An absolutely fascinating entry in TPM Cafe by Mark Schmitt:
A standard critique of Blair in the U.K.,.. is that he has brought a “presidential” style of leadership to the office. That’s partly a dig at his alliances with Clinton and Bush, and his American-style press operation, but it really means that he aspired to be a national leader based on his personal vision and charisma rather than the leader of a party with a coherent platform…
Under Bush in the U.S., on the other hand, we have moved toward something that looks a lot more like parliamentary government, in which the ruling party moves with a single voice and when it fails to do so, the whole order is at risk. If Blair is more national leader than party leader, Bush has styled himself as much more the leader of an ideologically unified majority party than any American president in decades, including those such as LBJ who had solid congressional majorities. He is the first president, for example, to handpick the Senate majority leader.
Schmitt goes on to observe that,
The phenomenon of parliamentary democracies that surely seems weirdest to an American is the fact that a single loss can bring down a government. We are accustomed to having our “accountability moments” at regularly scheduled intervals, with all sorts of congressional victories and defeats in between. And there’s something to be said for that. A president can be daring, can try to push Congress in certain directions, and can win some or lose some, get up off the mat and come right back and try again. Imagine, for example, if Bill Clinton had been prime minister rather than president. Rather than eight consecutive years in office, he would have been like one of those prime ministers who comes in and out of power several times, losing confidence votes, dissolving governments, and then forming new ones on new coalitions.
A great deal of Bush/Rove/DeLay’s success over the past five years has come from pushing through party-line votes as if they were confidence votes in a parliamentary system. Many of the votes pushed through with massive arm-twisting and unprecedented procedures, such as the Medicare prescription drug bill and the 2003 tax bill, were sold on the basis that the president needs the victory. You may not think this is good policy, wavering Republicans were told, but if the president wins, he gets reelected and we all win; we lose, and our whole edifice of power collapses.
And just as in a parliamentary system, that works until it stops working. And when it stops working, the government is finished. After reelection, the confidence vote argument lost some steam. Seeing Bush as a burden in 2006 rather than an asset for reelection, it loses still more. Having chosen to govern as a party, rather than national, leader, Bush has few of the resources that other presidents have had to salvage themselves, and the same goes for the Republican leadership in Congress.
And thus, Bush and Blair arrived this week at the same place, moving in opposite directions. The parliamentarian who governed as a president and the president who brought one-party parliamentary government to the U.S. have simultaneously reaced “the dusk” of their governments.
Read the whole thing. I’ve said before (and the observation isn’t my own, it’s culled from what others have pointed out) that there is an interesting trend going on in some parliamentary democracies. Prime Ministers are campaigning for office like presidential candidates and, once they win, they rule like presidents. Britain is an example (see above) but so is Israel; I wonder if the same thing couldn’t be said for India, and is taking place in Thailand (though it’s debatable whether the PM of Thailand, said to be headed on a collision course with the revered King Bhumibol, is acting presidential or merely setting the stage for a dictatorship). I tend to suspect that the mania for going parliamentary is yet another example of our insular tendency to latch on to a fashion at the point it’s already fading from the scene elsewhere.
Last night Ricky Carandang followed up on an earlier show pitting priests against priests (or, to be precise, priests against a priest, three critics of the government versus Monsignor Nico Bautista, who was gaudily dressed in a black silk uh, chong sam, apparently his clerical Halloween costume) with a show featuring Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Bishop Teodoro Bacani, and a Brother whose order or congregation belongs to the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP). The big to-do from the show came about near the end, after the guests basically kept echoing each other’s view that the position of the Catholic hierarchy will shift, against the President, but not quickly or dramatically (the speculation’s due to the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines having a new head, Archbishop Antonio Lagdameo). Philippine Commentary has argued that the seemingly inevitable shift of the CBCP to a position less supportive of the President, may be what’s needed to break the political impasse.
Anyway, the Brother, and I believe, one or two of the bishops, mentioned that ahead of the CBCP’s next meeting in January, consultations with the clergy have been called for. The AMRSP, officially critical of the President, and many priests and nuns have expressed dissatisfaction with the more moderate line of the hierarchy. If the bishops are willing to dialogue with their priests and nuns, and there will be a less coddling attitude on the part of the CBCP head, the Palace has reason to worry.