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The Crisis That Demonstrates That Presidential Democracy Sucks

[ 181 ] October 2, 2013 |

I’ll have a longer piece noting the obvious superiority of parliamentary democracy to presidential democracy at some point during the crisis. In the meantime, see Yglesias and Pareene. And, actually, I think Alex is understating the advantages of parliamentary democracy here:

We’re a year out from an election that, in a parliamentary democracy, would’ve easily granted one party control of the government. If, in this hypothetical American parliamentary system, the opposition wanted to force a showdown over the budget a year after the election, we’d have another election, and the winning party would get to implement its agenda.

Actually, it’s better than that — in a parliamentary democracy a minority party by itself couldn’t force a crisis or cause the government to collapse. Majority governments are actually permitted to govern, and a vote of non-confidence would have to be joined by at least some members of the majority party (or, in the case of a coalition government in a PR system, one or more parties from the majority coalition defecting.) The incentives of parliamentary government mean that the governing party has strong reasons not to sabotage the country’s economy because they’ll be held collectively responsible, whereas the separation of powers means that the most congressional Republicans believe they won’t pay any political price if they blow up the world economy, and they’re probably right.

And just to pre-empt the inevitable commenters for whom electoral reform is a hammer and every problem in American politics is a nail, the electoral system is part of the problem (although it’s more individual districts than plurality voting when it comes to Congress, and the effects of gerrymandering are vastly overrated.) But in 2010 (unlike in 2012) Republicans would have taken over the House with virtually any electoral system, and the problem that the House majority would have strong political incentives to undermine rather than cooperate with the president and the power to sabotage would remain. And of course electoral reform does almost nothing about the Senate, which is typically an even more problematic institution than the House.

Comments (181)

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  1. joe from Lowell says:

    have to be joined by at least some members of the minority party

    s/b “majority”

  2. InnerPartisan says:

    in a parliamentary democracy a minority party by itself couldn’t force a crisis or cause the government to collapse

    Ahem:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructive_Vote_of_No_Confidence#1982_.28successful_vote.29

    (Concurrently, the only thing about our recent elections I’m happy about? Those turncoat, neoliberal fuckers didn’t make it into the Bundestag.)

    But yeah, in essence you’re right. It might be my European bias – seeing how I grew up and live in a parliamentary democracy – but as fucked-up as our system can be, it’s most definitely less fucked-up than your system. (Electoral college? The 18th century called; they want their half-baked myopic ideas back.)

    • InnerPartisan says:

      Oh wait, I totally misunderstood what you meant. Disregard my example.

    • Yeah, I read “minority party” as “party represented in Parliament that has neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the Opposition” too. IE, roughly the equivalent of the US “third party”, though it’s only third parties represented in Congress (a merely theoretical entity at present).

  3. Shakezula says:

    I’ll have a longer piece noting the obvious superiority of parliamentary democracy to presidential democracy as some point during the crisis.

    Are you feeling pessimistic, or is the piece almost done?

  4. LeftWingFox says:

    But in 2010 (unlike in 2012) Republicans would have taken over the House with virtually any electoral system, and the problem that the House majority would have strong political incentives to undermine rather than cooperate with the president and the power to sabotage would remain

    While I agree that electoral reform isn’t a panacea, I think it’s a little disingenuous to assume that people would have voted identically in the presence of an alternative system which allows multiple parties to exist.

    • InnerPartisan says:

      Very true. Also, from personal experience, I would argue that the greatest weakness of a parliamentary system isn’t, in fact, instability (hello Italy, hello Belgium) but rather the dreaded Grand Coalition. At least for us lefties.

      Speaking for the US, though (and that’s pure speculation, of course): If you guys had a parliamentary system, I imagine that the “Tea Party Revolution” would have either faded out completely OR moderated itself sufficiently to form a coalition government with the Republican-Analogues in such a scenario.
      Look at the recent far-right upstarts in Western Europe, starting with Austria’s FPÖ: They’re crazy, but they’re not THAT crazy. For the most part, anyway.
      Also, as we say here: Government participation is like sunlight – it turns the vampires into dust pretty damn quickly.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I know many people on the left think that having multiple parties would make outcomes more progressive. I see no basis whatsoever for that belief. Indeed, I think splitting the genuine liberals from the moderates and conservatives in the Democratic coalition would on balance make progressive change even harder to achieve.

      • Craigo says:

        But look how well it’s worked for the Canadian left-

        Wait, never mind. But the Germans! The German left is definitely-

        Well, fuck. Britain? Nope. The fractured French left manages to win about as often as the cicadas come around. Italy’s left looks like someone dropped a plate of pasta on the floor. Japan doesn’t have a left, as far as I can tell. Australian lefties spend more times deposing each other than the right. Maybe you’re onto something here.

        • InnerPartisan says:

          Neither France nor the UK has a true parliamentary system. Not saying you’re wrong; just a little nitpick.

          KTHXBAI.

          • Craigo says:

            I’m talking about multiple party systems, not necessarily parliamentary systems.

            That’s, uh, news to me about the UK. Germany and Italy have presidents, but they’re not nearly as powerful as France’s. And Australia has a strong upper house, but is still clearly parliamentary.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          Well, fuck. Britain?

          What do you mean? Without the LibDems in the coalition, Cameron would probably have spent his first term enacting nutty right-of-Hoover austerity policies.

          • Craigo says:

            I mean that, on most issues, the Lib Dems are actually closer to Labour than the Conservatives. (And if public polls are any indication then Lib Dem voters, who have abandoned the party over the coalition, agree with me.) And that the “center/left” in Britain won a landslide 2010, in terms of raw votes.

            But as usual, the center-left is fractured and the center-right is united.

            • sharculese says:

              sarcasm meter, adjust

            • Daragh McDowell says:

              Ummm, UKIP?

              Seriously though – as a Lib-Dem voter on the left of the party I feel obliged to note I have very strong, basic philosophical differences with Labour generally. Blair and the War were also big issues, but also clearly a case where a proportional system and a ‘fractured’ left would have produced a more progressive result – that is, Blair deservedly booted from office in 2005 and Brown at the head of a coalition that kept his self-destructive impulses in check. Or better yet – no British involvement in Iraq in the first place.

              As to 2010 I’m afraid the existence of ‘Orange Book’ Lib Dems and the fact that many LD MPs effectively act as the ‘centre-right’ candidate in constituencies the Tories will never win (and vice versa) I don’t think the idea that the Centre-Left won really stacks up, even if under an actually democratic system the result would have been a Lib-Lab government (possibly in that order if more Labour voters thought they could ‘safely’ switch.)

          • Reepicheep says:

            Without the LibDems in the coalition, Cameron would probably have spent his first only term enacting nutty right-of-Hoover austerity policies.

            While your sentence gave me many a wry chuckle, the implication that Cameron might have a second term is Just Not Joking Material.

            One of the highlights of this week’s Conservative Party Conference has been the Home Sec saying that the next Conservative govt would withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights in order that the Humans who don’t deserve Rights, wouldn’t have them.

