Re: NAC Politics
From: Allan Goodall <awgoodall@g...>
Date: Wed, 6 Jul 2005 10:51:32 -0500
Subject: Re: NAC Politics
> Date: Wed, 6 Jul 2005 12:42:56 +1000
> From: Hugh Fisher <email@example.com>
> UK politics have been three-party for at least a century
> now, although *which* three parties does change from time
> to time. Seems reasonable that this would be imported to
> the US (after all, the US two party system didn't work out
> in the GZG timeline, did it? :-) :-) ) and the colonies.
The U.S. does _not_ have a "two party" system. Congress can, and did,
function as a multi-party organization. The problem is that it's very,
very difficult for a new party to form and win seats in the Senate, or
House of Representatives, or take the presidency, let alone take two
out of the three.
While campaign finance laws stack the deck in favour of the
incumbents, and thus the status quo, there's nothing actually
preventing multiple parties from gaining representation in Congress.
> Another would be late 19th century with Dominions, like
> Canada, Australia, and New Zealand used to be and Scotland
> and Wales are now moving towards, with their own assemblies
> and parties.
I guess whether or not Scotland is moving toward a "dominion" depends
on your definition of "dominion". Scotland wants "home rule", and has
achieved much in the last decade, mostly by showing what a chunk of a
country can do when the majority votes as a single block. What
Scotland wants is control of taxation and tax spending within
Scotland, and a fair division of natural resources. Scotland
understands, though, that such items as national defence are best
handled at the U.K. level.
Ironically, what Scotland wants is closer to what individual states in
the U.S. have, or perhaps what individual states of the Confederacy
had during the American Civil War. Since Scotland has its own common
law, it looks an awful lot like Louisiana (it even has oil reserves,
too, though Scotland's politics are nowhere near as corrupt as
> (On reviewing this paragraph, I'm not so sure. Maybe
> there are unwritten aspects of US law and government too
> and I'm just more familiar with the UK. Anyone?)
Canada is similar to Australia in that the government has to go to the
Queen (through her appointed representative, the Governor General) to
dissolve parliament and hold a general election. The Governor General
authorizes a particular party to form the government, which is
traditionally the party with the most seats in the election, but there
is a precedent for this _not_ happening.
There are several "unwritten aspects" of U.S. law. The one that's
received the most notice, due to the outcome of the 2000 election, is
the election of the president.
The president is not chosen by popular vote, he's chosen by electoral
college vote. Each state has a number of "electors" equal to the
number of members the state sends to Congress (number of House
Representatives, plus the two senators). The District of Columbia gets
3 electoral votes. Each elector goes to Washington after the
presidential election and votes for the president and vice president.
The president and vice president must have a clear majority of
electors. If the president does not have a clear majority, the House
of Representatives votes for the president with each state in the
house getting one vote (the delegates from each state vote amongst
themselves, and the state's majority decision is cast in favour of one
presidential candidate). They keep voting until a president is
selected, though if by inauguration day no candidate has won a
majority, the new vice president becomes president until a choice has
been made. In cases of ties, the senate votes for the vice president,
though it's unclear if the sitting vice president gets to break a tie
The people of the nation do _not_ vote for the president. Their vote
simply sways their states electors. This elector uses the people's
vote to decide who he or she votes for. The rules for the electors are
different for each state. Most states figure out who won the election
in their state, and then their electors all vote for that presidential
and vice presidential candidate. Maine and Nebraska handle things
differently. They have their electors vote for the person who won the
presidential election in each district, and then they give the two
remaining votes to the person who won the election in the state in
general; this has never resulted in a split vote, though.
In most cases there is nothing _legally binding_ an elector for voting
based on the wishes of the people of that state. In other words, in
the last election a majority of electors could _legally_ have ignored
the presidential election and put Ralph Nader in as president. There
are 24 states that do have laws on the books punishing so called
"faithless electors", electors who vote against the rules of the
state. There have been over 150 cases of "faithless electors", most of
which seem to have been simple mistakes during the electoral college
balloting procedure. (Apparently the ballots are hand written, and so
you get people switching the names of the president and vice
president, or leaving one or the other off, etc.)
Because of the electoral college system, it's possible that a
president (in a two party race) can win the presidency without winning
the popular vote. This has happened four times, in 1824, 1876, 1888,
and 2000. The House of Representatives did elect the president twice
in U.S. history, in 1801 and 1825. The Vice President was chosen by
the Senate in 1837.
If this sounds "weird", it was actually quite deliberate. The U.S.
governmental system was devised in the 18th century when classism
reigned. The electoral college system was designed to protect the rich
and educated from the unwashed masses. "Democracy" was seen as "mob
rule". In fact, there's nothing in the U.S. constitution that requires
a popular vote for the president! (This in spite of what most
Americans believe.) The Federalist Papers suggest that the so-called
"founding fathers" envisioned that the standard way of selecting a
president was by the choice of the House of Representatives.
