Traynor: Pushing for Parliament

by Zach Traynor | 11/3/14 7:34pm

Today, American voters will go to the polls to elect the entirety of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. In essentially all of these races, the choice for most voters is less about Candidate A vs. Candidate B and more about the Republican candidate vs. the Democratic candidate. Because these are the only two parties with a chance of winning a presidential election, they are the only ones with any power in most other elections as well. A presidential system like America’s “greatest democracy on Earth” (a questionable claim at best) is essentially forced to be a two-party system. The problem is, this system has failed the American people. The solution? America should make the difficult change to a more balanced, fair and cooperative system of government — namely, a parliamentary system based off proportional representation.

America has been consumed by bitter partisanship for years, and it has made our government a worldwide joke. Legislators are more interested in seeing the other party fail than their own party succeed — and to them, both of those are seemingly more important than actually governing the country. Our elected officials spend more time raising money and campaigning for the next election than they do completing their current term and fulfilling their responsibilities. Media outlets have been talking about 2016 frontrunners for a year or so now, which is absolutely ridiculous considering that it is still two years away. But politicians must be reelected, and America’s “winner-takes-all” system means that there is no prize for second place — even when the difference between first and second is only a few hundred votes. On a national scale, who proposes legislation becomes more important than how good that legislation is. Politicians will argue with phenomenal bills because it was written from across the aisle and support poor ones when their colleague wrote it. Our current system stifles economic and human development — and with the wealth and resources America has, the inequality in this country is appalling. In our current system, the American people lose.

A transition to a parliamentary system based on proportional representation can largely solve these problems. Almost every other developed democratic country uses some form of parliamentary system — it would be both foolish and deeply arrogant to think that America is somehow unique in its ability to make a different system work better. A parliamentary system with proportional representation allows a true multiparty system to develop and flourish. This increase in viewpoints makes cooperation and honest debate more important than just beating the other party. When a politician’s success depends on getting things done rather than claiming “we did better than the other party,” it leads to more responsibility and greater accountability to all voices. Moreover, given the amount of diversity in this country, having only two major options in an election is absurd. It leads to disinterest when neither option is palatable — I myself am not voting in several the races on my ballot this year. Coalitions of smaller parties, which parliamentary systems encourage cooperation rather than competition, something our divided nation could sorely use. Lastly, a parliamentary system has the benefit of a much shorter election cycle: whereas we’ll spend the better part of three years debating the 2016 elections, Canada spent only a few months in a campaign cycle at their last federal election in 2011. New Zealand had a two-month campaign season before this year’s September election. Nobody wants to hear about politicians campaigning for three years. We want to hear about them getting things done and doing what we elected them to do.

Would making this change be difficult? Of course. We’d have to pass a couple of constitutional amendments at the very least. But at a certain point, we must ask ourselves: is this country, with its currently broken and cancerous system, the country we want to pass to our children? We lost the ability to call ourselves the greatest democracy on the planet a long time ago. How much more will we lose before we decide enough is enough?