            Ugh.

        • LeeEsq says:

          This. The only parliamentary democracies with long histories of left dominance are the Nordic countries. Its just that the rightists elsewhere are a bit different than the rightists in the United States because they have less of an ultra-individualistic ethos.

          • Manny Kant says:

            I think, at this point, that if “less insane conservative party” is a feature of parliamentary systems, that’s a pretty good argument for a parliamentary system even if “dominance by the center-right” is also a necessary feature of such a system. A US dominated by a CDU style center right party seems clearly superior than the mess we are in now.

            • LeeEsq says:

              Well, I don’t think that our right would be less insane even if we had a parliamentary system. The European right has been traditionally more open to solutions that would be derided as statist/socialist in the United States because of their origins. European society never worshiped the individual and the free market to the extent that American society does. Just changing the system doesn’t change the origins of our parties.

              • Captain Splendid says:

                Well, I don’t think that our right would be less insane even if we had a parliamentary system.

                No, but they’d have to work a helluva lot harder and be a helluva lot more charming while they do to get any kind of results.

        • Daragh McDowell says:

          If the French left is fractured, so is the right (Le Front Nationale.) And this is before we even get into the fissions between Gaullists, conservatives, economic liberals, nationalists etc. The French left loses so often because the French are, well, rather American in their nationalism, superiority complex and sense of exceptionalism. These trends favour the right.

          Italy generally provides the counterfactual to any political claim, but the disarray in it’s left wing is more due to the fact that it thoroughly corrupted and compromised itself (in collusion with the Christian Democrats) during the Cold War, and acquiesced to Berlusconi buying up the country’s media rather than fractiousness.

          In Germany Gerhard Schroder did a good job trashing the SDP’s reputation even before Die Linke showed up, but at the end of the day a clear majority of the country voted for the right (CDU/CSU, FDP and AfD.) In fact the left is slightly OVER represented in the Bundestag, forcing Merkel into a coalition. Not a bad result if you’re on the left.

          And while I agree with Scott’s basic claim that ‘more parties’ does not necessarily mean ‘more progressivism!’ the reality of the status quo is that what one might term the Baucus Caucus is still in the cockpit despite the fact that most Democrats find them repellent because they (as Scott frequently reminds us) have nowhere else to go if they don’t want to see the GOP in power. The current system not only makes it more likely that Liebermans (or for that matter Collins and Snowes) get elected, but that they hold the deciding votes. The least principled pols will dominate any big tent so long as they fear leaving it less than the voters do.

          And while it’s fun to bash ‘heighten the contradictions’ arguments, you do have to admit the latest crisis is pretty comprehensively showing that the status quo just isn’t tenable. Food for thought.

          • Dilan Esper says:

            My point on heightening the contradictions is that everyone has worse short term outcomes that they would favor to improve things in the long term- but center-right Democrats constantly pretend they don’t and that the left is required to support them.

            There is just nothing wrong with refusing to do a short term or lousy fix to a long term problem. If left wingers are wrong on the merits, fine, say that, but don’t berate people simply because they are farther to the left and think centist programs will make things worse than holding out.

        • Ian says:

          But look how well it’s worked for the Canadian left-

          I cuts both ways. Look what happened to the Canadian right in the 1990s. Vote splitting between the PCs and Reformers meant they were getting a combined ~40% of the vote but only a humiliating ~20-30% of the seats in the House. Their lost decade made it possible for Canada to get marriage equality at the Federal level a decade ago.

          • Craigo says:

            It’s worth noting that the Progressive Conservative/Reform era of the Canadian right was a stark outlier. As far as postwar elections go, the center-right has been united in all but four.

            By contrast, the NDP and the Liberals have been competing against each other for the center-left since the early 1960s. And there is absolutely no sign of a merger, unlike the grassroots Unite the Right campaign from the 90s.

            I haven’t done a rigorous survey by any means, but I’m willing to bet that the pattern is largely true in most multiparty systems – at least those where the primary partisan division is ideological.

      • InnerPartisan says:

        I think splitting the genuine liberals from the moderates and conservatives in the Democratic coalition would on balance make progressive change even harder to achieve.

        From the outside it sure looks like that, doesn’t it?
        And yeah – the Left, by it’s very nature, is a fickle beast very much prone to splitting itself apart (one could argue that that’s a feature, not a bug).
        But I *think* what you fail to consider is, for one, the wider political culture – coalitions are born and killed in The Sacred Middle. Any national Left-Wing that’s worth its’ salt will produce at least one party that will resonate most strongly in this most European of all demographics (to wit: The Greens here in Germany). Even without government participation, they’ll at least influence public opinion enough to effect *some* change.

        Secondly: Do not disregard the upper house, at least when the electoral system for it is in any way population-based. The City will always be more left-leaning than the Country, and it’s always the City that gains population in the long run.

        • Craigo says:

          To keep with Germany for a second, I do find it very interesting that the left or center-left parties (if we include the Greens, who have always been more natural partners with the SPD than the CDU) won a majority of the seats and votes – yet because there are three of them and one of the opposition*,the election is correctly hailed as a landslide for Merkel, who is still firmly in control.

          *Counting the CSU as a de facto, but not de jure, affiliate of the CDU

          • InnerPartisan says:

            To be fair: The Left only has a technical majority, thanks to Germany’s 5-percent-rule – FDP, AFD and “assorted” (including the Pirates) together won almost 15% of the vote. Were the threshold even one measly percent lower, Mama Angie probably could have continued her coalition uninhibited (maybe adding the AFD, who are mostly a far-right ofshoot of the FDP anyway.)

            But as I said: The Left is a fickle beast. The Greens are flirting (albeit not openly) with opening themselves up for a possible new coalition-option with the CDU (which happened once before on the state level, but crashed&burned pretty quickly), while Die Linke is just to fundamentalist in their anti-europeanism to be a viable partner for the SPD.

            I’m afraid we’ll see 4 years of a dreaded Grand Coalition (although I’m at least *curious* about how Black-Green would turn out) before the German left wing get’s its’ shit together.

            P.S.: The day the CSU splits from the CDU is the very day I’ll go out and help myself to some 200€-Champagne and Cuban cigars.
            Imagine if the Texas GOP were both separate and inseparable from the greater Republican party, with a guaranteed ~10% of house seats? That’s the CSU.

            • Craigo says:

              What is the deal with the AFD, by the way? I started paying attention to this election fairly late in the game. Is this a flash in the pan protest party, or something that’s going to have legs? (Maybe they could have gone either way, depending on whether they qualified in the end?)

              • InnerPartisan says:

                Hard to say. Their main shtick was providing a safe haven for all the “respectable” right-wing anti-europeans; with the anti-immigrant-slant (vehemently denied by the party’s leadership, of course!) as an added bonus. As such, they’re mostly responsible for the FDP not making it into the Bundestag.

