If grandma had wheels she’d be a bus. If Eleanor Roosevelt could fly she would have bombed Dresden. And if the U.S. had a Parliamentary System, like most of the world’s democracies, it would have seven viable parties. Or at least that’s my best guess. In a Parliamentary System, the legislature chooses the prime minister, thus the executive and legislative bodies are intertwined; for better or worse. I’m on the “better” right now.
A Parliamentary System just ain’t going to happen in the U.S., but imagining it, illuminates the forces and fragments that shape American politics today. It also reminds us how inadequately the Left-Right, Liberal-Conservative, and Democrat-Republican dichotomies reflect the thinking of average Americans about politics.
The effort here to sketch a more accurate political map of the U.S. has serious limitations; but, it’s a start, as much as can be done in a 1000 word essay. My seven imaginary U.S. Parliamentary Parties don’t include numerous likely Splinter Parties; perhaps the Anti Common Core Union; the anti GMO Food Alliance; and so on.
My best (educated) guess is that no more than two thirds of the current U.S. electorate would actively identify with one of these seven parties. The rest are independents, swing voters, non participants, marginally attached, or splinter party voters. Also, I don’t include an Independent Party among the seven. Take a look at this good PEW article, decomposing the political universe a different way, but with good survey based numbers.
Here is the list of the seven main, viable parties in my imaginary U.S. Parliament, not in order of (suspected) popularity:
1. Nationalist Party. Akin to Tea Party, with populist core. Leader(s): Cruz,
2. Business Party. A.K.A., Corporatist Party; includes current “establishment” R’s.
Leaders (s): Bush, Romney, Fiorina.
3. Family Values Party. Main line, solid social conservatives, evangelicals, religious
voters. Leaders (s): Huckabee.
4. Freedom Party. Akin to Libertarian Party; Ayn Rand is their philosopher queen.
Leaders (s): Rand Paul, Paul Ryan.
6. Social Democrat Party. Essentially the Warren-Sanders Democrat Wing:
Leader (s): Warren, DeBlasio, Sanders.
7. Green Party. Intense and active greeners and environmentalists. Leader (s): Jerry
Brown. (He’s tried making California an international leader everything Green).
There is of course a lot of overlap among the first four parties, And also within the last three. By “viable,” I mean these seven parties would consistently earn enough support, at least 3%-5% of the vote in most elections, a common threshold for holding seats in a parliament. Perhaps three or four would emerge as perennial competitors with large pluralities (maybe 15% to 35%).
After the election (of the legislators), if no party has more than a majority of seats in Congress, they try to form a (stable) coalition to select a Prime Minster. That’s where the real fun begins. There are countless possibilities. Here is one of many:
Barrack Obama (or Hillary Clinton) as head of the Center-Left Party in 2012, would have invited the Social Democrats and Green Partiers to join a governing coalition. If that was not enough to hit 51%, (not an implausible scenario), the Business Party (of establishment Republicans) might have been played ball with them. Stranger things have happened. That would have amounted to the Grand Bargain around budget, revenues, and maybe even immigration, that eluded Boehner and Obama. It would have driven the Tea Partiers crazy. The possibilities are endless.
The first four parties in the list represent factions, wings, segments of the current Republican Party, people who identify themselves as “conservative,” and some of today’s independents who tend to vote Republican (if they vote at all).
The last three parties on the list are, for the most part, factions of the current U.S. Democratic Party, people who identify themselves as “liberals” or “progressives.” The Center-Left party imagined here is a lot larger than the other (Warren-Sanders) segment of today’s Democrats – what I here call the Social-Democrats. That’s based on real data.
But if Social Democrats had their own party, identity, and profile, they might draw a lot more from the Center-Left, which I take to include many closet Social Democrats who are pragmatists; they know they couldn’t win if they threw caution to the wind.
Notice that I don’t include a Center-Right party in my list, though the Business Party in this typology comes close. Republicans are a lot more fragmented and intense than Democrats. In a multi party system, they’re not as likely to have a broad based, big tent umbrella counterpart to the Center-Left Party; again, the Business Party may qualify.
Short of endorsing the Parliamentary over the Presidential system, we can say this: government shutdowns, brinkmanship on paying the Federal debt, and (arbitrary, ill considered) sequestrations (automatic budget cuts) would have likely been averted with a U.S. Parliament.
See you at the next constitutional convention to adopt amendments to overturning Citizens United; and, if there is time, perhaps creating a U.S. Parliament. If you want to read more about pros and cons of adopting a Parliamentary System in the U.S., read here, here, and here.