Monday, September 26, 2011

Let's get rid of our government, start over with a parliament: Revisited

A few months ago in the Scripps Howard column I made the 300-word case that America's Constitutional system is broken, and should be replaced by the parliamentary system in place in nearly all other advanced democracies. In The American Prospect today, Harold Meyerson makes the case at more length,   but offers more modest proposals instead:
The two reforms with the most support—ending the filibuster and abolishing the Electoral College—would do nothing to curtail the fragmentation of power within the federal government, but both would limit minorities’ ability to reduce the sway of majorities. Another reform that would create a more representative government would be to change the timing of elections and the terms of congressional office. Presidential contests draw far more votes than midterm congressional ones: From 1984 through 2008, turnout in presidential elections has ranged from 53 percent of eligible adults to 62 percent, while turnout in midterm elections from 1986 through 2010 has ranged from 39 percent to 42 percent. If House members were given four-year terms coterminous with the president’s, they would be answerable to the same larger electorate. This, of course, would also be true of senators. These wouldn’t be parliamentary elections—the candidates for president, senator, and representative would still be elected separately—but at least our elected officials would all derive their power from the identical and most broadly representative electorate. 
Although the federal government can’t go parliamentary, why can’t the states? Maintaining two legislative bodies at the state level has been pointless for the past 50 years, ever since the Supreme Court’s one-person, one-vote decisions; those rulings required state Senate districts, once apportioned by geographical unit (such as counties), to be apportioned by population, just as lower-house districts are. Talk about duplication and waste in government! Nebraska has long had a unicameral legislature. There’s no good reason why 49 other states shouldn’t follow suit. Nor is there a reason why at least a few more compact and homogenous states—Vermont? Oregon? Utah?—can’t go one step further to a parliamentary system. Two and a quarter centuries after the Philadelphia convention, America should be ready for some small-scale experiments in majority rule.
It's worth noting that the Constitution came together because the national government under the Articles of Confederation was so gridlocked that it couldn't pay the bills—America's Revolutionary War debts weren't being paid, with the result that the United States was seen as weak and feckless. Based on the Founders' own precedent, we're once again at a point in history (for the third time this year!) where it's time to consider altering our political system so that it can perform basic duties in a fashion accountable to the electorate. We're not going to adopt a parliamentary system anytime soon, but maybe we should.

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