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Democracy in crisis: The two-party problem


Vox Senior Correspondent Zack Beauchamp talks with political scientist Lee Drutman, author of Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop. They discuss the history of the two-party system in American politics, and examine a number of possible structural reforms that could work to get the U.S. out of the morass it's in, looking to several other countries' democracies for inspiration.

Host: Zack Beauchamp (@zackbeauchamp), Senior Correspondent, Vox

Guest: Lee Drutman (@leedrutman), senior fellow, New America



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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
how low and welcome to another episode of the weeds. I'm your host, Dylan Matthews, I'm actually going to be. Leaving the hosts chaired this week. So we can bring you in episode from another podcast called vocs. Conversations are colleagues at Beecham recipes I can early January called how does this end and he exists and where american democracy goes from here after January, sex and trump, and the myriad crises we ve had in the past few years, and in today's episode you takes a look at what fix the broken system american uses for electing Congress and why that picks won't happen. Anytime, soon hear more from sack.
Just how worried should we be about the future of american democracy I'm sorry Beecham and I read for vocs about democracy, liberalism in the political right and this week. I'm your host for vocs conversations. recently published a feature called. How does this end on the lawn her prognosis of America's political system that kicked up quite a bit of conversation in the peace I argue that the American Democratic system was breaking down, creating greater risks for violence, and a slight out of democracy altogether and the worst part is that all the best ideas for fixing things seem unlikely to happen at best The future for democracy is not looking
right in the United States this week, I'm talking to lead rotten senor. Fellow in the political reform programme at the New America think tank in his book. Breaking the two party do loop. Lee argues. Surprise, surprise. The two party system is at the heart of America's car democratic crisis. So to fix things He argues for completely restructuring the way America congressional actions work. It does If you change the elections, maybe we can enable the rise of a multi party system No, I cited least proposal my future as an example of the sort of reform we should be thinking about. If we want to preserve american democracy the problem is that it's really hard to imagine any of his ideas coming to pass anytime soon. Then our conversation, we not only talk about the reasons that he thinks the two party system, such an US, also
people to use against all odds that it really could come to an end. We welcome to the shell out I'm thrilled for this guy station sack, I'm so glad, I'm just really happy to have you here. I want to start by poking at your argument, rather than getting into the agreement fast that I think will get into it or on new ethical, reasonable sceptic might say something like ok. You think the two party system is the problem by we ve had a two party system for really on time, and yet most of these problems that all of us have noticed an american democracy, our approach of recent years, if not the rise of trump, then We are certainly the evolution of the Republican Party in the past several decades,
now. The answer you have this in the book is that we actually haven't had a two party system forever. That's a myth! That's been upset. shared by the labels that we use for american politics rate We actually had a three or four party system, at least for a lot of the twentyth century, Well. That is certainly my argument that, although we have had to party system in a sort of broad sense what we have seen in the last decade, or so it is something that gave me different. It is a highly nationalized to party system in politics, that's very nationalized in institutions that are fifty fifty and that layered top of this urban rural polarization has created tremendous instability and all of the horrible things that you described the beginning of this point.
Gas and there's really no way out of it and less. We rethink how we do our elections and with a party system that we have, and I think that the most striking thing about the past year is how much January six and prove it has made us even more polarize. Now you think an event like January. Six, in particular, would have been a kind of it. This is going too far, but what happened, I think, is that Republicans were forced to take sides and they wound up having to side with Donald Trump and that every event in our politics has become an event in which the two major parties representing two very different geographic cultural coalitions, feel like they had to take sides, and so there's no event.
