Political Aptitude Test

July 4, 1996


See The Answer


Finally, The Answer

Clinton Must Be Grateful To Our Forefathers

By Bill Schneider/CNN

On the Fourth of July, 1776, this country decided to strike out on its own. That meant abandoning not just the British crown, but the British system of parliamentary democracy.

What would have happened if we had kept parliamentary government? How would our politics be different right now?

Would we have...

  1. More than two major political parties?
  2. A decline in party discipline in Congress?
  3. Safer Congressional incumbents?
  4. Worse legislative gridlock?
  5. Seen Bill Clinton been thrown out in 1994?

And the answer is ... E) Bill Clinton would have been thrown out in 1994.

A parliamentary system has no separation of powers. The prime minister is responsible to his party in parliament. If they don't support his program, the government falls and the prime minister is replaced.

That means party discipline is stronger. And there's no problem of gridlock. It's a recipe for strong government, which is exactly why our founding fathers rejected it. They distrusted strong government. They wanted Congress to check the president's authority.

Which is exactly what happened in 1994, when a Congress controlled by the president's own party defeated health care reform. The 1994 mid-term election was a massive vote of no confidence in President Clinton. In a parliamentary system, the Clinton government would have fallen. He would have been a half-term president.

But, happily for Clinton, he didn't have to face the voters in 1994. He was defeated, but not thrown out. The Democrats had no way to replace Clinton, the way nervous British Conservatives replaced Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with John Major in 1990, when her programs became unpopular.

So Clinton stayed on, and lo and behold, the Republican takeover of Congress turned out to be the luckiest thing that ever happened to him. In Britain, it is easy to get rid of an unpopular prime minister. Their problem is, what can they do about the messy royal family? Our founding fathers solved that problem two hundred and twenty years ago.

This story originally appeared on CNN's "Inside Politics Extra."

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