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The case for the Presidential System – But for heaven sake not the US style Presidential System

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As some of You may know, the Representative for Thiruvananthapuram in the Lok Sabha Dr. Sashi Tharoor wrote an article in favor of the Presidential System.

He blows into the same flute as the relatively unknown book author Bhanu Dhamija. Mr. Dhamija is an Indian American, a man who feels called upon to enlighten the Indian Society about the in his view phenomenal superior American system. I like the Presidential System, because it cleanly separates the Executive from the Legislative Branch, I just do not see why it must be the US-style system. Mr. Dhamija wrote a book about this topic. In his book he reiterates largely irrelevant historical facts, but the book does not offer one good reason why one should switch to the US system or how a US system is better than the Parliamentarian System installed in Europe. I liken him to a version of Zhang Weiwei or Martin Jacques, who argue for the superiority of the Communist Party of China.

I have watched a debate between Mr. Dhamija with Dr. Tharoor and Professor Tarunabh Khaithan. Dr. Tharoor made excellent arguments against the Parliamentarian System, Prof. Khaithan made excellent arguments against the Presidential System. Mr. Dhamija’s attempt to sell the US system however quickly fell apart, his speech was largely gibberish and many of his arguments were debunked already. It gets even worse, when one scrolls through his twitter feed. He offers superficial, contradictory arguments. One can observe how he cherry picks arguments against the Indian system and for the US system through his rose-colored glasses or he laments one problem in the Indian system but ignores the very same problem in the American one. And worst, he sells liabilities as assets.

· 2 party system

Most people consider the 2-party system a failure. It has created arrogant parties, that choke outsiders.

· Accountability

Accountability can only come, if voters are allowed to sue their elected officials. The dream that politicians hold each other accountable is a fallacy, whether each politician is elected separately or via party list. Politicians have a mentality of ‚one hand washes the other hand’.

· Lobbyism

Mr. Dhamija oddly says nothing about lobbyism. In effect all States around the world have problems with lobbyism and to some extend it will be difficult to get rid of it. US Government is a heaven for lobbyism.

· Election Donations

Mr. Dhamija oddly says nothing about Election Donations. The relationship between politician and industry is an abusive one, with both sides engaging in abusive behavior towards the other. Politicians demand donations from industry to pass or prevent a law. Industry donates to politicians, who do their bidding. Politicians are constantly campaigning. There are many, that feel that those political parties focus more on fundraising than on governing, with dissenters being constantly shut out.

· The office held Trump accountable

Trump was indeed impeached, but his party friends prevented his removal from office. Today nobody believes Trump will ever be held accountable. Compare that to the fate of President Park Geun-hye in South Korea, who was jailed for a bribery scandal.

· Trump was elected, because he talked about trade and jobs

There is no politician on this planet, that does not talk about jobs or trade. Clinton talked about jobs all the time. How did this make Trump different?!

· The US system protects Minorities

The US system does nothing to protect minorities, it is rule by minority, that being the right wing conservative white Christian minority. Underlying Mr. Dhamija’s world view is the widespread fear that democratic rule can turn into mob rule. Throughout history, there was not one majority movement, that became a mob.

· The US system produces better governance

I doubt laws that come out of their congress are better than laws made by any other system. Politicians over there frequently complain, how laws are passed without proper time, how they are loaded up with earmarks. Politicians over there do not even read the bills they pass.

· He argues for the Senate over the Rajya Sabha.

The original Senate was like the Rajya Sabha, before it was reformed, and Senators were elected by the people. The direct election of senators meant essentially the death of federalism.

· The Electoral College gives small states more influence

That fact has been debunked a long time ago. It is worrisome that Mr. Dhamija apparently did not inform himself. The only States benefitting from the Electoral College are the swing states Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Arizona, Georgia, Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, and Maine. However, the smallest states are Rhode Island Delaware Connecticut Hawaii New Jersey and the least populates states are Wyoming North Dakota Alaska South Dakota. Not just are Presidents elected by a Minority, every President tends to spend way too much State funds on those States to secure election for his or her party. He claimed the US system works well, because Trump came into power with less than most of the vote but considers the election of the Chilean President Gabriel Boric by popular vote majority as dangerous. Interestingly he did not mention the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was elected by popular vote as well. Most scholars debate how to get rid of the Electoral College, but Mr. Dhamija defends that silly thing without any good reason.

Both Chile, South Korea and other elect their Head of States via popular vote and all those countries are doing fine. Ukraine, which elects Presidents by popular vote, allows women political participation and has a Jewish President (the only Jewish President outside of Israel).

· The 2-year election cycle allows people to blow off steam.

The 2-year election cycle has created an industry, that profits of keeping citizens agitated against each other. An election is not a tool to blow off steam! It is essentially a hiring process, in which people decide who represents them in the State / Municipality. All these other countries have 4- or 5-year election cycles, and their governance is not worse than in the US. The turnout in their elections is dismal. He does not seem to bother about the January 6 capital riot, that killed some, left others crippled and destroyed priceless historical artifacts; maybe for him such a riot is just a normal thing in a functioning society.

