Thursday, September 10, 2009

Manifesto for a U.S. Parliament - 2009 Update

In light of recent political developments, I am, to my great surprise, no longer alone in calling for an overhaul of the way decisions are taken in this country. So far in the year 2009, we have seen more starkly than perhaps ever before how far away the U.S. is from being a democratic country.

The healthcare debate in particular has raised a lot of questions regarding the decision-making process. More specifically, the role of the Senate has been put into question. The media makes it seem as if any healthcare reform hinges on a small group of senators, lead by Max Baucus from Montana. They may in fact be right, and considering the fact that this man represents roughly 0.15% of the population (90% of which are white), it is easy to see why such a situation might be called into question even in the U.S..

In an excellent article in the Washington Post called The Gangs of D.C., Alec MacGillis explains the strange power of the Senate and the impact this has on democracy at large. Also, focusing on procedural issues, Eric Etheridge of The New York Times writes about the Senate, filibusters and democracy.

I obviously agree with what these writers are saying about the Senate; it is an unbelievably undemocratic institution even before taking into account the tens of millions in corporate “donations” that these individual senators receive. However, neither of these issues can hold a candle to the fact that voters in the U.S. never have any real choice to begin with, because there is no proportional representation.

Before I continue, let me just reiterate what proportional representation is. First of all, it is the system of choice of the vast majority of advanced countries in the world. If a party receives 15% of the votes, it receives 15% of the seats in the legislative body. This inevitably leads to more parties, and a range of views being represented. If 10% of the population is environmentally conscious, there will be a green party, and if 10% of the population are libertarians, there will be a libertarian party in the legislative body. Neither of these things could ever happen in the U.S. because there is no proportional representation.

Instead, the U.S. system has evolved into nothing short of a corporate state. It is clearer than ever that citizens actually have very little say in what happens in their country. This would never happen in a system with proportional representation.

Here is my suggestion for bringing democracy to the U.S.: The U.S. Parliament

The Inception of a U.S. Parliament

The idea behind a bicameral system (the current system) where one body can overrule the other is, in reality, an idea of permanently limiting political change. The result is that it becomes almost impossible to bring about fundamental political change as society changes, and the fundamental situation that existed at the time of the creation of the bicameral system will, in essence, be preserved indefinitely. At the time of the creation of the American political system, wealthy, white, older men were the only citizens who were allowed to, and were ever supposed to be, involved in the political process. That is largely unchanged to this day, all things considered.

In my suggestion, the two houses of Congress would be merged into one unicameral Parliament, with a fixed number of seats, perhaps 501 (in order to prevent a deadlock). Elections would be held every 4 years. Each state would be awarded a number of seats based on population size, in the same way as the present electoral college awards votes for President based on population size. Each vote in the Parliament would be decided by means of a simple majority, with the exception of a vote of no confidence in the President or the governing party or coalition, which would be decided by a two-thirds majority. Filibustering and other abusive tools would be removed entirely.

The fact that all states have an equal voice in the Senate is frankly absurd. I completely understand the need for regional considerations, but the legal independence of U.S. states more than makes up for potential negative effects of populous states being more influential on a federal level. U.S. voters must realize that there is a time and place for everything. The U.S. Senate is not the place to discuss the construction of a local playground, and The Montana Senate is not the place to discuss the moral implications of abortion.

For Montana with 0.3% of the population, to have equal power to California with 12% of the population, is beyond absurd, and deeply undemocratic.

Proportional Representation

What makes the American political system different from most other political systems (save for some other Anglo-Saxon countries) is the lack of proportional representation. If 49% of voters in a given constituency vote for a certain party, those voters could receive 0% representation in the legislature. This is not an anamoly either; it happens all the time.

In a system with proportional representation, if 49% of voters vote for a certain party, that party receives 49% representation from that constituency in the legislature, no more, no less. How could anyone seriously say that proportional representation is unfair, unjustified, or in any way unsuitable? It directly transcribes what the voters want!

The votes would be counted according to the D’Hondt method, and a party must receive at least 8% of the national vote in order to be represented in Parliament. That rule ensures that extremist parties are not represented in Parliament.

The Bill of Parliament

The concept of a “Bill of Parliament” would be very different from a “Bill of Congress”. The problem with bills in the U.S. today is that they lead to corruption through earmarks and lack of coherence. Earmarks obviously lead to corruption by individual Congressmen, when money is being appropriated to corporate donors by the recipient Congressmen. However, the sprawling nature of American bills of Congress also further weakens the small aspects of democracy that do exists in the U.S..

