One leader, one voice, two countries
Our regular readers will know of our occasional musings on the similarities between Irish and American politics. Recent events provide an excuse to expand on this a little. To begin a long story with a short one, our point is that what both systems share is a dynamic driven not so much by competition between political parties, as one might expect in a democracy, but by the complete lack of dissent within the ruling party: Fianna Fail in the Republic, and the Republicans in the USA.
Viewed in this light, the frequently expressed frustration in the blogosphere (or its Irish equivalent, the boggersphere) towards the immunity of the respective governments to endless evidence of mendacity and incompetence becomes clear -- no-one within either party is willing or able to hold the leadership accountable. An obvious point, but one brought to mind by Washington Post journalist Jefferson's Morley thoughts on why the Downing Street Memo has failed to take off as a political scandal in the USA. [for the uninitiated, the DSM is a high level contemporaneous account from senior British intelligence figures in the summer of 2002 that Dubya had already decided on war with Iraq]. Morley says:
But a big part of the problem is that there are no voices in the majority party demanding accountability.
If there was, they would have gotten going long before the DSM came into the mix. By the way, among these silent lambs is John McCain, before anyone starts to get too excited about him running as a different kind of presidential candidate in 2008.
And the identical diagnosis applies to Ireland. We've noted before the easily documented record of flat-out lies told by our permanent party of government. Wednesday brought more evidence: a parliamentary committee where the majority simply decided to cover for the scandal-implicated former minister for health, and a pathetic attempt by the minister for justice to blame the opposition, in power for a brief period almost 10 years ago, for a police scandal that covers his entire time in government positions. The newspapers and the bloggers will be outraged, but there won't be a single voice raised within Fianna Fail in protest.
One reason for the silence on both sides of the Atlantic is that FF and the Bush Republican party excel at what Sinn Fein might call electoralism: effective manoeuvres for advantage at the polls. It's very far from a solid basis for government, but it certainly keeps them in power long enough to royally f*ck things up.
Speaking of royally, consider this irony. Of the three governments in the Republic, the UK, and the USA that were returned to power in the last few years, the one with the least share of the popular vote, Blair, is the one running the most representative government. At least in the sense that Labour was returned with sufficient dissent within the party that Blair has to be more cautious in policy and is more vulnerable to scandal than Bertie or Dubya are or ever will be.
So what's the solution? Well, in the Irish case we've already outlined the bobw reform program and even with the heroic assumption that we're right, there's still the more serious issue of the flaws exposed in the US system by Dubya. There, we just don't know, although we have a sneaking suspicion that the USA might be just too big for efficient government. Much as others worked furiously on proofs of Fermat's Last Theorem, we have some scraps of paper here aiming to show that the optimal size of country is 50-75 million people. Proof coming one of these decades.