What would be left of America then?
In parliamentary systems around the globe, the head of state is separate from the head of government. In some countries, like Russia and France, the president (as head of state) is more powerful than the prime minister (who is head of government). In others, like Israel, the president serves simply as a symbol of the nation, while the prime minister runs the country. Europe’s constitutional monarchies limit their heads of royal houses to symbolic functions, while reserving that role to one family. Having a national, unifying position ostensibly standing outside the daily muck of politics provides a rallying point for all citizens and a safety valve to redirecting national passions in a non-partisan way.
We have no such safety valve in the United States. Our experiment in self-government has progressed to the point where the differences in our increasingly complex country are now the salient feature of public life. They are certainly not as fundamental as the questions of slavery or civil rights, but they are deep and growing deeper nonetheless. The role and size of government, individual rights to privacy, immigration, the definition of marriage and the like are all driving polarization, not just in Washington, but in Peoria and Albuquerque and Manchester. The result is a country that is becoming shriller, more willing to demonize opponents and less united. This deep corrosion of political life is directly responsible for Americans’ growing sense of alienation.
A figurehead presidency like Israel’s would be the perfect job for Obama. That’s essentially the job he ran for in 2008: The point of Hopenchange was that O, through the sheer force of his sunny post-racial personal awesomeness, would usher in a new dawn for America. His legislative agenda was so far beside the point that his big domestic initiative ended up being cooked up as a throwaway applause line for an early stump speech. (“We needed something to say,” one advisor told Politico. “I can’t tell you how little thought was given to that thought other than it sounded good.”) We’re not even through five full years yet and his disengagement from the legislative process is legendary, a new story about his reluctance to twist arms and schmooze members of Congress hitting the wires seemingly every week. The extent to which he claims not to know what’s going on in his own administration is comic fodder even for media outlets that cheer for him. The guy palpably does not enjoy governing. Why not give him a job he does enjoy by letting him be “the biggest celebrity in the world” without having to worry about any executive duties? He could flip the coin at the Super Bowl, hold photo ops with visiting monarchs at the White House, maybe order an ObamaCare deadline arbitrarily moved now and then for old time’s sake. He’d love it. The highest ambition of Obama 2008 would finally be realized.
Problem is, I’m … not sure Prime Minister Boehner would be an upgrade.
Exit question: Would a parliamentary system be better for tea partiers? As a matter of pure identity, conservatives would be happy to be free of the GOP brand and able to vote for a party more to their liking without fear that doing so would necessarily hand power to Democrats. They could, in theory, even partner with liberal Democrats on a few areas of mutual interest, like reining in the NSA and the excesses of crony capitalism. On the other hand, with the Republican Party now shorn of its most conservative elements, the GOP could partner with liberals to pass amnesty and “fixes” for ObamaCare with little recourse for conservatives. The big risk would be that wave elections would leave the out party with no way of checking the other like the GOP has now with its House majority — and while in theory that risk is the same for both sides, in practice there are more registered Democrats in the U.S. and likely to be even more in the medium-term due to demographics. Second look at presidential systems?