                In future elections, though? Who knows. Ironically, with the FDP diminished, the entire market-liberal wing of German politics is up for grabs.
                My money is on the FDP getting their shit together (and remembering what “liberal” actually means) – but with them (almost) out of federal politics, the AFD could actually take its’ chance and establish themselves as the much-dreaded party “to the right of the CSU”. And much more respectably so than any of our actual Neo-Nazi parties ever could.

                That’s actually pretty fucking scary, now that I think about it.

      • Dennis says:

        I think if the Tea-Party and Mainstream Republicans split, outcomes would be more progressive. Is that okay?

      • Albrecht says:

        You are correct to say that multiparty systems do not produce a more progressive outcome (Switzerland, my home country is certainly not progressive). However what it does produce is a wider spectrum of accepted opinion. In the US of 2013 we have two parties, one of them center right (the Dems), the other one far right. The entire left is populated by a small number of exceptional figures (Chomsky for example) largely considered out of bounds by the main stream. Only a very narrow sliver of the whole spectrum is inside the policital process; a multiparty system would open this up more–it removes the incentive to politicize towards the middle inherent in two party systems (it used to be that the accepted spectrum was from the center left to the center right; the shift of the whole thing towards the right is relatively recent.
        Another comment: Parliamentary systems have their disadvantages too: the way Thatcher destroyed the social contract in the UK was not available to Reagan, Tip O’Neill needed to be taken into account….

    • Daragh McDowell says:

      It’s not just disingenuous, it’s clearly wrong. Voting systems, among other things, determine the ‘cost’ of entry into political market place in terms of the barriers towards gaining representation, and the options available to voters. The very ability to, say, rank candidates preferentially rather than just place X changes the whole political calculus of the average voter. I lived in Ireland with its democratic PR-STV system before moving to the UK and its anti-democratic FPTP system. The difference in debate, behaviour and outcomes is massive.

  5. Craigo says:

    Presidential democracy doesn’t look quite as bad when you don’t stuff it full of veto points and minefields that not all of them suffer under. Government shutdowns and debt ceilings are not inherent features.

    • Danny says:

      But Presidential democracy inherently has two veto points (president, legislature), which can create friction if one party holds the legislature and another the presidency.

      • Craigo says:

        Friction, yes. But I don’t think friction is a bad thing, and I’m not convinced that a fused legislature and executive is not just as vulnerable to abuse. Some veto points are a good thing, and you can argue which ones or how many, but I think we can agree that an electoral victory should not grant absolute political power.

        And this is not mere friction. There is no earthly reason that a country should tie its own hands and back into a default, or shut down services because the major parties have a disagreement. Plenty of countries have that. Belgium can go years without governments, but the offices stay open.

        • Danny says:

          I agree that what the Republicans are doing is ridiculous, but even if there were just a house and a president, the incentive to do what the Republicans are doing would still exist. If the president were simply threatening to veto any resolution sent to him that doesn’t fund Obamacare, but the legislature refused to send him anything that funded Obamacare, why wouldn’t there still be a shutdown? If there were procedures in place to fund the government at previous levels, that would defuse the situation, but why would the House agree to giving up that power?

        • Ed K says:

          This point about Belgium cannot be overstated.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      This is true; American constitutionalism has broader problems.

      • LeeEsq says:

        France is only semi-Presidential but the President of France is a head of state with actual powers like our President even if there is also a prime minister, who mainly stays in the background but it shows that you can have a presidential democracy with a separate executive and legislature. South Korea is another example.

        • Craigo says:

          I’m actually a fan of semi-presidential systems in theory. While I think it’s possible to construct working presidential or parliamentary democracies if you get the chance to do so from scratch, semi-presidential systems seem to offer fewer chances to screw up.

          Your mileage may vary of course, especially in Russia.

      • Peter Hovde says:

        Midterms are especially idiotic.

        • Brien Jackson says:

          This actually seems to be the biggest problem to me: the 2-4-6 year term differential means that the government is just going to inherently be unresponsive to elections in the vast majority of cases.

          • Ian says:

            Having regularly scheduled elections is a problem in itself. If the legislature can’t pass a budget you need an election now, not next year.

          • pseudonymous in nc says:

            the government is just going to inherently be unresponsive to elections in the vast majority of cases.

            Uh, House members are thinking about the next election — and spending the majority of their time raising money for it — from before they even take their seats.

  6. sibusisodan says:

    I think my major question is: how much of the current crisis is down to fundamental US power structures (presidential system etc), and how much is due to norms, rules and procedures of the bodies involved (which are difficult to change, but not insuperable)?

    I mean, the Hastert rule is the major thing blocking a clean CR right now. It doesn’t have to be held to. (Admittedly, a clean CR doesn’t get one to an agreed budget; and you might be going to argue that the US system incentivizes silly stuff like that in the first place, in the way a parliamentary system wouldn’t.)

    But the big issues, to me are Congressional procedural rules which bork the system: Hastert, filibuster, choosing a new Speaker, etc. Does a solution to those require a parliamentary system?

    • Danny says:

      I feel like the Hastert Rule gets a little too much play here as a norm. Partly because I’m not sure that’s what’s stopping the Republicans from acting (Peter King was only able to find 5 votes for a clean CR), and partly because I would argue that it isn’t exactly a norm that’s giving the Hastert Rule power.

      Right now Republicans control a veto point, which gives them power. Why wouldn’t they use that power to the fullest to get what they want? The norm they’re ignoring is the one urging them to abandon their leverage.

      In this case, the Hastert Rule is more an incentive than anything else, and it’s an incentive inherent to our presidential system that’s loaded with veto points.

      • Manny Kant says:

        The thing is, most sane Republicans think the current mess is a terrible idea. I don’t understand the idea that the current crisis is an inevitable result of our political system. Our system has never had crises like this before – even the Gingrich shut down was more logical.

        There are lots of problems in US politics that result from our terrible structures, and certainly those structures are a necessary prerequisite to what is going on. But they are not at all sufficient to explain what is going on. The most serious problem here is that the GOP in the House has simply gone insane. That’s not something that typically happens. Our system makes the consequences of that worse, but the fact that one part is insane is the real problem.

        • sibusisodan says:

          Yeah, agree with this.

          I understand the objection that the House Republicans have control of a veto point and why should they give it up if there are no downsides. It’s a powerful logical point.

          But I don’t see that their obstructionism and the lack of leverage the rest of the House has on the crazies is (i) necessarily a result of the presidential system and (ii) would be ameliorated by moving to a parliamentary system.

          I mean, if the problem is that House crazies face no backlash because they have fixed terms and safe districts, well – both of those are now the case in the UK.

          I can’t make the leap from ‘the crazies have taken over the system’ to ‘that’s because the crazies are empowered and incentivised by our system in a way that changing the system would resolve’.

          Nihilists don’t produce good govt, whatever the system.

