Let's Party IV
COALITION GOVERNMENT AMERICAN STYLE
Nothing about the 2016 presidential elections has gone according to Hoyle. The rules of tradition are no more likely to govern the future than
the present. Throughout its 240 year history, the U.S. has been a two party polity; as regards current political parties, the past may no longer be prologue.
The marginality of U.S. third parties has been the consequence of several factors, especially the caliber of candidates and an unwillingness to
consider compromise. In other nations, e.g. Germany and Italy, third parties have moved uptown to partner with principal parties in governing their nations.
Elections in the U.S. are all or nothing contests. There are no consolation prizes for losing in our two party system. Elections in many European countries are proportional contests, allocating shares of governance on the basis of votes won. Proportional representation often leads to coalition governments, as it is not unusual for any one party not to win the needed majority.
The addition of viable third parties to the existing two-party mix could increase inter-party cooperation. Smaller, more homogeneous political groups, could find it easier to arrive at intra-party consensus and discipline-- avoiding the intra-party conflicts that so frustrated Boehner and are currently plaguing Speaker Ryan. Its negotiators might then have the standing needed to negotiate.
As shown by the House Freedom Caucus, groups of only a few dozen members can have an out sized influence over the decision/deal-making process. With fewer than 40 out of 435 representatives, the Caucus is able to influence both the initial drafts of legislation and their path to enactment.
The Caucus influences by threat of opposition not the promise of collaboration Opposition is a bargaining tactic—a threat easily acted upon when power is fairly evenly divided between two major parties. It need not be its defining quality.
It is hard to imagine the system self-adjusting without some substantive change, i.e. the willingness of both parties to compromise or a realignment in the balance of power--giving one or the other control of both the White House and a veto proof Congress. It seems counter-intuitive to think so, but increasing the number of political parties could well lead to less gridlock.
The theory rests on three basic assumptions:
The current extremism is something of an historic anomaly. The rise of the left and right of the middle forces within each party pushes them further to the ends of the political spectrum. Extremes do not play well together.
Congress’ inability to act has led to more aggressive executive action that in turn fuels partisan fires. Obama’s use of presidential orders and authority is a major issue dividing today’s Republican and Democratic candidates. His directing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to draft and issue the Clean Power Plan (CPP/Plan), for example, is the source of consternation and divisiveness.
Numerous legal challenges to EPA’s regulatory authority by state attorneys general and the fossil fuel industry are wending their way through the courts. Business groups like the Chamber of Congress and the National Association of Manufacturers are joining with Republican members of Congress to oppose unilateral action by the president and to challenge the constitutional authority of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Republican presidential candidate has vowed to “un-sign” the Paris climate change agreement. The Democratic and Republican Party platforms are diametrically opposed to each other on the matter of federal environmental regulation and the support of fossil fuels.
Opponents claim the actions taken by the President are rightfully the jurisdiction of Congress. Mr. Obama believes climate change presents a clear and present danger to the health, welfare and security of the nation; he and his party have promised to act. President Obama views his actions as fulfilling his word and responsibilities in light of Congress’ inability or unwillingness to act definitively—one way or the other.
Presidential action by default hardens positions of dissent. No matter which party wins the White House, as long as Congress is in gridlock, the chief executive will continue to act by presidential fiat. There is otherwise no option for getting anything done. Congressional gridlock is the ultimate circle-jerk.
An increase in the number of viable political parties would make it more difficult for any party to win outright the numbers needed to govern. By definition and practice, however, multi-party systems lead coalition governments. The division of both parties to reflect far right and far left factions may have the desired effect of re-establishing middle moderates as the dominant governing force—a force not nearly as opposed as the extremes and more willing to work together.
What we are witnessing in the 2016 presidential elections is frustration turned to anger. The heat of such emotion enflames passion and defeats any desire to collaborate. It creates intra-party divides, leads to the nomination of very flawed candidates and promises the continuation of an uncivil debate ending in more gridlock.
Our binary political system seems to have outlived its ability to govern. Would a multi-party system be better? I don’t actually know. What I do know is that a nation so divided is unwilling to compromise and unable to act in support of the health and welfare of its citizenry. Paraphrasing the words of one of the candidates: after all, what have we got to lose by supporting the growth of viable third parties?
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.