Tuesday, August 23, 2011

No, Fareed Zakaria, we don't need a parliamentary system

Fareed Zakaria muses that a parliamentary system would be superior to the Madisonian system we have where there are checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches. He likes the idea of the same party controlling both branches as they do in a parliamentary system. He claims that "only countries with parliamentary systems” have AAA ratings."

He blames the gridlock we face for preventing us from finding solutions to our problems and paralyzing us.

He seems to be ignoring a glaring counter-example - Greece which has a head of state chosen by its parliament. So much for the argument that a parliamentary system would make us more likely not to have been downgraded.

Frances Martel points out
one of the major weaknesses of a parliamentary system - the flourishing of minor parties - and how this would give more power to the tea party which Zakaria has expressed his contempt for.
It’s hard to figure out where to begin with this argument, but as Zakaria’s biggest complaint seems to be against the Tea Party, it’s worth looking at what the Tea Party would be capable of in a parliamentary system. In said systems, because the legislature appoints the executive leader, elections are held in the name of parties, not people. Voters elect one of (typically) any number of parties, which allowed greater access to individuals who do not have the influence of bigger parties behind them. In September 2010, right before the midterm elections, Gallup reports 58% of Americans would have wanted to see a third party form a viable coalition (62% of Tea Partiers did the same).

In a parliamentary system, this would not have been an issue, as the candidates’ name wouldn’t even be on a ballot– meaning, people could choose to elect the “Tea Party” on their ballot instead of a Republican or Democratic nominee. This would have meant people voting for what they liked– say, the rhetoric of then-candidates Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, or perennial non-candidate Sarah Palin– without any regard for the actual person running in their district.
Would Zakaria prefer a system where all sorts of minor parties would have more leverage within our system and be able, perhaps, to have a veto over government policies because they hold the balance of power in the legislature?

Perhaps Zakaria should go back and reread the Federalist Papers so he can understand that the sort of gridlock that we face with a divided government was one of the goals of our Founders who feared more the unchecked power of politicians catering to the passions of the moment than the divisions that would prevent the quick and fast action that Zakaria seems to be yearning for.

Zakaria seems to believe that we wouldn't have these fiscal problems if only we had a unified government. Has he forgotten that we had such a government from 2009 to 2011 and that the spending indulged in during those two years is a major reason that we got into the fiscal problems that we're facing today. The tea partiers are trying to limit that out-of-control spending and, somehow, they're the cause of our fiscal crisis?

How come we don't hear these laments about how our system is broken and we need to have a government of a single party when it is congressional Democrats checking a Republican president?