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As the Queen would put it: An American parliamentary system is too clever by half
View related content: Politics and Public Opinion
As a certain British rock star might have put it, maybe he’s just a dreamer. I pray fervently that he’s the only one. “He” is Mike Strain, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the AEI Economics Group Soviet Socialist Republic. Henceforth that will be his official title, as I intend to attack him whenever possible, in my never-ending quest to advance truth, justice, and the American way.
Having married a beautiful British woman, Mike has been drinking too much warm ale, the latest evidence for which is his musing about the advantages of an American parliamentary system as a replacement for the “peak dysfunction” of the current intensely partisan Congress, elected in single-member districts for the House and in popular winner-take-all state elections for the Senate. (Until ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, Senators were appointed by the state legislatures, a vastly superior system for those preferring federalism and limited government — among them our General Secretary again — an analysis for another day.)
General Secretary Strain:
General Secretary Strain:
Mike complains that in our system factions are deeply divided, but in order to win actual elections they must “join together, sometimes held by duct tape and bailing wire,” described further by Mike as “shotgun intra-party marriages.” Were there an American parliamentary system, on the other hand, single-issue parties could band together to form winning coalitions while excluding truly extremist parties.
Again: Maybe he’s just a dreamer. But I doubt it; Mike is being a provocateur, as he is too smart to be blind to the obvious problems with his alternative political universe. For all of its sand-in-gears dysfunction, the American system yields two crucial advantages over a parliamentary system. First: The need to win in single-member Congressional districts or at the state level in winner-take-all Senate contests forces candidates toward the middle of the political spectrum; that is, away from the extremes. (The same is true for the electoral college.) Gerrymandering erodes this effect somewhat, but the central dynamic remains, and it is political incentives moving candidates toward the political center that helps to avoid real strife, which would be very different and vastly worse than temporary budget impasses and other such mere head-butting.
Second: The dysfunction limits the impacts of the whims and passions of the political majority of the moment, particularly in terms of the abuse that the majority could visit upon unpopular political minorities. The US constitution is not merely undemocratic; it is anti-democratic in the fundamental sense that it is designed explicitly to protect political minorities, a function that collapses when the constitutional constraints on government powers are not enforced, as, for example, during the Jim Crow era.
A parliamentary system contains far fewer such institutional constraints; only culture and perhaps a fear of retribution when the other guys take power seem to impose limits. Mike surely understands that a parliamentary system transforms the extreme parties into the marginal members of the governing coalition, thus moving policymaking away from the center. Mike’s implicit assumption seems to be that those marginal members of the majority coalition will not be too extreme, but the source of that optimism remains entirely obscure.
Mike might enjoy a Lords Temporal appointment in an American House of Lords. Still, we should resist. Too clever by half. Too much of a blue blood. Too much warm ale. Too much time on his hands. Too much romanticism about the other side of the pond. May God save General Secretary Mike Strain.