November 11

Republic US style

 

I wrote in the Cane Toad Republic, in Chapter 10, ‘A Model Constitution,’ that there are only two “models of government worth considering. They are Westminster and Washington”.

There are only two republics with the tested longevity of the Westminster system – if you put aside their civil wars. They are Switzerland and the USA. The Swiss version is a special case designed for the unusual circumstances which prevail there.

The US Constitution, based on the constitutions of the thirteen colonies and the Founding Fathers somewhat blurred understanding of the then British constitution, separated the executive from the legislature. The presidency would be an elected monarch in no way responsible to the legislature. The impeachment process is not the equivalent of a vote of confidence – it is in fact a criminal trial before the Senate. It can and can only succeed if on an impeachment by the House of Representatives the President is found guilty, with the concurrence of two thirds of the Senators present, of ‘ treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanours’.

The result is that there are solid checks and balances against the abuse of power. But with the possible exception of President Washington, the president has never achieved the status of being beyond and above politics, a sort of parens patriae. Instead he is a partisan figure, a politician. And when the President and Congress are in a bitter adversarial conflict, the government of the world’s most powerful country can be paralyzed over an extended period, something that the Westminster system quickly resolves.

Dick Morris, a Fox News political analyst and former senior adviser to President Clinton, and author of Condi vs Hillary (HarperCollins) writing in The Australian on 9 November, 2006 (‘ Defeat for Bush bad news all round’) warns that the impact of the 2006 mid term election will be that the Democrats will now wage a two-year campaign for the White House. “Their majority in the House will assure them of key committee chairmanships that bring with them subpoena power and the ability to hold hearings at will. The result will be a deluge of subpoenas, requests for documents and conflicts over executive privilege. By the time the 2008 elections are held, the country will have been fed a steady diet of Republican scandal, courtesy of the Democratic House committees”.

He says that this election is not unique. “Woodrow Wilson lost Congress in his sixth year amid the body count of World War I. Franklin Roosevelt failed to purge the conservatives in his own party in 1938 and suffered as a result. Harry Truman failed in 1950. Dwight Eisenhower suffered huge losses in 1958. Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford faced disaster in 1974. Ronald Reagan lost the Senate in 1986. Sixth years are terrible for US presidents and Bush is no exception”.

He writes that the US will be stalemated. “There will be little mandate for effective executive action. Bush, while nominally commander-in-chief, will be enfeebled by the political dynamics on Capitol Hill. Distracted by investigations, driven crazy by hearings and harassed by scandal accusations, his administration will find it difficult to muster the political capital to act”. He does not think the Democrats will dare to use their control over funding to decapitate Bush’s Iraq policy, and he will retain control over the armed forces and foreign policy.

But with the “increasingly fulminating environment of investigations and hearings” all part of the 2008 election campaign, the US will suffer “divided government”, that is paralysed government. While this is bad news for Bush, he says this is also bad news for America, and good news for the enemies of freedom.

This would just not happen under the Westminster system. The other advantage for us is that the central institution, the Crown, offers leadership beyond politics. As for a President , half the country is against him. He is seen as a politician, which he is.


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