America’s Parliamentary Future

parliamentAmerica marked a little-noticed milestone last year, as Paul Ryan became our first Prime Minister. Not unlike the head of a European Parliament, Ryan rose to leadership by assembling a coalition with a sub-party, the House Freedom Caucus. That sub-party had unique demands, a distinct (if not well-known) identity, and it’s own goals independent of the GOP. And Ryan must maintain their loyalty to keep his job.

This form of parliamentary organization is unique because Ryan’s coalition partners belong, at least technically, to his own political party. We might be on a cusp of a new era of multi-party democracy, in which numerous sub-entities within each major party compete against each other more openly in primaries and vie for power in Congress. While not quite consistent with parliamentary practices elsewhere in the world, this innovation could help us adapt to the needs of an increasingly diverse electorate, giving voters many more choices and more capable representation.

A particularly bruising election season has exposed the limitations of our two-party system. The structure of our Constitution constrains our options for parliamentary politics. However, the fight over Ryan’s ascension demonstrates a potential opening. Emerging from the growing divisions in both parties, a model of open sub-partisan competition may create a unique form of multi-party democracy within our existing two-party system.

In European systems, seats in the legislative body are assigned on an explicitly proportional basis. Details vary, but in most countries citizens cast a vote for a party rather than for a candidate, or some combination of the two. Parties might or might not publish a slate indicating which candidates they are proposing for each local jurisdiction. A party that wins 10% of the vote gets approximately 10% of the seats in parliament or a state-level assembly. Members of parliament do not necessarily live in the districts they represent. Parties generally send their best (favorite) leaders to parliament, rather than those representatives being directly chosen by voters.

There is no American-style President in these systems. The party earning the largest share of the popular vote gets the first opportunity to build a coalition with other parties and select a Prime Minister. That Prime Minister wields executive power in the government so long as he or she retains support of a parliamentary majority.

One shouldn’t assume a parliamentary model would be more effective or more democratic than our Presidential model. That question deserves a more thorough discussion in another setting. We can conclude with confidence though that our binary system has become far too constrained to deliver meaningful representation in such a large, complex country. We need more choices, but the structure of our representative government makes this challenging.

Americans select their legislative leaders in binary elections for single-member districts. Instead of pooling seats across a wide geography, each seat is decided in a single election with one winner. In theory, a political party could win 49% of the votes in Congressional Districts across a state and, unless they had won a majority in at least one of the districts, seat zero representatives in Congress.

Our founders constructed this system in a calculated attempt to block the emergence of political parties, a specific reaction to abuses they perceived in the British House of Commons. They wanted to build a republic of ‘great men’ elected individually for their virtue. That effort to avoid partisanship had failed before the ink was dry on the Constitution, yet we continue to live within its awkward constraints.

Our system of government is dependent on party politics for its survival. Yet it is structured to make those parties as weak, incoherent, and dysfunctional as possible. There are some very good reasons why none of the countries that democratized after our revolution adopted our system of government. We were an early test case in popular rule. Others have learned from our experiment and refined the model.

A first step toward reform could potentially come from the states. In theory, any state could adopt a proportional system for their legislature tomorrow morning. It might require them to amend their state constitutions, but nothing in federal law would stop them. For Congress, however, the Constitution limits us to single member districts, organized on geographic/population terms. Reform at the state level might produce helpful changes in our political parties, but it wouldn’t change the way we elect Congressional representatives.

Some relief could come from a geographic breakup of the two national parties into sub-parties. True, only one candidate can win in any single district, but there is no law stating that a Democrat who wins an election in Memphis has to be ideologically identical to a Democrat in San Francisco. Emergence of what we’ll call “hyphenated identities” could be at least an interim key to a more diverse, more democratically accountable slate of representatives.

Picture an African-American business leader in Baltimore or Hartford. She may be a Democrat only because the influence of the Tea Party and white nationalists in the GOP has made it very difficult to be a Republican. That same influence from elsewhere in the country makes the Republican brand hopelessly toxic to voters in Baltimore, trapping an entire city of diverse interests under one-party Democratic rule.

What if she launched a run for office under a distinct brand? An organization of “Urban Republicans” with a clearly stated identity distinct from the national Republican Party might be able to offer trapped voters a credible alternative to the two major national parties.

In a place like Baltimore where Republican organizations at the higher levels are so hopelessly weak that they have ceased to be influential, there is little that state or county organizations could do to stop them. An influx of business-friendly minority voters could take control of the local party apparatus in a single election, providing support and cover for an insurgency.

It might sound odd, but its been done before. Until the 80’s there was virtually no local Republican presence across most of the South. Under organizational leadership from fundamentalist churches, an entire generation of Dixiecrats flooded that empty structure, manufacturing a new Republican identity. They were so successful that they haven’t needed to give themselves a hyphen. Today, they own and define the Republican brand.

In a country of 320 million people spanning six time zones, no ‘big tent’ can represent a credible electoral majority while remaining structurally sound. Our parties have grown so weak that even at the top of the ticket Presidential contenders are emerging from outside the parties’ ranks. Neither Donald Trump nor Bernie Sanders are members of the parties from which they seek the nomination.

Imagine a national Republican or Democratic convention in which delegates from five or eight distinct regional sub-parties negotiated to select a single Presidential nominee. Likewise, picture a Congress in which a third or more of the members were elected under a hyphenated brand. No Speaker could be nominated without assembling a cross-partisan coalition that might combine Urban Republicans, Gulf Coast Democrats, and three or four other designations across party lines.

Embracing the emergence of hyphenated party affiliations at the local level could grant our existing political structure the flexibility to adapt to an increasingly diverse electorate. Such a change may already be developing out of the earthquakes shaking our parties. There’s a chance that we might look back on the otherwise unremarkable tenure of House Speaker Paul Ryan as the moment when our multi-party democracy was born.

