CNN’s Fareed Zakaria has weighed in on the matter of a presidential system of government v. parliamentary systems. Building on the arguments by Professor Juan Linz, Zakaria argues that a parlimentary system is more efficient because ”there is no contest for national legitimacy and power.” The kind of “squabbling” and “holding the country hostage” that is happening in this nation, Zakaria argues, doesn’t occur in Great Britain. Other nations are acting quickly and with foresight; America, on the other hand, is “paralyzed.” It appears that for him, the debt ceiling debate was the breaking point –an ugly spectacle that seems to have bothered Zakaria no end.
I have several thoughts in response to Zakaria, beginning with the inconvenient fact (for Zakaria) the debt ceiling debate had a resolution. The two parties did arrive at an agreement, and a default was avoided. The process may not have been pretty, but it worked. Remember, if Obama had had his way originally, there would have been a “clean” debt ceiling vote, meaning the debt ceiling would have been raised without spending cuts. It’s only because of the opposition by the GOP the debt ceiling debate included any spending cuts.
Beyond that, for most of the Obama presidency we had what was essentially a parlimentary system. The president was able to get virtually everything he wanted passed into law, from the stimulus, to the Affordable Care Act, to the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation, to his budgets, to much more. And look where that got us. The mid-term election of 2010 resulted in Republicans controlling one branch of the legislature, putting a check on Obama’s unprecedented spending binge and his injurious policies. That was all to the good.
There is also the fact the 20th century was rightly called the American Century — and during that run we had not a parlimentary system but a presidential one. It did pretty well, and to pretend the challenges we face today dwarf the challenges we faced then is silly and historically ignorant.
What is really driving Zakaria’s commentary, I suspect, is what often happens when liberals are elected and fail: their supporters begin to lay blame on the American system of government. Jimmy Carter’s advisers did the same thing. It turned out the problem then, as now, wasn’t the American system of government; it was the American president. The failures of Obama cannot be laid at the feet of Madison. And if the public is wise, they will do to Obama in 2012 what they did to Carter in 1980.