« The Continuing Relevance of Both Redistricing and Campaign Finance Reform | Main | Factcheck.org Strikes Out (Again!) »

Twilight for Bush and Blair

Dana Millbank in Friday"s Washington Post described the meltdown of the budget reconciliation process on both the House and Senate sides using a metaphor that, back in the day, would have been off limits:

On either end of the Capitol, insurgents brought the legislative process to a halt, forcing GOP leaders in the House and Senate to shelve prized tax and spending cuts. The explosions went off almost simultaneously, as if they had been synchronized -- and authorities blamed both attacks on Republican moderates.

There was a third explosion, almost simultaneous, in another capitol. In London, parliament rejected Tony Blair's proposal to expand police powers to fight terrorism, the first loss for Blair in eight years and apparently something very close to a fatal blow to his government. Blair biographer Philip Stephens notes in today's Financial Times that Blair "has reached, as close allies are now acknowledging, the dusk of his premiership."

It's interesting to look at these two setbacks side-by-side, just as a question of governance.

A standard critique of Blair in the U.K., repeated in Stephens' colunm, is that he has brought a "presidential" style of leadership to the office. That's partly a dig at his alliances with Clinton and Bush, and his American-style press operation, but it really means that he aspired to be a national leader based on his personal vision and charisma rather than the leader of a party with a coherent platform. As Stephens puts it, "in his effort to build a new social democratic settlement, Mr. Blair shows still greater disdain for Labour ideology than [Margaret Thatcher had] for Tory tradition."

Under Bush in the U.S., on the other hand, we have moved toward something that looks a lot more like parliamentary government, in which the ruling party moves with a single voice and when it fails to do so, the whole order is at risk. If Blair is more national leader than party leader, Bush has styled himself as much more the leader of an ideologically unified majority party than any American president in decades, including those such as LBJ who had solid congressional majorities. He is the first president, for example, to handpick the Senate majority leader.

Ironically, something more like parliamentary government was a goal of "reformers" in the U.S. system for decades, especially in the postwar years when members of Congress of the president's own party continually blocked active, progressive leadership, especially on civil rights. Strong and ideologically coherent parties with a strong president at the helm were thought to be preferable for progress than the sclerotic system of four parties (James McGregor Burns broke each party into a conservative congressional wing and a more liberal presidential wing) and deep bias toward inaction.

The budget reconciliation process that broke down yesterday in both Houses is very much a product of that reform impulse. Designed in 1974 to force congressional committees to make big choices about taxes and entitlement spending, it has been used by presidents Reagan in 1981 and Clinton in 1993 to force dramatic reorderings of priorities that would have been impossible earlier. Today the process has been egregiously abused, simply to avoid the rule of unlimited debate and 60 votes for cloture in the Senate. The more that key choices such as oil drilling in ANWR, which go well beyond the budget, are moved through this one-party process, the more "parliamentary" our system becomes.

The phenomenon of parliamentary democracies that surely seems weirdest to an American is the fact that a single loss can bring down a government. We are accustomed to having our "accountability moments" at regularly scheduled intervals, with all sorts of congressional victories and defeats in between. And there's something to be said for that. A president can be daring, can try to push Congress in certain directions, and can win some or lose some, get up off the mat and come right back and try again. Imagine, for example, if Bill Clinton had been prime minister rather than president. Rather than eight consecutive years in office, he would have been like one of those prime ministers who comes in and out of power several times, losing confidence votes, dissolving governments, and then forming new ones on new coalitions.

A great deal of Bush/Rove/DeLay's success over the past five years has come from pushing through party-line votes as if they were confidence votes in a parliamentary system. Many of the votes pushed through with massive arm-twisting and unprecedented procedures, such as the Medicare prescription drug bill and the 2003 tax bill, were sold on the basis that the president needs the victory. You may not think this is good policy, wavering Republicans were told, but if the president wins, he gets reelected and we all win; we lose, and our whole edifice of power collapses.

And just as in a parliamentary system, that works until it stops working. And when it stops working, the government is finished. After reelection, the confidence vote argument lost some steam. Seeing Bush as a burden in 2006 rather than an asset for reelection, it loses still more. Having chosen to govern as a party, rather than national, leader, Bush has few of the resources that other presidents have had to salvage themselves, and the same goes for the Republican leadership in Congress.

