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Dumb questions about the US political system.

 
 
dlowan
 
Reply Sat 19 Feb, 2005 11:16 pm
There is a lot I don't get about how your government runs.

Maybe there are others here who don't know stuff, too?

Anyway - dumb question one:

Here, the Prime Minister is the leader of the party which has the numbers to form government after a general election - or, the leader of the party with most seats if they have to form a coalition to gain power - (as, in our current federal government, the conservative Liberal Party traditionally has to do with the National Party - a smaller, largely country based party. They have been married for years - and, if either ever gets enough seats to govern alone - as the state version did in Queensland at one stage - they will immediately announce a trial separation, I think)

Parties elect their leaders from the people who have seats in the parliament. Thus, the person elected by the federal Libs to be leader will be Prime Minister at present.

If that person appears to be doing the wrong thing, or becomes unpopular etc - the party can, and does, get rid of them - and elects a new leader. Thus - we can have more than one PM per term of a government.

So - the relationship between party and PM is obvious. If the PM does not do more or less (strong, popular, leaders have more power to change stuff, of course, cos people want to keep their bums on parliamentary seats, and be in government) as party policy decrees, then, unless they have support for doing different stuff, out they go,

What power, for instance, does the Republican Party have over Bush?

He is elected as a Republican, but is there any real pressure on him to stick to party policy and platform? I mean, there must be some, of course, in relation to getting his bills through the House - but your presidents seem to have more personal power than our PMs do - especially in his second term, when he no longer has to think of being re-nominated, does the party have much control?
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roger
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Feb, 2005 11:22 pm
Don't think so, though party is vital in both houses of congress, so the president can largely be hamstrung. That is probably why you may have heard regrets about the president and both houses being of the same party.
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Feb, 2005 11:35 pm
Because of the power it gives him?

Yeah - it has happened here, too, federally.
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roger
 
  1  
Reply Sat 19 Feb, 2005 11:39 pm
Well, yes. The ability to accomplish something is power indeed. Hey, look at our supreme court justices. They're appoint for life, and effectively beyond anyone's control.
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timberlandko
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 12:56 am
Somethin' that confuses some folks unfamiliar with the US political system is that the President need not be of the majority party. In fact, it commonly is the case that one party will hold the Presidency, while the other might have majority representation in either or both Houses of Congress. With our 2-party system, the formation of coalitions - or as close to that as we get - is done very close to the grass-roots, local level, not at the Federal Government level. A candidate for The House of Representatives or for The Senate must first gain sufficient support from his/her party's local, state, and national power brokers to enjoy that party's machinery - its financial and organizational assets. "Wild Card"independent or 3rd-party candidates very, very rarely progress to national elective office - the hurdles are just too high. In practice, particularly as regards The Presidency, 3rd-party candidates generally represent a splinter or faction of one or the other parties, and wind up diluting that party's electoral performance, drawing far more votes from among those who otherwise would bave voted for the "Parent Party" than from the parent party's opposition party, thus effectively "spoiling" the parent party's party's bid to defeat its more monolithic opponent.

Further complicating things is that we have what amount to 3 distinct, theoretically co-equal, independent branches of government; the Executive - the Presidency, the Legislative - the 2 Houses of Congress, and the Judicial - the Supreme Court, the Federal Circuit and Apellate Courts. At the bottom line, for anything to happen, all 3 branches have to be OK with the idea. Just because the President or a party or a Legislative house champions a proposition does not mean that both The House and The Senate will go along - if by majority vote, either reject the proposition, at the very least the proposition faces stiff renogotiation, if both reject it, it usually is dead. Either House of Congress may on its own propose legislation independent of the Executive Office, and both Houses may address, and approve, a given proposition, but in significantly different form, which results in yet more negotiation, confrontation, conciliation, or outright rejection. Once a piece of legislation has the approval of both Houses, it is returned to The President for signing into law. The president may excercise a veto, which, while not definitively killing the proposition, returns it to the Houses, where the veto may or may not be over-ridden. And after all of that, action may be brought in the Federal Court System against the legislated proposition. In that case, a lower court may render a decision, which might be overturned by an Apellate Court, only to have The Supreme Court find in favor of the original lower-court decision.

