Hopefully answering a reader question (but probably just making it all worse).
So my problem isn’t in understanding or accepting your perspective, it’s that when we get to “and then…” you trail off. You find well deserved fault with the current system but seem unwilling to promote any specific alternative. For example, I could infer from your statements that you would champion more parliamentary-like systems. But when I point out that there are parliamentary systems that seem to yield results as bad or worse than here in the US (Britain, Brexit; Israel, extreme religious control of many important social and policy areas; Italy, Berlusconi and decades of chaotic government) you merely make vague statements about how those cases are unique and shouldn’t be considered. But in what way are they institutionally different from more successful systems? Because if the same institutional structure can lead to either the Netherlands or Israel, to Sweden or Italy, then it can’t be the institutional structure itself that leads to better or worse results.
Because the comment box is too restrictive, let me provide at least a partial answer here.
Let me try and address some of the specific:
but seem unwilling to promote any specific alternative.
I’ll be honest, that strikes me as unfair, but I will try and accept that perhaps I haven’t been clear enough. I will admit, as expounded on below, that I have cleaved more to diagnosis than solution of late.
it’s that when we get to “and then…” you trail off.
This is not entirely unfair (especially in any given post), although I think it undersells a lot of things I have said in terms of “and then…”
First, I am aware that I have doubled down, to a degree, on the diagnosis of specific issues, rather than prescriptions for fixes. This is for several reasons. The main reason is that I have decided, whether correctly or not, that the country needs more and better diagnoses before it will ever listen to remedies. And it is my assessment that this is also true for a lot of the readers here.
Indeed, I have a sense that the general way that even very smart people talk about American politics (and not just here by any stretch) is so steeped in American mythologies and lacks any deep understanding of how politics can function beyond the American model, that continued deep analysis of the pathologies of American politics is a worthwhile goal. I will also say that when it comes to primaries specifically, I am thinking more about their role and so simply want to write about them. My interest in party control of labels dates back to my doctoral dissertation on Colombian politics, for whatever that is worth.
Second, in the past whenever I have talked about solutions, especially more dramatic ones like electoral reform, I find that most readers just don’t see it. Or, if I said “hey, parliamentarian sure would be cool,” I suspect that I would be accused of pipe dreams (indeed, I often am, even when writing about modest changes).
In fairness, I have made some very concrete proposals on this site, which I referenced a couple of weeks ago: An Action-Oriented Prescription.
To be direct, as I have before, my “magic wand” preference would be to go a lot closer to Germany: a parliamentary system with MMP (mixed-member proportional representation) and federalism that takes states seriously but without overly empowering them in a way that undercuts national policy.
My less pipe dreamy, “and then” is to get as many people as possible to understand that our political pathologies will not be solved with better messaging by the parties, via better people in politics, or just time. My modest goal is to convince and educate as many people as I can to at least think about how structure and institutional choices shape the governance we get. I honestly think (or delude myself into thinking) that I have made some modest progress in this arena.
I have made a number of low level suggestions, including increasing the size of the House, adding states, expanding the Supreme Court, moving away from primaries, and popular election of the president. These are all hard, but modest, reforms–several of which could be done via legislation.
Back to MarkedMan’s comment:
For example, I could infer from your statements that you would champion more parliamentary-like systems. But when I point out that there are parliamentary systems that seem to yield results as bad or worse than here in the US (Britain, Brexit; Israel, extreme religious control of many important social and policy areas; Italy, Berlusconi and decades of chaotic government) you merely make vague statements about how those cases are unique and shouldn’t be considered.
So, yes, as noted, I would prefer parliamentarism (not that I expect that to happen, well, ever). I think, too, this is an area in which the commenter (and many readers, and even the mainstream American press) radically oversimplifies (or straight-up does not understand) what a parliamentary system means. The UK and Israel are radically different because while both are parliamentary (the executive is elected from within the legislature) their electoral systems are vastly different. The UK has an electoral system very similar to the US system, i.e., single-seat districts with plurality winners while Israel has one of the most proportional electoral systems one can find (list-PR in a single national district).
As such, the UK is more comparable to the US in many ways than it is to Israel, despite both being parliamentary. The UK has a system that produces two large parties, but it does not use primaries, and also has some important regional differences (most notably the Scottish National Party) that creates its own dynamics. Israel’s system is highly proportional, and therefore creates a fragmented party system.
To say that either the UK or Israel provides all one needs to know about parliamentary democracy would be a mistake (because it is a gross oversimplification).
I cannot stress enough that it is not parliamentarism that directly influences the number of parties that compete and win seats, it is the broader electoral system that serves that function (but this is often conflated in the US press).
And, I would note, my preference for parliamentarism is not because it produces some promised outcome, but rather because it produces a better system than the one we currently have.
I would also note that Brexit is not a result of parliamentarism, as much as it is the result of a massive political calculation by David Cameron.
In terms of citing specific problems with specific parliamentary democracies, it is less that I dismiss these examples, as it is to say that it is super easy to argue that nothing is perfect (yes. no joke). Also, my argument is not that parliamentarism or, more specifically, a more representative electoral system fixes everything, but that it would improve a number of key flaws in our politics.
I will also admit to finding it more a bit frustrating for the counter-argument to be: there is this one thing in Israel I don’t like, as well as this other thing in the UK that is bad (and man, isn’t Italy a mess?). All well and good, but that still ignores dozens of other cases and, moreover, since nothing is perfect when humans are involved, why should it be considered dispositive to be able to list a couple of examples as if they are slam-dunk counter-arguments?
I accept that Israel has produced some bad policy (but since I am not arguing for the Israeli system, so what?). The UK has a glaring example of a monumentally stupid policy–no argument there, but there is still a pretty good argument that the US is engaged in ongoing problems, so how does Brexit demonstrate that the US doesn’t need reform? And yes, the Italians have a long track record of issues with their government, but why is that supposed to mean the parliamentary governance itself is a problem?
And, again, none of that takes into account variations in electoral systems and other institutional variables. Just casting it all as parliamentary v. presidential is, quite frankly, excessively simplistic.
But, in terms of trying to find common ground, I would agree that if we could wave the aforementioned magic wand, I would not adopt the institutional structures of any of those three cases (even if there are elements that they possess that I might prefer to the current US configuration).
Again to MarkedMan:
Because if the same institutional structure can lead to either the Netherlands or Israel, to Sweden or Italy, then it can’t be the institutional structure itself that leads to better or worse results.
Let me stress that none of those systems are identical and what we would need to consider is what features (e.g., electoral system, executive-legislative relations, structure of legislature, federal-unitary arrangements, etc.) we are actually talking about. It is grossly simplistic to simply say that the comparison is parliamentary system v. presidential system.
I will end here. Maybe this has made thing clear, or maybe it hasn’t (but I did try!).