The US Should Have A Parliamentary System

A comment made on a post at Crooked Timber (The Limits of Left Neo-Liberalism):

I think this gets Ygelsias and parliamentary systems quite wrong. Matt has made it pretty clear over the years that it frustrates him to see people thinking that politics consists of grand compromises/consensuses; democratic politics for him—and I think he is absolutely correct here—is a matter of fairly constant partisan contestations. The virtue of parliamentary systems is that, in principle (and to a lesser degree, even in practice), they actually allow elected parties to rule, as opposed to having even clear majorities be stymied by special interests that can make use of numerous veto points whose defenders will dress them up as constitutionally sacrosanct “checks and balances” (e.g., “without aggressive judicial review/an effective supermajority requirement in the Senate/the undemocratic electoral college/etc., all will descend into tyranny!”). Parliamentary systems of democratic government empower majority-winning parties and coalitions to move their agenda forward, which gives their opposite numbers something clear to run against, as opposed to generating desperate accusations and conspiracies out of mid-air. Again, I realize—as I’m sure Matt realizes; he’s definitely not stupid—that parliaments rarely manage all this…but still, the idea is that parliamentary governance is a tool for making democratic politics more legitimate and responsible, not that they are a way to get away from politics entirely.

This explains very succinctly what is my perception about the key effective differences between our form of congressional dual-chamber legislature and presidential system and a parliamentary system. I fear we’ve come to a point in the United States where the people are again so clearly divided as they were before the Civil War over ideological differences, and those ideologies are at war with each other in congress, and it may be disastrous to the democracy.

The primary concern people voice about the parliamentary system is that they fear one party will make massive changes to the country without anyone being able to stop them, such as through the use of filibusters.

I do fear a Republican majority in a parliamentary system may lead to vast changes in society, but it seems they are winning that war even without the ability to get a supermajority in federal government. It’s not necessary at all. What the Republican Party has been doing is it has been using the more closely watched federal political game between them and the Democratic Party to fuel the electoral to their side in state and local government elections throughout many parts of the country. The changes in government are being made there; we’ve had a large number of radical changes in our nation’s government despite the record number of filibusters and roadblocks set in federal congress.

The federal government has the power to move the entire country, but the states and local governments are where the battles are waged and the effects are made more clear. This war on women’s rights being waged by Republicans is being won at the state and local level, where it will have a more direct effect on people’s lives. So we don’t need a parliamentary system to see massive change to our nation. We already have a distraction (the federal government tribal society) away from the insidious nature of state and local politics.

If we didn’t have the muddling of intentions at the federal level – if the Democratic Party and the Republican Party couldn’t use congressional tricks to make each other look bad – then voters would be better informed of what they’re buying with their vote. As it is, they do not. They can’t help but believe the propaganda they are being fed through television and radio waves. Who is responsible for what anymore? If a party blocks all efforts by the majority party, is the majority party responsible? If their hands are tied and they cannot pass laws and make policy changes, are they truly guiding the country?

If your hands are cuffed to a post and you cannot run and push someone out of the way of a moving vehicle, are you responsible for their death?

That is what our system of government is now. Political parties are now handcuffing those who should have the power to act; and being unable to act, people’s lives are changed.

A parliamentary system, on the other hand, gives the winner the power to make changes. They do not need the permission of the minority. The voters get exactly what they voted for. If they do not like what the government is doing, they know who is to blame (Do we know who handcuffed the person? Was it the person himself or someone else? No one knows in our form of government.) – that is, the majority. If the Democratic Party is the majority and they run the country badly, they can be ousted in the next election and probably will because the people will know whom to blame. We do not have that luxury.

So what we have here is a failure to communicate. That is, we cannot communicate to the people who is truly responsible for what in this country anymore. Democrats blame Republicans for things they made happen because the Republicans are in a majority. Republicans do the same thing, and has been seen in the past three years, there has never been a display of legislative cockblocking like this:

The number of times clotures have been invoked should be much, much higher.

Cloture means a vote to end debate so the legislative chamber can vote on the actual bill being debated. Until there is cloture, there is nothing but talking and arguing about the bill, but nothing is ever actually done. As it is, there is no need to talk or argue about a bill; the minority party can simply refuse to allow cloture (this is a filibuster), meaning that they can handcuff the majority endlessly until the majority party is forced to give up and let the person get run over by the moving car.

This is, by definition, government that doesn’t work.


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