority from accomplishing much of anything.
California is a great case study in this. For decades, the state has had an unusual feature: a two-thirds vote requirement for budget passage. It also has the most polarized legislature in the country. On top of that, much of the states discretionary spending is dictated by a series of initiatives, placing it beyond the legislators control. Finally, like most states, it must balance its budget every year. All of this makes for an explosive cocktail. Any time a recession causes a revenue shortfall, Democrats (usually the majority, but almost never controlling two-thirds of either chamber) seek to make up the gap by raising taxes. Republicans refuse to go along with this plan and demand to slash social services instead. The crisis usually gets resolved when one or two Republicans agree to vote for the Democratic budget (sacrificing their careers in the process) or when legislators figure out how to defer paying the bills without making it look like theyre running a deficit. California looks vaguely governable right now, since Democrats managed to take over two-thirds of both chambers last year, but on the whole, the system is either in a crisis or heading for one just about every year.
Lots of political observers recognize that such governing systems dont work well alongside polarized parties, but their usual suggestion is to try to fix the party side of the equation. This rarely works. Efforts to curb legislative partisanshipincluding open primaries, redistricting reform, or bipartisan seatinghave pretty weak track records. Partisanship is much bigger than that and cant just be wished away; efforts to stop it often do nothing and are sometimes counterproductive. (Indeed, heres a conference paper showing that switching to open primaries can create more polarized parties.)
Could we change the other side of the equation? That is, could we design governing institutions that work better with strong parties? James Madison, who pioneered a political theory in defense of inefficient government, would probably oppose such a move. The numerous check points in the Constitution that slow down legislation were features, not bugs. Then again, Madison isnt around anymore, and even if he were, he might well consider inefficient government a fine idea that got carried too far.
Could a parliamentary system be the way to go? And if so, how would we get there? Actually, getting there might not be too hard. Tom Schwartz at the University of California, Los Angeles is fond of noting that the U.S. Constitution could be interpreted as creating a parliamentary system. Theres nothing (other than custom) preventing the Speaker of the House from functioning like a Prime Minister, with the President reduced to a largely ceremonial role and the Senate becoming a House-of-Lords-like body of entitled elites that defers to the lower chamber. We just havent interpreted the Constitution that way so far.
Then again, its not like a parliamentary system is a cure all. Besides, some relatively minor tinkering (maybe abolishing the filibuster?) could go a long way toward making the country a lot more governable. But its worth remembering that our government wasnt designed to function very well. If we want to blame someone for gridlock, we might start with the people whose faces adorn our money.
I vaguely remember other political deadheads suggesting the same thing 35 years ago. All of these proposals for switching to a parliamentary system disappeared after the election of Ronaldus Magnus.
In some ways the U.S. is basically a parliamentary system with a bicameral legislature. This is a great system because it provides a weighted balance between population-based governance and the sovereignty of individual states. Another advantage (in one respect) of the U.S. system is that it is very stable and predictable. You can look at a calendar decades in advance and know when exactly each presidential election will be held.
The flip side of this point is that I believe parliamentary elections tend to be much less media-driven than ours -- mainly because the uncertainty about elections makes for a very short election cycle instead of the stupidity we see here in the U.S. where the primary season for a presidential election is eventually going to start almost a year in advance of the election.
I think a lot of what the author ascribes to the U.S. system of governance is more a function of a two-party system than anything else. The parliamentary system is inherently unstable if it includes numerous minor parties, but would be much more stable in a country with only two major parties like ours.
What they really want is a Politburo system.
At this point I’d trade Baraq for Putin in a heartbeat, LOL.
I’d love to have “Question Time” over here.
Our system of government is just fine.
Where we have problems, is our elections, and the state sponsored propaganda that encourages the weak minded public to do the worst they can against our Capitalist society.
I’m watching some past season episodes of a show called Continuum. The anti-corporate propaganda in that show is amazing. It boggles the mind how a group of U. S. Citizens could develop a show that is so diametrically opposed to a free capitalist society.
We haven't been one for quite some time.
By all means,
Pack yer friggin’ bags and get the frick out
The author actually manages to miss the primary argument in favor of a switch.