no stress on the system that can realign politics it everything just seems to make it worse. So I think the point about geographic realities can be expanded rate. The reason that we had will you describes a multi party system in the past partially about geography impartially about the biggest issue in american politics, which is and always has been. face right. So in the twentieth century you could divide democratic party into two halves, nor the Democrats in southern Democrats released the post. Effie are democratic party earlier than that things are a little bit different, but Northern Democrats were a lot like Democrats them have now. Southern Democrats were big secrets who opposed civil rights but were on board with other parts of a liberal agenda Then he had Republicans, which I mean I've seen different scheme as divide Republicans into northern and southern acts as well, but, broadly speaking, but la is cross cutting division, the democratic parties, the bigger one, and it allows
for compromise between different groups, because the parties were cross pressured right inside the democratic ten you had. No, there is committed to civil rights and southerners who were hard core white supremacist, and so they could work better. publicans on different problem action. In general, there were just all the identities lined up against each other, but now after the Johnson administration in the passage of the Civil Rights ACT, you end up with a situation where the parties are polarized by identity, Rome. Everyone who is right the conservative and white is to this that the nice terminology right is a republican now pretty much and everyone who is sort of add the care of racially prick the ideas Spencer into the Democratic party. At this point, This is the big issue, but you see the sun, all sorts of different cross, cutting identity, related issues right, like so democratic Party of Atheists and Republicans the part if even Jellicoe Christian, so all of these different groups partially based on look here,
Letty right. I hesitate to say region because it's not like their red states and blue states. It's more like there are parts of the state's rural versus urban more than anything else. Now that there are differences by region still, the south is more publican that you might expect the northeast model, gotta, etc, and then you end up getting these really stark idea. the divisions that now map onto the two party system, and that is what uses polarisation in an extreme way, yet that's exactly right, and it's a slow process of sorting that is really happened since the nineteen seventeen on these cultural issues and gimme the divide is a density divide, start from the city center and the further you go from the city center, the more republican you go. So what has happened is that people are in these communities that are either very lopsided. Lee Progressive or
very lopsided. They conservative and they grow more extreme when they are surrounded by people like them, and much less tolerant of the opposing party and you ve layer. On top of that, this kind of all or nothing. Every election is the most important election. The country is at risk rhetoric. That is you is to unite both parties and every election. Is this all or nothing fight for the soul of the country in which everything is at stake and, this kind of all or nothing everything is at stake, creates a politics in which, if one side say the Republicans one kind of break away from the basic norms and free and fair elections and and voting rights. There is absolutely no penalty for that. In fact, it's even rewarded.
Yeah, what am I a favorite papers on this topic as by a political scientist, melons volitions call Matthew, Graham and Repaper, really really great paper of listeners. You will remember this been twenty. Seventeen. There is a special action in Montana were the house, Canada. The Republican House, Canada, grudging forty assaulted a journalist spend Jacobs like actually physically assaulted him, and so that's like about as agreed. Just anti democratic behaviour is like in a candidate as one might expect on. So what what's volume gram dead? Then it gets really illustrating the point leader. You just made. Is they go through with really granular local level election returns to see? If that event, which happened very late in the campaign caused people to change that did they voted? Do you know if you heard about the assault and your or public, and maybe you would penalize chin? Forty four has Miss behaviors anti democratic action, but what they found that there was in that kind of patenting
at all right that in immoderate areas, there was two degree, but when he looked at hard core partisans, Jean Forties behaviour didn't hurt him among Republicans, he did when that election by Minutes Montana. That too Mill Street the point they illustrate with survey data and other things, which is basically the one that you were sneaking dad, when you have a choice of binary choice between two parties, written one represents your values and a whole slate of issues. You're almost we're going to vote for that party, even if they do things that violate neutral mourns, because almost nobody cares about its neutral ideas like the rule of law, are the freedom of the press more than that hair about something like abortion or race politics, because those are the things that really define people's political orientation. and if you only have one choice as a socially conservative Catholic, let's say, or a black person where,
that's a rights, then it doesn't matter what your party does in terms of democracy. What matters is that it's your party right now here. I think I'd go even further and expand on that final thing that you said about it. Being your party that fraud of people, the parties feel like a core part of their identity, so if the party is doing something potentially wrong that at the moment of cognitive dissonance, where are you going to have to find a way to justify that? And I think that the truly remarkable thing about the transformation of the Republican Party Under Trump, and particularly post January, six is the extent to which Republicans have attempted to rationalize the actions of Trump and the Ray six rioters and part of that is changing their own internal rules of what's acceptable, and then party that is also character.