    • efgoldman says:

      Professor Pierce has the answer:

      One of the hallmarks of the conservative ascendancy, at least since the rise of Newt Gingrich, has been an almost sociopathic disregard for what amounted to rules of traditional legislative etiquette. The most prominent example of this was the impeachment of Bill Clinton, which went rolling right along despite the fact that it long had been mutually agreed upon that impeachment was a device to be employed only in periods of constitutional extremis, and not as a tool of political leverage. (It should be remembered that Republican congressment were talking openly about impeaching Clinton long before anyone ever had heard of Monica Lewinsky.) It rolled along even after the 1998 midterm elections in which the country pretty clearly stated it wanted no part of the exercise. Most of Newt Gingrich’s success rested on his disinclination to follow previously accepted political norms of behavior. His party learned that lesson too well.

      http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/todd-purdum-obama-shutdown-politico-100213

    • Warren Terra says:

      But: pretty much every parliament in the world has a Hastert Rule. The idea of maintaining party or coalition unity so as to govern is not an odd or a new thing. Heck, in Britain when their version of the Hastert rule fails the result is an early general election. Because the Speaker doesn’t govern, and because of the oddly bifurcated nature of the Democratic party (and perhaps also the Republicans) for most of the last hundred years, Speakers (even powerful ones) have often ruled the House without such strong party unity – but strong party unity in the legislature is a logical thing, not an outrage.

      • Brien Jackson says:

        And, it should be noted, it’s not as though your run of the mill Democrats would want a hypothetical Speaker Gephardt governing the House with a coalition of Blue Dogs and Republicans either.

    • joel hanes says:

      A big problem with answering these questions by comparing the US to European nations is that the US electorate is so little like the European electorate. The US electorate is far more rural, far more religious, far more violent, owns far more guns, and our ideological right is IMHO both stronger and far less rational than its European cognates.

      • LeeEsq says:

        The United States population is only more rural in the sense that our geographic size allows us to be more thinly spread out. Even low-density suburbs and ex-urbs are pretty urban places in function. Australia and New Zealand are similarly low-density places with more left-leaning politics.

        • UserGoogol says:

          Yeah, the thing about population density is the semi-tautology that the parts with low population density don’t have very many people in them, so the average number of people per square mile has fairly little to do with how the “average person” lives. (Population-weighted density gives a better way of calculating the numbers.)

          Population density patterns in Europe are still different, but it’s more of an incremental difference between how sprawly suburbs get than anything too extreme.

          • pseudonymous in nc says:

            Except that in Europe, empty square miles don’t get the same number of Senators as densely-populated ones.

  7. NewishLawyer says:

    Wouldn’t a parliamentary system in the US just create a long-term GOP majority because of gerrymandering? Would you need to couple it with some other serious reforms on how American Parliaments would be elected. It seems to be that a Parliamentary system in the U.S. would just make things worse.

    • tt says:

      Yeah, I wish that Lemieux would address this. It’s true that gerrymanding is overrated relative to other structural effects giving Republicans an advantage in the house, but that’s kind of besides the point: what matters is that the Republicans do currently and for the forseeable future have a major structural advantage in the house, especially in non-presidential elections. I would almost say that what we need isn’t a parliamentary system, but a very strong presidential system, where the president isn’t seriously limited in his or her power by the legislature. This also makes democratic sense, because the presidential election gets by far the most media attention and interest in the general population (and the most votes).

      • Craigo says:

        This also makes democratic sense, because the presidential election gets by far the most media attention and interest in the general population (and the most votes).

        The counterargument is that, in the absence of a presidential election, the legislative election is what receives the attention. Canada, for instance, has higher turnout in its general elections than we have in presidential years, let alone midterms.

        • tt says:

          Sure, but completely eliminating the position of president and transforming to a parliamentary system would require massive changes to our constitutional system, while, historically, it has not required such major changes to increase the power of the president.

          • Meh, just abolish the electoral college and have the House of Representatives elect the President every two years. Instant parliamentary system.

            Would take a constitutional amendment, but I bet the HoR would vote for it.

            • tt says:

              Why do you think they would vote for it? There’s been no movement in that direction whatsoever. And even that wouldn’t be enough, because you’d also need to get rid of the senate.

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        Abolish mid-terms for the House. The big problem in the US is that as soon as the House is elected, the fundraising begins for two years hence, so you get about six months for post-election legislation and then the campaign picks up again. More to the point, there’s no sense of long-term policy objectives where legislators can be properly judged on their actions.

        Oh, and expand the House. It’s 100 years since the number of members was fixed at 435, back when the US population was 93 million.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Wouldn’t a parliamentary system in the US just create a long-term GOP majority because of gerrymandering?

      I see no reason to assume this at all. The political conditions of this decade are hardly a permanent feature of American politics, and the Republicans have maintained a degree of viability in part because they haven’t actually been in a position to repeal the New Deal.

  8. Danny says:

    While I agree that Electoral Reform doesn’t solve nearly as many problems as eliminating the Senate would, it seems like they would compliment each other, so why not shoot for both? After all, simply eliminating the Senate wouldn’t solve the anti-democratic problem of Democratic voting constituencies being mainly concentrated in urban areas.

  9. Scott P. says:

    A mere glance at Belgium shows that parliamentary democracies can grind to a halt just like presidential democracies.

    It’s not safe to say that in a parliamentary system, we’d have a governing majority. More likely that the Centrist Party would have decided to form a coalition with the Crazy Party, with the Democrats in opposition. Then the crazies would simply bring things to a halt from within.

    Or maybe the result would be more like Hungary, where the center and the far right would join to rewrite the Constitution in their favor.

    Either way, there’s no easy way to neutralize a large crazy caucus in your government.

    • Craigo says:

      A mere glance at Belgium shows that parliamentary democracies can grind to a halt just like presidential democracies.

      That’s not true – when Belgium could not form a government (or administration), what we would call the government actually continued without a hitch.

      And as I said above, that’s not an inherent feature of parliamentary governments – nearly all countries, including presidential democracies, operate in the same fashion. They don’t shut themselves down.

      • Scott P. says:

        Well, I consider a functioning parliament a pretty critical component of government. I mean, a human can live without higher brain function, but it’s not much of a life.

        • guthrie says:

          Lots of people argue that parliaments and their contents aren’t very intelligent, and, you know, I have often have trouble disagreeing with them…

        • Lurker says:

          In fact, when your parliamentary democracy experiences a spell of short-lived governments, there are two ways that stabilize it:

          1) Legislative initiatives are developed in expert committees and by the other facets of the bureaucracy that continue working despite government change. In practice, the ministers have little influence on the internal workings of their department, and can only force minor changes to the initiatives under development, unless they want to gridlock their department.

          2) Political decision-making answers to this by forming inter-partisan parliamentary committees that provide a political process overseeing the bureaucratic process. In practice, it means that even when the government changes, the new minister is likely to have sat in the committee of his field, and has some understanding of the questions he must tackle.

  10. Royko says:

    The Civil War and much of the expansion of the 19th century so completely altered our political framework that many of the things the founders were trying to balance just don’t make sense any more, or don’t really work. It’s kind of amazing we’ve gotten as far as we have with it.

