Memo To: SSU Students
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Structuring a Democracy, Part II
Over the centuries, the United States has been so proud of itself and the democratic institutions designed by the founding fathers that it has pressed its ideas on foreign governments in hopes of having them follow the example. The clearest example is postwar Japan, where General Douglas MacArthur essentially ran the country as high commissioner for seven years before turning “sovereignty” back to the Japanese people. The system designed did not replicate the U.S. Constitution and the constitutional democracy that flowed from it, chiefly because Japan already possessed a working parliamentary democracy that emulated the British system. In the mid-19th century, Japan’s political establishment decided that Great Britain and its Empire was worth emulating, if Japan was not to be left behind. MacArthur’s influence added reforms that did help soften the more aggressive tendencies that produced Pearl Harbor, chiefly the decision to give Japanese women the franchise. Men are from Mars, women prefer diplomacy, etc.
The purest example of a country that attempted an emulation of the United States in all particulars was Liberia, a state fashioned on the northwest coast of Africa by American slaves who had been “liberated” for that purpose. The government more or less adopted a replica of the US Constitution and figured that would be sufficient to bring the most advanced political structure to darkest Africa. What they missed was a quirk that developed in the United States because of the nature of the federal system, one that led to the only two-party political democracy in the world. The founding fathers cooked up the idea of having the American President chosen by “electors” in an “Electoral College,” and these electors would be chosen by popular vote. Each state would be given so many “electoral votes,” depending upon the number of representatives in Congress: One for each member of the House and one for each U.S. Senator. There are 535 members of Congress and 535 electoral votes.
The net effect of such a system has been to thoroughly discourage the formation of more than two political parties. The Electoral College provides for a “winner take all” system, which was best exemplified in the 2000 election of George W. Bush, who lost the popular vote by a fairly wide margin, but eked out the slightest plurality over Albert Gore in the Electoral College by winning the Florida electoral votes. Gore might have won had there not been the candidacy of Ralph Nader, running as the candidate of the Green Party, as it was clear Nader drained enough votes from Gore to deny him the electoral votes of Florida and New Hampshire. Had Gore been more solicitous of the political positions advanced by Nader, the votes he lost to him might well have stayed in the Democratic column. In other words, the winner-take-all system encourages peacemaking among competing interest groups before an election. There is no prohibition against a third party, and Ross Perot demonstrated as recently as 1992 that such a party could wield enormous power at the ballot box – he got 20% of the popular vote. But it is the nature of the process to push the entire electorate into two distinct parties, just as it is in the nature of civilization to create the family unit of husband and wife, not husbands and wives – although there have been experiments along those lines.
The ideal family, it is widely recognized, is one where the husband and wife – the father and mother – communicate with each other on all matters relating to the well-being -- present and future -- of the unit. I began writing about the Democratic Party as being the “mommy party” and the Republican Party as the “daddy party” as early as 1995. I did so upon the realization that with the end of the Cold War, the USA perched atop the pyramid of the entire world as the sole “leader.” A bipolar world represents competing power centers and can be thought of on a left-right horizontal axis. A unipolar world most resembles the structure of the family unit, one power center on a vertical axis. We are in a mess in Iraq because the “daddy party” of President Bush decided upon a unilateral course of action, without consulting the “mommy party” or the relatives of the family of nations that extend down the pyramid.
Which brings us back to Iraq. There are now almost 500 political parties who have identified themselves in the year since Iraq was “liberated.” If there were 500 candidates on the ballot next January for all the posts to be filled, there would be chaos without any question. We would expect that as a natural course of events, we will see mergers and mergers and more mergers among like-minded groupings that can identify more common ground than uncommon differences. But in the best of circumstances, we should not expect fewer than three parties to emerge. One would be identified with the Shiites, one with the Sunnis, and one with the Kurds. The condition would be as unstable as a household with one husband and two wives or two husbands and one wife.
How to proceed? First I would make sure The Federalist papers written in the 1780s by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay are available in Arabic. We are spending mega-billions on trying to bring democracy to the Arabic World. A few dollars to buy copies of The Federalist for the Iraqis charged with designing a democracy would be a worthy expense. We learn from the papers the philosophical underpinnings of the Constitution. They were chiefly the ideas of Alexander Hamilton, a man who approached the problem of designing a democracy with the assumption that all men were out for themselves. The system then had to harness this individualism – some might call it “greed” – into a mechanism that would move the nation in positive directions. Extreme positions developing out of different regions and classes would cancel each other out and centrists would manage at the margin where change occurs. The House of Representatives would embody the firebrands, the “daddy wing of Congress,” and the Senate would provide a cooler approach to governance. Unlimited debate in the Senate was specifically designed to allow passions to cool. Checks and balances in the three branches of government, with an independent judiciary, protected minority interests.
A democratic design for Iraq suggests itself from these notions. There have been ideas advanced that Iraq is so divided between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds that we encourage a “three-state solution.” Leslie Gelb, the former chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, has been advancing this idea for several months. The idea is essentially unworkable because so much of the surface wealth of Iraq is in the oil fields that would in the Gelb model go to the Kurds. No way the Shiites and Sunnis would stand still for the Gelb proposal, which is at best sophomoric. A system that could really work would force the three distinct religious groupings to put aside their religious impulses in order to optimize the temporal needs of their constituents. There are 18 distinct provinces in Iraq and these could form the basis for a federal system. There seemed to be some attempt to move in this direction at the end of the Iran/Iraq war in 1988. A new constitution was drafted in 1990 providing for a multi-party democracy, but it was not ratified by the National Assembly and became a dead letter when Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait.
As long as the new government to be elected next January will be responsible for drafting a new constitution from scratch, it should at least consider the lessons of the Federalist and pattern its government after ours, including the provisions that encourage two distinct parties. Religious differences would remain submerged, as they had been under the Baath Party’s secular government. There is almost a tendency to think of Saddam Hussein sitting at his presidential desk dictating all the laws and regulations of the Iraqi state. In fact, almost all decisions came about through political negotiations among the ruling class. There is no reason why this could not be replicated. Some Kurds would cut political deals with Shiites and some would cut deals with Sunnis, and on and on around the horn. The net effect would be a replication of the kind of democracy we enjoy here, alone on the planet with a two-party system.
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This is the last lesson of the Spring Semester. Summer session will consist of supply-side readings that I will choose as the summer unfolds.