I think the other side Democrats is even more radical and extreme, and the more Democrat seem radical and extreme and dangerous. The more you can justify Ex drug Neri actions in order to prevent them from taking power and this sense of identity protection. I think what goes on in a lot of mines of folks specially, given the geographical sorting as well. Everybody I know supports trump, can't possibly be the case that anybody would be for this crazy critical rates theory which is destroying our schools, somehow it's the constant sense of having to it and some threat in order to some have justify the choices and identities that are part of you. But when you put it like that, it makes me wonder about the two parties element of your thesis like we are in agreement. That is the evolution of the Republican Party, really pushed us in the direction that we're going right. It's the GEO pay. So if that's
case, then it's like the drivers of the Republican Party, These changes are primarily rooted in long standing. Social dynamics in american politics rate, sickly, fundamentally the conflict over race that has defined the structure and the arc of U S, history. For so long, and if that's the case, we would have multiple parties change things so much. I mean Nino in eighteen fifty years, but you had wigs and Republicans. The whigs ended up falling apart because they just couldn't navigate the question of slavery properly. So you go back to two parties, but the fact that we had three parties for these two brief period of time didn't solve the conflict over slavery. That was really a conflict about slavery, not the number of parties that we had right, fair enough, so think, there's two ways that I I would think about this in the current system. One is just a practical challenge, which is to say: ok, say your Democrat
leaving the Republican Party is incredibly dangerous. That's how I feel is a party that has been taken over by an extreme illiberal faction, but ok. So that's the case and you look at the polling and you say well the Republicans are in the minority on almost all of these positions, the sixty percent of Americans are not bought into the big lie and America's generally, a centre left country increasingly on racial justice issues, and especially on economic issues. All that is true, and yet Republicans keep winning elections, because third, the default party for the half the country that sees the Democrats as the opposition, some our can't bring themselves to vote
for Democrats so that's kind of a problem because I don't see any way in which Democrats win a sort of overwhelming national majority. Now part of that problem is slow, where our folks, who don't you himself as Democrats but don't wanna, go full trot Magda, go and then a guess they could vote for Democrats, but there's a lot of it. about Democrats that they don't like they could vote for Republicans because they agree with them on Sunday shoes and then update their value to make it feel like they're, not compromising yourself. But what? If there were a centre right party that could get fifteen percent of the vote and the line with Democrats to have a kind of super majority. Pro democracy coalition, as you see in many other countries with proportional Multi Party systems Israel being a recent example of that
so that sort of on the practical side of how you get out of the Essen and then the other question that I think is worth asking is: why did the Republican Party go so crazy? And I think out of that does have to do with a binary party system in which, if you are a plot, quality of a plurality, does that I think the mega faction initially was. You can take over one of the two major parties and there's? No one else for Folks in that party go unless they want to join the opposing party and binary brought against them. Mentality drives everyone crazy, but it also creates a political situation in which the Republicans basically had a double down on racist rhetoric, because their economic policies were incredibly unpopular and they could do that in a two party system be costs. There are only two bundles in the two party system.
I really love that last point that you made about how the different institutional arrangements deal with radical parties has, if you get sick, Germany is case and where to get a lot into different ways of structural actions. in a bracket that, for the moment village, it turned out with you about our saviour. Just at the way that the alternatives for its land, a hefty short as the German. Far right, anti immigrant party rate ends F d he has done pretty well at the ballot box in some recent elections. But the point is that, because they run as a separate party, they don't have the capacity to take over the mainstream Christian Democrats, which had been running Germany versatile on time as a result they remain. The sort of rum faction in parliament debts, cable, of being isolated ready. They don't get a say in major party decision, Dolly influence, the political discourse style and they ve pushed
the parties to the right on issues related to immigration. There's no question about that, but it's not. The same thing is Eddie having you know a significant, but still small minority number of seats in the National Parliament of the Bundestag in Germany verse, says that sea Party actually running the major fashion and the german system, by virtue of the way that structured separates out the radical right from the means right. Do you a system does not do that and that creates profoundly different incentives and capacities for foreign parties. I mean why, way to look at it. Is the people used to think the american system a superior, because it shot out far right. Factions right because you couldn't have an independent foreign that could be insignificant representation in Congress, but now since it has this point of vulnerability, where the far right faction can stage the take over of american politics by taking over one of the two major it is in part, because we have this weird primary system, which is actually pretty rare and international context, YAP Ethic, where the only advance
democracy in which the parties basically give up the responsibility of choosing their nominees. I mean, if you think, about Donald trumps career right he first ran as a third party candidate. A reform party hinted here. She lost to Pat Buchanan and the primary, but if the Reform Party had been a viable party and our Trump and Buchanan give it could have been of ten fifteen percent party and they would have had some representatives, but the other parties would have formed a coalition as centre parties in Germany have even the tea party a ritual. It won T party organizers to organise a third party rather then run as Republicans, but they realize they couldn't get anywhere so they started taking over the Republican Party and it turned out. It was produced to take over the Republican, partly and once you ve got the nomination you're the candidate and as more tea party and radical Republicans took over the republican Party. The moderates in the Republican Party set up is this
