A Novel Approach to Politics

A Novel Approach to Politics

7 Institutions: Meat and Potatoes Institutions The U.S. presidency provides a perfect example of how we have built up an ideal and impossible image of a political institution. Since the New Deal and World War II, the nation has expected a great deal out of its presidents, far more than is realistically possible. Although officeholders are bound to disappoint, the institution of the presidency as an executive

structure remains. Institutions Americans have tremendous respect for the office of the presidency and, consequently, presidents begin their terms with a great deal of public support. The reality of everyday politics eventually takes its inevitable toll. partisan decisions state of the economy world events Even as individual presidents disappoint,

Americans keep faith in the institution of the presidency. Institutions Institutions, in part, become institutions by lasting over time. They are larger than the people who occupy an office at a particular time. The institution of the presidency, like all governmental institutions, includes all formal and informal powers, the offices, the staffs, and the historical precedents that define the institution.

Hello Mr. Smith Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a film that portrays an idealistic, but nave, senator who gets caught up in realworld politics. That senator engages in a one-man filibuster of a graftladen public-works legislation. The filibuster is a tactic used by a senator or a group of senators who, by indefinitely talking about a bill, intend to frustrate the proponents of the bill. Ultimately the senator is victorious as he sheds his naivet to embrace a political tactic. Even idealists must sometimes use political methods to achieve their goals (boycotts, civil disobedience, interest group pressure, etc.) Hello, Mr. Smith

Ideal institutions must be adapted to the reality of the challenges that people face. Even the perfect institutions we imagine for a country bend our loftier ideals along the way. The ideal of democracy in our conceptualization of a legislature is a perfect example. Legislative institutions in non-democratic countries do not represent the publics interests the same way as democracies. They still serve valuable political functions. Hello, Mr. Smith For example, debates in the Chinese parliament, even if scripted, offer

explanations to the public for why laws are being enacted. Even across most democracies people are ambivalent in their feelings toward their legislative institutions. Is the filibuster a democratic technique? Comparing Parliamentary and Presidential Systems Do you prefer a presidential system or a parliamentary system? This is tantamount to a waiter asking if you want your eggs scrambled or sunny-side up. The fundamental difference has to do with to

whom that executive is immediately responsible. In a presidential system, there is a separation of legislative and executive institutions (the yolk is separated from the whites). In a parliamentary system there is a fusion of legislative and executive (scrambled eggs). Comparing Parliamentary and Presidential Systems In presidential systems the executive is separately elected and need not answer to the legislature; there is an independent base of democratic support. In parliamentary systems the executive is part of the parliament.

Prime ministers get the position by first winning election to a seat in the legislature and then being elected by fellow members of parliament (MPs). In presidential systems the executive is elected independently of the legislature. The executive leaves office only after a fixed term or through a special removal process called impeachment. In parliamentary systems prime ministers serve until the next scheduled election or until a simple majority of MPs votes them out. S, El Presidente Presidential systems can make the executive stronger in relation to the legislature.

With no need to worry about being voted out on a moments notice, the executive can afford to stand independently. Independence from the legislature makes presidential systems more stable. The primary purpose behind the design of a presidential system is the prevention of tyranny either by the masses or by a popular individual. S, El Presidente Into separation of powers, the framers of the U.S. constitution added the notion of checks and balances. This basically means that everybody is always minding everybody elses business, e.g., the presidents veto, the

congress approval of the budget, etc. Checks and balances can also make it very hard to get anything done, particularly if it means challenging entrenched interests. There are so many ways to obstruct things that even a small minority can usually find some way to prevent changes to the status quo. Yes, Minister Prime ministers are members of parliament and the leaders of the winning party in the parliament. This makes their job shepherding legislation through the system far easier. Parliamentary political parties are far more likely to

vote cohesively. Parties have a great deal of control over who gets placed in a seat after an election. In some parliamentary systems any failure of a piece of legislation automatically dissolves the government. Yes, Minister The votes of party members in presidential systems are far less predictable and far more difficult to control. American presidents cannot necessarily count on all the members of their political party for support.

Many a presidential proposal has been defeated by a margin afforded by the members of the president's party. Legislatures Perhaps the most impressive fact about legislatures as institutions is that they remain viable institutions. The value of legislatures is often debated.

