The U.S. federal system is 227 years old, has never been improved or modernized and is badly flawed. Americans elect a political CEO who, if the U.S. were a corporation, separates him from his executive team and management team, then pits all permanently at odds.
Washington is an institutionalized battle and blockage within the Legislative Branch and between it and the Executive Branch. There is no punishment for gridlock, sabotage or obstructionism, except a drop in public opinion. There is no arbiter who can demand decisiveness.
Nowhere has this been more evident than during the Obama Presidency when forces mustered from the shadows of the country have purposely sabotaged everything he has attempted to do. But it's happened before.
This is perplexing to the rest of the democratic world that has overwhelmingly adopted the more efficient and accountable parliamentary system. In Britain, Sweden, Poland, Canada and elsewhere gridlock is impossible because the Prime Minister or Chancellor is a CEO who works in concert with his or her executive and management teams. If they do not win a majority of seats at the polls -- or get along -- they must find support in other parties or an election is held.
By comparison, America's so-called parties are also a myth and are coalitions of convenience for entrepreneurial politicians who seek party branding in order to get on ballots or get financing. Once elected, they often end up representing competing or extremist agendas, regional interests, ideologies, and goals that vary from the President's, their party platforms or from their congressional leaders' recommendations.
Their elections are also staggered so some face voter wrath and others do not. All of this opens up more fronts of political warfare: the Senate versus the House, the President versus one or both, and dozens of partisans against one another. It also spawns an "American Idol" political culture in which sabotage or posturing by ambitious or rogue politicians, like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell or Marco Rubio, is used to vault their profiles and prospects beyond that of party loyalists or their so-called leaders.
This dysfunctional structure is damaging, inefficient and unaccountable to the public. If the United States were a publicly listed corporation, with the CEO, management and executives at war over budgets, it would have long since been delisted from stock exchanges. But governments don't get delisted; their creditworthiness gets downgraded. So in 2011, Washington's internecine warfare caused a rating drop from AAA to AA+, and Standard & Poor's issued the following statement: "The downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges."
Now, parliamentary systems do not guarantee better judgment, but they can expeditiously respond to crises or public opinion and groundswells. In 1992, Canada's debt rating was downgraded from AAA to AA+ after years of profligacy. Markets, business, the public, and media criticized the government, forcing it to reverse course. By 2002, the credit rating was restored to AAA.
Washington's incompetence is perplexing, given America's aspiration, in every other endeavor, to be efficient, innovative, and best in its class. Yet when it comes to politics, the U.S. historically cannot, short of a system-threatening domestic or national security crisis, deliver decisiveness, transparency, accountability, or alignment with the public interest.
Some may argue that such gridlock is unavoidable in the United States due to the nature of America's size, polarization, and diversity. But polarization is not the cause, but the result, of a process that amplifies and extenuates conflicts. Parliamentary systems allow for the election of many parties -- five in Canada and Germany and nine in Britain -- but they require compromise and collaboration. If that fails, they give the voters a chance to elect a new bunch.
This electoral season is unique with two independents outgunning the two parties and represents the rejection by voters of a system so bogged down with infighting that even the most simple, sensible wishes of the country remain unmet. Most Americans support better gun controls, gay marriage, healthcare, education, immigration controls and opportunities, but don't get these unless the Supreme Court steps in as happened recently.
This election more than ever underscores the fact that the U.S. federal system is deeply flawed and is no way to run a nation, a corporation or even, for that matter, a pop stand.
First Published in National Post August 15, 2015