really the home for us, they retire. They were defeated. They left politics and that made the Republican Party into an increasingly illiberal radical party, and I think the point that you and before that is so important, because for a long time, without out your parties or sickly, moderate, and that's because the two parties had liberal and conservative wings. They didn't really stand for all that much at the national level. There is very loose overlapping coalition, so they looked moderate, but once the sort of extreme conservative wing took over the Republican Party, it's kind of game over an hour to party system things flipped into a difference eight invite, even call it but doom lip yeah? I want to ask you that red like so when you say doom loop. What are we looping towards ray. What is your vision of, like the inevitable terminus of the American to party system is currently constituted, well,
to be an optimist at some level to be able to keep doing what I'm doing so. My hope is that we have more conversations like this, where we look deeply at the structures and institutions of american politics and realise that if we don't make any changes, we would be headed to some sort of rotarian violent breakdown and that we eventually, before it's too late, figure out that we should change our system and that we need a centre right party that believes in democracy, in that we create one and allow for a cold then eventually you, the far right becomes marginalized something that you see it in a lot of these european parties systems? Is that precisely because the far right can't get really more than fifteen percent,
start fighting amongst themselves because they don't really have any real powers. The old Henry Kissinger line about why the politics of academia are so nasty. Ask us the stakes are so low that when things you find in extreme cities is that there is a lot of internal draconian, eventually they kind of fault part, but because they are so close to power and everybody wants this power. People are willing to make these really dubious moral compromises with the devil yeah. There a whole host of ways that this can go badly run. I just went along piece about thus called how does the saddened that isolates the variety of front scenarios. But it seems likely to me that the current levels of polarisation generated insignificant part by our two party system make, at least in the short term, Morgan. asked elections more likely more street violence more likely in the long run, you can imagine evolution who are Hungary style? One party state where Republicans have changed the rules, as the Democrats can bear
compete or you know, a crisis of political authority were president's, accrue more or power, because Congress can do anything due to a deadlock, legislative politics, filibuster stuff, like that. None of these good right and also version where the Democratic Party basically to undo the process that we ve been describing. They tack hard right on civil rights issues to try to restore the heterogeneous coalitions. Undue polarization in the way that we ve been talking about it? None of these scenarios seem good to me which mean as you just suggested, like the thing that we what to do if we want to lessen the likelihood of disaster is too, some kind of reform which seem unthinkable now, but one thing that always really seems odd when you take a step back. And have discussions about political reform in the United States. Is that our currents, Storm is like a lot more money
than most of us like to think they're. Certain features like to filibuster the people tend to think. As unchanging. The double necessities of american Politics- Germany basically just said, the filibuster was want to earn thirty two years old. When it well. Are the modern fell, a twentieth century invention. That's been tweaked repeatedly over the course of time. and actually pretty recently change. The way the judges are appointed make it seem inevitable that the the structures work, the way that they do until you take
that back in her, like hey, wait a minute now we ve changed them all the time. Yes, and that is credibly important to widen our thinking and understand that democracy is an evolving and ever changing institution. In the original version of the US, democracy limited the franchise to white property men over twenty five throughout our history, we expanded the franchise in many directions. We ve become a much more participatory democracy and with we, had these kind of waves in which what seemed unthinkable suddenly became possible. The revolutionary war itself was a kind of radical transformation. The idea that the colonies could govern themselves constitution think we have to understand that that our constitution is actually are second constitution. We think of it as our first, but we were governed by the article
of confederation for a period of time and Madison and Hamilton and others said no. This isn't working. We need to meet up and rewrite are governing rules. While the founding fathers would have said, we should continue to rethink our rules, the idea that fifty five white men spending a summer together in Philadelphia figured everything out for posterity is weird and far fetched idea. I, in fact we ve that an amendment over time and the progressive era. There was a certain real re shift in how we do democracy. We introduced the direct primary then, which I think was a mistake. We should have used. That is enough. To move to proportional representation, as some people at the time suggested. We move to the direct election of senators, which required a constitutional amendment which people would have thought was unthinkable that initiative in referenda process in a bunch of states and
Women suffering rates have there been allotted moments in our history, in which it was clear that the institutions weren't working, and we had a kind of collective sense that we do definitely again in the nineteen sixties, with massive, fixed Jennifer Voting rights in a bunch of other good government reforms, and I think we're about due for another burst of reform. Here, as makes clear, american constitutional order actually undergone wait a few transformative reforms in its history. So it's definitely not absurd to suggest the time for another quarter of a burst of reform has come in. We have some ideas for pretty significant changes. We could make.
We'll get into those ideas after a quick brink, hey everyone, it's doing if you're a big weeds listener, there's a chance. You listen to our friends over today explained and if you haven't now is the time to start. Every week day, the team there breaks down one big news story and why it matters. This is a bit Week for the showers, they welcome their new caused, no well king together, China Noel will help us make her way through what promises to be another very chaotic, induce a year. You can expect more on the ground with fourteen reported new stories, sharp insights on the upcoming two thousand and twenty two midterm elections and much much more. If you're, going to like what you listening subscribed today explained for free and your favorite podcasts.