Legislatures serve many functions; among the most important are: lawmaking representing checking legitimating educating

Lawmaking The root of the word legislature, is "legislate," and we expect our parliaments to make laws. It is often not done the way that one would expect. Many think that members spend the majority of their time debating. The reality is quite different; relatively little time is spent on floor debate. There are a number of other activities that consume representatives time, e.g., giving speeches, helping constituents, meeting with leaders, going to committee meetings, fundraising, etc. Lawmaking

Bills can come from the minds of legislators, but they can come from, among other places, constituents, interest groups, the executive branch, or the legislatures political leadership. In most legislatures, the real law-making work goes on in committees. Committees and sometimes subcommittees are used to do research on, hold hearings on, debate, write, and amend bills. Committees are also used to whittle down the number of bills that get introduced in the parliament or congress during any given session, to write the precise, legallyeffective wording of the laws, and to allow members to specialize in specific areas of policy.

Representing A legislature with two houses is called a bicameral legislature, while a legislature with one house is referred to as a unicameral legislature. Bicameral legislatures can make it more difficult to get things done. Bicameral legislatures can provide representation for different segments of society. Districts or Proportional Representation There are two major methods for how seats are

divided in a legislature: geographic representation proportional representation With geographic representation, the legislature is divided according to districts with each legislator representing a particular region. People can specifically identify their representative and they know who to contact with their opinions. Districts or Proportional Representation With geographic representation, representatives must

maintain contact with the voters who will decide whether they return to the legislature. Only the candidate who garners a plurality can win in the most frequently used first-past-the-post system. This system favors moderate political parties that can create coalitions to gain sizeable amounts of voters. The result is usually a two-party system. Two-party systems tend to provide greater stability to governments. Districts or Proportional Representation Under proportional representation (PR), people do not vote for a person.

They vote for the political party with which they most agree. Each political party submits a list of names prior to the election. A party will get roughly the same proportion of seats in parliament as the proportion of the votes it received in the election. Districts or Proportional Representation Proportional representation promotes ideological representation. Rather than represent an area, legislators represent people's beliefs.

Because people have diverse ideas, proportional representation tends to produce multi-party systems. Some countries try to combine the benefits of both systems. Delegate or Trustee Individual representatives have different views of their relationship with their constituents. A delegate is a representative who attempts to do exactly what her constituents want. Delegates believe that they should vote the way that their constituents want them to on every piece of legislation.

In reality, most legislators are politicos. Depending on the situation, they sometimes act like delegates and they sometimes act like trustees. Checking The checking function involves the degree to which different institutions in a government have a responsibility to watch over the rest of government to make sure it is performing correctly. This function is also called oversight. Legislatures use many means to carry out this function, including:

investigative hearings shadow governments Question Hour Legitimating The more people believe that parliaments answer to them and that their parliament is truly representative, the more easily they can perform a legitimating function. People are more likely to feel that there has been some consideration of their view. Even if they disagree with the ultimate decision, they can still believe that the policy was put into place after their perspective was heard.

People are more apt to believe that they should follow the law, that is that the law is legitimate, if the legislature supports it. Education Legislatures and their members also educate the general citizenry. This process is often facilitated by the media. Legislatures use committee hearings, open debate, and television appearances to educate the public. Members with geographic constituencies often keep their districts informed of important events and important pieces of legislation.

Legislatures can also initiate important national discussions on issues. Executives In a presidential system it is very easy to identify the chief executive. The U.S. president plays two roles, head of state and head of government, a ceremonial and a functional role. In many, if not most, other democracies, however, these two fundamental roles of the executive are split up and spread around.

Head of State The role as head of state involves serving as the national symbol, the personification of the country and its people. Heads of state can take different forms in different countries. The head of state can be a monarch, an elected president, or the person with the most troops. In some countries the head of state will be a king or queen or even the king or queen of another country altogether. In parliamentary systems that lack a monarch, there is usually an elected president. These presidents can be either elected directly or they might be chosen by the parliament for the position.

Head of State The head of state can add legitimacy to a government. If the symbol of the country, e.g., a monarch, gives her blessing to a government, that blessing can strengthen the government's standing with the people. In some parliamentary systems, the head of state can be the one who formally authorizes the winning political party after an election to try and form a government. Some heads of state can call for parliamentary elections. The heads of state generally do not have any influence over specific legislation or actions of government. They can affect the countrys overall direction by helping or hindering diplomacy or by lending support to a party

or government. Head of State Not all heads of state are created equal. Dictators and strong monarchs may be heads of state with weak or powerless legislatures. Less powerful monarchs (like those in Western Europe) are mere figureheads working within constitutional monarchies, where the parliament has all of the real political power. Among presidents in parliamentary systems, there is a great deal of variety in the amount of power wielded depending on the nations political structure.

