Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Restructuring the Political Parties or the Constitution - Which Will it Be?

Interesting read on structural tensions within the parties by Thomas Edsall in NYT Opinion today. Our constitutional system is being stretched beyond its limits. The most basic built in checks and balances (Senate approval of President's nominees to an independent judiciary, Senate filibuster, and passage of a law requiring both House and Senate and Presidential signature with veto that can be sustained or overridden) no longer work. The problem is with the party system and that is where the solution lies. We could never have an effective Constitutional Convention rewriting the rules of our democracy because the structure and functioning of such convention would be stymied for the same reasons Congress no longer works. The system has long relied on two parties working within established norms of behavior, as party leaders tack toward the fringes of their own parties. Up until recent weeks, we were still hearing President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Democratic leaders saying how much we all need to work together. With the Scalia succession battle, we may not hear that again. The looming breakdown of our system of governance at the federal level, barring tweaks to the rules in Congress on the filibuster or the Constitutional framework on nomination of justices, begs for a union of the moderates into a centrist coalition. That coalition could function more as a majoritarian party, allied with the left on some issues and the right on others. This would be the only way that the U.S. majority rule system could work like the muli-party parliamentary systems of Europe.

The barrier to this new system is that it could be preempted by the long term strategy of the Republican Party establishment to succeed on its agenda at the state level, one state at a time. This strategy contemplates ruling as a minority, but with the power of a majority, which depends on wielding power within the states to suppress voter turnout of Democrats, maximize the advantages of gerrymandering, and win legal challenges from Democrats before a Supreme Court dominated by Republicans. See Edsall piece from last month: The Republican Party's 50-State Solution.

Unless the Republican strategy is successful, the path to a new majoritarian centrist party system lies in a Presidential candidate who can win as an independent possessing the right combination of personal attributes and experience with substantial financial backing. We have never seen a third party Presidential candidate with sufficient appeal to win an election from the center in the electoral college system. The victory of that candidate will only come when voters are angry enough, which could happen in 2020 if the logjam continues in 2017 - 2020 with a Democratic President and Republican Congress. We can thank Donald Trump for showing us this scenario for 2020 is possible , but not with him as the candidate.  Unless something changes, we could see an even angrier electorate and more severe fracturing of our politics.

No comments:

Post a Comment