Its no wonder folks outside The US are hazy on just how our government operates; those who live here and know the system well often are taken by surprise.
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Mr Stillwater
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 01:34 am
The non-compulsory voting gets me the most. Presidents have been elected by something like 26% of the possible electorate. Effectively this has meant that it's better to just not encourage anyone to vote - it's too much of an upset to the system if everyone actually exercised their right to do so.


And you had (or is it still the case?) to nominate WHO you were going to vote FOR when you registered! So in places like Mississippi if you were a black who went and registered to vote and the choice you nominated wasn't popular you could expect the Sheriff and some 'friends' to pop around around 2am to discuss this with you. At that moment the question of Presidential power would have been moot.


And the 'Electoral College' or whatever it is - what gives there? You vote to elect some-one who will then do the REAL voting. We've got a preferential deal that just distributes votes from the non-successful candidates until there is a clear winner. What were those First Fathers thinking?
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 05:30 am
Actually, in practice Timber, it all sounds fairly similar - except that the PM does not have power of veto - our candidates must, of course, must also make it at local level.


Oh! No - the courts seem much more involved in your system! The courts would not normally get involved in ours, unless, perhaps, there was a claim that a law was unconstitutional - but we have a very minimalist constitution.

The college thing is odd to our eyes - cos we are used to a different system. I guess it would seem to make more sense, to us, to have the college votes reflect something like the proportion of the votes received in a state by each party.

We have tended to giive the ruling party the lower house - and a coalition of opposition parties the balance of power in the upper - seems like the kind of balancing thing that usually happens with your congress and senate vs the presidency?


But hey - it all seems normal to us when we live it, no matter how odd each of our systems seems from outside!

So - do you concur with Roger about the president having a tenuous link with party, Timber??? I still kind of don't get that bit.

Stilly - I really hope this thread won't turn into a "your system sucks, ours is better" thing. I really hope just to gain information - and mebbe share a bit.




So - governors.

Each state has its own parliament, right? With an upper and lower house?

Is the governor similar to the president in terms of powers, connection to party etc?? I mean, within the confines of state business, of course.
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 06:33 am
Deb, basically here's how it works. Each state is divided into counties.(parishes, whatever) Locally, it varies, depending on the structure. Each state, headed by the governor, has a legislature and a state constitution and is comprised of senators and delegates, based on the structure of the Federal government. There is also a judiciary (judges). Some are appointed, others elected. The Federal government is comprised of three branches, designed by the constitution to keep a balance of power.

Governors of states are in the best position to be a candidate for the presidency because of their political savvy.

Right now, in the county where I live, there is to be an election for mayor. It really amounts to the same thing, though, with minor variations. I know this is an over-simplification, but it helps to try and visualize how America's political system works at a glance.
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 06:42 am
But do you really have to declare who you intend to vote for when you register? That does seem to be an intrusion into privacy rights. And if this is the case, what's the reason for it? What if you're undecided & want to make your decision later, or simply don't want to state your voting intentions? Can you still register?
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Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 06:49 am
That you have to register to vote puzzles me most - I mean, kind of people have to go twice for voting.
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 06:57 am
Walter and Msolga, Registering is supposed to be a way of keeping track of the voting public. It has its flaws, but was originally designed to be a safeguard against voter fraud. Let's face it folks. Regardless of the way the system works, whatever the country, there are gremlins lurking.

