America needs a Parliament

Joe thinks America needs electoral reform. I’ve long thought that there was nothing wrong with American politics that a quick switch to a Westminster-style form of government couldn’t fix. Forget about the usual complaints about campaign finance or gerrymandering. I’m talking the big-picture stuff. For example:

1.The dynastic trend that has given us (or will have given us) a Clinton or a Bush for most of the past thirty years is, to a large extent, an artifact of the term limits on presidents. A move to a confidence-based system would allow popular presidents to burn themselves and their supporters out with a tired third term, while reducing the incentive for former presidents to build an independent power base and install an heir (or spouse) in his or her place.

2. The Supreme Court problem. Scalia died four months ago, and the GOP is straightforwardly refusing to to confirm Mark Garland. Their position, essentially, is that a president with almost a full year to go in his or her term is a lame duck. Again, this is a problem with both term limits and the absence of responsible government.

3. Sanders and Trump, but especially Trump. One of the most fascinating aspects of the rise of Trump has been this assumption that the Republican apparatus would find a way to stop Trump. As it turns out, there is no Republican Party apparatus. From an amazing piece about the crisis from the NYT:

Former Gov. Michael O. Leavitt of Utah, a top adviser to Mr. Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, said the party was unable to come up with a united front to quash Mr. Trump’s campaign.

“There is no mechanism,” Mr. Leavitt said. “There is no smoke-filled room. If there is, I’ve never seen it, nor do I know anyone who has. This is going to play out in the way that it will.”

And later in the piece:

“There’s no single leader and no single institution that can bring a diverse group called the Republican Party together, behind a single candidate,” Mr. Malek said. “It just doesn’t exist.”

If this sounds familiar, it is: It’s pretty much where the Labour party in the UK has arrived, thanks to the near-complete disconnection of party leadership from the caucus. Why the UK would want to replicate a system that has helped turn American political parties in “host organisms” for outsider-demagogues is an absolute mystery to me. Why Justin Trudeau seems to want to do the same thing here in Canada is less mysterious, but also no less reckless.


America needs a Parliament — 1 Comment

  1. I’m not sure you are right about the dynastic trend thing though, especially in a more parliamentary situation. In Greece, where we’re quite parliamentary and we’ve also got no term limits for PMs, the current Conservative leader, Cyriacos Metsotaces, is the son of former Conservative leader and PM (1990-93) Constantinos Metsotaces, who also has other children, grandchildren, and a niece in politics, while former Conservative leader and PM (2004-2009) Costas Caramanles was the nephew of the childless Constantinos Caramanles, Conservative PM in the early sixties and late seventies, uncle and brother of other Conservative politicians as well, while our last Socialist PM, Giorgos Papandreou, was a son and grandson of PMs and brother-in-law of ministers. The Metsotacedes especially are particularly remarkable in that they have spilled over to other parties, Constantinos’ niece being an MP for the centrist Potami party, while as of late they have been genetically invading towards the Left, his last great-grandchild fathered by an MP of Dem.Ar., the old right-wing within SYRIZA that broke of when SYRIZA was certainly way further to the left than today, the party’s left-wing internal opposition having not yet broken of. The centrallity of these families to the political scene is just part of the landscape–people have strong feelings about them pro and con, and there are even quasi-folk beliefs about Constantinos Metsotaces (that he brings a curse of bad luck to those arround him, that there might be something supernaturally suspicious about his easy walking and impressive presence of mind at 98 years old). I think that his genetic material’s tendency to drift leftwards (even his two conservative MP children are perceived as of the center part of the center-right) has to do with his own origins–he is a nephew of Venizelos and was a centrist MP in the early sixties, when he became notorious for withdrawing support for his centrist and our first Papandreou PM, forcing the government to resign (this is thought to have been a schceme concocted as a response to Papandreou’s escalating antagonism with the Palace). Many rightists have mixed feelings towards him, though many also greatly admire his perceived cunning. Many other Conservative politicians have family that are or were Conservative politicians (I’m no conservative and no politician, but an aunt’s husband and his brother, as well as one of my grandfathers, have been minor figures in right-wing politics), and former Conservative leader Rales’ father was a quisling PM in the forties. As for the Golden Dawn, both leader Nicos Michaloliacos’ wife Eleni and future son-in-law Artemes Matthaeopoulos are MPs–the later became MP perhaps as a pre-dowry when he was engaged to Michaloliacos’ daughter Ourania (Michaloliacos had another MP resign for his sake), a fatherly behavior one will better understand after googling “Ourania Michaloliacou” (female Greek surnames expressed in the genitive). Remarkably (contra North Korea and Labour’s left-wing), there seems to be very little dynasticism, and at a rather lower level, in the Left and far Left–the son of an old preeminent Eurocommunist leader, whose own father was a centrist politician, is an MP for centrist Potami, a SYRIZA minister and MP is also the husband of another SYRIZA MP and former minister, another SYRIZA minister and MP is the son of yet one more SYRIZA MP, while yet another is the PM’s uncle, while beyond the parliamentary Left, the now imprisoned Alexandros Giotopoulos, leader of now defunct far-left terrorist (“urban guerrilla”) “17th of November” group is the son of an old Trotskyite big shot, while three of his urban guerrillas–a luthier, a Greek Orthodox icon painter, and a soccer fan–were brothers. Cross-politically, Thanases Claras (better known by his nom de guerre Ares Velouchiotes), leader of the communist ELAS guerrilla force in the forties, was related on his mother’s side to Napoleon Zervas, leader of EDES, the largest (mostly) non-quisling armed group on the Right, while I sometimes scare myself with the thought that, were I just a bit less smart, less English-reading, less lazy, less introverted, and a bit more agreeable (in the psychometric sense), I could have gotten deeply involved with left-wing politics (I gave activism a little shot in high school; in retrospect I see the signaling function of it all–though my own results were rather mixed, from an evolutionary perspective–and I strongly recommend evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller’s paper “Political Peacocks”, and anthropologist William Irons’ papers on the evolution of morality and on the evolution of religion–though I don’t share the latter’s skepticism towards considering “secular” ideologies as quasi-religions in their actual functioning).

