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A badly flawed electoral process

July 28, 2016   ·   0 Comments

A LOT OF AMERICANS must be wondering how on earth they are facing a presidential election in which neither major-party candidate is widely popular.

As we see it, one important reason for the current situation, which leaves voters with a choice between a demagogue and a former president’s wife who for some reason is hated by most Republicans and disliked by a substantial number of Democrats who supported Bernie Sanders, lies in the 22nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

That amendment, which has been in force since 1947, limits all U.S. presidents – but not members of Congress or the Supreme Court – to two four-year terms.

Interestingly, the 22nd amendment was the result of one president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, being far too popular, having won a fourth term in 1944 despite failing health. The amendment, initiated by a Republican-controlled Congress, created the phenomenon of “lame duck” presidents, who find they can accomplish little in their second term of office.

And that’s why we see today that while Barack Obama, despite all his detractors, is far more popular than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, the 22nd Amendment bars him easily winning a third term against the doom-and-gloom pronouncements of Mr. Trump.

Another problem can be traced to the presidential primaries and the different approaches taken by the Republicans and Democrats.

For reasons that may never be fully understood, the Republican leaders in Congress failed to agree on a credible candidate, the result being the emergence of 17 challengers to Mr. Trump, who from Day One in the race was seen as an outsider who opposed much of what the party had stood for historically, including support for free trade and immigration.

In contrast, the Democratic National Committee threw its weight both publicly and privately behind Hillary Clinton, despite the fact she wasn’t particularly well-liked by many of the party’s membership. As a result, her only opponent in the primaries was Bernie Sanders, a Vermont senator seen as a socialist because of views close to those of Canada’s Liberal and New Democratic parties, who wants universal medicare and opposes the growing gap between rich and poor.

As we see it, the current electoral system is failing both parties and has robbed the election-year conventions of their historic importance.

Interestingly, the idea of limiting presidents to two terms may have had its origins in the American Revolution, with its dislike of the British monarchy and no desire to have “presidents for life.”

In today’s circumstances, there is a real likelihood that the paralysis that set in once President Obama was confronted with a Republican-dominated Congress will continue, even if Mr. Trump wins the presidency and the Republicans still control both the House of Representatives and Senate.

The reason would be that a Trump administration would find strong resistance in Congress to attempts to undo trade pacts and even to build a wall the length of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Perhaps the day will come when some Americans will see advantages in our parliamentary system, where real power is held by a prime minister and cabinet that normally have a working majority in the lower House, and an upper chamber and head of state that have limited real powers.

For all that might be said against Canada’s adherence to a titular monarchy, unelected Senate and a “first past the post” electoral system, it does mitigate against the impasses that seem to have become a common feature of U.S. federal politics.

         

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