Chris Ladd is a Texan living in the Chicago area. He has been involved in grassroots Republican politics for most of his life. He was a Republican precinct committeeman in suburban Chicago until he resigned from the party and his position after the 2016 Republican Convention. He can be reached at gopliferchicago at gmail dot com.

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74 comments on “America’s Parliamentary Future
  1. JAFD says:

    You’ll have to dig thru for the details, but IIRC t’were candidates for City Council and other local offices in Philadelphia, in recent elections, running on the Whig Party ticket, which seems to have a resemblance to your ‘urban Republican’ platform

  2. […] By building a splinter party inside the hollowed out remains of the GOP in northern cities, these voters could do more than break their cities’ single-party politics. They could launch a movement toward multi-party democracy in the US. […]

  3. WX Wall says:

    Be careful what you wish for. I’m not so sure parliamentary systems work that much better in practice. In most *functioning* parliamentary systems, there are usually only two major parties, sometimes with some small parties here and there that occasionally join in coalition. For example, Britain, Canada, and Germany. Places like Italy and India show that parliaments with many small parties just leads to unstable coalitions, frequent regime changes, and a general increase in political corruption due to the more intense nature of horse-trading and political scheming that’s required to obtain and hold power. Heck, Japan, even with a parliament, was basically a one-party nation for most of its modern existence. Only now has it “splintered” into two major parties. (The major exception might be France, which has several strong parties across the political spectrum. Incidentally, they also have a relatively strong President, at least in comparison to other parliamentary systems).

    One thing I like about our divided government is that even though it’s hard to implement big changes, those changes, once passed, are also very hard to undo. On the flip side, in parliaments, one side can implement a huge agenda, only to see it completely dismantled when they lose the next election. Witness, for example, Obamacare: it was passed by the narrowest margins and was hugely controversial, yet, once passed, no Republican effort has managed to dislodge it (it probably won’t happen even if Trump wins the Presidency and the Republicans retain control of Congress).

    If I had to pick my poison, I’d rather a system that moves slowly but surely, that rewards building a broad consensus over ramming through controversial plans (despite what Republicans think, Obamacare was a centrist policy), over a system that vacillates between extremes with each election.

    I think the biggest problem with American democracy isn’t the structure of Congress, it’s the structure of our districts. Get rid of gerrymandering, and I bet at least 75% of the current Congressional dysfunction will disappear. When Congress has less electoral turnover than Soviet-era politburos, it doesn’t matter whether we have a Presidential or Parliamentary system: it will be less accountable to the people than communism.

    • 1mime says:

      Good points, WX Wall. The “see saw” effect that I spoke of earlier seems a high price to pay for parliamentary governing. In addition to the elimination of gerrymandering, I would institute computer driven districts, and rules changes in Congress, of which the Hastert Rule is the most onerous and undemocratic. There are many, many rules changes that should be eliminated or modified to make the process of introduction and debate of legislation more fair. Of all of these changes, elimination of gerrymandering and the Hastert Rule are the two most significant. Do these and things change.

    • Glandu says:

      The french system is really not a good example. It’s been customized for a very specific kind of politician ; Charles De Gaulle. It’s probably a mix of the worse of both sides.

      You’ve got huge parties, like the troskyst party, that hides both trostkysts(Jospin, Montebourg), Fascists(Valls) and economic conservatives(Macron), or the “Republicains” who are also varied, though not as much as the socialists, ant plenty of micro-parties used as satellites, the Green, the Left, the Center, the radicals….. And then the Front National, the big anti-immigration and anti-Europe party, who has virtually no support(besides the old fascists from the France courtoise, but at 0.1%, they do not matter).

      It’s not a really readable system. You’ve got plenty of offer, but at the end, it’s party internal politics, or worse, outside events(as DSK caught in NY) that decide who will be the next king. The obsession of both the “Republicains” and the socialists is that their goal is to improve the Front National’s score in hope to gain the final battle. A tripartite system, with or without auxilliaries, is awful, as you never know who you’re really voting for.

    • duncancairncross says:

      Hi WX Wall

      Your points about Parliaments are well taken but a bit theoretical

      In the actual world experience the USA is the only “Presidential” democracy that has lasted very long
      All of the other countries that have tried your model have crashed and burned

      Parliamentarian systems have a much better track record – not perfect, just better

      I include models like France that have a President as well as a Parliament as Parliamentarian – the French President is in some ways like the British Queen

      As far as
      “over a system that vacillates between extremes with each election.”
      I used to think the British system did that – but looking backwards that simply did not happen

  4. flypusher says:

    Just saw the round table discussion on “Meet the Press. Didn’t catch the names; the topic was the likely candidates, their messages, how they reach certain groups of voters, yada, yada. I was disappointed that they didn’t hold the feet of the guy supporting Trump more to the fire. He was certainly right in pointing out the there’s a lot of economic pain and uncertainty out there. He didn’t try to deny the racist dog whistles turned bullhorn, but was confident that Blacks and Hispanics and women would come around to the Trump camp, because the status quo is bad and Trump offers CHANGE!! The holes that anyone can (and should) drive a fleet of trucks through? What exactly is this economic plan? Not only are there no details, it seems that the short-fingered one is still changing his mind. Saying that the TPP is bad and you’ll renegotiate a better deal is no plan. Given Trump’s business track record, with his use of eminent domain against the little people and some of his hiring practices, why should anyone buy his words about being for the common man? You are within your rights to vote for this guy because you’re mad as hell, but if you’re really expecting him to make your life better, I’ve got a few gaudy tall buildings you might be interested in.

    • I think Trumps economic plan is to give the wealthy even bigger tax cuts and eliminate Dodd-Frank, so Goldman, etc can do a repeat on 2007/2008! It worked so well in the past!

      There are two books everyone should read: When Genius Failed ( about Long Term Capital Management and the almost calapse of our economy ) and The Big Short! Both show how the really bright, when the rules do not apply, given the run of the economic kingdom, turn it into a debacle.