If a bill about, for instance, construction safety is being held hostage by means of a provision about space exploration in the same bill, it amounts to making a mockery of the political system. For a political system to work for the voters, bills must be philosophically coherent and earmarks as we know them must be abolished. It must be this way in order for the most rational, efficient solution to converge with the will of the people.

The Usage of a Mixed Personal and Party Vote – The Party-List Ballot

One of the common objections to a political system that is based on political parties, as opposed to individual politicians, is that such a system takes away the ability of the voter to vote for a politician that he or she particularly likes. This problem can be remedied by the party-list ballot. In such a system, the voter takes a ballot for the party that he or she likes, and on that ballot, the party has listed the politicians that it considers best suited for the job of being a member of Parliament.

The party lists politicians in order, 1, 2, 3, and so on. Any politician on the list can be ticked off, and the vote would go to that party, and that specific politician who has been ticked off. If the voter chooses not to tick an individual off, the vote goes to the party, and the person who is number 1 on the party’s list. When all the votes are counted, the voters may have defied the choices of the party, and number 1 and 2 on the list, may have been exchanged for number 5 and 12 as the party’s representatives in Parliament.

End the Role of Money in U.S. Politics

The financial aspects of U.S. politics are alien and preposterous to most non-Americans. The idea of both local and national politicians going around the country begging for money from wealthy people, corporations and organizations is simply unbelievable. Most U.S. politicians don’t even try to claim that they have guiding principles for the benefit of their voters, naturally because that would be too transparent in light of billions of dollars in campaign donations. In ancient Rome, votes could be bought openly, and it is frankly not much different in the U.S. today. That U.S. voters continue to accept this is beyond me.

As a result of the government in general receding since the days of Reagan, a power vacuum was created. Slowly but surely, aided by both Republicans and Democrats, the U.S. actually turned into something that is very much like a “corporate state”. In some ways, this state can eventually turn almost as bad as a “failed state”, since it may lead to a form of anarchism (a sort of Ayn Rand-style unregulated economy).

All money contributions to politicians must be made illegal immediately. Period. Political advertising on TV and elsewhere must also be ended, and campaigns should be conducted purely through debates in the media. Each political party would be given a set amount of money from U.S. taxpayers, end of story.

Decrease the Power of the President

A U.S. President is the head of state, the head of government and commander-in-chief. No other modern country has this configuration, and for very good reasons. To give one individual such vast powers is simply dangerous, and as we have seen during the last 8 years, it can have truly disastrous consequences. However the role of the President would be changed, at least one of the three roles would have to be given to someone else in order to safeguard the country against a semi-dictatorship. It should be easier to fire the President through a vote of no-confidence.

It is definitely possible to have a significant President, elected in a separate election, as well as a Parliament with proportional representation. Finland is one country that has this.

Homogenization of Voting Cycles - Avoid The Do-Nothing Government

In the current system, as a result of not holding elections for the House and Senate at the same time, those two houses of Congress tend to go to different parties, as the ruling party usually gets punished by voters after a while in the majority. As a result of this, every piece of legislation that politicians try to introduce will be either shot down, watered down or changed beyond recognition. Result: a do-nothing government. In a unicameral system, like the one I'm suggesting, this could not happen, but there could nevertheless be harmful effects of voting cycles via the interaction between local and federal elections.

In a system with a U.S. Parliament, there would obviously still be local elections, with proportional representation of course. Those elections must be held at the same time as the Parliamentary election in order to avoid the situation with the do-nothing government, where local elections are unfairly impacted by national politics, for instance. The goal should be to have as vibrant a political discussion as possible, with the merits of different policies at center stage at all times.

Increase Voter Participation by Practical Means

The United States has, by far, the lowest voter participation out of the OECD countries

This is, of course, a testament to a non-working system. Most U.S. voters obviously feel that there is no point in voting, and many of them are consistently and strongly prevented from voting, legally and illegally. Voter suppression is so rampant that it is worthy of a banana republic. Here are some numbers of voter turnout in OECD countries between the years 1945 and 2005:

The Netherlands: 84.8% (proportional representation)

Sweden: 83.3% (proportional representation)

Israel: 80.0% (proportional representation)

Germany: 80.0% (proportional representation)

Great Britain: 73.0% (fundamentally the same voting system as the U.S.)

