In his eponymous blog, former Labor Secretary and Bernie Sanders supporter Robert Reich tells of a recent conversation with a poll-wise friend who called him breathlessly predicting a historic Democratic landslide this fall, in which Hillary Clinton will carry states the Dems haven’t won in years, and Democrats will take back majority control of the Senate. Will it be a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, Reich asks. No, says the friend.
What about the House? Reich asks the friend. No, the friend says, it won’t turn over but the Dems will cut into the Repub majority. What about the states? No, most of the states will still be controlled by Republicans. So, Reich recaps, a huge historic landslide win will result in only one piece of the federal government changing partisan control from red to blue, the Senate, and even there the Repubs can block most things with a filibuster. Yes, the now-less-excited poll-wise friend acknowledges.
Reich claims to have succeeded in depressing his friend, who ends the conversation with “Remind me never to call you again.” But Reich didn’t go where I usually do at this point in the analysis, which is to think about our sacred system itself, especially in comparison with others around the world.
Many, probably most of the other systems are set up so that a party or a coalition of parties that wins a landslide victory is in position to enact and implement the program on which they ran. In most of those systems, there is only one house of the legislative branch (or one that holds almost all of the power) and the leader of that party is the prime minister (that’s how he or she gets to be prime minister) so he or she won’t be vetoing the bills that pass. The other systems don’t generally have a high court filled with lifetime appointees who can, and in the United States frequently do, strike down parts or all of a piece of legislation that has been enacted by the elected representatives of the people.
In short, those other systems are designed to produce, in the aftermath of an election, a government that can govern, meaning enact and implement the policy proposals on which it ran. If the public doesn’t like how that works out, they know whom to blame and can make a change at the next election.
Our system is unusual by international standards. Seldom in recent history has one party held all the power needed to enact its program. Not too many decades ago, big programs often passed on at least a compromise basis or with a coalition made up of members of both parties. That’s pretty much over. Now, in the Era of No Compromise, each party constantly encourages the public to blame the other party for whatever bad is happening, and it’s not easy for a voter to know whom to blame.
Americans are mostly so enamored of the piece of American exceptionalism that suggests ours is the greatest system ever devised that it may be hard for them to entertain the idea that part of our problem is baked into our structure and even into our beloved, sacred, perfect Constitution, although by the small snideness I don’t mean to “blame” the framers, who did their framing at a time when there were no functioning national parties and they didn’t imagine that there would be (although the first two-party system emerged pretty soon after they were done framing).