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The US System of Government is Broken

By dzullo Oct 11, 2013 1518 Words
The American System of Government is Broken
“Yes, we can!” was Barack Obama’s slogan that galvanized American people and gave a rife hope for America’s recovery. The United States has been confronting an economic downturn and the election of the new president in 2008 seemed “that new leadership would put right what had gone wrong with America” (Institute par. 2). Nevertheless, with all good intentions it looks like a more appropriate statement would be “No, we can’t!.” As a matter of fact, the US are facing a governmental logjam which arises from the inherent nature of the system, a form of government which was conceived more than 200 years ago, however, that “was downright altruistic by the standards of that time in history,” as Sparky Hall puts it on (par. 5). Indeed, in America policymaking is strikingly difficult and democratic traits are hardly noticeable, which all makes the American system of government broken.

As the first blatant flaw in the system can be considered the lopsided state representation in the Congress resulting from the process of gerrymandering. On the grounds of a decennial census required by the US Constitution the elective districts boundaries must be redrawn in order to reapportion the number of seats in the House of Representatives. However, the party that happens to draw the line may “[exploit] the map-making exercise by weakening the voting strength of some groups to gain partisan advantage” (Giroux par. 15). The most glaring example of map-manipulation was after the 2010 elections, “in which Republicans won the House majority and gained more than 700 state legislative seats across the nation” and conferred upon them the practice of redistricting (Giroux par. 6). According to the statistical election-modeller of the Princeton Election Consortium Samuel Wang, 26 out of the 33 seats Republicans outnumber Democrats in the House are due to gerrymandering and the total number of voters disenfranchised by Republican redistricting was around four million (Coll par. 5). Indeed, 52.7% of people in Michigan voted for Democratic lawmakers to be sent 1

to the House of Representatives, however, the Michigan House eventually had 9 Republicans and 5 Democrats in it (Wang par. 13). Even more unfairly represented is the public’s vote in Pennsylvania, where 50.7% of all voters elected a Democrat to represent the state in the House, nevertheless, the Democratic party received only 5 seats in comparison with the 13 accorded to Republicans (Wang par. 13). The same pattern can be identified in North Carolina and Wisconsin as well as “in the nation as a whole” where despite a Democratic popular vote majority Republicans could receive more seats in the House of Representatives than Democrats could. To this end, as Wang argues, America is in an “‘asymmetric’ period of Republican manipulation of electoral maps” (Coll par. 4). Moreover, Steve Coll states on The New Yorker that even without gerrymandering Republicans might have gained the majority in the House, nonetheless, “the margin would have been so narrow that Democrats would have been able to get bills passed if they could hang together and get a handful of defectors from the other side” (par. 6). Thus, the process of manipulative redistricting practice intensifies partisanship and results in a non-democratic broken system. Besides an unsymmetrical and polarized political government, further hindrance to expeditious policymaking is exacerbated by the division of powers between the legislative and the executive. In America today the president claims a “broader mandate as the only person elected by all the people” and the house of the legislature claims to have the public support since they won the most recent elections (Zakaria par. 5). The result is a struggle over “basic legitimacy” and the incapability to make fast decisions where the checks and balances may lead the executive and the legislative to a “classical standoff over benefits” (Zakaria par. 8). The prime example of a political issue deadlocked by the conflicting positions of Capitol Hill and the White House has been the debate about the nation’s debt limit. As CNNMoney reports, the “country’s borrowing hit [the debt ceiling] on Dec. 31 [2012]” (Sahadi par. 8). To this end, Mr. Barack Obama wanted to raise that threshold and urged the House Republicans to “unconditionally increase the


