Sunday, June 08, 2014

Bring Your Majorities

Ted Cruz whips up his Texas supporters by giving the war cry of "let us whack Washington DC". What he omits telling his supporters is it no good winning the White House unless they bring their own 'majorities' in Senate and House. And that is what is broken with the political system of this country.

In Parliamentary Systems, leaders bring their own majorities. As a result, one way or the other changes in the system are swift and people get a chance of seeing enactment of policies on which elections were fought. These leaders are then hold accountable too since they do not have any room to hide, what with those majorities.

By design and by calcification of American Political System, there is no such clarity in American System. On top of it, Americans have 'sky high expectations' from the White House occupant, especially by Conservatives. Barack Obama famously lost his majorities early in his term and ever since then he has been pilloried all along as a pinata from both sides - Conservatives want White House to continue global interventionist policies of Bush era even when neither Congress or Americans have the appetite to do anything such. As a result we land up in such a contradiction - White House pursues policies which Americans actually want (stay away from the mess outside USA); but because of American's view about what their leader can / should do, they feel Barack Obama is letting them down in holding up American Exceptionalism. True, as a leader it is the job of President Obama to educate Americans that he is essentially doing what they elected him to do. But more than this communication failure on behalf of White House, issue is American ethos is to continue the myth of Super Powers of Oval Office. Wall Street Journal Editorial, Robert Kagan and that brand of Conservatism is all wrapped in some mythological "Morning in America" stunts of one President Ronald Regan and they are simply not ready to go away from it regardless of changed world. (Chinese Economy surpassing American is not a fault of any one White House...) Essentially what these conservatives want is whatever political support left of President Obama (40%+ approval rating), he should burn that to undertake adventures aboard (and in the process come to George Bush levels of approval rating - 18 to 20%). In other words, these Conservatives want President Obama to become politically bankrupt in pursuing their wet bed dreams abroad. Probably in books of these Conservative Pundits, if any approval rating / political capital left for an American President means that President did not try enough adventures! Going politically broke is the only thing acceptable to this lot.

On the other hand, Left loves to ignore absence of working Democratic majorities in Congress and continues to blame White House even if it undertakes right steps. As Jonathan Chait explains, routinely Left wants to hold President Obama responsible for things which are not in his control as far as Environmental Agenda goes and blame him for not doing sufficient. Same for Immigration - blaming President Obama while ignoring dynamics in the Congress (Republicans see little upside in passing any immigration bill since they have concluded that passing of any such reforms would not result GOP getting additional Latino votes).

The way money is raised for elections (essentially candidate does the bull work and party is hardly in the position to influence this money flow), the way candidates are selected / elected through primaries for the general election, off phase election cycles (every two years House, one third Senate and presidential every four years), deep differences in how each state carves out house district as well as primary system (like in California it is possible to have top two candidates from the same party whereas in most other states it is the legacy system); all these contribute to a political power which is simply unable to effect any changes. Add to that deeply entrenched view of Americans that our Founders intended such 'checks and balances' system rather than clear 'power' to a single agent. 

What all this means is for effective legislative agenda enactment - inciting crowds against Washington DC is not sufficient. Unless tomorrow's leaders bring their own majorities, they would have to otherwise settle into Obama model only - all 'ones' and 'twos' and no home runs (even though his last week of 'ones' was not that bad - EPA ruling against carbon emission, freeing an Americans soldier and economy eventually recouping all of jobs lost in the recession).

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