Cutler, Lloyd N.
September 1980
Foreign Affairs;Fall1980, Vol. 59 Issue 1, p126
The author argues that the U.S. needs to adopt the parliamentary concept of forming a government, under which the elected majority is able to carry out an overall program, and is held accountable for its success or failure. A particular shortcoming in need of a remedy is the structural inability of our government to propose, legislate and administer a balanced program for governing. Any part of the president's legislative program may be defeated, or amended into an entirely different measure, so that the legislative record of any presidency may bear little resemblance to the overall program the president wanted to carry out. In a parliamentary system, it is the duty of each majority member of the legislature to vote for each element of the government's program, and the government possesses the means to punish members if they do not. Our separation of executive and legislative power fractions power and prevents accountability. In drawing this comparison, I am not blind to the proven weaknesses of parliamentary government, or to the virtues which our forefathers saw in separating the executive from the legislature. In particular, the parliamentary system lacks the ability of a separate and vigilant legislature to investigate and curb the abuse of power by an arbitrary or corrupt executive. There are several reasons why it is far more important in 1980 than it was in 1940, 1900 or 1800 for our government to have the capability to formulate and carry out an overall program. The first reason is that government is now constantly required to make a different kind of choice than usually in the past, a kind for which it is difficult to obtain a broad consensus. Furthermore, as new economic or social problems are recognized, a responsible government must adjust these priorities.


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