· The US is more than 250 years old.

That is not an argument at all! Both India and Pakistan have existed each more than 70 years, so has Israel, Germany, Japan, even Communist China. Great Britain is more than 315, Switzerland is 174 years old. Switzerland by the way is a far better role model to India than the US for its preference for State’s rights and direct democracy.

· Indian government supports freebees

He complains about freebees handed out by Indian politicians, but completely ignores the many freebees handed out in the US system, mostly to industries and high net worth individuals. Almost all of their covid relief has gone to the top of society, almost none went to the bottom of society. American politicians shower money to those hiring lobbyists, those seem to always get what they want. Everyone else gets to hear how gridlock is secretly awesome. The US has over 133% debt to GDP ratio (India currently 83%).

Apparently, the giveaways to lobbyists does not seem to bother him.

· The Presidential system is better suited to India as a large country

There is no evidence for that claim. Canada and Australia both are large nations, both run the Parliamentarian System, and both works well. Neither Parliamentarian Democracy nor Presidential Democracy can prevent Tyranny!

· US is the greatest country on the face of the earth

Parts of the US qualify as Third World country. Health data seems worse in the US than in other industrialized nations. Analphabetism is still a big problem in the US. Professor Milton Friedman himself lamented, that other countries for a period had a better business environment than the US. Mr. Dhamija picks 2 or 3 accomplishments of the American System to overshadow the many deficiencies of that System.

All these other countries do not have electoral colleges, filibusters, 2-year election cycles, etc., but despite all that, they work fine. Japan, France, Sweden all have Parliamentarian Democracies and all of them have women’s rights, rights for minorities, and many other nice accomplishments. Great Britian under the king has abandoned slavery before the US did under a Presidential System. For that matter: India allows women’s participation and has an array of protections for minorities. Scientists from Iran had to teach Mississippi health care providers how to bring health care to rural areas.

Like many Americans, he praises the American founding fathers. I on the other hand never believed in the wisdom of founding fathers (of any nation). It is a fallacy to assume, that founding fathers are beings of superior decency and wisdom above approach. Nations idolize them, but those people made mistakes and were not above selfishness. More importantly, every high school student today has more understanding of the world than people from the 18th, 19th or 20th century.

Mr. Dhamija constantly insists, that the US system is secretly awesome, that he knows better than the many politicians, legal scholars, etc. over there who speak out against their own system. That behaviour reminds me of a stock promoter, who wants to sell worthless stock by pretending it is the next big thing despite every metric pointing into the other direction.

He reminds me of a cult member, who repeats talking points from some right-wing think tank and writes them into tweeds. He has deleted these tweeds since though. Middle class Indians can check and verify his arguments for themselves. The only motivation I can pick up is the attempt to make India into a little version of the US. He does not present good arguments, whether those rules are necessary for a successful state; actually, in my view he does not provide convincing proof for anything at all. Mr. Dhamija argues himself, that he is not an expert of any Presidential System other than the US one.

But I wonder if he is an expert in any Presidential System, whether he does even understand, what makes a nation great.

I write this article today, knowing the topic is currently not widely debated. It may be an unfounded fear, but one has experienced with Brexit, how a once belittled idea can form into a movement leading to change. This Mr. Dhamija tweets a lot of stuff on the Internet, and I felt it needed to be corrected, before people form their final opinion.

Dr. Tharoor mentioned that the founding fathers of India wanted the British system, because they considered the British system the butter while the Presidential System was the margarine. It seems now he believes the US System is the butter, but I fear once again, the nation effectively angles for the margarine.

Let it be known: Calling yourself ‘Senator‘ or ‘Congressman‘, having bombastic speeches and jubilating crowds will not grant You the star power like Obama or Clinton. I am always amazed how a random nobody in the American system can generate worldwide attention for himself even more than the prime minister of another country. But that will not happen to any politician in any other country. There will be no fancy book deal or Netflix contract. The US system is not the butter that he hopes for.

The debate represents the eternal desire to be someone or somewhere else, rather than doing it right. I support anyone, who wants to get rid of the Parliamentarian System. But one should not support someone, that wants to turn this nation into a cheap knockoff of another one!

How such a system should look like, I do not know. I used to believe I do, but I rather leave it to others to design one. It should have however following aspects

· High level of democracy

Whatever the CCP or Nova Russia say: Democracy always outperforms Autocracies

· State’s rights

Decisions shall be made by the government, that is nearest to citizens.

· Free market

Private players doing something is always better than the government doing it.

· Exchangeable politicians

Noone wants to live under the same politician, no matter how great that politician was.

· Indigenous politicians

Politicians should be part of society, not some pretend citizen.

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