Prime Minister Obama

“President Obama could become de facto Prime Minister Obama.” So much predicts Harlan Ullman, columnist for The Washington Times and a member of the Strategic Advisors Group of the Atlantic Council, at the New Atlanticist.

Washington isn’t just “broken,” writes Ullman. The very political foundation of the United States as envisioned in the Constitution has been undermined by the emergence of a presidency far more powerful than anticipated and the unwillingness of the major parties in Congress to compromise.

Indeed, the ideologically hardening of both Republicans and Democrats means that checks and balances have frozen the functioning of government. A dysfunctional system is now virtually inoperable when it comes to governing.

This is particularly unsettling with several major issues confronting legislators, health-care and financial reform among them. The former could be a game changer and a catalyst for making Barack Obama a “transformational president.”

With Republicans unwilling to work on health care, Democrats either have to accept defeat or force through “reconciliation” which allows passage with a simple majority in both houses of Congress. The use of a mere majority vote, notes Ullman, “will turn checks and balances and a presidential democracy into a de facto parliamentary system overseen by a prime minister.”

Because both parties are driven by ideology of its more extreme wings, the only way legislation and action can follow is for Americans to chose one of those two alternatives and empower one party to act.

Under such circumstances, the president will have to assume a greater role in leading Congress while the party out of power would bide its time until the next election.

The advantage of a prime ministerial system is that government can have greater freedom of action. The disadvantage is that ideology, more than before, will dictate policy making. “For both sides,” warns Ullman, “that ideology is almost certainly more extreme and does not reflect Americans’ preference for the center.”


  1. American’s preference for the center is their problem and also the problem with this article. It is a pragmatic and unprincipled culture, one that doesn’t accept “extremes” and seeks a “moderate” image where we are all comfortable with ideological diversity. After all Obama’s campaign offered ersatz idealism. Notice what the “hope” was for: largely, a post-partisan America, where people’s differences (of race, income, gender, etc.) are overcome.

    But to urge the embrace of ideological diversity, however, is to endorse the pragmatist notion that the substance of an ideology—the content of one’s philosophical outlook, one’s views about what is real and what is important—is of little significance.

    Even the concept of idealism that the president ran on was not the idealism of rational principles or even principles. Just ‘feel good” emotionalism which the people also agreed with.

  2. Ha, I remember we were all scared that Tony Blaire was becoming a President because it would give him too much power.

  3. Fareed, interesting point, there is certainly a movement to try to have everyone get along. Which sounds ideal (haha), but in reality you have to address things you disagree on too.

    But generally people aren’t thinking and reflecting on what they believe at all. What I see most often is people identifying themselves with some form of Christianity and then ignoring all other aspects of their lives except in relationship to Christianity. So if they are members of a church they turn to their religious leader for guidance on their other views. Political, Economical, etc.

    I think people should vote based on what they believe in. But if I was to vote according to my ideology in the next presidential or congressional election, people would tell me I am “throwing away my vote” because I wouldn’t be voting for either majority party. Which is of course a self-fulfilling prophecy that the two parties in power love.

    I wouldn’t let the “throwing away your vote” mentality influence my decision, but a lot of people would.

    I guess my question is, how do people vote on their ideology if they don’t think enough to have one and how do they resist social pressure even if they have an ideology to begin with? Ironically, the real change movement would have been to vote for another party altogether!

Comments are automatically closed after one year.