Canada: 66.9% (fundamentally the same voting system as the U.S.)

United States (midterm): 40.6%, (presidential) 55.1%

As you can see, the three countries with the lowest numbers all have one thing in common: they all have the winner-takes-all voting system in which very large parts of the population are shut out of the political process completely.

There are a number of practical measures that can be taken to make it easier for people to vote, such as:

- conduct all voting on Sundays

- automatically register every U.S. citizen as a voter on the person’s 18th birthday

- create a national ID card which is sent to every U.S. citizen when the person turns 18

- allow mail-in ballots in every election

- End all electronic voting and create completely uncomplicated, nationally standardized paper ballots


Steve said...

It's beyond argument that the US Senate is not a democratic institution.

But this begs TWO questions: first, why is it necessarily bad that the Senate is not a democratic institution; and, second, if you desire pure democracy, why would you advocate an electoral system that takes the choice AWAY from the voters?

Many of the most progressive Senators who share your values, Jacob, have been elected from smaller states.

Democratic Senator Frank Church whose committee investigated the CIA and achieved significant reforms in that institution represented Idaho.

Republican Margaret Chase Smith who supported liberal causes and opposed Joe McCarthy was from Maine.

Democratic Senator J. William Fullbright who created the scholarships that bear his name and became one of the first legislators to oppose the Viet Nam War represented Arkansas.

Democratic Senator George McGovern opposed the Viet Nam War, called for the abolition of the death penalty, and took a strong stand favoring gun control. He was from South Dakota.

Republican Senator George Norris opposed US entry into World War I, advocated the creation of what would become the Tennessee Valley Authority, sponsored ratification of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, and supported US military assistance to Britain prior to Pearl Harbor. He was from Nebraska.

And most notably today, Bernard Sanders of Vermont, is the only avowed socialist in the Senate.

What these people have in common is that, except for Sanders, they often broke with their own Republican or Democratic Party, advocated policies that were not nationally popular, and were beloved by their constituents in their small states for standing up to the more populated and richer states. And in the process, they changed America for the better.

Annihilate equal representation in the Senate and individuals like these would never have been elected. They were largely unpopular with the base of their own party. A REPUBLICAN backing FDR on Lend-Lease. A DEMOCRAT opposing LBJ's Viet Nam War.

I don't think that you've considered the likely results of a national proportional legislative election.

A tiny state like Vermont keeps electing a socialist to Congress and then elevates him to the senate. Do you really believe that in a national proportional system, someone like Bernard Sanders would reach the threshold to win a seat in your Parliament?

You say that you want a legislature that is truly representative; that if a party wins 40% of the vote, it will have 40%% of the legislative seats. But you don't say WHO decides who those representatives will be.

Would a Democrat who opposed LBJ on Viet Nam be replaced by another Democrat by the party leadership? Would a Republican who disagreed with Bush on global warming find himself "delisted"? How about a Democrat who breaks with Obama and supports same sex marriage?

You would be turning the results of the election over to the party bosses. They would decide who in their party will serve and who will not.

You would be saying to the voters, "You cannot vote for a particular Democrat or Republican or Socialist. You vote for the party and the party decides which member is seated."

Now isn't THAT anti-democratic?

Annemarie said...

The comment on this article is so bloody typical.

Blogger says current system is extremely faulty. Then gives possible solution, that has been tried and proven in many countries around the world.

Commenter finds one or two tiny things wrong with it, pounds on them, and concludes we should stick with the status quo.

I'm actually surprised Steve didn't bring up 'someone he knows from ... (name country)' who comes here to vote because it's so bad over there.

Nice article, by the way. Being an alien (the legal, tax-paying kind thank you very much), the US system has always astonished me. Two parties have essentially locked up the votes. It probably makes for good television on election night - map of the US, states slowly colored red or blue - but it doesn't make for a good democracy.

Then again, to quote Steve: "why is it necessarily bad that the Senate is not a democratic institution"

Good grief. That statement alone is wrong on so many levels, I don't even know how to respond.

Let me practice on my dining room table for a while before I get back on that....

Jacob said...


thank you for your comment. It is interesting that you bring up aliens in the U.S. from democratic countries, and I believe that there are some good reasons for why they feel the way they do. The U.S. system is essentially a relic from a different time that has been rejected in most other countries.