I think the best way to analyze any given system is to ask one question at a time.
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msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 07:01 am
I don't have a problem with requiring voters to register, Letty, but I'm confused about the requirement to declaring your voting intentions at the same time. (If, indeed, this is the case.) Surely who you decide to vote for is a private matter?
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 07:04 am
To answer your original question, Deb, once a president is in office, he needs the support of his party only in order to get his pet programs through the two houses of the legislature. This is an informal arrangement. He has no legal (or moral, really) obligations to his party at all. They (the party) has no power to do anything about his agenda or his tenure in office. In theory -- although this has never hapened and it would be quite a shocker if it ever did happen -- a president could change horses in mid-stream: he could change his party affiliation while in office simply by announcing that he was doing so. There is no constitutional nor other bar to this. It would not affect his presidency one whit in a legal sense. In practical terms, it would be the height of insanity, of course.

As to the role of the individual states: each state is, to some degree, autonomous. It elects its own governor and state legislatures. (These legislatures are all bicameral, with one exception, and I've already forgotten which state it is that has a unicameral legislature.) They function, in effect, as independent countries with the proviso that they may not do anything which would violate the US Constitution or go against Federal regulations. Early in the history of the country, these states had even more autonomy than they do today. What led to the Civil War (1860-1865) was, at least in part, the notion of some Southern states that their autonomy extended to the point of having the right to secede from the union of states inasmuch they had entered that union voluntarily. The outcome of that war proved otherwise. Since then, the Federal government has been tightening its grip on so-called states' rights slowly but surely. One way that the Feds do this is through not-very-subtle blackmail and coercion. For example, the Federal government has no legal right to legislate what the drinking age shall be in each state. If, say, Massachusetts decides that 16-year-olds may purchase liquor, even though all the neighboring states allow this only for 21-year-olds, it is nobody's business but Mass. -- in theory. In practice, today every state has a 21-year-old law because the Federal government let it be known that states which did not go along with the Federal guidelines would get no Federal money for highway construction and repairs. The Feds, you see, are not obligated to give any state these funds. So New York, which used to gleefully serve 18-year-olds, suddenly fell into line because it could not afford to lose the Federal funds.

That is only one example of how the Federal government keeps the states in check. But the method is much the same when it comes to other traditionally state-controlled matters as well. "You do it our way or we'll cut off your allowance" sort of paternalism.

Whew! I do run on, don't I? Hope this helps.
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 07:16 am
Well said, Andrew. and to Msolga. in Virginia, one does not need to declare his party. (democrat or republican, etc.) In Florida, you must, but in any election, you can vote for whomever you damn well please.

The electoral college, (those who cast their votes for president, etc. based on population) is antiquated, in my opinion.
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ebrown p
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 07:28 am
The process of registering does not restrict or obligate the voter in any way.

You register for a party (Democrat or Republican) but you vote for a candidate. I know registered Republicans who voted for Kerry and I am sure there are registered Democrats who voted for Bush.

The only time which party you are registered for matters is in the primary. Iin many states (though not all) you need to be registered for a party to vote in its primary. You can not vote in both primaries.

In my state you have the right to register Independent. You can choose which primary to vote for at the polling station. If I lived in another state, I think I would change my party to participate in the more interestig primary each time anyway.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 07:49 am
I won't duplicate what timberlandko, Letty, and Merry Andrew have said in their fine posts. I'll just add that I think the biggest difference between parliamentary and presidential systems is that they have different notions of checks and balances. In the US system, the checks and balances are structural, in parliamentary systems they are procedural. In the US, the three branches of government are set up so that they act as brakes on each other. In parliamentary systems, however, the legislative and executive branches (and, to a certain extent, the judicial branch as well) are joined. The checks and balances arise from the parliamentary process, primarily through the necessity of coalition building and the possibility of the government falling at any time. In the US, order is achieved because it is expected that each of the three branches, jealous of their own prerogatives, will thwart the others if they become too powerful or radical. In parliamentary systems, this is achieved through the need to reach consensus across party lines.

Of course, when a single party holds a majority in parliament (such as in the UK and Australia), those checks and balances don't operate as well: sort of like a computer glitch, some would call that a flaw, others would call it a feature.

msolga wrote:
I don't have a problem with requiring voters to register, Letty, but I'm confused about the requirement to declaring your voting intentions at the same time. (If, indeed, this is the case.) Surely who you decide to vote for is a private matter?

