November 19th, 2000.
The "Presidential" & "Cabinet"
Forms of Government.
In the United States, there has evolved a "Presidential" form of government. It is a form where one group, the group responsible for making laws, the legislative group, is separate from the executive group which is bound to administer the laws. Thus, a separation of powers1 exists, - a separation of the power to make laws from the power to enforce laws. The elected President has a check in the form of a veto over legislation; he has the power to appoint most of his administrative officials, and the power to select judges, subject, however, to approval by the senate, its check against the President. Into this "Presidential" form of government was added the balancing wheel of an independent judiciary.
Bagehot compares the "Presidential" system to the "Cabinet" system:
Considering the imbroglio over the results of the recent American presidential election, I make mention now of the Electorial College. It was intended by the American framers to have a mechanism where by the President was appointed by elected delegates (Electorial College); the office of the President by such a mechanism, so it was thought, would be filled by the best person, not necessarily the most popular. Bagehot3 was to observe that "generally speaking, in an electioneering country (I mean in a country full of political life, and use to the manipulation of popular institutions), the election of candidates is a farce4. The Electoral College of America is so. It was intended that the deputies when assembled should exercise a real discretion, and by independent choice select the President. But the primary electors take too much interest. They only elect a deputy to vote for Mr. Lincoln or Mr. Breckenridge, and the deputy only takes a ticket, and drops that ticket in an urn. He never chooses or thinks of choosing. He is but a messenger -- a transmitter: the real decision is in those who chose him -- who chose him because they knew what he would do."
"The characteristic of it [Presidential system] is that the President is elected from the people by one process, and the House of Representatives by another. The independence of the legislative and executive powers is the specific quality of the Presidential Government, just as their fusion and combination is the precise principle of Cabinet Government. ...
If the persons who have to do the work are not the same as those who have to make the laws, there will be a controversy between the two sets of persons. The tax-imposers are sure to quarrel with the tax-requirers. ...
In England, on a vital occasion, the cabinet can compel legislation by the threat of resignation, and the threat of dissolution; but neither of these can be used in a presidential state."2
1 See my note on the separation of powers and the originator of this notion, Montesquieu.
2 The English Constitution (Oxford University Press, 1928) pp. 14-6.
3 Ibid., p. 21.
4 The election of candidates to the collage is likely a farce, for they get their position as a result of a selection process controlled by the party wire-pullers? The collage is definably packed with right persons, so that the entire number of state votes will go according to the popular vote of the State. But the voting process, more generally, is a farce, -- Is it not? Never mind that the typical "western democracy" is a system that is run by demagogs. A simple reference to William Hazlitt, will do: "men in society judge not by their own convictions, but by sympathy with others." (On the Difference Between Writing and Speaking.) Political power comes to those, who, not by the exertion of blind force, persuade an efficient minority to coerce an indifferent and self-indulgent majority.
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November, 2000 (2011)