Cover story: a new pied cast from New York magazine is coming back for part too. So far we ve investigated the underground world of psychedelic healing now we're going above ground. I've kicked the door down to be merely recover, throw relieving the colts behind for the world of labs and credit institutions. There are people who are just waiting for this thinking that they're gonna be better and then, Can I get better catch up on. cover story season, one power trip back March, first so before We get in tv likelihood of reforms, which is, I think, the most worrying part of the picture that you are presenting in your book. I want to talk about what the different reforms could, because you're talking something much more radical. and even most democracy,
he reformers and currently in Congress right now been willing to countenance, which is like action, the changing wholesale, the way that we elect people a Congress, that's like sort of the real thrust of your diagnosis, the model that you like? The best is basically the pattern of Ireland Raven There are two features of this right: choice, voting and multi member districts. Where can you talk about how those features work and why you think they're Polly desirable in the american context, so the irish system. bows multi member districts, which, rather than having a single member, represent a single distinct geographical region. You have a much larger geographical region and then you have like five people represent that region and their elected proportionately of a top five candidates after another she would go to Congress and the irish use ring choice voting as part of that. So what it means is that go into the ballot booth, you're right candidates in order of preference,
and then candidates are eliminated from the bottom up and means that you can vote for candidates that you might not think we'll have a chance, but your vote is not wasted. You got a backup boat and it impractical. What that does. Is it encourages candidates to be a little nicer to each other and work together built coalitions? I would that is also the system that Northern Ireland adopted when it finally ended the troubles in and had a peace agreement, because it's a system that in courage is cross cutting coalitions under tenants. Racial time I think, however, that market is transitioning into a multi ethnic multi, racial democracy. If you look around the world and you look at what constitutional scholars and comparative political scientists say about how to build democracy and adverse society, the thing that they would apps.
lately say, is the worst most dangerous thing to do is to have a heavily majority Terry Binary System, because what they never Let us give it led to his polarized race or, and that's exactly what we have here, so what they would advise. It is some form of proportional representation. I think the rank choice, voting with a surplus caught the alternative voter, more broadly evoke pool system is good because it encourages cross racial coalitions in electing representatives in these people to think in terms of allies, more than enemies proportional rubber. taken as a kind of confusing phrase here, cause usually when I think of a pr system Think of something like Israel, Unexampled used earlier and Israel have a national vote, an part He's got a percentage of seats in the class at the parliament relative to their percentage in the national vote, share right, but proportional representation can refer at all all sorts of different things. Radio
system. You're talking about the irish rail system doesn't have a national vote, tally it's still based on districts. Now, one confusing points you can have either candidates running or parties running inside a district, and so it could be that near the top five candidates vote. Yet first win of the night up going Congress, or it could be that if Democrats win sixty percent of local vote, they get three out of the five seats of Republicans win in a twenty percent get one, and then, if you're on our now, what should we call? The Mitt Romney Party get another twenty four and you're, like I pathetically war, were, have got a three party system. They get the Lassie arenas opposed to theirs being different candidates who can win? It seems like obviously, you couldn't litigate some of the finer points like the ones I just got into, because I m fascinated by that distinction, but bigger issue was why you would pick this over any of the other forms of pr like, for example,
the national Ized is rarely system just to take one point of comparison. Yeah. Let's talk about Israel because every time I talk about the Porsche representation, people's minds mediately going to Israel, but I mean really that the purest majority system- it is the British Westminster system, because it's a simple system in which there is no separate president there's the house of Lords is basically a relevant and all the members of the passive com, They're are elected by single member first past the post districts, but is really system, is probably at the other end of the spectrum, which is that there's, one national district. I think it's a hundred and twenty six hundred twenty and basically there's a threshold to get at least three point to five percent of the voting. Think now and you parties, not candidates, so parties decide on what their lists are. Gonna be, and then party gets through.
Eighty percent of the voting at thirty seats of atop thirty members of the party in the West get to represent the party. Now I think that system of the israeli system is the leads to a fair amount of fragmentation and sometimes hard to form coalitions. I think Israel is a country that is in a very difficult situation, broadly, surrounded by enemies and also having parties that represent Palestinians, which yet The parties that represent the israeli citizens, don't wanna, have coalitions with a palestinian part is now they do for the first time yeah yeah for the first time they do so. That's change to end the arguments against the israeli system. I think, is now maybe an argument for it that you can have these. The commission said it was. Finally, after four elections, they figured out how to form a coalition to get right. the demagogues and now seems to be working.
