Presidential Government and the Separation of Powers
The standard classification of democratic political systems directs attention to the relationship between the executive and the legislature. "The two principal alternative models are parliamentary and presidential government." 1 It is often further asserted that "the American political system is . . . the model and prototype of presidential government." 2 That there are differences within each prototype--parliamentary and presidential--is acknowledged, and numerous scholars have explored these differences. 3 Of special interest to students of American national politics, particularly those who concentrate on the Congress, is the seeming devotion to the label "presidential government" as ideally descriptive of what happens in Washington, D.C. Those using the term as an alternative model for comparing systems typically stress its association with the separation-of-powers concept, a practice I examine below. Those using the model of presidential government as a basis for reform typically endeavor to integrate or concentrate power in the White House, a disposition I discuss throughout.
I have organized the discussion as follows: (1) the curiosity of acknowledging the separation-of-powers principle, yet continuing to refer to the American system as "presidential government"; (2) the problems said to arise from presidential government, problems that derive primarily from a set of preferences as to how it should work; (3) the specification of the separation-of-powers system as a model of national decision making; and (4) the role of the presidency in the separated system, noting in particular the variations in partisan and institutional interaction on policy issues.