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Stateside with Rosalea: Rotate the State


Stateside with Rosalea

Rotate the State

By Rosalea Barker

I thought I'd go back to just one column a week, as otherwise I'd be doing a war diary all the rest of my life. But, just in passing, today is the last day to submit taxes here in the US, so here is a link to the petition the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee has on-line: http://www.nwtrcc.org/iraqpetition.html

Last week I went to an interesting talk that looked at three countries with federal governments - Canada, India, and the US - and the number of political parties that were successful in elections in each country. The graphs for Canada and India were vibrant, while the one for the US elicited this comment: The patient is dead.

Back in the 1950s when welfare states were a predominant form of bureaucracy, someone formulated a law that states that in every single-member first-past-the-post (plurality) system only two parties will get most of the votes. However, since the 1970s, the election results of many countries - like Canada, and even the UK - do not conform to Duverger's Law.

The United States does, and one can't help wondering if its political system is deliberately tuned so that it always will. According to the political scientist who gave the talk, the differentiating factor (between having several effective parties, and having just two) is the degree to which federal policy-making is seen as having the most effect in the voter's day-to-day life.

The US has the ultimate in simplistic devices for making federal (rather than state or local) policy-making seem most important in voter's lives. It's called the presidency. Since the Framers of the US Constitution created the executive branch for specific reasons that are still applicable today, it's hardly likely that the presidency is ever going to be abolished.

But did the Framers intend the presidency to be so distorting an influence on state and national politics? Since they never wanted to have a party-based system in the first place, and it is the party system that enables the presidency to have such a distorting influence, I'd venture that the answer to that question is No.

They did want the president to be a nationally known figure, but these days anyone with a PR firm can become a nationally known figure. So why have a nationwide vote for the president? I say abolish the Electoral College and have the vote for a 4-year presidency rotate through the states, beginning with the first one - Delaware. The candidate would have to fulfill one extra requirement than they do now, which is to have been a resident of the electing state for 25 years.

Great! Now that I've got that little constitutional amendment off my mind, may I direct you to a rational person's view of the battles that exist between federal, state, and local body jurisdictions here in the US. Alan Ehrenhalt is a columnist for Governing magazine: http://www.governing.com/4assess.htm

He wasn't the person who gave the talk about the influence of federal policies on party systems. Pradeep Chhibber was, and his publication list is at http://www.polisci.berkeley.edu/Faculty/bio/permanent/Chhibber,P/


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