“So let me see if I got it right,” I said to him. “We in Israel have just gotten rid of an election system which hadn’t been working for us. You, on the other hand, are stuck forever with an obsolete system, which you can’t change, because of the majorities needed to do it, both in the states and in the House. Furthermore, thanks to this strange system, Gore, who got half a million more votes than Bush but some 500 less than him in Florida, was sent home. And if this is not enough, then it was the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the hand recount in Florida, rather than the free will of the American people, which decided who will be the president.”
“No, no, no,” he objected, “not so simple. Let me explain.” To his credit, he did try.
This decade-old exchange comes to mind not only because the close presidential race today might produce yet another awkward electoral situation, but because of what my friend told me about the need for a prime minister in Israel, unlike the American president, to form a coalition government, and the weaknesses that it generates.
It seems to me that with all its faults, the Israeli parliamentary system, where immediately after the election the winner has to sit down with his former rivals and strike a deal and compromise, is much less polarizing than the American system, where a victorious president can be bogged down by a confrontational House and is hated by half of his people.
A good compromise, while leaving both sides equally dissatisfied, allows them to move on. After all, it was the Electoral College compromise which was brokered on the last week of the Constitutional Convention, which saved it from a serious deadlock and maybe collapse. While obviously not perfect, and in need of change, until recently this electoral compromise has served the American democracy well for a long time.
Uri Dromi lives in Jerusalem.