    But then, when you think about it, for all the veto points we have to deal with, we’ve still managed to add bonus ones, like the filibuster and anonymous holds in the Senate. That’s like adding honey to ketchup!

  11. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Two thoughts:

    1) I assume your fantasy parliamentary democracy would elect its parliament in some manner different from the way in which we elect the House of Representatives. Otherwise, we’d get PM Boehner, which would be even worse than what we have now.

    2) Gerrymandering is overrated as an explanation for the GOP’s House majority. But it’s not overrated as an explanation for House GOP behavior. Because of their gerrymandered districts, House Republicans need to be much more worried about Republican primary voters than about the general electorate, which puts a severe rightward pressure on them.

    • Lee Rudolph says:

      Do some/all/none of the various functional parliamentary democracies have something like our primary system? In case some do, what (apparently) keeps it from being as broken as ours evidently is?

      • Warren Terra says:

        The ones I’m familiar with are extremely different from us: local candidate-selection committees, national party lists dickered among the leadership, etcetera.

        To be fair, our in-the-open primary system was created to give the parties’ voters the candidates they wanted, rather than have the party bosses impose people from a smoke-filled room. Turns out, the candidates the base wants often aren’t the politicians their country needs.

        • Scott P. says:

          That’s the same argument European governments use to justify austerity.

          • Warren Terra says:

            The argument about having the courage, the leadership, and the responsibility to defy popular opinion and impose unpopular measures isn’t a terrible one just because in this particular case the unpopular measures are also ill-founded and a bad idea. Obviously that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good argument, either – but in theory it’s possible that an empowered (but accountable) might act with the courage of their convictions, and be right.

            It’s not a great theory, and similarly party rule by party bosses might avoid the Sue Lowdens and Christine O’Donnells but still might be a terrible, lousy idea. But even changes that are on the whole better have their downsides, and I’d argue that getting to select your party’s candidate is such a change.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

              And don’t assume that in a system in which party bosses determined candidates (and leadership), the Koch brothers of the world wouldn’t just invest their political dollars differently, so as to have the maximum impact on those very party bosses. A party-boss controlled system might feature Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, and Louie Gohmert as Republican Party bosses.

        • Your primary system, with easy access to primary ballots, is a consequence of your insane ballot-access requirements for third parties.

          Insurgent politicians form third parties in systems where they can get onto the ballot, and they wouldn’t have forced the creation of primaries instead. Compare the relative success of parties founded in the 1850s-1890s before the adoption of pre-printed ballots with high ballot-access (Republicans, Liberal Republicans, Progressives, Farmer-Labor) and the total failure of twentieth century third parties, followed by insurgent politicians working primary systems – from “clean up for Gene” onwards.

          • Warren Terra says:

            Nuts to this. Third parties are frequently formed and become effective in some systems, especially those using national party lists and other forms of proportional representation, but in first-past-the-post systems the success in the general election of newly created third parties or of maverick candidates is vanishingly rare (and is mostly limited to extremely well-known individuals, for good or for ill: thus George Galloway, Joe Lieberman, etcetera). Ballot access is often fairly easy – or at least often much, much easier than getting a useful number of votes. But being schmuck number twenty on the ballot line doesn’t help you; unless there’s an extremely well known outsider in the race 80% of the voters are going to back an established party.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      I assume your fantasy parliamentary democracy would elect its parliament in some manner different from the way in which we elect the House of Representatives. Otherwise, we’d get PM Boehner, which would be even worse than what we have now.

      1)Well,maybe, but we also would have had PM Obama or possibly PM Pelosi, which would have meant much better legislation that wouldn’t have been politically easy to repeal.

      2)No system can prevent bad people from being elected. But in a parliamentary system, PM Boehner wouldn’t be threatening a default.

      • PM Boehner would have to be responsible. If he defaulted, then there’d be no doubt he was at fault.

        And if you want to be able to win elections, then you have to be prepared to lose them. If PM Boehner wins an election, then he gets to govern. If he governs badly, then he gets replaced.

  12. Bloix says:

    In this case, the weakness of our system is not one that is common to all presidential systems, but is uniquely a product of a modern disfunction in the House of Representatives.

    This particular crisis is not caused by a disagreement between the legislature and the executive. A majority of both houses of Congress is ready and willing to vote for a continuing resolution that would fund the government without touching the ACA.

    The reason we’re having a crisis is that a “majority of the majority” in the House – that is, a minority of representatives – is willing to crash the government rather than to allow a properly enacted law take effect. Under the Republican Party practice known as the Hastert Rule – a modern invention that is not a Constitutional mandate, or even a House rule – a Republican Speaker won’t bring a bill to the floor if a majority of Republican members don’t support it.

    The Hastert Rule is possible only because the Speaker has the power to prevent bills from coming to the floor. And this power is not inherent in all presidential systems – it’s not even in the Constitution. It’s entirely a creation of the House rules.

    There is a way to bring a bill to the floor over the Speaker’s refusal to do so. It’s called a discharge petition. But it requires a full majority to support it, and it’s rare.

    Before 1935, a discharge petition would succeed if 1/3 of the members signed it, a number that would allow the minority party to force a bill to the floor. But the House chose to make itself more authoritarian by upping the requirement to signatures of 1/2 the members.

    Members of the majority party don’t like to sign discharge petitions because signing one is tantamount to declaring oneself in favor of deposing the Speaker, so it’s a big risk to a member’s career. A Republican who crossed the Speaker by signing a petition that was mostly signed by Democrats would be jeopardizing his or her career (eg by loss of committee assignments). So even though a majority of the members of the House would vote for a clean continuing resolution if Boehner let one get to the floor, it’s not possible to get a majority to sign a discharge petition.

    In effect, the Hastert Rule is a supermajority provision. It means that, whenever Republicans control the House, a minority of House members can frustrate any legislation. It’s an analogue of the filibuster in the Senate, which has caused so much trouble since the Republicans began to use it routinely.

    So to view this crisis as one of the Presidential system is in my opinion an error. This crisis is caused by a supermajority rule, which as we’ve seen wherever they exist (e.g., in California for tax increases) lead to irresponsible behavior by legislators who find that they can provoke major crises without taking any responsibility for the damage they cause.

    • Brien Jackson says:

      “In effect, the Hastert Rule is a supermajority provision. It means that, whenever Republicans control the House, a minority of House members can frustrate any legislation. It’s an analogue of the filibuster in the Senate,”

      Jesus Christ, the stoopid…

      • Gregor Sansa says:

        Umm… Bloix had a reasonable point. There are reasonable rejoinders possible, but that ain’t one of them.

        • Brien Jackson says:

          This isn’t the slightest bit reasonable, for a number of reasons:

          1. Most obviously, the difference between the filibuster and the Hastert rule is that the latter isn’t literally a rule of the chamber, but simply an informal practice of the majority party. In theory the Speaker can ignore it whenever they choose, while the filibuster, as an actual, codified, rule of the Senate fully empowers the minority to gum everything up.

