Friday, November 05, 2004

Towards a Parliamentary System

A very important and insightful post from Josh Marshall:
... one thing that occurs to me is that President Bush is remaking the government into something that is looking more and more like a parliamentary democracy. I don't mean in every specific, of course; the key feature of the Bush presidency is an extremely powerful executive that to a great degree coopts and controls his own congressional majorities.

But the similarities are important and worth understanding. The key elements are extremely tight party discipline (something political scientists have lamented the absence of for years) and a sharp diminishment of rivalries between the branches of government which used to cut against unified party control.

But Democrats also need to learn how to live with it, at least for the next four years. And that means realizing that for at least the next two years, the President can get passed almost anything he wants to. His congressional majorities are now sufficiently padded that he can even afford a few Republican defections. He simply doesn't need Democrats for anything.

And that means approaching most legislative battles not with an eye toward preventing passage or significantly altering legislation, but placing alternatives on the table that the party will be able use as contrasts to frame the next two elections. In other words, their only remaining viable alternative is to be an actual party of opposition.
So Bush's America is basically a parliamentary democracy except parliament gets its power from the executive, not the other way around. This is a new constitutional construct, as far as I know.

Although, now that I think about it, this is not terribly different from what happens in Europe. Yes, the Prime Minister governs "at the will" of parliament. But in the era of mass media the people either vote for the Prime Ministeral candidate (Tony Blair) or for the political party they most closely identify with (Labor).

The risk of being removed by a majority in parliament is low. When a head of government is removed in-between elections it is usually because of a major screw-up, similar to, although typically less serious than, a US impeachement.

The bottom line is, as Josh points out: Democrats have to get used to making alternative policy proposals and trying to sell them to the American people, as opposed to having any real say in anything.

Here's my suggestion for topic number one: To whom should we move the responsibilities of executive oversight previously held by Congress?

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias elaborates on Marshall's post.

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