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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

It is so difficult to be sultan! 

Thanks to Atrios for this quote from a Washington Post story on how the Republicans are falling apart For Republicans, a House (And Senate) Divided
"It's extremely difficult to govern when you control all three branches of government." (attributed to Speaker Hastert's spokesman John Feehery)
Reminded me of the great quote in The Wind and The Lion, when the sultan complains to the American ambassador - "It is so difficult to be sultan! You Americans do not understand."
Ah, yes, the burden of command, the lonliness of leadership, when you don't have any excuses for not being able to get things done, other than your own lack of ideas and competence. Its terrible when you cannot blame anything on anybody.
This is a problem that parliamentary systems do not have, because the Prime Minister, by definition, has to have the support of a majority of parliament. Therefore no politician can complain about government paralysis, and there are no excuses for a government not to get its legislative agenda through. It requires the Prime Minister to exert firm control over the Cabinet ministers who are bringing forward legislation, so that a coherent and achievable legislative agenda can be enacted -- in other words, in a parliamentary system the government COULD do just about anything it wants, but this doesn't mean it WILL do it all. There will still be lots and lots of things that aren't high enough priority, or are too controversial, or are too complicated to enact, or that it cannot afford to pay for. Prime ministers must ruthlessly limit what their cabinet ministers want to do and must force ministers to focus on government priorities, or they don't last very long.
In the American system, when voters frequently elect one party to the governorship or the presidency and the other party to the House or Senate, governing requires he skills of horse trading and deal making, taking another political party's good idea and getting your own party to support it, advancing your own party's good ideas by doing quid quo pros with the other guys -- these skills are seen by American politicians as the normal way of governing.
When one party faces the ususual situation of having actual control of the government and legislative agenda, like the Republicans do now, it requires a different type of governing style, one which can balance and reconcile competing interests and present a unified legislative program which meets the needs of the public and which coordinates with the tax and revenue policies through which it is financed. These are skills that many American politicians have never developed -- particularly, I dare say, today's national Republicans, who spent the last decade focusing on a narrow and rigidly ideological right-wing agenda that is unpopular, expensive, and inadequate to meet the problems faced by the Americans today. Thus we see the President introducing scattershot legislation (drug benefits, education reform) and making scattershot policy announcements (Mars, immigration, etc) with no followthrough, while the house and senate Republicans make speeches in committees about how torturing Iraqis really isn't so bad.

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