We Do Have a Parliamentary System – Of a Sort

With the impending collapse of the Republican Party, I find myself thinking about our current form of government. Most notable was a call for a moderate Republican-moderate Democrat coalition to steer the Congress through to 2016.

I have often heard friends lament that the United States lacks a Parliamentary system of government. By this use of “Parliamentary,” I think they mean “more than two parties.” Most of them do not understand the deeper workings of the system and they probably wouldn’t be happy with a Prime reagan-queenMinister AND President. (Some might be in favor of a Constitutional Monarchy. I remember actual calls for Ron and Nancy to become our first King and Queen.)

Their understanding runs to this: in other countries there are many political parties and they all have a chance at power. Nobody has to settle for the lesser of two evils, as they have a smorgasbord of parties to choose from.

What they may not understand is coalitions. With many parties competing, no one party can consistently win a majority and can only hope for a plurality. As a majority is needed to form a government, it is then time for coalition building.

I’ll use Germany as an example: the two major parties, CDU and SPD, are incapable of winning a majority. The center-right CDU, however, has a hole card in the CSU, their more right-wing sister party from Bavaria. This still doesn’t give them a majority, so  after the 2013 elections they formed a coalition with the FDP, a formerly left party that has drifted to the center.

In the latest election, the FDP did not rise to the 5% needed to gain seats in the Bundestag and the CDU were forced to form a coalition with their opposition, the SPD. This is called a Grand Coalition. See first paragraph. Sound familiar?

Merkel and Obama
We have hundreds of Parties, but mine is the best!


I have always held that we do have a multi-party (more than two) system, and that it has been squeezed into the two party image by the winner take all nature of our elections. Each of our major parties can be seen as a coalition, preformed before the elections to gain a majority.

In the 1960s, Republicans began their Southern Strategy, reaching out to racist elements in the traditionally Democratic South.  In the 1980s, Reagan reached out to Evangelicals, the so-called Silent Majority. Along the way to 2016 they picked up “Keep America #1” war hawks and gun lovers.

The Democrats have been allotted the leftovers: Blacks, Latinos, Pacifists, Green and Eco voters, Feminists; every sort of outsider repulsed by the new Conservatism.

These, I would say, are coalitions. Imagine an alternate universe with myriad political parties in the United States: the KKK is a party; the NAACP is a party; NOW is a party. Of course, the Greens and Libertarians have always been with us. They are forced to switch to one of the major two every few years in order to “make their votes count.”

Tea Party ConfederateThe Tea Party was the last coalition member to enter the Republican fold. They, with money behind them, wanted action now. The New Confederacy and the Evangelicals had always wanted action, but were always placated with platform planks and promises. The Tea Party, which of course overlaps with all other extreme coalition partners in the Republican big tent, will not take any more promissory notes.

Here we are. The Republican’s coalition is falling apart. They were ecstatic over Citizens United, pleased with the success of their gerrymandering, happy to experiment with the budgets of Wisconsin and Kansas. What they got was an angry electorate ready to throw the bums (themselves) out and burn down the Capitol. In essence, they cannot control their coalition.

…and the Democrats? They did have some crazies in their coalition, but never went too far in coddling them. Demographics have also helped them. Remember all those leftover groups that weren’t included in the Big R Tent? They now constitute a majority in the United States, created while the Republican’s chosen partners shrank in number.

Would things be much different, as my friends were implying, if we had a Parliamentary form of government? Probably not. There would be a call for new elections. New coalitions would have to be formed. I somehow feel that democracy runs through the same scripts over and again, no matter what the format. Parties rise, parties fall; coalitions are solidified and coalitions fall apart. Democracy (hopefully) carries on.


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Know lots of stuff about (mostly) meaningless things.

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