The final days before Tuesday’s 2022 midterm elections certainly made for a crazy week. From Sunny Hostin likening white suburban women to “roaches,” to Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake allegedly joking about the attack on Paul Pelosi (which Lake has since denied), the week before Election Day brought out the very worst in American politics — and that’s saying something.
This time, it also brought out the most drastic warnings from Democrats and Republicans alike: Vote for us or democracy ends; vote for us or you’ll go broke and get carjacked.
We are mercifully at the end of the worst, most negative, most hateful and least productive election cycle in history — at least until the 2024 presidential election season begins. It’s easy at a time like this to lament just how dysfunctional we are.
To quote legendary British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
I’ll take that one step further and say that the American form of democracy — a representative republic with three co-equal branches, and no aristocracy or monarch — might be even better. After all, just look at some of the other options among democracies.
For as dysfunctional as we are, we aren’t Israel, which just had its fifth national election in less than four years.
Benjamin Netanyahu has proven that he has as many political lives as did Churchill. After Tuesday’s votes were counted, he’s all but assured to be prime minister once again, his third time in office. But think about how Israelis got to this point, not to mention the brain damage their political class and journalists surely must have suffered from elections held in April 2019, September 2019, March 2020, March 2021 and now, just a few days ago. For, in each of these elections, Israelis tried to elect a parliament that could then form a functional government.
By way of explanation, Israel has a dozen-plus political parties and nobody ever wins a majority, so the parties trade political favors and patronage in ways that could teach people like former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich or former Vice President Spiro Agnew a lesson about how to do corruption right.
It’s filthy and a mess, Israel’s political horse-trading. Despite four years as a foreign correspondent based in Jerusalem, I still don’t understand it and probably never will. Parties in Israel perhaps fit another Churchillian truism: they have permanent interests but not permanent allies.
Netanyahu’s victory is not only about vindication and power but, perhaps, about personal freedom. Winning allows him to potentially end his own criminal corruption trial. He’s charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and you can almost hear him declaring: “Now that I’m once again prime minister, I’ve decided to end all investigations into myself.”
Netanyahu’s second stint as prime minister came in part because of problems for Ehud Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem who was then serving as prime minister and later served 18 months in prison on bribery charges.
Things got so dysfunctional in Israel’s government earlier this year that, at one point, far-right and one-time Netanyahu disciple Naftali Bennett and former TV anchor Yair Lapid formed a unity government. It would be the American equivalent of a co-presidency between Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — predictably, it failed.
Suffice to say, the American system is far far better than the Israeli one.
Next up for submission: The Brits.
It’s difficult to accept the British system as truly a democracy, given the whole monarch thing — but, to be fair, the late Queen Elizabeth II never used her considerable influence on domestic politics. Now, it’s unclear whether her successor, King Charles, will follow her honorable example.
But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt as a democracy. In just the past few months they’ve gone through not one but two prime ministers, Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss, with Rishi Sunak now taking the helm. I asked one conservative politician during the last chaotic transition at 10 Downing Street what the plan was, and the answer came back: “Advocate for an American system whereby you get two months, rather than 20 hours for a transition.”
And we Americans all thought the Trump transition in 2016 was disorganized. Little did we know it could be much worse.
At least watching Parliament is a little more exciting than speeches in Congress. Can you imagine C-SPAN’s ratings if we had Prime Minister’s Question Times on Capitol Hill for U.S. presidents?
That said, the British still have coalitions, no-confidence votes, and snap elections about dissolving Parliament. We here in this country think that government shutdowns are annoying, and that futile congressional hearings are bad — obviously, it could be a lot worse.
Back to King Charles, whose use of power is still unknown. Technically he order elections at the request of the prime minister; can you imagine that in the United States? Since we know Charles loves green energy projects, imagine an American leader saying, “Pass my green new deal or I will dissolve Congress and order a new election.”
With no disrespect to Mr. Churchill, I propose a modification to his 1947 proclamation: American democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Leland Vittert is a veteran journalist who joined NewsNation as an anchor/correspondent in 2021 and hosts “On Balance with Leland Vittert” weekday evenings. He has covered national and international affairs for 20 years, including the Arab Spring revolutions in Egypt and Libya in 2011 and war in eastern Ukraine in 2014.