Over the past decade and a half America's two premier political parties have moved steadily farther apart. Some have argued that they have, in fact, come to resemble Europe's parliamentary parties. In most parliamentary systems party unity is more important than the actual policy choices elected leaders make. In a system where the majority party in parliament controls all the levers of government unity is of tantamount importance. Defections from the majority can bring down a government. However, in a constitutional system where the creation of policy often requires cooperation between the majority and the minority parties, partisan unity can bring governance to a standstill. It seems that is where we are at this point in time. Consider the following:
- Since 1995 the number of filibusters in the U.S. Senate has increased exponentially and in the past four years more filibusters or filibuster threats have been enacted than in the preceeding 200 years.
- The House has passed a budget resolution in each of the past two years solely along party lines and the Senate has refused to even consider it.
- Neither chamber has given serious consideration to the president's budget proposals in the past three years.
- Pitched battles are waged over issues that both parties have previously supported, such as the individual mandate for healthcare (originally a conservative idea promoted by the Heritage Foundation), stimulus spending to boost the economy (both parties have a long history of embracing it), and many others.
- The Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, has to disavow his signature accomplishment (Romneycare), which served as the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act of 2010.
No matter who America elects as its next president, he is likely to preside over a system that may well be ungovernable. Much as the Republicans committed themselves to refusing to work with Barack Obama after his election in 2008, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already declared that Senate Democrats will stand united against Mitt Romney in the event he wins the presidency.
America the ungovernable? Perhaps that should be our new national anthem.