Why did the United States lose its Standard and Poor's AAA credit rating? According to Fareed Zakaria, it's not because of our high national debt -- it's because we have a presidential, and not a parliamentary, system of government.
In a post last week, the CNN host pointed out now that the U.S. has been downgraded, no other country with a presidential system holds a top rating from all three major ratings agencies -- only countries with parliamentary systems do.
Citing a Yale social scientist, Zakaria said parliamentary systems are more stable because "the legislature and the executive are fused so there is no contest for national legitimacy":
In the American presidential system, in contrast, you have the presidency and the legislature, both of which claim to speak for the people. As a result, you always have a contest over basic legitimacy. Who is actually speaking for and representing the people?
Taking a dig at the Tea Party, Zakaria continued:
In America today, we take this struggle to an extreme. We have one party in one house of the legislature claiming to speak for the people because theirs was the most recent electoral victory. And you have the president who claims a broader mandate as the only person elected by all the people. These irresolvable claims invite struggle.
You might recall, on the eve of the debt ceiling deadline, Zakaria blasted the Tea Party's resoluteness in budget debate, calling its members in Congress "fundamentally anti-democratic" and willing to "blow the country up."
Still, Zakaria conceded, there are a few advantages to American government -- our system of checks and balances have been "very useful on occasion." But that same system, he said, is also responsible for gridlock because everything takes so much longer to get through:
[W]e’re living in a world where you need governments that are able to respond decisively and quickly. In a fast-moving world, paralysis is dangerous. Other countries are catching up - if not overtaking – America.
Giving one last plug for a parliamentary system, Zakaria said:
Remember, the political battle surrounding the debt ceiling is actually impossible in a parliamentary system because the executive controls the legislature. There could not be a public spectacle of the two branches of government squabbling and holding the country hostage.
Finally, Zakaria concluded with this line, in which he seems to imply President Barack Obama's reelection in 2012 is a foregone conclusion:
If we’re in for another five years of this squabbling in the U.S., we are going to make presidential systems look pretty bad indeed.