In its essence, it is clear that the system is based on the old feudal systems in Europe, more specifically the Normand feudal system which was a mix between French and Scandinavian feudalism. As such, the intense focus on individual politicians is not much different from the role of the wealthy and powerful lords of old Europe.

Which brings me to Steves comment. Everything that you mention is focused on contributions from INDIVIDUAL politicians, individual people. If you believe these individuals to be infinitely benevolent, wise and virtuous, the the U.S. system would work great. I don't believe these things. When the FBI has to rent a school bus in order to arrest all the corrupt politicians in New Jersey, I think my point has been proven.

You Steve, appear to believe in individuals. I believe in ideas.

Before a decision is made, I want the proposals to be debated on their merits, based on the body of knowledge, science and views at the present time. A political system that focuses on individuals functions in a totally different way.

How much money has one politician received from what entity which will be affected by the proposal? Is the politician actually a criminal? What experiences has the politician had in his or her life that might make him/her biased? How on earth will you know what this individual will do in any given situation???

A political party is supposed to be like a parliament within the parliament. You asked who decides who will be elected. I already told readers about the party-list ballot. Parties also have primaries in which anyone who wishes can participate.

A political system centered around individuals is a sure way to corruption and a society that throws its citizens on the trash heap. It's modern-day feudalism.

Steve said...

Annemarie expresses astonishment that I would raise doubts about democracy.

Of course democracy has its place. But like a powerful medicine, its dosage should be limited.

Annemarie should consider that the terms "liberty" and "democracy" are not interchangeable. For me, liberty comes first.

Annemarie should recall that some of the most progressive steps in US history came about as decisions of the unelected Supreme Court and that these holdings were largely condemned by many if not most Americans.

Consider these instances:

In West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, decided during World War II, the Supreme Court held that school children (in this case, Jehovah's Witnesses)
could not be compelled to participate in the salute to the American flag if such an action violated their relgious principles.

In Brown v Board of Education (1954)racial segregation in public schools was declared unconstitutional.

In Mapp v. Ohio (1961), the High Court held that improperly obtained evidence must be excluded from the court proceedings.

In Engel v.Vital (also 1961), the Justices rules that organized prayer in the public school systems was illegal.

In Lovings v. Virginia, (I'm not kidding about the name) state laws prohibiting interracial marriages were struck down. It might surprise you to learn that this case was decided as recently as 1967.

The legalization of abortion came about through Roe v. Wade (1973).

A variety of federal court decisions during the Bush Presidency held that the treatment of prisoners in Gitmo was unconstitutional, a position that very few politicians would have been willing to publicly state.

In each of these instances, the popular view, usually the MAJORITY view, was overruled by an appointed Supreme Court. This is liberty in action, not democracy.

Please consider that as recently as last year, when the California Supreme Court recognized the right of same sex marriage, the voters of this "blue state" voted to overturn that decision. Even as the majority of Californians voted for Barack Obama ("Yes you can.") they voted against civil rights for gays ("No you can't.")

People who by their race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation are in the minority are the first to recognize that in a democratic election, their rights would be curtailed. Their hope rests with a structure that limits popular input.

Consider that the US Senate tends to be more liberal than the House of Representatives. Shielded with a six year term in the Senate, these legislators are more willing to take unpopular stands than their House counterparts who face a two year term.

In John F. Kennedy's work, "Profiles in Courage," the focus was on politicians who followed their conscience rather than their constituents and saw their careers suffer as a result.
Sorry, Annemarie, but democratic elections brought Mussolini to power in Italy, the Nazis to power in Germany, Peron to power in Argentina, and Hamas to power in the Palestinian Territory. A little less democracy might have prevented these catastrophes.

What America needs is more liberty, not more democracy.

Steve said...

Jacob, as far as political systems go, look at the scandal in Britain's Parliament where the legislators received improper payments from the government for their homes, hobbies, etc. If everyone involved in that scandal was rounded up, you would need a train, not a bus.

It's not the system that is corrupt, it is the PEOPLE who would be corrupt whether they were a member of the House of Commons, the NJ state legislature, the College of Cardinals, or a Royal Family.

A person of integrity will have integrity where ever s/he is.

Most of these arrested in New Jersey were liberal backers of Barack Obama. You would probably agree with most of their votes in the legislature on such issues as stem cell research, environmental protection, funding for schools, and civil rights.

