Thursday, January 23, 2003

The blog MyDD has of late been spending a lot of time on the upcoming election in Israel. Ah, parliamentary government. Sometimes, people in the U.S. look wistfully towards a proportional government. They are generally of two types: those who want a political parties to act as single-minded creatures rather than as coalitions of individuals and those who feel underrepresented and think that proportional government will give them a voice. The former look to the UK as a model, the latter would end up with something looking like the Israeli Knesset. That is not necessarily a good thing.

An American parliamentary system would do one of two things. It would create clear one-party rule where legislators must follow the party line, or it would create an atmosphere of coalition building. The former would end once and for all the idea of bipartisanship, the latter would set off a swap meet of favors and Cabinet positions in order to build a majority.

A part of me thinks that proportional government would keep the current two parties still in power. There's a great deal of inertia. The two parties would still rule state governments, since I don't expect a change to a proportional national government would be accompanied by a shift in all forms of state and local government.

On the other hand, there is the possibility that the current parties will fracture and be like Labor and Likud in Israel--potential senior members in a majority coalition, but needing to make concessions to small parties. In either case, I see the Democrats and Republicans sticking around.

So, let me give a run-down of the likely winners and losers of a Balkanized parliamentary system in America:

The Christian right--This highly motivated, cohesive group is currently a junior member of the current Republican coalition. They are used, they are for the most part not given power within the party proportional to their strength. George W. Bush is clearly not a member of the Christian Right, but his team knows how to use them as an ally. People may point to John Ashcroft, but the corporate America/national security Republicans in power have held the Christian Right in check so far. A Christian Right bloc as a separate entity would be able to demand major concessions. Take a look at the concessions Shas or other ultra-Orthodox groups have been able to demand in Israel.
African-Americans--Sort of like the Christian Right, they are a cohesive bloc on the left. A separate African-American party would be better able use their size in a left-of-center coalition as leverage for some major concessions.
Pro-Lifers--This is not synonymous with the Christian Right (see: Kucinich, Dennis). Still, they are a highly motivated, single-issue bloc that is willing to stick together. I get the idea that some pro-lifers will vote for an anti-abortion Communist or Nazi versus a pro-abortion Republican or Democrat.
Regional Parties--Whether it be Southerners, Californians, or New Englanders, some region will be able to build a party that will poll highly in its area and not at all in other parts of the country. Many parliamentary government seem to give a few seats to these types of parties.

The Libertarian Party--Pretty much everyone who wants to be a Libertarian is already one.
The Green Party--The Greens have become the leftist party of choice through lack of alternatives. The party has gained so much because of a presidential candidate who doesn't really represent the Greens but who acts as a symbol. It will lose strength as various left-leaning types believe that their own particular spins on the left can be better realized through other political groupings that now seem viable.
New Democrats and moderate Republicans--These groups have based their strategies on the idea that a more moderate platform is a better base for election on a national stage. By encouraging the existence of parties whose appeal is to narrow constituencies, the New Democrats and their ilk no longer have a clear, pragmatic purpose.

This isn't a full rundown of the winners and losers. Our current form of government is based on the idea that we form coalitions of interests well before the election. The Democratic Party fails to realize that and tries to cater to ephemeral tastes, crafting a diverse set of issue positions without clear philosophical coherence and sounding as empty as a Top 40 station owned by ClearChannel.

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