Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Second Shoe, Part I

by the Sandwichman

John Gray of the London School of Economics has evocatively compared Monday's bailout defeat and the events leading up to it to the fall of the Soviet Union. To fully comprehend the aptness of that comparison, one needs to take into account two factors: 1. the exceptional nature of the American post-World War II "bipartisan" national security state and 2. the failure of an ideologically-rigged accounting system.

In parliamentary democracies, governments get defeated from time to time on votes of non confidence. The government falls and there is an election to form a new government. In the US, a defeat of the government on a vote in the House ordinarily has no political significance. Business as usual slouches on. In short, the US is not a parliamentary democracy. It never has been.

Following the second world war, however, the two-party presumption was grafted onto the already un-parliamentary system. But even that duopoly was further constrained by a bipartisan foreign policy and an anti-Communist ideology. In effect, the US became a one-party state with an imperial presidency and a politically-impotent legislature. The essence of democratic political power resides in the possibility that an opposition may bring down -- not merely obstruct -- the government.

Monday's defeat of the bailout bill occurred at a propitious time and under extraordinary circumstances. The coincidence of an already scheduled election made the vote a de-facto no confidence vote. And the fact that the bill was supported by the leadership of both parties made it explicit who the ruling party actually was -- not the Democrats, not the Republicans but the center-right bipartisan party. That governing party suffered a humiliating defeat. The Republican contingent of the BPP suffered an even more profound defeat. A leadership that is repudiated by two-thirds of its constituents has no legitimacy.

"Lame" duck is not the anatomically accurate metaphor for what remains of George W. Bush's administration. Castrated is. The Republican House leadership is walking dead. Congressional Democrats have no mandate, a situation Speaker Pelosi conceded two years ago.

The government has fallen. But the one-party bipartisan non-parliamentary system, which has so successfully insulated itself from political consequences for 60 years virtually assures that this political crisis will not be resolved through the upcoming elections. Resolving the crisis will require dismantling that non-parliamentary regime, the American counterpart to the failed Soviet state.

Next: The Accounting Debacle.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

No real comments on this?! I thought it was perceptive and provocative. I thought the House vote was interesting because the hard right wing of the Repubs and the leftish wing of the Dems voted the sucker down. For completely opposite reasons: one because it verged on socialism and the other because it only verged on socialism. Sounds pretty much like a parliamentary system to me. But I agree, that will only last till maybe January.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

I thought this article was very good. Have filed it away to read and explore for another, not so busy, time. Political convergence. when did we have a real choice for government?