In other words, this is very similar to the Governor General issue in
Canada, where the will of the people could be legally co-opted.
There are other things like this in the U.S. Members of the House of
Representatives are given much more leeway in voting for legislation.
They do _not_ have to rigidly follow party guidelines like they do in
Britain and Canada (in Canada it is expected that MPs vote along party
lines other than with a "free vote", which itself can not result in a
vote of non-confidence). This propensity in the U.S. results in "pork
barreling", where riders are added to legislation in order to get a
key vote. This is why you'll see appropriation money for roads in
California being attached to a grain subsidy bill for Kansas and
Nebraska, for instance.
Most states have a "first past the post" election. In other words, the
person who wins the most votes in the election -- be it for the state
house of representatives, state senate, governor, federal house of
representatives, or federal senate -- is given the position. As a
result, usually only one person runs for one party in a particular
district. This is _not_ the case in all states. Louisiana has a
primary system for all elections. The winner must have won a clear
majority of the vote to get the position. If he or she does not, the
folk with the most votes (I think it can be more than two, though in
practice it's usually the top two) have a run-off election. In our
local election for federal Representative here in Monroe, Louisiana,
our district had three Republicans and two Democrats running.
Louisiana's laws are odd, too, since many of them are derived from
Napoleonic Code. States create their own civil and criminal laws,
subject to the state's constitution and the U.S. constitution. This is
why some, but not all, states have the death penalty. You'll also hear
the term "federal offence", which means that the law being broken is a
federal law, not a state law.
The point to remember about the U.S. is that before the Civil War it
was mostly known as "_these_ United States" not "_the_ United States".
States have a fair bit of power on their own, and can control how a
number of things are done, even with regard to federal elections.
> Since the NAC is a recent creation, and Americans are
> known for their, uh, "excitability" compared to Brits,
> I'd assume it starts Victorian Empire with intent to
> move towards Commonwealth.
I'm not sure what you mean by "excitability". If anything, Americans
are far more blase with regard to politics than Brits. Voter turnout
is much lower, for a number of reasons. I have a hard time seeing
anything like the violent poll tax demonstrations happening in the
> Bits of North America, and
> colonies, have governer-generals/viceroys who play an
> active role in politics and frequently exercise their
> powers. The monarch tours a lot, and also frequently
> gets involved in colonial politics. (Form of good cop/
> bad cop: if the viceroy is being oppressive, you appeal
> to the monarch, who really cares about the people. See,
> isn't this better than being independent? :-) )
I can't believe that would attract Americans at all.
More likely would be an economic union that formed a de facto
political union later. About the most realistic path to the NAC
(which, honestly, is pure fantasy), would be by way of the Canada/U.S.
free trade agreement and NAFTA. The U.S. and Canada would start by
developing very similar border security rules, such as similar
immigration policies. This has been talked about in real life. Throw
in some sort of monetary crisis (fuel is probably a good one,
particularly if oil prices continue to rise to the point where tar
sands extraction is economically viable), and an economic threat from
the E.U. or -- more likely -- China and India, and you have NAFTA
moving closer to a North American Union, modelled roughly on the E.U.
A NAFTA dollar is created, and eventually a NAFTA presidency is
Now, have Britain fall out with the E.U. option and turn to NAFTA.
Perhaps a huge Scottish oil reserve is found but the E.U. wants
Britain to "share the wealth". Or perhaps another military crisis has
Britain ally itself with NAFTA at the expense of Europe.
(My personal belief is that a renewable resource will be needed and
that any oil find in Britain would be a stop gap. The easiest
renewable resource to produce is biodiesel, which is already being
produced in the U.S. Since it involves crop production, this would
make Canada a big player in North American fuel. That doesn't leave
much room for Britain, except that complex hydrocarbons are still
going to be needed for plastic production. Perhaps a combined
British/American research team produces sustained, economical fusion
power, and the resulting patents only really apply to Britain and the
U.S. Have the E.U. change patent law to suck in the British fusion
patents, and you have a catalyst for Britain leaving the E.U. Since it
looks like large economic blocks are the only way to survive in the
21st century, Britain would naturally turn to NAFTA.)
At any rate there has to be some reason why Britain is important to
NAFTA, and NAFTA is important to Britain. The North Atlantic Free
Trade Agreement becomes the Atlantic Free Trade Association, which
itself becomes the forerunner of the NAC.
I can't see Britain's political system being the catalyst for the NAC.
The catalyst has to be either military or economic, with economic
being more likely.
Allan Goodall http://www.hyperbear.com