      It seems the Democrats have a tendency to over regulate and the Republicans under regulate. I have a feeling under regulating is worse, the consequences of which can have greater negatives!

      • Stephen says:

        I read The Big Short.
        Another good book is Bail out nation. People who frequent this blog are well read and inform. Unfortunately many voters are not.

      • Rob Ambrose says:

        When Genuius Failed was more about hubris I think. LTCM was an intellectual powerhouse with the “smartest guys in the room”. And they really were. But they were still blinded by their models and unable to adapt to changing circumstances. To that end, I do see a parralell to Trump. Hubris is his middle name.

        Trump is a bit if a different ball if wax in that he’s not all that smart (certainly he is clever and crafty, and a brilliant marketer, but that’s not the same kind of smart).

        I worry Trump doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, and that is exceedingly dangerous as a POTUS.

  5. flypusher says:

    “What if she launched a run for office under a distinct brand? An organization of “Urban Republicans” with a clearly stated identity distinct from the national Republican Party might be able to offer trapped voters a credible alternative to the two major national parties.”

    Get “Sane-Republicans” trademarked.

  6. Ryan Ashfyre says:

    Just found this nugget of an article on the Daily Beast:

    For the first little bit, good ol’ Matt almost seems as if he’s willing to concede Republican shamelessness in courting Southerners in order to lead the former Solid South from solidly Democratic to staunchly Republican, but by the end, he finishes with this darling of a conclusion:

    “If conservatives are going to thrive in the New South, they will have to embrace an inclusive conservative message like Nikki Haley’s—and they can’t afford to be bogged down by carrying the offensive baggage that they, after all, had nothing to do with.”

    Nothing to do with, eh? Whatever you say, Lewis. >__>

    • 1mime says:

      Yeah, “that” was then; “this” is now…………..And, “now” is where we are and from all the Republican Legislative action and rhetoric just in the last 3 months, I’d say the GOP is in it up to their eyeballs – willingly so. Hard to feel sorry for a party who is doubling down on crazy.

  7. Creigh says:

    Well… Washington State GOP Convention awards 40 out of 41 delegates to Cruz. The unification of the party is going fine, right?

  8. duncancairncross says:

    Hi Chris
    I would question your description of European Parliaments – I am not aware of ANY that work the way you say
    The way our’s works is that we vote for our local representative – most votes wins!
    The proportional part comes later
    After all of the “real MPs” are selected the total votes cast and members elected are assessed – if a Party has received more votes than it has won seats it is awarded some extra “List” seats
    Many people consider these “List MPs” to be second class but they are legally just the same as the others

    Re “Fiscally Conservative”
    I am reminded of Robert Heinlein’s book – Beyond This Horizon
    One of the most important parts IMHO was right at the start
    A simple explanation that
    The money supply should increase as the economy does
    Which if you think of money in the economy as similar in function to blood in a body makes perfect sense
    The other side of this is that the increase in money supply is normally added directly to the basic living stipend
    (We could simply mail a cheque to all citizens)

    Directly from the book
    We call the system “finance” and the symbols “money”
    The symbolic structure should bear a one to one relationship to the physical structure of production and consumption .
    It’s my job to keep track of the actual growth of the physical processes and recommend to the policy board
    changes in the symbol structure to match those in the physical structure

    To paraphrase

    As we build factories, improve farms and generally make things work better we are increasing the “Physical Structure” – we should increase the “Symbol Structure” to match

    Imagine a game of Monopoly – board, properties, money
    Now double the size of the board and have twice as many properties and players
    You will need to increase the money supply as well,
    Imagine trying to play a bigger and bigger game with more and more players without increasing the supply of money

    • moslerfan says:

      Duncan, “fiscally conservative” drives me crazy too. Kinda like “run the Government like a business.”

      The purpose of a business is to make a profit. The purpose of government, as it has been explained to me, is establishing justice, providing for the common defense, ensuring domestic tranquility, and promoting the general welfare. Nothing there about profit. On the other hand, if those are your objectives, the business or corporate model is completely inappropriate.

    • Stephen says:

      Adam Smith wrote about money supply increasing with growth of the economy. Heinlein was one of my favorite authors and influence my thinking.

  9. Rob Ambrose says:

    Interesting post. One wonders if it would be so dramatic a chance if we had 3-4 official parties, all under the umbrella of the two traditional parties, thus keeping the overall system more or less ibtact.

    This seems reasonable as the different factions within both parties are getting more and more seperation, while still holding to key tenets.

    I mean, that’s already what we have, the only difference is, this would codify and crystalize the different factions. For example, there currently ARE at least 2 parties under the Democratic banner, and at least as many under the GOP banner. This would simply make the seperation official.

    You could imagine a theoretical system of parties like the Democratic Centrist party and the Democratic Progressive Party, both united by key Democratic policies (pro gun control, pro diversity, pro choice etc) but differ on others, such as tax policy, economic issues, foreign policy. You could have a similar situation in the GOP.

    What I think you’d see is something not entirely different as we have today. You’d see the parties under the Dem umbrella generally vote together, and vice versa.

    But the current 2 party system seems I’ll equipped to deal with the range of the political spectrum these days, and you’re in a situation where more ppl then not vote while holding their nose. I.e. not REALLY voting their interests, but more so because the other guy/girl is even worse. That seems bad for democracy.

    With such a system,compromise would no longer be a dirty word. There would be no foolish Hastert rules because NOBODY could pass anything without help from another party.

    • I think this is what we’re likely to see in the near future.

      If I may venture to make a prediction, the next few American elections will be decided in the Democratic primary, and the actual election will be merely a coronation. As such, the rules determining how Presidents get chosen will stop being determined by the constitution and by the Supreme Court, and will instead be determined by the Democratic party’s own system.

      There’s a word for the system the Democratic party leadership use to determine their presidential candidate: warlordism. Power blocs are stable and long-lasting whereas candidates are mayflies. Anyone who wishes to govern must build a coalition of these warlords and then either buy off or defeat those who are not within the coalition.