Reasonably well, I'm in the fact that Israel is still a democracy, I think, is in many ways a remarkable. also the same system that the dutch speakers more or less in the Dutch, have even lower threshold of just one percent. They have a national party list system and It's worked pretty well for the document. I have a far right party, but that party has never been, government, is always a coalition, and I think there's like thirteen her so parties in a Dutch, Parliament and one of the main, an animal Rights party. So if there are one of those in the USA might actually consider voting for it in all seriousness, totally underplayed issue, but the similar to many parties can be a real problem here It can be, as you suggested a second ago right in all these blue I refer by yeah like making the Eu S. Look a lot like other countries are we're talking, mostly about changing the house and to allow four degree, the Senate, which is pretty hard to change. So the house,
could be something like the irish system in the Senate. Maybe you just have rank choice, voting which would allow for multiple candidates have shot and theoretically third party candidate and a better shot. Then they might otherwise. Please thus will you lay out in Europe. but one set of changes we haven't talked about all these different systems are presidential versus parliamentary democracies because in theory you could have a multi member are CV legislature, but still keep a president. That's in fact we are proposing for the United States, but also the same system. We have a prime minister made its their different access of reform the question of whether the present directly elected by the people or the Prime Minister's chosen by the members of parliament's role of a national legislature to be more precise, A lot of people who are about american democracy focus heavily on the presidency on both its hours ends the fact we have a presidential system at all because in a lot of countries, especially in Latin America conflict between the present.
The legislator, who have dual claims to be the voice of the people through they're elected separately, have led to real democratic crises and sometimes even coups one Linz minute political scientist has is really famous for making this argument. The president systems are more unstable than parliamentary ones, but you're not so worried. It seems about presidential democracy in the United States right, it's more the structure of the legislature that bothers you. I tend to agree with that the way, but I am curious as to what your reasoning it's the structure of a party system, so I mean I want to start out by clarifying something. That's pretty important, because I think a lot of folks equate parliamentary systems.
Multi Party is of and say what we can have multiple parties, because we're not parliamentary system when the real thing that determines the number of parties is the district magnet to, and as you know there are plenty of multi party system is mostly in Latin America that have present now one of the things that distinguishes the: U S from many latin american countries is the formal powers of the Euro president are much weaker, as I think we are seeing with Joe Biden inability to get his agenda through Congress fact that very famous book on the presidency is the Richard New Stats Classic Book on presidential power, in which he says that the power of the president is the power to persuade. Now that's not a ton of power granted. The president see has grown in power as the executive branches grown but, most importantly, its grown in power, because Congress, the first branch of
the government has become increasingly dysfunctional, has become increasingly dysfunctional Thus, it is increasingly polarized because, again of our two party system. So what has happened in Congress? Is you basically have a kind of breakdown of the ability to pass legislation and when you have divided government, you basically of a car since this gonna stone wall? The presidency's at present kind of tries to do some stuff. Third, the executive branch, but ideally you would have something that represents the Congress of the sixties. Further the lady is in which Congress was able to produce a lot of important legislation broad by partisan, legible. Should I got like sixty seventy votes in the Senate and with some lasting achievements? really, the last time Congress did, that was nineteen nineteen. When you have a clean air, actin two major com hence of immigration and budget reform. And since then it's been
pretty rare to see this sort of broad by partisan pushing legislation, and so what's happened, is that more and more the focus has shifted to the president, but, as were saying this voting Rights ACT and build a better is like the precedent, doesn't power to enact these sweeping the Us Congress has the power. So I think if we were thinking about a multi party system with presidential elections to me, unless you get rid of the Electoral College and have some sort of two round system like the french years were still gonna basically have two broad coalitions running for president. But what you can imagine is
Presidents proposing broad coalition government by choosing a broad representative cabin around some folks were joking about this Tom Friedman com that came out in which he suggests abiding Bliss Janey presidential ticket. But that's the kind of broad coalition government that you might imagine then you are, you might imagine both sides try not to have a more centrist, broad coalition ticket. That would not be that different, either way. Is that what the lesson of latin american presidential democracy and multiparty systems is. Is it that you end up getting a broad sense? a system, or is it that the president just get stone called for multiple different directions by multiple different opposition parties, and you end up having a series of institutional crises and a presidency assuming more power and in weaker democracies, or, I should say, institutionally weaker democracy he's even get military coups in social breakdowns and authoritarian presidents. The term
Otto Coup emerges out of the latin american experience, which is not to say that, like democracy in Latin America is a failure, just a Lots and lots of examples of president Well, as I'm going badly in that context, given the extreme polarization in several efficient. The? U s you think, might raise some questions about president frozen before talking about full scale form. I saw a light if we're gonna, we re the cards cheers in arid move towards a unit camera legislature and a parliamentary system. I wouldn't have a separately elected president The record of presidential ism is generally pretty bad, as you know, Now I do wonder how we think about the record of presidential ISM if many of the western european democracies had separately elected