    In other words, there is A LOT of dynasticism in non-term limiting, parliamentary Greece; I think that perhaps our evoked and/or inertial culture and/or genes might have something to do with it, but is the absence of term limits really an ameliorating force? I don’t think so: many a career in politics got kick-started by nepotistic (and assorted, entwined cronyistic) loyalties of parliamentarians who got powerful and iconic enough for their families to have an easy ride into politics at the highest level by being around forever.

    As for your point #3, I will report mixed results from Greece. Both Conservatives and Socialists have lately adopted a policy of appointing their leaders via elections “from the base”, an arrangement, I should note in passing, that I cannot imagine changing once adopted–detractors would be name-called undemocratic and elitist. There have been three such elections already–in one case the Conservative base chose the worst guy, and undynastically so (Antones Samaras over Metsotaces’ daughter in 2009), and in another case (Metsotaces’ son last year) they made a better, albeit dynastic, choise; the Socialist base earlier had chosen the previously obscure daughter of an eighties Socialist minister and big shot to lead them; it is not clear to me that she was better (or worse, for that matter) than the competition. I will however say that I do see the potential for serious derangement via base-electing, especially in the Conservatives, whose base generally have less respectable attitudes than the top, although for the moment being a lot of far-rightists are absorbed by the Golden Dawn (less potential for the Socialists to be deranged towards the left, Greek leftists having both a strong alergy to the Socialists and more salient, if not always parliamentary, parties of their own than zealotic Jews had resistance groups in “The Life of Bryan”). I’m not even sure this potential Conservative derangement is that bad a thing–on one hand, a creepy guy conquering a large, mainstream political organisation legitimizes creepiness; on the other, having such a guy as a leader inhibits winning elections: normal distribution of personality traits means that societies tend to be centrist by their biological nature.

    Interestingly, we are having an electoral reform here too. The system will become less pro-first party and more proportionally representational–I think this is done out of a bit of naive, classical leftie moredemocracyism. How wise is this at the moment from the POVs of party and country I do not know, but I must confess my disappointment in the “first time Left” government for not abolishing the 3% threshold for parliamentary entrance, and perhaps silently accepting its logic–to keep the Muslim minority in Thrace from electing independent MPs. The threshold perhaps has kept the parliament from becoming a mosaic of small, sometimes extremist parties, has sometimes allowed more respectable politicians to manipulate the voting power of the really dumb and creepy, and has blessed us with an aesthetically pleasing lack of any libertarian salience (it is pleasing to watch the few Greeks that would masturbate to “Atlas Shrugged” blogging bitterly amongst themselves), but at the same time has seriously hindered the recycling of parties when it would have been a good thing.

    P.S. I don’t get why you guys didn’t prefer Sanders to the hawkish and vaingloriously PC competition, especially since you seem to have endorsed NDP over Liberal in the last Canadian elections.

    P.S.2 I wish you and Joseph Heath did more of the pop culture stuff you were so great at in “The Rebel Sell”.