      If I’m right and the Democratic primary becomes the real election, then this warlordism would lend itself naturally to your model of multiple small parties that overlap and intersect.

  10. Tom D says:

    Lifer wrote: “Our parties have grown so weak that even at the top of the ticket Presidential contenders are emerging from outside the parties’ ranks. Neither Donald Trump nor Bernie Sanders are members of the parties from which they seek the nomination.”

    This way of putting things seems to me to misleadingly equate Trump with Bernie, and hence to misleadingly imply that the Ds and the Rs are in similar situations. On the contrary, Bernie has been in Congress since the 1980s and has functioned for all practical purposes as a member of the left flank of the Democratic caucus, first in the House and then in the Senate. Trump, on the other hand, isn’t a career politician and has a history of taking political stances that vary from standard Republican positions. Trump is much more of a real outsider to his party than Bernie is to his. Also, of course, Trump is the de facto nominee whereas Bernie is the de facto second-place finisher.

    Thus, whatever the nomination of Trump says about the possible weakness of the Republican Party, the unsuccessful campaign of Bernie does not somehow imply that the Democratic Party is similarly weak.

    • Ryan Ashfyre says:

      I’ve been of the opinion that Democrats should be able to hold themselves together so long as they have a lock on the presidency, thanks in large measure to the Republicans’ collapse, and to that I stand. That said however, Sanders and Trump have a great deal in common as far as their political campaigns and the nature of their success.

      They’re both tapping into the frustrations and angst felt by so many in this country. Trump, of course, has gotten as far he has by shamelessly courting the politics of white supremacy and appealing to racist undertones. And while Sanders is no racist, the overwhelming majority of his support comes from white progressives. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and it reveals the lopsided way in which these peoples’ priorities play in Democratic politics.

      Democrats need to tread carefully going forward. Frankly, I’m going to be interested to see how Clinton tries to rebuild the party in the coming years.

      • 1mime says:

        I don’t know that Clinton should be anything but a part of the rebuilding process. It seems to me that the DNC needs to take responsibility for updating its agenda, supporting younger participants, and implementing those changes that will help it be more representative of the base and their needs and interests. It’s not “only” about winning the election, it’s about the future of the party and it’s role in our country’s political process. Clinton would be involved but I daresay, she’ll be as busy as Obama was in fending off the GOP obstruction which will not cease.

      • Ryan Ashfyre says:

        Enactment and commitment to change has to start and be dealt from the top, and that means the presidency. Much as a welcome relief it would be to see the DNC take a strong leadership position and advocate for reform, that’s not going to happen and, frankly, I think it a waste of time to wait around for it too. Clinton has been strongly advocating for rebuilding the Democratic Party from the ground up for a long while now. It’s probably not ideal, but I think she’s the best we’re going to get on this front right now. It just means that she’s going to have to do a balancing act between that and fending off Republicans.

      • Creigh says:

        Ryan, could you expand on your comment about Clinton advocating for rebuilding the Democratic Party? It seems to me she’s pretty much the embodiment of the Democratic Party as it now exists.

      • 1mime says:

        Ryan, another option is for the Democratic Party to rebuild from the bottom – which, with the active involvement of the newly energized millennial group, is certainly possible. Political activism, as lifer suggested, is easiest and most satisfying when done at the local level….where you know the candidates, issues, and process well and can experience satisfaction and success for your efforts very directly. I still maintain that any POTUS should be helpful but their job is too demanding to “lead” the type of incremental and massive change that would be required. Obviously, change isn’t coming from those in the establishment, thus it has to come from without. Change the process from the bottom up and you’ll have a much more durable outcome.

      • Rob Ambrose says:

        I think you’re right Mime, and that’s what’s happening now. Both the Dem and the GOP “revolutions” are from the bottom up.

        Frankly, both parry establishments are out of touch with their base. This is probably more or less inevitable by any major party. They say every army fights the previous war. The same is prob true for political parties. They just aren’t equipped to be proactive with changing society. And that’s prob not a bad thing.

      • 1mime says:

        Tell me how you think the Democratic Party is out of touch with its voters. I am serious, not challenging you, just want your input.

  11. Griffin says:

    What scares me most is the emergence of three or even four party system without any electoral reform (i.e. getting rid of First Past the Post). Then we would be stuck with something similar to the worst electoral system, the British electoral system, where someone can often win with less than 45% of the vote.

    • Tom D says:

      I think the worst system is the US one, not the UK one. At least in the UK, whoever is prime minister always has some kind of majority in Parliament (maybe via coalition) so they can actually do what they promised to do and be held accountable for the results. The US system, where the people elect a president who can’t actually do many of the things he promised to do because the other party controls at least one house of Congress, is much worse because it makes it extremely hard for either side to get anything done and extremely easy for each side to blame the other when nothing gets done.

      • Griffin says:

        “At least in the UK, whoever is prime minister always has some kind of majority in Parliament”

        That’s the problem. Someone who only gets 40% of the vote (or less!) can force their agenda on the other 60%. Imagine if the Dems split in two this presidential election and Donald Trump not only won the presidency but was surely going to win most of Congress too. And if it was even more like the UK system he would have a big say in who was slated at the top of the ballot.

      • 1mime says:

        Imagine if the Dems split….and that is a very real possibility, Griffin. I am losing respect for Bernie Sanders who is openly trying to hurt HC. I am coming to the view that the DNC should not have allowed an Independent to run under the Democratic banner. Sanders obviously has no party loyalty – is in this for his own personal goals. I’m really disappointed in him.

      • Ryan Ashfyre says:

        And it’s not as though Sanders is ignorant of the threat that Trump poses. Frankly, I’m beginning to lean more and more towards the, frankly, disappointing idea that he’s just intimated by his supporters and that he can’t bring himself to end his campaign without giving himself enough cover to say that he did absolutely everything he could. It would explain why he’s intent on seeing this all the way to California.