And thus, Bush and Blair arrived this week at the same place, moving in opposite directions. The parliamentarian who governed as a president and the president who brought one-party parliamentary government to the U.S. have simultaneously reaced "the dusk" of their governments.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on November 11, 2005 | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341ce8a553ef00d83426251f53ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Twilight for Bush and Blair:

» Not quite a parliamentary system from coffee grounds
Mark Schmitt has another interesting post up about the continued drift in U.S. politics towards the executive and legislative branches of the majority party co-ordinating with each other more than they ever did in the past. This is a theme... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 16, 2005 5:56:00 PM

» Not quite a parliamentary system from coffee grounds
Mark Schmitt has another interesting post up about the continued drift in U.S. politics towards the executive and legislative branches of the majority party co-ordinating with each other more than they ever did in the past. This is a theme... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 16, 2005 5:57:18 PM

» Cracks in the Republican wall from Half Changed World
I was absolutely flabbergasted yesterday afternoon when I heard that the House had voted down the conference agreement on the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill. This is just unheard of -- apparently it is the first time the Republican leadership ... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 18, 2005 7:08:12 AM

» Plane Crash Near Rio Kills 19 from their plane exploded
19 people who died when their plane exploded on impact in a crash in a mountainous [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 5, 2006 12:48:35 PM

» Drugs & Supplements from Drug Information and Supplement Information
Search: Enter a drug name ... LEGAL CONDITIONS AND TERMS OF USE APPLICABLE TO ALL USERS OF THIS SITE. ANY USE OF THIS SITE CONSTITUTES YOUR AGREEMENT TO ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 14, 2006 9:11:48 AM

» Hollywood Begins Selling Films Online from the move is seen
DVD player. Still, the move is seen as a step toward full digital distribution of movies [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 26, 2006 11:27:48 PM

» Legalising and declassifying drugs from What if all drugs were legal?
urban75 drug information: a huge online resource of drug information, help and advice including cannabis, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, solvents, ketamine and ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 27, 2006 2:42:19 PM

» The Interactive NGC Catalog Online from Official Catalog
The Interactive NGC Catalog Online. This is the interactive NGC (and IC, and Messier) catalog at SEDS, based on the famous NGC 2000.0 by RW Sinnott of Sky ... [Read More]

Tracked on Apr 30, 2006 4:15:55 PM

» Finding Information on the Internet from Net Search
The University of California Berkeley recommends search strategies, explains search tools, and gives guidance on evaluating and citing web pages... [Read More]

Tracked on May 3, 2006 4:43:08 AM

» Job Search from Directory with Free People Search
Perform a quick job search using Job Bank USA's powerful job search engine. ... Thank you for using Job Bank USA's employment search services and job search ... [Read More]

Tracked on May 8, 2006 11:04:40 AM

» Iran Test-Fires Another 'Top Secret' Missile from television says
television says it successfully test-fired a "top secret" missile, the third in a week. [Read More]

Tracked on May 13, 2006 11:28:31 PM

» Operation Accidental Explosion: Al Qaeda Bigwig Abu Hamza Rabia Killed from Al Qaeda |
support of Operation Accidental Explosion. Related: How the Predator UAV Works Air Force Link - MQ-1 Predator [Read More]

Tracked on May 15, 2006 3:45:28 PM

» China to Offer VIP Terracotta Warrior Tour from to go on a special
Trackback URI: http://www.prweb.com/dingpr.php/TWFnbi1IYWxmLVNpbmctQ3Jhcy1IYWxmLVplcm8= [Read More]

Tracked on May 19, 2006 2:25:00 PM

» Каталог Google - World > Russian from Каталог интернет-ресурсов
Справка по Каталог Искать в Блоги Поиск в Интернете ... Russian > Компьютеры > Интернет > В сети > Блоги, На главную страницу Каталога: [русский] [English] ... [Read More]

Tracked on May 20, 2006 11:28:21 AM

» Sacramento Monarchs Weekly Update from are heading to
are heading to the White House on Tuesday, May 16, 2006 to be hono... - WNBA Sacramento Monarchs [Read More]

Tracked on May 24, 2006 6:19:26 PM

» Cree and Seoul sign five-year supply deal from will buy at least
while the overall agreement extends for five years - through Creeâ??s fiscal [Read More]

Tracked on May 25, 2006 8:00:07 AM

» News Online from JapanHorse
Features weekly articles, archives to past issues, and timelines of scientific importance. [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 2, 2006 9:20:55 PM

» loan payday from auto loan online
Loans Home Equity Loans - Home Mortgage Student Loans [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 4, 2006 8:58:14 PM

» Help Wanted for Thunderbird Help from (unlike Firefox
out with filing and fixing documentation bugs. As a side news, Camino 0.8.2 was also released yesterday (see the release notes). [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 6, 2006 9:03:25 AM

» PC World Editors Select Network Magic Home Networking Service for 2006 PC World World Class Award from experienced editors.
by PC Worlds experienced editors. After evaluating hundreds of products, the winners are chosen based on exemplary [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 7, 2006 9:56:59 AM

» consolidation loan school from consolidation loan student
Loans Home Equity Loans - Home Mortgage Student Loans [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 12, 2006 10:31:56 PM

» CULTURE: The Simpsons Pulse Racing to Take Over the World from is rumbling,
home video, book, satellite TV and broadcast network operations from around the [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 16, 2006 2:08:09 PM