presidents, France's assembly presidential system, in which there is a president and a prime minister, the main Finland has a president but present in his pretty weak and minor powers. So you could contrive the powers of the? U S, president in and have a prime minister who place a much more important role. a lot of different arrangements, and again I would note that the? U S. Presidency, has a lot fewer formal powers than most of the latin american presidencies. but this is a system that we have, and you know, boring a constitutional amendment. We have to start where we can and the places we can start with her. How we do congressional actions, because article one section four of the constitution- gives Congress Pretty white latitude to write its own. Should rules he I will say I I tend to agree with your point, like your implied point anyway in the western girl comparison that a lot of the failures they get ascribed to presidential ism in the Latin American
text are really the product of other social forces and conflicts between in different groups in society and weaker institutionalization of democratic more. Then you get him some longer standing. Democracies in western so like. If you flip the institutional arrangements in different places, maybe you would get different results, I think it's fair to blame everything and presidential some, but You know you also raised another point: which is that, like you, couldn't get rid of the president without a constitutional amendment an unfair enough, but it also really really hard to imagine reforming the legislature like not constitutional amendment hard, but really really difficult. it's hard to get Congress to agree on anything, as you just noted, let alone, To imagine you, parties coming together agreeing to vote on their own abolition a century. abolition their fracturing, and so I like it for TAT he again to a better system, which I agree is imperative. What's the
non doom perspective on how we can get from point a to point b? Well, the first thing is that we have to think in terms of individual lawmakers and not in terms of party sent me a common retort air. When I say what we ve got change the system is why, with the parties ever do that, but who are the parties fight? Is it the leader ship of the party? We tend to reapply the parties when the parties are really coalitions, their coalitions of groups, their coalitions of individual members of Congress? There are people in the Democratic Party right now, you're pretty unhappy with the direction of the leadership, and there are at least a few people in the Republic party who are unhappy with the leadership and everybody kind of hates the centralisation. So when I see in May the progressive Democrats rather have their own. Party and then maybe form a coalition with the moderate Democrats, but they would get to come
stand on the road. I think so might some centrist Republicans wish to run on their own party, I think absolutely so, if you think in terms of individual members and factions and groups, there's a potential in which a lot of folks who are in Congress say look: this system is not working for us. We hate it and I can get elected under a different system and in fact I actually might enjoy being member of Congress more under that other system in theory, yes, in practice, the problem is that in a hurry per polarized environment, whenever something gets proposed by one party or a member of one party, the people, Their party tend to take a reflexive stand against it. So when you ve got what I secure pathetically star with An air sea sponsored bill.
change us toward Sir, an irish style system. you can imagine every Republican in Congress running against it. On grounds of you know it's the far left radical socialist take over plan for american democracy and you can the reverse happening, if Republicans propose something like us. Like the dissident, What means are not just the Mitt Romney of the world, but also the mat data in the Marjorie Taylor reigns there not exactly the people. The Democrats, at one line up with, this kind of proposal, it seems like the dynamic the structure of a two party system makes it very very difficult to imagine a world in which individual legislature start thinking as individuals in the way that you describe given the partisan
entities that would be activated in any debate over a legislative proposal to change things. Yes, that is certainly true, which is why we have to think about building bat coalition before legislation is introduced. Here I mean, I hope, that air sea does not introduce this legislation for precisely that reason that you suggest- or at least until she has a serve surprising republican cosponsor and again. I think the challenge here is real. a building that broad coalition at the start, in a way that it becomes harder to characterize this as a democratic or a republican bill, and I may work really not there, but yeah, maybe we will be an out baby, it is that some states start experimenting with this. I mean that there are some interesting proposal in Wyoming, which is a very
conservative state, but there are some votes in the legislature there who are thinking about using multi member proportional districts in their legislature, and one of the reasons for that is because the Republican Party in my army is divided. That's divided between a kind of more classic conservative. Those changes waiting and a more radical aunt. I was Janni Pro Mega faction and You see this in a lot of states that are solidly one party or the other men, California, overwhelmingly blue state, but there are device within the Democratic Party in California. any city of New York City certainly divides within the democratic party. Is the primary showed, although the right choice, voting made for some interesting coalitions, but the broader challenge is that we ve gotta, think in terms of these Inter party factions and Think
the coalition's that could emerge and start building them ahead of time, and that's one way for the other. A couple of other things on payment tree by sheer said, races I'll, be watching most closely. I think in twenty twenty two are Alaska in Utah, Alaska, because of LISA Mercosur Ski running under a new system with ray choice. Voting- and you tell me Evan Mcmullin Macmonnies trainer run as an independent and he's gonna try to challenge Lee now the only way Evan Macmillan wins is. If Democrats basically stand down and Democrats should stand down and endorse Evan one, because there's no way democratic, gonna win statewide in Utah and make molen would be moderate, bring public awareness and independent, but you could imagine
