For those of you who have strong feelings about a presidential candidate, please chill. This blog does not endorse either Joe Biden or Donald Trump. It is instead a befuddlement about how we got where we are.
In an election, it is common for voters to not be satisfied with candidates on a ballot. But the presidential election of 2020, a year already notorious for its challenges, raises the discussion to a new height. The choice is between a candidate who some think is crazy, versus a candidate who some fear will either develop dementia or not make it physically through his term. These are the choices for the leader of the free world!
What we’re seeing, and feeling, more than ever is the difference between the American presidential system versus the parliamentary system that is common to most of the world’s other democracies.
For reasons that are very complicated, our system has evolved into a process where there are two major parties and each picks a nominee for president. On election day voters get to choose between one of them. At the beginning of the election season there were many candidates looking for the job; thirty alone among the Democrats.
All of the weaning down was done in the various primaries and caucuses. As the incumbent, Trump had his party to himself; Biden pretty much had his nomination clinched by the South Carolina primary, Feb. 29. (Louisiana, which finally had its primary July 11, really didn’t matter.)
In a parliamentary system there is more flexibility. The Prime Minister is a member of parliament and the leader of the majority party. There are set election dates but sometimes Prime Ministers can change within those dates, such as if parliament votes no confidence. Under the parliamentary system, an incumbent prime mister can be dethroned and replaced in a matter of days. There is no cumbersome nominations process. (In 1940, Winston Churchill first became prime minister not by election but by the selection of party leaders who believed he would be a tougher opponent to Nazi Germany than incumbent Neville Chamberlin, who leaned toward appeasement.)
A presidential system is more rigid: A president is elected for a four year term. Barring death, resignation or successful impeachment, he gets to serve his time even if he has lost support.
Another difference: Since a prime minister is elected from parliament that person usually has honed legislative kills and is an eloquent speaker. Many American presidents – most recently Trump, George W. Bush, Clinton, Carter, Eisenhower, and the Roosevelts – had never served in Congress. Some rose to the occasion better than others.
Which system is better? Truth is while the presidential system limits the voters to two choices; in parliamentary elections the real choice is usually between two or three parties with the party leaders deciding on who rules.
Whenever an occasion demands, it is wise to look toward Churchill to have provided the best quote as he did on the subject of democracy:
“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried… “
But if someone is willing to try again, this might be a good year.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
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