» USA vs Czech Republic Half-Time Score from Feed sponsored
offers, expert bloggers and more. Visit us now at and get our odds & scoreboards at soccer-europe.com [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 21, 2006 2:52:48 AM

» Fresh MP3 tracks from music process
Fresh, MP3 music download... [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 28, 2006 6:21:30 PM

» Online Catalog from Best Catalog
Best Online Catalog [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 1, 2006 1:00:25 PM

» Web Catalog Online from Bulletin Board
Search Center [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 2, 2006 10:43:59 AM

» States and Capitals from All USA States
State information resource links to state homepage, symbols, flags, maps, constitutions, ... All Rights Reserved. Press Ctrl - D to bookmark this page. ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 17, 2006 9:29:57 AM

» USA towns: Oak Hall from USA MAP
USA - cities, towns and villages of the United States. Extensive business listings, community info, coupons and classified ads for USA cities, ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 21, 2006 6:15:52 PM

» Fight Rages On Both Sides Of Border from into southern
- while Hezbollah rockets continued to rain down on northern Israel injuring 20 people. [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 24, 2006 10:40:07 AM

» Hammon's Starting All-Star Spot in Jeopardy from a point,
the Mercury, 94-88, in front of 9,207 at the Garden. Hammon sprained [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 24, 2006 5:11:44 PM

» ALL Themes from Invision Power Board
He has set up a test blog so you can check it out - it’s great work. ... Note to all theme authors: In order to be considered for the competition, ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 24, 2006 5:54:39 PM

» Congress Nears Pension Bill Accord from to underfund
Majority Leader John Boehner said. He said the president may the bill as early as [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 31, 2006 2:39:30 PM

» Cold Steele from earlier this
for several reasons, we"re not re-hashing that at the moment. It"s just that, when it comes to political campaigning, [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 31, 2006 6:37:40 PM

» Handbags from handbags - Offers for handbags - exporters, manufacturers ...
handbags supplier directory - over 3000000 registered importers and exporters. handbags suppliers from China and around the world, handbags, .. [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 3, 2006 10:37:52 AM

» clinique from clinique: Read reviews and compare prices
Shop our selection of Clinique fragrances and cosmetics online. ... Search results for "clinique". Item 1 to 10 out of 580 Show all, sorted by Popularity ... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 4, 2006 4:40:17 PM

» Bvlgari from Bvlgari Watches
Great Saving On Bvlgari Watches Bulgari Watch Bvlgari Assioma, Bulgari Zero1, Bulgari Watch Tubagas, Bvlgari Diagono Aluminium, ... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 9, 2006 9:14:02 AM

» Search Results Page - a from ondmd
Your search results page is packed with information. ... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 9, 2006 2:48:54 PM

» Dow Jumps 200 Points on Bernanke Remarks from ed Chief's Mixed
ed Chief's Mixed Comments on Inflation Send Stock Markets Soaring [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 11, 2006 4:07:08 AM

» Popular phrase from Map Directory
A search engine directory map... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 13, 2006 10:05:15 AM

Comments

Brilliant analysis, elegantly presented.

Posted by: Judith Gran | Nov 11, 2005 1:14:45 PM

Agreed. Mark seems to have a clearer grasp on this than anyone I've read yet, in either the corporate media or the blogs.

One thing that strikes me is that the collapse of the GOP's quasi-parliamentary system is creating a huge power vacuum in Congress, at least until the mid-terms. Mark postulated a few weeks ago that when control of the congressional agenda shifts, it often happens BEFORE a new majority takes power -- as in 1994, when the Republicans were able to derail health care reform and turn the debate to the "process" issues in the Contract On America, even before their November blowout. But I don't see signs yet that the same thing is happening in reverse, although maybe it's just too early.

Here's a question, though: If the Dems do well next year, but not quite well enough to actually capture the House, what are the chances that they might be able to form a working coalition with the GOP Northeastern moderates, just as the Republicans were able to do -- at least on bugget issues -- with the Southern "Blue Dogs" in 1980-82?

Posted by: billmon | Nov 11, 2005 8:00:21 PM

I guess my question would be why Bush would care about any of this -- miniscule cuts to Medicaid and Food Stamps, even drilling in ANWR -- very small beer, n'est-ce pas?

Second term administrations (something parliamentary democracies don't have) live and die on their foreign policy successes and failures.

Wasn't Burns writing pretty much exclusively about Congress -- Reid and Cannon -- and not about the Presidency?

Posted by: Ellen1910 | Nov 12, 2005 1:28:33 AM

Er. That would be "Reid" as in Thomas B. Reed, a past Speaker often called "Czar" Reed.

Posted by: Ellen1910 | Nov 12, 2005 1:33:05 AM

Hey Mark, did you notice that Open Source Media is giving your name as 'Mike Schmitt' in their front-page blurb? Might want to get that fixed.

Posted by: neil | Nov 18, 2005 10:16:53 AM