Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Better the Devil You Know

The Down Under Defense Expert (DUDE) sent me an email asking me to read a voter's referendum they're considering in New Zealand. Feel free to read it yourself. I just wanted to expound a little bit on my answer. Here's what I wrote to the DUDE:

"I found it maddeningly complex. But then I'm used to the US system of winner-take-all (the NZ referendum calls the system First Past the Post (FPP)) and having minority party issues subsumed under the major parties. That said, I've heard/read good things about the Australian system. The others were variations on a theme that made little difference to me because I have little trust in the stability of governments with a multiplicity of parties.

"The advantage of a major-party system that incorporates minority views is that much of the assimilation and wheeling/dealing is done prior to the election. Otherwise, you end up with one small party can upset the entire governmental apple cart.

"I fail to see much advantage to the systems that encourage the minority parties, nor do I understand NZ's desire to change their system or the bewildering number of distinctions without a difference. If what you have works, don't fix what isn't broken."

There are three other systems: the existing NZ system (Mixed Member Proportional), the Irish system (Single Transferrable Vote), and the Japanese system (Supplementary Member). My observations are just that multi-party nations and governments seem more unstable than the U.S. The advantage of the multi-party system, if I had to guess it, is simply that it gives broader voice and more formal power to minority parties than exists in a single- or two-party system, as we have. If a smaller party (say, the Greens or Libertarians) had a strenuous objection to a particular law or course of action and their support was necessary to ensure a majority coalition, the government/parliament will be dissolved and new elections are called if no agreement can be reached. Most of these governments are designed along the British model, and nearly all of the major Western nations (incl. Israel and Japan) that use it have shakeups of that sort at one time or another.
The American results are gridlock followed by elections every two, four, or six years. But, again, the national majority parties--the Democrats and Republicans--are coalitions of what would be separate minority parties in these parliamentary democracies. Imagine, instead of the Dems and the GOP duking it out year after year, with the arguments occurring within the party caucuses, the individual coalition members each had its own party and then had their fights in Congress instead of on the convention floor. On the left, you'd have Big Labor/Government Unions, Trial Lawyers, Greens, Minority Rights Activists, Feminists, and flat-out Socialists and other small groups. On the right, you'd have Big Oil, the Moral Majority/Evangelicals, Gun Advocates, Economic Free-Marketeers, and members of the Armed Forces, and flat-out Fascists. Other groups with their own parties might include the Farmers, Bankers (who blow with the wind), Libertarians, and other moderates and Independents. Think our ballots are confusing now? Imagine how many hanging chads could screw up a soup like that!
That, my friends, is why we have primaries. Individuals representing these various smaller interests run off against each other within the larger parties. The winners of these contests have to form an internal platform within the Democratic or Republican Party that the bulk of the coalition can live with, and that final candidate goes up against his or her other number in the other party. Those two candidates, in turn, must convince 50% +1 of their fellow Americans (more or less--we have our own complexities with the Electoral College) to vote for them. The winner, then, must govern wisely and in the best interests of the nation as they see fit. If the majority of the public doesn't approve of their performance, the opposing party gets put into power in the legislature in reaction against the President. And so the pendulum swings, again, back toward the middle. That is the point and the genius of the American system. It gives me a headache to think of having to adjust to another one. I wonder what our cousins in New Zealand are thinking that they wish to reconstruct their system.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And if it is broken in places, fix those places before doing something stupid like trashing the whole system and tossing out whatever good the old system had. So sayeth this voter, anyway.

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