This fall, Americans are getting a taste of the kind of “parliamentary” politics found in Great Britain and some of our other sister democracies.
In a parliamentary system, you don’t vote for the top dog (typically a prime minister); your representative in parliament does that. So if you want the likes of Tony Blair, you’ve got to vote for the Labor Party candidate. If you want the likes of Margaret Thatcher, you’ve got to elect a Conservative. The local candidate’s actual merits are often beside the point; it’s pure party politics.
In this country right now, President George W. Bush’s unpopularity has allowed some Democrats to turn congressional races into what amount to parliamentary contests that turn on the president’s performance. Bush won’t be unseated if they capture majorities in Congress (except in the very unlikely scenario of impeachment-and-conviction), but they will be able to frustrate many of his policies.
No Democrat has benefited more from this turn of events than Darcy Burner in Washington’s 8th District, who has almost no prior experience in public life but has the spectacular good fortune to be running this year against … a Republican. Much of the time she virtually ignores her opponent, Dave Reichert, zeroing in instead on the president and the case for replacing the GOP congressional majority that aids and abets him.
We are deluged by email from congressional candidates – so many political pieces pour in each day I’ve tried (without success!) to get my system to treat them as junk mail. But a new missive from Darcy Burner’s organization was actually interesting; it cited a poll done by Majority Watch – a putatively bipartisan outfit that tracks hot congressional races – that gave her a slight lead against Reichert. If Reichert does lose this next week, he should take comfort the fact that he didn’t do himself in. His president and party deserve all the credit.