Saturday, December 26, 2009

#187 Obamacare and the House of Lords

President Obama's vision for an equitable and effective American health care system by reforming the old one--a vision shared by about three-quarters of the electorate--is probably not in the cards this year or next. Goodness gracious, you ask, Why the hell not? This is a #$@ &%$# DEMOCRACY, for crying out loud. Well, not exactly: our system of government has never been a "direct democracy," on the classical Greek model, otherwise we would have all raised our hands, counted them up, and passed health-care reform long ago.

As a matter of fact, we're just about--take a bow--absolutely unique, in the annals of world history. Give us arbitrary labels like constitutional democracy, republic, representative democracy, etc., and their definitions are bound to be self-reflexive, and applying only to us. The closest to the American political system, the U.K., is only a tiny bit constitutional (Magna Carta/common law-wise), with rare recourse to judicial review, and so overwhelmingly representative as to be tantamount to complete parliamentary sovereignty. No separate Executive powers at all. But of course there used to be. They were called a King. However, even after Parliament installed the figure-head royals William and Mary in 1688, giving the precincts of Westminster absolute rule over the land--Constitutional Monarchy hadn't really worked too well since it's inception with Charles II--a kind of "executive-branch" VETO POWER resided until not so long ago in the House of Lords.

When I briefly touristed and balconied the "Upper" of the two Houses of Parliament--the queue for Commons was way too long--it was a cue for a nice nap. Our Framers modeled the U.S. Senate, as a conservative-compromise measure, on that legislative body of hereditary Peers of the Realm, who are now, however, not only non-hereditary and 100% appointed, but entrusted with primarily insignificant matters of ceremony and protocol. The day I was there in 1973, the heated debate was over something about the proper order of the harboring of boats on the Thames. As for making laws of any national consequence (read: involving money), they have been rendered virtually powerless. Moreover, there's always an annual, populist hue and cry to render them--in Britishese--"redundant" (give 'em the sack) altogether. Right now on the Commons table is legislation to abolish the existing House of Lords, unless it become 100% elected, and its name be changed to the "Senate"! For real. But it wasn't always thus.

As recently as the Parliament Act of 1911, the Lords had the power to reject laws enacted by Commons out of hand, or to amend them at will, even if unacceptable to the "Lower House." No longer. Even though they deal mostly with insignifica, all Lords legislation must, through negotiation, receive the imprimatur of Commons--the power of that popularly elected body being understood as always in the ascendant. Not so in the bicameral Congress of the United States. Our "Upper House" is the House of Lords of old ... (more)

No comments: