Thomas Friedman’s opinion piece Monday creatively links recent talk of staying the course in Afghanistan with the fact that a number of serious, necessary steps to end our reliance on foreign oil and reduce our carbon impact are simply “off the table.” Now that the price of oil is once again low, why can’t we find the same resolve to institute a European-style gas tax?
Friedman argues that such a tax makes sense, economically, environmentally, and politically? But, here, in the US of A, it’s “off the table.” Along the same lines, he wonders why we remain gun-shy about nuclear technology, vastly improved since Three Mile Island/Rocky Flats days? Why is it such a monumental effort to get sane health care legislation through congress? Is it our lack of resolve? Are Americans the “real cheese-eating surrender monkeys”?
Actually, I think it has a lot more to do with the way our democracy is set up. In a European parliamentary system, the majority party has, essentially, absolute power to implement its mandate. The prime minister is a member of congress (it would be like Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi as president). There are no filibusters. In effect, the very nature of American style democracy is to be inefficient, to give the minority the power to resist. It is an inherently conservative system.
Some people think this is just the way it ought to be. But it’s surely frustrating for progressively-minded politicians.