        Maybe Sen. Sanders has realized that he’s in over his head and that he’s tapped into something even he didn’t fully understand.

      • 1mime says:

        Maybe, Ryan, but I also think Sanders is enjoying the hell out of his success – which I don’t disparage. He’s run a brilliant campaign up until now. If you are correct that he doesn’t know how to handle his supporters, how would he possibly handle the Presidency? He chose to run as a democrat knowing full well in advance what the rules were. It’s deceitful to claim now that the rules aren’t fair…..He should have run as an independent if he didn’t like the DNC rules. He didn’t so for him to pout and complain to his supporters now demeans him. Frankly, this election is so much bigger than Sanders and if he doesn’t realize that and act accordingly, he can jeopardize it all. Run all the way to the convention, but do not attack the obvious nominee and force her to split her attention, resources and energy between her TWO opponents all the while continuing to ask his supporters for money.

        I’m done with Sanders.

      • Griffin says:

        I’m also deeply disappointed in Sanders. While I thought Hillary should probably be the nominee I was still going to be proud to cast a “protest vote” vote for Sanders to send a message to the DNC that they need to get actual convictions rather than just being the “I’m not the Republicans” party and because I was impressed that Sanders initially focused on policy ideas over attack ads and showed how unneccessary Super Pacs are when you have a half-decent message.

        But my California ballot just got in and now I’m going to vote for Hillary in the primary because of how much Sanders has let me down with his non-stop rebelling and his weird refusal to more strongly condemn his supporters who are going nuts in Nevada. And my “facebook friends” are going increasingly crazy over his eventual loss and are convinced of his inevitable victory. George Orwell’s “Notes on Nationalism” seems relevent here:

        “The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. ”

  12. unarmedandunafraid says:

    Would a hyphenated Republican get support from the national party? Do you think that the present Republicans would help fund an Urban, Pro-Choice, LBGT friendly woman in a local election? Maybe just to grow the party? I don’t think I would contribute to a political party that funded an opposite thinking righty, just because he called himself a Democrat.

    • Tom D says:

      They could get some financial support from Republican donors who care about some issues more than others. An LGBT-friendly candidate in a blue district who opposes doing anything about global warming, for instance, could get funding from fossil fuel interests.

      • 1mime says:

        Humm, are there any LGBT candidates who oppose global warming initiatives….or, for that matter, any significant plank in the Democratic platform? They know who “brung ’em to the party”, and it t’isn’t the GOP. Now, at the state level, there are some Dems and some Repubs who have managed to get elected in a states where their party was in the minority….LA, IL, MA, and others, although they are admittedly rare and endangered….But, it is valuable to see how they have to operate more democratically in order to get anything done….which is the way it ought to be in all states.

    • goplifer says:

      ***Would a hyphenated Republican get support from the national party?***

      In the near term, no. It would be an entirely hostile effort. That’s why it’s so important to start in places where state and county party organizations are so weak. Republicans at higher levels might be hostile the effort, but they are too weak in numbers, organization, and money to do anything about it – just like Republicans in Texas in late ’80’s and ’90’s who got steamrolled by religious whackos.

      • 1mime says:

        We have to end the Tea Party organizations for any shot on the local and state level in TX. Not sure how active the organization is in other states, but they’re certainly well represented in Congress….and this is not a group that favors decisions by consensus, as the Freedom Caucus clearly demonstrates.

  13. 1mime says:

    One interesting wild card in any major change in America’s political process is the role of media. It has become extremely profitable for media to invest themselves within the political process. In the case of FOX News, the purpose is twofold: make money and reinforce the conservative agenda. I lament the fact that our “news” programs have morphed into “opinion” programs, but since that cow is out of the barn and generating a tidy profit for the networks, I wonder how they would interface in a new parliamentary style political process.

    Consider: “Fox sets the tone for the entire conservative media, and even the entire conservative movement. If you’re a conservative it’s where you can go not only to get validation for your beliefs, but also to learn what your leaders want you to know: what issues are important; the key reasons Democrats are wrong about everything; and perhaps most critically, what you’re supposed to be angry about.”

    We not only have a broken political system, we have a broken voter base and a very financially motivated set of industries which would be loathe to give up the gravy train they’re on for something so trivial as “democracy”.

  14. Tom D says:

    The Republican and Democratic parties are already coalitions of interest groups and ideologies. The only apparent difference between that and what Lifer is proposing here, is that some of the factions that already exist would have to be willing to switch parties. I see no particular reason why any major political faction that currently exists is going to switch parties any time soon.

    More open intra-party competition would be a good thing if somehow the current situation, where the most extremist voters are the most likely ones to vote in primaries, could be changed. As long as that stays the same, intra-party competition is pretty much going to mean what it means now: that Republican congresspersons are scared of being primaried if they don’t do what the right wing wants. (And on occasion, lefty Democrats manage to primary one of theirs, but this seems less common.)

    Compulsory voting would be one way to dilute the influence of extremists in primaries, but I think it would probably violate the First Amendment.

    • Tom D says:

      Furthermore, trying to run for office as a so-called “urban Republican” in a Democratic city would a total waste of time (at least if the goal is to win). Such a candidate would have to constantly fend off skeptical questions from voters about why they are a member of the party of Trump, of Bush, of the NRA, the party whose members have often proposed to cut or eliminate the minimum wage and food stamps, the party that has treated President Obama with disrespect and fought him tooth and nail, the party that has been enacting laws making it harder for minorities and poor people to vote. “Mr. Candidate, what the hell is wrong with you that you would join the party of those people?” The attack ads would write themselves.

      A person with moderately pro-business or moderately libertarian views can get elected in a Democratic city by running in the Democratic primary or as an independent, much more easily than by trying to cleanse the Republican brand of all the crap it is associated with.