I care that they were corrupt. This why individuals matter over ideas.

Why would you discount the unique experiences that shaped a person? We are not philosophy books, we are people.

Tom Lantos was a concentration camp survivor who immigrated to America and became a US congressman. John Lewis was a civil rights pioneer who was beaten into unconsciousness by Southern policemen. He, too, was elected to Congress.

Both men, by virtue of their unique suffering, saw a world that few of us could appreciate and carried it with them into the legislative chamber where their presence made a difference.

FDR's paralysis helped him to connect to the impoverished in a way that no textbook or lecture could.

Eisenhower's decisions and experiences in World War II led him to view war differently than most Presidents: he accepted a stalemate in Korea and refused to send ground troops into Viet Nam.

Obama was elected to the Senate and then to the Presidency largely on his biography: a child out of a mixed marriage, raised by a single mother on food stamps, who lived part of his earlier years in Indonesia.

Doesn't this unique background give him perceptions and understandings that someone with a similar political philosophy might lack?

You give emphasis to ideas rather than personality. But in the process you ignore the very nature of the person's character and ability to achieve what s/he sets out to do.

History is littered with examples of persons who had the right philosophies but lacked certain essential ingredients to be ultimately successful.

That is why I believe that a candidate's personal attributes (wisdom, experience, education, vision, a healthy self-image, flexibility, integrity, a healthy dose of skepticism, tolerance, and the ability to admit and learn from errors) matter more than philosophy election day.

Jacob said...


you talk about "liberty", which is yet another Anglo-Saxon myth based on the Magna Charta. The Magna Charta insured some amount of "liberty" for noblemen, which is exactly the same spirit as the concept of "liberty" in the U.S. today: those who already have wealth will be protected.

I don't understand how an intelligent person does not see that if you scratch the surface of the concept of American "liberty", it is simply code for exploitation of the poor.

Steve said...

"Exploitation of the poor"?

How is my opposition to compelling school children to participate in the flag salute or group prayer exploitation of the poor?

How is my support for ending racial segregation, voiding laws that prohibit interracial or same sex marriage exploitation of the poor?

How is supporting the exclusionary rule, a woman's right to choose, or humane treatment for terror suspects exploitation of the poor?

The roots of the Magna Carta were to protect the rights of the landed aristocracy. But from it we got one of the greatest liberties of all: the acknowledgement that the sovereign's power is limited.

What an amazing retreat from centuries of the divine right of kings!

From this humble beginning came the Anglo Saxon notion of no taxation without representation.

Of course the cry of "no taxation without representation" would be used by supporters of the American Revolution, advocates of women's suffrage, and the Voting Rights Act which gave federal jurisdiction to districts with low minority voter registration.
Are these example of exploiting the poor?

Also out of Magna Carta came the right of trial by jury (which was reenforced 400 years later by the English Bill of Rights)).

Think of it. The government may use its tremendous resources to investigate, arrest, and prosecute, but 12 ordinary people can turn around and acquit.

Whether it was the cause of a poor German publisher (John Peter Zenger), a wealthy industrialist (John Dilorean), or a big city mayor (Marion Barry), juries have exercised their power to say to the government, NO.

When Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death," he was foreshadowing the movements led by William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, WEB DuBois, Walter Reuther, Margaret Sanger, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Betty Freidan, Cesar Chavez, and Harvey Milk.

When each of these people cried out for liberty, it wasn't to "exploit the poor."

Jacob said...

It does not have to be explicitly stated that a feudal system involves exploitation of the poor; that is already understood. In the creation of The United States, ALL people in America were obviously not considered. Only male, white property owners were.

We now have a system that has removed some of those features, by abolishing slavery for instance, but the essence of the system is still intact: limit the influence of ordinary people for the benifit of the wealthy elements of society.

I don't believe that any reasonable analysis of the political structure of the U.S. could dispute that.

Again, this is modern-day feudalism, and that has been growing stronger ever since the days of Reagan.

Steve said...

I agree that the Reagan era did substantial and lasting harm to notions of justice and equity in the economic system.

It made avaricious greed acceptable, even patriotic. It accelarated the gap between the haves and have nots to a level unparalled to the period of the Guilded Age. (A gap greatly reduced during the Clinton Presidency.)

The majority of the framers of the Constitution did not consider the conditions of non-whites, non-males into consideration.

