Collected Works

"Through these fields of destruction, baptisms of fire, I've witnessed your suffering as the battle raged higher. Though they did hurt me so bad: In the fear and alarm, you did not desert me, my brothers in arms."

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Parlimentary Procedures

La Shawn Barber banned me from posting privileges on her blog. Oops. She was strongly supporting white Nebraskan parents who move their kids out of schools with Hispanic students. I won't rehash the argument but I trust I am not alone in seeing that as a horrible idea. Telling La Shawn was the mistake...

The bigger lesson was that ideology is essential, but applying it to real-life problems is something to be done with a lot of thought. Life is too complicated to just "read and react" in five minutes on matters that will affect you and your children for the rest of your lives. That's the trap which snares so many liberals, and no small number of conservatives.

La Shawn fell into the trap with her support of pedoxenophobia. I fell into it by objecting too strongly, on her turf.

Typically, systems of government are designed to mitigate those kinds of problems on a national scale. That's the best transition I can come up with for this week's topic:

Parliament as U.S. Foreign Policy

It's 1945. "Divine" Emperor Hirohito has just surrendered the nation of Japan to the United States. Our occupation would continue for seven more years. It would be a mostly-peaceful one, reflecting the Japanese cultural tendency toward respect and civil order. The new constitution would be written by the occupiers. Along with a host of civil freedoms and a ban on any meaningful military force, that constitution specified the system of the new national government: parliamentary democracy.

It probably came as no surprise to the pundits of the day. Defeated West Germany also had a parliamentary democracy. As did the newly-liberated Philippines. Later, the same system would be installed in South Korea, then Panama, then all the Eastern European countries who escaped the Iron Curtain, along with Russia. Then Afghanistan, and most recently, Iraq. A half-century of parliaments, either effectively installed by U.S. pressure in the Cold War, or direct U.S. military action.

What makes this noteworthy is that the U.S. doesn't have a parliamentary system. We have a bicameral (two-party) system. It's not specifically mandated by our constitution, but our history has been so consistent that it's now effectively embedded in our government. Third parties exist, but they never gain enough support to participate in legislative power-sharing.

What makes us so different from the other democratic republics? Why don't we export our own system of government?

Making the Horse Drink

The overriding reason is that we don't believe our bicameral system would work for anyone else. We are a young country. There was no weight of national history to push us when our constitution was written. The vast majority of our founding citizens shared a common language, culture, religion, race and tradition. We were uniquely suited to succeed with a system where implementation and procedures were the biggest issues of disagreement.

Contrast our situation with Iraq today. The country has three large and distinct racial groups; the Arabs, the Kurds, and the Persians. It has several lesser minorities like Egyptians, Assyrians and Turkomen. Each of those groups brings a separate culture, with all the conflicting trappings. The differences are more fundamental and seem to require a system with more latitude.

The second reason is more practical. Multi-party systems are easier to impose. Rather than dictating that each citizen must be either a Republican or Democrat, we simply encourage those citizens to form political parties, as many as they like. It's a hands-off, lower-maintenance approach that is perfect for the end of a conflict.

The third reason is a more Machiavellian one. Our bicameral system creates at least the appearance of national unity. By herding us all into one of the two parties, we gain a sense of common purpose that is sometimes illusion, sometimes truth. But that unity allows our nation to accomplish fantastic things.

By contrast, the parliamentary governments of the world spend a lot of political time accommodating very basic disagreements amongst the parties. New elections are possible whenever a coalition of parties fractures into an overall minority. The multi-party system makes those differences more visible, and thus more divisive. Gridlock for the world is good for America, we don't have to confront any other nations who are as fundamentally united as we are.

The fourth reason is technological. The world has cell phones. They have television, they have radio and literacy and the Internet. More people have a "voice" than ever before. The instant communication makes us more aware of our differences than any time in history. And that makes it basically impossible to channel everyone into a bicameral political system.

Every Candle Casts a Shadow

There are some real strengths of our system, beyond the unity of purpose mentioned above. One is stability. Elections happen on a monolithically reliable schedule. Parties aren't forced into unpleasant alliances to remain relevant, with all the discord that creates. Likewise, our two parties don't fall apart over crucial national issues. The machine is stable, if not flashy.

Another strength of our system is direct representation (stop laughing). Imagine being forced into a Republican-Democrat alliance in order to keep the President in office. Imagine realizing that your party is slightly smaller, so you're counting on someone from your hated rival party to represent your beliefs as a senator or representative. Hardly reassuring.

There are disadvantages, too. In our two-party system, important issues are hidden for the sake of unity. Democrats are currently struggling with gay marriage (as I type that, I dream the next generation will laugh uproariously at the phrase). Republicans are strongly divided on immigration policy. People with strong opinions may feel that there is no public voice for their position.

Another weakness is accountability. We know the President will be in office for four years. Not more, not less. If he does something incredible (like say, Iran-Contra, perjury, etc.), there is no coalition of parties that can break up to force an election. Our stability can become our prison.

So which is better?

I have little doubt that America would be a parliament if it was founded today. The combination of our rugged independence and our modern technology would make it unavoidable. But would we be better off?

I believe we would. I often chuckle at the overused "Republicrat" and "Demican" terms. Cliches or not, they ring true. Instead of watching many parties make compromises in public, our individual representatives make compromises in secret.

The good news is that our constitution is silent on the possibility of many parties. It could happen spontaneously at any time a critical mass of dissatisfied voters band together. The bad news is that our constitution doesn't provide for elections by parliamentary decree. We're stuck with our elected officials (barring impeachment or voter recall) for their full terms.

Short of Douglas MacArthur, it looks like we're going to remain bi. Cameral. It's worked for 229 years, and we're the greatest nation on Earth. Good enough. Here's to the next hundred.

May God bless the United States of America,