Just seven years ago, we had a major push towards what was then called the Unitary Executive. This Bush era doctrine (actually older, but that’s not important for this discussion) holds that the president is entirely in control of all executive functions. It is, in essence, a way to undermine the separation of powers. Rove loved it, Cheney loved it, Bush loved it. Had it gone forward, it would have minimized the power of congress, undermined the courts and increased the scope of powers vested in the executive. Signing statements, executive decrees – things of these nature would be more prevalent.
Surely a harbinger of doom! Surely a sign of the apocalypse! Oh the inhumanity of humanity as democracy burns! Except for not really.
I think this diminished separation of powers would probably be a good thing long term. It would effectively make us into a parliamentary system and, somehow, most parliaments manage to restrain their wild, dictatorial and freedom hating impulses. It would eliminate the fatal, inevitable flaw of a separation of powers-style democracy.
Let’s explore this flaw.
President Obama won his reelection. The Senate Democrats won their elections. This means they have a legitimate claim to power. A legitimate claim to the ability to veto and deny any bills from the house they dislike.
The house Republicans won their elections. They have a legitimate claim to budgeting power. They have the legitimate ability to cut off any funding they like, to default on any debts they want.
With both sides having legitimate claims to power, they only things standing between us and an ungovernable society – the only people I’ve seen excited about this are Libertarians with no experience in actual ungovernable societies – are heterodox, treasonous party caucuses. No Democrats willing to jump ship? No budgets. No Republicans willing to sell out? No laws.
Thanks to the wonders of gerrymandering, those backstabbing Blue Dog Democrats and RINOs are more or less extinct. With these partisan, safe districts, politicians have increasingly clear mandates. The only way a politician from one of these districts can compromise is to ignore their partisan, wacky electorate. Since the entire idea of a republic is to punish politicians who ignore their electorates, this presents something of a problem.
So tell me why a parliamentary style group of elected dictators doesn’t sound pretty good about now. Tell me why the world ends if the Republicans get to implement their ideas relatively unimpeded if they win the next election, or the Democrats get to do the same right now. Actually, tearing up the whole separation of powers part of the constitution and starting over with no electoral college, a system where parties get a number of seats matched to the percentage of votes they win nationally and then form coalitions would be best, but that’s a pipe dream.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.