US Parliamentary System

To pick up on a point from last night’s skypecast with Scott–listen here (do it, do it)–flowing from a point made in passing here by Ezra Klein: namely that the US is becoming more parliamentary.

I made the point in the dialog that the US does not get parliamentary culture by which I meant the give and take of third/fourth/fifth parties having some leverage against minority-majority parties. [Canada is a good example, as is Israel in this regard with Labour (now Kadima) and Likud both having to form alliances with other parties to gain majority status].

But what EKlein means is that at the Federal Congressional Level both parties increasingly are becoming role call votes. This very much in line with parliamentary process. The US system used to involve much more regional voting patterns across party lines, individual Senators/Congressmen (and they were basically all men during the period I have in mind) being able to buck the party.

Especially now in the instant-communication age, with blogs and such, members of Congress are increasigly treated as de facto national figures as opposed to members of a Federal Body representing local districts. Hence the push to toe the line. The Netroots have their Blue Dog lists, the Victory Coalition their appeaser Republicans targeted.

The Parliamentary culture of roll call/party line votes however is as stated above moderated by the existence of multiple parties AND the fact the government can fall so easily (in a motion of no confidence). The US system with terms and a Presidential System is particularly ill suited structurally to the culture of party line voting.

So combining what I said with Klein’s point, I argue that the current mixture of US structural and one-sided parliamentary culture is essentially the worst of all possible worlds. Either the US Congress needs to get back to cross-party voting OR we need multiple parties/proportional voting/enlarged number of Senators & Reps. And perhaps as Sabato suggests–as a sorta de facto version of no confidence votes–the entire Congress up for re-election every six years.

The resulting mix of the worst of both systems is the total dysfunctionality of the Congress. In essence,we have a system (as Benjamin Wittes has argued) whereby the President basically makes “it” up as he goes along and The Supreme Court comes in every so often and tells him which doors are now shut off–can’t go that way, can’t go that way either–but can’t give a sense of where the Executive should go.

The chair needs three legs. The whole system is wobbly because of the total gridlock and ineffectiveness of the Congress.


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