Then again, nowhere in his I Have A Dream speech did Dr. King call for justice for gay Americans. Should that omission (invisible in the 1960s, but glaring today) diminish his legacy?

The framers banned the establishment of a monarchy, prohibited the creation of an established church, and created a structure of government that has withstood civil war, two world wars, a fifty year cold war, depressions, recessions, terrorism, two Presidential impeachments, and four Presidential assassinations.

It's doubtful that the framers envisioned such innovations as social security, the FDIC, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Center for Disease Control, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or the anticipated health care reforms that Obama will bring forth.

But they were wise enough to know that there were things they didn't know. They created a structure that could could be amended, aborb reforms, and embrace innovations.

Constitutional scholars have been invited to advise the breakaway republics of the former Soviet Union in the crafting of their constitutions.

Maybe our issue has to do with the semantics of language itself.

You see liberty as the demand of the entrenched in-bred elites to maintain their entailed position of privilege.

I see it as a part of the cry of the French crowd storming the Bastille, the Jews emerging from the concentration camps, the South African Blacks experiencing the abolition of apartheid, the Berliners tearing down the wall that cut at the heart of their city, and crowds cheering Martin Luther King in Washington.

Consider the term used to describe a nation that had been freed of German occupation: "liberated."

On a more prosaic level, I saw a suicide prevention officer laid off at my school after a school budget defeat followed by the suicide of one of my students.

That brings democracy to a personal level.

Jacob said...

As you say, whatever the framers envisioned, it was not the good of the American people as a whole. And there is no need to discuss that issue further, because it proves that same fundamental flaw.

As a result of the U.S. constitution not favoring everyone in American society, around 25,000 Americans die each year because they don't have health insurance, social mobility is considerably lower than in other developed countries, there is no social safety net in general and so on and so on.

My point is: people in this country suffer on a massive scale, and the constitution prevents that suffering from being alleviated.

Steve said...

Jacob, you appear to believe that if only the US had the kind of government structure you advocate, all Americans would have national health insurance today.

Presidents ranging from Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton have all sought some sort of national health insurance.

And none could convince the America people that this innovation was to their advantage.

In 1984 when Walter Mondale called for increasing taxes to, among other things, provide Americans with national health insurance, Ronald Reagan was reelected with nearly 59% of the vote and 49 of the 50 states.

President Clinton presented to Congress such a plan early in his first term. The results: the American voters overwhelmingly handed both houses of Congress over to those who opposed national health care--Republicans for the first time since the early 1950s.

It took over thirty years for the United States to advance from FDR's social security to Lyndon Johnson's medicare and medicaid. Now with any luck, it will have taken over forty years for the United States to advance to Obama's national health insurance.

What you must take into consideration is that for better or worse, the overwhelming majority of the American people are extremely conservative and don't trust the government to handle such matters.

The majority of the American people didn't want national health insurance until relatively recently.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, "the fault, dear Jacob, lies not in our government, but in ourselves."

Jacob said...

You're talking about what Americans "want". My whole point with all this is that that is irrelevant. What Americans want does not get translated into actual policy, because there is no proportional representation.

Of course, the American institutions also shape the political behavior of Americans. If they are displeased with the Democrats, they have absolutely no choice other than to vote for the Republicans. This, in turn, limits the debate on issues to a very narrow range.

It is therefor unhelpful to say, for instance, that Americans are more conservative than others... they have no choice

Steve said...

You argue that the American people have no choice other than Democrat or Republican and that a national parliament would bring greater representation. The thing is, I fear you are right. The last thing I would want is greater representation.

Look back to 1968. That year, voters had a choice in the Presidential race beyond Democrat and Republican. They had George Wallace running as an independent.

He advocated repealing every civil rights law on the books and the use of nuclear weapons in Viet Nam.

This Georgia Governor won 9.5 MILLION votes, 13% of the popular vote, and carried the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

The Constitution limited his impact thanks to the electoral college. Imagine if we had had some sort of parliamentary system in place and scores of his allies were elected.

While some on the left argue that the Democrats are too moderate, many more on the right argue that the Republicans are insufficiently conservative.

Look at the town meeting halls where folks are carrying guns and waving signs calling Obama a nazi.

Look at the popularity of Fox "News," Glenn Beck, and Bill O'Reilly.