happening and a couple of states or maybe there's no way. Democrats are going to win in Missouri Year Louisiana, but a moderate independent might win. If Democrats stand down and then you could envision a kind of a group of moderate, independent centre right folks, who could support more transformative legislation now? Is that a longshot shore but couldn't happen? Maps Yeah, over the course of my conversation with lead men, we wind up at this place the bunch diagnosing a potential structural reform, a pro democracy strategy as possible, but really a luxury and since I am not willing to
open democracy. I guess I'm willing to entertain a longshot, for example, could there be some? of breakaway faction of the Republican Party that emerges to take back their party in some form, Lee, and I will dig into this possibility after one last quick break. If oaks I'm had Cox Richardson an eye, Joanne Freeman, where the hosts of now and then a weekly podcast, looks to the American Pass to make sense of our current political and Cultural there's been a wave of headlines recently about book bands, school boards and state governments are trying to, law the teaching of books that they find objectionable from arts. People means mouse Tony Morrison's bluest. I this way on now, and then we're releasing the first episode of a three part series. The series will dive deep into past book, panics
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Cynthia Graver and I'm Neglect Willie and whether you are obsessed with food or someone who wants to learn more about. What's on your played, we'd love for you to join us, listen and follow Gaster Bud on Apple or wherever you listen to podcast, I think it's worth dwelling on the reasons why that could be fairly characterises a longshot cassettes, just how much of a mess we heard in certain ways. Right. So if you're Democrat and you hear leader in making this argument, I think you probably say two things. You say one. First of all, we can win Brad states we just wanted Alabama? Now it happened to be the case that this only lost for a few years, and the republican candle was uniquely bad because he was arguably a among other problems and trust in office. There is a real tromp backlash, but still Democrats, one in Alabama, where they want to send,
race and one of the rare states of the country, then to even moderate Republicans, now aren't very helpful for the democratic agenda. Rightly so, Bill back better failed because Democrats couldn't get enough support for on their own and not a single Republican was interesting defecting. That's why the first version failed us on signature pieces of legislation that has can't get Mitt Romney onboard. Why would they sacrifice. Even a longshot chance of getting another Doug Jones in Office, when they could get another Mitt Romney clone who's, not going back any of the things that their voters really. Air- I'm not saying this to say you're scenario is unlikely because you ve said that it is, but also because it shows the ways in which to bring our conversation back to the beginning, Partisan self interest so distorts the way that parties and voters think about the world's there
Even if, in the long run, it would be good for american democracy, and I think it probably would be to have a larger modern republican faction is varied, differ. call to imagine Democrats willing to make the kind of sacrifice bigger disk I been given what their voters and their elected really care about. Sure. That's exactly the challenge now. If there were ten Mitt Romney in the Senate or fifteen Mitt Romney AIDS and in the Senate, the dynamics would be different. There is basically Mitt, Romney and lay summer cowskin fuel be generous Susan Collins, but that doesn't get you to sixty votes. So as a result, there is not a pull out of action or other the infrastructure bill did pass, but I think I was a kind of unusual circumstance, but still you're getting at. This really important dynamic, which is the distinction between the short term and the long term in the short term,
We always have to win the next election, because if the other side gets total power, they're gonna do powerful things and, as a basically person Democrat, I kind of believe that that, if Republicans yet total power, they're gonna do some pretty awful things. But at the same time, if we don't take some chances and some gambles we're gonna be stuck in this same cycle and I think there's pretty good chance that Republicans will win at least the next two elections. So if it's a longshot for Democrats to win in twenty two and twenty four, then maybe we should just try a bunch of things that could potentially break this. Do love and get us to a better place for the long term and be willing to take some short term. Animals because if we keep doing the same thing or keep winding up in the same place, so I just find myself and grow. We frustrate, I see hundreds of millions billion
dollars flowing into these races to make all these consultants rich to flood. All advertisements that are hardly moving. Any body and just turning people even more radically against the other party, and I don't see any of that money going into a broader efforts to change our voting system in a way that would really save our democracy for the long term on that lovely Knowed, I'm going to leave. You are listeners and thanks Lee for being on the show and offering without last little depressing Nova, a generally a sense that things can be different and better than they are right now I count on your work for doing that. I appreciate that thankfully, yet will thank you I can't hear. I think it's really important not to give up hope, because if we give up hope that things can be better, we ve already lost and it's only by feeling like we have a better,
Future, and something to work towards that we can get down in and do the hard work that we need to do over the next several years. At least Fast conversations is produced by action are alive. Amy, a meter Duff, Scott Robert Mousy mixed and master. This episode are female. was dreamed up by the mysterious break master cylinder and home is the deputy editorial director vocs talk like that let us now room for improvement, We want to hear that too for curious to know what you think, what you want more of an what we could do better. Many ideas on these topics are, for future gas things to discuss some of your phone Vox conversations at box, starting in hey, if you did like this episode, share with friends and please read and with you subscribe.
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Transcript generated on 2022-02-18.