      The historical precedent of white racists switching to the Republican Party doesn’t apply because those people only switched when they felt like they were pushed out and made unwelcome by the Democratic Party’s embrace of civil rights. Nothing comparable to that is happening in the Democratic Party today. There’s no Democratic faction (certainly not in the cities!) being forced out by a major change in what the party stands for.

      • TheMeansAreTheEnd says:

        Tom D: re “There’s no Democratic faction (certainly not in the cities!) being forced out by a major change in what the party stands for.”

        Actually, Bill Clinton started that process and Barack Obama continued it. They both regularly attacked (and still attack) the left wing of their party. This has caused many to abandon the Democratic Party, though some of us hang on.

        Unlike the white racists switching to the Republican Party, left-wing Democrats have had no viable place to go. The choices are to declare themselves Independents. or to join a fringe party.

        A key reason Sanders has done so well — especially among “independents” — is that left wing people who feel rejected by the modern Democratic Party now feel that they have somewhere to go.

      • 1mime says:

        I’m interested as to “what” issues you think the Democratic Party has ignored for those in the “left wing” of the party. Would you be more specific?

      • Tom D says:

        I stand by what I said there: leftists aren’t being forced out of the Democratic Party. The ones who choose to leave, because they apparently can’t stand being part of a political coalition with other folks whose views aren’t as far to the left, are being very unwise.

        Given that leftists on their own are not a majority in America, the the only way to get anything done politically is to ally with enough moderate liberals and centrists to form a majority. Leftists who are too thin-skinned to stay in the Democratic Party (because they feel “attacked” due to intra-party disagreements) render themselves politically ineffective and lose out on the chance to try to influence the party in a leftward direction.

        The 2000 election illustrated very clearly what’s at stake when leftists leave the Democratic Party. That situation was partly Bill Clinton’s fault for driving the left away, but ultimately, leftists are responsible for their own choices, and those who chose to vote for Nader over Gore in Florida in 2000 did a lot of harm to the causes and values that they believe in.

      • 1mime says:

        Agree. That is why the Sanders’ play is so damaging. The essence of the “big tent” is that a wide range of beliefs is encouraged, unlike the GOP where an errant vote results in a “primary” of the unfortunate courageous person. The diversity within the Democratic Party is both its strength and a weakness – structurally, it’s more difficult to manage so many views. That and the fact that I think the Dems have become “lazy” in their recruitment and nurturing of younger progressives has hurt the party. Holding the presidency is laudable, but if you haven’t protected your flank, your president will be limited in his/her effectiveness. To their credit, the GOPe gets this and have worked smartly to identify and groom potential new candidates, keeping their party younger. To their great disadvantage, they have squandered their structuring efforts by inhibiting forcefully, any independence of thought or act.

      • 1mime says:

        I don’t think we give the Democratic Party leadership enough credit for their embrace of civil rights knowing that they would lose a large segment of their base who didn’t agree with that stand. This “element” – White, racist – has been a scourge wherever they land. The Republican Party may find them useful at the polls, but they are rotting the heart of the party. Add in the religious extremists (many of whom also share racist views despite their protestations of piety), and the grand old party has gotten exactly what it deserved.

        I don’t want one of these people – a Drumpf – ursurping the process and ending up the leader of our country.

    • Rob Ambrose says:

      Mine, regarding the court system, it seems it would be pretty easy to change it to something like a vote is required to happen within 30/60/90/days of a presidential appt or else the Senate defaults on its right to consent.

      It wouldn’t be politically easy, of course, but it would be easy in the sense that it wouldn’t require any major amendments or constitutional changes.

      Seems like a no brainier to me.

      • 1mime says:

        I’m looking at the “system” more broadly, Rob. From the state level through district courts and then the SC. There needs to be a way to make the process less partisan and more experience-driven….at the very least, the process should be consistent throughout the U.S. As for requiring a vote within a definitive time frame, that is a “no brainer” except for politics….My point is if we are going to make a radical change in our political process, it must include our court system which is presently being stacked so that judges can legislate.

      • Tom D says:

        I don’t know if there’s any way to change the system in order to de-politicize the courts. Elections for judges are obviously a horrible idea, but having judges with life tenure nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate has not stopped the politicization of the courts, even though in theory this might be the best way to try to insulate judges from politics.

        One thing that might help a little bit would be a constitutional amendment to set the number of Supreme Court Justices at nine and limit their terms to 18 years, thus ensuring every president gets to nominate the same number of Justices, and that the Justices don’t get to game the system by deciding when to retire.

        Another thing that could help in a big way would be to switch to an actual parliamentary form of government (cf. the title of this blog post), which would vastly reduce legislative gridlock and thus leave courts with less power to interpret statutes in ways that Congress might not agree with. If we had a parliamentary system, there would’ve been no need for a lot of the anti-Obamacare litigation of the last several years; nor would the Court have been able to gut the Voting Rights Act a few years ago.

        But, absent pie-in-the-sky constitutional changes such as these, and absent a change of heart by the general public deciding that it’s no longer acceptable to appoint political ideologues as judges, I think we are basically stuck with a politicized judiciary, and hence our politicians have little choice but to fight to shape the judiciary the way they want.

      • 1mime says:

        That is a very thoughtful response, Tom. I have discussed this issue with my legal eagle buddies and they suggest that the bar associations (state/local level) nominate candidates. I always wonder if it is possible for any nomination process from any group can be non-partisan, but I strongly believe forcing judges to run for office – which means fundraising and endorsements – subverts the entire concept of free and independent jurisprudence.

      • vikinghou says:

        Given how the Supreme Court currently operates, in my opinion the Court is the #1 issue of this Presidential campaign. The question is: who do you want to have the power to appoint Justices?

        Millenials who may be disappointed that Sanders won’t be the Democratic nominee should consider the long game before rejecting Hillary and refusing to vote. They need to remember that the next batch of Justices will affect their lives for the next 20 years or so. I don’t think this message to Millenials has been articulated forcefully enough–yet.

