Delenda Est Carthago

Why not delve into a twisted mind? Thoughts on the world, history, politics, entertainment, comics, and why all shall call me master!

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

I plan on being the supreme dictator of the country, if not the world. Therefore, you might want to stay on my good side. Just a hint: ABBA rules!

20.1.09

Why is there no love for the American system of government?

As Barack Obama gets inaugurated and conservatives stew (I heard a complaint of a conservative this morning that it was the "tackiest" Inauguration ever because everyone was selling so much Obama crap - which I agree with, but I think it just shows how desperate people are to believe that their president isn't a scumbag), I wonder why our system of government isn't emulated more often around the world. A while back, I read in the book about Napoleon that the French, with "vivid memories of political pretensions by the old regime's high courts of parlements ruled out the American solution of vesting such authority in the Supreme Court." (page 28) This was part of a longer discussion of how the French were setting up their government, and although it's from 200 years ago, it still seems that countries setting up their democracies model them after the British form rather than the American. I'm not sure why that is.

The British have a parliamentary system of government, and many ex-British colonies follow this lead, but it seems like Iraq has set one up as well. I understand Canada, India, Australia, and other Commonwealth countries following the British model, but it seems weird that no other country follows the American model (at least none that I know of). In the British system, the prime minister is selected after the elections, when it's determined which party has the most members. The leader of that party becomes the prime minister. That's all well and good, but what's strange about the parliamentary system is that elections are held at any time. In Britain, they have to occur at least every five years, but there's no specific time for one. There's also no reason for a prime minister to ever give up his or her job. As long as his or her party wins the majority in the election, the prime minister could, conceivably, continue forever. I know this never happens, but there's no reason it couldn't. I wonder if this is a reason it's popular with nascent democracies - the prime minister can feel just like a dictator, and it's easier to shift from "prime minister for a long time" to "prime minister for life!"

I know there's a lot more to the British parliamentary system, but it seems a bit more unstable than ours. Not in Britain, of course, but they've been tinkering with it for 800 years. If the government can "fail" at any time and new elections be called, what's to stop despots from taking advantage of that? I know, a despot can take advantage of any system, but whenever you read about democracies falling apart, it starts with a prime minister getting a "no confidence" vote and the government needing a re-org. In the chaos, someone moves in and takes over. Yet countries keep trying it. I wonder why they don't look to the American model.

I admit that the American model isn't perfect. There's probably not enough direct democracy, although given the opinions of some people, that might be a good thing. But we always know when we have elections, and we usually know when there will be a new head of state. To all those people who bitched and moaned about what a wannabe dictator George Bush was, I would point out that we knew, with absolute certainty, that on 20 January 2009, we'd have a new president. It wasn't up for debate. Now, you can argue that the policies he put in place will be hard to undo (whether they should or not is something others can argue about), but the fact is, in 2006 or 2003 or whenever you started hating Bush, you knew that, at the latest, his last day in office would be 20 January 2009. There's no vote of no confidence in our system that destroys a government just because the opposition party is pissy about something. That may suck (I'm sure several Democrats would have liked to bring down the Bush government and install one of their own), but in the long run, it's fine. What did the Democrats do instead? They campaigned for Congress in 2006, when the elections were scheduled, won back the majority, and then got back the presidency in 2008, when elections were scheduled. And now, just like every four or eight years, we have a peaceful transfer of power. No fuss, no muss. If the Republicans don't like it, they have the 2010 and 2012 elections to gear up for. In the meantime, they can try to sway voters and even other members of Congress with more moderate policies. Or they can wait for Obama and the Democrats to screw up. It's not perfect.

It just seems to me that the American system is more stable than the British system. I get that the United States often doesn't have a stellar reputation overseas, but neither does Great Britain, so why is their system so much more attractive than ours? The United States, after all, has been the most stable government in the world for 226 years, and that's saying something. I'm not saying that countries shouldn't adopt the parliamentary system, because the Brits have made it work, but I often wonder why our republican system isn't more portable. Any ideas?

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8 Comments:

Blogger layne said...

Never underestimate the potency of dopey, kneejerk, USA-directed antipathy.

Part of the reason I prefer the Parliamentary system is that it feels as though there is more accountability (Or at least the perception of it) due to question periods, confidence motions and potential opposition coalitions. However, there are still some things about the American system I don't get (Electoral college, what it is your Senate does, the really close relationship between government and the judiciary that turned the French off), so my bias could just be based on preferring the system that I am familiar with.

Amusingly, our current sucky Prime Minister actually introduced and got fixed election date legislation passed here in Canada... but then called an election a year ahead of schedule, violating at least the spirit of his own law (Claiming that Parliament was dysfunctional - which it sort of is, but it was mostly because he figured with the financial crisis peeking over the horizon it would be his last best chance of wringing a majority government out of an increasingly apathetic and vote-fatigued populace.)

[Am I going crazy, or did your entry originally have a Margaret Thatcher reference?]

Also, congrats on the new President!

21/1/09 1:20 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

I think you're crazy. I thought about mentioning Thatcher, but never did. Spooky!

"Accountability" might be it. I know that having an "official" opposition party makes it feel more like the PM has to make sure he (or she) caters to those interests. That's an interesting point.

I saw on The Daily Show about the fun you guys had with elections recently (because I get my news from The Daily Show). Fun stuff.

The Electoral College might be a reason more countries don't adopt the American system. It's why we don't have a direct democracy, and I wonder if that turns people off. The Electoral College was basically a way for the rich and propertied to control the rabble back in the day. It might be a bit antiquated these days, but it's not going anywhere. The Senate is the same thing - the House is supposed to be the great unwashed deliberative body, while the Senate is the snooty one. And I agree with you about the judiciary ... to a degree. I don't mind presidents appointing justices (they still have to be confirmed), but I think they shouldn't be appointed for life. A long term (15-20 years, maybe), sure, but not for life.

Let's hope Obama cures all our ills in a week, or we'll turn against him quicker than you can say, "I sure miss Bush!"

21/1/09 6:52 AM  
Anonymous disintegrating clone said...

Don't mention Thatcher. I haven't recovered yet.

The British model certainly has its drawbacks, and governments can (if the monarch agrees) call general elections early, but there is, as in the USA, a fixed time a government can stay in office. A general election must be held no more than five years and one month after the previous one.

21/1/09 1:36 PM  
Blogger LGP said...

Preach on Brother Greg.

Seriously, I kind of agree, but like you said, what with the electoral college, ours isn't the most ideal for some countries.

As for Obama, if he establishes term limits on all these people who seem to think they're appointed for life, well, that will make him the greatest president we've ever had. It'll be like giving the government back to the people. If not, well, how much further down the spiral ca we actually go...

31/1/09 6:40 PM  
Blogger Roger Owen Green said...

maybe we didn't colonize enough

2/2/09 10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most countries that win wars against foreign occupiers tend to set up very free governments. So don't expect Iraq to turn into much. Combine that with overflowing natural resources and a native population with inferior weaponry and you have a long and prosperous future ahead of you.

But you do have it wrong - we don't have the oldest democracy - that goes to India. And the oldest sitting parliament goes to Iceland.

The electoral college was so that if the people chose a bad candidate the electors could change the vote. In practice nowadays they just vote with the people. And it is a good system because it gives you a much more localized democracy where the political differences of different locations are taken into account.

As for why we have a senate - who freaking knows?

10/2/09 7:54 AM  
Anonymous Juisarian said...

I did read somewhere (and it probably wasn't Wikipedia) that Israel is supposedly based on the US model, except with a unicarmel legislature.

25/2/09 4:12 AM  
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