          2. The idea that the Hastert rule empowers the minority is simply too cute by half in pretending that somehow party identification doesn’t matter if you can get a dozen members of the majority to side with the minority party. Certainly liberals wouldn’t have been very happy if Nancy Pelosi had let Republicans and Blue Dogs govern the House in 2009-10.

          • Gregor Sansa says:

            Thank you. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

            So, in reply:

            1. They were making a comparison, not a strict equality. And they explicitly said the thing about it not actually being a rule.

            2. Right, we all remember that glorious era when Pelosi, alongside Obama and Reid, mercilessly steamrolled the centrist Democrats, without giving any weight to their concerns at all, and they all basically shut up and took it for fear of primary challenges. And what a fine day for democracy that was, too.

          • Bloix says:

            “The difference between the filibuster and the Hastert rule is that the latter isn’t literally a rule of the chamber, but simply an informal practice of the majority party.”

            Yes, I said that. It’s not a rule, it’s a norm.

            “In theory the Speaker can ignore it whenever they choose,”

            Not just in theory. In practice. Boehner can violate the norm. Then he will lose the speakership. That would make him a fitting subject for Profiles in Courage, Vol. II. But he’s not gonna do it. He likes being Speaker.

            Look, the effect of the norm is that decreases the Speaker’s room to maneuver in a way that increases party discipline – and so if the Speaker is powerful within the party it increases his power. But if the Speaker is weak (e.g. Boehner) it decreases his power.

            “The idea that the Hastert rule empowers the minority is simply too cute by half in pretending that somehow party identification doesn’t matter if you can get a dozen members of the majority to side with the minority party.”

            Does this mean something or is it word salad?

            The Hastert rule doesn’t empower the minority party. It empowers a minority of the members of the House. The fact that this minority of members are all members of the majority party doesn’t change the fact a minority of members can defeat a bill that is supported by a majority of members.

            “Certainly liberals wouldn’t have been very happy if Nancy Pelosi had let Republicans and Blue Dogs govern the House in 2009-10.”

            Liberals weren’t very happy with Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi said explicitly that she was Speaker of the whole House, not just the Democrats. Among other things, she brought a bill to fund the Iraq War to the floor that was opposed by a majority of Democrats but that passed with a Blue Dog-Republican coalition. See http://www.rollcall.com/issues/52_132/-18700-1.html

            • Brien Jackson says:

              “The fact that this minority of members are all members of the majority party doesn’t change the fact a minority of members can defeat a bill that is supported by a majority of members.”

              You need to add “in cases in which members of the majority party are unwilling to sidestep House leadership by voting in favor of a discharge petition.” So yeah, still not the same thing as the filibuster, or even materially different than any normal legislative procedure, really.

              • Bloix says:

                First of all, you don’t vote for a discharge petition. You sign a discharge petition. It’s a significant difference – the petition is out there and your name is on it, subjecting you to all kinds of pressure to take it off.

                Second, the norm is that signing a discharge petition is treasonous to the speaker. Whether it’s successful or not, the signer will be punished – by having committee assignments taken away, for example.

                It’s so not “normal legislative procedure” that it almost never happens.

  13. TT says:

    It seems that parliamentary democracies, by and large, operate mostly on the basis of concrete rules, whereas presidential democracies diffuse power among different claimants to political legitimacy and as a result rely heavily on informal/unwritten norms and he willingness to uphold them. Is that a correct impression? I do know that conservatives in the U.S. have discovered over the decades that often–though certainly not always–there is next to no political price for violating such norms in the pursuit of their agenda.

    • Nah, there’s a bucket-full of norms and informal rules in the British parliamentary system too. If you think the rules of order in the Senate or the House of Representatives are convoluted, try the House of Commons or (even worse) the House of Lords.

      Then there are the conventions: the Salisbury Convention, for instance. There are the conventions around the royal exercise of power, etc.

      I think it’s more the case that the actual site of power shifts from one body to another, but the formal black-letter rules don’t keep up: you didn’t shift power from Congress to President by constitutional amendment, but by convention.

      The longer it’s been since the rule-book was rewritten to match the actuality, the more informal conventions there are.

      If you read the constitution without context, it’s pretty clear that the intent is that the House draws up a budget, and then the Senate and President sign on; rejecting a House budget in the Senate or a Presidential veto is obviously meant to be an exceptional event. That’s very much not the way the US budget process has operated since Alexander Hamilton became Secretary of the Treasury – but no-one’s amended the constitution to match the reality.

      I think the fact that continental European systems work the way their constitutions say they should is an artefact of the fact their constitutions were all passed in the last 70 years or so, so there’s been much less time to accrete informal rules and conventions on top of the black-letter law.

      • sibusisodan says:

        I think the fact that continental European systems work the way their constitutions say they should is an artefact of the fact their constitutions were all passed in the last 70 years or so, so there’s been much less time to accrete informal rules and conventions on top of the black-letter law.

        Good point.

        Regarding the House of Commons, does institutional history have anything to do with it too? I wonder if part of the reason conventions in the UK Parliament are so strong is because we somehow retain an institutional memory of what happens when crises are allowed to develop (the 1911 budget, or the fact that people have tried to literally blow parliament up, for example).

  14. slavdude says:

    On another blog I was reading today, reference was made to a similar shutdown crisis from 1879 in which some of the ex-Confederates in Congress threatened a shutdown and worse if the Republicans didn’t go along with what they wanted. The (Republican) Speaker of the House and the (Republican) President (Garfield and Hayes, respectively) held firm, and the dissenters folded. It was pointed out in this blog comment (can’t be arsed to find it right now, though) that the constitutional issue of a minority of a minority holding the government hostage could have been resolved then but wasn’t. Interesting thought. I doubt an amendment fixing this problem would fly now, though.

  15. LeeEsq says:

    Maybe Jonathan Bernstein can finally describe to us why the Madisonian system is allegedly superior to the parliamentary system at least. These posts are basically bait for him.

    • Anonymous says:

      He’s a pretty small-c conservative guy in a lot of ways – a fan of veto points and cooling saucers and all that stuff.
      It could be pure contrarianism, but he doesn’t seem that Machiavellian to me.
      It would be nice to have him give an explanation, because when this preference just shows up in his writing and gets treated as axiomatically self-evident it is a bit maddening.

  16. Icarus Wright says:

    I’ll have a longer piece noting the obvious superiority of parliamentary democracy to presidential democracy at some point during the crisis.

    Oh goody. Perhaps then your argument won’t be so dependent on insights dependent on Matt “I get paid for occasionally stating the obvious” Yglesias and/or theorizing about the political virtues of a parliamentary system over the current US system. Pareene is little better (albeit more coherent), writing

    “As a nation we’ve also failed to enact various reforms (national popular vote, automatic universal suffrage, alternative voting methods, nonpartisan districting) that could make our fundamentally undemocratic system marginally more responsive to the will of the people.”