Consider how many books written by right wingers such as Anne Coulter end up on the Best Seller List.

With greater choices in a parliamentary system, millions of voters would back a movement that would be all but fascist in name.

A parliamentary system such as the one you advocate would end up seating more folks who argue that evolution should not be taught in schools, that English should be the national language, that school prayer should be manditory, that abortions should be outlawed, that gay rights should be eliminated, that the death penalty be used more often, that a little torture now and then in the prisons would be justifiable. They would support limits to free speech and a free press. They would celebrate if Moslem Americans were rounded up and interned.

Today there is a hard right movement that cheers when vigilantes gun down abortion providers, sympathizes with the gunman who attacked the Holcaust Museum, and celebrated when Timothy MacVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma. I have visited their websites.

These folks would have their own political party and it would have seats in this parliament.

While you regret that the virtual two-party monopoly weakens whatever leftwing sentiments exist in the US, I am grateful that the presence of the Republican Party weakens a much stronger, wealthier, and virulent right wing movement in America.

I once came across an expression that has stayed with me my whole life: "If the gods really want to punish you, they will grant you your fondest wishes."

Consider what forces you would empower with a parliamentary system.

Jacob said...

I already presented a solution to this problem: the 8% cut.

If a party receives less than 8% of the vote, it would not be represented. There is no way that the Ku-klux Klan would get 8% of the NATIONAL vote, not in today's demographic situation.

The nut jobs that you mention currently have an unfairly high degree of influence because they usually come from small states which are extremely disproportionately highly represented. In a parliamentary system, these people would, if anything, be marginalized, and left to ponder their conspiracy theories in solitude.

The more volitile, and the less politically educated a country is, the higher the cut needs to be. With a cut of only 2%, Turkey's is far too low.

I believe 8-10% would be appropriate for the U.S..

Steve said...

Your 8% cut wouldn't work. George Wallace won 13% of the vote nationally.

Please consider who your reform would most empower.

The far right, financed by the drug, tobacco, and oil industries and organized by most fundamentalist Christian churches, would thrive in this environment.

an average patriot said...

Our system is ruthlessly undemocratic and totally inefficient!

Benjamin Kacher said...

Very interesting proposal, Jacob. I have wondered about the same thing in the past, but you are the first (that I have seen) to actually propose a parliamentary system in the U.S.

I hate to be pessimistic, however, but I can't imagine how such an amendment could ever get passed. I suppose this blog is a start...

Anonymous said...

I think the current system is mostly right. The problem is that it actually needs to be followed and enforced. For example, every issue that is not mentioned in the US Constitution should be left to the States. If Southern States want to ban same sex marriage, and New England States want to become more European, I see no problem with that. The purpose of having federalism, is to allow different peoples to live their own ways. This is the most important thing that needs to happen. Now, I must agree with 2 things you mentioned. 1st, is that the president has far too much power. But according to the constitution (which MUST be more strictly followed), the president is not the head of State and he is only the Commander in Chief when the Congress declares war. In stead, the USA is a confederacy, and each Governor is their respective head of State. Its not like the Founding Fathers didn't know the English Language. They are called States for a good reason (but I think the name "governor" should be changed to something that actually reflects their roles as Head of State). So my whole issue, is that a LOT less should be happening on the federal level including all the warmongering and spending. But, what does happen at the federal level, I believe should be reformed. In reconciling the federal nature of the USA (which from Jefferson to shortly before Lincoln was understood to mean Confederacy)with the will of the people; I make a counter proposal - one that is more likely to gain support and in my view be more effective. Let the House Members be elected by a single body politic (no districts, no counties etc) and be turned into a Parliament with proportional representation. You are more in favor than I am of having more democracy. I want a republic that is democratic. So I don't understand why you would impose an 8% rule? If a KKK party rises to power and has 6% of the vote, does it really matter? Surely you don't think they will actually change anything! The Senate should then go back to having its members appointed by the State Legislatures. Its a lot easier for the people to control their own State legislatures than it is for them to change anything at the Federal Level. What happens in the Senate, should reflect States Rights. The House of Representatives Parliament would elect the Prime Minister.I'm not quite sure what his role would be, but maybe it would have the jurisdiction over domestic affairs, while the President was largely concerned with foreign affairs (and Congress would have to declare War for ANY military involvement). The president would still be elected by the Electoral College, but I think Smaller States should have more representation in the EC.