legal limit on the government’s authority” (Calmes and Weisman par. 2). On the the other side, the Republican’s majority in Congress “continued to insist that he agree to equal spending cuts” in order to reduce the national debt (Calmes and Weisman par. 2). The lack of negotiation from both sides kept the Treasury Department from borrowing and the system of checks and balances institutionally prevents both branches from “impos[ing] some solution on the other” (“Checks and Balances” par. 3). For this reason, the ongoing political strife between the president and the Congress regarding the fiscal cliff is “holding the country hostage” (Zakaria par. 9). As Fareed Zakaria points out, “[America] can’t get [things] done because [...] the system has two centers of power” and in a “fastmoving world” the government should be able to “respond decisively and quickly” (Dolan pars. 2-6). In this sense, the separation of powers and the checks and balances make the American system of government one that no longer works. Inherent flaws, however, rest upon an unstable pillar which is the American Constitution and the broken system as such intrinsically stems from the specious status of it. This document has been the cornerstone of the system of government of the United States for 226 years, notwithstanding, the “obsession with [it] has saddled [the nation] with a dysfunctional political system” (Seidman par. 3). Withal, constitutional disobedience and internal loopholes are realities that have accompanied the parchment throughout its existence. For example, “Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, and both Roosevelts - had doubts about the Constitution, and many of them disobeyed it when it got in their way” pointed out Professor of Constitutional Law at Georgetown University Louis Michael Seidman (“Professor” par. 4). Even more glaring, is the potential constitutional way out from the debt ceiling descried in the 14th Amendment by Bill Clinton (Liptak par. 1). The escalator clause in section 4 of the legislative document “was meant to ensure the payment of Union debts after the Civil War”, however, the language employed has obscure connotations and would apparently allow the president to overstep the Congress and ignore the debt ceiling (Liptak par. 6). If it were so, the


Constitution, which imposes checks and balances between the White House and Capitol Hill, is the same one which might also allow to ignore them. On the other hand, some law professors have attempted to “puzzle out the meaning and relevance of the provision” and many of them take a different position with regard to which circumstances the clause may be applied in (Liptak par. 10). In this sense, as also Seidman states on The New York Times, “much constitutional language is broad enough to encompass an almost infinitely wide range of positions [...] and instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done [226] years ago” (pars. 3, 16). As a consequence, the precarious devotion to a relatively unstable pillar which is the Constitution makes the American system of government intrinsically broken. In conclusion, it is a present fact that the government’s foundations are teetering and the system itself is dysfunctional. As it has been shown, the electoral system is inherently broken and empowers candidates unfairly representing the public’s choice. This is further accentuated by the separation of powers and the checks and balances imposed by the Constitution, which has been proven to be intrinsically fallacious and misleading. Fareed Zakaria emphasized on CNN World that “in a parliamentary system [...] the legislature and the executive are fused so there is no contest for national legitimacy” (par. 3) and Seidman made clear that America would perfectly work even without the Constitution (Crawford par. 3). Instituting a parliamentary system in America is probably too radical and farfetched, however, some solution has to be found and the system has to be fixed, since it is broken, indeed.



Works Cited

Calmes, Jackie and Jonathan Weisman. “Obama and G.O.P. Issue Challenges on the Debt Limit.” The New York Times 14 January 2013. Accessed on 29 March 2013 . Coll, Steve. “Building a better democracy.” The New Yorker. 10 January 2013. Accessed on 29 March 2013 .

Crawford, Amy. “Should the Constitution Be Scrapped?.” 5 February 2013. Accessed on 29 March 2013 .
Dolan, Eric W.. “Fareed Zakaria: US system of government is broken.” RawReplay 18 August 2011. Accessed on 19 March 2011 .
Giroux, Greg. “Republicans Win Congress as Democrats Get Most Votes.” Bloomberg 19 March 2013. Accessed on 29 March 2013 .
Hall, Sparky. “We need to fix our broken political system.” 11 January 2013. Accessed on 3 April 2013 .
Institute for the study of the Americas. Publications. Accessed on 3 April 2013 . Liptak, Adam. “The 14th Amendment, the Debt Ceiling and a Way Out.” The New York Times 24 July 2011. Accessed on 3 April 2013

“Professor: take our country back, from the Constitution.” Sunday Morning 27 January 2013. Accessed on 29 March 2013 .
Sahadi, Jeanne. “Debt ceiling FAQs: What you need to know.” CNNMoney 15 January 2013. Accessed on 29 March 2013 .


Seidman, Louis Michael. “Let’s Give Up on the Constitution.” The New York Times 30 December 2012. Accessed 29 March 2013 .
Wang, Samuel. “Gerrymanders, Part 1: Busting the both-sides-do-it myth.” Princeton Election Consortium 30 December 2012. Accessed on 29 March 2013 .
Zakaria, Fareed. “Does America need a prime minister.” CNN World 17 August 2011. Accessed on 29 March 2013 .


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