Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day!

(cross-posted at my own site)

I'm generally not disposed to just sit around appreciating how great our country is in general. Rather, like liberals everywhere, I like to spend my time complaining about what we're getting wrong and how we can fix it.

There are some pretty obvious problem with the United States that pretty much everyone recognizes. Most obviously it is fundamentally unfair that 34 million Californians have to share two senators while the 14 people who live in Wyoming have the same number. This is just a fundamental injustice which was made even worse in light of the fact that Wyoming gave us Dick Cheney.

Our government is also built with too many veto points. If you prefer being oppressed by corporations and rich rather than by the government this is great. If on the other hand you like to have a responsive government that works it's not so great. If you wonder why the federal government can't pass any bills without slathering on the pork look directly to the founding father's insistence no bill could pass unless approved by the house, the senate, the president, the supreme court, one unblemished virgin, and an augur who must affirm that the bones approve.

The many veto points also serve to confound basic responsibility for politicians. I mean, I've often been told that Ronald Reagan would have passed balanced budgets if not for those damn tax-and-spend Democrats in congress. Not true of course but our system doesn't make that obvious. Similarly, Clinton didn't approve of Kyoto but was able to blame it on a Republican senate that wouldn't pass it.

Really we should drop the whole multiple veto point thing and take a look at a parliamentary form of government. Have one big house which is elected with proportional choice, instant run-off elections (like the ASUC only with voters that actually care). This will allow for more than two parties (depending on the cut-off) and the coalition that gets the majority of votes gets to pick the prime minister. This will make parties more accountable and make it easier to pass bills and repeal old ones that suck. And if some prime minister is so unpopular as to be ineffective we'll just hold another election right then and there. Don't you wish we could do that right about now?

Anyhow, those are my thoughts on this fine day of independence. We shouldn't look too harshly on the founding fathers for the shortcomings in the constitution. Democracy was still a new idea then. They were like the first guys on the block to get a satellite dish who ended up keeping the 6 foot giant in the backyard even as their neighbors bought the newer mini roof-mounted ones.


Thinker said...

Actually, the US did try the one big House thing. That was the form of government under The Articles of Confederation, a short-lived experiment that proved an utter failure. The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was the founders' attempt to correct its deficiencies. The checks and balances about which you write were the result of the founders' political philosophies, and the compromises they were forced to make in order to secure enough support to have their new Constitution adopted.

While working under it can seem very frustrating - to liberals at the moment, but to conservatives at other times - it really has served us well as a nation for 220 years. Think about this, liberals (often referred to as Radicals) kept the nation from breaking apart during the Civil War and Reconstruction; and after 10 years of conservative rule during the 1920s (a terribly frustrating time for liberals), liberals again were able to return to power, rescue the nation and build the base for a half century of prosperity.

So, don't despair; take the long view. Look forward to the next great period of liberal ascendency.

Happy 4th Tommaso!

Tommaso Sciortino said...

The articles of confederations didn't fail because of the form of government was too parliamentarian, it failed because it didn't have sufficient powers to keep order.

As for the current system serving us well, I don't dispute that. I just suspect that a different system would suite us better.

Happy 4th!

Thinker said...

I agree, the Articles of Confederation failed because the central government was essentially powerless - unanimity being required to achieve almost anything.

But, if we can't gather enough political support to secure veto proof majorities in the House and Senate, how could we possibly bring about the even greater majorities necessary to amend the Constitution to convert the US to a parliamentary democracy?

Also, look at other parliamentary democracies in the world, especially Israel. Having a parliamentary democracy there has not kept conservatives out of power, despite the fact that large majorities in their polls seem to be very unhappy with their current leadership. If I'm remembering correctly, Olmert would be quite happy to be polling in Israel as well as W is polling here.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Ah, well I never said it would be easy to get these changes through the current government. However the same could be said for the original constitution. I think if you put it to an honest general referendum with one person one vote, you might be able to pass something like this.

As for parliaments and conservatives I'm not really suggesting this form of government as a way of empowering liberals (though reducing veto points might make it easier to pass liberal programs). Plus, there is a great diversity in the exact rules of a parliamentary system. In many it would be basically impossible for someone like Olmert to hold off in the face of extreme unpopularity.

Thinker said...

I'm not sure a referendum would result in a majority to replace our current constitutional system with a parliamentary one. In any event, the constitution does not allow for changes to be made by referendum - only by constitutional amendment via the process that's been used since 1787 or by a new constitutional convention called by vote of 2/3 of the state legislatures. The latter has never been used, and nobody is quite certain how it would proceed if convened. Some believe changes could only be made for specific purposes that are proposed beforehand; others believe that it could become a convention like that in Philadelphia in 1787 where anything could be done, subject to ratification by 3/4 of the state legislatures afterwards.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

I always apreciate the thoruough unimaginativeness of your responses. In 1750 perhaps you would have remarked that "In any event the British government underwhich we live does not allow for colonies to break away and form their own governments."

This is all a long-winded way of saying that I recognize that a referedum is not provided for in the constitution. If the US government is going to change in any meaningful sense it will almost certainly require breaking the spirit, if not the letter, of the constitution. That is, revolutions are always illegal.

Thinker said...

And frequently quite violent. Isn't the genius of the constitution the fact that it allows for sometimes revolutionary change to be accomplished in a relatively peaceful manner?