Head of Government If the head of state is the public face we see on advertisements, the head of government is the manager that actually handles the day-to-day work. In parliamentary democracies the head of government is usually the prime minister. The prime minister is responsible for, among other things:

getting bills passed through the parliament overseeing the running of the bureaucracy dealing with disasters commanding the military Head of Government Prime ministers can only stay prime ministers as long as they maintains the support of a majority in the parliament. One becomes the prime minister by being the head of the party that wins a majority of seats in parliamentary elections. If no party wins a clear majority, the head of state usually

asks the head of the party that that won the most seats to try to form a a coalition with one or more of the other parties that won seats. A potential prime minister must try and make some deals to bring a coalition together that includes more than half of the members of parliament. Head of Government It is technically true that the prime minister is nothing more than the first minister. Parliamentary governments are actually made up of many ministers that form the cabinet. Other ministers may include the foreign minister, treasury minister, defense minister, etc.

In an effort to form a government a potential minister may offer other parties a chance to have one of their members serve as a minister in exchange for joining and supporting the overall coalition. Once a majority coalition is constructed, however, the new prime minister also has a governing coalition, which is expected to pass laws. Head of Government One advantage of executives in most presidential systems is that they are both the head of government and the head of state. That puts a lot of political power in the hands of one individual.

The executives in presidential systems are usually selected directly by the people, although there can be variations. In most democracies, the chief executive is the civilian head of the military. These executives are also usually responsible for foreign relations. Head of Government Heads of government oversee much of the governments bureaucracy, make sure that government services are provided, and implement and enforce laws. The chief executive is also expected to make certain that laws get passed through the legislature.

Prime ministers formulate a legislative agenda and attempt to shepherd that agenda through the parliament. Presidents have a more difficult time because of the separation of powers. In most democracies, people expect the chief executive to effectively manage the nation's economy. Chief executives are also the heads of their parties; they have purely political roles. The Bureaucracy The word bureaucracy is derived from the French word for desk. Its adoption as a political term reflects the idea that it is the position within the

administrative political structure, not the person behind it, that defines the role or function to be performed. In other words, the role was defined separate from the person performing it. The Bureaucracy Bureaucracies serve many functions; they regulate, license, procure, distribute, observe, preserve, encourage, police, study, and manage. In the United States, the Postal Service (USPS) delivers the mail, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) gathers revenue, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funds research proposals, the Citizenship and Immigration

Services (USCIS) police the borders, etc.. The simple truth is that the vast majority of what governments do is done by bureaucracies. This is true regardless of the form government takes (democracy, theocracy, monarchy, or whatever). We Really Want Bureaucracies? No. But, bureaucracies are indispensable. Bureaucracies take on functions that would waste the time and effort of elected and unelected leaders. Bureaucracies do pretty much everything that actually gets done by government.

The Ideals of Bureaucratic Governance The German sociologist Max Weber (1864 1920) recognized that modern nation-states needed professional bureaucracies. He argued that the ideal bureaucracy should be efficient and rational. It should function like a machine, with each of its parts playing a well-defined role. The Ideals of Bureaucratic Governance Weber argued that there were a few critical

elements for achieving this ideal: Clear assignment of roles: In order to fit together and function in unison, each of the parts in the bureaucratic machine must know both what it is supposed to do and how it fits within the larger organization. Rules, Rules, Rules, and More Rules: For both efficiency and fairness, decisions and choices made by bureaucrats need to be impersonal and consistent. The Ideals of Bureaucratic Governance Hierarchy: bureaucracies are strictly hierarchical, each person should have only

one immediate supervisor, and each supervisor should have only a limited number of subordinates. Professionals: Most importantly, the selection of persons to fill roles within the bureaucracy, must be done on the basis of merit. Policymaking versus Administration As bureaucracies grew in size and number, there has been constant concern that they might assume the roles meant for elected officials. People feared that they would move from implementing laws to actually making the laws. This would be particularly disturbing because

they were not designed to be responsive to the people. Policymaking versus Administration Woodrow Wilson wrote an essay declaring that there should be a strict dichotomy between politics and administration. Frank Goodnow picked up this theme and argued that there should be a sharp distinction between the political branches making the laws and the bureaucracy implementing them. In reality completely severing politics from administration would be a disaster for democracy.

Bureaucratic Roles Bureaucracies are involved in service, regulation, implementation, and policymaking. Governments provide many services; they run hospitals, carry out welfare programs, run public schools, operate parks, etc. Administrative agencies also regulate; The FBI regulates personal behavior, the Food and Drug Administration regulates medicine, the Securities and Exchange Commission tries to regulate Wall Street, etc. Agencies are also primarily responsible for implementation; they make sure that the laws that legislatures pass get put into place. The bureaucracy is also responsible for making public policy;

legislatures often pass laws that are general, and they will leave the specifics to the expertise of bureaucracies.

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