Saturday, March 17, 2012

Our Three-headed Beast - Divided US Leadership

The New Yorker of March 19 has an interesting piece - The Unpersuaded by Ezra Klein - that looks at whether Presidential speeches make any difference.  He finds that they do, in a negative way.  When President's talk about things they support or want to do, they engender partisan resistance to that very thing among the opposition.  What helps a President achieve his agenda is a strong enough economy to help him win re-election and his party to gain enough seats to gain/maintain control of Congress.  This may always have been true but seems more so over the last few decades.

Drawing from political scientist Juan Linz, Klein writes that our form of presidential democracy is not common.  And for good reason.  "A broad tendency toward instability and partisan conflict is woven into the fabric of a political system in which a democratically elected executive can come from one party and a democratically elected legislature from another.  Both sides end up having control over some levers of power, a claim to be carrying out the will of the public, and incentives that point in opposite directions."  Parties no longer moderate this tendency in our American system because they have been transformed from "big tents" to groups operating as "disciplined, consistent units."  With party rigidity, the President becomes a polarizing figure rather than a persuader.

In other words, we have a system in which the parliamentary leaders - Speaker and Senate majority leader - and the executive can form a three-headed beast instead of a coherent government.  Time for change?  Time for a constitutional convention?

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