Our system is designed, as stated, to not work. That’s what the famous “checks and balances” are designed to do. Which works pretty well for a government with limited powers and responsibilities.
What we have now is a government that is trying to “run the country,” something it was neither designed nor intended to do.
This leaves four options to us:
1. Continue with our present system, in which the government struggles to “run the country” with a Constitution designed to keep it from doing so.
2. Change the Constitution by amending it so it better reflects what people now want their government to do.
3. Ignore the Constitution so the government can function. This is what has been done more and more frequently over the last 50 years.
4. Return to a government of limited powers and responsibilities, which can function perfectly well under our present Constitution.
My personal preference would be for 4 (way in the lead), with a reluctant assent to 2 if sufficient support can be put together. After all, changing the Constitution when enough people want to is perfectly constitutional.
However, I strongly suspect we’ll continue limping along with a combination of 1 and 3, with 3 increasingly dominant as time goes by.
We live in an era of sharply distinct, internally disciplined, programmatic parties with very different visions of how the nation should be run.
No, we don't. We live in an era where the two parties are increasingly commanded by a small ruling class and whose policies converge to squeeze significant nonconforming populations out of influence. We live in an age where both formal parties agree on (1) big government, (2) high taxes, and (3) the maintenance of political power through means contrived and mendacious enough to make a carnival barker blush in shame. We live in an age of oppressive, parasitical bureaucracy and noisy, self-centered political activism. We don't need a new form of government, we need to cut in size and repopulate the one we've got with somebody other than wealthy, manipulative power junkies who use the people's trust as a ticket to a life of luxury.
“in order to establish a government that can actually get things done.”
But that is the last thing any red blooded american wants.
“d love to have Question Time over here.”
We Obama just doesn’t answer questions he don’t like.
I would never support or accept #2. Men have natural rights to be free to govern their own lives no constitution of illegitimate Government can take that away from them.
I think it should be brought to a vote. All that vote “AYE”, get impeached.
I agree. But a parliamentary system like Canada or UK is not inherently tyrannical.
I think the question was originally asked, in what became this country, in the 1770’s. It was settled then.
There’s nothing new under the sun. Just leftards raising old and settled issues as though they’re something new.
Why is it that people are always looking for a reason to open the constitution to change? I don't trust any modern day politician, political junkie, or stupified voter to improve anything - especially the US constitution.
We don't need to change the constitution to deal with "strong parties". We just need sensible laws to limit the money available to buy politicians.
If only real, individual citizens were allowed to donate to politicians and political campaigns, and if there was a reasonable limit on the amount they could donate, many of our problems would evaporate.
Imagine the difference it would make in a typical campaign if all the political donations had to come from actual people who are citizens - no big monety from labor unions, PACS, corporations, civil rightes groups, bundlers, etc.
One thing is for sure - we would have a drastic fall in the numbers of politicians who become millionairs after being elected to the senate and congress.
In Canada and the U.K. they have the retained the right of secession. In this way their central Parliament are held in some level of basic check against too much oppression against a regional minority.
After all if A prime-minster like Obama tried to implement all his policy’s which oppressing political & economic interest of rural and southern States, then the same states may just withdraw their consent to be governed.(secede)
In that way politicians like Obama are forced to govern in ways more agreeable to all regions at least.
Yes, let us hold a Constitutional Convention to debate this question. But before we reach that agenda item, let us debate the wisdom and impact on liberty of allowing the government to print air-backed money and place all citizens in debt-serfdom. Let us debate the impact on liberty of allowing government to continually expand the welfare and commerce clauses, so that a man, growing his own corn to feed to his own hogs can be put under federal law because he is somehow engaged in interstate commerce.
Let us then debate the impact on liberty of saying that since an old topographical map shows a dashed blue line running through a field, that intermittent drainage is actually a “navigable waterway” and is to be put under such control of the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA that a farmer cannot rectify erosion damage without getting a permit that costs $10,000 in environmental studies.
Yes indeed, there is a whole host of crimes and misdemeanors that the federal government commits upon its citizens since it has burst the chains of the 13 enumerated powers in the Constitution that lovers of big and Bigger government have managed to exile over the last 100 years or so.