      • 1mime says:

        Correct. So far, the message to the millennials is all about Bernie as savior. This group of millennials is smarter than that and I hope that they will broaden their focus to the issues that really matter: SCOTUS and taking back the Senate majority. The two work hand in hand.

  15. 1mime says:

    Lot of meat in this post, Lifer. Where to start. First, much of the mechanics that control elections would have to go: proportional representation cannot exist alongside gerrymandering. The arcane rules that Congress operates under would also have to change – that will require major constitutional change. Changes in elected positions without major changes in our judicial system – from bottom to top – would be necessary. Our court system is just as broken as our legislative process…..stacked, wherever possible, operating under many of its own arcane rules. Some states elect their judges; others appoint them.

    The replacement of a “president” with a “prime minister” who is selected from within the ranks of the successful election party, has good and poor aspects. Certainly, government could function more effectively, at least while the majority party was in control, unlike America’s system in which Congress can effectively block or seriously truncate an elected president. The negative, IMO, is that there is too much “seesaw” affect.

    You mention that America offers an “early” model which others have refined. Who are the “others” that you reference? Is there a better model that developed out of the democratic one that is functioning in the world today?

    Personally, I’ve been voting “proportionally” in national elections for about 15 years now. The GOP has moved so far right and governed so irresponsibly that I simply stopped voting the candidate because of the choke hold the GOP demands of its team. At the local level, how would a minority be protected? Consider TX, where I live. I am a registered Democrat and basically am disenfranchised. How would proportional elections offer me greater participation when inevitable demographic change are already in motion? Granted, this is going to take time, but wouldn’t this be more democratic than voting party? IOW, enfranchising individuals naturally – making voting as easy as possible.

    Pardon my cynicism about “sub party groups” if they function like the Freedom Caucus…who make demands, not suggestions, and through the Hastert Rule, impede a natural democratic coalition between parties, sub party groups, etc. from ever having a chance to function.

    You suggest the possibility of 5-8 distinct sub parties negotiate the nomination process for their “party’s” nominee. Unless the process changes for electing members of Congress, which involves changes at the national level, the process whereby these various sub parties developed consensus around candidates would still be “elite”. Granted, it would probably eliminate a Drumpf, which would be beneficial, but I’m not so sure that the electorate has any improvement in its “voice” in the process…..Popular vote has become almost meaningless. The electoral college process also needs to be addressed.

    As always, interesting thoughts. I can certainly agree that our current system is broken.

    I’m interested in your research on the other “models” of democratic governance that have evolved from America’s example. Can you offer any other countries who are more successful in their governing process, or, do none exist?

    • formdib says:

      “First, much of the mechanics that control elections would have to go: proportional representation cannot exist alongside gerrymandering.”

      I’m a fan of CGP Grey’s “Short Line” method of districting:

      Like all solutions, there’s more than enough counterarguments out there to know this isn’t the perfect method. The biggest one is that geographies don’t make such clean straight lines. However, most of the counterarguments fall under the Nirvana fallacy (“It’s not perfect, so we have to keep arguing about it until it’s perfect rather than make things a little better.”) They also act like math doesn’t have other tools to make other simple smallest line decisions on the geographic compartmentalization level.

      In the end you overlay a map of registered voters on their registration address, put it into a computer, and hit go. No human being should choose district lines; they should only double check the results to make sure they fall within a certain order of error. If it’s ‘good enough’, the commission should be legally mandated to accept it. If it’s not, they should be legally mandated to run the algorithm again with the error and where it occurs input. If the commission is found to rerun a ‘sufficient’ division because they didn’t like the results, the commission is legally liable, and if they aren’t found to rerun an insufficient division because it’s ‘good enough’, they’re legally liable.

      And I do believe fixing gerrymandering alone is a major step forward, despite some handwaving that it’s really not all that bad really honestly c’mon guys. It’s not only about how much or how little it affects the system, but how easy and cheap it is to fix. When you have a simple and effective solution, just do it.

      • 1mime says:

        Agree. It’s all possible and definitely desirable, just politically difficult under current circumstances. It is insane that voting districts aren’t totally computerized. Archaic. We tolerate in politics that which successful businesses would never tolerate in practice.

    • goplifer says:

      “You mention that America offers an “early” model which others have refined. Who are the “others” that you reference? Is there a better model that developed out of the democratic one that is functioning in the world today?”

      Yes, others who came later took some pieces of our Constitution (mostly the notion of essential rights) and rejected its organizational structure in favor of party-based parliamentary democracy. Even McArthur, when presented with the chance to build Japan’s government from the ground up, rejected the American model and instituted a parliamentary system.

      • 1mime says:

        Lifer – I did a little research on parliamentary government and the variation is wide. I understand you advocate for a party-based democratic parliamentary form. Is there a specific country that you think has got it right? Or, are you advocating for the multi-party system as an alternative? I’m not clear what system you think would work best in our country….(Assume that might be the topic for a new post, but, if not, give it a whirl here.)

      • WX Wall says:

        MacArthur chose a parliamentary system for Japan because one already existed there (the Diet). Granted, it was weak, with most of the power held by the Emperor. But given the already difficult task of reconstruction, he decided to use as much of the existing Japanese political infrastructure as he could. He also gave significant authority to a constitutional committee of native Japanese to draft their constitution, only requiring that broad principles like representative democracy be honored. Heck, the new constitution was officially adopted as an amendment to the original Meiji constitution, as a mark of respect to the Meiji restoration.

        The Japanese reconstruction is, with all due respect to any Japanese that might still feel the sting of their defeat, one of the shining moments of nation building in American history, and indeed in the history of the world. I feel like weeping when we compare MacArthur’s work (and Adenaur’s work in West Germany) with the stunning incompetence of the leaders of the Iraqi and Afghanistani reconstructions.

        What could have been…

  16. Stephen says:

    For your idea to prevail the Hastert rule has to be overturned. If I had the choice it would be a fiscally conservative, socially moderate, open free market oriented with a strong safety net sub party. Government would have to have a crucial role in keeping marking power in balance to keep capitalism alive. Probably a dream but that would be my idea of what an ideal party would look like.