    Back to Lemieux

    And of course electoral reform does almost nothing about the Senate, which is typically an even more problematic institution than the House.

    Agreed, but so what? And WTF defines a “presidential democracy” anyway?

  17. Gregor Sansa says:

    I’d just like to say that I’m obviously one of the main “everything is a nail” guys of whom Scott was speaking, and it feels great to have made the step from ignored to laughed-at. I agree (with reservations) with most of the post, and the sophistication of the comments here so far is even better. People are making meaningful distinctions between the presidential/parliamentary difference, the veto points, and the two-party duopoly, and they understand the importance of the voting system (both plurality and single-seat districts) on the latter. So while I’d normally have a lot to say here, I’m going to take this chance to just bask.

  18. wengler says:

    No other country has a system like the US for good reason. The US isn’t really classified as a Presidential system, but some sort of weird mixed system engineered to fuck everything and everyone up. Effectively, Congress will at some point destroy itself through bullshit like this and the President will gain nearly all the power. Hopefully, the debt ceiling crap ends for good after this go around, but what Republicans are doing here is destroying Congress as an institution and that may be by design.

    Republicans want a dictator. Especially the corporate Republicans. Every bit of power that the President can gain out of this crisis is a good thing for them when they finally get their guy back in there. Then they can finally do all the truly unpopular shit that they have been coveting since FDR told them to go fuck themselves.

  19. Bust the Ceiling! says:

    The government shutdown will roll on and on and on until ObamaCare is destroyed.

    And we’re more than willing to go right the fuck through the debt ceiling to accomplish the end of ObamaCare, too.

    The Tea Party is firmly in the catbird’s seat, and there’s jack shit you little leftist whiners can do about it…

    • Malaclypse says:

      Nothing fills me with confidence quite like Jennie’s gloating. I imagine this will end just like Roberts overthrowing the ACA, and Mittens repealing it, and, well, every other prediction he’s ever made, ever. Because in addition to being angry and bitter, Jennie, you are a profoundly stupid little man.

      • Bust the Ceiling! says:

        I said we would shutdown the government, and I was right.

        Do you really think the Tea Party is going to raise the debt ceiling without the shitcanning of ObamaCare?

        Care to make a prediction, Macaclypse?

        • Malaclypse says:

          I really think the Tea Party will do whatever the bondholders say. Do try and remember exactly whose boots you lick, sweetie.

          • Bust the Ceiling! says:

            You can make MILLIONS by shorting US debt in a crisis.

            A smart investor won’t care whether they default or not, they’ll make money either way.

            So what’s it going to be, Macacalypse?

            • Malaclypse says:

              They’ll raise the limit, rather obviously. The only question is what theater they will engage in before they do. But I imagine you will get something vaguely resembling an erection out of the red meat they throw to the rubes on their way to raising the limit.

              So my prediction is 3.5 inches.

        • Daragh McDowell says:

          Because, let’s remember here, the Tea Party and ONLY the Tea Party get’s a vote here. It’s not like Obama has a veto or anything, or that he won’t just say ‘sure, whatever’ if the GOP asks him to destroy his most significant accomplishment once the GOP votes to defund it again (43 is the magic number!)

          Seriously Jen, if you think that your corporate sponsors will let you fuck up their stock portfolios over an issue which, at the end of the day, effects them not a whit I have some real estate deals I’d like to discuss with you. I mean sure, threatening Armageddon has been a great means to hoover money out of your wallet for the professional fundraising class, but they’re smart enough to know what you clearly don’t – if the debt ceiling goes they’ve just got a stack of nicely decorate toilet paper.

          Don’t worry – you’ll get over your sudden abandonment of principles that have been core to your being ever since an uppity black man somehow became president. If not, the Koch’s will surely pay for a series of ‘DoubleThink for beginners’ DVDs to be sent directly to you. Win Win!

          • Bust the Ceiling! says:

            Well, if Obambi doesn’t go along……POP goes the ceiling!

            He’ll get the blame when the economy goes south.

            • Malaclypse says:

              Yea, I don’t remember Gingrich and 1995 either.

              • Bust the Ceiling! says:

                This is nothing like 1995. The Tea Party is in control now…

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Just like Gingrich was then. And guess who is taking the fall, pancake-boy?

                • Bust the Ceiling! says:

                  Gingrich wasn’t half the conservative the leaders of the Tea Party movement are.

                  Who the fuck cares about polls? Computer-aided gerrnymandering, fucker. Even in 1996 we retained control of Congress for 10 more years…

                • Murc says:

                  For gods sake, Jennie. You are failing hard at Trolling 101.

                  Moving the goalposts constantly is one of the requirements of being a good troll, yes. You at least realize that. So you start off with a C, maybe even a C+ for enthusiasm.

                  But that’s where it ends, because you have almost too MUCH enthusiasm. You can’t jump instantly from “Obama will get all the blame” to “the Tea Party is in more control than Gingrich was” when someone points out that last time Clinton didn’t get the blame.

                  You gotta be subtle here, gradually shift things around so that we’re always talking about what YOU want to talk about rather than simply hitting the reply button like a hamster at the feeder bar.

                  I could maybe be talked into giving you an overall B- for your ability to stay on message no matter what. But you’ve been doing this for a long time and have shown no sign of mastering your craft, which bumps you down again.

                  Trolling is an ancient and honored art, dude. I’ve told you before and will tell you again; learn it. Respect it.

                • Craigo says:

                  If I can offer a shorter Murc:

                  Jennie, we’re supposed to be playing Whack-a-Mole with you. You’re not supposed to be playing it with us.

            • Daragh McDowell says:

              The fact that you’re more interested in who gets the blame than, say, how many will suffer, has really changed my perception of Teabaggers as a bunch of sociopathic nutjobs…

    • Scott S. says:

      Ah, the teabaggers.

      Hated by everyone. A minority of a minority of a minority.

      Why, of course they’ll get all their candyland fantasies granted to them! The teabaggers can never fail!

      What’s gonna be fun is what’s going to happen after their pocket congressmen bust the economy. ‘Cause there are a lot of teabaggers out there, all of ‘em with teabag bumper stickers on their cars. And they’ll brag and brag, just like Jenny, that they broke the economy, that they destroyed America, that they have all the power. Everyone hates them already, and everyone will hate them more and more.

      And everyone knows they have gold. So very much gold.

      And the guns won’t help. No, really. They’re not the Miracle Drug That Works Wonders. Everyone else has guns, too. The cops won’t come out to help — they’ll have their hands full, and 911 may quit working pretty quick if cities can’t keep dispatchers employed.

      No one will come to help you. You can crouch down in your bunker, but no bunker is impregnable, especially not the ones you’ll try to build. You’ve got no experience in this sort of thing.

      If they don’t overwhelm you the first night, while you preen in front of the bathroom mirror, then they’ll wait you out. You’ll go out to get the mail, wondering why on earth that lazy mailman is taking so long to get to your apartment, and you’ll get such a surprise.