In many states in the US, the only time a voter declares a party affiliation is during a primary election, when a voter is required to ask for a party ballot. For instance, in Illinois, I would ask for either a Republican or a Democratic ballot at the primary, and I would only be allowed to vote for candidates in that party. That's called a "closed primary." Some states allow primary voters to vote for candidates in either party, and no one is required to state a party affiliation: that's called an "open primary." In the general election, however, no one is required to state a party affiliation, and voters are allowed to vote for anyone in either party.

Merry Andrew wrote:
a president could change horses in mid-stream: he could change his party affiliation while in office simply by announcing that he was doing so. There is no constitutional nor other bar to this. It would not affect his presidency one whit in a legal sense. In practical terms, it would be the height of insanity, of course.

John Tyler came the closest to doing this. Although elected as W.H. Harrison's running mate on the Whig ticket ("Tippecanoe and Tyler too!"), he was really a renegade Democrat who had no particular attachment to the Whigs. When he became president upon Harrison's death, his differences with the party's hierarchy quickly led to a rift, and Tyler was more or less an independent for the remainder of his term.

Merry Andrew wrote:
(These legislatures are all bicameral, with one exception, and I've already forgotten which state it is that has a unicameral legislature.)

Nebraska.
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old europe
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 08:33 am
I think I could live with the whole voter registration thing.

It's just unnecessary in Germany because if you move to another city it's your duty to get registered there (not so much for voting, though. It's all about how and where you get taxed and so on). As far as I understand you don't have the duty to do so in the States? So, obviously, it would make sense that you have to register if you want to vote...?

What kind of puzzles me is the incredible amount of money somebody has to spend if he wants to run for presidency. Doesn't that subsequently make it totally impossible to become president if you are not a millionaire in the beginning?
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Merry Andrew
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 09:50 am
old europe wrote:

What kind of puzzles me is the incredible amount of money somebody has to spend if he wants to run for presidency. Doesn't that subsequently make it totally impossible to become president if you are not a millionaire in the beginning?


You don't really need to be a millionaire personally. What you need is the backing of the party, which helps to bankroll your capaign, and of enough wealthy donors. The insidiousness here isn't so much that a poor man cannot become president as the fact that an officeholder is always indebted to those who helped to finance his election. If I know that the executives of General Motors helped me get into office, I will be very careful about any legislation which affects auto manufacturers. I may need them to help me get re-elected.
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Lash
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 10:11 am
I'm not sure dlowan's question was answered.

Maybe was; I scanned.

A party has NO power over an elected President, in the way I think you mean.

They cannot control his vetos, his rhetoric, or anything. (Of course, as someone alluded, there are checks and balances built in to make sure we don't wind up with a Hitler...or something.)

If Bush ran on a platform of being against Affirmative Action---and then, after the election changed his mind--or had been deceptive during the campaign--the Republicans couldn't do anything but make it hard for him to get his pet laws passed.

They can't make him do anything--other than through intimidation. Like his judicial nominees. He expects his party to advocate his choices. They generally do. But, if he went against their basic tenets, they could sit on their hands--or vote against everything he sends down the pike.

I have never been able to understand how this system like Oz' works. Its like the one in Iraq. If a party gets the majority of seats--who is in charge of it? Do they vote on the head guy? Is that position known before the election--or after?

Is it like Israel's?

<Ooops. Merry answered well.>
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Lash
 
  1  
Reply Sun 20 Feb, 2005 10:15 am
old europe--

Interesting about having to register when you move. Here, I think that would be regarded as Big Brother keeping his eye on you. Funny --the things we're used to...

I agree with you about the cost of running for election. I think we should find a way for average people to address the public and run. But, then, every schizophrenic on every street coner would run for President.

Still...money shouldn't be a barrier for a good candidate.
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