    • 1mime says:

      There would be plenty of “takers” for your ideal political party, Stephen. Count me in….The only caveat is that a socially moderate party would have to commit to funding the “moderate” safety net (your ideas here would be welcome), which the fiscal conservative side might have problems with. I wouldn’t, of course.

    • Tom D says:

      “Fiscally conservative… with a strong social safety net.”

      That right there is why your ideal party doesn’t exist.

      A strong social safety net means either a universal basic income or else the expansion of the safety net programs that exist now – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, subsidized housing, food stamps, unemployment insurance, Obamacare, civil legal aid, public education, school lunches, public transportation, homeless shelters. Those things cost money, which has to be raised through taxation. If you think that’s moral and important and worth doing, then you should be a Democrat. If you think it’s more important to cut taxes instead of doing those things, then you’re a fiscal conservative.

      Calling oneself a fiscal conservative who supports a strong social safety net makes as much sense as calling oneself a libertarian who supports strong government regulation of businesses.

      • 1mime says:

        Precisely my point, Tom. Precisely. That’s why I stopped calling myself such years ago…now I simply call myself a Progressive as I think that better describes my political “bent”.

      • Stephen says:

        Fiscally conservative means keeping taxes in balance with spending. The GOP has been consistent about cutting taxes mainly on the Rich while increase spending usually on the military. Not fiscal conservative at all. The Democrats have been better at maintaining better balance. Yes you can have a strong safety net and be fiscally conservative. Forget the flim flam that the Gop has been engaged in declaring being fiscally conservative but are not, and look at the actual meaning of fiscal conservative.

      • Tom D says:

        Stephen, that’s a very reasonable response about the meaning of “fiscal conservative.” But it seems to me that actual political candidates who describe themselves as fiscally conservative are usually mainly interested in cutting taxes, not in balancing the budget. But that’s just my impression – maybe I’m wrong.

        If being fiscally conservative simply means balancing the budget, though, then I think you’re basically describing yourself as a moderate Democrat. Your ideal political party more-or-less exists already.

      • Rob Ambrose says:

        That makes sense. I think the poster below is correct then, that that’s basically a Centrist Dem.

        Pretty much Obama

      • moslerfan says:

        There are basically three sides to the balancing the budget debate. Hawks think we have to balance the budget sooner rather than later. Doves think we have to balance the budget, but not right now. Self-titled “owls” think that full employment and stable prices are the objective; if that can be achieved with a balanced budget, fine; if it can be achieved with a surplus or deficit, that’s fine too. As Duncan pointed out above, it is generally necessary for the money supply to grow commensurately with growth of productivity and population (say 3-5% a year). That implies a Federal deficit of 3-5% a year because a public deficit is the only way to increase the supply of money in the private sector without also increasing private debt.

        That last thing is not a political statement, it’s a point of accounting logic. If the Federal Government taxes more dollars than it spends (runs a surplus) that necessarily draws dollars out of private savings. There is simply no other place for those tax dollars to come from. The only way the private sector’s dollar savings can grow is for the public sector’s dollar debt to grow, dollar for dollar. The only way for the public debt to shrink is for the Federal Government to tax away private dollar savings, dollar for dollar.

        A balanced budget is a guaranteed recipe for unemployment. By the way, this is in some quarters a feature not a bug.

    • Rob Ambrose says:

      The issue with the “Fiscally conservative witb a strong safety net” is that it’s kind of an oxymoron in the way the terms are understood today.

      I.e. “fiscally conservative” in today’s lexicon simply means not spending a dime on anything other then the military, and perhaps some tax cuts. “Fiscally conservative” precludes a strong social safety net because the right has adopted the idea that anything spent on poor ppl is wasting money.

      Of course, in reality, it’s fiscally conservative to provide health care to your citizenry. The government can use its scale and power to keep drug prices low, and provide better outcomes with less money if there is only one insurer and it’s them. The cost of this program is likely less then the cost of a sick and injured society where an illness or accident for an uninsured person can destroy everything theyve built in their lives.

      It’s also fiscally conservative to make sure education is either free, or at least accessible to everyone without accruing crippling levels of debt. Think how much is paid every year from millions of consumers into the pockets of a few huge companies, who then distribute that to a relatively few number of shareholders? $10 billion? $20 billion?

      That money will help the economy far more if kept in the hands of millions of consumers then distributed to hundred of thousands of shareholders, many of them already very wealthy.

      Maybe were just arguing semantics, but in the present political climate, “fiscal conservative” is basically short ha d for trickle down economics.

      You could argue it an FC is so.eone who doesn’t want gov to waste taxpayer dollars….but that’s so vague as to meaningless. Is there anyone who SUPPORTS government waste? And what constitutes “waste”? I consider single payer health care to be an investment not a cost, and I don’t think it’s wasteful at all. Others might think government funded high school is wasteful.

      Your post reminded me if this article.

      • Stephen says:

        Rob you are correct about semantics. We have to agree to what words mean to have a meaningful discussion.

      • 1mime says:

        I think what we are all saying is that we want government to be responsibly, efficiently run. I also maintain that “balance” is a tricky word – in a country as large and complex as America, in a world that strongly impacts our own, “balance” is desirable but not in the absolute. I frankly don’t think it’s necessary to “balance” a budget. There are simply too many unknowns – weather, war, disease. There should be an operating budget that uses resources wisely, but then that implies that the process of designing the budget be directed by responsible people. Presently, that authority rests in the hands of the House. Need I say more?

  17. Nick Danger says:

    I know of one example where sub-parties didn’t work out well. In the 1980s, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in Japan consistently got enough votes to run parliament. The heads of various factions within the party would compete for power and for government posts between themselves. Since important decisions were made in closed rooms, the process was opaque to voters. It shows up a lot in anime from the period, in which government decisions are often made by a cabal.

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