A modest reform to better tie the President to the Congress is to adopt the Maine-Nebraska Method. (1 Elector to the winner of each Congressional District, and 2 to the winner of the state.)
We can do this incrementally, state by state, without changing the Constitution. And, see if it works. Only if a consensus develops that this was a good reform, should we then change the Constitution.
People forget that Parliaments are essentially monarchistic. They concentrate power in the prime minister and cabinet and the only limits on them are political.
Last thing I want is a government that "gets things done" in the legislative sense.-
They already screw up more than enough already, by messing with things that ought not be messed with.
I believe this question was eloquently investigated by Jean Jacques Rousseau in THE SOCIAL CONTRACT. He concluded that the English Parliament was a flawed system plagued by the very same problems associated with our legislative branch of government. I do firmly believe we need to replace our current system with one that is better suited to equal representation for all citizens. The state of degradation that has befallen our federal government is all part of an historical cycle that has destroyed states throughout recorded history. As a state grows and prospers, it’s citizens, the body politic, become more interested in the arts than what the government representatives are doing.
We have almost reached a point where we will be unable to rescue our nation from ruin - almost. We are already on the downside slope that leads to the abyss that swallows up states but if we act quickly, there is still an opportunity to not only halt our downward slide but rise up and over the precipice. The best way to do this is by physically re-locating our federal government to a rural community far away from the Washington, D.C. area. The logistics of this may seem intimidating but when necessary, we have risen to the occasion and accomplished more daunting tasks. There is sound reasoning behind my suggestion but in all honesty, I do not believe there would be enough support to initiate this fix.
We began our journey through history as a republic and have become a democracy. There is a marked difference between the two: A republic places control in the hands of the common citizens and a democracy finds a small group of wealthy and powerful individuals clutching that power in their despotic hands.
I am hopeful that the citizens who have become complacent will wake up and become active, preferring to spend their weekends studying government instead of football scores. There is nothing more painful to witness than apathy; knowing that this pleases those who rule over us.
Perhaps it would be a good idea to lessen our educational focus upon math and science and balance it with a focus upon sociology, history, philosophy and government. The Humanities have all but but been dismissed from the curriculum in the lower grades and what better time could there be to begin preparing our young citizens for active participation in their future?
Would fit right in with what we have. Obama could then be King, Moochelle, Queen, kids Princesses...nothing to do but party and bling all day and night, and let someone else run the government. We have that now, I guess that would just admit it better.
What we have is a 1 − 1/2 party system. We have journalism - which was politics, back in the founding era, is politics now, and will be politics in the future. Before the middle of the Nineteenth Century, journalism - newspapers, back then - were primarily about the opinions of their printers. Pretty much like the Rush Limbaugh show. With the added function of the propagation of news, although in a real sense that was secondary. But the Post Office systematically subsidized the transmission of newspapers among the various printers around the country. Back then, newspapers were notorious for not agreeing about much of anything, but the promotion of communication among newspapers, ironically, violates a clear-cut recommendation by Adam Smith:People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices. It is impossible indeed to prevent such meetings, by any law which either could be executed, or would be consistent with liberty and justice. But though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary. Wealth of Nations (Book I, Ch 10)According to that, even the mailing of newspapers among printers might have tended to unify them into a conspiracy against the public. But then we really go into trouble. The telegraph came into existence, and with it the Associated Press. From that time to this, the members of the Associated Press have been in a continual virtual meeting. And, as Smith predicted, journalism has over the past century and a half morphed into little else but a conspiracy against the public. The culture of journalism is about, not the public interest, but about interesting - and impressing - the public. The culture of journalism is subversive of the long - term interest of the public, for the simple reason that journalism denigrates the people and institutions the public depends on, systematically and for journalisms own self interest.
We have a 1 − 1/2 party system for the simple reason that all of journalism is a singular entity and, journalism being politics, we have a journalism party and an anti-journalism party. Naturally the anti journalism party is permanently on the defensive, while the journalism party is dominant, arrogant, and intrusive on the rights of the people.
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