      You’ll be delicious, Jenny.

  20. Bust the Ceiling! says:

    I can’t wait to see the look on Obambi’s face when he stutters and stammers about the US defaulting on its debt due to his stupid little healthcare law…it will be absolutely priceless!

    I bet he wishes he had never even thought about running for president right now. Stupid fucker.

    • Gregor Sansa says:


      .^ ^.
      | |
      ^. .^
      ””

      Pancake? Or pig facing south, from above?

      • Gregor Sansa says:

        Needs more nbsrp

      • N__B says:

        Pigs are intelligent and social.

        • jim, some guy in iowa says:

          on the other hand, every now and again a sow will eat her own pigs out of pure cussedness (or would, anyway, in the days she was free to get at them).

          this shithead yammering on about how he and his buddies the Koch Bros are gonna fuck over the whole country because why, exactly? is about the same level of mindless self destruction

    • anthrofred says:

      It’s good to know the possible collapse of the US economy gives you such glee.

      • Bust the Ceiling! says:

        The economy was bound to collapse anyway from unsustainable debt levels (see: Greece). May as well get it over with.

        We’re in for some real fiscal pain, sooner or later. Rip the baind-aid off NOW!

        • Malaclypse says:

          Greece doesn’t borrow in their own currency, you sad, ignorant little man. Greece, unlike the US, has a primary deficit. But keep fucking that chicken.

          • zombie rotten mcdonald says:

            Also, pancake-boy ignores that the deficit has been falling faster under Obama than at anytime since WWII.

            “unsustainable debt levels” is a term for Reagan’s presidency.

  21. pzerzan says:

    Proposed Amendment to the Constitution:

    1) Every 4 years we hold elections for every Congressperson and Senator

    2) The House shall elect the President

    3) Half of the Houses Representatives shall be elected by first-past-the-post direct elections and the other half shall be determined by party lists [a la Germany and New Zealand]

    3a) While we are at it, no directly elected House seat shall have more than 300k people.

    4) All powers previously given to the Senate (Advise and Consent, Treaties, etc.) shall go to the House.

    5) The Senate shall have the power to delay a bill by up to 1 year and a budget bill by 3 months. If the Senate rejects a bill, it will be sent back to the House where, if approved, it will go to the President’s desk for either their signature or veto.

    There-all the major structural problems with Congress and the Presidency fixed. Now on to the Supreme Court…

    • Gregor Sansa says:

      On your #3:

      Pretty much any proportional representation (PR) system is better than what we have. And the German system (mixed member/open list) is one of the better PR systems. But we can do even better. A delegated, biproportional system such as PAL representation could give us PR without giving up basically any of the advantages we’re used to: simpler ballots, more geographically-tied and individually-accountable representation, and less handing-over of power to party elites.

    • I’d have a few (small) changes to that.

      1) Elect the Senate by STV in each state, so both senators are elected at once. Keep the one-third elected each two years for a six-year term rule, but it’s one third of states up each election. [That means there's a midterm, so an unpopular government gets a shock to the system, but they can still govern.]

      2) The House can replace the President with a new President at any time by a simple majority vote. [so the President is subject to the House, as a PM should be]

      2a) Any member of the House given an executive office job retains their seat, but shall appoint a deputy to exercise their duties in the House. [Otherwise, you either have to appoint non-elected people, or risk a load of special elections, making you less inclined to sack people; the British system of staying in the House of Commons doesn't work, because their constituent-service suffers badly compared to full-time MPs, hence the deputy]

      5) six months and one month. And they have to vote a rejection once a month to get the full six months, or else you get six-month-long filibusters by the minority. Even a one-year suspensory veto is a major issue, as it clogs up legislative time like you wouldn’t believe.

  22. Looking at the various coalitions that form under parliamentary systems, one problem seems to be that a coalition between hard-left and centre-left parties is much less common than between hard-right and centre-right. Look at Germany, where the red-red-green coalition would have a majority in the Bundestag, but that coalition is beyond the pale, whereas both the FPÖ (Austria) and the PVV (Netherlands) have been accepted into governments. Of the various European parties of the hard(ish)-left, only Italy’s PRC has ever been in government: die Linke in Germany or the SP in the Netherlands are beyond the Pale.

    I’d be very concerned that the USA would not develop a large centre party (defining a centre party as one that could form a coalition with either centre-left or centre-right: how many people want a moderate Republican or a moderate Democrat but don’t care which – well, outside of WaPo commentators, anyway?), but the Republicans would divide into Tea Party and Republicans, and the Democrats into Democrats and Liberals, but the Liberals would be beyond the pale, so the only possible governments would be Tea Party-Republican or Republican-Democrat, but Democrat-Liberal would be unacceptable.

    With an actual centre party, it would be safer for the Democrats to deal with the Liberals to their left (because the Democrats would look more leftish, so less to lose), and there would also be the Democrats-Centrists option.

  23. Dave says:

    Since the USA is largely made of people who, when they didn’t like something, just left, I’d like to suggest this probably provides the only workable precedent for a solution to your constitutional problems. Canada’s nice, and could do with some more left-of-centre people.

    • Lee Rudolph says:

      the USA is largely made of people who, when they didn’t like something, just left,

      I’m not convinced that being a descendant (even one generation out) “of people who, when they didn’t like something, just left” makes one more likely than not to be a person who, when s/he doesn’t like something, just leaves. So for values of “largely” greater than (being generous) the fraction of the present US population composed of all external immigrants plus all internal migrants motivated by not liking something in the part of the US where they were before—a fraction I cannot believe is anything like a majority (but you could try to convince me)—I’m not convinced by your claim.

    • Let me tell you how well that’s worked out for me: I started thinking seriously about leaving the US for Canada in November 2004. Finally got here in May 2011.

  24. Desert Rat says:

    Well, it’s not like Parliamentary governments haven’t seen spectacular failures as well. For examples, see the French Third Republic and the Weimar Republic, both of which make our current House look like pikers.

  25. [...] a “crisis that demonstrates that presidential democracy sucks,” writes Scott Lemieux, assistant professor of political science at The College of Saint Rose, on the academic blog [...]

  26. pseudonymous in nc says:

    One of the worst things about American presidentialism is that it encourages the dipshit position that is “kick ‘em all out”, the stupid person’s idea of a sophisticate political posture.

    In parliamentary systems, governments can blame their problems on the bastards who were in before them and left them with all this shit — and they usually do that — but they don’t have wiggle room when their own policies fuck up.

  27. [...] a parliamentary system, or at least calling a parliamentary system superior. See: Dylan Matthews, Scott Lemieux, Alex Pareene, Ian Millhiser, and Matt Yglesias. I disagree with all of [...]

  28. [...] The Crisis That Demonstrates That Presidential Democracy Sucks (lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com) Share this:TwitterFacebookGoogleLike this:Like Loading… 0 Comments [...]

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