Monday, February 22, 2010

Without the Dutch, BHO Is Not Much, Or Why the USA Is What It Is

The Dutch government has collapsed. Therefore, the Dutch are pulling out of Afghanistan.

That sounds terrible. Really it's not. But it is instructive.

The Dutch had a couple of thousand troops with NATO in Afghanistan. There presence was doubtless helpful but hardly strategically necessary.

The "collapse" of a Dutch government, like the collapse of any parliamentary government, simply means that a majority of members of parliament no longer support the present cabinet. So things go on hold for awhile, until a new majority emerges, often after an election.

What's instructive here has everything to do with the USA, who are not simply historic victors over Canada in Olympic men's ice hockey but are genuinely in a unique position in our world presently. And, one hopes, for some time to come.

We note the instructiveness of the Hollanders' situation concerning American exceptionalism.

First, BHO was elected to make things right--things including the hatred of America engendered by BHO's despicable predecessor, Dubya. They hated him, so the tale goes, and so they hated us. Exhibit A in the case for hatred was Europe's unwillingness to send troops to Iraq to help with Dubya's unjust war. BHO, a kind and gentle leader of wisdom and integrity, was going to fight the good war in Afghanistan. He would unite the world's solons in a campaign of universal love that would eliminate the evildoers: first the Republicans, then the Taliban.

Hasn't worked that way. Europe is still balky about fighting because it's Europe. They got all the fight kicked out of them in the 1940s, and they got used to relying on Uncle Sam through the Cold War. It's the tale of the Little Red Hen, militarized, with the United States as the noble chicken.

Second, the Dutch situation exposes the folly of those who say that the American system of governance is irrevocably broken and ought to be fixed. Tom Harkin (D-Irrelevancy) has introduced a bill to address this issue: a proposed change of Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster. Even his esteemed majority leader, Harry Reid (D-Ineptitude), notes dryly that a Senate rules change requires 67 votes. But the impetus of Harkin's move is to paint the Democrats' situation as doomed because the system is broken. His bill won't pass because of Republicans, as much a mathematical truism as 2 + 2 = 4.

Those with a memory will recall that the system was broken when Carter was POTUS. Then Reagan fixed it. Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II all managed to pass some major legislative initiatives thanks to the exercise of political skill and thoughtful compromise.

Now it's broken again, and other countries can show us a better way.

The Dutch are exemplars of the better way. In a parliamentary system like theirs, the parliament can do just about anything with a simple majority. That can include sudden and radical change--like the British Labour government's establishment of a comprehensive welfare state in the wake of WWII, change that went far beyond what FDR could accomplish even with a massive congressional majority during the Depression.

But parliaments can also--and frequently do--dissolve governments. Said governments then are replaced with new ones, often representing the opposition party that rolls back the previous government's initiatives. Were it not for the sinister moderating effect of a Brahman class of civil servants who provide continuity, parliamentary systems would yo-yo their republics into oblivion (see, until relatively recently, Italy).

So we offer a SWNIDish thank you to the noble Netherlanders. Y'all have shown that it is a good thing that the United States has sufficient military power to extend Democracy singlehandedly in selected situations. You have also shown that the Framers were on to something with their slow-and-steady approach to governance.

Now, if we could repeal direct election of the Senate . . .

3 comments:

Micah said...

Ok, that's the third time I've heard somebody refer to the 17th amendment recently. Can you explain why it should be repealed? The other two were just repeating what they heard from someone else.

The idea is that it makes the Senate more powerful, but I don't understand why that would be the case.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

From the SWNIDish POV, selection of Senators by state legislatures makes them genuine representatives of the states and so protectors of federalism. It has nothing to do with the power of the Senate and everything to do with the elegance of the original design of the government.

It's also a quaintly retro position that one can take to characterize oneself as amusingly out of touch with political realities. The 17th Amendment will never be repealed, we are very sure.

Collin Messer said...

This post was amusing. I enjoyed the poke at Europe's unwillingness to enter battle and America's odd ability to beat the Canadians (who practically invented hockey) in a game which I thought very few Americans truly cared about...